Just in time for Halloween, there's trouble brewing for a California beer distributor that has gotten into hot water with the nation's wiccan community over an ale called Witch's Wit -- whose label depicts a woman being burned at the stake.
Witch's Wit is one of Port Brewing Company's Lost Abbey beers, which the distributor calls "inspired beers for saints and sinners alike." Each beer sports a label that aims to tell a story about the struggle between good and evil.
But Vicki Noble, a famed healer, astrologer and spiritual leader in the pagan community, saw only evil in Witch's Wit after a worker in a liquor store called the bottle to her attention last week.
Incensed at the image of a witch being burned at the stake, Noble sent an e-mail to her followers, asking in the subject line: "Can we stop this brewer from their hate imagery?"
"Can you imagine them showing a black person being lynched or a Jewish person going to the oven?" she asked. "Such images are simply not tolerated in our society anymore (thank the Goddess) and this one should not be, either."
Nearly a week later, Port Brewing, based in San Marcos., Calif., continues to be flooded with messages expressing outrage over the label and even threatening a boycott if the company doesn't change it.
"Blogs, Facebook and Twitter were all employed to mount an assault on our systems," the company said in a statement. "An e-mail campaign was also started and a barrage of very similar e-mails filled our in-boxes for the duration of the weekend.
"We have a stack of e-mails asking whether we would show Jews being gassed or African-Americans being lynched ... Others seemed to think we were responsible for recent incidents in Darfur as well. It was an amazing chain of events to say the least."
Tomme Arthur, Port Brewing's director of brewery operations, said all Lost Abbey beers, including Witch's Wit, deal with religious irony and feature both original artwork on the front and a written story on the back.
"The Inferno ale, for example, talks about what it's like to wake up and find yourself in Hell," he told FoxNews.com.
But he said only Witch's Wit has generated any complaints, with most of them falling into three categories:
"The first one was that it was a horrific image and that there was no reason for that to be used for the promotion of beer," he said.
"The second one was that this was another opportunity for men to show a dominating, misogynistic perspective bringing down women and what women have accomplished in the last 200 years in terms of women's rights.
"The third seemed to suggest that there are still atrocities against witches in other parts of the world that we may or may not be aware of," and that the image was discriminatory toward that "persecuted minority," Arthur told FoxNews.com.
That's true, said Noble, a professor at the Institute of Transpersonal Psychology in Palo Alto. She said wiccans and pagans generally are "a discriminated-against segment of the population" that continues to be persecuted all over the world.
"In Africa, just very recently, there is again another case where a woman either has been stoned to death or was about to be stoned to death for being a witch," Noble said. "And it means the same thing as when they used to say it in Europe, it just means someone has gotten frightened of this woman for some reason."
In fact, she said, witches are usually healers or shamans. It's the misconceptions about them that get them into trouble. And she said the Witch's Wit label perpetuates those misconceptions.
But Arthur said the label aims to address those misconceptions -- not mock them.
"What I was looking at was this notion that there was a lot of people in the 16th century who would have been sent to a horrific death for potentially committing no crime, and that's what she represents, this woman, this girl…. My notion of this woman is that she's innocent, but we don't know what she did."
He said, the beer was brewed to honor the woman in the image, and the back label was written to play off of the guilt in the crowd with the message:
Whether you're a wonder healer, a caller of spirits or a lover of black magic, they will find you. And on that day, they will boil your blood, singe your skin and make a point to burn your soul to the ground. From that lonely stake, you'll be left to contemplate your life of spell casting, obscure texts and a world operated between the shadows of night and day.
Convicted of a dark art, the crowd will gather to watch as they raze your earthen existence. An intolerable pain is the cross you'll bear that day as you are removed from this righteous world. No one will summon the courage to save you in fear of their life. It sucks. But such is the life of a witch.
In honor of your fleeting existence, we brewed Witch's Wit. A light and refreshing wheat beer, it's exactly the sort of thing you might expect to find being passed around the center of town on witch burning day. Say hello to the Prince of Darkness for us."
Still, Cynthia Eller, associate professor of women's studies and religious studies at Montclair State University in New Jersey, said the label was just plain offensive.
"This woman could have been my great, great, great, great, grandmother -- if she lived long enough to reproduce," Eller, who received Noble's original e-mail, says in a YouTube video on the issue.
"…When you put a picture of this on a beer bottle, you're perpetuating misogyny."
But calls to change the label have triggered an outpouring of supporters, who say the brewery should stand its ground.
"TOMME DON'T CHANGE A DAMN THING. this is political correctness run amuck," a blogger by the name of ‘Anchor' posted on the Lost Abbey website.
Eller says changing the label would be a "win-win" for the company.
"I've heard from numerous sources that people are walking into their local liquor stores and asking for Witch's Wit," Eller wrote on Port Brewing's website. "Now thank the people that got you that publicity by running a contest to come up with a new label. It will be fun! You'll get a whole new clientele who is personally invested in your product. Sell the old labels as collectors items. Choose to be the good guy; it's easy."
Eller adds that brewery co-founder, Vince Marsaglia, echoed those sentiments.
"Vince of Lost Abbey brewery e-mailed me to say that they didn't know their label would cause such offense, that they see that it was a mistake and that they'd like to come up with a great new image for their Witch's Wit label," she says in the video.
But Arthur says Marsaglia's quotes were taken out of context and the company has no set plans to change anything about the image.
"The only decision that has been made about this label is that we have agreed, as owners, to discuss this label controversy at our meeting in November," he said.
Noble, meanwhile, says if the company doesn't change the label, there will be more trouble ahead.
"I don't' have an immediate plan, but I'm sure not ready to just let it go away," she said. "We'll have to go to the next level."