Selling magick without selling your soul: Thoughts on Pagan business ethics

Posted by Michelle Gruben on

Selling magick without selling your soul

There’s not many places you can go to shop for a love spell these days. Or a haunted doll. Or a candle that will make your neighbors move out. Purveyors of magickal services have been driven into the back alleys of the internet, never to be seen again on reputable shopping sites.

eBay has banned listings for spells and psychic readings since 2012. Etsy did a major purge of witches-for-hire in 2015. Increasingly, payment processors such as Stripe are dealing out warnings and account shutdowns for merchants whose businesses are tainted with a whiff of the metaphysical.

The distrust of magickal merchandise and services is hardly a new phenomenon. Most sellers have cannily adjusted their product claims or format to play by the rules. (Etsy, for example, allows Tarot and astrological readings if they are sold in document form and don’t promise any future results.)

And yet, among Pagan business owners, each listing removal or account suspension brings new outrage. They feel that crackdowns endanger their livelihoods. Many believe that they ought to be allowed to sell any item that has a willing buyer. Some people also point out that these policies can be discriminatory in the way they are written and enforced.

Often when I first read these stories, I have little sympathy for the sellers. Don’t sell bullshit. Then you won’t get shut down.

Of course, it’s far more complicated than that. As owners of Pagan and magickal businesses, we all have products and services that the broader culture sees fantasy. Even within our magickal subcultures, there’s a lot of different opinions on what’s legit and what’s snake oil.

Being a responsible magickal business owner means drawing a line somewhere—even if it’s occasionally a wavy line.

Let me just put this out there: I am a magick user. I see and do many different things which are not supposed to happen at all. I believe in the existence of ghosts, faeries, psychic powers, astral travel, ancient gods, alternative dimensions, witchcraft, and lots of other weird stuff that sane and educated people generally have no traffic with. Other people (thank Goddess) feel the same way, and I make my living seeking out objects that will appeal to those people.

Even so, there are things that push even my (very stretchy) credulity to the breaking point. And there is rampant exploitation in this industry. We’ve all seen it. Some people are all too willing to surrender their autonomy (and their money) to any vendor who can promise a supernatural remedy. I won’t be a part of that problem.

I believe it is possible to support alternative spiritualities without preying on the desperate and the vulnerable. For me, this means sticking with products that I have used or would use—or that I’ve personally experienced the benefits of. Experience has taught me that spells cast for other people are seldom as powerful as spells cast out of necessity, so I’m skeptical of spell peddlers and candle fixers, too.

I don’t think that it’s wrong to sell metaphysical services (such as healings and readings), provided the seller isn’t manipulating the buyer into paying an exorbitant price. But it’s out of my personal comfort zone so, I don’t do it. Same goes for charged, blessed, and infused items. I’m happier selling a product that I’m certain will do everything that I’ve claimed it will do (plus, in the right hands, a bit more). Things that have dimensions that can be measured, things that can be returned if you decide they’re not for you.

As metaphysical vendors, we should acknowledge that bringing magick into the conversation is not the right choice in every situation. We have the power to enhance lives through wisdom, or to harm them through misinformation. Nowhere is this more apparent than with medical issues. I believe, for instance, that modern medicine (imperfect though it may be), is still the best first choice for tackling a serious illness.  So, the person at my shop who asks, “What crystals are good for creativity?” will get a lengthy and animated response from me or my staff. The person who asks, “What crystals are good for my kidneys?” will not get the same kind of answer.

I’m lucky to have many, many magickal people moving through my life—friends and family, vendors and customers, community members and strangers. But I’m also grateful for those people who neither know nor care about occult matters. They keep me grounded—and on the business side of things, they keep me honest about my product. I don’t need to prove anything to anybody, or to apologize for what I feel to be true. But it helps to be able to explain to them about why I do what I do, in a way that makes sense to them and to me.

At a Pagan Pride Day not too long ago, I watched a vendor struggle to answer a question from a well-meaning muggle. She was selling bath salts that were “infused with magick,” and he wanted to know what, approximately, that meant. Extraordinary claims, it seems, require extraordinary backpedaling.

Some witchy vendors will certainly be ruffled by all this, as if I’ve dared to question their magickal prowess. More mercenary types won’t see what the fuss is about, as if money changing hands is all that makes a business successful.

Metaphysical business owners are in a unique perspective. We are necessarily positioning ourselves on the dividing line between the known (money and goods) and the unknown (spiritual power). If it sometimes feels like a tightrope walk, that’s because it is! Nobody can prove which magick things do or do not work, so what ends up on the selling floor is often a matter of individual belief and individual conscience.

As long as we collaborate with venues and selling partners like eBay, Etsy, and Stripe, some of these decisions will continue to be made for us. It may be annoying, but it’s written into the rules of the game. Pagan and magickal businesses need to be able to adapt to create a marketplace that is ethical, transparent, and safe for buyers and sellers.

Read more by Michelle Gruben in the archive.

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