Within the cavernous black walls of The Altar Room, you’ll find a banquet of curious items: alligator feet, snake bones and goat hair in glass jars; tiny bottles of anointing oil; seashells filled with “keys of the dead.”
A decorative vintage cash register exhibits an aging copy of “Witches and Their Craft,” one of many rare books sprinkled throughout the shop. Nearby stands a discarded church pulpit that store owner Shasta Smith estimates dates to 1900.
“I already know that this location can be overwhelming. There’s a lot to choose from and a lot of old items in here, and so I encourage questions,” says Smith, who can be found counseling visitors in hushed tones as ethereal music hums in the background. She holds classes several times a year. In May, she taught History and Understanding of Hex & Banishing.
Smith opened The Altar Room in midtown in 2016, then moved to the East Sac location in 2021. The business is a bit of a family tradition. Smith says her mother owned a similar shop in Elk Grove and later in Los Angeles. Her father used to practice taxidermy. Smith’s current space resembles her childhood home, which she says friends would liken to a museum. “I was very much brought up to respect things that were old or considered antique, or what someone else’s family may have used,” she says. “And nothing old was deemed as garbage.”
She acquires items from a patchwork of sources: museums, estate sales, acquaintances. Animal bones and taxidermy may come from Smith’s own foraging or from specialists around the globe. A taxidermied crow perches by the register—Smith says she found him as roadkill. She recently sold a raven sourced by a woman in Iceland.
“We had to wait long enough for her to find one dead,” she says of the raven, adding, “It takes time because I’m not calling someone up and saying, ‘Hey, can you go kill this for me?’”
While her offerings may seem peculiar, she says that during the pandemic she noticed people have grown more open. “People have had so much time with themselves that they’ve had time to think,” she says. What she offers at The Altar Room “is nothing new, but it’s new to them—and that’s fascinating.”
The Altar Room
3045 65th St.;
Open Saturday 11 a.m.–5 p.m. and by appointment