This post is inspired by this article.
For a little background, there’s a growing trend in companies that offer e-commerce or payment processing, in which Pagans are forbidden from selling spiritual supplies. (For example – in this story, Square terminated their agreement with an occult shop owner. Etsy is also famous for delisting occult products.) Predictably, many Pagans are bent out of shape over this – they feel that it’s discrimination, because Christians are able to sell spiritual supplies.
On the other hand, in the article above:
A representative from Square told me that the company prohibits “occult” items because they have a high number of “chargeback” rates, where customers go to their credit card company and get their money back because they feel they didn’t get what they paid for, or that the product was fraudulent.
I raised some questions about this in the Facebook post where I originally found it, and my questions and concerns were shouted down and drowned out by people wanting to be victims of discrimination, or who seemed to be incapable of stepping outside their beliefs for a moment to consider the possibility of fraud.
Hence this post.
The Pagan Angle
Christians sell rosaries, holy water, etc. Why can’t Pagans sell crystals and spell kits? And what about hoodoo services, or charms and talismans?
Just for complete transparency, I am close to several people who operate occult shops. I love occult shops. When I was a baby-pagan, I spent hours every week hanging out with the owner of the local metaphysical shop. (It was called Mystic Pathways. It closed due to complications arising from cashflow problems.) I would love to see more people providing the supplies I need to practice my spirituality.
Furthermore, I am thinking about going into the occult supply business myself. I have some ideas about crafting things in my wood shop for use as talismans, which I’d like to offer for sale. So I’m watching this controversy pretty closely.
So why is it OK for Christians to sell their spiritual supplies, but not Pagans?
Well, one answer is that for Christians, it’s simply culturally appropriate. Where I live, you can go into a Mormon bookstore and pick up all sorts of ritual supplies. I don’t know where they buy their special underwear, but around here it’s a normal part of doing things, and it’s culturally appropriate. (No matter how weird it might seem for a non-Mormon.) As Pagans, we just haven’t had the saturation in modern culture to normalize this stuff. (There is also a faction that seeks to demonize these things, but that’s a subject for another post.)
Another reason is that, even though society collectively agrees on scientific materialism as a core belief, we all agree to suspend that belief for Christian supplies. In other words, we all agree that gravity and electricity follow scientifically-proven laws, and that most everything in the universe obeys those laws. Now, whether or not someone literally believes Jesus watches you masturbate, it’s normal and culturally appropriate to allow Christians space to believe their relics have power.
With Paganism though, there’s a dominant belief in American culture that still associates Pagan with Satanic. Or thinks that it means kinky sex and orgies. Or dirty, barbaric rituals. “The public” doesn’t know enough about our practices to suspend the dominant belief in scientific materialism to permit them. Think about it like this – if you still have to explain to someone that casting a circle “is sort of like going to church and praying,” then mainstream culture doesn’t understand and accept Paganism as normal. (Yet.)
Furthermore, witchcraft and magic have a fairly sordid history. Think of the witches in Shakespeare’s Macbeth:
Double, double toil and trouble;Fire burn and caldron bubble.Fillet of a fenny snake,In the caldron boil and bake;Eye of newt and toe of frog,Wool of bat and tongue of dog,Adder’s fork and blind-worm’s sting,Lizard’s leg and howlet’s wing,For a charm of powerful trouble,Like a hell-broth boil and bubble.Double, double toil and trouble;Fire burn and caldron bubble.Cool it with a baboon’s blood,Then the charm is firm and good.
For most of history, magic has been about getting revenge, getting sex, or finding a husband. (Or a wife. And I’m exaggerating. Maybe only 90% of magic is about these.) It’s only with Gerald Gardner that we begin to see magic “rebranded” as a religion. That was less than 100 years ago. Macbeth was written over 400 years ago, and it shows an entrenched view of magic and witchcraft. Which is not a happy one.
So even though we, as Pagans, have a legitimate spiritual practice which we believe works, it’s harder to sell the idea to mainstream culture. We can say that a rosary works for a Catholic person because the Catholic believes it. It’s way harder to convince people that a spell works, because science A) doesn’t have a mechanism to describe it, and B) has spent centuries trying to disprove it.
Now, I have no doubt that magic works. I have no doubt that there are intelligences and entities that do not conform to regular physics. I do not claim to know how those things work. I am certain that scientific materialism is unable to explain the deeper mysteries I experience as a Pagan. But I love participating in those mysteries.
But I think it’s important to remember that society doesn’t share that view. And in fact, the way I do things is probably kinda scary to a lot of people.
I think a lot of people need scientific materialism to feel safe, so that they can say “Well, it’s all just in your head.”
Which is fine. Someone else’s beliefs don’t affect my practice in the least.
The Business Angle
Business doesn’t work the same way magic works. We don’t just cast a spell for customers to buy stuff. We can’t magic our way out of paying rent.
In the business world, the scientific method works exceptionally well for discovering the things that work and build business, and the things that generate excessive cost.
Real businesses don’t operate on bluffing, threats, or wishful thinking – they operate on data.
So when a payment card company refuses service to an occult store (like this situation), and the explanation is either:
- They’re associated with a higher rate of chargebacks
- The company deliberately decided to discriminate
I’m going with option 1.
First of all, large businesses typically can’t get away with discrimination. Smaller businesses, sure. I’ve seen it first and second hand in my little hometown. But once a business gets to be a certain size (with a certain level of profits), breaking the law becomes a huge liability. If someone can get a lawyer and prove discrimination, you’ve just given them a 6-figure payout. Not to mention the expense of legal fees for defending the case. No medium or large business is going to take that kind of risk for the tiny benefit of being able to discriminate. (Unless they’re stupid.)
For obvious reasons, it is best for your business not to get involved with chargebacks. With situations like these, the merchant stands the risk of losing products or services that have already been sold, the payment, the fees incurred for payment processing, money for chargeback penalty, or even possible commissions for currency conversions. It is thus best to avoid chargebacks at all times. Also, note that merchant accounts receiving too many chargebacks can be labeled by credit card companies as fraudulent, and this can be potentially damaging to the image and the existence of your business. Know also that credit card issuing banks take chargebacks seriously, because they are at the most advantage. They don’t only levy fees, but they can also hold merchant remittance up to three months to cover the fraud, or increase their commissions if they choose to label your account “risky.”
Now – if you ask me (and you’re reading this, so I assume you are) – do I believe that payment processing companies are discriminating against Pagans, or do I believe that they’re trying to limit financial liability?
Without a doubt, they are limiting financial liability. I’ve worked for a tiny, family-owned business, and I’ve worked for an enormous, global computer corporation. Neither would go asking for trouble discriminating against clients. And if they did, they probably wouldn’t be in business very long.
So I hate to break it to all those Pagans who feel they’ve been discriminated against, but it’s just not true. I’m not trying to invalidate your feelings – it’s totally OK to be upset about your payment processor not letting you sell occult supplies!
But let’s suspend emotions for a short time, and look at some facts about the occult business.
Authenticity vs. Fraud
Have you seen the show Shut-Eye? It’s about a fake psychic who defrauds people for a Gypsy crime family. Until one day, his fake powers become real. Let’s set aside, for a moment, that the protagonist’s powers become real. This is a show premised on the idea that people commit fraud by giving fake psychic readings. That is to say – fake psychics are enough of a trope in our culture, that a whole TV show was written around the concept.
Take another example, from The Full Facts Book of Cold Reading, by Ian Corrigan. First of all, if you do any sort of spiritual service, I strongly recommend you read this book. For me, it was a big help in determining how to avoid the parlor tricks of seances and tarot readings, and how to give an authentic reading. It’s also an extremely good book to teach you how to be more discerning in your practice – which, if you want to operate a successful business – is a good idea.
In Full Facts, the author speaks of his years of experience as a cold-reader on both sides of the table. He outlines a series of behaviors people use to convince others of his “psychic powers,” which are fake.
Now, you might be asking yourself, why am I harping on this?
Because there are fake psychics out there committing fraud.
Let me say that again, because I think there are some people out there who don’t want to believe this. There are fake psychics out there committing fraud.
Still don’t believe me? Read a few chapters of Full Facts, then watch Long Island Medium.
Let’s go a little deeper. You might be saying, “Sure, there are some fake psychics out there. But I’m a real psychic/witch/Pagan! I actually enchant my stuff!”
And to that I say, “Awesomesauce!! Can you prove it?”
I’m not saying that do be a dick. I’m genuinely asking. If you put some herbs and tokens in a pouch and pray over them to Hekate 10,000 times under a full eclipsed moon, how do I know you’ve actually done it?
Unless I watched you, I really don’t. I have to trust that you’ve actually done the work. Problem is, some dishonest people could just say they’ve done the work, and sell you a pouch with some basil and oregano and a couple of made-in-Pakistan tchotchkes. Which, apparently and according to credit card companies, some people are actually doing.
Now, it’s my understanding that in the Hoodoo community, a practitioner is judged on whether their stuff actually works. So if someone orders something from you, tries it out and it works, you’re in good shape. (I think this works for non-Hoodoo magic too.) In this case, you’re cultivating a long-term business relationship with your clients, building trust that you’re honestly and genuinely negotiating with the Unseen World on their behalf.
But what if it doesn’t work? Do you have a disclaimer on your service page that says “For entertainment only,” or “results not guaranteed,” or “I guarantee to perform the working, but I can’t guarantee results”? Those might be an option ahead of time, to hedge against the unpredictability of magic. But what if it’s a client who ordered something that didn’t work, and they want their money back?
Will you honor that and give them their money back?
Will you hide behind the reputation of all psychics, real and fake, and tell them “You pay your money, you take your chances”?
Will you leave a dissatisfied client to stew over it, decide that you’re a fraud, and file a chargeback against you?
I think these things are important to think and talk about. I mean, clearly there are fraudulent psychics out there. In the absence of scientific proof, how do we prove to our clients that our services are real, in an ocean of frauds?
Personally, I think that building relationships with people is a great start. I’m not sure I have a better answer. If you do, I’m interested to hear it in the comments.
Is it necessary to be a martyr?
No really, I’m genuinely asking.
I feel like a lot of Pagans have a chip on their shoulder and a persecution complex. I’ve seen it here locally. Pagans go on about discrimination and “teh Burnering Timez,” but when you ask them exactly how they’ve been discriminated against, they waffle.
Most of the time, either they read something on the Internet, or they “know a guy who knows a guy” who was discriminated against.
I’ve never experienced it. I’ve experienced a difference of opinion on various topics, religion included, but never discrimination for being Pagan. But then, I don’t wave my Paganism in people’s faces and make it a central issue. Even when Mystic Pathways was open and got picketed by the local Crazy Christian sect, that wasn’t really discrimination. I think the owner actually got a bump in business.
But I think some people want it to be a central issue. And if I’m really being honest, I think some people want to be martyrs for Paganism.
Martyrdom – by which I mean social martyrdom, not the literal martydom of actually dying for your cause – is a well-documented issue with motherhood. Think “mommy-martyr,” sacrificing everything on the altar of devotion to her children. Only with Pagans.
It’s a quick and easy trick, to complain a little and get sympathy from your social group about how hard your life is. I’ve done it. I’ve seen it used and abused in our little Pagan group.
But here’s the thing. How are we supposed to be self-empowered, spell-casting, reality-changing witches, if we’re complaining about what other people may or may not have done to us?
I mean, complaining is kind of the opposite of being empowered. It’s whining about how unfairly you’ve been treated, in the hopes that some authority figure somewhere decides to step in and make things fair and give you what you want. (Read that again. It’s an appeal to an authority. Which is the opposite of being an authority.)
Look – when you signed up for Etsy, it said clearly in the Terms of Service that the sale of occult items was prohibited. In the case of Square, I’m certain their terms spell out prohibited transactions. You agreed to those terms. Then you broke them. It doesn’t matter if you “didn’t notice that,” or if you didn’t read the contract. You signed and agree to be bound by the terms.
Don’t like the terms? Find a different payment processor.
Or – and as I’m suggesting with this article – figure out a way to build trust with your clients and your payment processor, so that you reduce your chargebacks.
So no, it’s not necessary to be a martyr. In fact, it’s disempowering. Own your shit, face the facts, and take action.
How do we solve this?
I’m really asking. Leave your thoughts in the comments.
Here are a few of my thoughts on the matter.
Learn how to spot a fake psychic. Then don’t do those things. I know this is probably more work than you want to invest in your practice (at least for most of you), and I’m not sure what to tell you. It goes hand-in-hand with my position on being discerning and educated. But at the end of the day, I think the only way to be different from fake psychics is to understand them.
Build trust with your clients. I’ve said this above. If you sell a $5 item in your shop that works like gangbusters, your clients don’t need to make a huge investment before they can evaluate results. Speak openly about what you do, and describe your process. Give details about the workings you are promising to do on clients’ behalf. See if you can get some testimonials from happy clients. Be clear about return and dissatisfaction policies, so clients can decide if it’s worth the risk.
Consider a disclaimer. One of my favorite authors, Jason Miller, uses a disclaimer on his services. Lucky Mojo has a similar disclaimer against guaranteeing results, but discusses the traditional value and properties of their products. Other suggestions include a clear description of what you do, what you don’t do, what you can’t guarantee, and what the client can expect. Transparency and clear expectations ahead of time help prevent people from feeling misled or taken advantage of.
Consider rebranding. Do you have to call it a “spell kit?” Can you call it a “meditation focus” or a “spiritual focus”? Can you label it a “luck charm”? In short, is there a way to label your products and services in a way that is culturally appropriate? Calling a tarot reading a “spiritual coaching session” might seem like semantics, and it might be skirting the spirit of the law. But if you know anything about coaching and tarot readings, you might find a slimmer difference than you’d expect.
Talk with your payment processor. Tell them that you’re part of a community that believes in the intrinsic power of items to help create change, and that you’re selling to other people who believe this stuff. Explain that people use these things as part of a spiritual path, much like Tibetan Buddhists use singing bowls, or Catholics use rosaries. Ask if they have any concerns about your offers, such as guaranteed results. Ask if they have any advice on how to navigate the fraud aspect, so you don’t run afoul of their terms of service (or of perceived fraud). A conversation ahead of time will A) show that you’re serious about trying to work with them instead of under the radar, and B) show you whether they’re willing to be flexible, or whether you need to find a different payment processor.
Do the work. If you’re just making a talisman, just say, “This is the talisman that I made. Look how pretty it is. Buy it for $19.99 plus shipping and handling.” You don’t need to make any other claims. If you do do other things to your products, say so. “This ritual knife was consecrated under a full-moon eclipse, a new-moon solstice, and anointed with a candle flame, spring water, sandalwood incense, and volcanic ash. Then a mantra to Hekate was recited over it 1000 times.” If you’re making a “spell kit,” describe exactly what your client will receive, and maybe something about how “we believe that this combination of objects and suggested actions will help improve your situation.” Be transparent about what you do, and what your client is expected to do.
Check your bias. We all want to believe in our Awesome Powers™. I could argue that for some paths, belief in self is central to the work. But let’s not delude ourselves into thinking we’re the center of the universe. Or that our beliefs are somehow more valid than other people’s. (Or more valid than scientifically provable facts.) If you can honestly say to yourself, “I might be wrong,” that’s a good start.
So…chances are I’ve pissed more than a few people off with this post. I can hear the echoes now, through my DSL line – “How dare you accuse me of being a fraud??!?”
Not my intent. But I do want to challenge each of you reading this to please question your beliefs. Are you playing a martyr/victim? Do you need to be more clear about your services? Are you getting a bunch of chargebacks? Don’t you think maybe we, as Pagans, should spend some time talking about how to prevent fraud?
I’m interested to hear what you think! Do you own an occult store? What’s your experience with payment processors? Have you ever encountered a fake psychic? Do you think I’m way off base, and that anyone who self-identifies as a Pagan should be explicitly trusted? Comment away, good readers!