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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. Fss

    She tunred me into a newt!

    October 31, 2013 at 6:44 am |
    • Tim

      I got better...

      October 31, 2013 at 6:53 am |
      • Dorothy

        There are some who call me...............Tim

        October 31, 2013 at 7:21 am |
        • James Tarkin

          So if she weighs as much as a duck . . . then she's made of wood . . . and therefore . . .

          October 31, 2013 at 7:32 am |
    • TAR2

      Crowd: "burn her anyway!"

      October 31, 2013 at 7:46 am |
  2. bluemarine

    Saying all witches are the same and have been the same throughout the ages is ,well stereotypical too

    October 31, 2013 at 6:43 am |
  3. children of Israel

    Deuteronomy 9:27 Remember thy servants, Abraham, Isaac and Jacob; *Isaiah 43:1 But now thus saith the Lord that created thee, O Jacob, and he that formed thee, O Israel, Fear not: for I have redeemed thee, I have called thee by thy name; thou art mine. *Isaiah 43:15 I am the Lord, your Holy One, the creator of Israel, your King. *Micah 5:12 And I will cut off witchcrafts out of thine hand; and thou shalt have no more soothsayers: *Revelation 18:23 for by thy sorceries were all nations deceived.

    October 31, 2013 at 6:42 am |
    • berryrat

      I'm at a loss. How do you appeal to someone who believes their way is the only path to truth? Other than that single attribute, we hold nothing against Christianity. I hope you find peace and have a Happy Halloween!

      October 31, 2013 at 6:59 am |
      • You can't

        You can't, they are so brainwash in thinking one way, they can't see, feel or think any other way... sad...

        October 31, 2013 at 7:03 am |
    • You can't

      Um.. this is about a practice dating back before your little book was even thought of. Have some respect and maybe, just maybe you can see the truth... Wait, your close-minded, sorry, I thought i was speaking to someone whom is rational...

      October 31, 2013 at 7:06 am |
  4. kuewa

    I'm not sure who these witches are, but what about an opinion from Ann Coulter?

    October 31, 2013 at 6:36 am |
  5. heroicslugtest

    Witches, angels, jesuses and mohammeds. Every flavor of crazy is welcome on Halloween.

    October 31, 2013 at 6:34 am |
  6. misstachae

    I was going to defend her till I saw her fb (we live very close in the same province) ANDDDD shes an eco-nut. Sigh. Thanks for making pagans look like nutbars lady.

    October 31, 2013 at 6:32 am |
  7. Ema

    halloween, witches/wizards are all demonic, there's absolutely nothing good about them. the devil has no good side, no matter how much he tries to paint and present it. JESUS remains LORD!!!

    October 31, 2013 at 6:30 am |
    • berryrat

      I'm a Wiccan. Friend, you hold a belief about us that is simply not true. We are no harm or threat to you or anyone else. We do not believe in a devil, that is a Christian thing. Our rede is: If it harm none, do as you will. May I suggest you do some research, please.

      Peace be with you and Happy Halloween!

      October 31, 2013 at 6:35 am |
    • Jeff

      There's as much scientific evidence for the Wiccan religion as there is for yours (none).

      October 31, 2013 at 6:39 am |
    • Matt

      Yes and the magic sky wizard who grants wishes is very mad at them. /eyeroll

      I don't know what's sadder, that a woman thinks she's a real witch or that it offends a religious nut job. Embrace reality!

      October 31, 2013 at 6:40 am |
  8. King Edward

    This article is a waste of news print

    October 31, 2013 at 6:27 am |
    • demovsemperor

      My wife and sister-in-law a both witches and they have no problem with Halloween.

      October 31, 2013 at 6:31 am |
      • berryrat

        I'm a Wiccan and neither do I. I love to see kids dressing up for Halloween. The problem with this article– it picked out a single person and then assumed her view represented the view of an entire faith. Most witches do not hate Halloween, no do we wear pointy hats. There is no official Wiccan garb.

        October 31, 2013 at 6:38 am |
  9. Artur

    What a ridiculous story. The lady in the article might try studying a little history about wear things like pointy hats and such come from. Modern "witches" have no more cultural rights over Halloween than L.A. "vampires" do, and this article is a sad example of "offended person of the week".

    October 31, 2013 at 6:24 am |
    • Grand Inquisitor

      While what you're saying maybe true you seemed to have completely missed the point of the article. I maybe wrong but I think she is simply stating that Halloween creates certain negative stereotypes about here culture that make it difficult to function. But you are probably one of those people who thinks blackface is something black should just get over.

      October 31, 2013 at 6:41 am |
  10. Dastreagus

    I too am uplifted by the dragon's breathe. Sometimes I am uplifted solely by the dragon's misty morning exhaust

    October 31, 2013 at 6:15 am |
  11. blakenaustin

    Sorry. Zero sympathy for witches. Who do they believe they are worshipping and serving in exchange for the supernatural powers they may receive? They are evil people doing much harm. No amount of tolerant spin will alter who these people are.

    October 31, 2013 at 6:09 am |
    • Ridiculous

      You have no idea what you're talking about

      October 31, 2013 at 6:12 am |
    • berryrat

      Friend, you have been misled. We do not seek your sympathy. Our 'powers' are not supernatural. We are an earth-based peaceful religion that seeks to do no harm.

      Peace be with you.

      October 31, 2013 at 6:13 am |
    • saggyroy

      You sound like a very tolerant, forgiving, and loving Christian.

      October 31, 2013 at 6:13 am |
      • Ridiculous

        🙂 he does! So nice! I'll bet he cares so much that he doesnt care anymore

        October 31, 2013 at 6:16 am |
    • EMcK

      Worshipping and serving for the gifts they may receive? Sounds like EVERY religion to me.

      October 31, 2013 at 6:14 am |
    • not a witch but curious

      what is the big deal, we have all type of religions that practice diffent ideas, if one doesnt walk to a certain step , you dont look down on them, people need to have more of an open mind sometimes

      October 31, 2013 at 6:18 am |
      • You should look into it..

        Although I never was practicing, my ex was and of all the people I can in contact with over my 37 years, she is the one that "enlighten" me, and I use that term very loosely. It is a fascinating practice, nothing negative, all positive.

        October 31, 2013 at 7:22 am |
    • misstachae

      Oh give me a break. I have zero sympathy for small minded bigots. Move along nothing to see but someone who deserves the misery they bring on themselves with this sort of talk.

      October 31, 2013 at 6:29 am |
    • Grand Inquisitor

      Are you serious? I think Christianity and Islam would be highly offended at a claim that any other spiritual faith has access to supernatural power or claims to evil powers. Do I really need to list the atrocities committed around the world and through out history on behalf of these religions? But you are worried about a group mixing up herbal concoctions and getting back to nature? Why don't you read an actual nonfiction book And quit making sweeping judgments based off 1st century fairy tale. Your comments are just evince of the lack of tolerance in these religions the true mark of an evil man.

      October 31, 2013 at 6:34 am |
    • humanistJohn420

      Oh please! They aren't granted any magical powers. Wicca is as absurd as christianity or islam or any other religion. They are all made up and have 0 evidence to back up their claims.

      October 31, 2013 at 2:22 pm |
  12. Irish67

    There is no 'traditional witch garb' any more than there is traditional Christian garb. Wiccans are just regular folks with a different set of beliefs. The only difference being I've never known a wiccan to judge anyone else for theirs. Happy Samhain!

    October 31, 2013 at 6:09 am |
    • berryrat

      Very well spoken. Happy Halloween to you all.

      October 31, 2013 at 6:14 am |
  13. lean6

    "Why do witches hate Halloween?"

    Because they're perpetual victims like everyone else, and this is their moment to shine.

    October 31, 2013 at 6:06 am |
    • berryrat

      The whole theme of the article is inaccurate. Most Wiccans/Witches l know love Halloween. We do resent others dressing up as unicorns or witches. We do look favorably on the joyous non-Wiccan celebration. Halloween is a fun times for countless children.

      Happy Halloween!

      October 31, 2013 at 6:17 am |
      • berryrat

        Dang the inability to edit. CNN should standardize on Discus or something. I mean to say we do NOT resent folks dressing up like unicorns or witches and enjoying a festive occasion. Her opinion is her own.

        October 31, 2013 at 6:20 am |
  14. Natch

    Gee, I never knew Hillary was so darn upset about those witch decorations and such!!

    October 31, 2013 at 6:05 am |
  15. Ridiculous

    This is a terrible article and she sounds like a curmudgeon of a witch. I'm in my late twenties, went to college, am a male, and have been practicing earth medicine for some time. Unfortunately, spiritual work makes some lose their edge. They no longer have the patience or practice to sit and trade blows with internet experts. Those who claim they know all about the mysteries of the world- or claim there are none- most likely haven't reconsidered their footing or place on earth in a while.
    Science proves and reaffirms great things in the world. Just keep in mind that science follows the lead of ancient folklore and indigenous medicine, leading to great and powerful breakthroughs. Science is always 2 steps behind what some already suspect.
    To those who call magic and supernaturalism fake or stupid or unrealistic, take a look at your life and personal belongings and ponder what it means to be authentic.

    October 31, 2013 at 6:04 am |
  16. Chris

    Next all those kids who like to wear a lot of mascara and call themselves vampires will start complaining about the depiction of them as blood- sucking monsters.

    Wicca was created just a few decades ago by throwing together a bunch of forgotten and watered down pagan beliefs. The concept of witches has been around for thousands of years and spans across many different cultures.

    Wiccans just started to call themselves witches to sound cool – now they want everyone else to go along with their revisionist myth.

    October 31, 2013 at 6:03 am |
    • saggyroy

      hmmmm...now that you mention it, it does sound a lot like Christianity....how dare they make something up and then force the rest of us to believe it!

      October 31, 2013 at 6:07 am |
      • berryrat

        Unlike Christianity, Wiccans do not seek to convert others to our beliefs. We do not discount science, but instead integrate it into our belief system.

        October 31, 2013 at 6:24 am |
        • humanistJohn420

          If you integrated science into your "belief system" you wouldn't have a belief system. Nothing in Wicca is scientific. It's just a bunch of nonsense like all other religions. I'm just happy you aren't running around trying to force your nonsensical beliefs into our government.

          October 31, 2013 at 2:24 pm |
  17. ned

    "Real witches" hahahahahahahha ahhhhh hahahahahahah stop my stomach is hurting from laughing so hard hahahahahahha

    October 31, 2013 at 5:57 am |
    • berryrat

      I'm glad you are enjoying yourself. However, we are indeed real.

      October 31, 2013 at 6:00 am |
      • saggyroy

        And spectacular! (sorry couldn't resist).

        October 31, 2013 at 6:09 am |
    • Jim

      It's just as nutty as believing some guy magically turned water to wine with a dad who listens to your wishes like Santa Claus, but is only happy if you are eating the flesh and drinking the blood of his son...

      October 31, 2013 at 6:22 am |
      • Jeff

        +1.
        When you look at all religions with a fair, reasoning, and logical mind, you come to the same conclusion about their veracity. The ones that concern me are the ones like Islam that influence their followers to hurt other people, and the ones like Christianity that promote a hatred of science.

        October 31, 2013 at 6:44 am |
  18. saggyroy

    I'm an atheist. I don't know any Wiccans, but I do know plenty of Christians, and I can probably make a fair assumption about the religion of her neighbors that. "...threatened to burn down the house she shares with her family, Capnerhurst says. She’s lost jobs..."

    October 31, 2013 at 5:57 am |
    • berryrat

      Not all Wiccans believe her specific view (wearing a poinyt hats, disliking kids dressed as witches for Halloween). Wicca is very diverse. There are some things we nearly all have in common, like the Wiccan rede: If it harms none, do as you will. We do not seek to convert people, unlike some other religions.

      Have a happy and safe Halloween!

      October 31, 2013 at 6:05 am |
      • saggyroy

        Is Halloween as sacred to Wiccans as Easter is to Christians?

        October 31, 2013 at 6:10 am |
      • saggyroy

        And Happy Halloween to you too!

        October 31, 2013 at 6:11 am |
  19. propheticdeviations

    I believe this article is very appropriate. I gave me new incite to a different perspective on Halloween. This is a holiday that has become very "Americanized", but has pagan roots. The icon of the "witch" has become very skewed to what witch's really are. Its a shame they have had a history of oppression in our country, to a point were people may become ashamed of their beliefs. This is a good article to spread awareness of the Wiccan faith, at the same time one should remember that a witch of this faith is different from a fictional witch in stories and movies. Same word different definitions.

    October 31, 2013 at 5:57 am |
    • saggyroy

      ...and just look at what Americans have done with St. Patrick's Day!

      October 31, 2013 at 5:59 am |
      • propheticdeviations

        Halloween and St Patrick's Day are fun Holidays and people of a creeds should be able to celebrate. But when people start actually believing all witches are green skinned, evil sorceresses or that all Irish people are drunk leprechauns is when we start having issues.

        October 31, 2013 at 6:17 am |
        • saggyroy

          My point is that in some parts of the world (Ireland) St. Patrick's Day is observed with reverence not pub crawls and green beer.

          October 31, 2013 at 6:38 am |
        • Dave

          As someone with Irish ancestry, I have come to be bothered by be bothered a bit my St. P's too. I don't begrudge people having a good time, or rail against it, but... I just skip it myself.

          Mostly it's the plastic paddy's that wreck it for me. I am Irish-American the other 364 days a year. I don't need crowds of drunken louts wearing plastic green bowler hats to affirm my heritage.

          October 31, 2013 at 8:56 am |
  20. JD

    There are no "real witches", these people delude themselves thinking they have anything to do with mystical witchcraft or some form of "ancient" religion. It is all formed around old fairy tales and modern media influences.

    They can claim to be witches just as much someone suddenly announcing "from now on I will believe in Horus, Ra, and Anubis" could claim to be a follower of the ancient Egyptian religion. No real ties to, nor any true information about what they talk of.

    October 31, 2013 at 5:56 am |
    • berryrat

      Wiccans are real. I am one. You may not believe in us, but that's OK, we believe in you.

      Have a happy Halloween!

      October 31, 2013 at 5:58 am |
      • html5468

        They believe in you... for now...

        October 31, 2013 at 7:00 am |
    • Myself

      Ironic that you say that "they" have no "true information about what they talk of". You clearly have none...
      Pagan and Wiccan beliefs have been around for much longer than Christianity. It is most definitely an ancient religion. As for your comment about "deluded" people believing they have some connection to "Mystical Witchcraft"... You clearly didn't read the artical!
      I would suggest that you do some actual research about this sort of thing before you try to comment.
      Happy Halloween!

      October 31, 2013 at 6:21 am |
      • JD

        Paganism of the old is dead and buried, centuries passed since any true faithful of those religions lived. I don't say Neo-paganism or Wiccanism is not something like a new religion, but it definitively isn't the continuation of the old religions, just as a newly founded Mars or Venus cult wouldn't be a true continuation of the Roman religion.

        I actually support the new wave of various polytheism because they are way more tolerant than the current religions, and find Druidism fascinating too, but people in this century shouldn't claim direct links to old extinct religions.

        October 31, 2013 at 6:40 am |
        • You might want to think before you type...

          In fact, it is thriving and doing well. The fact that it is in the mainstream to be diluted and corrupted makes the practice better off. If you ever read about the practice, it is not about actual have special powers, it is about doing good and if you do wrong, it will come back on you. Just like any other religion, it is all made up. But this one actually has the right direction, better than most mainstream ones.

          October 31, 2013 at 7:16 am |
    • WASP

      you know very little of true wicca, outside of the propaganda you see and hear from sources that know nothing and fear everything.

      pagans have been around for thousands of years before monotheistic belief took hold by the point of spear and sword.

      "bide the wiccan law ye must in perfect love in perfect trust; eight words the wiccan rede fullfill an ye harm none do what ye will; what ye send forth comes back to thee so ever mind the rule of three, follow this with mind and heart merry ye meet and merry ye part." (short version)

      there is no such thing as magic, however there is such thing as energy. even civilizations as old as ancient china knew of harnessing the energy of the body and the enviroment around you to aid in accomplishing something; incantations and meditation help in allowing someone to harness those energies better.

      October 31, 2013 at 7:32 am |
      • humanistJohn420

        Can you prove that those "energies" exist? Or is it just more smoke being blown up our backsides?

        October 31, 2013 at 2:27 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.