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

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(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. Colin

    Can any Christian can expalin why the supernatural elements of Christianity (Jesus rising from the dead; prayers being answered; life after death in heaven etc.) is less childish than Wiccan beliefs?

    October 31, 2013 at 8:49 am |
  2. joeintucker

    ...great, another whiny CNN story, moving on.....

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

      I'll never understand why people like you bother to comment on stories, let alone even come to this site?

      October 31, 2013 at 11:04 am |
  3. meng

    Soooo stupid. Wiccans and Pagans just stole a bunch of ideas from Celtic shamans, threw away the best parts, and call themselves witches and warlocks so they can imagine they control magic and think they actually have an excuse for that giant chip on their shoulder. There is no such thing as a "traditional" witch, you twits. Many of the people of northern Europe followed these practices for several millennia, then the Christians came along and insisted that the two could no co-exist, so they created the ideas of witches with broomsticks. Everybody knows that Halloween is the Christians stealing the Autumn Solstice and the Winter Solstice for Christmas (only idiots think Jesus Christ was born on December 25), but these pretentious fools have forgotten that it was all about reverence for the earth and the spirits within, earth light etc., not ghosts and ghouls. Wiccanism is really just a cult for people who read too many Anne McCaffrey novels.

    October 31, 2013 at 8:47 am |
    • biggerdawg

      I'd like to think, that with a little more effort from you, you could have dismissed and debunked far more groups than you just did. I do not disagree with much of what you said however I wanted to read a little more.

      October 31, 2013 at 8:53 am |
    • Chris

      Actually the only non pagan holiday is "Halloween". Christmas, Easter, etc are all pagan originated holidays.

      October 31, 2013 at 8:53 am |
    • watergirl

      The witches on broomsticks comes from a tradition where witches would go to farms and jump up on a broomstick to show the crops how high to grow. Nothing more than a small ritual wishing for abundance.

      October 31, 2013 at 9:16 am |
  4. Plato

    Good to see nutjobs getting offended over traditions that predated their "religion"

    October 31, 2013 at 8:47 am |
  5. Casper

    As a ghost, I am appalled and offended by people who wear sheets over their heads and yell BOO! (cries)

    October 31, 2013 at 8:47 am |
    • Pumpkin

      Ghosts are so sweet

      October 31, 2013 at 8:53 am |
  6. The Flamingo Kid

    Halloween is evil as are real-life witches. You are ALL going to experience the wrath of God.

    October 31, 2013 at 8:46 am |
    • Observing

      Flamingo, did you convert from non belief into fanaticism since your last thread or did you just forget to change your alias?

      October 31, 2013 at 9:01 am |
  7. beth

    No less wacky than any other religion.

    October 31, 2013 at 8:45 am |
  8. Peter

    Halloween existed as a holiday before Wicca. Halloween was becoming popular in North America in the 1800's already (although it existed before that) while Wicca developed during the beginning of the 20th century. And the cultural representation of witches goes even further back before Halloween. I don't see how it makes sense for them to be offended by something that existed before they did.

    October 31, 2013 at 8:43 am |
    • Marc...

      -- That!

      October 31, 2013 at 8:46 am |
    • jackieg

      Actually, Halloween or All Hallow's Eve, the night before All Saints Day, was started to stamp out the traditional celebration of Samhain, just as the date for Christmas was chosen as a way to stamp out the Saturnalia. Most Christian holidays have their roots in pagan holidays. The Wiccans are simply reviving the ancient religions that honored the natural world, the earth and the cycles of the seasons as these holidays once did.

      October 31, 2013 at 8:50 am |
      • biggerdawg

        Can you go do it over there? Quietly? Thanks so much.

        October 31, 2013 at 8:54 am |
  9. prettygirlmyers

    Did this woman seriously compare dressing up as a witch to blackface? I'm pretty sure she lost any little bit of credibility she had at that point. Pathetic.

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

      Pretty sure it's you that is pathetic if you don't see the correlation

      October 31, 2013 at 8:45 am |
      • MW InLondon

        Even though "religion" is a protected class in the US, no way you can compare something you choose, to race. Religion does not equal race.

        October 31, 2013 at 8:52 am |
    • jardary

      Do you think that because black people have been more oppressed than witches? If that is true, it is only because witches (like atheists) can hide who and what they are.

      You see, witches were burned at the stake for longer than racial based slavery existed.

      October 31, 2013 at 8:49 am |
    • idremhd

      I know the nerve, it's not like witches were persecuted for thousands of years or anything lol

      October 31, 2013 at 8:49 am |
    • watergirl

      Actually its worse, we don't have a whole holiday involving blackface everywhere.

      October 31, 2013 at 9:08 am |
  10. Mitt Romney


    October 31, 2013 at 8:42 am |
    • The Flamingo Kid

      Hey, LOSER, get off of CNN and move out of your mommy's basement!

      October 31, 2013 at 8:45 am |
    • What?

      Because she has a cauldron you think she's a chef?

      October 31, 2013 at 8:51 am |
      • biggerdawg

        Exactly. And just because she has a va jay jay doesn't mean she's a woman.

        October 31, 2013 at 8:57 am |
  11. Realityblowz

    Oh for crying out loud!! This whole nation has become a group of thin skinned pansies. Drop anyone of us into the world as it was 150 years ago, and we would curl up into the fetal position and whither away.

    October 31, 2013 at 8:42 am |
    • Justapoint

      They had to go all the way to Canada (Alberta is still there, no?) to find a Wiccan/Witch for this article; so maybe that thinskinnedness is international now. Spreading like a disease?

      October 31, 2013 at 8:54 am |
    • biggerdawg


      October 31, 2013 at 8:58 am |
  12. dsilviano

    Yes, witches are real. No, I don't participate in Halloween. Yes, it is a sad state of affairs when Christians are being persecuted while pagans are being extoled.

    October 31, 2013 at 8:42 am |
    • Doc Vestibule

      Because Christians have a really tough time the United States, right?
      Especially straight, white,Christian, land-owning males. I mean, they weren't even allowed to be citizens of the US until 1776!

      October 31, 2013 at 8:44 am |
      • biggerdawg

        Why don't you go practice Christianity in Saudi Arabi, Pakistan, Iran, Iraq, Somalia, Chechnya or Egypt and see what it feels like to be persecuted? There's no persecution here because it was founded by Christians, right wrong or indifferent. You regurgitate a lot of nonsense. Want your own country to do as you please? Go get one. This one is going to be Christian for quite some time.

        October 31, 2013 at 9:02 am |
        • Doc Vestibule

          I'm Canadian.

          October 31, 2013 at 9:44 am |
  13. Lee

    I went as a priest for halloween several years ago. Anyone who took offense could suck an egg. Same goes for witches. If you don't like your beliefs being ridiculed, don't have ridiculous beliefs.

    October 31, 2013 at 8:41 am |
  14. Jon

    is this a joke. I thought is was Halloween not April Fools. The PC Police have reached big on this. Could there possibly be someone else out there that is offended by some nonsense that we are reporting on yet? What about nudists offended by dirty magazines or Amish offended by Thanksgiving. Maybe corn farmers offended by corn mazes. The media really needs to tap in to that.........Witches aren't real.......neither are ghosts or zombies.

    October 31, 2013 at 8:41 am |
    • Doc Vestibule

      But what about the Holy Ghost and the Easter Zombie?

      October 31, 2013 at 8:42 am |
    • Tyler

      yes they are. they have been since the early 1800s and even before that. you are just mad because you cant get on the news. so shut up about some one else's beliefs and rituals.

      October 31, 2013 at 8:55 am |
  15. Walt

    Wiccans crying for political correctness. What a bunch of sissies. Enochian Majic is the real deal.

    October 31, 2013 at 8:41 am |
  16. Colin

    I am a Christian and I think it is appalling that she is teaching her little child supernatural nonsense like life after death, rituals, magical prayers and….oh wait!

    October 31, 2013 at 8:39 am |
    • Jameson

      I think it's your belief that is nonsense, and I'm not even a Wiccan.

      October 31, 2013 at 8:46 am |
  17. LeRoy_Was_Here

    I bet the witches of America REALLY hated that movie, "Hansel & Gretel: Witch Hunters".

    Kind of portrayed witches in a bad light, it did.

    October 31, 2013 at 8:39 am |
  18. joe222

    The reality of it is, Wiccans realize how riduculous their idolatry is and how offensive it is to God, and Halloween, in a small sense, exposes their idolatry and worshiping the creation, rather than the Creator God.

    October 31, 2013 at 8:38 am |
    • LeRoy_Was_Here

      Your beliefs in a Sky God strike some of us as every bit as ridiculous as the beliefs of the Wiccans. I guess you just don't realize that.

      October 31, 2013 at 8:40 am |
      • biggerdawg

        I believe your belief is ridiculous.

        October 31, 2013 at 8:46 am |
    • jackieg

      Reallly?, the Wiccans never waged religious wars or inflicted the Inquisition on anyone like Christianity. Burning people at the stake because they have a different belief than yours is offensive to the Creator, not the peaceful beliefs of Wiccans.

      October 31, 2013 at 8:45 am |
      • biggerdawg

        Its easy to be peaceful when the alternative is being set aflame.

        October 31, 2013 at 9:24 am |
  19. Lol

    A dog is loving, caring, forgiving, faithful, will never forsake you, and brings joy to life....too bad I can't say the same thing about most atheists on the Internet. I choose a dog over them at any giving day of my life!!

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

      And they would probably choose the dog's poo over you any day of their lives

      October 31, 2013 at 8:49 am |
    • Relictus

      I would choose a dog over you.

      October 31, 2013 at 8:50 am |
    • Athiest

      That's not unique to atheists. Many people, regardless of creed, that take to discussions online are vehemently spoken. That is, unfortunately, the culture in which we live.

      October 31, 2013 at 8:52 am |
  20. China Mike

    I have enjoyed Halloween growing up, and have gone to some adult parties or simply walked around the street taking photos of other costumed people in big cities, but I am so sick of hearing, reading, or simply being subjected to the BS of Wicca, and for that matter, the legitimacy of witches. There is no ancient culture of witches nor witch practices. There has been nothing handed down secretly to covens of followers. It was all made up by some Englishman about a century+ ago. Get over it, you fake, phony women who look for some kind of acceptance. Wicca is fake, as is all things related to witches.

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

      *Religion is fake, as are all things related to religion. Fixed that for you.

      October 31, 2013 at 8:44 am |
    • biggerdawg

      So very well said. Its been obvious that this Wiccan thing is really for those with a bent wig.

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

      You obviously have no idea what you are talking about.

      October 31, 2013 at 8:51 am |
    • Chris

      LOL wow, you might want to try reading a bit of history before making such a grand statement. Pagan religions outdate Christianity by centuries.


      October 31, 2013 at 8:52 am |
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About this blog

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.