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Supernatural Laws: Real World Policies And Laws To Protect Against Witches And Other Mystical Creatures

Weird History | February 2, 2021

A tongue-in-cheek sign warning of Bigfoot crossings on Pikes Peak Highway in Colorado. (Gnashes30/Wikimedia Commons)

There are certain laws that most of us obey or at least try to follow in our day-to-day lives: We don't drive recklessly, steal, kill people, etc. It would be nice to have magic powers that exempt us from the law, but it turns out even those people/creatures are legally limited as well. Depending on where you live, you may be governed by laws to keep witches out of the sky or hunters from shooting an unsuspecting Bigfoot, so stay off your broom and don't try to sell any haunted houses.

Endangered Bigfeet

If you want to become a star on the supernatural scene, the best thing you can do is nab yourself a Bigfoot. These wild and woolly creatures are known for appearing and disappearing at will in the woods of the Pacific Northwest, which lowers your chances considerably, and not just because of the creatures' elusive nature. In Skamania County, Washington, one of the best places to find a Bigfoot, killing the "endangered" animal is punishable by a $1,000 fine, a year in jail, or possibly both. The law was passed at the height of the Bigfoot craze in 1969, but it was still a pressing enough concern in 1984 to expand the law, though it's not clear how. It seems pretty comprehensive.

Grainy black-and-white image of supposed UFO, Passaic, New Jersey. (George Stock/Wikimedia Commons)

Space Quarantine

The last year of that mellow decade was generally a real moment for believers in the paranormal. Anyone coming to Earth between 1969 and 1977 (primarily Terran astronauts, but theoretically "any person, property, animal, or other form of life or matter who or which has been extraterrestrially exposed") was forced into a strict quarantine to "guard the Earth against any harmful contamination ... resulting from personnel, spacecraft, and other property returning to the Earth after landing on or coming within the atmospheric envelope of a celestial body." Its purpose was mostly to make sure that returning astronauts weren't bringing any organisms back to Earth that could put humans in danger, but it could come in handy when the gray invaders land, assuming they respect our laws.

Execution of alleged witches in Central Europe, 1587. (Zurich Central Library/Wikimedia Commons)

No Fake Witches

Unlike most supernatural phenomena, witchcraft has a long history with the law, what with the whole "stake burning" thing, but it wasn't limited to Salem, MassachusettsIn 1542, Henry VIII passed an act which defined witchcraft as a felony. Anyone caught conjuring spirits, invoking anything from beyond, or carrying out sorcery could have their goods and valuables confiscated, and by 1597, a conviction of black magic could mean a death sentence. Intriguingly, the number of witch-related crimes dropped following a third witchcraft-related act in 1604 which forbade the use of torture to extract confessions.

By 1735, the Commonwealth's position on witchcraft had shifted radically but no less legally. That year, Henry VIII's act was repealed in favor of a law punishing only those who pretended to have magical powers but couldn't deliver. Anyone claiming to have the ability to to cast spells, see the future, or speak with the dead but couldn't prove it was fined or, in particularly egregious cases, imprisoned. (Those who could were presumably let go.) The Witchcraft Act of 1735 lasted over 200 years before it was replaced by the Fraudulent Mediums Act of 1951, which prohibited upstart scam artists from charging money for psychic readings, although again, legitimate psychics were theoretically legal.

Storefront psychic fortuneteller in Boston. (John Stephen Dwyer/Wikimedia Commons)

Psychic Permits

On the American side of the Atlantic, governments are a lot more chill about the occult these days, at least in that they don't burn anyone to death anymore. What they do require is a lot of paperwork. If you want to set up a fortune-telling practice in San Francisco, which is where you'd want to do that, you're gonna need a permit. That extends to all manner of mediumship, from tarot reading to necromancy. The good news is that once you have the permit, you can speak to the dead however you like. You can remove curses, deliver prophecies, perform general medium work, practice astrology, and read palms. The bad news is that if you don't actually have the ability to tell the future by speaking with the dead, you still have to get a permit.

A zombie, at twilight, in a field of cane sugar of Haiti. (Jean-noël Lafargue/Wikimedia Commons)

Haitian Zombies

When you hear the word "zombie," you probably think of undead former humans with a hunger for cerebellum, but that's not the kind of zombie Haiti was interested in legislating in 1883. It was believed in the voodoo tradition that a practitioner could induce a zombie-like state in their target through magic, and although it was almost definitely just poison, it was such a big problem that Act 426 decreed that anyone using "substances which, without giving death, will cause a more-or-less prolonged state of lethargy" could be tried for murder.

The house featured in the movie "The Amityville Horror" and made famous by demonologists Ed and Loraine Warren. (Seulatr/Wikimedia Commons)

Haunted House Law

Nobody wants to live out The Amityville Horror. That's why nine states require real estate agents to disclose any deaths that have occurred on the property, and some states specifically require disclosure of any "unnatural deaths" (i.e., those most likely to cause a haunting). California requires the disclosure of both the number and manner of deaths on the property, but only those that occurred within the previous three years, as ghosts are famously respectful of statutes of limitations.

Okay, most of these laws have less to do with spectral nuisances and more with a neighborhood's crime rate, but four states do have laws regulating haunted real estate. In New York, a home sale can be rescinded if the seller "creates and perpetuates a reputation that the house is haunted" and doesn't explain that to a buyer. The same goes for New Jersey, but only if the buyer asks, so make sure to bring it up constantly on your Garden State house hunts—nobody will think you're weird. On the other hand, Massachusetts and Minnesota state law explicitly allows anyone to sell you a haunted house, no disclaimer necessary. It's always cold there anyway, so how will you even know?

Tags: ghosts | law | Witches

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Jacob Shelton

Writer

Jacob Shelton is a Los Angeles based writer. For some reason this was the most difficult thing he’s written all day, and here’s the kicker – his girlfriend wrote the funny part of that last sentence. As for the rest of the bio? That’s pure Jacob, baby. He’s obsessed with the ways in which singular, transgressive acts have shaped the broader strokes of history, and he believes in alternate dimensions, which means that he’s great at a dinner party. When he’s not writing about culture, pop or otherwise, he’s adding to his found photograph collection and eavesdropping on strangers in public.