The Witches of Etsy
Shawmarie Jeffery is a 41-year-old woman. She lives in northern Louisiana and has strong Cajun roots. She’s married, with no children, “but has a house full of critters.” She’s been raised by a Christian family in New Mexico. Jeffery is your everyday American woman.
She’s a bayou witch who sells her magic on Etsy.
As she was younger, her family thought “something must be wrong” with her. Even though she had a Christian upbringing, she always felt drawn to paganism. She tried to live with her family’s religion, but she felt repelled by it. “Everyone told me I was wrong to not have a connection to God,” she said. She explored her paganism calling throughout her life and learned Cajun traditions of Voodoo after she moved to Louisiana in 2011.
“Magic is very popular in Louisiana… the culture is steeped with layers of it… like swamp mist,” said Jeffery. She became what she calls herself a “Swamp Witch," and clients started coming to her through her personal website and later her Etsy store. She said her clients are from all over the world, and that she helps them in matters of fertility, love, revenge, and power.
“I make gris-gris for them to carry, mojos for them to destroy somewhere predetermined, voodoo dolls to take away stress and pain or to torture in the name of an enemy,” she said. When asked about voodoo dolls representing her clients’ enemies, she said she tends to specialize in a darker kind of magic than what is generally accepted in the paganism community. “Those that claim they will never, ever do any harm… They are full of bs.” She said that she doesn’t see it as black and white, dark and light. “I see it as all the same.” She said making gris-gris for a neighbor to move away, to get someone fired or to get back a man or woman that was stolen from her client are all routine to her.
Jeffery is part of the growing community that uses Etsy to sell magic spells. A quick search on the handmade objects marketplace gives 22,140 results for “spell”. Roughly a fifth of them is various love spells. About the same proportion is for protection. A smaller part of the listings is for card readings from across the world. You get 341 hits for “curse spell.” Prices vary wildly, from about $9.99 for a psychic reading, to $550.00 for a “Dirty Money Spell.” Most sellers add a line to their product description saying the spells are for “entertainment purpose only,” but who would snub quick, dirty money?
It might seem like the Wild West, for now. But Etsy has recently changed its policies to forbid all services, including spells, from its platform. “We've updated our policies to reflect that this includes metaphysical services that promise or suggest a resulting physical change (i.e. weight loss) or other abstract outcomes (i.e. fortune or luck),” said an Etsy spokesperson. However, the website relies primarily on user reports and is not curated. Etsy’s 2014 Transparency Report lists 305,762 items and shops that were flagged as going against the company’s policy. Of them, 67% were flagged by users, and 73% were then reviewed by Etsy’s staff. In total, 168,288 accounts were closed during the year. “Anyone can list anything on the site at any time, however, we remove items that violate our policies as soon as we become aware of them,” said another spokesperson.
This doesn’t seem to worry Jeffery. After all, she’s mainly using Etsy to sell tangible items, albeit with magical properties, as candles, voodoo dolls, and gris-gris. “Services... such as a tarot reading, psychic readings, or anything that is not handmade, I can see them having an issue with. There is nothing to protect the client/buyer,” she said. “So, if I did list my "services" and Etsy contacted me about them, I guess, in the long run, I would understand.” This is more of a side-job for her. She said she makes around $2,400 a year from her business. And as long as her clients are satisfied, she said she will keep at it.
Pictures and reporting by Olivier Sylvestre.