Etsy, a widely-used site for selling handcrafted and other items online, sent shockwaves through the Pagan online vendor community by clarifying a company policy on spell-related items. While “clarify” was the word officially used to describe the action, in effect the change banned even a whiff of the supernatural in the names and descriptions of items for sale. An email sent to shop owners advised of the policy updates, but it wasn’t until items — and entire shops — were being disallowed that people really started to notice.
An article on the policy shift at the Daily Dot explained what has changed:
. . . 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. . . . 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.’
As reported by The Daily Dot, Shop owners reported notifications of suspensions as early as June 9. They were given no advance notice that their shop or item descriptions would have to be changed.
Etsy spokesperson Sara Cohen spoke to The Wild Hunt using nearly identical wording to the responses given to the Daily Dot, as well as the phrasing in the policy itself. This suggests that the message is being tightly controlled. She said:
Services have always been prohibited on Etsy. Any service that does not yield a new, tangible, physical item is not allowed (for example: tailoring, restoring or repairing an item, photographic retouching or color correction).
We’ve recently updated our policies to reflect that this includes metaphysical services that promise or suggest a resulting physical change (i.e. weight loss) or other abstract outcome (i.e. fortune or luck), even if they deliver a physical object. We appreciate that it is a tricky, nuanced area, and our policy and enforcement teams weigh many factors to fairly, reasonably and consistently enforce our policies.
By tightening restrictions in the metaphysical arena and in “clarifying” the policy, Etsy has also removed the categories of ‘Religious Services and Readings’ and ‘Spells, Rituals and Readings’ entirely. It is following in the footsteps of eBay, who banned the sale of curses, spells, hexes, magic, prayers, blessings, magic potions, healing sessions and similar items and services in 2012, despite a petition signed by 2,845 people in opposition. Unlike eBay, Etsy did not give its vendors clear advance warning, which might explain why a similar petition seeking to end this ban has gathered 6,180 signatures to date.The organizer of the Etsy petition drive, Astrelle, runs the Celestial Secrets shop on Etsy. What happened to her and others she spoke to didn’t suggest that the implementation of the new policy was done reasonably:
I had some listings deactivated by Etsy for not fitting within the parameters of their guidelines, though I have been luckier than most. I have noticed stores with more items that they consider ‘services’ than not have been entirely removed. I have been told this erases all of their customer info and wipes their shops. Many have said this happened without warning. I have been in contact with other shop owners, and some have said they only received warning after their shops were deactivated.
Astrelle’s experience, as well as those she reported, were very different from the approach that Etsy representative Cohen said has been taken:
Our goal is to support as much of the metaphysical community on Etsy as possible, and that is why we worked hard to reach out to individual sellers to help bring them into compliance.
To be clear, we are not shutting down all metaphysical shops as part of this policy update; we’re contacting only those shops or items that violate our policies. Sellers may continue to sell astrological charts, tarot readings, and other tangible objects, as long as they are not making a promise that object will effect a physical change or other outcome, such as weight loss, love, revenge, or a medical cure or claim.
While gauging the full scope of the reaction is difficult, there were a number of comments on various threads indicating support for the protection against fraud, while others attacked the alleged lack of consistency in enforcement. One commenter said, “What’s funny is that ebay stopped allowing spells to be sold over a year ago-and all the crazies went to Etsy; the ‘big booty’ ‘penis enlargment’ and ‘breast augmentation’ spells were all over Etsy. They allow those but not spell kits?”
As some users tried to parse the meaning of the word “suggest,” others, including petitioner Astrelle, saw a pattern in the shops and items being targeted for removal; a pattern that gave Christian-themed merchandise a pass. Thelemite blogger Scott Stenwick put it this way:
The problem, though, is that mainstream religion gets a pass on metaphysical claims in the minds of many people, and it’s starting to look like the Etsy admins are no exception.
The example of someone told to change a ‘spell kit’ to a ‘prayer kit’ is precisely what I’m talking about. A prayer that is intended to produce a tangible effect is the same thing as a spell. Also, a ‘kit’ is not a service but rather a collection of items, so why that would fall under the new policy remains a mystery to me — unless there’s an admin out there who just doesn’t like the word ‘spell.’
Spokesperson Cohen addressed that concern by saying, “We would like to be clear that this is NOT targeted at witches, Wiccans, or any religion. Etsy strongly believes in freedom of thought, expression, and religion, and we will never institute a policy that discriminates against sellers for their religious beliefs or practices.” And, when asked about items such as the St. Christopher medallion which was linked to by both Stenwick and The Daily Dot, she replied, “Due to the nature of our platform, where anyone may list anything at any time, it is possible that a service may appear for sale on the site before our enforcement teams have a chance to remove it. Members are welcome to flag these items and report them to us; we have a timely review process for all flags.”Nevertheless, the change has generated interest in finding alternatives to Etsy. Some shop owners are disheartened by the sanctions imposed, or are struggling to rewrite item descriptions to fit in the newly-clarified guidelines. Others don’t feel comfortable including disclaimers stating that their products are not intended to help, heal, diagnose, or do anything else in any way. They feel that such wording would run counter to the intent of the magic, and could well invalidate any spells actually cast.
“This is a part of my kind of people’s religious views! I don’t see how it’s anyone’s else business,” wrote Jenya, a Russian Pagan who was left very confused by the new rules.
Among the alternatives are lesser-known platforms like Square, Storenvy, and Folksy, which is only available in the United Kingdom. It’s also possible to simply sell through one’s own web site. None of those options can match the internet reach of Etsy, but a less establish seller needs to be engaging in some kind of marketing to drive traffic regardless. For top Etsy sellers, the revenue hit may be significant.