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 leading scholar of neo-paganism 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 Belief Blog Co-Editor

Filed under: Belief • Discrimination • Faith Now • Halloween • Holidays • Neopaganism • Paganism • Persecution • Prejudice

soundoff (290 Responses)
  1. seeyouintea

    Wicca is a silly belief system comprised of fat, manless, tree-hugging, dirt-wotshippers. Just as silly as the weaklings who follow the abrahamic faiths or any other form of mind-poison.

    October 31, 2013 at 5:03 am | Report abuse | Reply
    • Yarg!

      How come you don't think insulting people is "mind poison"?

      October 31, 2013 at 5:08 am | Report abuse | Reply
      • seeyouintea

        Despite popular, arbitrary claims, a person's beliefs are not some sacred thing that are impervious to ridicule.

        October 31, 2013 at 5:13 am | Report abuse | Reply
  2. Annesta

    A defense often used against fundamentalist Christians and others who attack paganism on a religious basis is to say "We are not like you, only different in a few not so important ways. We are a religion, like you, another belief system, harmless, ordinary. We worship the Earth, the Goddess, the same way you worship your abstract God. You should extend tolerance to us for the same reason you extend it to Muslims or Buddhists or Catholics or Jews. When you single us out as something weird, you are exhibiting hysterical paranoia." It's an effective defense, but somewhat disingenuous.

    We are different. We aren't just a religion. We are at present, and in my view should try to remain, a path of initiation. It may be inevitable that a religion grow up around us. It may even be desirable to employ such a religion as a cloak, or a doorway, to both. But a Pagan religion is also a threat to the Pagan path of initiation. We need to ensure that the growth, if it occurs, is that of a tree from a seed, not of a pearl from a grain of sand.

    A tree produces more seeds.

    A pearl only hide the sand to save the oyster from discomfort.

    In my opinion, Wicca and Paganism has been the very sand that Christian religion try and cover up and abolish in today's society.

    October 31, 2013 at 5:03 am | Report abuse | Reply
    • seeyouintea

      "Paganism" is not a religion. "Pagan" was originally a derogatory term for anything that wasn't Christian. Then you new-agers hijacked the word so you can use it to describe yourselves in some vain attempt to sound special and unique.

      October 31, 2013 at 5:07 am | Report abuse | Reply
  3. jill

    Jesus is a building? A creed? A system? A religion? A steeple and bells and choirs and a book and dogma and homeletics and prayer...? Those things are alive and lovable and capable of friendship ?

    October 31, 2013 at 4:45 am | Report abuse | Reply
  4. A

    What we have here is just another attention-seeking, self-proclaimed "witch" who remains ignorant about the history of her own religion. As a matter of fact, fictional witches with green skin and warts were around first. Margaret Hamilton played the Wicked Witch of the West in the 1939 film "The Wizard of Oz" over a decade before Wicca was even invented in the 1950s, but evil, infanticidal witches have existed in fairy tales for centuries. So really, the only people portraying witches inaccurately are Wiccans. Just because you steal some random traditions from various ancient civilizations around the globe doesn't mean you're practicing the "Old Religion."

    October 31, 2013 at 4:25 am | Report abuse | Reply
    • Derek Winsor

      Who cares? Religious interpretations of spirit are all flawed and are woefully inadequate for the betterment of mankind.

      October 31, 2013 at 4:28 am | Report abuse | Reply
    • Ranjana

      Ever hear of the Salem Witch Trials that occurred in the late 1600's?

      October 31, 2013 at 4:51 am | Report abuse | Reply
    • Ranjana

      "Capnerhurst draws a distinction between “traditional” witches, like her, who were born into the religion, and Wiccans, most of whom are converts" ... excerpt from article.

      It's pretty clear that the Witchy Woman is not a Wiccan, a 20th century religion. Evidence of the existence of witches has been found from as early as 560 BC. But I don't know if Witchy Woman is a witch because her roots go back to ancient witches or if her mother was a Wiccan and consequently she was born into the religion.

      October 31, 2013 at 5:04 am | Report abuse | Reply
    • j

      The Malleus Maleficarum, (Latin for "Hammer of The Witches) was an infamous witch-hunting manual written in 1486 by two German monks, Heinrich Kramer and Jacob Sprenger. It was used by both Catholics and Protestants[17] for several hundred years, outlining how to identify a witch, what makes a woman more likely than a man to be a witch, how to put a witch on trial, and how to punish a witch.
      Is 1486 before 1950?

      October 31, 2013 at 5:15 am | Report abuse | Reply
  5. children of Israel

    St. Mark 12:24 And Jesus answering said unto them, Do ye not therefore err, because ye know not the scriptures, neither the power of God? *Micah 3:5 Thus saith the Lord concerning the prophets that make my people err, that bite with their teeth, and cry, Peace; and he that putteth not into their mouths, they even prepare war against him. *1st Thessalonians 5:3 For when they shall say, Peace and safety; then sudden destruction cometh upon them, as travail upon a woman with child; and they shall not escape. *Jeremiah 2:26 As a thief is ashamed when he is found, so is the house of Israel ashamed; they, their kings, their princes, and their priests, and their prophets, *Hosea 4:6 My people are destroyed for lack of knowledge:

    October 31, 2013 at 4:16 am | Report abuse | Reply
    • Derek Winsor

      Your insane religious obsession has gotten the better of you and because of it, you will suffer misery.

      October 31, 2013 at 4:26 am | Report abuse | Reply
  6. Cindi

    I'm not a wiccan but I love the wiccan community. I'm a local artist and at the end of my life real paganism will be one of those things I got a chance to see first hand. I find it beautiful and inspirational.

    October 31, 2013 at 3:58 am | Report abuse | Reply
  7. berryrat

    Just a note for those who do not know...not all Wiccans are female. I'm a male Wiccan. Not all Wiccans practice witchcraft and not all witches are Wiccan. For those WIccans that do witchcraft, the males are called witches, not warlocks. Warlock is a term that means oath breaker.

    Unlike some religions, we do not want (or try) to convert people to our belief system. We only wish to be left to worship in peace. May you find joy today.

    October 31, 2013 at 3:50 am | Report abuse | Reply
    • Cindi

      Happy Harvest B.

      October 31, 2013 at 3:55 am | Report abuse | Reply
    • Alien Orifice

      Be a man and be a wizzard. My my.

      October 31, 2013 at 4:10 am | Report abuse | Reply
      • berryrat

        I chucked at your humor, but Wizard is not the correct term in context of my religious beliefs. Wishing you well.

        October 31, 2013 at 4:35 am | Report abuse | Reply
    • Voodoo Houngan

      Please get a grip and learn ENGLISH 101! Wizard is male for "witch". Therefore, if you are male, and you are delusional enough to not only think witches are real but to call yourself one, it means you are a gey M2F trangersnder. (botched up spelling to bypass sann_ensors) Welcome back to reality!

      October 31, 2013 at 4:17 am | Report abuse | Reply
      • Dave

        This ain't Harry Potter man....

        October 31, 2013 at 4:26 am | Report abuse | Reply
      • berryrat

        That's how my religions rolls regardless of what you find in the dictionary. If you wish to insult me that's fine, but that does not make you correct. I hope you have a nice day and a Happy Halloween.

        October 31, 2013 at 4:32 am | Report abuse | Reply
      • j

        A quick search of the etymology of the word wizard. Reveals wizard comes from the root word wise and the suffix -ard. No mention of gender. I suggest you study your English or find a new way to be impolite.

        October 31, 2013 at 5:07 am | Report abuse | Reply
  8. Apple Bush

    Witches must meet the following criteria:

    1. Smell of Patchouli
    2. Be a college drop out
    3. Work in a New Age store
    4. Smoke weed
    5. Dress fun
    6. Read Tarot Cards
    7. Read Palms
    8. Are often bi-sexual
    9. Wear lots of dangling jewelry
    10. Can identify Ambient music artists by name

    October 31, 2013 at 3:38 am | Report abuse | Reply
    • Cindi

      Most witches I know finished college and don't touch weed. You did a nice job though describing about half my friends and my parents.

      October 31, 2013 at 3:47 am | Report abuse | Reply
      • Apple Bush

        That must have been me smoking weed and dropping out of college lol

        October 31, 2013 at 3:52 am | Report abuse | Reply
        • Cindi

          It sure did.

          October 31, 2013 at 3:56 am | Report abuse |
        • Cindi

          Apple, I'm sorry I thought you meant my parents *snickers. lol. Sorry about that.

          October 31, 2013 at 4:07 am | Report abuse |
    • berryrat

      While I appreciate humor, you are incorrect. I'm a Wiccan. Got my BS in Computer Science. I don't smoke weed or work at a new age store. I'm straight. I don't use tarot cards or read palms. I'm male and do not wear jewelry. I wish you well.

      October 31, 2013 at 3:54 am | Report abuse | Reply
      • Ardith

        Bright Blessings to you, B.R.

        October 31, 2013 at 4:18 am | Report abuse | Reply
      • berryrat

        I must have messed up. Don't know how my reply ended up here. I was replying 'A' at the top.

        October 31, 2013 at 4:40 am | Report abuse | Reply
  9. children of Israel

    Christians have rejected his name is called The Word of God. They favor sunday church worship as a tradition to their sun god. *Micah 4:5 For all people will walk every one in the name of his god, and we will walk in the name of the Lord our God for ever and ever. *St. Mark 12:27 He is not the God of the dead, but the God of the living: ye therefore greatly err. *Isaiah 38:18 For the grave cannot praise thee, death can not celebrate thee: they that go down into the pit cannot hope for thy truth.

    October 31, 2013 at 3:20 am | Report abuse | Reply
    • Ctrl + C - Ctrl + V

      Not one of your better efforts.

      October 31, 2013 at 3:30 am | Report abuse | Reply
    • berryrat

      I welcome your point of view; however, I have no idea what you talking about. Perhaps you can clarify your post.

      October 31, 2013 at 4:17 am | Report abuse | Reply
  10. Mister Jones

    OK, I'll make this real simple. If you call yourself a "witch", but you can't do any 'magic', or anything that society identifies with witches (she turned me into a NEWT!!!!), then ... you aren't a witch. I'm not suggesting we burn you, or see if you weigh the same as a duck. But, if you are only a witch in your head ... then you don't get to be offended. Do some witch ... stuff, and then we'll listen to you. Until then, your complaints are behind Frankenstein, The Mummy, the Wolfman, and that creature from that lagoon that is black. ... Yes. I am old. Shut it. :)

    October 31, 2013 at 3:19 am | Report abuse | Reply
    • berryrat

      Keep in mind that many Wiccans do not share her beliefs. I'm a Wiccan. I love seeing children dressed for Halloween and having fun. I don't mind if that dress as aliens or witches. It does no harm. We do not get offended by humor or the joyful celebrations of non-wiccans. We do not want to convert you. We simply wish to worship in peace. Thanks goodness for America and freedom of religion (and from religion if it suits you).

      October 31, 2013 at 3:45 am | Report abuse | Reply
    • Voodoo Houngan

      Thank you for telling it like it is, finally someone intelligent on here!

      October 31, 2013 at 4:14 am | Report abuse | Reply
  11. ronjayaz

    It has always been a curiosity to me that we praise Pirates or at least depict them in a humorous vein (they were simple evil & the wretches of the world). And the witches were really women who could not, did not want to follow the roles placed on women. They were in fact unique individuals opposed to following the leader for whatever reason. Even the stereotype that continues to this day was enacted at a GEICO broom factory in which she flies a away. Of course, the broom stick was an ugly phallic symbol. Gross in the extreme.

    October 31, 2013 at 3:13 am | Report abuse | Reply
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