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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. Reality # 2

    Mocking Wicca and related "arts" ?

    Spells, curses, covens, black magic, witches, voodooing dolls, hoodooing the results, shadow books, maypoles,
    god(s) and goddess(es), Gerald Gardner et al??

    Never!!!!

    http://wiccanspells.info/#axzz2jIe5Q1af

    http://www.wiccantradition.org.uk/spellhex.html (curses etc.)

    http://www.diffen.com/difference/Voodoo_vs_Wicca

    October 31, 2013 at 8:01 am |
  2. Lisa

    "ethical statement at the core of Wicca, is: Harm none and do as you will." A crock of crap. you cannot "do as you will" and not expect to hurt SOMEONE on some level in the process.

    October 31, 2013 at 8:00 am |
    • Ben Leslie

      and I suppose you believe the 10 commandments are followed to the 'T"?

      October 31, 2013 at 8:02 am |
    • Doc Vestibule

      Sin lies only in harming others unnecessarily.
      All other sin is invented nonsense.

      October 31, 2013 at 8:02 am |
    • Nicole

      They mean actual harm, not just making you uncomfortable.

      October 31, 2013 at 8:12 am |
    • Doug

      It would seem that you need some assistance in understanding "Harm none and do what you will".

      It doesn't mean exactly "Do whatever you want".

      It means "If you want to do it and no one will be harmed, do it."

      October 31, 2013 at 8:21 am |
    • Christopher Blackwell

      I am amused at the misunderstanding of the rede. The rede is not a law carved in stone but a guide. Trying to think ahead so as not to cause harm is always a good idea and I have made use of it for nearly thirty years and found it a very good guide. When harm is unavoidable then the next step is to do the least harm. It is simply a matter of taking responsibility for all that happens when you do, or say, or think anything. Call it another version of President Truman's comment of, The Buck stops here! As to the person who called it crap, you would appear to be a person that takes no responsibility for what you do. Thankfully I choose not to be that type of person in all aspects of my life, not just in matters of magic. by the way when crap dumps on me I make sure to at least not pass it on. Even doing that makes the world a bit better place, especially if we all practiced it. Excuses are ideas we invent to justify not doing what we should be doing, for not fulfilling our own responsibility.

      November 1, 2013 at 1:49 pm |
  3. jonneal156@comcast.net

    We need to start treating vampires and werewolves with more respect... so they can go out and kill these witches....

    October 31, 2013 at 7:59 am |
    • Nicole

      There are people who identify as vampires. They usually end up with all the fun blood born pathogens. I'm sure you could find some werewolves, too, if you looked hard enough.

      October 31, 2013 at 8:13 am |
    • Christopher Blackwell

      Ah someone that thinks that murder is a great way to get rid of people that you don't like. Sorry my friend but that has been tried before. Ironically few of the people that were accused and killed as witches, where. It was interesting to watch alleged Christians killing each other off. Meanwhile we just keep coming back and try to help with healing the planet from their mess.

      November 1, 2013 at 1:53 pm |
  4. Colin

    There is no difference between a prayer and a spell, between witches and angels, or between God, ghosts and goblins. It's all make believe BS. It's the 21st Century. It's high time we ghave up on the sky-faireis, whether they be from Celtic Europe or Bronze Age Palestine

    October 31, 2013 at 7:56 am |
    • Candy Corn

      Trick or treat

      October 31, 2013 at 8:02 am |
    • magicpanties

      Yah, trading one fairy tale for another doesn't make the new one valid.

      October 31, 2013 at 8:04 am |
      • Seriously?

        You're griping that "Halloween" is not "valid" enough for you? Well Debbie Downer button your shirt collar up to your neck and stay home tonight watching PBS if you want too. Enjoy your fiber.

        October 31, 2013 at 8:20 am |
    • Seriously?

      You need a little fiber too Colin, may I suggest Kashi whole grain. Better yet maybe a glass of Scotch or two.

      October 31, 2013 at 8:22 am |
  5. StormySyndrome

    This lady is one of the few witches that does not like this time of year. In fact, this is a time of many celebrations for the Wiccan community. Just the fact that this lady expresses hate in her language should tell everyone, she isn't a natural, nor a real witch by belief nor by practice as most witches feel no hatred toward anyone or anything. They may have a sense of dislike, but will make the best of almost every situation. Sorry, this article is pretty out there.

    October 31, 2013 at 7:54 am |
  6. Witchymama

    Omg get over it, I'm Wiccan and I adore Halloween! You don't see doctors getting upset cause a child trick or treats as a doctor. The woman has no sense of fun. Somethings are not this huge deep deal.

    October 31, 2013 at 7:52 am |
  7. cynic44

    mmm mmmm Good! Cotton candy journalism, tastes great and doesn't fill you up!

    October 31, 2013 at 7:52 am |
  8. Barefoot sky

    For the record Wicca is not "demon" worship. Wiccan's do not believe in the existence of Satan. Many wiccan's don't believe in the existence of demons. So if you go into a Wiccan shop and even most New Age book stores looking for information on fallen angels you're going to be sol.

    October 31, 2013 at 7:51 am |
    • Barefoot sky

      "Wiccans".

      October 31, 2013 at 7:53 am |
  9. gentic witches?

    “I’m like, What the frick! No!”

    Talking like that does not sell me on the cause.

    October 31, 2013 at 7:51 am |
    • magicpanties

      So... some proper English, maybe a little smooth talking, and boom... you'll join some cult.
      That's terrific.

      October 31, 2013 at 8:08 am |
  10. Witcherino

    Nice! Yet another way for people to act nuts over a ridiculous cult! Yay

    October 31, 2013 at 7:50 am |
  11. Boisepoet

    No different than making fun of Catholics or any other mythology believer. I find it repugnant that they equate it to real racism since skin color is not a choice, but believing in magic is completely optional. Beliefs can and should be examined, and even ridiculed; if it can’t stand the heat of examination, then it is probably a fallacy to begin with.

    October 31, 2013 at 7:48 am |
    • Barefoot sky

      Though I agree that a religion is not a race, I don't advocate xenophobia. The irony of your post is that the nature of "belief" is an idea unsubstantiated by evidence, therefore if we accept your suggestion no one would have any beliefs. It's just my opinion of course but I find your suggestion a little too close to crushing imagination entirely.

      October 31, 2013 at 7:59 am |
      • Boisepoet

        Imagination is fine, fiction is fine; the moment it crosses to a belief of reality that others infringe upon by exercise of their own imagination or freedoms of expression, I have an issue. It's like the Islamic nations that are trying to get a UN resolution passed that makes criticism of religion a violation of human rights. Sorry, but their belief is sacred only to them and I should not have to abide by it. My freedom of expression should not be curtailed due to their sensitivies.

        October 31, 2013 at 9:33 am |
        • Barefoot sky

          I can see your point to an extent, however I wonder if the opinion is backed by beliefs or if it is the other way around. Maybe the beliefs are there to back up an unchanging opinion. It could be the case.

          October 31, 2013 at 5:25 pm |
  12. WASP

    just as most "holidays" the original meanings were lost long ago; replaced now by manufactured commerialized puritan hog-wash.
    i've never much cared for "holidays" especially the american version of them; most are just an excuse to get drunk for no other reason than to be drunk. i.e. st. patricks day

    October 31, 2013 at 7:48 am |
    • You should look into it..

      I don't believe in this but this is the origin of St Patricks Day...

      St. Patrick's Day is celebrated on March 17, the saint's religious feast day and the anniversary of his death in the fifth century. The Irish have observed this day as a religious holiday for over 1,000 years. On St. Patrick's Day, which falls during the Christian season of Lent, Irish families would traditionally attend church in the morning and celebrate in the afternoon. Lenten prohibitions against the consumption of meat were waived and people would dance, drink and feast–on the traditional meal of Irish bacon and cabbage.

      October 31, 2013 at 7:49 am |
      • WASP

        yup and that origin has been lost. now you see people in green hats running around drinking green beer and acting stupid.
        exactly as i stated, it's been commericalized and sold without the meanings behind them.

        October 31, 2013 at 8:00 am |
  13. gentic witches?

    Now the pagans are going to start pushing us around.

    October 31, 2013 at 7:47 am |
  14. gentic witches?

    How many witch babies are born each year?

    October 31, 2013 at 7:46 am |
  15. Name*John Kurtz

    I'm not a judge only Jesus can but good ir dad witches are not of God

    October 31, 2013 at 7:45 am |
    • You should look into it..

      WHAT?!?!

      October 31, 2013 at 7:46 am |
    • Morgan

      Since I've yet to meet the Pagan who believes in the Christian god anyway, I doubt they're terribly fusted about your "non-judging" judgment.

      October 31, 2013 at 7:53 am |
    • Boisepoet

      Nothing funnier than one crazy mythology believer criticizing someone elses' mythology.

      October 31, 2013 at 10:11 am |
  16. Good Gawd

    I don't see her any different than someone wearing a Harry Potter cape with wand and calling themselves a wizard. It's ridiculous and showing her kid that living in a fantasy world is acceptable. Grow up weirdo.

    October 31, 2013 at 7:44 am |
    • Ben Leslie

      Good Gawd- praying (and forcing children to pray) to an invisible, or what I call an imaginary God of Christianity and Catholicism isn't weird? Grow up and let those who want to believe, believe in whatever they want.

      October 31, 2013 at 7:57 am |
  17. REALLY?

    Why does this society seem like its malicious? Maybe because we micromanage everything and cannot forgive or let things go? We talk about people being Obsessive , yet our own society is baring down on us. We cannot please everyone all the time! Let it go!

    October 31, 2013 at 7:43 am |
  18. Rick

    Halloween is racist !!

    October 31, 2013 at 7:40 am |
  19. Dana

    I don't have beliefs and never will, but I find the resurgence of this once (nearly) extinct collection of religions kind of refreshing. There's a kind of romanticism and mystique about it and its decentralized nature makes it quite harmless and benign. I wouldn't mind seeing more of it around just so long as they don't try to make me feel ashamed for celebrating Halloween. That goes for you Christians, too: Don't take away my Santa Claus and fireplace stockings!

    October 31, 2013 at 7:39 am |
  20. Peter Bishop

    So CNN, if you don't want to build into the stereotype and erroneous connection to the occult, why are you running the story at Halloween?

    October 31, 2013 at 7:38 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.