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Maxine Sanders

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Fire Child: The Life and Magic of Maxine Sanders "Witch Queen"

 

 

 


 

 

 

 

 

 

Priestess of the Goddess:

TWPT Talks to Maxine Sanders
©2002-2004TWPT


TWPT:  You’ve been involved with Witchcraft from the early days when most of us had not yet even started to think about this path as the one we would like to follow, what was it that drew you to Witchcraft at a time when the public’s perception of being a Witch was still fairly negative?

 MS:  Having been brought up in a household that discussed and debated the mysterious ways of God, Theosophy, Philosophy and any other osophy or ology connected to the Mysteries; it seemed a natural progression to me, although my Mother was not at all impressed nor was the Sister Superior of St Josephs Convent where I was educated. Home was always full of extraordinary guests’, artists, musicians, priests, and seekers after truth. Alex Sanders had been a friend of my Mothers since before I was born; they worked together in a pharmaceutical centre. Alex was a regular visitor to my mothers’ soirée’s.

TWPT:  We speak rather freely of a Witchcraft community these days but was there a community as such when you decided to follow the path of Witchcraft in your own life? How did someone go about contacting this community back then if they decided they would like to know more about Witchcraft or joining a coven?

 MS:  In the sixties, word of mouth found a covenstead, or chance, if you believe in such like, which made the process of seeking Initiation somehow more magical. Most covens were extremely secretive. Fear of persecution was real, which made the coven bond extremely strong and the words ‘Perfect Love and Perfect Trust’ passwords that were upheld. Persecution could result in job loss, family upset or worse, and more frequently, violence.

TWPT:  Do you feel that in some ways the persecution or stigma attached to being a Witch was a filter at times for those who were not as serious in their desire to follow the Wiccan path?

MS:  The magic of the circle has the natural ability to filter out the majority of those for whom the Craft is a stepping-stone to another path. I far prefer the natural magic to that of persecution.

 TWPT:  When was it that you first met Alex Sanders and were you already a practicing Witch at that time? What were some of your first impressions of Alex?

 MS:  After I was born, Alex and Mother lost contact for several years. When Alex and my mother re met in a Subud centre inManchester, Alex predicted my fathers’ imminent death.

I was fourteen when I consciously met Alex at one of my mothers Sunday soirées. At this time, I had been initiated into the Egyptian Mysteries. I was not a Witch.

It was not common practice to have a Witch visiting; I was rather nervous at the thoughts of a real one coming to our home. Alex was neatly dressed and sported a rather outrageous trilby hat with a feather. Marvellous bone structure, deep brown eyes, and slightly receding hair. He was a reserved man who had an aura of holiness about him. His talk of witchcraft was down to earth and fascinating. His voice was warm northern velvet. Alex was sincere in his total belief in the ‘Art Magical’. However, Alex’s Magic was innate and like his mother, he really did not need to be a witch to activate it. Witchcraft was his chosen religion whereby he could practice the most natural of gifts. 

TWPT:  Did you or Alex ever have an idea as to the far-reaching consequences of what the both of you were involved with back then in regards to future Witches and Pagans? Did you or Alex envision a time in the future that the uninformed stereotypes about Witches would be replaced with a more accurate portrayal of what constituted a Witch? 

MS:  Yes, it was a conscious action; the thought form was established as early as 1964. Admittedly, I was always the one who was far more reticent, believing that the Craft was too wonderful and sacred to give to the world to besmirch; being inexperienced in the Art Magical and the power and self-preservation the Mysteries maintain. Of course I was young and in love with Alex and the Mysteries and would have laid my life down for both. I was easily convinced of the need for the Craft to be acceptable to the man in the street, for him to be able to approach the Old Priesthood for specialist help in times of need without the fear of webbed feet etc. More importantly, to stop the persecution that was ubiquitous at that time. At first, the witchcraft publicity had shock value, then it was titillation, and now after all these years, it is in the main acceptable. Some of that time was sheer hell, persecution in the form of stone throwing, name calling, job sacking and house firing were no stranger to the witch who had dared to proclaim their beliefs publicly.   

TWPT:  What were the two of you hoping to accomplish by being out in the open like you were? In the long run what affect did the two of you have on the Witchcraft community of those early days and how did that affect the Witchcraft community of the present day?

 MS:  For those who were seeking Initiation it was difficult to find a group that was prepared to talk openly about their work and worship. There was much activity in the ‘Black hand Gang’ department within the Craft, which was demeaning. I think Alex and I rather ousted the petty bickering that existed between Covenstead’s, knocked the egos into base, and gave them something to talk about and leave others less capable alone.

Today, far more humour exists; sharing of knowledge, expansion of ritual techniques and consideration for the evolution that takes place within each of us. 

TWPT:  For those who may not be familiar with the term could you tell us about the Black Hand Gang and what that means.

MS:  We often referred to those groups who were in the habit of being secretive in a way that suggested that they were the one and only powerful, knowledgeable, magical witches as ‘the black hand gang’ not a flattering comment!

TWPT:  How did you handle the publicity that came with being out of the closet in those days? Was all of the publicity you received negative or were there some who reported accurately about Witchcraft and its practitioners even then?

MS:  No matter if the publicity was negative or accurate reporting, the reaction was enormous. It was all a little frightening; there were at least ten sack loads of mail every week; people wanting magical help, others in need of a way to worship the Goddess without Initiation. There were those who were seeking Initiation and training in the Priesthood of the Craft. It was almost as though modern man was given permission to practise the way of the heart rather than that of judgemental orthodox religion. Of course, there were those who would never suffer a Witch to live; I’m still here!

TWPT:  Where did the name King of the Witches come from in reference to Alex? Did this name draw criticism from others who were following the Witchcraft path at that time?

MS:   The Coven obviously grew quickly and many Witches from other covens and traditions made themselves known to us. It became clear to them that Alex had the showmanship, knowledge, and spirit to bring the Craft into present consciousness. The ritual was devised to crown him ‘King of the Witches’ It was he that would be sacrificed and often was. There were those in the Craft who considered him an upstart, Alex was the first to admit they were right, and entitled to their opinion. Without the lords of opposition, it would all have been without power.

TWPT:  I’m sure that there were very few books published in relation to what’s available now but were there any written materials that you used for researching Witchcraft at the beginning. Where were these books available at the time?

MS:  Shops like Watkins and Atlantis were active in the sixties; libraries and the rare find on bookstalls were a delight. We loved Mathers, Eliphas Levi, some ofCrowley and definitely Dion Fortune. Actually, the list is endless. Although lots of nonsense books were available on supposed Craft activities, ritual/ceremonial magic fascinated many of our Covens who went on to specialise in their own fields of study.

TWPT:  Was there communication between those who might be called leaders of the early Witchcraft community? (i.e. Raymond Buckland, ,Doreen Valiente, Gerald Gardner, The Farrars, Sybil Leek etc.) I realize that the internet and quick access via e-mail didn’t exist at the time but were there conversations by phone or traditional letters that passed between those who were perceived as leaders discussing the future of Witchcraft or comparing notes as to what was going on in their locality?

MS:  In 1967 when we moved toLondon, the then crème de la crème in occult society descended on us in force and not too kindly. It was as if they wanted to keep us out of the limelight. Some threatened, others bullied and some like Sybil Leek were supportive. Covens rarely contacted one another, abiding by the old law that a three-mile radius should be between covens and never the twain should meet except for the rare Grand Sabbats.

By this time, we couldn’t have stopped the media coverage even if we had wanted to. The press used us when news was thin on the ground and slowly the journalists wanted a good story rather than sensationalism.

It was in the early seventies that ‘The Temple of the Mother’, my coven in Notting hill gate, started to advocateTemple pilgrimages to the sacred sites inBritain enabling Grand Sabbats to occur. The largest and last of these Grand Sabbats was held inGlastonbury in the eighties. There were so many Witches from all over the world and different traditions; it was obvious that it would have to become commercial to cover safety issues etc. The magic becomes thin when this happens.

TWPT:  Did either of you consciously think that you were forming a tradition that would be followed for years to come during those early years? 

MS:  No; When Stewart Farrar and Alex collaborated on the book ‘What Witches Do’, Stewart asked what Witches who were initiated via our Covens should be called; after much discussion, he came up with ‘Alexandrian’ which both Alex and I rather liked. Before this time we were very happy to be called Witches. 

TWPT:  Everyone seems to focus on Alex and his contributions so I wanted to ask about what kind of role you played during the 60’s and 70’s? How much of what was going on was Alex and how much was Maxine?

MS:  My job was to represent the Goddess.

TWPT:  Why was it that the two of you faced opposition to your making the Craft public from those more traditional facets of the community? What were your thoughts about bringing these hidden truths to a larger audience? 

MS:  The Craft is a mystery religion and quite bluntly, the Matriarchs of the time believed that the Craft would become blemished if it was made public and, to a degree, I agreed with them. However, many were entitled to Initiation and truth, including numerous great writers and teachers of today. 

TWPT:  Is there still the concern in your mind that there will be something missing in the Craft if it continues to become more and more open? Does it still qualify as a mystery religion with so many books published, gatherings attended, and conferences held etc each year?

MS:  Of course, the practise of the Craft is still a Mystery religion; no matter how many books written, lectures given, or conferences held. It is the personal application, experience, worship, and practise of the magic that can only be brought into the realms of being through understanding.

TWPT:  What are your memories of Stewart Farrar and his time spent with your coven during the time leading up to his initiation? Was it apparent to you that he and Janet were destined to bring even more folks to Witchcraft through their writings and their books in the coming years? 

MS:  Stewart was a charming man, a sincere student with an active flexible mind. I liked him enormously! Alex enjoyed the company of intellectuals and academics, always with a view to future writers on the subject of the Craft, the Goddess, and Truth. One of Alex’s sayings was ‘There is only truth on the altars of the Craft’ hence, the light that burns in all theTemples of the Mother. 

TWPT:  After you separated from Alex you continued to work in the Wiccan community, tell me about your own vision for what you wanted to accomplish in your teachings and through your coven when you were on your own.

MS:  We were both devastated by our separation and continued to fight, love, and work together until Alex died. However, the separation brought about an opening that I had never envisaged. I enjoyed teaching ceremonial magic and found that there was a great demand for this aspect of the Craft. Also the way of the Inner Mysteries, that brings about self-discipline and aspiration to be a part of the ‘Great Work’.

Initiation does not bring peace; it intensifies the quest for knowledge and enlightenment. To be part of an actively conscious magical group that creates the magic circle of Power, gives one an exquisite sense of the Universe. However, it takes selfish unselfishness to become a centre of expression for the Primal Will-to-Good, which eternally creates and sustains the Universe! 

TWPT:  Having seen the community evolve through several decades, what are your thoughts on how things are going. Is the Wiccan religion about where it should be for the length of time that it has been in existence? Any changes in Wicca that you would like to see occur in the years to come?

 MS:  The changes and evolution within the Craft are wonderful, indeed if there were no differences or transmutations there would be no advances. Diversity has to be the way of the Craft. Mother Earth is different from valley to vale making each one of us vibrate, interact, and practise the’ Art Magical’ in a totally individual way. 

TWPT:  From your perspective now, what has been the benefit of the Alexandrian tradition over the years and how has it changed since those early days? Is it still a vital force in the continuing evolution of Witchcraft even now? 

MS:  ‘If it works use it’ Alexandrians have been taught to dare to do just that, which has broken the stranglehold that a few fuddy-duddies had on the early Craft.  All traditions have benefited from that!

Witchcraft is a religion that epitomises vital life force that enables us to worship and utilise it in a way that suits us as Initiates. I doubt that anyone can question the Power of Life. Does it really matter what Tradition, as long as it works! 

TWPT:  Looking back over all the students you have taught and the many initiations you have performed over the years is there a satisfaction in what you have accomplished. Do you stay in touch with all of your one-time students and initiates to see how they are doing or is that simply impossible given the numbers involved? 

MS:  Tremendous satisfaction in the experiences, magical and otherwise. As for    accomplishments, well, that is for others to judge and have their opinions.

There are students who stay in contact but not for any reason other than the bond that formed during their training. Not all of my students liked me, which was of no importance; I was their teacher; the responsibility of that privileged position was to endeavour to direct the student towards their full potential, whatever their path.

TWPT:  I see that you have found the internet after stumbling across your website in one of my searches, as someone who started when there was practically no way to keep in touch with other Witches other than letters, what are your thoughts on how the internet has changed the face of what Wicca was and what it will likely become? 

MS:  It took much coercion to persuade me that a website would be a good thing, I’m still not certain!

Sometimes I think the Craft has become just a little too social but if this means that knowledge is shared and put to good use, well, and good. I believe there are many aspects of the Craft; some groups are open whilst others are closed some sky clad some robed. We are drawn to the priesthood that works for our individual evolution.

TWPT:  What are the dangers of making the Craft into a social gathering as opposed to focusing on the spiritual aspects? How can you make sure that your individual path, your group, or your coven are keeping the focus on what needs to happen?

MS:  There is nothing wrong with social gatherings as long as they are recognised as that. Grand Sabbats have an aspect of the rite, which enable us collective sharing of thought. Once that thought/power becomes too big, it dissipates; not everyone is able to stay focussed!A Circle is only as powerful as it’s weakest Initiate, hence the necessity for training in the practicalities of the Craft. Today it seems that many forget that Power can and does corrupt, and on the mundane level causes overactive earthly ego, unhealthy bickering, disruptive gossip, and very little joy.

The Coven Scribe was always the finest way of knowing where the work has been, the achievements and the experiments successes and failures. The Coven of theTemple of the Mother would change Scribe every three months to keep an accurate and balanced perspective on all the comings and goings within theTemple; at this time, the past three months work would be analysed. This would enable the Teachers within the group to assess each Initiate, the magic’s and its results if it were within its time limits, and readjust future workings accordingly. The records kept by these Scribes go back over forty years, they are a Covens most treasured possession for therein lies visual evaluation of the mistakes that should be avoided. The need for constant self-analysis is natural to every worthwhile Initiate.

TWPT:  Now that you no longer teach, do you miss taking new initiates to the point that they can stand on their own and lead others? Do you still go out and speak at public events or gatherings on occasion?

MS:  Last year I took part in my last 2nd and 3rd Initiation; it was wonderful. No matter how much I miss the power of a covenstead circle, it is my time to gain knowledge through a different form of expression within the realms of the Craft.

Today there are wonderful Initiates that have the vigour and vitality of youth who have taken on the privileged mantle of Teacher.

It is strange that people believe I am an experienced public speaker. I am a  priestess of the Goddess. Initiated, Consecrated, and dedicated to the work of the Craft. That initiation and consecration at no point prepared, taught or inspired in me a desire to practise the art of public speaking and even though I have spoken to a few gentle audiences; It really does not get any easier!

Occasionally, when the cottage needs some maintenance work doing, the gods in their might, arrange for a me to speak to friendly pagan audiences, this makes it possible for me to attend to these necessities.

I have often thought that those who speak publicly and regularly on Witchcraft matters, cannot have the time to put their words into practise; I do hope this will not happen to me.

TWPT:  As a closing question for this interview, do you have any advice for those who are going through tough times with their family, friends or the public in general about the path that they have chosen to walk? Do you have some thoughts you’d like to share with any of your students or initiates that might be reading this interview somewhere in the world? 

MS:  Experience has taught me that it is by my actions that I am known and remembered; once one’s feet are on the path of the Initiate, this fact is magnified many fold. The best Initiates were those who made mistakes and never stopped asking questions. Good manners cost nothing and are never criticised.

Wow! In retrospect, it was all worth it; life is brilliant!

Blessed Be

TWPT:  Thank you for taking the time to talk to us here at TWPT and I wish you much success as you continue along your path.