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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. Ali-cat

    And BLACKFACE comparisons?? ls this woman on CRACK??

    October 31, 2013 at 3:03 pm |
  2. Outside Man

    I think that atoms are pretty good evidence of a creator.

    October 31, 2013 at 3:03 pm |
    • Lionly Lamb

      Sired O' Man...

      It depends upon what someone understands an atom to be... Me..? What are my views..? Think, "Fractal Cosmology"...

      October 31, 2013 at 3:11 pm |
    • Madtown

      Atoms are 100% evidence of sub-atomic particles.

      October 31, 2013 at 3:12 pm |
    • Blessed are the Cheesemakers

      You have no justification for that statement.

      October 31, 2013 at 3:13 pm |
  3. Sivick

    magic and witches aren't real. put down your broomsticks and bibles and grab a lab coat and a science text book. you'll be better off.

    October 31, 2013 at 2:59 pm |
  4. ...

    boo

    October 31, 2013 at 2:57 pm |
  5. CFitz

    I'm a Pagan and I adore Halloween. So wah to the whiners and fie to you internet-evangelists who troll with your Bible quotes.

    October 31, 2013 at 2:55 pm |
  6. Ali-cat

    Ummm...huh? Bigotry? Are the little girls who dress up as witches also guilty of bigotry, or is that sin only on the part of the mothers who dress their little girls up as one? What if the child says of her own volition that she wants to be one for Halloween? Should her parents be all PC and out of consideration for this one witch's butthurt, refuse the child her wish? And don't get me started on the hypocrisy of the woman crying bigotry who then turns around and belittles men by implying they are both dumb and lazy? That woman's opinion is NOT the prevailing or common feeling among most witches, and if Capnerhurst is so very offended by such things, maybe she needs to get that gigantic quartz crystal out of her ass, loosen up, and have some fun. McConnel should have been the main focus of this interview, and they should have left Capnerhurst out entirely. In fact, it's inane comments like Capnerhurst's that hurt the public's overall image of witches and/or Pagans whenever someone gives morons like this a national soapbox to whine on. Shame on you, Burke, for publishing this drivel, and shame on you, Capnerhurst, for being a pathetic representation of witches everywhere. Then again, l guess bigots come in all forms. l am a witch and l do not endorse your message.

    October 31, 2013 at 2:55 pm |
    • ala-kat

      Put my thoughts into words...thanks. She lost me at the bigotry comment.

      October 31, 2013 at 3:03 pm |
    • Momof3

      I thought it was odd that she said she hated Halloween, but chose to put on the pointy hat to hand out candy... If you hate a sterotype, why perpetuate it?

      October 31, 2013 at 4:00 pm |
  7. Josie

    Um, wow...disgruntle much? I'm Pagan and personally I don't have problems with people and their views. No we are not all like this, yes I love Halloween. Have since I was a kid. Yes I celebrate Samhain but I won't deny my kids or anyone else of a good night to pretend to be who they normally aren't and to get a littie scared once in a while. I keep the two seperate from each other. Samhain is the time of year to honor those loved ones I have lost in my life, it's a time of year to remember who came before me and I hope when I die I have someone to do the same for me. Halloween is time to dress up and just have fun and be a kid for a night again. This is one time of year I can be a Witch and not have half my community look at me strangely or in fear. Why did CNN have to talk to one like this, but then again most of us don't need to talk ot the media to get our "message" out there.
    Blessed Samhain and Happy Halloween to all!

    October 31, 2013 at 2:52 pm |
    • Nada

      equally delusional as christians, jews, muslums and mental patients

      October 31, 2013 at 2:55 pm |
  8. seatron

    Isn't Halloween quite a bit older than Wicca (~1954)? This is silly.

    October 31, 2013 at 2:52 pm |
  9. Outside Man

    It's irrelevant to know how the creator got created to know how atoms got created.

    October 31, 2013 at 2:45 pm |
    • ME II

      Atoms coalesced out of a extremely dense hot energy region as far as we can tell.

      October 31, 2013 at 2:53 pm |
    • sam

      What on earth do you want?

      October 31, 2013 at 2:54 pm |
    • HotAirAce

      Forget about *how* a creator might have been created. Why do you believe there is/was a creator? What actual (factual, objective, independent, verifiable, etc.) evidence do you have for a creator? Have you spoken to a mental health professional about your delusions?

      October 31, 2013 at 2:57 pm |
  10. .dot...dotdot.dotdotdot......dot...dotdotdotdot...

    Wiccans are usually pacifists that are agonizingly socially awkward. They tend to be physically and mentally weak. You'll find that the same types of people that play world of warcraft or dungeons and dragons are heavily drawn to wicca. Most of them are obese and have poor hygiene.

    Like many other cancers (religions), wicca suffers from one of the most common problems. Looking at christianity in particular, you find numerous denominations of people incapable of reading a book and understanding the words in it. Therefore, they each feel a need to interpret it. Wiccans have the same issue in that they can't agree on what it is they're supposed to do, much like a game of dungeons and dragons. Each branch has its own little flavor of the wiccan cult. The fact of the matter is that it proves without a doubt to be purely fictional. If any deity created by man had actually existed in the first place, there would be a clear, definitive path. Instead, we have nothing more than convoluted texts written by primitives, idiots and con-men (I'm looking at you, mormonism).

    It is difficult to not to laugh in the faces of people that become offended when anything is stated about their particular choice of cult. By definition, ALL religions are cults. I digress. To be offended that someone scoffs at your belief in a fairy tale is laughable. We know for a fact that your religions are nothing more than fairy tales. They don't bring you joy, or else you wouldn't need them. That is a fact.

    October 31, 2013 at 2:45 pm |
    • AE

      I belong to a church. But I'm not in a cult.

      7 characteristics of a cult:

      1. Oppose critical thinking versus demanding that people think for themselves: Cult members must accept what the cult leader believes without ever challenging their doctrines. They do not want their members to think critically for themselves.

      – Definitely not my church! Any leader would be laughed out of the building who tried to think for other people.

      2. Dishonoring the family unit versus insisting on the biblical priority of the family unit: Children are taught to be more loyal to the leaders than to their parents. Women are taught to be more loyal to the leaders than to their husbands, and husbands are taught to accept this as normal behavior.

      – Nope.

      3. Isolating members and penalizing them for leaving versus helping them to do God’s will: Cults isolate their people from their families, the church and society. They reject any who leave and warn them, saying that they will be judged by God or will lose God’s best if they leave. People are taught to make lifelong commitments to the group. Some groups teach that their members must get permission before joining another ministry.

      – Definitely not at my church.

      4. Seeking inappropriate loyalty to their leaders versus loyalty and connecting people to Jesus: Cults seek to connect their members to the cult leader and require loyalty to him instead of to Jesus. Loyalty is defined as not questioning the leader. It is very dangerous, when the leader cannot be questioned.

      – Nope.

      5. Crossing biblical boundaries of behavior versus walking in purity and financial integrity: Cults cross biblical boundaries of behavior especially in immorality and finances. False teachers can be detected by their covetousness and immorality (2 Peter 2:3-18).

      – Nope.

      6. Separation from the church versus a culture of honor towards the church: Cults separate from the wider church and operate with an elite spirit, believing that they alone have a special status with God. They have a polarized mentality of “us versus them.” They criticize the larger body of Christ and often claim to be the only ones truly saved. They view all other ministry and denominations as being in error.

      – A BIG nope.

      7. Emphasizing special revelations that contradict Scripture versus loyalty to Scripture: Cults emphasize the special revelations of their leader that contradict the Scripture.

      – Nope.

      October 31, 2013 at 2:54 pm |
      • HotAirAce

        From Merriam-Webster:

        "Full Definition of CULT

        1: formal religious veneration : worship
        2: a system of religious beliefs and ritual; also : its body of adherents
        3: a religion regarded as unorthodox or spurious; also : its body of adherents
        4: a system for the cure of disease based on dogma set forth by its promulgator
        5a : great devotion to a person, idea, object, movement, or work (as a film or book); especially : such devotion regarded as a literary or intellectual fad
        b : the object of such devotion
        c : a usually small group of people characterized by such devotion"

        You are in a cult. All religions are cults.

        October 31, 2013 at 3:12 pm |
        • AE

          Our society generally refers to a cult as the definition found in 1a.

          I'm not in that type of group.

          1.
          a. A religion or religious sect generally considered to be extremist or false, with its followers often living in an unconventional manner under the guidance of an authoritarian, charismatic leader.
          b. The followers of such a religion or sect.
          2. A system or community of religious worship and ritual.
          3. The formal means of expressing religious reverence; religious ceremony and ritual.
          4. A usually nonscientific method or regimen claimed by its originator to have exclusive or exceptional power in curing a particular disease.
          5.
          a. Obsessive, especially faddish, devotion to or veneration for a person, principle, or thing.
          b. The object of such devotion.
          6. An exclusive group of persons sharing an esoteric, usually artistic or intellectual interest.

          http://www.thefreedictionary.com/cult

          October 31, 2013 at 3:19 pm |
        • AE

          From Merriam-Webster (you left out some parts)

          cult
          noun, often attributive \ˈkəlt\

          : a small religious group that is not part of a larger and more accepted religion and that has beliefs regarded by many people as extreme or dangerous

          : a situation in which people admire and care about something or someone very much or too much

          : a small group of very devoted supporters or fans

          October 31, 2013 at 3:20 pm |
        • HotAirAce

          You are picking the definition you like. Too bad for you that the full definition of cult includes the wackiness you are engaged in.

          October 31, 2013 at 3:22 pm |
        • AE

          The definition you refer to doesn't make it sound like anything whacky, dangerous or unusual. That is just the opinion you add.

          October 31, 2013 at 3:25 pm |
        • HotAirAce

          Shocking! An atheist admits he thinks all religions are whacky! What's next? A believer admitting there is zero actual evidence for their beliefs therefore they are in fact mentally ill?

          October 31, 2013 at 3:48 pm |
        • AE

          Thankfully, one individual atheist declaring all religions whacky... ....doesn't make them all whacky. And the fact is, there are atheists that don't think religion is whacky. Atheism doesn't mean one hates or despises religion. It just means they don't believe in God.

          October 31, 2013 at 3:51 pm |
    • yup

      And here is a person mad at the world because they can't figure out a video game (which btw doesn't have witches or religion in it), lol.

      October 31, 2013 at 5:00 pm |
  11. troy

    Like a few others on here, i am also a practicing witch and pagan. This woman does not speak for all of us; only herself. This pc bs has gotten way out of hand and this woman isn't helping, i mean really? It's the same as black face?Jesus lady, shut up. And stop bringing up the redskins – most native Americans see no problem with the name, only a select few.

    October 31, 2013 at 2:41 pm |
    • troy

      Read all about my religion here: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wicca

      christians are f'n stupid!

      October 31, 2013 at 2:46 pm |
      • HotAirAce

        Are christians more, less or the same stupid as wiccans?

        October 31, 2013 at 2:50 pm |
        • Nada

          Equally delusional

          October 31, 2013 at 2:51 pm |
    • Susan StoHelit

      It's the media standby – they look for controversy. There could be only one Wiccan in the world who is anti-halloween, and they'd pick that one to interview, because nice doesn't get as many clicks.

      October 31, 2013 at 3:27 pm |
  12. Outside Man

    I guess we'll know when we're dead, and then we can tell everyone.

    October 31, 2013 at 2:39 pm |
    • ME II

      If that were the case, wouldn't we know already?

      October 31, 2013 at 2:40 pm |
    • Blessed are the Cheesemakers

      You are really good at fallacious premises.

      October 31, 2013 at 3:11 pm |
  13. Chet Huntley

    Unicorns.

    October 31, 2013 at 2:33 pm |
  14. jillybeansalad

    As a Wiccan, no, it is NOT like blackface or resembles any kind of real bigotry. *facepalm*

    The persecution complex is strong with this one. Also, a lot if you are hailed who don't actually follow your religion's ways. Judgmental much?

    October 31, 2013 at 2:30 pm |
  15. Outside Man

    If God didn't create all of the atoms, then what did?

    October 31, 2013 at 2:30 pm |
    • Chet Huntley

      Unicorns.

      October 31, 2013 at 2:32 pm |
    • Blessed are the Cheesemakers

      How do you know they were created and didn't always exist in some form?

      October 31, 2013 at 2:34 pm |
      • Outside Man

        Because a scientist hasn't proven it yet. That's how. Does that answer your question?

        October 31, 2013 at 2:36 pm |
        • Blessed are the Cheesemakers

          No it doesn't, your original question implies the premise that "atoms were created". My question is how do you know that?

          October 31, 2013 at 2:41 pm |
        • ME II

          No.

          October 31, 2013 at 2:42 pm |
        • Madtown

          One thing we know for certain: atoms are evidence of the existence of atoms.

          October 31, 2013 at 2:58 pm |
        • HotAirAce

          Science hasn't proven any god or creator exists so by your own logic neither exists.

          October 31, 2013 at 3:52 pm |
    • Nada

      Fairies

      October 31, 2013 at 2:43 pm |
    • Pagan_Pete

      A witch.

      October 31, 2013 at 2:56 pm |
  16. Max

    I can tell from the first two sentences where u r going dodo. U r losing it honey

    October 31, 2013 at 2:29 pm |
  17. j

    I'm wiccan, a Pagan , a witch. I'm a man with a wife and three kids. I believe in science and magick. Please don't judge my spiritual path from one of its zealots, that would be like judging all Christians the same as the westborro Baptist church or all Muslims from the events of 911 . Also please don't think that Gerald Gardner Invented Wicca in the 1950's. Gardner no more invented Wicca than Columbus discovered America. May knowledge bless us and tolerance embrace us all.

    October 31, 2013 at 2:28 pm |
    • j

      Happy Halloween and a sacred samhain to all and to all a good fright.

      October 31, 2013 at 2:30 pm |
      • Dyslexic doG

        Merry christmas!

        October 31, 2013 at 2:35 pm |
    • Uh, No.

      That guy did in fact invent wicca as it is followed today. Sorry to burst your bubble. The old pagan practices are long gone. If a religion reinvents itself after a couple thousand years, what does that say about it?

      That's correct. It was never real in the first place. Just like the easter bunny. Hearts and farts!

      October 31, 2013 at 2:50 pm |
    • Nada

      Delusion is delusion

      October 31, 2013 at 2:53 pm |
  18. Robert Brown

    Judges 17:6
    In those days there was no king in Israel, but every man did that which was right in his own eyes.

    Job 32:1
    So these three men ceased to answer Job, because he was righteous in his own eyes.

    Proverbs 3:7
    Be not wise in thine own eyes: fear the Lord, and depart from evil.

    Proverbs 12:15
    The way of a fool is right in his own eyes: but he that hearkeneth unto counsel is wise.

    Proverbs 16:2
    All the ways of a man are clean in his own eyes; but the Lord weigheth the spirits.

    Proverbs 21:2
    Every way of a man is right in his own eyes: but the Lord pondereth the hearts.

    Proverbs 30:12
    There is a generation that are pure in their own eyes, and yet is not washed from their filthiness.

    Isaiah 5:21
    Woe unto them that are wise in their own eyes, and prudent in their own sight!

    October 31, 2013 at 2:22 pm |
    • George

      How are your mustard trees growing, Robert?

      October 31, 2013 at 2:24 pm |
    • George

      How are your mustard trees growing, Robert?

      October 31, 2013 at 2:24 pm |
    • lunchbreaker

      So you have to be unwise in your own eyes in order to accept wisdom from a divine source?

      October 31, 2013 at 2:31 pm |
      • Robert Brown

        Humble and contrite.

        October 31, 2013 at 2:38 pm |
        • Dyslexic doG

          Booby, talk to AE. She might be helpful!

          It is called convicted of sin. And it is going on right here all day. Our athie cannot stand truth. It drives her more insane than she already is. In fact, if she would surrender, I'm betting much of her mental illnesses would fade.
          But, she hates truth and she fights it in a losing battle to deny god his place. She is miserable. She had no friends. Nothing to do and she's dying of lung cancer. She is being convicted of her sin, her separation from god and it hurts

          October 31, 2013 at 2:45 pm |
      • Dyslexic doG

        So, r u seriously suggesting u don't understand the principle u just wrote about, or do u just intend to answer yourself eventually in a fashion that misleads

        October 31, 2013 at 2:38 pm |
        • Robert Brown

          Pride

          October 31, 2013 at 2:44 pm |
        • Robert Brown

          Here is what Job said to God when he realized that he was righteous in his own eyes, “I have talked about things that are far beyond my understanding.”

          October 31, 2013 at 2:48 pm |
        • Nada

          False

          October 31, 2013 at 2:50 pm |
    • Chris

      Oh, do shut up.

      October 31, 2013 at 2:35 pm |
    • Blessed are the Cheesemakers

      Gullibility does not make one wise, wisdom is not obtained from faith.

      October 31, 2013 at 2:38 pm |
  19. jack

    I'm going to go start a jolly fat man religion and then get all offended by people dressing up as Santa at Christmas, that's what I'm going to do. You there in the red suit, your days are numbered before you become politically incorrect.

    October 31, 2013 at 2:18 pm |
    • stephen

      actually that is different because wiccan has been a religion since before the holiday "halloween". and also christmas has a positive annotation, if it was negative, then christians would be mortified because Christmas is Jesus's birthday and "Saint Nick" was an actual saint. Get your facts right.

      October 31, 2013 at 2:49 pm |
  20. Outside Man

    Why aren't atoms evidence of a Creator?

    October 31, 2013 at 2:18 pm |
    • Sue

      Outside Man, that is because a creator is not the only potential explanation for atoms, and we just don't know yet what the real cause was. To claim atoms even or subatomic whatever as evidence of a creator is pretty much just an argument from ignorance. The honest answer would be "we don't know yet." although we have some very good ideas.

      What we can be absolutely certain of, however, is that if there was a creator, it wasn't the god of the Christian religion; that god cannot possibly exist.

      October 31, 2013 at 2:22 pm |
    • Colin

      Why isn't a creator evidence of an even bigger creator? Positing a magical act by a "creator" to answer complexity leads one nowhere. All you have done is shunted the question one unnecessary step out.

      October 31, 2013 at 2:25 pm |
    • Nada

      Why arent atoms evidence of fairies?

      October 31, 2013 at 2:42 pm |
    • Massman

      Because the number of atoms in the universe has never changed. I think a true creator would increase that number.

      October 31, 2013 at 2:43 pm |
    • Sivick

      the same way that peas are not evidence of the golly green giant.

      October 31, 2013 at 2:58 pm |
    • Carl

      You might want to update your bad arguments. We're a bit further along than just atoms.
      wikipedia.org/wiki/Subatomic_particle

      October 31, 2013 at 2:59 pm |
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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.