The pagans, wiccas, and various New Age folk who sell their spiritual wares on Etsy were informed this month that their shops were now against the rules when the online marketplace amended its policy to ban “any metaphysical service that promises or suggests it will effect a physical change (e.g., weight loss) or other outcome (e.g., love, revenge).” In recent days, crystals, candles, potions and tiny spells in jars have disappeared from the site for violating this policy for promising of love, protection and health to the buyer.
The problem is that Christian stores selling items similarly laden with metaphysical meaning – from saints pendants to holy cards targeting particular ailments – haven’t suffered the same crackdown (though, since this disparity was pointed out, Etsy seems to have taken some high-profile Christian shops down).
On the one hand, Etsy’s motives make some sense. You can’t say “This crystal will cure cancer.” You also can’t say “This holy card of a particular saint will cure cancer.” The FDA has a problem with products that are not medicine making medical claims.
But on the other hand, saying “This crystal promotes healing from cancer,” or “This holy card supports prayer to a saint who has in the past miraculously cured cancer,” moves into foggier territory. And saying “This spell or prayer will bring you love/protection/etc.” is murkier still.
But in our culture, the holy card/rosary/prayer is a much more familiar idiom for those seeking spiritual protection – and for Etsy employees looking to distinguish the spiritual from the scam – than the crystal/candle/wand/spell.
Wicca and pagan belief systems are by their nature decentralized, diverse, and a bit DIY – so they have to lay out very clearly what the intended effects of a spiritual item are. A Catholic store, on the other hand, need not be so explicit: They can say “This is an image of the patron saint of x” without making any claims about the effects, because you, the devout Catholic, know that you’re intended to use said item to pray to said saint with hope of divine intervention.
This puts Wiccan/pagan stores in much greater jeopardy of running afoul of Etsy’s new policy – and it’s making them feel pretty discriminated against.
My proposed compromise, if Etsy ever asked me, would be something similar to how when you buy sketchy vitamin supplements at the grocery store, the bottle clarifies that “These claims have not been evaluated by the FDA.” What if, when you went to buy your spell, the product description specified that “this item is for spiritual use”? That might be an easier way to walk the line between protecting buyers who might feel duped by false promises and leaving space for a broader understanding of what kind of religious items are permissible, without having to face the wrath of angry witches.