TWH –It’s still not a good time to accept credit cards while Pagan. As was reported in March, terms of service forbidding fortune telling and other “occult” practices are enforced arbitrarily, and sometimes without warning. A new twist in the tale was discovered by Yeshe Rabbit, who was advised that not using a particular processor for the forbidden transactions is not enough. She was told to remove the offending services from her business web site.
The Sacred Well, her shop with two West Coast locations, now uses a different provider, but she’d like to work on clearing this climate of uncertainty once and for all.The ban on occult products and services stems from a purely mercenary motivation: the fear that customers will be unhappy and demand their money back. It’s for that same reason that lottery tickets can’t be purchased with plastic.
The lottery comparison is only superficially similar, however. For one thing, it is a clearly-defined category of merchandise, as opposed to the board and mushy “occult” grouping.
For another, it’s unlikely that anyone has told the owners of shops selling lottery merchandise that they won’t be able to accept credit cards for any merchandise if they continue to sell those scratch-off tickets.
“TSW was designated ‘high risk’ because, according to CardConnect, we mentioned ‘reiki, herbal smoking blends, and psychic readings’ on our website,” Rabbit said.
“This was after 10 years of working in our industry without any significant chargebacks or complaints. It was not based on our existing record of sales, only on wording on our website.” That wording has not been changed in the recent past, she confirmed.
Like many store owners, Rabbit acknowledges that she didn’t study the fine print when she first signed her CardConnect agreement some ten years ago, but that changed when she heard about other Pagan vendors running into problems.
“We made sure that we were not using any single processor for any activities listed in the fine print of their policy. CardConnect had a policy against psychic readings. However, since we did not use CardConnect to process readings, but rather used it to process sales of merchandise and classes, we thought we were abiding by the policy,” Rabbit explained.
“However, when they notified us that they planned to terminate our service,” she continued, “they specifically cited that we offered readings and smoking blends on our website.”
Rabbit said that she wrote back, letting the agent know that they used other processors for both readings and web sales, but they did not budge.” Card Connect told her that the store would “need to take those pages down to retain their services, even if [they] were using those services for a separate part of the business that did not violate their policy.”
“In the end, we chose to close our account,” Rabbit said.
A call to CardConnect asking for media relations was transferred to the voice mail of a Chelsea Cole, who did not respond to inquiries by press time. Cole was asked to confirm that CardConnect policy includes the restrictions that Rabbit described, and whether those limitations extend to CardConnect clients with lottery tickets for sale.
What’s clear is that at least one card processor is coming down harder still than earlier in the year, with attempts to dictate terms that extend well beyond what one might expect.
“They are not interested in any proof that our practices are linked to a legitimate religious path,” Rabbit said, “even though Paganism and Wicca are recognized by the government and armed forces for things like chaplaincy and headstones.”The fact that services such as divination are used by some individuals as part of their sincerely-held religious beliefs is a complicating factor which could well hold sway in a court of law, but getting there is an expensive and cumbersome process which the stereotypical Pagan merchant can ill afford to pursue.
If Rabbit had those resources handy, she said, she’d be more inclined to just start a processing company of her own. “It’s tempting to dream about creating the kind of infrastructure that supports the world I want to live in, where there is true religious freedom and respect for diversity of beliefs and practices,” she said.
Rabbit is confident she could write a report that demonstrates that there is no need to for any processor to consider the Sacred Well a business risk, but she’s not sure it would matter much. After all, a 115-page business plan backed by considerable research was ignored by a commercial realtor in one West Coast city that simply refused to rent any space to a Pagan shop.
“I fear that would happen if we tried to do that here,” she said. “Perhaps if several businesses did this and approached these companies en masse, it might be more effective.”
The number of Pagan merchants isn’t big enough to get changes through a boycott. That’s evident in the other demand made of Rabbit, concerning her business web page.
CardConnect representatives “did not provide any explanation about why they felt they could dictate the content of our website, even after we offered proof that the activities they find objectionable have nothing to do with their processing equipment or services,” Rabbit said.
That kind of demand makes little business sense if it would lead to a loss of revenue for the processor.
Rabbit believes that if changing this state of affairs were to be successful, it would be as a leaderless movement, with responsibilities shared among actors. “I can see myself instigating, contributing, and collaborating in a movement among Pagan business owners to address the religious intolerance directed toward our products and services,” she said, “but I don’t know that anyone needs me to lead in that field. We are all business owners and capable entrepreneurs.”
She added, “I would love to team up with people like Jane Hawkner, Susan Diamond, and Phoenix LaFey around this. And, truth be told, if we really want something like this to be successful, we would benefit greatly from the business wisdom of Cat Yronwode. She is brilliant.”
Unless and until these policies are clarified or modified, there is little a Pagan business owner can do other than read the fine print of every agreement carefully, and to have one more more backup plans in place.
As Rabbit discovered, even complying with the letter of the policy is no guarantee that someone at the other end of the phone won’t decide it’s too risky anyway, and close the account. Absent the deep pockets for a lawsuit or the community will for a movement, signing up for payment processing while Pagan is no more certain than the promises made by some world leaders to take in war refugees and give them permanent homes.
We will continue to update this story as new information is received.
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The work of journalist Terence P. Ward was made possible by the generous underwriting donation from Hecate Demeter, writer, ecofeminist, witch and Priestess of the Great Mother Earth.