“The Witches of Manitou”—More than an Urban Legend

The old spa town of Manitou Springs, west of Colorado Springs

The old spa town of Manitou Springs, located in the foothills west of Colorado Springs. Photo by Mark Reis, ( a former newspaper co-worker of mine) from the Colorado Sun. Click to embiggen.

The Colorado Sun, an online news site, dropped this into my inbox yesterday, giving M. and me both giggles and epic nostalgia. Back in the Eighties, we were “The Witches of Manitou” — at least two of them.

“The Witches of Manitou Springs: History, hysteria and wand-waving Wiccans behind a stubborn urban myth” was co-authored by , and

It begins,

Manitou Springs, a picturesque mountain town nestled in the shadow of Pikes Peak, is full of whispers of witches and witchcraft.

Maybe you’ve heard it from an Uber driver on the way to an area bar or while scrolling through a travel site. It’s a tale that often wanders through word of mouth. Wherever it comes from, legend has it there are witches in Manitou Springs. More, perhaps, than usual.

But is there an overabundance of witches in this town at the foot of America’s mountain, where at least one apothecary sells miniature broomsticks — or is it just a persistent urban legend?

That much is true. It definitely is a persistent urban legend — I encountered it in my more youthful days, circa 1976. Everybody had heard of ceremonies in “the big cave.”1)Actually, it was an abandoned limestone quarry, and it definitely was a site of high-school keg parties and that sort of thing. It was demolished when an upscale housing development was built in that area.

There’s the horror mockumentary, “The Warning,” a film by Summer Moore, a Liberty High School graduate turned filmmaker. Filmed in Colorado Springs, “The Blair Witch Project”-inspired script follows three friends as they investigate a local cult in the forest that borders the town.

While promoting her film in 2015, Moore told The Gazette she spoke with 50 of her classmates who alluded to “true accounts” of dark happenings in Manitou. Moore went on to write, produce, and star in her film. . . .

When Bryant T. Ragan, a history professor at Colorado College, was teaching a class at Colorado College in 2018 titled “Sorcery, Magic, and Devilry: The History of Witchcraft,” he wanted to bring in a practicing Wiccan from Manitou Springs to talk to his students. He ultimately couldn’t track down someone willing to do it

Read the whole thing.

Obviously a must-see. How did I miss it? (The cave in the movie trailer is not the cave that I mentioned above.)

I can say that for a time there was the Iron Mountain Coven, named for the little peak above our house, labeled at the left edge of the photo above.

We used both the second-floor of the Spa Building (labeled) and the basement of an art gallery for ritual/festival/handfasting sites. At the time, a Pagan-friendly couple operated a hot tub and flotation tank-rental business in the Spa Building, which included a large room facing out over the avenue. When ritual ended, the tubs were waiting.2)There was a separate legend about the “old Indian curse” on the Spa Building, which does have a soda spring in its lobby.

But I disagree with the Rev. Thorian Shadowalker, Wiccan leader. Salem, Mass., is the “witch capital of the U.S.” as far as I am concerned.

M. worked at Celebration, the West Side (Colorado Springs) metaphysical store mentioned in the article, for a couple of years. Its original owner, Coreen Toll, later served on the Manitou Springs city council and narrowly lost a race for mayor in 2015.

Current mayor John Graham, when he published the Pikes Peak Journal, let me use his equipment to typeset Iron Mountain: A Journal of Magical Religion, which was an ancestor of The Pomegranate: The International Journal of Pagan Studies. John is not a Pagan, but he facilitated Pagan publishing.

So where did the “witches of Manitou” legend originate? Since it was firmly in place by the mid-1970s, it would be easy to blame it on “the Sixties.” To be honest, I cannot say. I do know that our coven was not the first.

To quote a story about the iconic Manitou artist Charles Rockey, who was our own Van Gogh, “Manitou Springs has always harbored a sizeable community of artisans, musicians, potters, healers, New Age masseurs, alternative gardeners, dharma motorcyclists, metaphysical high-techers and liberal-artsy bohemians of every stripe and hue.”

UPDATE 25 March 2020: The Wild Hunt interviewed me for their follow-up story, “The Witches of Manitou Springs and Their Tale of Two Cities.

Notes   [ + ]

1. Actually, it was an abandoned limestone quarry, and it definitely was a site of high-school keg parties and that sort of thing. It was demolished when an upscale housing development was built in that area.
2. There was a separate legend about the “old Indian curse” on the Spa Building, which does have a soda spring in its lobby.

Pentagram Pizza: The Second Generation

1. I like to point out Pagan writers who are doing more than “how-to” writing, so click over and read Kallisti’s piece on “Some Reflections on Being Second Gen Pagan/Polytheist.”

Most of the issues boil down to how different it is to grow up within something versus convert to it. Unlike many adult converts, I had to deal with religious bullying in the rural Midwest as a child.

2. Norse settlers cut down most of Iceland’s sparse woodlands. Restoring them appears to be harder than it is in other ecosystems. Note to the New York Times, “Viking” is a job description, not an ethnicity.

3. Last weekend M.’s and my old home of Manitou Springs held its annual coffin races. They started right after we moved away, but we met in Manitou, bought our first slightly-more-than-tiny house there, and have lots of memories.

The [Manitou Springs Heritage Center]  will be the starting point of “ghost tours” featuring “spirit guides” who will show people around town for 45 minutes, stopping at sites where actors will play out tales of the colorful past.

“Manitou was full of witchcraft,” [Jenna[ Gallas says. “Not that it is anymore, but I think people still like to believe ooky-spooky happens here, and if we’re gonna celebrate Halloween, we’re gonna do it in Manitou, where the freaks come out every day.”

What is this “was,” Ms. Gallas? Yes, we did our part in the 1980s. Rituals upstairs in the Spa Building? You bet. Rituals outdoors downtown around the mineral springs? Those too. I have to think that someone else has carried on!

4. The obligatory pre-Hallowe’en news feature, this one from the NBC affiliate in Washington, DC.

Images of witches being veiled in darkness, casting spells over cauldrons endure, but a new generation of Wiccans and witches have established growing communities in D.C. and across the country.

Yada, yada. But this good:

“[Hallowe’en is] a celebration of the witch. You can have sexy witches, you can have scary witches, but it’s still a celebration of the witch. Even if the witch isn’t shown in a positive light,” said Stephens, a 37-year-old Wiccan who also practices witchcraft.