Hocus Pocus equips Oakland with occult objects


Wu Caiyi | Senior Staff Photographer

Hocus Pocus, located on Meyran Avenue, claims to be the oldest occult store in Pittsburgh, having opened 22 years ago.

By Julianna Poljak, Staff Writer

With Halloween around the corner and spooky season coming to a close, one store in Oakland provides a mystical experience year-round.

Owned by Salem Vastel and Paul Hughes, Hocus Pocus claims to be the oldest occult store in Pittsburgh. Since opening on Meyran Avenue more than 22 years ago, the store “has evolved into a metaphysical haven of love, friendship and guidance for the mystics, poets, witches, shamans, dreamers, healers, seekers and visionaries of all paths,” according to its website.

Vastel said his Romanian ancestry gave him an eclectic background knowledge of sorcery, paganism, shamanism, Taoism, Christianity and other religions that inspired the opening of his shop.

“My family came to America to escape the death camps in Germany. I have grown up my entire life learning all of the different aspects of different paths,” Vastel said. “I have always wanted my entire life to open a shop like this, because I wanted to be able to educate people.”

Vastel added he feels the store is its own living entity and claimed it has a way of providing support to whoever might cross its threshold and ask.

“Several women over the years have come in who could not conceive after years of trying. They stood at the counter stating their desire. Within two weeks they were pregnant,” Vastel said. “The shop holds the most amazing energy in it. People feel it when they step through the doorway.”

Wu Caiyi | Senior Staff Photographer

According to Hughes, Hocus Pocus sells a variety of products such as candles, loose-leaf tea, crystals, books, jewelry, sage, spell kits, tarot cards and more. It also has a tattoo parlor on the second floor, which is currently closed due to COVID-19.

“We make a lot of our own products. All of our incenses, custom blended oils, Mystic Sprays, Magickal Occult Waters and all of our Root Magick section is all handmade here at Hocus Pocus,” Hughes said. “We offer to make Mojo Bags for customers and whatever they may need to help them solve any issues that they’re having.”

For the upcoming holiday of Samhain, the shop sells its special Samhain Cauldron Kits, which contain three different traditional workings with individual purposes. Samhain is a traditional pagan festival marking the beginning of the “dark half of the year.” Festivities typically begin the night of Oct. 31, when celebrants believe the barrier between the spirit world and the physical world is thinner.

“One is to connect with loved ones who have passed beyond the veil. This time of the year the veils are the thinnest between the world of the living and the world of the discarnate,” Hughes said. “There is also a spell for banishing things from your life that no longer serve you and stepping into the new year with a room for new growth.”

Although some of the items might require a bit of background knowledge, one student who recently visited the store said the owners were more than willing to explain things. Amanda Parent, a senior majoring in gender studies, French and natural sciences, said she thought the store had great customer service.

“They were super willing to help explain things to me,” Parent said. “They also took the time to charge the crystals even though there were people behind me.”

Vastel said he enjoys Pitt students stopping by the store and likes helping them with their own journey of self-discovery.

They want to take control and responsibility of their lives to make things better for themselves, friends and family, in a time when the world around them is in turmoil,” Vastel said. “It’s very exciting to talk to them and assist them to empower themselves.”

Hughes said Hocus Pocus focused on building its website while closed throughout March, April and May because of COVID-19. He said he’s grateful for the support of the store’s customers, who donated more than $2,000 to a GoFundMe to help it stay afloat. Despite struggles with the pandemic, Hocus Pocus is currently open from noon to 5 p.m. every day except Sunday and continues to provide customers with an occult experience.

“It was scary, to be honest with you. We were mandated to stay closed an unknown amount of time. But our landlord still needed his rent to pay his mortgage, so we had to come up with ways to make money,” Hughes said. “We were blessed for those who were able to help us.”