What’s Occult Anyway?

Jason Pitzl-Waters —  June 14, 2010 — 2 Comments

So there’s this nifty new application for smart-phones called Square. It allows you to process credit card payments using your phone (currently available for iPhone, iPod touch, iPad, Nexus One, and Droid), and was designed to benefit individuals and small businesses that wouldn’t normally be able to process such a payment method. Sounds pretty awesome right? I’m sure there are plenty of small vendors in the Pagan community who might want to take advantage of such a service, but there’s just one problem.


“…you are not engaged in and will not accept payment for any of the following: (1) any illegal activity, (2) adult entertainment oriented products or services (all media types; internet, telephone, printed material, etc), (3) internet/mail order/telephone order pharmacies (where fulfillment of medication is performed with an internet or telephone consultation, absent a physical visit with a physician including re-importation of pharmaceuticals from foreign countries.), (4) internet/mail order/telephone order firearm or weapon sales, (5) internet/mail order/telephone order cigarette or tobacco sales, (6) drug paraphernalia, (7) occult materials, (8) hate products, (9) online gambling (10) lotteries, raffles, or gambling, (11) escort services…”

No occult materials? Writer and defender of all things subcultural Warren Ellis has some questions regarding these restrictions, like, just what is and isn’t “occult”, exactly?

Hold on. Can someone explain this to me? What defines an occult material? I had a quick Google.According to Fox News, a pink ouija board made by Hasbro is an “occult material.” Informed Christians tells me that Harry Potter and Pokemon are occult materials. Are Tarot cards occult materials? Divining rods? Alan Moore books and CDs?

I’m presuming this is just some kind of weird boilerplate text they’ve picked up from somewhere, and that in America credit card processors don’t like you rubbing the spooky stuff. And someone will educate me on that in the comments. But “occult materials” would seem to me to be so ill-defined as to cover an awful lot of things. So, if you fancy the sound of Square, but perhaps sell things like books or garments or goat heads consecrated in Satan’s piss, you might want to drop them a line first to get their definition of “occult materials.”

The generous interpretation of the “no occult” rule I’ve read is 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 (Google Checkout once had similar restrictions). Of course, terms like “hate products” and “adult entertainment oriented products” are equally loaded. You think it means porn and Nazis, but who’s making the definitions? Are offensive t-shirts hate speech? Is a book on Kink Magic an “adult entertainment oriented product”? Taken together, do they make it impossible for a Pagan festival vendor to use this service? Finally, Square was created because an artist couldn’t sell his work on the spot, but would many of the hypothetical artists that might want to use this service fall afoul of the occult, hate, or adult restrictions? Could you sell “Piss Christ” with Square?

So far no statement has come from Square on this matter, despite the topic rolling around the Internet for a few days now. Their Twitter feed is silent. I suppose we’ll wait and see if there’s a clarification or revision coming, or if they’ll continue to use the restrictive (and possibly illegal if challenged in a court of law under religious freedom grounds) boilerplate.

Update: The company’s FAQ specifically mentions that fortune-telling is prohibited because it carries a high risk of charge-back (ie the customer disputing the charge after the fact). No word on other “occult” items or services.

Jason Pitzl-Waters