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. JFS1

    Wow. We've finally reached a point to where Halloween actually offends all the weirdos. Just, wow.

    October 31, 2013 at 8:34 am |
  2. Sean

    Burn the witch!

    October 31, 2013 at 8:33 am |
    • biggerdawg

      She turned me into a newt!

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

      What's it like to be an ignorant hick?

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

        Ask your ma, as you don't know who your father is.

        October 31, 2013 at 9:26 am |
  3. Colin

    What is the only thing capable of making 40% of the country utterly stupid enough to think the entire Universe began less than 10,000 years ago with one man, one woman and a talking snake:

    (a) a horrid mental disease

    (b) a failed education system

    (c) widespread acceptance of witches and other Wiccan beliefs; or

    (d) Christianity?

    October 31, 2013 at 8:33 am |
    • Third Eagle of the apocalypse.

      I’ll take (a), (b) and (d) Colin. What do I win?

      October 31, 2013 at 8:38 am |
    • earth to Trey

      This is a trick question. A, C and D are the same thing. B was caused by A.

      October 31, 2013 at 8:39 am |
  4. JMJ49

    Halloween was around a long tinge before Wiccan (1954). I think a good argument can be made that Wiccan borrowed many of their ideas from the celebration of halloween.
    Sick of everybody being offended. Lots of things offend me, especially government and pseudo journalism.

    October 31, 2013 at 8:33 am |
    • JMJ49

      time not tinge

      October 31, 2013 at 8:35 am |
  5. Sid

    cnn, you seriously just ran this article? wow...

    October 31, 2013 at 8:33 am |
  6. wodin

    I fins it so offensive that all of these non-Norse have appropriated my peoples traditional garb. Helmets with horns? Seriously?A team named after the small group of of tthat pillaged and plundered? How much more offensive can you get?

    October 31, 2013 at 8:31 am |
  7. Reticuli

    I would also think that being "born into Wicca" is rather rarified, considering that the majority of Wiccan women are lesbian. Interesting that she would distinguish between converts and those who were raised in it.

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

    As the old saying goes, if a person believes he communicates with god, we call him a lunatic, if a dozen do, we call them a cult, if a billion do, we call them Christians.

    October 31, 2013 at 8:30 am |
  9. Diocletian

    Pagans were the first group to be systematically murdered by christians in europe. Tell me more about how its terrible that YOUR history was destroyed.

    October 31, 2013 at 8:29 am |
  10. Kenny Bania

    “Unless one actually is a witch, dressing up as stereotypical witches is bigotry,” Capnerhurst said. – Is this kinda like the notion that only black people can say the N word and anyone else who uses it is racist?

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

      I think of it more like, if you're not a Native American participating in a Native ceremony, putting on a feather headdress and jumping around like an idiot is racist.

      October 31, 2013 at 8:42 am |
  11. earth to Trey

    "Capnerhurst says she’s a real, flesh-and-blood witch... Witches are not fictional creatures"

    Just because you think you are a witch, doesn't mean that you are one. Magic and prayer are two sides of the same delusional thinking process. If it makes you feel better about not having control over the universe, then go ahead and do it. But don't expect thinking people to respect your nonsense.

    October 31, 2013 at 8:27 am |
    • Kenny Bania

      But i really AM Iron Man!

      October 31, 2013 at 8:30 am |
    • FellowTraveler

      I used to think witchcraft and witches was foolish bunk too. Until I was the target of one. I know no one will believe me. Kind of like if someone were taken by aliens. That person KNOWS what happened to them, but not like any of us would believe their story. So it is with my experience. A quick simple explanation of the power of witchcraft would be to think about things that we do have scientific proof of. Things like the power of suggestion, waking hypnosis and more all wrapped in the cloak of a very intelligent, sober, determined master manipulator/com artist.

      October 31, 2013 at 9:05 am |
      • earth to Trey

        Fellow Traveler,

        I'm sorry that you fell prey to a con-artist that thought they were a witch. I can guarantee that their "powers of persuasion" had nothing to do with magic.

        October 31, 2013 at 10:53 am |
        • FellowTraveler

          Trey, thanks for the response. I know my experience was not "magical" in the normal sense of the word. However, that is really just my point: When someone can influence/control you without you having any idea of what is happening, then it doesn't matter what you call it-witchcraft/magic/hypnosis/deceit/trickery, etc... The fact is the end result is the same.

          October 31, 2013 at 12:29 pm |
    • Crone

      Trey – I have a son with epilepsy (now controlled). We spent weeks with him in the hospital where he was video monitored and had numerous EEGs – he was in bad shape and it showed on his reads. He was 3 at the time. During one of his many stays we were sitting on the floor and he crawled into my lap – placed he forehead against mine and just rested there for nearly an hour. We had done this many times at home, but never "in public". He was still, did not move and was not making a sound. The next morning his neurologist asked me to help him understand what the neuro team had seen on the video and his EEG read. During that time he sat in my lap his EEG was normal, the only time in 3 days. His doctor wanted to know what we were doing and asked if I was praying. I explained it was what he would call a prayer of sorts. I tried to explain that Jake was drawing in my energy to calm his own, and that I often sang a little song/chant to him in whispers. Over several months Jake did this more and more frequently – after the 7th month he was no longer having seizures.

      For me "magic" is the give and take of the energy around each of us. Some are better at it than others. In this case I had actual validation that what we were doing was real and making a difference. His neurologist shared his clinical notes with me before they went to his file. It read: "This physician can not reconcile the known neurology of this child to the fact that while sitting in his mother's lap showed no sub-clinical or physical manifestation of abnormal neurological activity." My son still has many issues and is a special needs child – I can't heal DNA, but I can help him and others calm their own energy.

      October 31, 2013 at 1:42 pm |
  12. M Skie

    I feel that anyone who takes offense to things so easily only shows their own insecurities with who they are and/or what they do. Unless there is malice towards you directly in the acts then why would you allow anyone to have that kind of "power" over your emotions? The political correctness movement that has been sweeping across the land for the last twenty or so years needs to end. Stop whining, and move on. Most of the "racist" crys that I have heard lately are being made by someone who is being overly sensitive to and imbueing the statements/acts with a meaning that clearly was not intended.

    October 31, 2013 at 8:27 am |
  13. NotConvinced

    This is a christdumb nation and you are ONLY supposed to be sensitive to their beliefs around christdumb time.

    October 31, 2013 at 8:26 am |
  14. Anon

    Oh please, can we make dracula, Frankenstein's monster and mummies offensive too?
    I'd really like every last bit of joy to be crushed out of our children's lives by the PC zealots

    October 31, 2013 at 8:25 am |
    • Doc Vestibule

      Dracula is offensive because the character reinforces negative stereotypes about eastern European aristocracy. Not every feudal lord was an Impaler!
      Mummies debase the rich and very sacred religious traditions of the ancient Egyptian civilization.
      Frankenstein's monster is an offense to all right thinking people becuase only God has the power to bestow life. It portrays biologists as hubristic, unethical madmen.

      Is there anything else you'd like ruined?
      How about Sesame Street?
      Each muppet is a mockery of a particuar psychological disorder.
      Count Von Count's obsessive compulsive disorder, Big Bird's schizophrenic hallucinations, Telly's asperger-esque shyness and uncertainty in social situations, Oscar's clinical depression and misanthropy, Elmo and his obvious ADHD... and don't even get me started on Ernie and Bert's "alternative" living arrangement in which sheep make the occasional nocturnal visit.

      October 31, 2013 at 8:39 am |
  15. Third Eagle of the apocalypse.

    I know a number of Wiccans and not one of them have an issue with Halloween.

    October 31, 2013 at 8:25 am |
    • CuriousG

      But to be politically correct, shouldn't we abolish Halloween. I love Halloween and wouldn't want that but you want to outlaw certain words, images and parts of history, then this is no different.

      October 31, 2013 at 8:38 am |
      • Third Eagle of the apocalypse.

        I think you might have posted this under the wrong person friend. I’ve made no such statements about banning anything. In fact what my statement actually supports is that this article is PC nonsense and not an accurate portrait of Wiccans. I love Halloween and so does every Wiccan I’ve met.

        October 31, 2013 at 8:52 am |
  16. Lol

    These witches are heathen atheists.

    October 31, 2013 at 8:23 am |
    • If I had a hammer... I'd whack you in the morning

      oh yes you'd better stay away christian dog or else you'll get a fat wart on your hoo-hoo

      October 31, 2013 at 8:26 am |
    • Third Eagle of the apocalypse.

      You obviously don’t know what an atheist is. That or your sarcasm is lacking.

      October 31, 2013 at 8:26 am |
  17. Stew Pedaso

    Male Wiccans are not as uncommon as you might think...they are just more reserved. The ladies are in charge and do the defense. This is the time for Herne the hunter, a male practice that is unwittingly done by more men than they would like to admit...it's the thrill, just ask...it's also a ritual.

    October 31, 2013 at 8:23 am |
  18. the blood

    Boohoo...hoo...hooo. I can't stop crying for the poor insulted wiccans. Poor things. It's just so hard being a good witch today. Boo....hoo...hoo..hooo...hooooooo

    October 31, 2013 at 8:23 am |
    • Third Eagle of the apocalypse.

      You’re assuming a lot based on a random article on the internet, written by someone you most like have never heard of. And you know what they say about people that assume.

      October 31, 2013 at 8:28 am |
  19. doc

    All of you people whinning and complaining about how the Washington Redskins should change their name because of the unjustice of what happened years ago, or how it is disrespectul that people dress up as Native Americans for halloween..why don't you wake up and see the bigger problems in the world...like the unfair and unjust stereotypes of witches during halloween. Get your priorties in order people. *SMH*..

    October 31, 2013 at 8:21 am |
    • Third Eagle of the apocalypse.

      As someone who has several Wiccan friends. Please shut-up. Comparing those subjects is asinine and you clearly have no idea what you are talking about.

      October 31, 2013 at 8:30 am |
      • doc

        haha I clearly do not care, because I was in no being serious. You sir take life, and internet comments way to serious 🙂

        October 31, 2013 at 8:37 am |
        • Third Eagle of the apocalypse.

          Obviously you cared enough to respond.

          October 31, 2013 at 8:39 am |
      • Wit hypo

        The witch in the article likens herself and situation to the Redskins, geezus. It's not the posters "assumption".

        October 31, 2013 at 8:42 am |
        • Third Eagle of the apocalypse.

          And who said anything about “assumption”? Reading comprehension is your friend.

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

        um yea obviously I did, because I responded..No where in my previous post did I state that I wouldn't respond because I did not care lol. My comparison was not supposed to be taking seriously, nor do I care if it was asinine. Sarcasm is just wasted on some folks 🙂

        October 31, 2013 at 8:47 am |
        • Third Eagle of the apocalypse.

          Um.. I never said I didn’t care. You really should stop posting, its embarrassing.

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

        Yes, I will stop commenting because you are an idiot who seems to not be unable to have a simple conversation. I didn't say anything about you not caring, you said I obviously cared enough to respond, I never said I didn't care enough to respond.

        October 31, 2013 at 8:56 am |
  20. Cheyenne

    While this article bothers me, it doesn't bother me nearly as much as many of these comments. I'm a big believer in the idea of the triad; to know, to dare, to keep silent. But sometimes staying silent is just really hard.

    I'm Wiccan and quiet proud of it but typically I keep to myself unless asked. My child will be raised the same way. There is nothing wrong with teaching your child good values, the strength of faith, or the power of prayer. If my child grows older and decides Catholic is the path they choose, then so be it. It's not my choice to make, it's their's. I find it saddening that in today's society people still have the nerve to call another's faith "hogwash". I may not be a Christian or a Muslim but I still believe their faiths have merit.

    It's not the people who call religions "fairytales" that bother me. They've made the choice to believe all religions are nonsense. At least they're being fair. It's the people who believe in miracles like Jesus rising from the dead but still think that me lighting a candle and praying for guidance is magical nonsense. Perfect Love, Perfect Trust, People it's not hard.

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


      October 31, 2013 at 8:25 am |
    • Third Eagle of the apocalypse.

      I’m afraid asking Christians to be tolerant is a bit more than they can handle I’m afraid.

      October 31, 2013 at 8:33 am |
      • FellowTraveler

        Really? It sounds like you're the intolerant one. Anyone who is not tolerant of others and calls himself a Christian is not really a Christian. Kind of like any cop that kills, takes bribes, etc. is not really a cop.

        October 31, 2013 at 9:12 am |
    • Jmillerdoc

      If you believe the other faiths truy habe merit then I beg you to take a look at this research. I think you will not only find it truly fascinating but extremely revealing as to the Love of our Creator. The God of the universe put an undeniable signature in the stars above. Check it out, I don't think you will be dissapointed.

      October 31, 2013 at 8:36 am |
      • Third Eagle of the apocalypse.

        truy habe


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

      I would agree with your statement however even if we say we are allowing our children the freedom to "choose" their own path, you can't really do that. Children will choose the path that was presented to them,through their environment. Teaching good values is for sure good, but in my opinion I think you should teach children what religion is, an inprouvable series of stories which some believe to be true or not. Believing in something is not saying that they "know" its true. You shouldn't want your child to believe in a false story or religion would you? If not I would explain that to them

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

        I do believe in choosing your own path. I was raised in a "religion is evil" environment. My father fell into the category of Atheists you want to punch in the face for sheer rudeness. Although, he did admit that "if" religion were "real" that the greek pantheon seemed like the most fun. I turned out Wiccan and my sister I think finally settled on Methodist? Maybe Luthern. Regardless, she's a christain.

        My house is kind of a modge podge of all things. We have a bookshelf dedicated to magic and wicca meanwhile I keep a bible and book of psalms at the bed side and a jade buddah hangs on the wall. My next big purchase will be a Shiva dining set. I think all religions have something good to teach. I just hope my kids realize that. Just because something is a story, that doesn't mean it lacks a valueable lesson. I think people need to believe in something even if they're like my father and believe everyone else is confused. At least it's something.

        October 31, 2013 at 9:06 am |
      • Crone

        Bobby, I raised my children much like Cheyenne describes. The were taught values, morals and respect for all persons regardless of race, religion etc. They watched me "practice" an earth based faith – more native American as this is my family line. As adults my daughter is a non Wiccan witch and my son a Christian. Both believe in science and the facts and order that it brings to the Universe around us – both understand fully that the bible and other writings are simply tools to teach/guide a particular path.

        October 31, 2013 at 1:57 pm |
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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.