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. Mark

    Wicca originated in the early 20th century when secretive English covens began basing their beliefs on what they had read from historical accounts. There is no direct lineage between neolithic beliefs and modern Wicca. Stating that a 20th century invention is insulted by a centuries old mythical iconography is quite simply a spurious claim. The green faced crone with the pointed cap...she's not about you. However when black-face is used, everyone knows who is implied. There is no historical or even literal connection between mythical witch in the gingerbread house, and any modern religion.

    October 31, 2013 at 8:58 am |
    • Melynda

      The woman they speak to in this article is not a Wiccan.

      October 31, 2013 at 8:59 am |
    • alex

      Swastica is thousands of years older than Hitler, but nobody seems to care about that.

      October 31, 2013 at 9:02 am |
  2. PushingBack

    Whoop-Dee-Freakin-Do! Everything supernatural is hogwash whether it's religion or anything else. The sooner we all get over this stuff the better off humanity will be as a whole.

    October 31, 2013 at 8:58 am |
    • mungoblog

      Just a minor snarky aside, witches don't believe in the supernatural. They believe largely that everything that exists is part of the natural world, and if you can't see it, that's your fault. There are deities, but no equiv to the "big daddy in the sky" of the Abrahamic religions

      October 31, 2013 at 9:11 am |
      • PushingBack

        Oh, I understand this quite well but I still dismiss it into the same category. It matters not whether it's big bad sky daddy or mother earth, etc., giving persona to fictional beings or objects is irrational and ridiculous.

        October 31, 2013 at 9:31 am |
  3. Chris

    HAHAHAHAHAHA!!! Cast a spell you twit.

    October 31, 2013 at 8:57 am |
  4. Kay

    Oh joy! Another group of people who are offended. I've had all I can take of thin skinned cry babies.

    October 31, 2013 at 8:57 am |
  5. Witchipoo

    I'll bet the Native American, black, gay, rebel flag waiving witches are REALLY upset!

    October 31, 2013 at 8:56 am |
  6. fujoshigate

    Oh come ON. As a practicing witch, this article is RIDICULOUS. Halloween is by far my favorite holiday of the year, and the costumes are all in good fun. So what if people like to dress up as a hag for Halloween? I've been known to do so, "poisioned" apple and all. Some people take things far too seriously – and religion has nothing to do with it. This is simply the ramblings of an overly-sensitive woman who is hoping to get a little attention by giving an outraged interview to CNN.

    October 31, 2013 at 8:55 am |
    • Rob

      Bravo. Well said and spot on. We all take things way too seriously. Nobody puts on a whiches costume and thinks "hooray!!! hundreds of years of oppression!!!"

      October 31, 2013 at 9:01 am |
  7. maestra888

    Wiccans??!! What is this, 1970? Lately CNN has had a really hard time finding quality stories to post - first "polyamory" and now this. Must be pretty desperate if you ran this one, even if it is Halloween.

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

      I've noticed the lack of "real" news article too. Lots of stuff on women kissing women, soccer stories, and simply recycling stories from a previous week. That's what I like about wars; wars force people to focus on matters of real importance to everybody. It pushes the Kardashian, Justin Bieber, and overpaid athlete stories off the front page.

      October 31, 2013 at 9:01 am |
  8. Jack O

    What a stupid article!!! Oobie Boobie , I kinna don't like Halloween because I'm a witch !!! A load of crap, that's as bad as weird Christians complaining about the holiday. A mess of information, Wicca is a pseudo religion , loosely comprised of various old traditions of different cultures. Any body truly practicing magic wouldn't mind at all. Further more I would think it's more offending how Christmas has lost any feeling of spirituality , my gawd , people just become mean and stressed during that whole bout.

    October 31, 2013 at 8:53 am |
  9. 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 8:53 am |
  10. nostrildamus

    The witch trope existed for hundreds of years before Wicca came along. If they don't like it, they shouldn't identify as witches.

    Stop the oversensitive madness.

    October 31, 2013 at 8:53 am |
    • Jon Price

      Are you speaking from experience here?

      October 31, 2013 at 9:07 am |
  11. lancelinton

    Why don't you all band together and start crying 'offense'? Within a couple of years we will ban witch costumes, start programs to educate others on the offensiveness of stereotyping witches. Additionally, the term 'witch' could even be found to be offensive and you all will be called Magickal-Americans or something.

    October 31, 2013 at 8:52 am |
  12. James

    As a male witch, let me first say that Trey needs to pull the broomstick out.

    The Rede says it all." And ye harm none, do what ye will." Is anyone actually harmed from someone else dressing as a witch, or as Jesus, or a Native, or a Gypsy ?? Of course not. Offended, perhaps. But offense is NOT harm.

    That being said, I must remind everyone else that the Wiccan Rede is the core foundation of our society. You just choose a single word to sum it up: Freedom.

    Think about it. Our laws are based on that very concept. You are free to do whatever you choose, so long as you do not harm another. Even the Christian Savior, Jesus the Christ, taught this valuable concept. (Something many Christians need to remember)

    As for what many regard as witchcraft: this is simply science, herbalism, and meditation. Consider, people have been using plants for a variety of purposes for hundreds of thousands of years. And the Church has always condemned herbalism, because it doesn't require prayer to work. You could pray for your headache to go away, or you could could chew a piece of willow bark, or today, take an aspirin. If you're feeling stressed, you could pray for peace, or light some incense.

    Blessed Be.

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

      science, herbs, meditation... fine.

      I don't see the need for "witchcraft", or any other fairy tale for that matter.
      Maybe you just like to dress up and do silly rituals with friends? Ok.

      October 31, 2013 at 9:02 am |
  13. Robert

    Oh look how cute the Wiccans are trying to claim a History dispite being a 20th century trend like hipsters. How pathetic.

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

      20th century BC, maybe. More like 50 centuries BC actually.

      October 31, 2013 at 8:53 am |
      • Doc Vestibule

        Wiccans have adopted some ancient rituals, but the religion itself started in the mid twentieth century in England.

        October 31, 2013 at 8:56 am |
  14. Rachel

    I have no problem with Halloween, and I agree she has no sense of humor. But, her being upset with Halloween is absolutely no different than people being so upset about Christmas.

    October 31, 2013 at 8:51 am |
  15. Puckles

    All of you celebrating Halloween tonight – enoy! You are willingly worshiping the DEVIL and ARE going to be held accountable.

    October 31, 2013 at 8:51 am |
    • Donnie the Lion

      No one cares what you think, you bigot.

      October 31, 2013 at 8:57 am |
    • Hawk

      No such thing as devils. Just as there are no such thing as gods.

      October 31, 2013 at 9:02 am |
    • magicpanties

      Hail Lucifer! Please, oh powerful xtian god, strike me down tonight!

      Tee hee.

      October 31, 2013 at 9:04 am |
    • Ethan

      ...somebody break out the koolaid.

      October 31, 2013 at 9:06 am |
    • Live and let live

      You're funny. LOL

      October 31, 2013 at 9:08 am |
  16. Dee

    Omg@ China Mike how dare you disrespect the history and beliefs of these people! I'm a Christian and I know how it feels to be slandered for my beliefs. You have no right to call witches " fake" and if their history was passed down through their families, you wouldn't be privy to that info anyway.
    Try respecting people instead of slandering them.

    October 31, 2013 at 8:51 am |
  17. Shlomo Abramowitz-Steinberg

    Did everyone here remember to check their non-magical privilege?

    October 31, 2013 at 8:50 am |
  18. Brandon

    I love this time of year for the Halloween feel in the air. I'm Christian & like Wiccans we both have beliefs that take a form of faith in the unseen. Until those that have no faith 'see' what we see, then there will always be blindness on their part. One thing's for sure: people die, they pass to whatever is next...believe it or not, & us the living want to still have the same loving connection with them that we did when they were alive–anything other symbolic ceremonies will always be criticized by the faithless...Sad. Happy All Hallows Eve everyone!!!!!

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

      Brandon, I agree.

      October 31, 2013 at 8:52 am |
  19. Jim

    I am guessing that most religions get a few things right and most everything else wrong. Can't see how Wiccans are any worse than Mormons. Happy Halloween.

    October 31, 2013 at 8:49 am |
  20. Christine

    Come on, y'all. To each their own.

    October 31, 2013 at 8:49 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.