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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. 2d6plus8

    I thought the fictional witches from mythology predate Wiccans. Wicca is a modern religion developed in the 20th century with very little resemblance to any ancient religious norms that they claim to be religiously descended from.

    October 31, 2013 at 9:21 am |
    • ThinkFirst

      Halloween was originally a Christian observance.

      October 31, 2013 at 9:30 am |
      • Andrew

        Halloween is a Christian tradition, but heavily influenced by paganism. As the article stated, Samhain (Pronounced Sow-en) occurs in October 31 and is the "New Year" for the ancient Celtic Religion. At this time the Spirit and Physical worlds are closer, allowing spirits to cross. When Catholicism moved All Saint's Day to November 1 (From in May), this made October 31, All Hallows Eve, eventually becoming Halloween. Many of the traditions such as dressing up (To hide from spirits) and leaving out food are Pagan, but others (Trick or Treating, originally with "Soul Cakes", or Jack o' Lanterns [coming from a man not good enough for Heaven, but too tricky for Hell]) are Christian.

        October 31, 2013 at 9:43 am |
      • Morrigan

        Halloween was created based on the Gaelic Pagan Holiday Samhain – which was end of the harvest festival. The church adopted the holiday and changed it to all saints eve to help with the conversion of Pagans (after they realized that execution was not the proper route to get people to convert.) The same holds true for Christmas.

        October 31, 2013 at 9:43 am |
      • 2d6plus8

        So? What does that have to do with my comment on witch mythology and stereotypes? Anyway, Halloween has strong roots in pagan holidays. My point was that Wicca was developed in the 20th century, the followers just called themselves witches.

        October 31, 2013 at 9:49 am |
  2. watergirl

    The idea of the green faced witch is actually far more sinister and not politically correct than people, even witches, can imagine.

    Basically the idea of the green faced witch with a huge crooked nose, that is postered everywhere, is a symbol of the abuse of women.

    This portrayal of witches came out of the witch hunts. When women were accused, and were held in jail or paddy wagons, their hands and faces were beaten by the crowds.

    The green color is from bruising, and the gnarled hands and facial features were from being beaten with sticks.

    October 31, 2013 at 9:21 am |
    • Doc Vestibule

      Malarky!
      The green skinned, broom riding witch imagery comes from The Wizard of Oz.
      In the theater, sickly shades of grey, green and blue had long been used to signify supernatural creatures by giving them a fearsome, corpse-like hue. In the new eye-popping world of color cinematography the matching of vivid green and inky black made a distinctively menacing combination."

      October 31, 2013 at 9:27 am |
      • watergirl

        Because the "wicked witch" is modeled after the burning times. The story is paralleled after Mother Shipton. The book describes Elphaba being born the color of the devil, green. So no, Baum or the movies did not invent the green witch. Just like the pointed hat is from the Bronze age and was worn by wizards.
        The first references to green witches was during the Spanich Inquisition. Because women were held in stocks for days, with circulation being cut off. So the muscle under their faces and hands would die and gangrene would set in, turning them green and foul smelling.

        October 31, 2013 at 10:47 am |
        • Doc Vestibule

          I'm afraid not.
          IN the 1st edition of the Wizard of Oz book, the illustrations were done by a fellow named Denslow – and the wicked witch did not have green skin.
          The author of the book makes no allusions to your 15th century prophetess whatsoever.

          October 31, 2013 at 11:35 am |
  3. hayley

    I want to fly to Canada and punch her in the face.

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

      Why? What did she ever do to you?

      October 31, 2013 at 9:26 am |
      • hayley

        Because I like to punch witches. Why not?

        October 31, 2013 at 9:41 am |
    • Southerner01

      Sir Bedevere: What makes you think she's a witch?

      Peasant : Well, she turned me into a newt!

      Sir Bedevere: A newt?

      Peasant : ... I got better.

      Crowd: Burn her anyway!

      October 31, 2013 at 9:31 am |
      • hayley

        best movie ever!

        October 31, 2013 at 9:42 am |
  4. Jackson

    What a joke. Anyone ever want to see real witch, go to Africa. Americans, please do not celebrate this kind of evil. God save us from the hands of the wicked ones, in Yeshua's Name, Amen.

    October 31, 2013 at 9:19 am |
    • Joe Mahma

      Clueless.

      October 31, 2013 at 9:27 am |
    • bawgs

      You're just as crazy as the woman from the article.

      October 31, 2013 at 9:30 am |
    • ram

      Did you see that "do no harm" part of it? Do you really think that is the same as whatever you are talking about? Go get educated. She isn't hurting anyone. You? Not sure on that one.

      October 31, 2013 at 9:33 am |
      • hayley

        Ram you can go ram it in your ass. Tired of people being such babies and being so offended by EVERYTHING.

        October 31, 2013 at 9:43 am |
        • watergirl

          It is never a problem unless you are the one being marginalized.

          October 31, 2013 at 10:47 am |
    • ThinkFirst

      Halloween is a time for people – specifically children – to dress up and have fun. I suppose you're the type of Christian who boycotts Santa Claus, too? The best thing about being a child is using your imagination and simply having fun. Neither of these traditions are damaging to children, or society, if they are framed properly.

      October 31, 2013 at 9:34 am |
  5. Conrad Shull

    It's going to get nasty when zombies are declared an oppressed group. You will be required to let them eat your brains and if you complain, you will be fined.

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

      The word "zombie" is offensive as is "undead".
      They prefer "differently living".

      October 31, 2013 at 9:22 am |
      • Pinkster

        Lol.

        October 31, 2013 at 9:31 am |
      • hayley

        Hahahahaha

        October 31, 2013 at 9:44 am |
    • michaelmaliska

      The Zombies are already here... they are called Democrats...

      October 31, 2013 at 9:37 am |
      • Pinkster

        Ahhhhh...come on, Michael. Don't go there (you are obviously conservative). YUCK! (lol)

        October 31, 2013 at 12:25 pm |
  6. andrew.peter001

    Christians can say the same thing about Christmas and Easter. All cultures hijack festivals and "holidays", devoids it of its meaning, and fashions it to their desires.
    It's just the way things are around this place we call "the world".

    October 31, 2013 at 9:18 am |
    • G to the T

      I think it's more accurate to say all cultures tend to celebrate the turning points in their environment. Just about every agricultural society celbrates the end of the harvest. And away from the equator, celebrating the winter solstice with a "festival of light" is also pretty common, same with spring equinox (start of agricultural cycle). So I think it kind of works the other way. People recognize that these times of year are special and celebrate. Religions, by either growing out of these celebrations organically or superimposing themselves later, bind the culture to the religion more closely.

      November 1, 2013 at 8:49 am |
  7. Jonathan

    This is on the front page of CNN. I now know it is time for me to stop visiting this site. I will get my news elsewhere. To think that shaming people for not being sensitive to "wiccan culture" is an actual idea promoted by the legendary brand of CNN..just mind boggling.

    I hope that whereever I choose to get my news from next focuses on actual news events. That might be wishful thinking in 2013, but I'm going to try.

    October 31, 2013 at 9:18 am |
    • Doc Vestibule

      Try Al Jazeera

      October 31, 2013 at 9:19 am |
      • Southerner01

        That's Al (Gore) Jazeera.

        October 31, 2013 at 9:33 am |
    • ram

      It is Halloween. It's a story about Halloween and what real, normal people who happen to be pagan/Wiccan practice compared to the silly imaginary witch stereotypes. Not all news has to be mayhem and misery.

      October 31, 2013 at 9:35 am |
    • hayley

      Try NPR

      October 31, 2013 at 9:46 am |
  8. Manchowder

    The wiccan cult has been around for about as long as scientology.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wicca

    It isn't some magical cult that has existed for thousands of years as the goth kids claim. It's a fairly new cult followed by nerds, goth and emo children.

    October 31, 2013 at 9:18 am |
  9. eric

    Its just like blackface and slurs because wiccans were also born that way... Oh wait...

    October 31, 2013 at 9:15 am |
  10. lba

    I always laugh when I hear about "wiccans".

    It's a mythology just like any other. The only significant difference between it and christianity/islam/hinduism/worshiping Zeus is what they call it.

    If you take a mythology so seriously you're offended by people not taking it seriously you're not worth taking seriously.

    October 31, 2013 at 9:15 am |
    • Southerner01

      So then Islam should not be taken seriously either?

      October 31, 2013 at 9:38 am |
      • G to the T

        No, but it's more extreme followers should probably be. Hate the belief, not the believer, that's my motto.

        November 1, 2013 at 8:51 am |
  11. Historical Context

    Look, I don't care if you're a Wiccan. I don't care what you believe. That's your own business. However, just because you founded a pagan revival religion in 1954 doesn't give you a monopoly on the word 'witch'. Are we not allowed to tell stories about Baba Yaga? Hansel and Gretel? Is Harry Potter a false representation of what 'real witches' are? Should the word 'witch' be banned except when used in the context of Wicca? What about other groups that use the term 'witch'? I'll put up witch decorations if I want because, surprise Wiccans, it's not about you. Witches, wicked or otherwise, are a staple of western mythology and don't have anything to do with you except you all decided to draw on that mythology and tradition and take on the label yourself. Fine. That's up to you. But that does not mean you get to ruin everyone else's good time with empty guilt.

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

      I'm a practicing witch, and I agree with you.

      People who write articles like this are generally referred to as "fluffy bunnies" – people who have no thick skin whatsoever, and want everything to be kitties, butterflies, and rainbows.

      October 31, 2013 at 9:22 am |
      • lol

        keep practicing lol just fyi its a fairy tale just like christianity

        October 31, 2013 at 9:31 am |
    • LogicInStyle

      Hahaha. It's cute how you call yourself "Historical Context" and yet you have absolutely none on this issue you feel the need to so loudly babble about.

      Paganism has existed continuously for thousands of years. It's true that people like Margaret Murray and Gerald Gardner brought certain things into wider audiences in the mid 20th century (and their degree of authority on the matter is questionable), but there have always been Pagans. As a matter of fact, if you had any education on the matter whatsoever, you'd know that the entire reason Halloween exists in the USA is because 19th century immigrants brought seeds of Pagan traditions over with them from Europe.

      The word "witch" comes from ancient times and has ALWAYS had the meaning of a person who practices the craft. The word ONLY had any different meaning due to Christian usurpation, which attempted to redefine craft practice within Christian constructs, so as to vilify non-Christians and non-Christian practices. And now, you want to use this history of defamation to justify present day defamation. You're a fool. 🙂

      October 31, 2013 at 9:39 am |
      • G to the T

        Ok... but "paganism" isn't a religion. It technically refers to any of the polytheistic religions that existed in the ancient world. I have a friend that recognizes the Norse pantheon, therefore, he is a pagan.

        Now, to be fair, there were of course "pagans" in nothern Europe in those times. And the "wiccan/witch" belief system is based, at least in part, on some of the beliefs from those groups at that time, but their is no religion called "pagan".

        November 1, 2013 at 8:57 am |
  12. NoRly

    What you have to do is put them in a big tub of water. If they don't sink, you have to burn them. I thought this was common knowledge?

    October 31, 2013 at 9:13 am |
    • Southerner01

      If they weigh the same as a duck, then they are a witch.

      October 31, 2013 at 9:40 am |
  13. Matt G

    I got 99 problems but a witch ain't one.

    October 31, 2013 at 9:12 am |
    • Shantel

      LOL !

      October 31, 2013 at 9:26 am |
    • Pinkster

      OMG!

      October 31, 2013 at 9:33 am |
  14. Bill

    Just the latest article on "someone being offended by something that has been around a long time."

    Liberals need to get over themselves.

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

      Bill
      "liberals" have nothing to do with this. why in the world would you think the average liberal cares about wiccans at all? stop simplifying the world down into a childish divide between "liberals" and "conservatives" with the former being always wrong or bad and the latter always right and good. you can do better.

      reading an article about upset wiccans and making a blanket generalization about "liberals" would be like if I read an article about people who marry their cousins and said "oh, you conservatives..." but I wouldn't do that.

      October 31, 2013 at 9:15 am |
      • lol??

        Crips and Bloods. Blue states, red states. Top down mob power with Leadership.

        October 31, 2013 at 9:28 am |
      • Don

        They are just a bunch of pretentious hippies. I bet they pretend to eat sacrificial "toe food". get it?

        October 31, 2013 at 9:28 am |
  15. Doc Vestibule

    Christians know just what to do with witches.
    Come have a seat on the Judas Cradle, Trey.

    October 31, 2013 at 9:11 am |
  16. snowboarder

    i can't take any of this religious mumbo jumbo seriously.

    October 31, 2013 at 9:11 am |
  17. Gypsy

    What a stupid article. Just because someone call themselves a "witch" doesn't mean they are anything exceptional. They are just ordinary, gullible people, eager to believe whatever nonsense they think makes them "special". Here's a newsflash: There are no such thing as "witches." Just because some moron puts on a stupid costume and parades around saying idiotic "magic" words only makes them ridiculous.

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

      now about those so called "Christians"...utterly ridiculous

      October 31, 2013 at 9:12 am |
      • Gypsy

        I agree. Christians ARE ridiculous. So are all other religions I prefer to base my life on reality.

        October 31, 2013 at 9:28 am |
        • Pinkster

          Actually, it's RIDICULOUS for you to tear down an entire group of people because your beliefs do not align with theirs. Get over yourselves; we're not the problem. "People" like you ARE.

          October 31, 2013 at 9:36 am |
        • Gypsy

          Pinkstar: Here's another newsflash. Religion is false. Seriously. Have you even read the bible? If you have read it and understand what's in that awful "holy" book, you'll agree with me. It's full of evil nonsense. Snakes don't talk. The earth is not flat. Killing children is not ok. I could go on and on. Wake up. Religion is the most divisive evil thing ever introduced into the world and it was done out of fear, lack of understand and the need to control.

          October 31, 2013 at 9:44 am |
        • Pinkster

          And here's another...you OBVIOUSLY haven't. Don't try to push your ignorance off on me. Keep it; it serve you well.

          October 31, 2013 at 12:27 pm |
        • Gypsy

          I absolutely HAVE read the entire bible cover to cover and studied it for more than 15 years. Honey, YOU don't know what you're talking about. Pull your head out, get off your knees and get back to reality.

          October 31, 2013 at 1:10 pm |
  18. Logicman

    They should just cast a spell on people who do that.

    October 31, 2013 at 9:10 am |
  19. Mike

    Let me guess... the politically correct police will be out banning Halloween.

    October 31, 2013 at 9:09 am |
    • Ex-Catholic Glo

      At the large corporation where I work we haven't had 'Halloween' celebrations for years: it became (the politically correct) Harvest celebration. Ridiculous.

      October 31, 2013 at 9:15 am |
      • Doc Vestibule

        A neutral seasonal observation to all!

        October 31, 2013 at 9:18 am |
  20. Manchowder

    Enforcing a negative stereotype? Please. All of the wiccans I know play everquest or world of warcraft. They've done quite well of forging a stereotype for themselves. They're all bored little people that have difficulty living in reality, so they try to live out a life of fantasy. The wiccan religion is just like christianity, islam, etc. Wiccans think they're living out dungeons and dragons for real. It's pathetic.

    October 31, 2013 at 9:09 am |
    • PaganDuck

      I am Pagan. I do not believe in fairy tales or play games such as those you mentioned. Most I have come across are just honest hard working people who believe in nature. In mediation. In energy. In karma. I work two jobs at almost 70 hours a week and have two children and a great husband. I am NOT a bored little person having difficulty with reality, living out a life of fantasy. On the contrary, I am very based in what is real and what is important in my life. My family and my spirit. Looking out for others. I am not looking to live out Dungeons and Dragons for real as you put it. I spend time in nature. I learn about nature. I meditate. I bring peace into my life. I do not judge.

      October 31, 2013 at 9:24 am |
      • Manchowder

        Thanks for the laugh.

        October 31, 2013 at 9:33 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.