Local Vocal: Salem from Hocus Pocus

November 20, 2008 at 7:35 am (Published)

Published originally in Pittsburgh CityPaper, November 14, 2001.

 

13 has been anything but an unlucky number for Salem, who opened his pagan boutique, Hocus Pocus on October 13, 1998, at 113 Meyran Avenue in Oakland, and who was assigned the phone number (412) 622-0113.

 

Are you a good witch or a bad witch?

 

A good witch.  But magic is a tool, much like a hammer is a tool.  A hammer sits on the table, and one person may pick it up and build a house with it, while someone else may use it for destruction.  It’s all about the strength of someone’s energy and how that energy is channeled into an outcome.  I encourage people to use it only in positive ways.

 

…such as?

 

For example, if someone has a co-worker they can’t stand, and they come to me for a spell to make that person go away, I might instead cast a spell on that co-worker that causes him/her to get a different, better job.  That way, nothing destructive happens, and everybody wins.

 

Do spells work?

 

Yes.  But they have to be considered carefully, from a variety of angles.  You have to be truly careful what you wish for.  I ask people to return later and let me know how well the remedy worked.  Often, the solution (such as an oil, a consecrated candle, etc.) worked.  Sometimes, a stronger or different remedy is required.

 

What are the most common requests regarding spells?

 

Love or money.  It’s almost always love or money.

 

You don’t exactly buy your clothes at The Gap, do you?

 

My clothes come from gothic and medieval-themed suppliers, usually found at Renaissance festivals.

 

Of the many and varied Tarot decks you sell, how does one choose?

 

It’s a very personal decision.  Each person needs to choose the deck in which the imagery best resonates with their spiritual journey, and their journey as a person.  Some people give Tarot decks as gifts – which is a wonderful gift – but the deck often then resonates with the giver rather than the receiver.  I encourage people to choose for themselves.

 

Did you just wake up one day and decide to open a pagan boutique?

 

It’s something I always wanted to do, but the timing had never seemed right.  One day, I had a very strong thought, or “inner voice,” suggest that I go look for a place to rent.  I saw this place and noticed it was empty.  I called the number, and everything else fell into place.  The landlords were at first concerned, because my store sells herbs, and in the 70’s, an occupant here that sold herbs was busted for selling marijuana.  But we don’t sell anything remotely illegal here, so the landlords have been supportive.

 

What are some of the more exotic “ingredients” you sell?

 

People familiar with Southern magic, or “hoodoo” (an Americanization of voodoo) will be pleased to know we carry High John the Conqueror Root, which helps with prosperity and good luck.

 

Many people associate your type of merchandise with Satanism.  Can you clarify?

 

A pentacle (five-pointed star enclosed in a circle), for example, is described sometimes as being a symbol of Satanism, but it’s actually pagan.  A pentacle in traditional paganism symbolizes the four elements (fire, wind, water and earth) with the top point representing the spirit, and the circle around it represents eternity.  Satanism itself is not so much the worship of an “Anti-Christ” figure or spirit of anarchy, or evil, as much as it is a lifestyle that wholeheartedly embraces earthly trappings such as flesh, money, and material wealth.

 

Do you consider yourself a priest, a practitioner, or what?

 

I have studied many religions and several different kinds of magic; they are like spokes on a wheel that all lead to the central hub of ultimate spiritual awareness or divinity.  I tailor my methods to the needs and belief system of each person.  In that sense, I consider myself a helper, a healer, and a teacher.

 

Is the pagan movement alive and well in Pittsburgh?

 

YES, very.  There are several sects active in the area, though many who practice are “closeted,” because of the social stigma often associated with our ways.  Common misconceptions have been created, and fueled, mostly by the media, and urban legends.

 

What is your response to people who express disdain or skepticism about your lifestyle?

 

I have been fortunate, because people have been kind.  People who are afraid to come in, don’t come in.  Others want more information, and want to see what we’re all about.  Z from Z’s Tattoo parlor next door good-naturedly calls me “Spooky,” but overall, we have been well-received and people have been cool and respectful.

 

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