Saturday, February 16, 2008

After the Witch Queen Steps Down: Maxine Sanders' Fire Child

In the 1960s, when Pagan Witchcraft started to gain widespread media attention, Maxine Sanders (b. 1948?) was one of its visible faces. A tall willowy young woman with bleached blonde hair, she was married in 1965 to Alex Sanders (1926-1988) for whom the Alexandrian tradition is named.

He was older, charming, verbal – she was photographed, his words were recorded. That’s her on the cover of my early hardback edition of Stewart Farrar’s 1971 book What Witches Do, long hair flowing, eyes downcast towards the chalice.

Now she talks -- in print as opposed to classes and lectures -- in a valuable autobiography, Fire Child: The Life & Magic of Maxine Sanders, 'Witch Queen'.

The book is not what it could have been. Material is not always straight-forwardly organized, punctuation is erratic and unclear, and words usedly mistakenly (“taught” for “taut,” “vice” for “vise,” that sort of thing). I fault the publisher.

Still, this is an important book. Sanders gave her life to the Craft in a way that few have, and she admits she paid a price: two failed marriages (Sanders, in the end, preferred men), financial hardship in the early years, breast cancer, and, most of all, the hardship of being always on-call in her role as priestess.

Marriage with Alex had been rather like a working relationship. Unconsciously, we sacrificed the more personal and sharing aspects of a normal marriage.

To read Fire Child is follow a trail of ups and initiations, rituals and happenings, magical politics, festivals and and visions.

Yet it is also a frank admission of the dangers of magickal religion. Coming from a background of intense, small-group work, she is prone to opinions such as these:

The modern Craft is a victim of its own success. Its tremendous growth since the heady days of the 1960s has outstripped the availability of experienced and reputable teachers, who in former days would themselves have served an arduous apprenticeship before being judged worthy to passon the tradition – and then only to a few.

(And she admits that even in her own group that rule was not always followed.)

Witchcraft is so often perceived as a young person's religion that it is good to read a mature priestess’s thoughts. Maxine Sander has gone through the fires – media celebrity, high-profile religious leadership, magic, suffering. Her book is valuable – “full and candid,” to quote Ronald Hutton’s cover blurb. I recommend it.

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Blogger Yvonne said...

Hi Chas

Sounds like an interesting book.

"Vice" in British English is both a clamp for sawing wood and the opposite of virtue, so that wasn't a typo - though clearly the "taut/taught" one was.

3:04 AM  
Anonymous Chas S. Clifton said...

The OED agrees with you. ;-)

I shall have to watch for another misspelled or mis-used word.

11:35 AM  
Blogger Matt Stone said...

Thanks for the heads up

7:05 AM  

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