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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. stevepatt46

    I have met with a number of Wiccans over the years. They tend to be much more tolerant of other peoples beliefs than most Christians. I am an Atheist and they never tell me I'm going to hell or promise to pray for me. I find the " I'll pray for you" part most annoying.

    October 31, 2013 at 8:20 am |
    • Colin

      Whenever a Christian says to me, "I'll pray for you" when I say I'm an atheist, I tend to respond, "Thanks, and I'll think for both of us."

      October 31, 2013 at 8:21 am |
      • Beth

        Colin wins the internet today. 🙂 I'll keep that reply handy as well.

        October 31, 2013 at 8:24 am |
      • Lol

        Too bad most atheists can't control their thinking and carry out their evil thoughts and kill innocent people.

        October 31, 2013 at 8:28 am |
        • Wrong lolly

          Many atheists are in very tight control of both their thinking and their bowels. Fortunately many of them are too busy thinking of ways to troll people on the internet to do anyone any real damage. Unless they decide to sue of course.

          October 31, 2013 at 8:35 am |
        • Third Eagle of the apocalypse.

          You know most atheists do you?

          October 31, 2013 at 8:35 am |
    • Maranatha

      Sounds great if your god is named Tolerance. In the name of the god, Tolerance, we now sacrifice our unborn children at his alter and condone every perversion known to man. As for me and my house, we will serve the Lord.

      October 31, 2013 at 8:23 am |
      • TheObserver

        Maranatha
        Sounds great if your god is named Tolerance. In the name of the god, Tolerance, we now sacrifice our unborn children at his alter and condone every perversion known to man. As for me and my house, we will serve the Lord.

        -– So are you trying to say that your Christian Lord is anti-tolerance? Is Christianity the opposite of tolerance? Is it the duty of a Christian to hold firm and resist when they see the world embrace tolerance?

        October 31, 2013 at 8:43 am |
    • Cheyenne

      I whole heartedly agree. I took my fiance to one of our local Pagan Shops, and the first thing he said when we left was "Is it just me or are they always nicer than other people?" It does seem to be the norm. I have a hard time believing anyone I percieve as rude or condenscending is of the Wiccan faith. It just doesn't mesh.

      I can't stand people trying to "save" me especially strangers. However, I have one friend who tried for a while. That didn't bother me, he was very nice about. It was one of those "I really care about you, but what if you're wrong?" It was nice to know that someone thought I belonged in heaven alongside them. We talked about it, and he decided he would just pray for me to come with him should I be wrong. I told him that was just fine.

      October 31, 2013 at 8:26 am |
    • doc

      watch out they may turn you into a newt when your back is turned for being a non believer

      October 31, 2013 at 8:27 am |
    • Intolerant

      Oh...so atheists are "tolerant" people....uh....yeah....right?! No one has the right to not be annoyed...or offended AND we absolutely DO NOT have to be tolerant!

      October 31, 2013 at 8:40 am |
      • Third Eagle of the apocalypse.

        You are mistaking standing up against religious based oppression and calling for reasoned thinking as intolerance. I suppose you also believe the kid who finally stands up to the bully to be intolerant too, right?

        October 31, 2013 at 8:44 am |
  2. Colin

    You think these guys are weird. I know a cult that gathers together every Sunday and believes they consume the actual flesh and blood of a dead prophet from the Middle East 2,000 years ago because a priest performs some hocus-pocus over some grocery store bread and wine.

    They are called Catholics and I swear, they believe this crap in the 21st century! If you think I’m making this up, go to a Catholic mass. It’s weird. And it's the grown adults who believe this garbage, it's not just a story they tell their little kids!!!.

    October 31, 2013 at 8:20 am |
    • lilyq

      No they don't. It's symbolic.

      October 31, 2013 at 8:22 am |
      • Colin

        Oh bullsh.it. The term is "transubstantiation" and that's what sets the Catholics apart from other Christian sects. At least the Catholics are honest, the others try to mask their superst.ition by using flowery words like "the essence of Christ" is present or some such garbage.

        October 31, 2013 at 8:26 am |
      • Chris

        Doesn't matter if it's symbolic....what it's symbolic of is what's creepy. Eating the flesh of a guy and drinking his blood? I mean come on...creepy.

        October 31, 2013 at 8:27 am |
        • doc

          @Chris No, cannibalism is acceptable, and real life evil like Jeffrey Dahmer can be researched, revered, and accepted..but heaven forbid you believe in witches or anything "supernatural" that would be wrong lol.

          October 31, 2013 at 8:35 am |
        • FellowTraveler

          Seems creepy because neither you nor most people can wrap your heads around what Jesus was trying to say to his disciples. First, you have to realize that Jesus spoke in parables all the time. He also spoke a lot about bread and the "bread" of life. i.e., physical bread is consumed to keep the body alive for a period of time, but the love, knowledge, wisdom/ "bread" of life from God will keep your soul alive forever. Now that you have that concept in your head we next look at the fact that Jesus was telling his discoples at the last supper that he was not going to be with them for much longer. Now understand that Jesus believed he had the essence of God, that he was one with the Father in heaven, that he EMBODIED the will of God. Jesus also said that the greatest thing one could do is sacrifice yourself for others. Now with all that together, Jesus' simple point was to try to show his dsciples that if he could, he would give to them all that was within himself from God. i.e., if the disciples needed to consume his very flesh to physically survive and if it were possible to transmit all of God that he embodied directly to them he would gladly give it to them.

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

        Lilyq, they do not believe it to be symbolic. They call it transubstantiation, the literal changing of the bread and wine into the flesh and blood of Christ. Look it up for yourself.

        October 31, 2013 at 8:36 am |
      • Doc Vestibule

        Ritual cannibalism is not exclusively a Catholic practice.
        The Aztecs believed in transubstantiation. They consumed their human sacrifices in the belief that the dead literally became a part of the God to whom they were given.
        The be thankful that the biggest Christian sect in the world limits their cannibalism to wafers and wine!

        October 31, 2013 at 8:48 am |
    • K

      Oh Colin, how I will pray for you! From a born and raised Catholic gal!:)

      October 31, 2013 at 8:35 am |
      • Third Eagle of the apocalypse.

        Colin

        Whenever a Christian says to me, "I'll pray for you" when I say I'm an atheist, I tend to respond, "Thanks, and I'll think for both of us."

        October 31, 2013 at 8:45 am |
    • earth to Trey

      He wasn't a prophet, he didn't prophesize one thing that became true. And according to the, he was the flesh and blood incarnation of god. So they aren't just cannibalizing some dead guy, they are eating god.

      Makes as much sense and believing that you are eating a leprechaun.

      October 31, 2013 at 8:37 am |
    • Ann

      Not only that, Colin - they also base their whole religion on human sacrifice. Creepy lot indeed.

      October 31, 2013 at 8:54 am |
    • Jon Price

      They also think they can vote someone into godhood. (I think they call it "beatification".) And they think their supreme leader can condemn someone to Hell. (Just as loving as the god they pray to.)

      October 31, 2013 at 9:00 am |
  3. Summerblue

    Halloween is for FUN – don't take it so seriously.

    October 31, 2013 at 8:19 am |
    • lol??

      Give out carnal corn on yer holyday.

      October 31, 2013 at 8:32 am |
  4. Zedd

    I've been a practicing Wiccan for many years and have known many Witches over that time. I have NEVER met one as humorless as this woman. My Coven meets late on Samhain because we all love the secular AND spiritual aspects of the holiday. Don't be so serious. Don't lose your sense of humor. Don't lose your sincerity.

    October 31, 2013 at 8:18 am |
    • magicpanties

      I've been a practicing elf for many years and have met many Santa's and flying reindeer.
      I have humor, but I lack reason and so I require fairy tales to add meaning to my life.

      October 31, 2013 at 8:22 am |
      • what in the..

        Magic troll, what is wrong with you?

        October 31, 2013 at 8:29 am |
        • Anna

          In the spirit of this this article, I find it offensive that people use abuse my cultural history to label poorly behaved internet forum users. Trolls were Norwegian Huldrefold who lived in hidden caves, dim witted, scared of lightning and turned to stone if caught out in the sun light. Humm. that does describe a internet troll quite well. But i'm still offended because my everybody isn't sensitive to my culture.

          October 31, 2013 at 9:33 am |
  5. Mich

    I think people need to chill a little. Too many people are beginning to take things like this too seriously and taking all the fun out of it. To kids, its nothing more then just dressing up as some character and getting free candy. Its fun and that is all it is about. Lighten up people!

    October 31, 2013 at 8:17 am |
    • lol??

      They grow up to be adults with silly free healthScare beliefs.

      October 31, 2013 at 8:50 am |
  6. Summerblue

    For the love of......Get a sense of humor already. Don't like Halloween? Tough crap. There are many of us witches that enjoy it. Complain, Complain, Complain. Everyone is damned if you do, damned if you don't. Quit complaining and go about your life and let others go about theirs.

    October 31, 2013 at 8:17 am |
    • lol??

      Get back in yer closet.Have a drink at yer club.

      October 31, 2013 at 8:30 am |
  7. Colin

    Actually, you main stream Christian belief is a lot more scary than anything the wiccans could come up with. Burning for all eternity just because you do not believe in a sky-god who elected to withhold all evidence of his existence in the first place!

    Now that Christian God, he is one mean son-of-a-bit.ch

    October 31, 2013 at 8:14 am |
    • lilyq

      I know it. It's really scary when you have a choice, isn't it.

      October 31, 2013 at 8:19 am |
    • the blood

      But you've got no problem with Allah?

      October 31, 2013 at 8:21 am |
      • lilyq

        I've got no problem with choice.

        October 31, 2013 at 8:24 am |
    • Sense

      Hey genius the whole dressing up in costumes was started in some cultures as another way to celebrate All Souls Day, Halloween, before All Saints Day. The costumes and masks worn were used to scare away evil spirits while the people took the time to remember and pray for their lost ones please get educated and stop blathering about how you hate God you just sound stupid.

      October 31, 2013 at 8:21 am |
    • Calm Dog

      Hey, ease up on the guy. Yeah, he used to drink a lot and raise hell – plagues and floods and that stuff – but he's mellowed some since he had a son. Sure, he still goes off now and then – acts of God we call them – but afterward he's sorry. I think he's trying to get it together. It's difficult with all the Fundamentalist enablers around.

      October 31, 2013 at 8:29 am |
    • SeaTigr

      You are wrong and will burn in hell for such an utterance!

      October 31, 2013 at 10:12 am |
  8. lol??

    ".................... Others complain that the holiday reinforces negative stereotypes of witches as evil outliers who boil children in black cauldrons........................." Well, some wymen burn their children at the altar of Baal and others suck their brains out. What IS the season for witch hunting?? Must be in colder weather. Less ticks. The children are proclaimed innocent.

    "Jer 19:4 Because they have forsaken me, and have estranged this place, and have burned incense in it unto other gods, whom neither they nor their fathers have known, nor the kings of Judah, and have filled this place with the blood of innocents;"
    "Jer 19:5 They have built also the high places of Baal, to burn their sons with fire for burnt offerings unto Baal, which I commanded not, nor spake it, neither came it into my mind:"

    Naughty, naughty, ladies.

    October 31, 2013 at 8:14 am |
  9. Mitt Romney

    Sweet jumping jesus shut up already. If you don't like Halloween cast on of them spells that supposedly know and make it go away! if it doesn't work then I guess God doesn't think you exist.

    October 31, 2013 at 8:14 am |
  10. D-Mac

    Samhain is not just a Wiccan celebration, but one of all of the Celtic world. It represents the Celtic New Year, a time when traditionally the animals were brought in from the fields for the winter. Celebrations were made as indicated in the article, leading to the modern day Halloween, but, once again, this is NOT strictly Wiccan.

    October 31, 2013 at 8:14 am |
    • Sister Valium

      Exactly.

      October 31, 2013 at 8:19 am |
  11. Birdman

    Real witchcraft isn't Wiccan, Wicca is a made up halloween like corporate concoction to make money. My grandmother was a real witch, not like you'd think but her lineage of ancestors were forced by the church to convert from paganism and they held some secrets and traditions close down the bloodline and she still practiced into the 70's when she passed on. Basically it was mostly about home remedies and warding off spirits which with modern science and medecine have all been explained. These people who dress up and perform these rituals without them being passed down are similar to the people who dress up like knights and fight with fake swords. It's a passtime, hobby or whatever you wanna call it.

    October 31, 2013 at 8:14 am |
  12. Adam

    If Wiccans don't like identifying as witches, then stop identifying yourselves as witches. This Trey Capnerhurst sounds like a horrible person. It's like saying I'm an elf, but getting offended when people assume I'm short.

    October 31, 2013 at 8:13 am |
    • Hantaywee Tala

      Are you an Elf?

      October 31, 2013 at 8:37 am |
  13. Chris Honry

    Pretty soon we'll be pushed to say the mentally ill are just "different" and not sick. And they'll keep lowering the age of consent for Hollywood so they can molest in peace.

    October 31, 2013 at 8:11 am |
  14. magicpanties

    Yes, these are cults.
    Yes, the beliefs are whacky.
    Yes, the same can be said for all the major religions (christian, islam, judaisim, hindu, buddhism...)

    It's ok not to believe in fairy tales.

    October 31, 2013 at 8:10 am |
    • amy

      When I left Christianity I studied Wiccan. It is a little better...You don't have to buy Hell insurance but, essencially it is just another religion. Rituals, cermonies, blind beliefs...not my cup of tea.

      October 31, 2013 at 8:26 am |
    • Principal Skinner

      No hitting, no shoving, no pushing....stand up straight and take that gum out of your mouth...single file everybody!

      October 31, 2013 at 8:31 am |
  15. Miguel Caron

    I dislike all religions, but Wiccans strike me as being particularly dumb. They claim their religion dates to pre-Christendom when really the movement is less than a century old.

    Heck, Anton LaVey's Church of Satan makes more sense than they do.

    October 31, 2013 at 8:10 am |
  16. Christian Soto

    Is this a Late April fools article? People with social and personality disorders should not have their psychosis reinforced by the media.

    October 31, 2013 at 8:06 am |
    • truthprevails1

      How is this a personality disorder?

      October 31, 2013 at 8:08 am |
    • fintastic

      The same could be said about christians.

      October 31, 2013 at 8:13 am |
  17. the dude

    witches are hot.
    pegans are hot.
    whats wrong with a little cosplay?

    October 31, 2013 at 8:03 am |
    • the dude

      *pagan

      sorry typo

      October 31, 2013 at 8:04 am |
      • magicpanties

        pegan = pagan vegan?

        hey, sounds like a new cult! Yay!

        October 31, 2013 at 8:12 am |
        • lol??

          Cain was an angry veggie.

          October 31, 2013 at 8:53 am |
  18. ssthro

    It's funny that religious people think that this is somehow any more ridiculous than their own beliefs. It is, of course, just as ridiculous.

    October 31, 2013 at 8:02 am |
  19. Bible Clown©

    It's really difficult to change word usage once it's established. You know, like "gay" means happy. Good luck with that, witches!

    October 31, 2013 at 8:02 am |
  20. Amy

    The number of wicca who dislike this time of year is right about on average for everyone else who hates this time of year though.Just because a tiny minority do not like this time of the year does not mean that the majority have the same issues.

    October 31, 2013 at 8:01 am |
    • Nicole

      I know a couple people who identify as neopagan (of some variety or another) and they're all HUGE halloween enthusiasts. This article is just odd.

      October 31, 2013 at 8:11 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.