Leading article: High spirits

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The Independent Online

The reputation of the spiritualist has never really recovered since Shakespeare had some fun with them in Henry IV, Part 1. "I can summon spirits from the vasty deep," threatened the Welsh occultist, Owen Glendower. To which Hotspur replied: "Why, so can I, or so can any man. But will they come when you do call for them?"

Next month will see the repeal of the Fraudulent Mediums Act and its replacement with new Consumer Protection Regulations. Anyone who promises to summon up the dead, like Glendower, or to discern the future with the help of enchanted Tarot cards, will henceforth risk finding themselves on the wrong end, not just of some Hotspuresque wit, but a legal writ too, if they fail to produce the spiritual goods.

And the practitioners of this ancient trade are not very happy about it. The Spiritualist Workers' Association, a sort of trade union for occultists, will deliver a petition to Downing Street today. They claim that if their members are forced to issue legal disclaimers in the manner of a mortgage advert before unfolding the Ouija board, (example: "this is a scientific experiment, the results of which cannot be guaranteed"), they will look, well, ridiculous.

And it is hard to disagree with this appraisal. But such complaints are surely beside the point. What we really want to know is: what goes on at the annual spiritualist trade union conference? And, more importantly still: why didn't they see all this coming?