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Long-time Norfolk palm reader reflects as city repeals old ban on the practice

Samantha Weaver has been reading palms in Norfolk for 68 years. She didn't even realize city code banned the practice until the council repealed the old law.
Ryan Murphy
Samantha Weaver has been reading palms in Norfolk for 68 years. She didn't even realize city code banned the practice until the council repealed the old law.

Though unenforced, it’s technically been illegal to read palms in the city for a century or more.

In the back room of a shop selling crystals, tarot decks and portable altars, Samantha Weaver will tell you what comes next.

“You’ve got probably a 75% chance now of winning the lottery,” says the kind-eyed 75-year-old, tracing a line on the wrist of a reporter holding a microphone in his other hand.

“The darker (and) the deeper it gets, the more likely you are. I've sent people out of here and said ‘go and pick up a lottery ticket on the way home.’”

Weaver said she’s been doing readings like these, known as Vedic palmistry, since she was 7. For the last couple decades, she’s made her home at metaphysical shop Kindred Spirit, now on Little Creek Road.

She picked up the practice early on from her family, who Weaver said were folk healers and mediums in rural South Carolina before her father’s Navy career brought them to Norfolk.

“I was reading all my classmates by the time we moved here,” Weaver said.

Her first paying gig: reading palms at her best friend’s birthday party, for which her friend’s mother paid her $5.

But Weaver said she didn’t know she’d been breaking the law since the 1950s.

“It was a shock to me when I heard about that and I'm glad that they voted,” she said.

Norfolk’s City Council overturned the city’s obscure and unenforced ban on paid palm readings and clairvoyance earlier this week, the latest in ongoing efforts to purge outdated laws and language from Norfolk’s codebooks.

Practicing palmistry recreationally was okay under the old law, but as soon as you started charging for it, you could face up to a year in jail and a $2,500 fine.

The law was likely more than 100 years old, according to Virginian-Pilot archives, though it was retained when the city reauthorized its whole city code in 1958.

Weaver said she was never hassled by police or threatened with prosecution under the law, but she’s glad it was changed.

“I look at it as a gift from God that … maybe we can correct some of the ways that people think and get a better reputation for people that are very committed to this,” she said. “This has been my lifelong thing and it hurts my feelings when people put me into the category of fraud.”

Weaver said she expects the law was meant to target women working in Norfolk’s downtown during the postwar era who marketed themselves to Norfolk’s sailors.

“I think that a lot of that was naval influence of us having a Navy base that's here and they didn't want them to be going there and getting ripped off. I know that the ones that were reading downtown at that time were certainly not readers,” Weaver laughed. “They were in another line of work.”

One of the cats who roams Kindred Spirit, the shop on Little Creek Road in Norfolk where Weaver does her readings, naps atop a handmade alter in the shop window.
Ryan Murphy
One of the cats who roams Kindred Spirit, the shop on Little Creek Road in Norfolk where Weaver does her readings, naps atop a handmade alter in the shop window.

Weaver said she’s gotten derisive comments about her craft as far back as she can remember. Her chosen profession hurt her chances in the dating pool as a younger woman, once more religious suitors learned her profession, and she even got pushback from members of the co-op where she bought a residence just five years ago.

Despite some people’s misgivings, plenty of others seek Weaver out for guidance — and not just to ask for the day’s lottery numbers.

”It's sad to me that you have to come to a stranger and pay a stranger to listen to you, to hear, to tell you things that give you hope. That part of it is sad to me,” Weaver said. “But I think that, just like there's doctors just like there’s psychiatrists, just like there's all sorts of people that treat different parts of us humans, I treat the soul.”

The now-defunct city ordinance inspired a federal lawsuit from a New York woman who’d wanted to do readings at Kindred Spirit when it opened in Ghent in 1997. The suit, backed by the American Civil Liberties Union, contended the law was a violation of constitutional freedoms of religion and speech. It was dismissed by a judge just a couple of weeks after it was filed.

Over the last few years, Norfolk has occasionally sought to remove outdated language from its city charter and codes. Typically, they’re relics that have been deemed unenforceable under modern law and legal precedent.

In 2020, the city removed code sections criminalizing both adultery and “fornication,” or sex outside of marriage.

Norfolk has also had to ask the General Assembly to change its city charter. (In Virginia, a city can’t change its own charter unilaterally).One example of needing GA approval: a provision dating to before the Civil War that allowed Norfolk police to drive poor people out of the city as “paupers.” That change was made as a result of staff reviews of city code via diversity and inclusion initiatives in 2019.

And Norfolk isn’t the only government cleaning up old law books. Virginia purged nearly 100 discriminatory and racist lawsin 2020, though a later state report noted that simply taking them off the books has not addressed underlying structural inequities.

Eric Justice, who works at Kindred Spirit, also had no idea about the old palmistry ban until he was told about the council’s repeal.

“From a purely business perspective, it gets people talking about it,” Justice said. “More eyes are going to be on this community and on, not just this shop, but shops like us.”

Ryan is WHRO’s business and growth reporter. He joined the newsroom in 2021 after eight years at local newspapers, the Daily Press and Virginian-Pilot. Ryan is a Chesapeake native and still tries to hold his breath every time he drives through the Hampton Roads Bridge-Tunnel.

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