A Review of the Autobiography of the Queen of the Witches
It was a long wait. Maxine Sanders, Queen of the Witches, had been written about, filmed, photographed, and been the subject of two biographies in the 1970′s. Out of print, these are rare books now, and very expensive to obtain. Treadwells had a copy of Maxine, the Witch Queen, for 50 pounds. I couldn’t afford to buy it, so the owner, Christina, generously allowed me to read it in the shop. I had just finished the fascinating account of Maxine’s initiation into an Egyptian Cult at the age of 15, when someone bought the book out from under me. How I kick myself! It was a good deal.
So, I was very happy about the publication of Firechild:The Life and Magic of Maxine Sanders, ‘Witch Queen’ in 2008.
As an American who has been, unconsciously and then consciously, on a magical path since childhood, I had still not been very aware of Maxine and Alex Sanders. When I lived in London, 1998-2007, they were famous, and I crossed paths with many Alexandrian witches. Opinions were strong in discussions about them. One British friend dubbed them “T.V. witches” as if that meant their magic wasn’t real. But one look at Maxine on the cover of Maxine: The Witch Queen, published in 1975, convinced me that she was, and still is, a Goddess.
The British historian Ronald Hutton says that Wicca is the religion that the British gave to the world. Indeed, the creators of Wicca, Gerald Gardener in the 1930’s and the Sanders in the 1960’s are British, and it is the British who seem to have embraced Wicca wholeheartedly and with a great deal of public fanfare. My experience with life in Britain convinced me that Wicca, Thelema, and other Paganisms are the dominant “religions” in the U.K.
Over the years, I have read the works of many modern witches. Starhawk’s Spiral Dance was an early inspiration. Aspects the Womens Spirituality Movement were much like the woodsy witchcraft we played at as teenagers in Massachusetts. Wicca was like a mirror of things I already had within me, an extension of what my friends and I just spontaneously did.
My deep reading of the Arthurian/ Holy Grail Legends, Grimms Fairy Tales, Medieval arts and Shakespeare developed my imagination in such a way that symbol systems became transparent, and magic an inner reality. Living hard by the forest as a child, instilled in me a high awareness of nature as a realm of enchantment, freedom, and wonder. Witches were the ultimate fairy tale beings living in the woods and making magic.
The British occultists have always appealed to me. I am a long time student of R.J.Stewart and his Faery Magic. All through the 1980’s-90’s John and Caitlin Matthews books and workshops provided scholarly insights for my deeper understanding of the Arthurian Legends. Reading Dion Fortune’s Sea Priestess in 1979 initiated me into the primal magic of deep time/space. When I discovered Maxine Sanders, I felt the resonance that comes with a sharing of the Witchblood.
Other reviewers of Maxine’s book, Firechild, have rightfully criticized it for its lack of editing. It is a shame that no one stepped forward to do this for her, and help improve the book. She says herself that she is not a writer, and writing is hard work. But I do not want to dwell on that, for this book is full of treasures. Also, when Maxine writes about her magical experiences, they come from the heart and are well written.
For more see my post:Maxine Sanders: Queen of the Witches and my interview with her
The Story, Quickly
The legend of Maxine’s birth is that she was born on a full moon. Although many people are born under full moons, Maxine’s mother thought this very significant, for she was interested in esoteric thought and the occult. What is more interesting than this full moon aspect, is what Maxine describes in her book: She spent her childhood sending her fetch, training herself, instinctively, to astral project over great distances. She was telepathic, saw spirits, and dreamed herself into the Otherworld. Her mother encouraged these talents and even put young Maxine at risk in her desire to use her daughter as a vehicle to explore the occult. This led to an amazing and harrowing initiation into an Egyptian Magical Cult at the age of 15, that would make Indiana Jones’s hair stand on end!
Here is an excerpt from her ordeal in the pitch black darkness of the cave on her journey to initiation:
I let myself down the chain for several yards until I was standing on a smooth ledge. My feet that had been frozen were now beginning to tingle and burn. It reminded me of Commb Springs saunas when we ran out into the snow and then had to be brushed with Birch tree branches causing the body to tingle with warmth; I almost laughed. From here on my journey was in complete darkness. the voice would say “Jump” followed by a direction and then the order would be repeated. I did not know if there was a rock beneath or an empty abyss. So it went on. “Ten paces left, so many paces right, walk forward”. When it seemed that a pattern was developing and it was tempting to relax, a different command would be given, demanding attention and concentration.
It must have been a couple of hours into the ordeal when a change in the air made me aware I was in another tunnel that narrowed noticeably. My muscles were aching and my head was throbbing with concentration; the rough rock was catching on my outer robe and scraping my hands, making them sting.
The voice changed: “Walk towards the fire.”
It was a man’s voice. The sudden switch was unnerving. Ahead was a gentle and comforting glow of light. As the tunnel widened. I could see the floor of the cave was alive with fire and I knew that I had to walk through it. Standing at the edge with my body dripping in sweat I removed my outer robes.
If I turned back, I would be lost. I had no choice.
Alex Sanders and Maxine
Much of the middle of the book is about Maxine’s relationship with Alex Sanders, King of the Witches.
She is very honest about the difficulties of this relationship. Her honesty here is helpful, for her issues with this man do not seem that unusual for women whose role in life is Priestess. Alex was frequent visitor to her mother’s occult soirees. Even though Alex was 20 years older, Maxine was deeply attracted to him. This was the Call of the Witchblood, I imagine.
Though many esoteric people came to Maxine’s mother’s social gatherings, none of them moved Maxine like Alex the witch. Her experience of childhood abuse, coupled with the deep sensitivity of a natural medium, would make a gentle, creative man like Alex Sanders irresistible to Maxine. I am convinced that Alex was drawn to her beauty and sensed her power. He wanted to tap into that power and bring it through for his magical work. Together they gave Witchcraft a public face, gained many converts, and suffered the consequences both good and bad. Alex was ordained King of the Witches and Maxine his Queen. Eventually their special combination of Gardenarian Wicca and ceremonial magic would become the distinctive path: Alexandrian Wicca.
By the end of her story, Maxine and Alex had been the Magical consultants for the 1965 film Eye of the Devil with Sharon Tate during which the actress initiated into witchcraft by Alex. Alex had left Maxine for a man, and Maxine had moved on to another path in the Liberal Catholic Church. During the 1980′s, Alex passed away and Maxine was diagnosed with breast cancer. Through it all she worked tirelessly to maintain high standards of training and commitment to witchcraft. In 1992, her coven, Temple of the Mother, and a related coven, Temple of the Corn King, conducted a powerful sea ritual on the coast of Wales.
Here is an excerpt:
The High Priestess led the witches in a spiral dance, chanting to the heart rhythm:
Flowing, increasing light;
Bearing, filling bright;
Receiving, giving delight;
Ebbing, waning, fading;
Secrets ever hiding;
Darkness, mystery shrouding;
Flowing, increasing light…
The chant went on until the priestess swirled the initiates into the serpent dance, leading them through the avenue of flares to the edge of the sea; the High Priest, facing the sea with arms raised in supplication, invoked Our Lady the Goddess. I remained in the circle, and knelt as the invocation was spoken to visualize the Goddess descending into the world of men.
As I opened my eyes, I blinked to make sure they were not playing tricks on me. The Goddess, swathed in silver, was standing far out in the sea, and as the invocation of the priest became more insistent, priest and Goddess moved slowly nearer to each other. A little way out from the shore with the water lapping around their ankles, the priest knelt to receive Her blessing.
And so the story of the Witch Queen ends for now. Just as the vision of Isis ends The Golden Ass by Apulaius, and the Sea Priestess by Dion Fortune, so the end of a cycle of life in magic for the Witch Queen, Maxine Sanders culminates in a transcendent vision of the Goddess. Such visitations are the goal, the proof, and the gift of life on the Magical Path.
For the details, read the book. It really is quite a story of an extraordinary life. You can get it from the Amazon widget below.
Watch for my interview with Maxine Sanders where we shall discuss her current life and projects. Hopefully, she will share what the next cycle means for her, and thus for all of us who follow the same journey.
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