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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. Doc Vestibule

    Is that a beer bottle next to her "altar"?
    If guilt free intoxication is what you're after, ditch Wicca and start worshipping Bacchus.

    October 31, 2013 at 10:09 am |
    • Charm Quark

      Dionysus, like Jeremiah, he always had some mighty fine wine.

      October 31, 2013 at 10:33 am |
    • ME II

      Could it be a candle/candle-holder?

      October 31, 2013 at 10:42 am |
  2. NotAgain

    Oh no, not again! another group trying to equalize their cause to the black experience. People, it is not the same! Your "struggle" does not even come close to what blacks experienced in this country! Gimme a break!

    October 31, 2013 at 10:07 am |
    • Julie Cochrane

      Free clue: Some neopagans are African-American.

      "It ain't even about that, yo!"

      Seriously, racism bites. Slavery and its multigeneration societal legacy bites. It's bad. Legacies of privilege do negatively impact people who aren't getting those privileges. Got it, agree that it sucks, agree that it needs and deserves ongoing attention and action.

      That said, not everything has to be about you.

      October 31, 2013 at 10:36 am |
  3. Melissa

    The Witch in this story has some serious problems (both religiously and with men, apparently), and definitely is not helping the Pagan cause. She's definitely not the poster girl for Paganism. She just seems to have an inflated ego. Quite sad, but every faith has its good and bad representatives.

    That said, Samhain Blessings to one and all – and may everyone and their loved ones have good health and happiness for the next Turn.

    October 31, 2013 at 10:04 am |
    • SeaTigr

      Go to hell!

      October 31, 2013 at 10:05 am |
      • SeaTigr

        AE, is that me?

        October 31, 2013 at 10:17 am |
        • SeaTigr

          Lawrence, is that me?

          October 31, 2013 at 10:18 am |
    • Kestrel

      Hear! Hear!!! And a Happy Halloween and Blessed Samhain to you Melissa!

      October 31, 2013 at 10:05 am |
      • SeaTigr

        You two can both burn in hell!!

        October 31, 2013 at 10:07 am |
        • Kestrel

          And a HAPPY HALLOWEEN to you SeaTigr! May you be Blessed by the return of all that you put out into the world!

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

          Austin, is that me?

          October 31, 2013 at 10:17 am |
        • SeaTigr

          It's me!!

          October 31, 2013 at 11:24 am |
    • Get Snipped

      The Earth started spinning long before man existed, certainly well before man invented wicca. It's made up.

      October 31, 2013 at 10:08 am |
      • Melissa

        Faith is something humans use to explain the things that are unexplainable. It is a purely human-created invention, and everyone with faith, regardless of how they define it, creates their own.

        You're absolutely right – the Earth started spinning (and the Universe began, however it began) long before any faith was created. But it's that complexity of nature which is to be celebrated... and that's what I, as a Pagan, do. 🙂 Science and faith do work hand-in-hand, if you look at them as partners.

        October 31, 2013 at 10:13 am |
        • lol??

          There is only one faith.

          October 31, 2013 at 10:15 am |
        • Get Snipped

          The fact that the Universe existed long before any faith is telling. It means that all faiths are human inventions and nothing more. Philosophical justification of such faith is merely nothing more than a means of convincing yourself that your faith actually has meaning. In reality, it does not. This is a cold, hard fact.

          October 31, 2013 at 10:16 am |
        • Get Snipped

          By the way, science and faith are polar opposites.

          October 31, 2013 at 10:17 am |
        • Melissa

          Snipped – I agree with you. All faiths are human inventions. Faith isn't based on fact, it's based on truth. Totally different things.

          I have no need for others to believe as I do. My faith is my own. It's simply my own personal moral code and how I interact with the world. You can scream "fact" all you want to try to destroy or disprove my faith, but it simply won't work... my faith comprises who I am. You don't have to agree with me, and that's fine... you have your own personal truth, made of your own experiences and your own interpretations of the world. Those truths are separate from fact, which is what we can see and touch.

          Unfortunately there are faiths in the world who insist that everyone MUST agree with them in order to exist, and they confuse fact and truth.

          October 31, 2013 at 10:22 am |
    • lol??

      Lass, ego is an unproven scientific guess. If yer a married lass, you should already know about inflation, err engorgement.

      October 31, 2013 at 10:13 am |
    • Julie Cochrane

      Happy Samhain! Blessed be!

      October 31, 2013 at 10:41 am |
      • Melissa

        Blessings to you too Julie!

        October 31, 2013 at 10:43 am |
  4. SeaTigr

    The Lord has a place for all of these Wiccans and they are not going to like it unless they like their steaks EXTREMELY well done!!

    October 31, 2013 at 10:03 am |
    • SeaTigr

      Which Lord? Re? Zeus? Odin? The Flying Spaghetti Monster?

      October 31, 2013 at 10:05 am |
    • SeaTigr

      I agree!!! They can be charred for eternity as far as I'm concerned.

      October 31, 2013 at 10:08 am |
      • Bob

        You sound like a typical vicious Christian. That hell thing would have to be the work of one vicious, vengeful ass hole of a god. Please, keep your sicko Christian fairy tales to yourself, silently.

        October 31, 2013 at 10:16 am |
  5. Kestrel

    Number one, this lady doesn't speak for ALL Wiccans, nor does she speak for ALL Witches. I love Hallloween and celebrate it with great laughter and fun. There is absolutely nothing bigoted about dressing up as a Witch... for one, there is NO one way a Witch looks for goodness sakes!!! The stereotypical witch costume is just that - A COSTUME!!! So, as a Witch of more than 20 years, I say to you Trey Capnerhurst - LIGHTEN UP FRANCIS!!!!

    October 31, 2013 at 10:03 am |
    • Melissa

      Yeah... she needs to pull her broomstick out a bit, doesn't she? It's not her religion people abhor, it's her behavior toward others. But maybe she doesn't follow the Rede since she's a "traditional" Witch.

      October 31, 2013 at 10:06 am |
      • Kestrel

        I'm not Wiccan either.... but this lady gives Wiccans AND Witches a bad name in my book. GEEEZZ!!! She obviously has some issues. Least of which is which witch is which. 😀

        October 31, 2013 at 10:07 am |
        • SeaTigr

          You're going to burn in hell!!!

          October 31, 2013 at 10:09 am |
  6. jojo

    The easy confidence with which I know another man's religion is folly teaches me to suspect that my own is also.
    Mark Twain

    October 31, 2013 at 10:01 am |
    • SeaTigr

      Mark Twain is dead.

      October 31, 2013 at 10:10 am |
      • Bob

        So is Jesus. Long dead and rotted away.

        October 31, 2013 at 10:14 am |
        • SeaTigr

          But Jesus rose once before. Twain didn't.

          October 31, 2013 at 11:27 am |
        • Bob

          No, there is no reliable proof of Jesus having arisen from being actually dead, even if some people of the time thought he had; that isn't reliable proof. And you have to ask why there hasn't been a peep from the Christian sky fairy for >2,000 years.

          There is hope for the future, though, that through advances in cryogenic medicine, we may be able to put people in stasis, and bring them back from what would once have been considered dead, but that will be thanks to advances in science – no vengeant Christian sky ass hole required.

          October 31, 2013 at 12:46 pm |
  7. SeaTigr

    As a penticostal, I've always found wiccans to be the most highly offensive cultists plaguing the world. They are satanic and they are playing with fire! The Lord Jesus Christ will judge them!

    October 31, 2013 at 9:59 am |
    • Brandon

      They're every bit as fictional as your belief system, so I don't see the harm really.

      October 31, 2013 at 10:01 am |
      • SeaTigr

        Wrong. Maybe you could benefit from reading the Bible instead of running away from it in fear screaming about fiction. Clearly you don't have a clue.

        October 31, 2013 at 10:04 am |
        • Bob

          SeaTigr, most atheists know your nasty bible better than most Christians do. Your god doesn't exist. Get over your pathetic Christian fairy tales already.

          October 31, 2013 at 10:13 am |
        • Brandon

          Right.

          I grew up Christian. Then I actually read and studied the Bible.

          That's when I knew it was fiction.

          Try again I guess?

          October 31, 2013 at 10:20 am |
      • WWOTE

        How bout a little fire scarecrow?

        October 31, 2013 at 10:07 am |
    • Cleetus Allreetus Alrightus

      I find your evil jeebus sky daddy god cult to be highly offensive

      October 31, 2013 at 10:03 am |
      • SeaTigr

        Another uneducated quip from the peanut gallery. Read the Bible.Get back to me when you've got something worth talking about.

        October 31, 2013 at 10:06 am |
      • SeaTigr

        What is so evil about Him? Be specific.

        October 31, 2013 at 10:06 am |
        • truthprevails1

          Noahs Ark; Raping allowed; Child abuse allowed; oppression of LGBT allowed; oppression of women allowed....shall we go on? Obviously you pick and choose what parts of the bible you want to use and have not actually read it from front to back or you would also be a non-believer (fastest way to disbelief in that god is to read the book written by man that tells of it).

          October 31, 2013 at 10:13 am |
        • Brandon

          And don't forget the *entire* Book of Job!

          October 31, 2013 at 10:22 am |
    • lol??

      Flirting with hexagrams after the pentacrash??

      October 31, 2013 at 10:07 am |
    • truthprevails1

      Wow, I would hope you're just trolling and not being serious but on the off chance you are being serious, your comment shows exactly how little you know about Wiccans/Pagan beliefs. They can't worship your imaginary friends enemy when they don't believe in it. They tend to show greater respect for our planet and species (they don't tend to justify denial of equal rights to anyone...ie; christians and LGBT issue).

      "Here's a few things about Paganism that you may or may not know:

      1. Paganism includes all earth-based religions and involves a huge diversity of beliefs. Pagan literally translates to one who dwells upon the Earth, which really if you think about it, is all of us.

      2. Witches are pagan, but not all pagans are witches. That’s because Paganism is the umbrella term of all the earth-based religions of the world.

      3. Pagans don’t believe in the Christian version of god, but Christian mythologies borrow heavy from the Pagan experience, which pre-dated Christianity.

      4. Pagans do not believe in the Devil or Satan. That concept originated with Christianity.

      5. Pagans are not Satanists. Satanism was born out of a response to Christianity. It has nothing to do with the Pagan mythologies that pre-date Christianity.

      6. Pagans don’t sacrifice animals or humans. In ancient times, all religions, including Christianity, practiced rites of sacrifice. Today’s Pagans left that part of their ancient belief system in the past because we now understand that honoring life is where it’s at.

      7. Holidays come from the Pagan’s holy days, and many of our favorite holidays, like Christmas, Easter and Halloween, are borrowed from Pagan mythologies.

      8. Pagans don’t hate Jesus, but they don’t worship him either. Most think he was a good man who tried to make the world he lived in a better place, but Pagans do not see him as a god.

      9. For Pagans, magic and spellcasting are the acts of focused prayer with intention.

      10. Pagans are a peaceful people who prefer to practice their religious ideologies outdoors in Nature closer to the Earth they love."
      (http://www.examiner.com/article/10-pagan-facts)

      October 31, 2013 at 10:10 am |
      • Melissa

        He's just a troll... he's replying to his own spewings.

        *shrug*

        October 31, 2013 at 10:15 am |
      • lol??

        Creator or creature. You vote yer soul on who is greater.

        October 31, 2013 at 10:20 am |
        • Bob

          Ever heard of Pascal's Wager? Look it up and learn.

          October 31, 2013 at 12:48 pm |
    • OhReally

      PENTECOSTAL. If you cannot even spell your religion correctly, how on earth should any of us take you seriously? Interesting how religious zealots hate and threaten Wiccans, but Wiccan hate nor threaten anyone...

      October 31, 2013 at 10:39 am |
    • Julie Cochrane

      That's a misconception. Only some Wiccans play with fire. Others are happier playing with water, earth, or air. Also, Satan is explicitly excluded from the Wiccan pantheon. His worship is a Judeo-Christian-Islamo denomination. Frankly, most of us think you guys are rather sick to have something like that in your pantheon.

      October 31, 2013 at 10:49 am |
      • 56+1

        to be fair nobody "selected" that character it was already part of those religions.

        November 4, 2013 at 1:39 am |
  8. Tree

    Uh, witches aren't real, and what they are dressing up as is a fictional being, not a wiccan. Get over yourself. Better yet use your spells and stop everyone from doing it...

    Mario.

    October 31, 2013 at 9:58 am |
    • ken

      Yep, that getup she is in, in the picture is not even close to true. If's totally fictional in origin.

      October 31, 2013 at 10:01 am |
    • lol??

      A Tree? How 'bout americult's burning Bush, who couldn't just say no.

      October 31, 2013 at 10:01 am |
  9. liz48

    my comment...

    October 31, 2013 at 9:58 am |
  10. SeaTigr

    Disregard my earlier posts. I am a recovering crack abuser. My therapy has highs and lows.
    I know you will all understand.

    October 31, 2013 at 9:58 am |
  11. thend00

    I feel the same way about Festivus.

    October 31, 2013 at 9:57 am |
    • fintastic

      I Love Festivus!...... for the rest of us!

      October 31, 2013 at 10:00 am |
  12. Manchowder

    Dungeons and dragons is just a game.

    October 31, 2013 at 9:57 am |
  13. lol??

    Ask Charlie Sheen or The Donald about american-russian brides. Takes a lot of moolah to keep them happy, even after the split.

    October 31, 2013 at 9:56 am |
  14. Tony Camaro

    If she wants to kill the stereotypes then she shouldn't be wearing a Disney costume.

    October 31, 2013 at 9:56 am |
  15. aeh

    This is just too much... Everything is about intent… People who are hanging pictures of the wicked witch of the west on their house for Halloween are not trying making an offensive religious statement!!! There is zero malice in this act. It is not the same as putting on blackface, where at the very least, the culprit is trying to stir the pot. I have no problem with the religion. But I much prefer McConel's laid back viewpoint.

    This complaint reminds me of atheists that want to take “GOD” out of the pledge of allegiance… Ridiculous! ( and that is coming from an atheist) There are 365 million people in this country.. we have to give each other leeway.. Live and let live….

    October 31, 2013 at 9:55 am |
  16. SeaTigr

    I'm lovin the guy who is so upset with me that he's posting hate-filled comments ("put them all in a wood chipper", etc.) using my screen name. I guess my comments must have hit a bit close to the mark for his taste...

    October 31, 2013 at 9:54 am |
  17. Dumbledore's Other Brother

    Awwwww... "stereotypes of witches as broom-riding hags drive her a bit batty." Awwwwww I like a good witch on a broom stick.
    Now, let's get serious. I find it HIGHLY discriminatory of her to say that "men are harder to train as witches". Booolooney. See my name?
    She complains about stereotyping like blackfacing or the "red skins", but she sure doesn't mind stereoptyping men on a gender base. Wow lady. Who are you to deny me my Inner Witch????

    I can see a witch class/ gender war brewing, in the good ol cauldron... I mean it... Seriously.
    But I will keep my other cauldron save and tucked away, the one where I brew my beer....

    October 31, 2013 at 9:54 am |
    • That's Mr. Warlock to you.

      You have to realize that even gay men who practice witchcraft cannot be witches, we are all considered Warlocks.

      October 31, 2013 at 10:11 am |
  18. CherryMama

    These sound similar to the complaints of retail workers on black Friday. Get over it!

    October 31, 2013 at 9:53 am |
  19. Brandon

    This is kind of ridiculous.

    Wicca is a 20th century religion, introduced to the public in the mid-50's, LONG after Halloween was established (and, in fact, the portrayal of "witches" stretches back in our culture for hundreds upon hundred of years). Wicca hijacked concepts from Western culture and then they get offended when they don't like how we interpret them?

    Sorry, but no. And I say this as someone who is religionless.

    October 31, 2013 at 9:53 am |
  20. Antonio

    Wicca is fake. Religions are "fake" as well, but Wicca is super fake.

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

      Its followers are perhaps the most stupid of all religious followers. I have yet to meet an intelligent wiccan.

      October 31, 2013 at 10:03 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.