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Meet the Witches of Etsy

The online marketplace offers a home for spell casters, fortune tellers, and those ladies you might see in the local alt-weekly ads peering into a glowing crystal sphere.

Some spells for sale on Etsy right now-thank god it's payday

Victoria Zasikowski is an Etsy witch. Her profile bills her as a "professional astrologer and practitioner of Hoodoo Magick," while her shop-the Enchanted Land-offers a menu of spells, pendulum readings, and cartomancy. Depending on what spell she's casting, she uses candles, cauldrons, mojo bags, and customized "spellvelopes."  Once she's done, she sends pictures to every client as proof that the spell has been cast.

"You may send me a hair and nail sample in the mail if you like," reads her listing. "Such items are called 'personal concerns' and are known to increase the effectiveness of any spell. Airmail to the UK tends to take around 5 days. My address will be given upon request."

Etsy is full of peculiar items for sale-as Regretsy famously illustrated-but what's often forgotten is that it's also full of witches. The marketplace offers an online home for spell casters, fortune tellers, and those ladies you might see in the local alt-weekly ads peering into a glowing crystal sphere.

The average paranormal purchase involves back-and-forth emails to work out what's required, a personal recommendation, and finally the casting of the spell, with a date given for when the client can expect its effects to start kicking in. Victoria gets asked about custom spellwork, but can't always cater to the requests. Some are a little ambitious: "I got one request to make the client taller, one to change the color of their eyes... I  don't want to lead them on. Some of the requests are just ridiculous." (Apparently, the film The Craft has a lot to answer for.) She adds, "A number of spell casters I know have been sent pornographic pictures and requests to make clients' penises bigger."

Etsy spells live in the "Handmade/Everything Else/Metaphysical" category of the site and can take several formats. There's the haunted object-most often an antique or jewelry with a "spirit" inside for good luck-and there's downloadable magic in PDF form (as with this vampiric transformation ritual). But most common of all is the spell similar to a Catholic indulgence, or any other faith encompassing paid-for prayers: For a price, the seller will cast a spell for you.

I decided to speak to another Etsy spell caster, "witch and necromancer" Gill of Faerygill, who has practiced magic for more than 30 years and trades both on Etsy and her second site, Tarot Magick. She describes the process of divining a client's needs as akin to spirit-writing with a computer. "I get an image, something they've not told me about themselves. I'll lay down the cards, and while I'm reading them, I type out what I see. The words just sort of come to me, the closest thing I can describe it to is channeling. Sometimes I just can't type fast enough."

More so than with face-to-face readings, the internet allows a client to relax and let their guard down. Victoria notes that "it does give you a very interesting cross-section of people's lives," but that it comes with its own dangers. "I have to be respectful of people who come to me laying bare their souls," she warns. "There are customers who are emotionally distraught, people with a lot of trauma in their lives."

Does she ever feel like people's problems are too big for her to tackle with Etsy witchcraft alone?

"I have to refuse to do spellwork for some people, and recommend that they look for a psychiatrist," she admits. "I've had a handful of people who were obviously suicidal, and I'll never, ever do work for those people and have to refund them."

The witches of Etsy are nothing if not thorough: as with every industry built on trust, they have their own directories and review sites. Both the sellers I interviewed refuse to do revenge spells, which traditionally are bad karma. Gill says it's impossible to put a curse on someone you don't know, and that what you put out there comes back to you: "I'll usually say to people that I can banish and I can protect, but I won't do curses." Nevertheless, hexes, curses, and "EXTREME black magick" are available online from £1.59 ($2.55) to more than £400 ($640) from sellers with fewer scruples.

The range of magic available reflects consumers' hopes and dreams, their ambitions and anxieties, in much the same way as Amazon's self-help book chart. "They want spells for situations in life that most of us face. It's quite practical work in some respects," says Victoria, whose most popular spells are for reconciliations, or people looking to find their soulmate. She estimates that her customers are 95 percent female.

Similarly, Gill sells more love spells than anything else, though over the years her custom spell option has brought in some odd requests. "Once I was asked to do a reading for a client's snake. She had this pet snake, and she wanted a reading to find out why she felt bonded to it. That has to have been the weirdest reading I've ever done..."

Gill's spell-casting equipment

Spells for weight loss, money, and a better sex life are also popular, though more poignantly, Etsy is also full of spells catering to people looking to change their gender, and a near-countless number of fertility spells.

Etsy supports an entire economy of "intangible items": sellers buy supplies there as well as offering their services. They source occult books and even offer witchcraft correspondence courses. But other websites are not quite as liberal: The witchcraft community of Etsy migrated there after being banned from eBay. In a policy revision in 2012, eBay discontinued the sale of readings, spells, and potions due to "a large number of misclassified items and eBay policy violations."

Items banned by eBay over the years deserve their own lengthy article-the list features lock picks, Native American crafts, social media endorsements, amateur pornography, "grave-related goods," and human remains. At times the rules are logical (credit cards, firearms), at times baffling and arbitrary. What is an anti-ageing face cream, the Etsy witches argue, if not a potion with better advertising? What's the difference between a diet spell and a book by Gillian McKeith?

"We were quite a large community, the metaphysical section of eBay, but they really didn't need us," Victoria says. "Hundreds, maybe thousands of sellers, and most of us had our eggs all in one basket. And we were just kicked off, out of the blue." She recalls watching the site remove her listings one by one, slowly taking away her livelihood: "Obviously we all know eBay exists as a money-making machine, but this really revealed their true colors. We all basically got fired without any notice. After that I took to bed for a week."

Though it insists on spell casters using the legal disclaimer "FOR ENTERTAINMENT PURPOSES," Etsy allows for pretty much any kind of spell, from "extreme telekinesis" to sending a succubus on a loved one. Many of the spells seem like little more than commodified good vibes that rely on good intent, though even within the community there are conflicts. "There are charlatans," Victoria tells me, "there are scams. It's not always obvious, but sellers can just copy and paste the text from other people's shops, and the buyer might never know." This in turn attracts criticism and trolls: "You do get the anti-witchcraft brigade," Gill tells me. "Mainly fundamentalist Christians. It's just like when Jehovah's Witnesses call to the door: I'm polite to them and tell them the truth. I'm a witch. I practice magic. It can lead to some interesting conversations."

What comes up when you search for "spellcasting" on Etsy

This is perhaps hard to fathom, given that if you believe in witchcraft, surely the one person you don't want to annoy would be a witch, but clients who refuse to pay are another occupational hazard. Victoria explains: "You hear stories about clients who haven't paid, and the occasional seller making threats. People have said "I will curse you!" I've never threatened a client, though," she adds, matter of factly. "It wouldn't make for good feedback."

At face value it's hard to get one's head around paying anything from £8 ($13) for printable instructions, up to more than £1,000 ($1,600) for an "Extreme Binding Bewitchment." But then commercialized faith is nothing new: Only last month eBay managed to sell the Pope's hat for just under £70,000 ($112,000)-the money was donated to humanitarian aid in Congo. Surely the hat's buyer believed on some level that the item was charged with contagious magic, as in Sir James Frazer's The Golden Bough, and that there was sanctity woven into its very fibers.

"I do vaguely remember that sense of mystery and awe," Victoria tells me of her magical beginnings, "of doing something that others might not understand. You might be a little nervous about it. It has that sense of intrigue, like it's something dark or dangerous..." The internet is allowing a new generation to experiment with minimum personal risk. "For the newbie it must be like a sweetie shop. You can get advice, join forums, and still be anonymous."

The witches of Etsy are growing in number every year, and the internet and the occult might just be a perfect match. After all, the Wiccan Rede, "An it harm none, do what ye will," isn't too far from Google's "Don't be evil." On the internet, everything is niche by default. As Nancy, teenage sorceress of The Craft snarls, "We are the weirdos, mister."

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