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For some Wiccans, Halloween can be a real witch
Trey Capnerhurst, a traditional witch, performs a naming ceremony by the altar in her backyard in Alberta.
October 30th, 2013
03:32 PM ET

For some Wiccans, Halloween can be a real witch

By Daniel Burke, Belief Blog Co-editor

(CNN) -  Like lots of people, when October 31 rolls around, Trey Capnerhurst dons a pointy hat and doles out candy to children who darken the door of her cottage in Alberta.

But she’s not celebrating Halloween. In fact, she kind of hates it.

Capnerhurst says she’s a real, flesh-and-blood witch, and Halloween stereotypes of witches as broom-riding hags drive her a bit batty.

“Witches are not fictional creatures,” the 45-year-old wrote in a recent article on WitchVox.com.

“We are not werewolves or Frankenstein monsters. We do not have green skin, and only some of us have warts.”

Warts or not, many witches say they have mixed feelings about Halloween.

Some look forward to the day when witchcraft is front and center and no one looks askance at big black hats. Others complain that the holiday reinforces negative stereotypes of witches as evil outliers who boil children in black cauldrons.

Capnerhurst falls into the latter camp.

Hanging up witch decorations at Halloween is no better than wearing blackface costumes or taking a slur, like “Redskins,” as the name of your football team, she says.

“Unless one actually is a witch, dressing up as stereotypical witches is bigotry,” Capnerhurst said.

In June, the wife and mother of two started her own church for “traditional” witches called Disir, an old Norse word meaning “matron deities,” she says.

(Capnerhurst draws a distinction between “traditional” witches, like her, who were born into the religion, and Wiccans, most of whom are converts.)

Most Wiccans identify as witches, and they form the largest branch of the burgeoning neo-pagan movement, said Helen A. Berger, a sociologist who specializes in the study of contemporary Paganism and witchcraft at Brandeis University.

A 2008 survey counted about 342,000 Wiccans in the United States and nearly as many who identify simply as “pagans,” a significant increase from the last American Religious Identification Survey, taken in 2001.

Three-quarters of American Wiccans are women, according to Berger.

“It’s harder to train male Wiccans,” Capnerhurst said with a cheery sigh. “Most men just aren’t going to sweep the kitchen and think about sweeping out the bad energy.”

The faith is fiercely individualistic. Although there are umbrella groups like Wisconsin-based Circle Sanctuary, most Wiccans practice their own blends of witchcraft.

After centuries of persecution in Europe and colonial America, modern witches still bear a sharp suspicion of authority. The rede, or ethical statement at the core of Wicca, is: Harm none and do as you will.

Despite the rising popularity of their faith, many Wiccans remain “in the broom closet,” fearful of losing their jobs, their families or their reputations, said Berger and other experts.

Trey Capnerhurst in her traditional witch garb.

Capnerhurst said she was “outed” in 2005 while running as the Green Party’s candidate for local office. A reporter noted the pentacle - a five-pointed star often mistaken as a satanic symbol - hanging around her neck.

“I kind of became the poster girl for paganism,” Capnerhurst said.

But the notoriety came at a cost.

Neighbors have threatened to burn down the house she shares with her family, Capnerhurst says. She’s lost jobs. And people keep asking her whether the “Blair Witch Project,” the 1999 horror movie, is real.

“I’m like, What the frick! No!”

Raising her 12-year-old daughter, Maenwen, as a witch is not easy either, Capnerhurst says, especially around this time of year, when just about every classroom turns into a coven of construction-paper crones and black cats.

In the United States, Circle Sanctuary has founded the Lady Liberty League to advocate for Wiccans' religious freedom and to fight discrimination.

Unlike Capnerhurst, however, some witches see Halloween as a treat, not a trick.

“Considering that I usually slap on a pointy hat at this time of year (and I have a black cat too), I’m fine with the image of the Halloween witch,” wrote Jen McConnel, a poet, novelist and Wiccan from North Carolina, in an e-mail.

“Even though the word ‘witch ‘ is loaded, I have embraced it,” McConnel said, “but it is only one of many hats I wear (pun intended).”

McConnel says she enjoys the yearly confluence of Halloween with Samhain, an ancient Celtic festival that marks the end of the harvest and winter’s coming darkness.

It’s a time when the veil between the living and the dead grows thin, according to Wiccan theology, and spirits can easily cross the divide.

Many Wiccans hold “dumb suppers,” to which they invite deceased ancestors, making sure to prepare their favorite foods, said Jeanet Lewis, a witch who lives in Northern Virginia.

“It’s a meditative, silent meal,” Lewis said.

Other witches light memorial candles and cast spells for the new year.

What do witches wish for? The same things as everyone else, apparently.

“Health, wealth and love,” Capnerhurst said with a laugh. “Every single spell falls into one of those three categories.”

Even though she dislikes Halloween, Capnerhurst has found a way to blend it with her own sacred days, Samhain.

According to some historians, at this time of year, as the days grow darker, ancient Celts would don costumes as stand-ins for deceased spirits, going door-to-door and performing tricks in exchange for treats.

Capnerhurst prefers to see the children who come to her door on October 31 as a re-enactment of that ritual.

“I’m doing my ritual and they get candy,” she said. “Everybody wins!”

And even though she bristles at the thought that some neighbors might abhor her religion, Capnerhurst tries to take it all in good cheer.

As October 31 approaches each year, she places a sign on her lawn that reads, "This House Practices Safe Hex."

- CNN Religion Editor

Filed under: Belief • Discrimination • Halloween • Holidays • Neopaganism • Paganism • Persecution • Prejudice

soundoff (2,335 Responses)
  1. citizenUSA

    See? Every group has some reason for something being politically incorect against them. And why shouldn't they? Aside from groups like NAMBLA, (North American Man/Boy Love Association), they should feel dis'd. I wouldn't want to pi** off a witch or warlock...

    October 31, 2013 at 9:08 am |
  2. doughnuts

    "Traditional" witches don't wear pointy black hats.
    She knows as much about Wicca as she does about quantum mechanics.

    October 31, 2013 at 9:07 am |
    • citizenUSA

      Ya know, it really depends on the rest of the outfit.

      October 31, 2013 at 9:10 am |
      • Ryuu

        Yeah, the hat's not a "real witch's" hat unless it's properly lined with the Official Wiccan-aproved tin-foil.

        October 31, 2013 at 9:19 am |
    • Doc Vestibule

      o Through the quantum fluctuations of chronometric tachyon fields, one can surmise that at its core, the Universe is composed of Heinsenberg pulse fields interacting on the quantum level. Of course, these gravimetric oscillations can only be observed indirectly, but by noting their influence on the sub-atomic quantum flanging, the ferfanational matrices of gestalt knoncleotides proves, beyond a doubt, that the entire fabric of reality as we perceive it is nothing more than the passing whimsy of quantum midichlorians.
      Quantum quantum quantum.
      Quantum.

      – Deepak Chopra

      October 31, 2013 at 9:13 am |
    • rapierpoint

      If she were really worried about the negative stereotype, she wouldn't be dressing herself up like a "traditional" witch, now would she? It just reinforces that which she is complaining about.

      October 31, 2013 at 9:16 am |
    • Moody2

      It really depends on which path she follows. Her coven might very well wear pointy black hats.

      October 31, 2013 at 9:17 am |
  3. LadyMorgahnna

    May you all have a blessed Samhain, blessings to you, and your beloved dead on this season. Let this new cycle be one of great blessings for all of you. Blessed be.

    October 31, 2013 at 9:06 am |
    • Manchowder

      Dungeons and dragons is just a game. Drop the act.

      October 31, 2013 at 9:11 am |
      • Blake Kirk

        You know, from where I sit the only person in this conversation having a problem distinguishing between fantasies, games, and real life seems to be you, manchowder.

        Speaking solely for myself, I've never had any difficulty keeping my religion and my hobbies separate, nor in understanding the distinction between faith and fantasy.

        October 31, 2013 at 9:23 am |
    • MM

      Blessed Samhain to you Lady M. I'm missing a dead loved one a lot today and your greeting lifted my heart a bit.

      October 31, 2013 at 9:26 am |
  4. s~

    Really?
    Really?

    Come on now....REALLY?

    October 31, 2013 at 9:06 am |
  5. DJ

    Quickly answering two things here:

    – There is absolutely no proof any kind of magic exists. Wicca is utter nonsense. Several organizations have rewards totaling over $1,000,000 for ANY verifiable demonstration of magic.

    – Colin asked why any Christian can explain the Bible. Yes. The miraculous events there (where not explained by unusual natural phenomena) are miracles. The intent is that miracles cannot be proved. If they could, then religion would be based on science, and not faith. It would be no big deal to believe in Jesus rising. The process of coming to that belief is a spiritual journey - and will stay a spiritual journey.

    What's the difference? I've never met a Wiccan who can do word boo, never heard a convincing story of any of them doing word boo. They have poor, delusionary thinking all across the board. Whereas some of the greatest scientists, politicians and artists of history were Christians.

    October 31, 2013 at 9:06 am |
    • doughnuts

      You've also never met a Christian who could perform "miracles."
      There is exactly as much proof that miracles occur as there is that magic works: None.

      Wicca is a religious faith, just like any other. Wiccans are just a little flakier, and a lot less judgmental than your average Christian.

      October 31, 2013 at 9:11 am |
    • Andy_Anderson

      You do realize that all you're really saying here is: "Her magic doesn't work, but the kind I prefer to believe in does!"

      You sound just as ridiculous as the wiccans.

      October 31, 2013 at 9:13 am |
    • Blessed are the Cheesemakers

      Summary,

      Magic isn't real....except the magic I say happened. Lots of people believe the magic I believe happened so therefore that is proof it is real, even though Jesus doesn't want you to believe on proof....unless you were one of the people who actually saw it happen like doubting Thomas, so he got ACTUAL proof but you don't and won't .....and that is part of the beauty of it.

      Wow

      October 31, 2013 at 9:14 am |
    • Heman

      Not that I really care either way, but you deserve to be informed. They're not performing magic believing it's straight out of Harry Potter. It is their own form of ritual just like going to church for you and saying your prayers (equivalent to incantations or "spells" to them). All it is, is a set of religious beliefs divergent from yours, they don't think they can cast fireballs. Their "spells" are celebrations to life each doing their own thing.

      October 31, 2013 at 9:20 am |
    • PushingBack

      It's ALL hogwash. If you want to find god, look to understanding the incredible depths of universe. When we understand why and how that grand explosion occurred so many billions of years ago, we will understand everything we need to know. Wicca is no different. It's simply the search for answers for minds not strong enough to know where to look.

      October 31, 2013 at 9:35 am |
  6. stephen m

    first let me say,i am christian.i believe in the risen savior. on that let people be.i have known wiccans and witches.they believe in being kind to people and never bringing harm to anyone.they dont slander nor look down on other people. they dont take their beliefs and hurt people with them. wouldn't it be wonderful if christians could be like that as well ?

    October 31, 2013 at 9:06 am |
  7. Malik W

    FOR ALL OF THE WITCHES - If you are really a witch can you perform magic? If so can you make a spell to fix the American economy? The violence in Chicago? American schools? The constant party fighting in Washington that is hindering and COSTING American citizens (majority). These random acts of gun violence and school or children killing themselves because of bullying? If you can fix any of those that would be pretty swell. That would be real Magic. Also in LOTR when Gandalf the Grey became Gandalf the White how much more powerful did he really become and what magic could he really do? Maybe this is a question for Tolkien and not you but I can't ask him so you're the next best bet. http://i.cdn.turner.com/cnn/.element/img/3.0/1px.gif

    October 31, 2013 at 9:05 am |
    • Rose Gamgee

      I'm not a witch but I am a Tolkien fan and I have to tell you looking for Gandalf in a group of wiccans is like expecting the Amish to be three feet tall with hairy toes.

      October 31, 2013 at 9:15 am |
    • Blake Kirk

      Malik W – Magic DOES work. About as often and just as effectively as prayer does for Christians. One as about as much chance of altering the things you want fixed with magic as a single Christian does of changing those things through prayer.

      If you really want those things changed, you have a far better chance of doing it by getting people who want the same changes you want to come together and work together to see those changes made. Indeed, history tells us that that is about the only way such changes ever come into being.

      October 31, 2013 at 9:29 am |
  8. alex

    Pirate costumes offend real Somalian and Nigerian pirates.

    October 31, 2013 at 9:04 am |
  9. Can't believe this

    How's this for stereotypical bigoted rubbish:

    “It’s harder to train male Wiccans,” Capnerhurst said with a cheery sigh. “Most men just aren’t going to sweep the kitchen and think about sweeping out the bad energy.”

    Lady, it's sorry CNN picked this article to represent neopagans on such a special day for us. As a male pagan, I'm appalled, this whole article makes Wiccans look like a bunch of flakes. I'm not surprised people have difficulty taking anything they/we say seriously.

    October 31, 2013 at 9:04 am |
    • Randy

      They *are* flakes.

      October 31, 2013 at 9:05 am |
    • Pussification of America

      Oh do not blame CNN for the view of America, you own that yourself male or female.

      October 31, 2013 at 9:07 am |
    • alex

      Another "offended" martyr ? LMAO.

      October 31, 2013 at 9:09 am |
    • Barefoot sky

      I agree with you. I met a male pagan for the first time about a week ago one of the most chill artisans I've ever had the privilege of knowing, great guy but he was the first male pagan I'd ever met in my lifetime and I'm forty years old.

      October 31, 2013 at 9:10 am |
  10. Dirk the Daring

    But Wicca is based off of 19th/Early 20th century liberal ideas, not off of anything that the ancient people actually believed. They like to throw around this matriarchy/patriarchy paradigm that no serious historian has believed in 50 years. Also there book of shadows was mostly stolen from the works of Aleister Crowley. But whatever.

    October 31, 2013 at 9:03 am |
    • mungoblog

      Sorry Dirk, no. Gardener popularized Wicca in the early 20th century, but all he did was give a name and publicity to long standing folk beliefs. Witchcraft is HooDoo, its a collection of practices dependent on family and small village groups that followed these patterns for millinia, probably without a name or the thought of it being an organized religion.

      October 31, 2013 at 9:08 am |
      • fujoshigate

        Sorry mungo, no. Witchcraft is not hoodoo. Also, unless you can trace a personal familial witch lineage all the way across the pond, your brand of witchcraft or Wicca (and mine as well) originated in the 20th century with Buckland and Gardner. Know your history, not what you read in Silver Ravenwolf books.

        October 31, 2013 at 9:14 am |
    • Southern Celt

      Worshipping the creation instead of the creator is illogical in my opinion. If that is what they want to do, that is their business which most people should be minding their own.

      October 31, 2013 at 9:15 am |
  11. Andrew

    I pray for witches; they are playing with fire.

    October 31, 2013 at 9:01 am |
    • Bog Giant Head

      Yes, they are.

      October 31, 2013 at 9:02 am |
    • PushingBack

      Prayer is simply an incantation to your own boiling cauldron of belief.

      October 31, 2013 at 9:39 am |
  12. Pussification of America

    You have got to be kidding me? CNN if this is news, then what is? I would think the longest running American engagement would be more coverable than Witches' feelings. I would have thought the Wiccans would think of Halloween as free advertisment? America jumped the shark in 1998...

    October 31, 2013 at 9:01 am |
  13. TruW

    She is a "born into it" witch? Oh please. One can not complain of the stereotyping of the Halloween witch and then DRESS LIKE THE HALLOWEEN WITCH! Seriously lady! You are the one giving us true witches a "bad" name.
    As far as witches "worshiping Satan" You people need to get a clue. Those are Satanist. Not witches. Or Pagans. Or Wiccans.

    October 31, 2013 at 9:01 am |
  14. Skeets11b

    Who the hell cares.

    October 31, 2013 at 9:00 am |
  15. Name*penguin

    It's just a religion that's more fake and unbeleivable than the other religions

    October 31, 2013 at 9:00 am |
    • PushingBack

      How is that possible? They are all fake and non-believable!

      October 31, 2013 at 9:37 am |
  16. jod

    Haha!! The ultra-PC think-tank strikes again. The Wiccans are mad now!

    October 31, 2013 at 9:00 am |
  17. nautiusm

    SHE'S A WITCH!!
    How do you know she's a witch?
    Look at her nose! BURN HER!!!

    October 31, 2013 at 8:59 am |
    • Ummm

      I thought it was because she weighed the same as a duck, and turned me into a newt...I got better.

      October 31, 2013 at 9:02 am |
    • Doc Vestibule

      Really. How are we supposed to believe she's not just some poser unless CNN compares her weight to that of a duck??

      October 31, 2013 at 9:04 am |
      • mungoblog

        or very small rocks

        October 31, 2013 at 9:08 am |
  18. CodeCass

    As someone who has quite a few Wiccan friends and grew up in rural Tennessee, I can sympothize with this story. I thought it was an injustice to be predjudice against Wiccan culture then, and now in my late 20's I feel the same way. I'm not an overly religious person by any means (I tend to lean towards the views of the Lifestream myself), but I don't look down on anyone's religion unless they begin to point fingers and start damning others for their beliefs. Once again, having my Wiccan friends, I can attest that Wicca isn't evil, and by no means should anyone feel the need to curse these people for their beliefs. If you believe in God, praise him, if you believe in the Lifestream, then more power to you, but in the end people are PEOPLE. We're all only here for a limited time, so why not try to get along with the time we have left? My point is, everyone has the right to live and worship how they will without fear. Everyone should have their voice heard without fear. Just my opinion

    October 31, 2013 at 8:59 am |
    • whichwitch?

      if witches looked like this, i could see how these people could have a gripe. frankly, we have no idea if they ever wore a pointy black hat, buckle shoes, long warty nose, green skin, and rode a broom, right? oh, i guess i answered my own question.
      until there's a sports team called the new salem witches, this won't be a matter.

      October 31, 2013 at 9:04 am |
  19. Ernie Boomer

    If I was there I would egg her house into the stone age

    October 31, 2013 at 8:58 am |
    • Try it

      And if I caught you I would beat you until you were comatose.

      October 31, 2013 at 9:05 am |
    • whichwitch?

      and if she were here, she'd turn you into a pumpkin.

      October 31, 2013 at 9:05 am |
      • mungoblog

        ribbit

        October 31, 2013 at 9:09 am |
  20. Melynda

    This lady sounds like she has a huge chip on her shoulder. Based on some of these comments, maybe it's understandable why.

    October 31, 2013 at 8:58 am |
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The CNN Belief Blog covers the faith angles of the day's biggest stories, from breaking news to politics to entertainment, fostering a global conversation about the role of religion and belief in readers' lives. It's edited by CNN's Daniel Burke with contributions from Eric Marrapodi and CNN's worldwide news gathering team.