Etsy has been shaking up its community of virtual shop-owners in the last few weeks by placing a ban on the sale of metaphysical items such as spells, hexes, potions, and crystals. Shop-owners who were offering such items began receiving emails in the second week of June, stating, "We've recently clarified our spells-related policies in a way that impacts your shop. Because of this, your shop has been suspended."
The change is part of an update to Etsy's policy on the selling of services. The sale of services has always been forbidden with a few exceptions for services that produce tangible items — such as custom graphic design products and workshops that result in tangible take-home items. Until some point earlier this month, the policy on spells fell under the heading of a service that resulted in a tangible item — so long as the purchase came with a print-out or photo evidence of the spell being cast and didn't make a firm promise that it would bring about the intended effect.
The new policy states:
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.
A petition to overturn the rule currently has close to 4,000 signatures and a forum on the Etsy website already has over 950 comments, largely indignant and confused, in response to the changes. Commenters rightly point out that the delineation between what will and won't be allowed under these new rules isn't all that clear. While religious items are supposedly protected, what about those with slightly more mystical properties — for example, the St. Christopher (patron saint of travelers) medal that my grandmother clipped to my car mirror to protect me while I'm driving? Surely anyone selling such a medal would want to suggest what it's for, and that doesn't seem to line up with Etsy's new rules.
what will and won't be allowed under these new rules isn't all that clear
Another point of contention is the exact definition of the word "suggest." Does naming a tea with the word "sleepytime" overtly suggest that you should take it in place of a sleeping pill? Is marketing a healing crystal as soothing somehow more insidious than marketing a bath salt in the same manner? Where can I buy a decent mood ring anymore?
One commenter posted a clarifying email she had received from the site, which read:
To qualify for sale, psychic and tarot readings must be sold in the form of a digital file or a physical document. Both the listings' titles and descriptions need to state the format in which the reading will be sent (e.g. PDF).
Listings are not allowed to promise or suggest that the items or readings will effect a physical change (e.g., weight loss) or any other outcome (e.g. love, revenge).
Independent of any metaphysical properties they may have, the items themselves must qualify for sale on Etsy as either Handmade items (including digital products), Vintage goods, or Craft Supplies.
Etsy has further stated:
We want to assure you that this policy applies equally to all intangible services (whether spiritual services or any other types of intangible services). We respect and value the metaphysical community of Etsy, who come from a wide variety of cultural and religious backgrounds. Please keep in mind that other types of metaphysical goods that meet our handmade and services policies are welcome in our marketplace.
Ostensibly the goal is to protect suckers from getting seriously swindled, as stories about psychics milking hundreds of thousands of dollars from clients have made national news. But it's hard to believe that anything that extreme was happening on Etsy, and the e-commerce site's public offering in April of this year might be a more obvious, if less altruistic, reason for them to tighten ship.
Etsy isn't the first online retailer to ban the sale of "magical" items — eBay took similar strides in 2012. So where will the witches go now? Amazon has shown interest in siphoning off Etsy sellers in the past to fill out their Handmade Items section, so maybe Jeff Bezos will be the one to offer them a new home?