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This paper considers the debate that occurred between German parapsycholgists and their critics during the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries over the prosecution of clairvoyants and telepaths for Gaukelei, a term perhaps best translated in this context as charlatanry, but which literally connoted travelling showmanship. The criminal codes of a number of the German Länder, including Bavaria, Baden and Hessen contained provisions for the prosecution of this offense, which presumed a priori the non-existence of occult powers. Under this law guilt or innocence was decided solely on the basis of whether the defendant had accepted remuneration for their services. In states whose criminal codes included a Gaukelei clause this emphasis on the exchange of money and goods as a measure of guilt provoked outrage on the part of parapsychologists, who claimed that the interpretation and application of this law by police was fallacious.

Such Gaukelei clauses, parapsychologists argued, were a product of the Enlightenment, during which fortune telling (Wahrsagen) came to be understood as a dangerous species of superstition from which the public needed to be protected. Experimentation during the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, they maintained, had proven the existence of these phenomena and exposed the faulty basis of this law. Those critical of parapsychology, however, praised Enlightenment lawmakers, arguing that these legislators had realised that occult phenomena, whether the product of fraud or supernatural powers, posed a threat to the public's moral and physical well-being. On this basis these critics campaigned vigorously throughout the 1920s for the inclusion of a Gaukelei clause in the Reich Criminal Code.

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