Saturday, June 20, 2015

Etsy Bans Non-Christian Magical Items

At least, those that include the words "magic" or "spell" in the description. The online marketplace has implemented a new policy that bans the selling of any item that is described as having paranormal powers, or even the "vague suggestion" of them. eBay implemented a similar policy awhile back, which resulted in may sellers to move their shops over to Etsy.

So now it looks like they may have to move again if they want to keep their stores online. I do understand that at least some of the spells and so forth being sold online are probably scams, which is what Etsy is trying to avoid, and of course they have the right to prohibit the selling of any class of goods they want. However, I am very concerned that they may be applying the policy in a discriminatory manner against minority religions.

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.

I decided to check out the example given in the article, and found this description given for a St. Christopher medal.

This is a beautiful St. Christopher pendant that will look wonderful on your favorite necklace and will comfort you knowing that the Patron Saint of Safe Travels is taking care of your safety. The medal measures 1" x 1" and reads "Saint Christopher Protect Us". Backside is blank. Chain is not included.

Yes, that's a suggestion of paranormal powers right there. So will these items be flagged too? If not, this is straight-up discrimination. If Christians can sell their religious items and imply that they have powers, I should be able to do the same. So should a Wiccan. So should a New Ager. Either that, or any such implications need to be removed from the Christian items as well. This policy is new and Etsy is still in the process of implementing it, so I hope that once it is in place that will be the case. Otherwise, it's pretty clear that the site is favoring one religion over another.

Here's another example given in the article:

“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.”

Yes, they are exactly the same thing if said prayer is intended to produce a physical effect, even something as vague as "protection." I expect that the "respectable" option for Etsy would be to ban all paranormal claims regardless of religion, and that's probably what they eventually will do. But I want to be clear - they can't have it both ways without explicitly giving preferential treatment to Christians. Such treatment could even open them up to a potential lawsuit if it continues.

If I were a person who used Etsy for anything, I would boycott the site until they clarify this policy and either apply it fairly to all religious items or get rid of it altogether. But since I'm not a customer of theirs and don't plan on becoming one any time soon, that wouldn't have much effect.

NOTE: See Update #3 below. After discussion of this post, I no longer think a boycott of Etsy is a good idea. "Metaphysical items" represent only a tiny percentage of the merchandise sold on the site, so all that would do is hurt the sellers. That could also be playing right into their hands, as probably one of the goals of this policy is to get such items off the site. I think that continuing to use Etsy while keeping the spotlight on how this policy is being applied is probably the best way to go.

What you can do, though, is contact the company and let you know that you won't stand for religious discrimination on their part.

UPDATE: Some questions have come up about how the new policy is being implemented, and many magical items are still available. The new policy reads as follows, banning:

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.

The key here seems to hinge on the interpretation of "suggests" on the part of admins. It also seems that as they are starting to ramp up enforcement unevenly and in a possibly discriminatory manner. One commenter on Facebook claimed that her shop sold felted items and just happened to have "magickal" in the name, so she was told to change her descriptions. But another did a search and was able to find a bunch of items that seemingly violate the policy and are still there.

It's possible, too, that this could be the work of a single admin with a prejudice against minority religions. Even if it's not the company as a whole, that's not cool either and needs to be dealt with as soon as possible. It makes no sense for Christians to be able to claim that their talismans work and still be in compliance, but for anybody else to be in violation for doing so.

UPDATE #2: My headline, of course, is deliberately exaggerated. Etsy has not announced "only Christians can sell stuff here." 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."

It seems to me that this is being rolled out much like the Facebook "real names" policy, with particular individuals being told to change and/or remove listings and many others so far being unaffected. But I'm making a stink about it now to get ahead of how it looks like the policy is being applied, at least according to initial reports.

The best case scenario as I see it would be for the company to take the hint and revise the policy, or change how they enforce it going forward. Either that, or they could explain exactly the sort of disclaimer an allowed item would require - and then require the same thing on mainstream religious items with similar descriptions.

I do understand the desire on their part to crack down on scammers and people including trivial tangible items with spells to get around the ban on services. However, as I see it not only is this new policy too broad a brush, it also does not seem to apply to "prayers" even if they are alleged to do the same thing as "spells."

For everyone whose items are still up, that's great. Part of the reason I posted this how and when I did is to try and help make sure that they stay that way by drawing attention to the policy now, just as enforcement of it is starting to target a handful of people. Hopefully the bad publicity will prevent it from being implemented in a widespread fashion. Since it's a public company now, it seems to me that this is more likely to work than it would have when Etsy was private.

UPDATE #3: An online petition has been created opposing this policy. If you would like to sign it, you can do so here. That's probably a better way to go than some sort of boycott that will hurt the sellers without making much of a dent in the company's profits, along with ramping up negative publicity about the policy.

I will say, though, after all this if I ever do decide to set up some sort of online storefront for anything, even totally acceptable tangible goods, it won't be through Etsy.

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Draco Dark Matter's Den said...

Time to start a boycott on all things etsy; see how long that shit lasts!!!

hekates said...

Some of my favorite purveyors of items I use in my spiritual practice are on Etsy, and rely on Etsy for their livelihood. Etsy won't be harmed any time soon by an uncoordinated boycott of limited numbers of people, however some folks will not be able to make enough money to stay afloat.

Drezdany Wildlife said...

That would not benefit the sellers!! Many of us who are Etsy sellers put great effort, time, sweat and money into our crafted items!

Unknown said...

Those of us who've had our stores shut down also put great effort, time, sweat and money into our crafted items. Religious discrimination should not be tolerated by anyone, even those of you so fortunate as to be outside the line of fire...this time.

Unknown said...

I am the vendor that Etsy told to change 'Archangel Protection Spell Kit' to ‘Archangel Protection PRAYER Kit’. I have screen shots I can email you of before and after pics of the listing and I kept emails from Etsy Admins. that took 37 of my listings down if they had the word "spell" in them. Even if the listing did not promise a certain outcome. I had "spell" boxes listed, I had to change them from "spell" boxes to alter boxes. The items that come in the box can be used to perform a spell if the customer chose to do so but did not promise anything specific. The listings for these boxes were reinstated after I changed them to "Alter" boxes. I definitely have proof Etsy is discriminating!

Anonymous said...

-rubs temples- oh for fuck's sake.

1. They want to be a place that offers items. Not services. Writing or casting a spell is a service. Selling a spell kit to cast a spell /yourself/ is an item. The first is now banned. The second is not and is still sellable with the proper word and terminology changes if necessary.

2. It's literally about the wording and terminology you use. Selling a medallion of Saint Christopher with the description saying "he is commonly prayed to for protection" is a lot different than saying "this exact medallion has been blessed and will protect you". Likewise, a listing saying "and will comfort you knowing that the Patron Saint of Safe Travels is taking care of your safety." is a lot different than saying "this exact medalion will protect you". The former does /not/ ascribe the protection properties to the medallion itself (only the feeling of comfort), the later /does/.

3. No, spells and prayers are not even close to being the same thing. Prayers are petitioning a deity to intercede on your behalf. A Spell may or may not (but usually does not) do so. In other words, /some/ spells are prayers, BUT ONLY when they specifically ask the universe and / or a divine figure to do something for you... And most spells don't.

4. Magical results cannot be scientifically measured or validated for proof. It's a liability issue if seller A sells someone the service of selling X spell ceremony, and buyer B decides "i didn't get the exact result I wanted, so obviously they didn't do the spell at all for me and they're a liar". This shit would literally /not fly/ in any other place for any other product- but we are expecting companies to bend over backwards to cater for us.

5. This applies to /all/ magical and spiritual services, not /just/ Pagan ones. Several Christian items have also been taken down. It's currently impacting the Pagan community more because /we/ are the community who currently "sells" the most of these types of things affected by the ban, but it is not specific only to /us/.

Mark A. O'Blazney said...

spell/prayer/magick/eucharist/ritual/christ/druid/.…… dang you all are letting words get in the way of believing in something….. chill !!

Scott Stenwick said...

1. I do get that, as I pointed out in my second update. I know that Etsy does have a history of people selling trivial items to get around the ban on services.

2. If that's what sellers need to do to get around the ban, that's fine with me. So then saying "witches believe that xxx is associated with yyy" is okay? It sounds to me like that's not the case, but I could be wrong. That statement should be no different than "St. Christopher is commonly prayed to for protection."

3. A prayer that is made with the intent to produce a physical effect is the same as a spell for purposes of Etsy's stated goal. It's a paranormal claim. This is what I mean by the policy being too broad a brush, and also what I mean by mainstream religion getting a pass on metaphysical claims. Whether a deity, spirit, or random entity of some other sort is accomplishing the paranormal effect, it's still a paranormal effect.

4. Obviously Etsy should not be liable for such claims. But I was under the impression that the "for entertainment only" and so forth disclaimers accomplished prior to the implementation of this policy.

5. Really? Show me one. And by "one" I'm talking about a mainstream religious item that makes paranormal claims, not something that's basically occult but happens to refer to angels or God or whatever. I don't mean to be obtuse, but I have yet to see anything like that with respect to this new policy.

Anonymous said...


Scott Stenwick said...

Okay, after reading over your post here is where you and I completely disagree:

"Furthermore, the practice of Witchcraft isn’t a religion to begin with – except in very rare circumstances within very specific religions and traditions."

As I see it, spiritual beliefs and religious beliefs are the same thing. If you believe that a spirit is connected with a talisman that you are selling, or that a Saint is, I think those are both religious. You apparently don't. Since we don't see eye to eye on this, it makes perfect sense that you wouldn't see any of this as possible religious discrimination.

Also, are you somehow under the impression that Wicca is not a religion? Most of the complaints I've seen so far have been from Wiccans, and I certainly consider Wicca a religious tradition. In my experience most people at this point do, even if they don't agree with its tenets.

For the record, I'm fine with (A) Etsy prohibiting the sale of trivial items to get around the ban on services, and (B) Etsy cracking down on scammers who are spouting nonsense like "this candle will cure cancer!" and so forth. I also appreciate their clarification of the proper wording for listings.

However, having to change "spell kit" to "prayer kit?" That's just ridiculous, since it doesn't change anything as far a "metaphysical claim" goes. And it's a kit - a collection of items. Not a service.

It's very possible that this policy will wind up changing very little about how the site operates, and as it is rolled out it will be applied to mainstream religious items as well. In fact, the cynical part of me thinks that this is more likely to happen precisely because of all the pushback, including my own.

As I said at the outset, that's all I'm hoping to accomplish - consistent rules, and consistent enforcement for everyone, regardless of their spiritual path or beliefs

steeldrago said...

Scott, thank you for a well written article. Like you I don't shop etsy, however, it is in my interest as a business person and pagan. I agree with all the points you bring up.
Part of the problem is trying to maintain the lie that prayer is petition. It can be, just like some spell work, but like all spell work they only work when your desire is specific but leaves the mechanical to the spirit(s) and there are many examples of 'prayers' that violate the ethical standards of most practitioners of spells by directly attacking the free will of others. "God, I pray that soandso's heart is turned from wickedness that they see the truth of your love" it sounds benign until you realize the requirements of that "love."

Scott Stenwick said...

Right, the idea that a spell is somehow deterministic and a prayer is not fundamentally makes no sense to anybody who is an experienced magical practitioner. But popular culture has pushed the notion that spells are like Harry Potter or something and just work.

Calling upon a spirit to protect the wearer of its talisman is no different than calling upon a saint to protect a person who wears his medal. It doesn't always work, and the spirit has agency just like a saint or deity would and can refuse to comply with your charge.

Basically, mainstream religious practitioners want to pray for specific material goals without having to admit they're doing the exact same thing magicians are. This is even true of extreme examples practiced by certain fundamentalist groups.

Look up "imprecatory prayer" if you want to see an example of what I can only call dark sorcery cast in these sorts of religious terms.

Francesca De Grandis AKA Outlaw Bunny said...

I'm a Etsy vendor who received notice from them that they were changing my listings, They said in the very same email that they support diversity of religion. This is the usual Etsy doublespeak, where they say one thing but do another.

Mamma2004 said...


This is illegal religious discrimination.

A spell is a religious activity in MY religion, Paganism.

A prayer is a religious activity in other religions such as Christianity.

A spell and a prayer are similar but NOT the same.

Scott Stenwick said...

There is a petition that you can sign here opposing the policy:

One of the differences that I would cite between spells and prayers is that spells always have some result in mind, whereas not all prayers necessarily do. But for the purposes of "metaphysical claims" I see them as essentially the same the moment said prayer is directed towards producing some particular result.

By that logic, Etsy should either ban both targeted prayer and spells or ban neither if it wants to avoid being discriminatory.

Kerigwen said...

Perhaps it is time to create our own alternative Market Place?

Scott Stenwick said...

That sounds like a great idea to me. A marketplace specifically set up for metaphysical items of whatever sort would prevent folks from getting caught by these policy changes.

Kat Coble said...

You have a lot of exaggerated claims and falsehoods here. I mean, good for you for stirring the pot. But all your "seems to" and "appears to" and "could possibly be"s amount to the fact that you've just ginned up a lot of innuendo. And that hurts people. It doesn't particularly hurt Etsy...there are enough people buying baby sweaters and Doctor Who tchotchkes to keep them afloat. But it DOES hurt the very people you are concern-trolling the interwebz to "help". People will quit shopping for those items on Etsy and those sellers are out.

Seeing as you don't even shop there it seems to me as if this is really just a ploy to make yourself visible. And the fact that you are taking a stab at notoriety by hurting people's income is wholly distasteful.

Scott Stenwick said...

I honestly had no idea this post would generate so much attention, so it seems to me that the only way I could have put it up as a "stab at notoriety" is if I could see the future. All I'm calling for at this point is for the company to clarify the new policy and apply it fairly.

In the initial post I brought up the possibility of a boycott, but as I mentioned in the updates the subsequent discussion convinced me that it was a bad idea. You're right that something like that would only hurt the sellers and do little to the company's profits. I do think, though, that bringing negative attention to this particular policy could still force them to rethink or revise it.

The reason I'm engaging in such speculation in the first place is pretty simple - the Facebook real names policy. Facebook rolled it out slowly, and by the time people really started taking notice it was already in place and established. In this case, my thought was that if the negative publicity had started at the beginning it might have done some good by forcing the company to rethink what it was rolling out.

Just as an aside - why can't my serious magick posts generate this sort of attention? I mean, I appreciate it and all, but so far the only stories from this blog that have gone semi-viral are this post and that stupid one debunking the woman who was kidnapped by elves.

Scott Stenwick said...

I also just added a note to the effect that I now think a boycott is a bad idea directly following those comments, in case folks don't read all the way to the end. It may very well be that the point of this policy is to drive "metaphysical items" off the site, so in addition to hurting sellers a boycott might be playing right into their hands.

Unknown said...

If your looking for metaphysical items try which is a site kind of like etsy or ebay. Its a safe place for these sellers to go and have begun to move as an option.

Tammy said...

If you don't want to list on Etsy anymore, you can always try A lot of people who were banned from Etsy have moved over there so they can sell their stuff and they are very happy with it. I may have to do that too here shortly!