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. Jay

    Also, Trey is hot.

    October 31, 2013 at 7:38 am |
  2. Kim Crowe

    "...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 other words, like members of many other religions tout, what's okay for them to say or do is considered blasphemy when someone else does it. There are several other things I find bothersome in this story which include the following:

    1)If the traditional Halloween witch costume is so upsetting to her then WHY on Earth would she perpetuate the alleged prejudice by wearing one, especially when there are so many others from which to choose that would be considered more Witch-Friendly?

    2)Comparing a witch wearing a witch costume at Halloween to Indian ball team mascot costumes worn by non Native Americans, Caucasians dressing up like African American slaves, and other distasteful displays bordering on, if not outright, promoting racism, is preposterous for a variety of reasons. The main reason it's an absurd comparison is this is nearly unheard of among the groups of people she mentions or among the people of any other religion, race, or ethnicity for that matter, to play dress up and make fun of stereotypes within their own group. That comparison is like comparing apples and oranges as well as being offensive.

    3)If she only, "came out" in 2005, and presumably she's been dressing up like a Halloween witch for many years, then how can she be sure other(closeted) witches aren't doing the same? Who is she to judge who should get a free pass when it comes to dressing up like a witch at Halloween or of even hanging witch or other Halloween decorations?

    October 31, 2013 at 7:37 am |
  3. J Vance

    Never thought much about political correctness WRT witches.

    October 31, 2013 at 7:33 am |
    • Sean

      Have to say this...

      Jewish people make fun of "Jewishness" regularly. Plenty of black people play off black stereotypes. Native Americans play like they still wear 300 year old garb when you go see an "authentic" show. You are completely off base there. Way.. way.. way.. off base.

      And let's not forget the whole burning of witches thing that went on for centuries. ..

      October 31, 2013 at 8:10 am |
  4. R. DiBerto

    I can understand this. I am a Christian and i cannot stand Christmas. It turns more into a marketing fiasco than anything else. Incorporating Pagan aspects more that Jesus. It is called Christ-Mass for a reason. Besides Jesus was not born on December 25th. (this was a Pagan Holiday) He was actually born in the September?October months according to the Hebrew Calender.

    October 31, 2013 at 7:31 am |
  5. Cassarit

    So then...
    Wearing black face is on the same level with insulting the local team.
    These are the kinds of peaple cnn hires to write for them.
    Wgat does that say about the rest of their articles?

    October 31, 2013 at 7:29 am |
    • WASP

      it's simply an "opinion piece" not front page news. cnn even has a disclaimer stating that these are not their feelings as a company.

      October 31, 2013 at 7:37 am |
  6. Aaron

    I'm a vampire and I get so annoyed at all these stupid stereotypical portrayals of my kind. Used to be just during halloween but now it's everywhere. I'm going to go have a cry. I'll be in my casket.

    October 31, 2013 at 7:28 am |
    • WASP


      October 31, 2013 at 7:37 am |
  7. lilyq

    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.


    October 31, 2013 at 7:25 am |
  8. Oh No You Didn't

    Wah wah wah
    Try being a Christian sometime ... Christians don't have a holiday to be mocked and ridiculed on ... We get it every single day without wearing stereotypical pointy hats and cloaks.
    Cast a spell and do something about it if you are legit ... Get a life

    October 31, 2013 at 7:23 am |
    • Chris Sadler

      Christians and witches – both believe nutty things. I see no difference at all here.

      October 31, 2013 at 7:26 am |
    • You should look into it..

      No, you just give money to people that don't need it (clergy), look down at anybody that does not think like you, dress in robes every week, have to believe in a factious idol...

      October 31, 2013 at 7:31 am |
    • Capt. Warlock

      Based on your "faiths" behavior, you deserve it and far more.

      October 31, 2013 at 7:34 am |
    • Jay

      Christians make up more than 90 of the people holding elected government office in America. In some places you can't even get elected unless you profess your devotion to Jesus Christ louder than your opponent. So I hope you'll forgive me if I roll an eye or two at your supposed victimhood.

      October 31, 2013 at 7:35 am |
      • jill

        Name them

        October 31, 2013 at 7:50 am |
    • truthprevails1

      Oh dear, feeling a little persecuted today??? Look back over history and read how christians persecuted and to a point still do, people who didn't/don't agree with them or the crap that is stated in their giant book of multiple choice (aka the bible). Christians stole most of the pagan holidays as a way to convert pagans, those who didn't convert usually ended up being killed (Salem Witch Trials).
      While I am a non-believer, my daughter and her Dad's family are pagan. The rituals and gatherings are usually fun and very welcoming. Attend one before you judge them.

      October 31, 2013 at 7:40 am |
      • jill

        Thanks truth. Who, which christians? Name them. Thanks

        October 31, 2013 at 7:52 am |
  9. Daremonai

    Wait... so now their are Wiccian trueists who differentiate themselves by being "born" into it? Wicca is only a few generations old!

    October 31, 2013 at 7:20 am |
    • You should look into it..

      Wicca is a new term, pagan is the old school practice. Wicca came from paganism...

      October 31, 2013 at 7:26 am |
    • Joe

      The basis of Wicca is Paganism. Paganism predates Christianity and is also the basis of Christianity too.

      October 31, 2013 at 7:34 am |
  10. sick of christian phonies

    There must be something in the brain that makes the human want to believe in illogical faiths, rituals, practices, and gods. This stuff is a s silly as christianity, Islam, Judaism, etc. At least the Wiccans/witches/whatever don't kill as many people.

    October 31, 2013 at 7:20 am |
    • Jay

      Agreed. One mythology is as good as another.

      October 31, 2013 at 7:36 am |
      • jill

        Point being.

        Don't forget donkey punching

        October 31, 2013 at 7:54 am |
    • JD

      Not yet, give them time to grow in numbers, a few centuries, then they will discriminate against others like everyone ever did. Once atheists were discriminated against, now Christians (or all religious people basically) are discriminated against in the West. The role of victim changes but it is still there, just like that of the oppressors.

      October 31, 2013 at 7:47 am |
  11. stevefl00d

    Of course, they don't mention that the Wiccan motto is "And tho it harm none, do what thou will". So the idea of Wiccans feeling discriminated against because of Halloween decorations makes for a nice article topic, but I highly doubt many witches agree with her.
    That's not really persecution against witches. Burning them alive, stoning them or drowning them in a lake is persecution.

    October 31, 2013 at 7:19 am |
  12. Roddy2112

    Yeah, the Wiccan thing is crazy, but no more crazy than Christianity or Islam or Judaism or any other crackpot religion.

    October 31, 2013 at 7:19 am |
    • Bob

      Wow – you really hate all religion. You need a check up from the neck up

      October 31, 2013 at 7:29 am |
      • Boisepoet

        Everyone is an atheist when it comes to most religions, some of us just go 1 additional god over.
        Do you believe in the Hindu gods and the Christian gods, and the god of Mohammed? Doubtful...

        October 31, 2013 at 7:54 am |
  13. Frank, your neighbor next door who you never speak to

    Sounds like these Wiccans need to put away the magic flying machine (broom), take a shower, get a job, and move out of their mom's basement. They might also want to pick up a SCIENCE book, read it, and then share it with some CHRISTIANS.

    Wiccans can be quite smelly.

    October 31, 2013 at 7:18 am |
    • sick of christian phonies

      Gee, Frank, why so bigoted? Were you abused by a Wiccan as a child? That kind of talk is usually reserved for the sheet wearers to use about minorities.

      October 31, 2013 at 7:22 am |
      • Oh No You Didn't

        Psssst ... Hey Pot ... You're black too!

        Cordially yours,

        October 31, 2013 at 7:25 am |
        • WASP


          October 31, 2013 at 7:41 am |
  14. opinion8it

    She forgot to mention how much witches hate Republicans

    October 31, 2013 at 7:11 am |
    • Frank, your neighbor next door who you never speak to

      I thought Wiccans hated only soap, toothpaste, and gainful employment.

      October 31, 2013 at 7:20 am |
      • Raelyna

        I have a full-time job, which pays quite well. I use both soap and toothpaste – as do the four other wiccans/pagans I work with (in an office of about 50 people). But, then – you're just trolling Frank.

        October 31, 2013 at 7:31 am |
  15. matte

    most witches need to lighten up when they start in with accusations of bigotry. It's been my experience Many embrace the pop culture views and even exploit it to make themselves stand out in a crowd. While the author was likely born into the faith, the vast majority aren't and most are trying to escape something ("find themselves") or are trying hard to fit into that social group. MOST people aren't even aware such a faith exists...especially since the numbers within the US are an exceptionally small fraction. I find it hard to be upset just because someone doesn't know our understand my faith.

    October 31, 2013 at 7:11 am |
    • thefish@goaroundme.com

      Would be nice if people would stop trying to accommodate everyone's needs, stop worrying about everything else and worry about ourselves.

      October 31, 2013 at 7:12 am |
    • Frank, your neighbor next door who you never speak to

      Oh, you got that right. From what I have seen most Wiccans are just Catholics trying to anger their parents.

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

      Wow telling them to "lighten up" about a slur against their culture is like telling Jews to lighten up about Nazis or telling Blacks to lighten up about slavery. We really should stop telling people how to feel about their own culture.

      October 31, 2013 at 7:23 am |
      • lilyq

        Um, no. No it isn't.

        October 31, 2013 at 7:28 am |
  16. Patrick James

    I don't care about their sensitivities. Feel free to practice you're your religion, but don't get offended when I chuckle at the notion of grumpkins an snarks.

    October 31, 2013 at 7:07 am |
  17. Bucky

    I dated a Wiccan once. Oh my, she was fun...

    October 31, 2013 at 7:02 am |
  18. Joepub

    I'd tap that.

    October 31, 2013 at 7:00 am |
  19. patriottony

    okaaaaaay,,,,,,where are the guys with the white coats, buckles and straps? I CAST spells with my black cat and charms....are you frigging kidding me,,,

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

      Is it any more far fetched than speaking in tongues and laying on of the hands?

      October 31, 2013 at 7:17 am |
    • William

      This is more bizzare that Christianity or Catholism how?

      October 31, 2013 at 7:25 am |
  20. Mike

    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.

    I laughed out loud at that. Not a bad way to start a day.

    October 31, 2013 at 6:50 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.