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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. BOb the Prairie Dog

    Allow me reiterate: Bwahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahaha... (long, deep breath) Bwahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahaha!

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

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

      October 31, 2013 at 9:39 am |
      • Bollocks

        It's easy to marginalize a bunch of goths shopping at hot topic.

        October 31, 2013 at 9:43 am |
      • BOb the Prairie Dog

        "Religion" is choice. Not like you were born that way. If you chose religion of any kind, prepare to be ridiculed.

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

        Witches are in no way marginalized by the practice of dressing up for Halloween, and if you think they are, you're part of the problem.

        October 31, 2013 at 9:45 am |
      • Nannalow

        Being marginalized is a choice. Anyone can be marginalized if they want to feel like it. That is why it is funny. There are things that are out and out racist – bigotted – and wrong ... things that are said with an intent to hurt or harm. Then there are things were people meant no offense – but people choose to feel wronged. Anyone can look at themselves and have reasons to feel "picked on" ... choose to define yourself and not to let other persons definitions define you. You will be a much happier person.

        October 31, 2013 at 9:52 am |
    • Icabus

      i would like to add,,, aaha aha aha aha haaaa haaaa hahahahahah omg are you serious hahahahahaha...

      October 31, 2013 at 9:47 am |
  2. SeaTigr

    Truly, I find paganism, wicca, druidism (is that the term?), etc., no more or less believable than Christianity.

    Christianity – the worship of a man who rose from the dead. In pop culture we'd call him a zombie.

    Then, in one sect, Catholicism, transubstantiation is supposed to turn the bread and wine into the literal body and blood of Christ – which is then eaten and drank by the followers. Cannibalism, anybody?

    October 31, 2013 at 9:36 am |
    • CNN Reporter John

      You are fine with being a bigot, I really see no issue with that as long as you are happy.

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

        Not a bigot. I don't have anything against Christians. My point is that a Christian – especially a Catholic – ridiculing the beliefs of a Wiccan is a bit rich.

        October 31, 2013 at 9:47 am |
      • SeaTigr

        How 'bout I just punch your lights out and we call it even?

        October 31, 2013 at 9:47 am |
      • fujoshigate

        The fact of the matter is, a majority of Wiccans, Witches, Pagans, Druids, etc. etc. etc. don't find Halloween offensive in any way – including those who choose to dress up as ugly witches, or the little girls who choose to be pretty witches. The ones that *are* offended by it tend to be viewed as a joke by the larger magical community – people who don't truly understand the path they've chosen, and who use the term "witch" or "pagan" as a means to get attention.

        October 31, 2013 at 9:49 am |
    • lol??

      The original gubmint church. get it?? Mob power.

      October 31, 2013 at 9:47 am |
  3. Christine Odonnell's ghost

    HI !

    I'm Christine Odonnell!
    I'm not a witch!......................

    October 31, 2013 at 9:33 am |
    • Nancy Pelosi

      I'm proud to admit that I'm a witch. Endora has nothing on me.

      I even turned Michelle Obama into a human for a day. She tried to swing in the trees on the East Lawn but fell when she realized that as a human she no longer had a tail. She demanded I changer her back.
      And then there's that toad AKA Harry Reid that I had a little fun with.

      October 31, 2013 at 9:52 am |
  4. tom LI

    Black face versus dressing like or not knowing what a "real" witch is are not close comparisons. Its insukting that some one would make such a comparison.

    October 31, 2013 at 9:32 am |
  5. Andy

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

    Then stop dressing like a stereotype caricature of a witch.

    October 31, 2013 at 9:32 am |
  6. SeaTigr

    She turned me into a newt!!!

    (I got better.)

    October 31, 2013 at 9:32 am |
  7. noly972

    I can hear it now, "We can call each other witches, but you can't call us witches."

    October 31, 2013 at 9:32 am |
    • Ahab the Arab

      I would do a witch..that would be just majic...

      October 31, 2013 at 9:34 am |
  8. jonusb

    Speaking of witches, does anyone know when the live action version of Ghibli's "Kiki's Delivery Service" will hit US theaters?

    October 31, 2013 at 9:31 am |
  9. Jake

    I wonder if Christians, Muslims, etc, realize that their religions are just as delusional as witchcraft. When you hear about people who think they're witches and conclude they must be crazy, realize that this is the same feeling thinking people have when we hear about people who believe a man walked on water.

    October 31, 2013 at 9:31 am |
    • per se

      Once you think about why you dismiss all other gods, you will understand why I dismiss yours.

      Can't remember who said that, but it's a great quote.

      October 31, 2013 at 9:34 am |
      • fujoshigate

        Stephen F. Roberts, according to the Interwebz.

        October 31, 2013 at 9:40 am |
    • deda

      Right on !

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

      How long have you been a crackhead?

      October 31, 2013 at 9:53 am |
  10. paul

    Witch decorations are no better than blackface? Um, except that Wicca is a modern manufactured religion, and their choice to call their adherents "witches" is completely arbitrary and came *after* halloween decorations. It's like starting a religion, calling your followers "bunnies", then getting upset at the "degrading depiction of bunnies" around Easter.

    I've got nothing against Wicca, and it's a perfectly fine religion I guess, but they've got no right to be outraged at halloween.

    October 31, 2013 at 9:29 am |
    • per se

      All religion is manufactured, therefore all religion is as important as Wicca.

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

      obviously you know nothing about Wiccan. Wiccan has existed for hundreds of years. It is nothing new.

      October 31, 2013 at 9:38 am |
      • 2d6plus8

        Wiccans claim that – however it isn't true. The religious beliefs that Wicca claims to be descended from bear almost zero resemblance to Wicca.

        October 31, 2013 at 9:45 am |
  11. ThinkFirst

    I assume that the Wiccans who are offended by the layman celebration of Halloween respectfully avoid celebrating Christmas?! Otherwise, they are hypocrites ...

    October 31, 2013 at 9:29 am |
    • Vax

      Actually, they celebrate Yule, which is where a lot of the traditions attributed to the modern "Christmas" come from. The tree, caroling, a meal with family and friends and even gift giving are all based on the traditional Germanic pagan traditions. The date of Yule corresponds with the winter solstice, so they tend to celebrate a couple of days earlier than people celebrating Christmas, but to someone who is unfamiliar with the traditions, it may be indistinguishable.

      October 31, 2013 at 9:43 am |
  12. Charlie

    "Traditional" witch, my warty right hand. "Traditional" witches didn't wear pointy hats, sweetheart. I'm always wary of anyone who claims supremacy by "blood," whether it's religion or politics, and this is why: more often than not, they use that excuse to cover up some really sloppy research.

    I'm no Wiccan and I'm definitely no "witch," but I am, in fact, a Pagan, and I love Halloween. As a matter of fact, I have a pointy hat and striped stockings in my closet I can pull out for the occasion if I feel the urge to be a witch instead of a zombie or a homicidal maniac. People need to get over themselves.

    October 31, 2013 at 9:28 am |
  13. Cassidy S

    Oh here we go.

    October 31, 2013 at 9:28 am |
  14. Anne

    Oh lord, what crap! I'm pagan and know lots of wiccans and pagans and they all like Halloween. They are not so pompous like Capnerhurst that they get bothered by Halloween "witches." None of the folks I know dress like her either. Their traditional dress is pants, shirt, shoes, you know...clothes. What us pagans do hate is when Halloween comes around and they interview flakes like her.

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

      all of the witches and pagans i know are all broke and have a ton of medical issues idiots think that lord savior harry potter is gonna come and heal them

      October 31, 2013 at 9:29 am |
  15. SeriouslyThough

    I feel for them, truly. Halloween is ridiculous anymore. It's been so commercialized it really doesn't mean anything.

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

      News Flash: It never meant anything. The end.

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

        No kidding, right?

        October 31, 2013 at 9:34 am |
  16. gggg

    Great. What next. Indians (oh, I'm so sorry, Native Americans) objecting to Thanksgiving because it is not representative of what actually happened? Give it a break. We have changed or gotten rid of holidays because it "offends" some group or another. We have added "holidays" because some group decided they wanted their own special holiday. I've got a better idea. If you don't like a holiday, don't celebrate it. If you want your own holiday, fine, just don't be offended when I don't celebrate it. Many different people will do many different things. Just live with it a quit whining about it. Sheesh.

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

      Actually Indians are fine being called Indians. Unlike other ethnic names, it wasn't started as a slander, it was a misconception.

      October 31, 2013 at 9:41 am |
    • 2d6plus8

      I would say the difference here is that Native Americans have legitimate grievances with holidays like Thanksgiving and Columbus day – Wicca is a modern manufactured religion that is predated by the witch stereotype. Wiccans were never persecuted.

      October 31, 2013 at 9:42 am |
  17. annemarie

    Religion is defined as "A set of beliefs concerning the cause, nature, and purpose of the universe, especially when considered as the creation of a superhuman agency or agencies, usually involving devotional and ritual observances, and often containing a moral code governing the conduct of human affairs." What do Wiccans believe in?

    October 31, 2013 at 9:25 am |
    • fujoshigate

      A very general explanation (which not every Witch or Wiccan will agree with, to be certain):

      The universe was created by a higher power too vast for the human mind to comprehend. Therefore, Wiccans worship aspects of this higher power as the Goddess and the God, or as a pantheon of Goddesses and Gods. Magical rituals are performed as acts of worship usually once or twice a month, and on certain seasonal holy days throughout the year. Wiccans recognize the sacredness present in the cycles of nature and in the cycles of life, death, birth, and rebirth. As for the moral code of behavior "Harm none, do what you will." That is, live your life in a way that you bring no harm to others in thought or word or deed. Other than that, do what you wish.

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

        Dear Fujoshigate, Thank you for a clear and simple explanation of the basic Wiccan beliefs. Is it possible to have a personal relationship with this higher power? I am very interested in whatever concerns personal communion. Also, what exactly is a hex?

        October 31, 2013 at 10:15 am |
        • fujoshigate

          AnneMarie –

          The Wiccan faith is deeply personal. Most Wiccans believe that the divine dwells within them – not far away.

          As for a hex – a hex is simply a spell, and isn't really negative or positive, though most secular folk tend to think of the negative connotations. The saying goes "she who cannot hex cannot heal" – hexes do tend to have a negative effect. One would hex an illness to heal a patient, or hex a negative behavior to be rid of it, etc. People tend to think of hexes as curses, but they are completely different. Remember, true Wiccans follow the Rede, doing harm to no person.

          October 31, 2013 at 10:30 am |
      • annemarie

        Dear Fujoshigate, Does that mean that the divine is simply an aspect of myself and not another person? So that there is no interpersonal communion? Also, since I don't know the vocabulary of Wicca, in what way does a hex differ from a wish, from a prayer or from a scientific experiment? Thank you for your patience!

        October 31, 2013 at 10:50 am |
        • fujoshigate

          The divine is both in you, and around you. Having a conversation with it is no more difficult than having an internal dialogue.

          A hex or spell is better compared to a prayer than anything else, at least in my opinion.

          October 31, 2013 at 11:17 am |
      • annemarie

        Dear Fujoshigate, As I said, I am interested in personal communion, that is, communion between two or more persons. Yet you refer to the divine as "it". In English, "it" normally refers to an impersonal being or reality. So with whom am I conversing? And if a hex is like a prayer, to whom is it addressed? If these are stupid questions, please say so because I don't want to waste your time or impose on your kindness. Thank you!

        October 31, 2013 at 1:53 pm |
  18. Manchowder

    Wicca is solely responsible for keeping "Hot Topic" in business.

    October 31, 2013 at 9:24 am |
  19. Logic

    Until she turns me into a newt, she is no witch.

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

      Perhaps she did, but you got better?

      October 31, 2013 at 9:25 am |
    • Andy

      But does she weigh the same as a duck?

      October 31, 2013 at 9:35 am |
  20. ohhaihowareu

    How you know she's a witch?
    She turned me into a NEWT!

    October 31, 2013 at 9:22 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.