TWH –The explosion of online platforms has been a boon to many in the polytheist and Pagan communities who can now sell crafts, books, and esoteric services more easily than ever before. At the same time, owners of all-sized businesses must be able to accept electronic payments in an increasingly cash-free society. Sometimes, vendors fall afoul of rules against the sale “occult” items or “fortune-teller” services, which now seems to be near-ubiquitous in the industry’s user agreements.The Witchery is such an online business. Its owner, who declined to give a name, was unaware that the popular processor Square is one of those no-occult zones.
In a Facebook post Wichery’s owner, who is a “practicing hedge witch with Hoodoo influences,” recounted being notified of the Square’s decision to cancel the business account. It was reportedly based on the fact that businesses are “prohibited by Section 6 of the Square Merchant User Agreement,” the most relevant section of which appears to be accepting payments in connection with “occult materials.”
One interesting variant in the regulation of occult sales is the broad text found in the terms for Dwolla, another online payment platform. That site simply forbids “activity that indicates, in Dwolla’s sole discretion, that there may be a high level of risk associated with you.”
The notable exception to the problem often faced by occult merchants is PayPal, which has become a safe harbor of sorts.
When The Wild Hunt reported on Square’s terms of service seven years ago, bloggers were largely giving it the benefit of the doubt, saying that “this is boilerplate text supplied by the credit card companies, and was most likely penned to protect them from liability in cases of fortune-telling scams.”
Indeed, the verbiage used in the Square terms of service today is reflected in that of many other providers, often down to paragraph numbering. The question on whether or not the rules will be enforced has since become clear: violation of those terms can and has led to account termination.
“I think if Square had terminated accounts several years ago before there were 10 other services just like it there would have been more impact,” observed Charissa Iskiwitch of the Pagan Business Network.
“The general consensus in the conversations I participated in years ago was they were attempting to give themselves an out for fortune-tellers.”
In the years since Pagans first raised concerns over the Square terms, selling platform updates also resulted in tightened rules that targeted mostly intangible religious and magical services. The most consequential of these were likely eBay in 2012 and then Etsy in 2015.
As a consequence, vendors must jump through additional hoops to use these convenient services: wording that downplays or specifically disclaims any supernatural benefit, the providing of some kind of “product” in association with a psychic reading (e.g., a copy of the reading in electronic form), or seeking out a high-risk merchant account and continuing openly.
While the cost for a merchant account can be appreciably higher, it is the only viable alternative if tip-toeing around rules presents a philosophical problem. Esoteric service providers may find that downplaying the effectiveness of their work is counterproductive. Not only might potential clients be turned off by the language, it could conceivably erode the power of belief-based magic.
While many people do not fully read online service agreements, a small sampling of Pagan purveyors suggests that most of them are aware of the risks. It’s why Valerie Lord won’t open an account with Square. The term “occult” is too broad, and she’s not sure if any of the Pagan items she sells online would count.
“Until they specify what they consider occult items we will either have to keep a backup available or find something else,” she wrote.Jason Barna uses both Square and PayPal at Phoenix Rising Apothecary. He also questioned the lack of a definition for “occult,” and joked that he could run into trouble if his athames and bolines were deemed firearms, which are also forbidden for sale.
These issues were news to Ashley Hunter, and she said she’s worried about how it might impact Pagan Pride celebrations such as the one held in Conway, Ark. that she’s helped run.
“This would definitely have a negative impact on us if we attempted to organize another event in the future,” she said. “Events are kept afloat by vendors that sell things, and most people these days use cards, not cash. It would be very helpful if there was a list of alternate providers that don’t discriminate against witches and Pagans so that we would know who to turn to.”
Bernadette Montana, owner of the brick-and-mortar Brid’s Closet, uses Square and has never had a problem with it, she said, despite the many tarot readings performed at her shop.
Anti-occult terms are something Dominique Smith is well aware of, although she doesn’t feel she can do much about it, “I navigate these issues with nothing more than hope and bubble gum keeping things together.”
“I recognize that in using these platforms, service and my ability to use them may be withdrawn by the provider at anytime without notice,” Smith said. “I’ve been lucky enough that the hammer has not found me and I suspect that when other occult retailers are eventually ‘found out’ it’s because a client has complained directly to the point of sale provider and they are forced to withdraw service to avoid litigation. I believe it would be naive to think that Square in particular has any targeted axe to grind with the occult community and without a doubt they are completely aware that businesses such as mine are using their system.”
However, Smith added that because there are still anti-witchcraft laws on the books in Canada, she and other Canadian entrepreneurs “have a harder road to navigate.”
Some esoteric business owners are calling for members of the community to clean house. Commenting on the announcement from The Witchery, one user wrote, “Until the community starts policing itself and outing the folks selling ‘love sex power’ demons ‘trapped’ in rings for $300 and crap like that no one will take any of us seriously. The scammers are giving everyone a bad name.”
Smith agreed, saying, “If we do not want our communities to be associated with the assumption of fraud, we need to self-regulate. If there are individuals within our community that are committing acts of fraud we need to speak up and that typically doesn’t happen, so by association we are all painted with the same brush.”
The Witchery’s owner will be more careful about wording on the web site going forward, and is grateful to have had a backup processor already in place. It was actually only through the process of elimination that the owner determined that it was “occult materials” proviso causing the problem.
For the most part, companies such as these do not respond to customers after such a decision has been made, much less members of the press. An inquiry sent to Square’s press office did not receive a reply by press time.
Psychic Amanda Linette Meder did succeed in getting a favorable response from Stripe in 2012, leading to the conditional approval of her account with that processor. Meder opined at the time that this unfairly inflates the cost of psychic services by increasing the cost of doing business.
On one side, there is the concern about fraud, on the other hand there is the call for religious freedom. The small number of persons affected by these rules may make it difficult to redraw the fine line between the two, unless perhaps all Pagans begin doing business solely with cash.