By: Gregory Williams
Assist. A & E Editor
When I began scrolling through eBay's metaphysical department over the summer, I had low expectations from the get-go. I had already been familiar with the frauds that inhabit the online auction house and assumed this department would be no different, if not worse. And I was right.
Back in August of 2012, eBay put a ban on "intangible items, or things that buyers can't confirm they received." Such 'intangible items' include: spells, magic, curses, potions, hexes, blessings, and other dubious spiritual or supernatural services. As one would expect, eBay's new policy did not sit well with all the self-proclaimed witches and psychics who utilize the site to sell their wares. It turns out, some of the above-mentioned services are still available but come with a disclaimer; "no paranormal activity guaranteed" and "for entertainment purposes only".
After browsing the diverse selection of psychical goods, I found myself quickly immersed in the "haunted doll" category. Given the number of search results, haunted dolls appear to be one of the most popular items sold (nearing five-hundred results depending on keywords). Listings are more or less identical, like this one posted by seller spellcasters-attic, "Haunted Paranormal Metaphysical Vessel Doll Very Active Steampunk Vicky." As troubling as the poor punctuation and illogical construction of sentences can be, most dolls come with a backstory to lend credibility - some more original than others: “Meet Leanna, I’ve had this vessel for 3 long years and she wants to go. Leanna passed when she was eight years old. She was climbing a tree and she fell hit her head and that is the last thing she remembers". Sometimes, the listings are just so out of this world, it's hard not to laugh. "Haunted doll human demon vampire djinn genie spirit out of this world sex," writes seller tonya_rose. Prices can start as low as ten dollars and exceed four hundred - with prices subject to increases if you enter a bidding war. A good portion of listings will have the doll placed either directly on or in front of a Ouija board to add further spookiness.
What surprised me the most about the haunted doll category was just how genuine the majority of sellers were - and many with a 100% approval rating. Were people really that satisfied with their lifeless porcelain dolls? I corresponded with four big-time sellers and all, at least superficially, were earnest in their belief that the dolls they were selling were indeed vessels for spirits. In total, I purchased seven: four kind spirits, two negative and one evil. Six had names and five came with a protracted backstory. When my first doll arrived in the mail, I was excited yet apprehensive about bringing the doll into my household. I mused on whether or not I was putting my family in danger. Selfishly and rather arrogantly, I told myself I could handle it if the doll became a problem and that any activity would be centered on me. The first couple of nights I let my imagination and expectations get the better of me. I began attributing mundane occurrences on the doll; a creaky floor board, my door inching open at night and all the noises that come with living in an old house.
After weeks of sleeping in my bedroom with an ever-growing collection of spirit dolls, I started ruminating on why my first doll, Mary-Beth, caused such unease and yet her successors did not. I suspect I fell into the same trap as some of the satisfied buyers undoubtedly did: the power of suggestion. In Psychology, suggestion, especially when continually repeated, can influence our mental and physical states - leading us to think uncritically. Combine this with our established religious and cultural beliefs - presumably more spiritual and inclined to embarrass the paranormal if you're surfing the web for haunted dolls - and you may very well start thinking that the noises coming from inside the walls is a sign of a poltergeist when it's really just mice foraging for food.
I wasn't disappointed that the dolls turned out to be duds since I knew I was going to get swindled. Almost five hundred dollars poorer, I cannot be accused of not doing my due diligence. The best weapons against fraudsters (even if they do believe in what they're selling) is discernment and common sense.
Ebay saw an uptick in the haunted doll category after the first Conjuring movie was released in 2013, and an even bigger one after 2014's Annabelle. However, I think the Warrens were better storytellers than paranormal investigators but that’s beside the point.
As Ryan Shirlow wrote in his piece "This house is not haunted" for the June issue of Fortean Times, "Perhaps, in the end, we exorcised our haunting with sheer indifference".
I still occasionally find myself scrolling through eBay's metaphysical department, hoping to one day find the real thing. But first, I need to figure what to do with the seven haunted dolls I already have. Any takers?