Inside eBay's Underground Haunted Doll Economy

America's most famous online marketplace clearly has good lawyers. In addition to a semi-standard legal disclaimer, the site takes the time to expressly prohibit users from selling their souls. (This even caught the attention of The New Yorker.) If you were in the market for a soul — presuming souls of the new or refurbished variety are simply out of your price range — it makes sense to visit eBay as your premier destination for spiritual goods. Although eBay expressly banned selling spells, curses, or charms in 2012 (as CNET noted), the paranormal section of the site is just as richly well-stocked.

But what exactly are you buying? And how does this even work? Welcome to the weird world of eBay's haunted doll economy. First and foremost, let's review the vernacular of the spirit doll world and examine a few case studies. The following results are drawn from eBay's paranormal section and any curses thereby attached to these ads must hereby be severed so both the author and the reader may be free from its plight.

What is a haunted doll?

Haunted dolls — sometimes referred to as spirit dolls (per eBay and The New Yoker) — are said to contain spirits. These spirits are usually dead children or tortured adults who lived tragic lives — perhaps on farms, with problematic stepparents, suffering the plight of mysterious illnesses, in urban poverty, or in early 20th-century colonial homes in the American South. Empirical evidence suggests that a large number of these children mysteriously died in fires. Their families were sometimes plagued by famine, eerie weather, or visited by strangers on the night of their deaths. Other frequent causes of these spirits' corporeal demise include violent murder, assault by ax, acts of suicide induced by heartbreak, strangulation by a stepparent, graphic scenarios involving abuse gone too far, and drowning.

Although the bodies once worn by these spirits have already surrendered to the earth, the spirits of these dead beings are said to still be with us. Living people can (presumably) commune with these spirits of the not-quite-departed through the vessels they inhabit — in this case, dolls. It's claimed that you can befriend these spirits, commune with them via rituals, use them to channel the Great Beyond, or otherwise interact with them through these ceramic, cotton, plastic, or porcelain figurines, referred to by many monikers but often dubbed "haunted dolls."

How to sell a soul (that isn't yours)

The ideal haunted doll product description is a succinct, yet richly illustrated three-part episodic narrative. First, the seller shares the story of the child (or adult) who has died. Second, the child's background and circumstances of death are then followed by a general description of their character and personality — playful, mischievous, friendly, sociable, and so on. Premium sellers may include additional details of the doll's powers (perhaps the ability to turn off lights, interrupting WiFi, or telekinesis, as Cosmopolitan also observed). If applicable, sellers may note the doll's preferred mode of magical communication — perhaps pendulums.

Last but not least, product listings must end with eBay's mandatory disclaimer (or some variation of its legalese): "... eBay forbids the sale of intangible items ... this listing is only for a tangible doll with no promise of any spirit attached ..." (A quick perusal of eBay's Psychic and Paranormal section listings will provide hundreds of examples of these byte-sized ghost stories packaged for the world of e-commerce.)

Meet some haunted dolls

One eBay store operated by seller u/seashellblessings includes over 40 product listings with "haunted doll" in the title. This seller is not a strict adherent of paranormal parallel structure, but they do include the basic spirit doll origin story outlined previously.

For example (per product descriptions from u/seashellblessings), their inventory includes the following: Haunted Doll Krista was a 70-year-old nurse with brittle bones, asthma, and diabetes. Haunted Doll Edith (who actually does look pretty haunted) enjoys crossword puzzles and Pall Mall cigarettes.

Haunted Doll Clementine was a 33-year-old houseless woman. Supposedly her spirit departed her body when a car crashed into the side of the city overpass where she slept. Clementine then confined herself to the spiritual vessel of a saran-haired doll, and became Haunted Doll Clementine for the rest of eternity. Haunted Doll Clementine is available on eBay for $23.50 or best offer. Expedited shipping is available for $9 and ships within four days to all United States customers.

'The doll continues to wreak havoc'

It's fair to say the world of haunted dolls is not a destination for the faint of heart. However, it's got to be pretty harmless, right? Not so, according to South Yorkshire resident Debbie Merrick. In 2017, Merrick appeared on the U.K. morning talk show "This Morning" (per Bustle) in a segment titled "My Haunted Doll Attacked My Husband" (via YouTube).

Merrick's saga began when she purchased three dolls on eBay — one of which, she claimed, was haunted. Merrick told interviewers the doll had removed its own necklace, triggered smoke alarm, appearing in locations where she had not left it, and even reportedly scratched her husband. British tabloids including The Sun and The Daily Mail granted Merrick's haunted doll story extensive national coverage.

After Merrick's moment in the spotlight, she decided to rid herself of the offending spirit doll by selling it on eBay herself. In August 2017, The Daily Mail reported that a South Yorkshire paranormal enthusiast purchased the doll from Merrick for £866 (which translates to about $1,132 ). Regardless of the credibility of Merrick's story, the buyer's accounts, or the legitimacy of spiritual dolls as metaphysical containers, this doll's buyer also claimed the doll was inflicting injury and misbehaving. He was keeping it next to his bed.