Photo-Illustration: Sam Whitney; Getty Images
Payment processing companies decide who is empowered to buy and sell online—and their policies show a gross misunderstanding of metaphysical practitioners.
When I decided to start offering tarot readings, selling them through my website seemed like the easiest method. I’m a writer, and prefer to give my readings in a written format—and after building out my site on Squarespace, the integration with Stripe took only a few minutes to set up. I eventually added more products—digital workbooks and study guides that had gained traction through my growing Instagram following—and built up a steady business selling these goods online.
After a few months, I received a notice from Stripe that my sales violated their terms of service, as my tarot work seemed to fit into their broad category of “psychic services” and was therefore considered a restricted, “high risk” business. After emailing them back to defend my business, to no avail, I restructured my payments to work with PayPal and continued to offer services through my website in this more limited capacity.
Then, in early 2020, with the start of the pandemic and the subsequent loss of my freelance photography income, I launched a Substack newsletter. After studying the Stripe terms of service carefully and designing my personal tarot writings around them, I launched with great excitement, and was thrilled to have people immediately for paid subscriptions. I was able to run it for a month before I got the same familiar notice from Stripe, saying I had violated their terms. And again, I fought back, this time winning my case and keeping my newsletter alive. I was relieved, believing that my newsletter was safe, and continued to create content on Substack—only to run into similar problems with Stripe a year later.
I’m not alone. Stripe, a technology company launched in 2011, serves as the exclusive payments processor for popular platforms like Substack, Teachable, Circle, Ghost, Shopify, Medium, Revue, Memberful, and Clubhouse. Operating on over 3 million websites, they’re one of the most ubiquitous payment platforms on the internet—and they’re unfriendly to people who run metaphysical businesses, which, because of the “psychic services” label, are often deemed ineligible for payment processing.
The lack of nuance in these terms, combined with a consistent misunderstanding of what occult work actually entails, has led to many individuals and businesses in this space getting kicked off the platform, often without warning. Books, courses, workshops, lectures, consultations, readings, and other services are essential sources of income for many freelancers and small business owners, so being unable to be paid for these offerings directly impacts our livelihoods. And with the majority of these metaphysical services being offered by women, queer people, people of color, and individuals with marginalized identities, this policy may disproportionally impact people that may already be at a financial disadvantage.
Occult work being classified as “high risk” is nothing new. Companies like Etsy and Square have also historically made it challenging for metaphysical practitioners to use their platforms to sell products and services. Stripe’s official policy, per an email from its support team, is that “these businesses often make claims that are not backed by science or past evidence, which can lead to a high chargeback rate. Customers will be promised an outcome, and when that doesn’t come true will dispute a charge as ‘Product not acceptable.’” Their policy is broad enough that the company can terminate service immediately and permanently, even if businesses have been operating without issue for some time or have never had to issue refunds to unsatisfied customers.
“The use of terms like fortune teller and psychic are pejorative, demeaning, and discriminatory, as was the suspension of service.”
Phyllis Curott, attorney and Wiccan priestess
It’s not unreasonable for Stripe to want to protect customers from scam artists or disreputable sellers. But for many, the generalized label of “psychic services” that attempts to define and categorize our businesses isn’t even accurate. Occult services offer opportunities for reflection, self-awareness, and compassion, providing different ways to explore truth, spirituality, and intuition. They’re empowering, comforting, and can help people reclaim strength and purpose in moments when they feel vulnerable or afraid. Anyone working in this industry already has a vested interest in making sure clients know exactly what they’re getting—we don’t want to have unsatisfied customers either, or promise things that we can’t actually deliver. The tarot readings that I provide, for example, help my clients look at challenges, questions, and situations through a different lens, providing clarity and new perspectives in a safe and affirming environment. I have never claimed to be a psychic, and in fact explicitly say that I’m not psychic on my website.
“The use of terms like fortune teller and psychic are pejorative, demeaning, and discriminatory, as was the suspension of service,” said attorney and Wiccan priestess Phyllis Curott about her own struggles with Stripe. “The fact that countless Wiccans, Witches, and Pagans have had a similar problem with Stripe begins to sound not like random, algorithmic stupidities but as a pattern of religious discrimination.” Legal questions around metaphysical services are already complicated, and centuries of misinformation around spirituality and witchcraft make it even more difficult for small specialty businesses to defend themselves.