Etsy, the online marketplace for handcrafted goods, has long hosted a thriving community of witches, tarot readers, and other spiritual and supernatural vendors. After eBay banned the sale of spells and the like in 2012, it became one of the most popular places for these types of vendors to make a living.
But many who sell supernatural goods on the site are claiming Etsy has been on something of a witch hunt (sorry), changing its rules about the sale of metaphysical services and shutting down stores without warning.
“Swathes of us have now had our sales and shop views tank, and there is great distress in the metaphysical community,” one vendor, who wished to remain anonymous, told the Daily Dot in an email.The witch explained that under Etsy’s previous rules, spells and hexes were allowed to be sold, as long as they fit two criteria: They didn’t guarantee results, and they produced something tangible. So you could sell a tarot reading as long as it came with, say, a digital download, or a candle that could be used for casting spells, as long as you didn't guarantee that the spell would actually work. Earlier this year, for instance, I bought a sex spell off Etsy, which came with both photographs of the spell being cast, and a disclaimer that no spell is guaranteed to work.
Recently, however, Etsy quietly adopted new guidelines that prohibit the sale of spells and hexes. According to its new rules, “any metaphysical service that promises or suggests it will effect a physical change (e.g., weight loss) or other outcome (e.g., love, revenge) is not allowed, even if it delivers a tangible item.”
Etsy didn't include a date with its new guidelines, so it's unclear when, exactly, the policy change took place. Yet the Daily Dot's source says that Etsy was still enforcing the old rules at the beginning of the month. “Up until June, many sellers had been contacted by Etsy warning them their listings would be deleted and/or shop suspended unless they updated these kinds of things to include something tangible," she wrote.Even if the witches had a disclaimer saying these services were “for entertainment purposes only,” or that a spell was not guaranteed to work, listing something as a “love spell” vaguely suggests that you could find love by casting it.
But instead of warning vendors about the upcoming change, Etsy seems to have pulled the plug overnight. Many vendors say stores began to be shut down last week, and on June 9 our source was sent an email by “Etsy Marketplace Integrity” implying a change had been made.
“We’ve recently clarified our spells-related policies in a way that impacts your shop,” the email read. “Because of this, your shop has been suspended.”
When asked for comment, Etsy spokesperson Sara Cohen said in an email that the website “recently” updated its policies, though she declined to give an exact date.
“When we make policy decisions, we strive to strike the right balance between creative freedom, Etsy's values, and establishing a safe marketplace for members," she wrote.
Cohen also insisted that Etsy has been contacting affected sellers “to help them make sure items they sell comply with our guidelines." She said the website is shutting down only the shops that violate these new policies.
An Etsy forum on the subject has over 850 responses. Some witches are annoyed that Etsy had given no warning that the site's policies on witchcraft were about to change. Others were frustrated at Etsy for ditching the community that had previously been welcomed on the site with open arms.
“Etsy has definitely made a lot of money off the sale of these ‘spelled’ items, so they have had to know they were being sold. They even had a category for Spell listings which would prove that point,” wrote one vendor.
Within Etsy’s witch and metaphysical community, there are a few theories as to why Etsy would have adopted the change. One has to do with Etsy having gone public in April. Additionally, while the site focuses on selling handmade, unique goods, it has always been an easy place for resellers and counterfeiters to set up. Etsy is now facing a lawsuit from investors over items that possibly violate trademarks, and it’s possibly that the website has become more strict about just what can be sold.
While these theories are all sound, many metaphysical sellers believe that Etsy has a cultural bias against their goods. One forum user compared the sale of crystals that could be used in meditative rituals to the sale of a rosary or a cross. Both items represent spirituality, but neither make the claim that they will heal your ills or help you speak to God.
“Etsy seems to be only targeting those items of a pagan/occult nature while allowing items of certain faiths traditionally used for protection like St. Christopher medals, to still be marketed,” said another vendor in an email. “Personally I think it's probably unintended ignorance and failure to consider and think through what banning all spiritual, energetic and magickal claims will really mean.”
“Etsy seems to be only targeting those items of a pagan/occult nature while allowing items of certain faiths traditionally used for protection, like St. Christopher medals, to still be marketed.”
Admins in the forums insist that the sales of things like oils, incense, crystals and candles for use in spells are still okay, as long as they don’t claim any magical properties. For many witches, however, that’s not good enough.
“The entire point of buying stones/herbs/oils is for their metaphysical effects in my community!,” wrote one vendor. “If I can't list these correspondences, then why would any witch/pagan buy them from my shop? Witches and Pagans want to buy stones from people with knowledge about their magickal properties.”
There is already a petition to get Etsy to reopen these shops, with many sellers accusing the website of religious discrimination.
“I give the example of the seller who just this week was told to change the title of her listing from 'Archangel Protection Spell Kit' to ‘Archangel Protection PRAYER Kit’ by an Etsy rep,” claimed one vendor. “A spell and a prayer are basically the same thing, putting an intention out into the Universe.”
Discrimination or not, if you’re looking to hex your ex-girlfriend, you’ll have to start looking elsewhere. Or alternatively, you could always band together with these witches and cast a spell on Etsy.
Photo via Wikimedia Commons/Examination of a Witch (1853) by T. H. Matteson | Remix by Jason Reed