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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. samsart

    How ironic that those who tout that they are the epitome of tolerance and respect are those most bound to be judgmental and repressive. Christianity is 'new' compared to many doctrines the globe over. How convenient that it has absorbed many pagan rites and traditions ( Christmas trees, etc) all the while spewing disdain for that which they have copied. 'Do no harm' seems pretty admirable to me. There is more, much more, that we as mortals are unaware of and would do well to hold a healthy respect for.

    October 31, 2013 at 9:52 am |
  2. Brian

    "It just makes you look like a fool."

    He would have to try a lot harder to compete. There are pictures of the biggest fool on teh page.

    October 31, 2013 at 9:51 am |
  3. mk

    This is akin to christians being offended by those wishing others "Happy Holidays" instead of "Merry Christmas".

    October 31, 2013 at 9:50 am |
  4. Scott

    It's a little extreme for them to compare children dressing up as witches as someone wearing blackface, which is something that has serious racist connotations. All religion is mocked or parodied in one way or another, and the witches children dress up as aren't the same sort of witches they believe they are; the children are dressed up as cartoonish, fable-styled witches. Halloween is meant to be fun, exciting for children, and just an all around good-time. Get over it and stop raining on people's fun.

    October 31, 2013 at 9:50 am |
    • Shuffler

      Nothing wrong with black face.... only a racist would cry foul on that.

      October 31, 2013 at 9:51 am |
  5. Shuffler

    LOL Make them disappear then. Seriously I put witches in the same catagory as clowns.

    This is as funny as a so called medium saying "I didn't know".

    October 31, 2013 at 9:50 am |
    • Doc Vestibule

      I used to be a clown. I proudly donned my uniform and flogged flowers on a streetcorner when I was 16.
      Clowning has a deep and rich history going back thousands of years.
      How dare you profane the sacred traditions and beliefs of Jesters!

      October 31, 2013 at 9:54 am |
  6. Doc Vestibule

    Neo-Pagan religions are usually good for a laugh.
    For example, The Church of All Worlds is headed by a fellow named Oberon Zell Ravenheart (really) and is based on the fictional teachings of The Man from Mars in the science fiction novel "Stranger in a Strange Land".
    Somehow they missed the key component of having to learn the Martian language, but whatever floats their boat I guess.

    October 31, 2013 at 9:48 am |
  7. Alura

    I'm Wiccan and a witch. I love Halloween! I also consider Samhain to be the most important day of the year.

    It is NOT WHAT you believe BUT how you live your life. Regardless of your "religion", there is good and bad based on the PERSON practicing it, not the tenets themselves.

    I live by honoring Mother Earth. I take care to recycle, to nod trod through nature-destroying her, to not live out of the harmony I've created with her.

    Yes, HER...for SHE is a living, breathing biosphere capable of creating life. When it comes to humans, only WOMEN can do that. We ARE all Goddesses in our own right.

    Go to religous tolerance dot org to learn more. Otherwise, enjoy wallowing in your ignorance!

    Life is a Witch and then you fly!

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

      *fart*

      October 31, 2013 at 9:50 am |
    • Doc Vestibule

      If a beaver dam – an artifical structure created to alter the environment by beavers for their own purposes, is considered natural, would not any edifice made by man for man's purposes also be natural?

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

      Only women can create life? So you don't believe in sperm?
      Women may carry the fetus to term, but it takes two humans to create life.
      And as for after birth, it was me, not his mother, that taught him about nature and respecting it.

      October 31, 2013 at 10:06 am |
  8. Jake

    Dressing up like a witch isn't like wearing black face. It's like dressing up as Jesus or a god. It's perfectly fine. That's the point of dressing up as anything – to make fun of stupid fictional things!

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

      Except witches exist/have existed since before Christianity, another fictionalized tradition.

      October 31, 2013 at 9:51 am |
  9. dudeguy

    THANK YOU CNN!! I've been Wiccan for the better part of 20 years now and I've never even met a single Wiccan that's offended by Halloween witches. Thank you CNN for making this woman front page news. She does NOT represent us! Why is it that the liberal media will seek out anyone that's offended by something and prop them up as the norm?

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

      So, you've wasted 20 years of your life in other words.

      October 31, 2013 at 9:48 am |
      • Chase

        Must be from England. Do you have meth teeth like the rest of your country?

        October 31, 2013 at 9:51 am |
        • Bollocks

          No, stupid. I'm from New York. Care to make any other generalizations? Might want to cram your other foot in your mouth as a preemptive action here.

          October 31, 2013 at 9:55 am |
      • dudeguy

        OH NO! Some random DB in his Mom's basement has an opinion about me and my religion? Looks like I'd better go rethink my life.

        October 31, 2013 at 9:51 am |
        • Bollocks

          I don't have an opinion about your religion. I stated a fact. There's a difference.

          October 31, 2013 at 9:54 am |
    • Jake

      You've been Wiccan for 20 years? That's just as crazy as this woman being offended by witches on Halloween, so yes, I'd say she's a fair representation of the religion.

      October 31, 2013 at 9:50 am |
  10. Charm Quark

    Double, double, toil and trouble;
    Fire burn, and caldron bubble.
    Actually I much prefer zombies, jesus being my favorite, nothing like a stinking, rotting corpse strutting around to scare the bejesus out of people.

    October 31, 2013 at 9:47 am |
  11. Drew

    I truly enjoy the bigotreous tradition of Halloween. I hope that I offend all witches, warlocks, mummies, vampires, zombies and werewolves on this night. If I haven't, I've failed.

    October 31, 2013 at 9:46 am |
    • Ed Ko

      Christianity has never been against using false propaganda to influence their believers. Every "Christian Holiday" is actually a old pagan holiday that has been apprpriated by early christians to make their new religion more attractive to perspective converts. Halloween, is one that they have not been able take over. Its not evil and niether are wiccan or anyone not christian. The word witch is actually a term like indian, its been placed on people and become the term. Many witchs and natives embrace the term witch or indian because it is a way of remebering the tragedies that being labeled as such and the people who were tortured and killed. The problem for pagans and natives is when innacurate and ignorant images and representations like the green witch or the indian mascot do they dislike it. Religion breeds hate.

      October 31, 2013 at 9:58 am |
  12. Yes1fan

    The problem with prejudice against them is more about Wiccans presenting themselves as "not human", but rather "more powerful than human".
    Of COURSE others would see that as a threat, just as they would genetically-engineered superior beings.

    October 31, 2013 at 9:46 am |
    • Chase

      Because Christians don't do that at all! Moron.

      October 31, 2013 at 9:52 am |
  13. Elizabeth

    Annamarie asked: What do Wiccans believe in?

    You must not have bothered to read the whole story or you have been able to answer your own question.

    The rede, or ethical statement at the core of Wicca, is: Harm none and do as you will.

    Please, read the entire story before you comment on it. It just makes you look like a fool.

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

      Reading a joke and then telling people they need to take it seriously is quite the oxymoron, don't you think?

      October 31, 2013 at 9:46 am |
    • Lisa

      And exactly how can you "harm none" but still "Do as you will"? Impossible.

      October 31, 2013 at 9:52 am |
  14. Km72

    She and those like her are getting bashed by the same people who bash Christianity.

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

      Mythology is after all just stories made up by other people; origin and substance doesn't matter to those who want a reality based society.

      October 31, 2013 at 10:09 am |
    • Frank

      I think it's the Christians who are doing the bashing, no?

      October 31, 2013 at 12:29 pm |
  15. Leigh

    Christians want everyone to respect their beliefs, and in some cases seek to enforce them via law, yet their own tolerance for any religion other than their own is woefully lacking.

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

      Atheists and agnostics are just as intolerant.

      October 31, 2013 at 9:43 am |
      • Camel the Toe

        You are incorrect.

        October 31, 2013 at 9:52 am |
      • K-switch

        And 4 year olds try to deflect their own wrong doings by saying the other kids were doing it too.

        October 31, 2013 at 9:53 am |
  16. lol

    http://faithhopecharity.thoughts.com/posts/wicca-a-religious-joke

    October 31, 2013 at 9:40 am |
  17. Hal Doby

    I consider myself to be Pagan, however, I am not a Wiccan. Wicca is an attempt to recreate a VERSION of the ancient spiritual practices of our Indo-European ancestors prior to their assimilation b the Catholic church. Some of it is based on fact, the rest is "theorized", while the rest is simply made up. Compounding the matter is the absolute smear campaign of utter nonsense "She turned me into a Newt but I got better." Christianity undertook to make these practices seem "evil".

    Wicca has a huge following because a major component is the worship of the feminine in the form of Goddess worship. This is a very powerful aspect to a lot of feminists, which is why in modern times most witches are female. In the practice, there is no such thing as a Warlock as that is a modern made-up concept. Witches are both men and women. In the vernacular, Warlock was a term applied to a traitor.

    When you get down to brass tacks, most Wiccan and other Pagan rituals are about as mundane as a Catholic Mass. Most mysticism aspects are pure myth and in the great scheme of things, we are all paying homage to The Divine, whatever that may be.

    But of all the Pagan practices, Samhain (properly pronounced "Sau-when") got the worst Christian reputation. In fact, Samhain is a combination of Thanksgiving and New Years with a spiritual component linking it to honoring the Dead. The correct form of practice is still around in the Latino community as Dia Del Los Muertos. or Day of the Dead festivals and yet most Christians nowadays are not freaked out by this practice.

    Samhain is a three-day ritual that gives thanks for the bounty of the previous year, honors our ancestors, and opens the coming year. If people properly understood the meaning of the observance, there would be no commotion over it.

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

      Oh, come one...the newt bit is Monty Python – which is well known for making fun of Christians, too. It's no different than quoting Mel Brooks. The man is an equal opportunity insulter. Watch Blazing Saddles or The History of the World, Part One – if you can find a group of people he DOESN'T insult, let me know.

      People need to have a sense of humor and not take themselves too seriously – and I say this as a Jew who's still waiting for his monthly deposit from the Jewish Global Conspiracy Fund.

      October 31, 2013 at 9:42 am |
  18. SeaTigr

    How happy are people who switched to Geico?

    Happier than a witch in a broom factory!

    October 31, 2013 at 9:38 am |
  19. Smooth Criminal

    Come to Africa where nothing happens without the intervention of a witch or wizard. You get Married its witchcraft, you get divorced its witchcraft, come in to some money, sorry its witchcraft, end up broke its you got it, witchcraft.

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

      Hahaha love your comment. I hadn't realized that!

      October 31, 2013 at 9:57 am |
  20. onepercenter

    And some people believe in aliens from other planets too. C'mon...leave the doors at the broom factory unlocked for the night and let them have a great time!

    October 31, 2013 at 9:37 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.