NEW CASTLE, Colorado - On a cool spring evening, a small group of men and women are hunting for plastic eggs filled with treasures in a side yard.
They look under bushes and in clumps of new green grass for the ultimate prize, the golden eggs.
They welcome the spring season with a focus on rebirth and new beginnings.
Their celebration is not out-of-the-ordinary, although their faith is not as mainstream as, say, Christianity. Wicca is their religion. Webster's defines it as one "influenced by pre-Christian beliefs and practices of Western Europe that affirm the existence of supernatural power (as magic) and of both male and female deities who inhere in nature, and that emphasizes ritual observance of seasonal and life cycles."
In short, Wicca is a modern take on the ancient pagan religion. It has historically involved witchcraft and magic, but that doesn't mean those characteristics are required in a Wiccan's personal practice. And not all Wiccans call themselves witches.
But this group, called the Enlightened Circle, doesn't mind.
"That's one thing about being a witch is you got to have a sense of humor," said Susan Herwick, of Basalt. "My ringtone is a witch's cackle."
Herwick said an event listing in the paper for The Biker and The Witch (a motorcycle shop/clothing store/bookstore) caught her eye. The shop, which started in New Castle in June 2012 and has since relocated to downtown Glenwood Springs, offers pin-up- and rockabilly-style clothing, workshops on Wicca, metaphysical supplies, jewelry and more.
"I've been looking for this since 2005 when I came out of the broom closet," Herwick said. "I had found very friendly witches out there, but they had moved on. I saw that in the paper and thought, 'Since when do they have Wiccan classes in Glenwood?' I wanted to meet other Wiccans."
Self-described as a solitaire - which is practicing Wicca alone as opposed to a group or coven - Herwick had mostly been conceptualizing her faith on her own. She was happy to meet The Biker and The Witch owners Donnie Gonzales and Kristin West. The couples' store at 918 Grand Ave. (Suite C) hosts Witch's Night monthly for those interested in pagan practices.
West said she first became interested in Wicca right after high school and has been practicing for 17 years since.
"I watched the movie 'The Craft,'" she said. "And read a book I bought in Vegas."
West and Gonzales said they run the only metaphysical shop in the mountains.
"I wanted a place where pagans can get together and kind of feel safe," West said.
The venue was a welcome sight for many of the believers of the metaphysical in the Roaring Fork Valley.
"We had all been looking for each other, obviously," said Enlightened Circle member Tammy Reynolds, of New Castle. "It was as soon as we went to the bike shop that we all started coming out of the woodwork, or more like the broom closet."
Reynolds and Herwick spoke of the many misconceptions that surround Wicca.
"There are bad people out there and there are people out there who practice black magic," Reynolds said. "But I follow the idea that do what you will, but harm none. Whatever energy we send out it will come back threefold. I can't hurt anybody and we cannot affect your free will."
Herwick agreed that society, history and Hollywood have done a fine job of portraying witches as evil or bad, but that is not the case in her practice.
"We don't hex, we don't curse," she said. "People still want to burn you at the stake. They think you practice evil. There is no devil worship in the craft. We do not believe in the devil or hell. The higher power is in the god and goddess. I have a very strong faith in God, I just don't buy into Judeo-Christianity."
But not all Wiccans follow or believe in a god or goddess, Reynolds said.
"Some choose not to worship a deity at all," she said. "For me, Mother Nature, she is the mother."
The Enlightened Circle group has grown from around nine members to close to 20. They meet about twice a month, whether it's through The Biker and The Witch's Wiccan workshops or seasonal get-togethers, like the spring ritual in March that involved a ceremony and egg hunt. During the Ostara coven ritual, a few of the witches donned capes and hats.
"In true covens you would probably find more ceremonial dress," Reynolds said. "Or you can be sky clad [clothes-free]. I normally wear a witch's hat at Halloween. I try to wear whatever the color of the day is - today the color of the day is red. There are certain reasons for why we do things."
Twenty-two-year-old Kaitlyn Kennedy, originally of Colorado Springs, arrived at the springtime ritual with pink tulips. She has been practicing for a few months and became interested in Wicca as a teen.
"When I was in high school I did a book report on paganism," she said. "This summer I had an epiphany of what I needed to do. I knew I needed to move to [the Western Slope] and meet Kristin. I knew I needed to follow the goddess and the god. I pray or meditate to the goddess for me. But I have father issues. I just think I need to be in touch with my masculine."
Kennedy said she recently came out of the broom closet to her parents.
"It was kind of forced on me this week. My brother outed me," she said. "So I flat-out told my mother I'm a witch, I believe in Wicca. She needs to adjust and know what I do is on my own time. I just told her, I'm still me. I haven't changed."
Matt Moore, 35, is a shaman from New Castle who has been attending the Enlightened Circle get-togethers. He was influenced by a family member.
"I do have an aunt who has a lot of pagan beliefs," he said. "She influenced me a lot, that the world wasn't black and white, that there are different religions in the world. Now I'm actually mature enough to practice it."
Moore began studying different aspects of shamanism, which is the study of altered states of consciousness to encounter and interact with the spirit world, 17 years ago.
"I've never classified myself as a Wiccan or a healer, but we can all talk to each other here," he said. "The shamanistic approach is more appealing to me. I really had to look into myself. I just want to be able to listen and learn."
The Enlightened Circle doesn't consider itself a fully-organized coven, but it is a group interested in representing itself in the community so more people understand Wicca. The members aspire to have a float in the Strawberry Days parade and participate in community events such as trash pick-ups and workshops throughout the year.
"It's a very diverse group of very open people," Herwick said. "It just feels right to me."