Katie, a Canadian businesswoman who runs a small online store called The Witchery, was surprised when she got an email from Square a couple of weeks ago, telling her that her account had been temporarily suspended for selling "occult" items. The online credit card processing service, with the ubiquitous white box that plugs into iPads and iPhones, had become an integral part of her business, both online and in-person. Kate would eventually learn that Square had flagged her business for violating its merchant agreement, which lists such items as prohibited on its platform. Unsurprisingly, the online community of witches and pagans was outraged.
Square isn't alone in prohibiting occult items. In 2015, Etsy's decision to ban metaphysical services like spells, enchantments, and other supernatural services caused outcry among pagan vendors. In 2012, eBay changed its policy and added spells, potions, and metaphysical guidance to its list of banned goods.
Katie got the first email from Square on March 16, right after a customer made a large order worth around $700. Square asked her to "verify some information about her account," and said that deposits to her would be temporarily deferred.
"The way the initial email was written, I thought I'd been scammed. I was just so freaked out," Katie, who preferred to go by her first name, told me on the phone from her home in Edmonton, Canada.
Image: The Witchery
Square's user agreement states that by creating Square accounts, businesses won't accept payments in connection with a host of prohibited activities or items, including illegal activity, drug paraphernalia, "hate products", escort services, and "occult materials."
"I said, 'I sell incense and crystals? Are you really marking that as occult?'" Katie said. But Square sent her a generic email that its decision was final.
The Witchery store also sells spell kits and a service where Katie prays over and burns a candle for customers. Both could be among items that Square prohibits, since their spokesperson said the company's definition of the "occult" includes things that, "claim they can perform a supernatural or metaphysical act or can be used in a way that is outside the normal physical limitations of the item." But Katie said she doesn't consider her business or products to be "occult" and pointed out that Square doesn't seem to have a problem with holistic items or religious paraphernalia, like Buddha statues.
"I am a witch and I Will Not support any company that specifically discriminates against pagans."
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.
"When I read 'occult,' I think, OK, they don't want me to sell unbaptized baby blood or like, they don't want me to say, 'Buy this chicken and I'll sacrifice it for you,'" Katie said. "I get that and maybe you shouldn't sell that on the internet anyway."
"… I am a witch and I Will Not support any company that specifically discriminates against pagans so @square will not be considered for my website as an option for accepting credit cards," a user named Krystal Holm posted.
Other users said that they were going to close their accounts and use other services.
"This company lumps us in with racists, accuses us of illegal activity and selling hate items. Terrible lack of research" user Kaelyn Hall commented on one of Square's posts, which now has a total of 127 comments, including about a hundred from those who were angry to learn about the policy against occult items.
Since posting about the incident, Katie said she heard a host of stories from users who've also had their Square accounts frozen, including some who sell products and services that are fairly mainstream, like reiki and massage practitioners. Square's representative said it wasn't familiar with reiki and couldn't comment on the allegation.
Katie said that she and dozens of supporters and fellow witches—both in person and online— have switched to other payment platforms that don't prohibit occult items. She's now using a Canadian company called Dream Payments.
"...I realize this is my fault I did not know that I was not allowed to sell said items," she said. "The part that upsets me is that my so-called 'Occult Items' are being lumped in with illegal activity and hate products."
Correction: This article originally stated that the definition of "occult items" came from Square's User Agreement. The definition in the article came directly from a Square spokesperson.