With both Etsy and eBay cracking down on the sale of spells, charms, and other occult goods and services on their respective sites, it seemed like as good a time as any to talk about something I sort of briefly brushed up against in another post. For a long time, it has been possible to buy “spirit vessels” for basically anything you require– and not of the gargoyle or guardian doll variety, either. Need an incubus? Djinn? Angel? Looking to make your domicile more interesting with a haunting of its very own? Someone probably has you covered, provided you’re willing to overpay for an item of questionably tasteful jewelry or creepy toy first.
Non-believers may view these sellers as taking advantage of the vulnerable by lying to them about their wares– if someone doesn’t believe in ghosts, how can the sale of a ghost look like anything but exploitation?– but the intricacies of selling spirit vessels goes far deeper.
First of all, what is a spirit vessel? In the majority of cases, they are exactly what their name implies– vessels for a spirit. I’ve most commonly seen them sold as jewelry, but I’ve also come across listings for everything from porcelain dolls to a Bell canning jar(!) with spirits supposedly locked inside. There are a number of practices where vessels and spirits interact– usually in the context of trapping a malicious spirit in a container to move it out of a person or area, setting up vessels for spirits to use as houses, or creating anchors for spirits to use when called upon. Unfortunately, what’s a cornerstone of some forms of spiritwork or ancestor worship is easy to commercialize with nothing more than some creativity, a sack of costume jewelry, and a couple ofrituals.
Imagine that purveyors of spirit vessels are all acting in good faith. (If you’re a believer, that probably isn’t too difficult. If you’re a skeptic, a considerable suspension of disbelief may be in order.) This means that they, or their group, go through contacting a spirit of some sort and binding it to an object. This means that the sapient entities they’re binding either consent to participating, or they don’t.
After that, a few more things can happen:
- They stay with the person or group that bound them.
- They’re sold to an experienced practitioner who’ll care for them.
- They’re sold to someone as a curio.
- They end up misplaced, stolen, or otherwise lost.
That leaves two situations where the bound entity is in a position to be looked after, whatever that may entail. In some practices, this might involve “feeding” it with food, smoke, or other offerings. In others, it might mean placing it in moonlight regularly, keeping it in a particular container, or other special storage instructions. Whatever the case, there’s now a hypothetical ring with a succubus tied to it in somebody’s hands. (Somebody who should probably be looked askance at for their desire to possess a non-corporeal sex slave, but that’s neither here nor there.)
Will the spirit be freed if it isn’t properly kept? Will breaking the object release it? Does the seller have any recourse if the purchaser doesn’t take care of it? Could the spirit pose a danger to the buyer, their home, or their family? The answer to all three is usually a sort of, “Eh, maybe.”
Assuming the spirit ends up with someone who’ll properly care for them, another problem arises– what happens when the owner dies? People have a hard enough time leaving turtles and cockatoos in their wills and hoping they’ll be taken care of, what are they going to do about a spirit in a ring? Or a haunted doll?
The crux of the argument against buying spirit vessels has more to do with exploiting the spirit than the buyer. Buying a haunted ring only to find out that it’s a totally mundane bit off of a Claire’s discount rack is one of the better outcomes– especially since the alternatives point to a sapient creature being bound to an object (possibly without its consent) only to change hands for the life of the object (definitely without its consent).