The 37-year old woman behind the HauntedDollys [_sic_] eBay storefront is at her best when she's drafting up her item descriptions. "CLEANSE YOUR HOME, THIS STATUE IS A HOUSE BLESSING!" she bangs out in 18-point capital Arial letters. "MAYBE THERE IS SOMETHING EVIL LURKING IN THE SHADOWS. MAYBE YOU ARE CURSED. IT COULD BE NUMEROUS REASONS WHY YOU ARE HAVING A SPAT OF BAD LUCK. THAT IS WHY YOU NEED TO HAVE PROTECTION, AND PROTECTION THAT WORKS AND IS SURE TO GET THE JOB DONE."
The appurtenance itself, a two-foot marble seraph gently considering the thistled bird's nest in her palms, is priced at $199. HauntedDollys, in her usual witchy jargon, dubs the listing a "Haunted POWERFUL Angel statue." It peacefully takes its place alongside the rest of her inventory, all bearing a similar brand: "Haunted ALIEN ENTITY CRYSTAL BALL" (a glass orb with a few stray plastic planets inside), "Haunted MAGICAL WISH GRANTING FROG" (a stone toad on a small pedestal), "Haunted MAGICAL HEALING TATTOOS" (a wax-paper sheet bearing 16 press-on Hennas). She's been managing this eBay account since June, and has racked up a 319 positive reviews and a 99.1 percent approval rating. There is only one instance of sour grapes, from an anonymous customer who was apparently disappointed with his "Haunted WISH GRANTING STAR FAE FAIRY NOTEBOOK." "I should've known this was a hoax," the comment reads. "Enjoy your cash you con."
This is the world of Haunted eBay: a loose confederation of paranormal sales-people passing on their home-cooked mysticism to souls in need. HauntedDollys's business model is quite simple. As she explains over email, her supply comes from either collectors of haunted items who are downsizing, or by taking "ordinary objects" and binding "a spirit to the vessel." ("This is either done by myself or a friend of mine who's a sorcerer," she says.) If you browse her wares, you'll find a lot of items that seem to be reclaimed from your local thrift shop—passed-off ornaments of kitsch, with a vague phantasmagoric glimmer. The real work to being a successful capitalist witch is all in the presentation; creating the perfect pitch to convince the skeptics and lifers that your inventory is more supernatural than the rest.
There's no rhyme or reason to what's deemed to be haunted, though the most popular subdivision of the paranormal eBay trade by far are children's dolls. A search for "haunted dolls" yields hundreds of results. The toys themselves are fashionably Victorian—porcelain faces, frilly dresses, rosy cheeks—and each come with their own autobiographical ghost story. Like Lillian, for instance. For sale by a merchant named Fayetality, Lillian contains the spirit of a dead ten-year old girl who cracked her head open after slipping on icy steps, according to the listing. She can communicate with a potential buyer through "spirit board, pendulum, EVP, spirit dice, and in dreams."
"Please be prepared for paranormal activity if you decide to adopt sweet Lillian," writes Fayetallity. "Be assured—she is an innocent, pure child of white light. Nothing negative will ever arise from Lillian. She is beyond kind. When you feel Lillian's presence, you feel how pure her intentions are. Lillian reduces anxiety, and keeps negative feelings as well as entities at bay. She is truly a spiritual presence that will make a believer."
The auction for Lillian's vessel is now over. The asking price: $50. That means, if you’re willing to buy into the occult window dressing, a dead child's intrinsic, immortal essence is worth about the same as the new Madden. Which... seems kinda wrong? How, exactly, do sellers of these metaphysical materials decide on price points?
Laci is a registered nurse in a neonatal care unit who moonlights as an eBay seller MysticMagicks. She's been selling haunted materials (and specifically possessed dolls) for 15 years, and tells me she appraises her goods on a variety of different ghostly barometers.
"Items are priced based off of the amount of activity a spirit exhibits and the type of spirit," she explains via eBay's messaging client. "For example, if a spirit is highly sought after then the price is increased. People tend to like spirits that are active but do not cause harm. They also like spirits with special gifts—spirits that aid with spell castings, cause visions, and vivid dreams are examples."
Another (perhaps unsurprising) thing that may increase the value of a spirit in the afterlife, is how beautiful the object they possess tends to be. This is abundantly clear on Laci's page, which ranges from a boring $25 felt jewelry box, to the $80 robe-and-bonnet donned Genevieve. As for why spirits seem to possess dolls at a higher rate than any other object, Laci tells me that they're drawn to human-shaped figures.
Both Laci and HauntedDollys stand by the integrity of their products. Laci claims those who purchase from her consistently experience "paranormal encounters," and swears she would never peddle any item that didn’t host a spirit. HauntedDollys has built herself a small, tight-knit community—holding monthly raffles, and dedicating one-on-one time with customers to "find the perfect product that's right for them." Her most popular items are her spell bags and wish-granting notebooks, the latter of which comes with a testimonial from a patron who claims its power helped restore electricity to her Florida home during Hurricane Irma.
If you’re wondering how these merchants get away with marketing the tangible qualities of items of questionable paranormal veracity, the truth is they technically can't. After all, Lillian and Genevive will likely not give you an authentic metaphysical experience, and no notebook will protect you from a Category 5 hurricane. Hell, this person is literally selling a "haunted weight loss bag" that will help "burn calories faster," by ostensibly summoning the Angel of Fitness or something.
Back in the day eBay was full of amateur witches and wizards advertising spells, hexes, and prayer circles—which were all subsequently prohibited in 2012 by a policy change on the site. That injunction forced people who sell corporeal paranormal goods to add a disclaimer to their inventory, essentially explaining that they're not guaranteeing anything spooky to happen. Fayetality spells it out right at the top of Lillian's introduction: "I am required as per eBay's policy on the paranormal to indicate that eBay forbids the sale of intangible items and this listing is for ONLY A TANGIBLE DOLL with NO promise of spirit attached. eBay requires me to say that this is all for ENTERTAINMENT PURPOSES ONLY."
This obviously creates a weird dynamic, where vendors of the paranormal have to give a wink and a nod to potential customers, but eBay brass hasn't stomped out their weirder side completely. What's the point of online commerce if not to allow us to be a little foolish with our money if we so choose? What is economic freedom if you can’t buy a magical and haunted wish-granting frog that comes from the astral realm, anyhow?
"I do understand why some people are skeptical about the paranormal world, but this is something you either believe in or you don't," says Laci. "For me, it's no different than any other organized religion. You must believe in the magic for the magic to work."
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