Alex Sanders (Wiccan)
|This article relies on references to primary sources. (October 2008)|
|Orrel Alexander Sanders|
Alex Sanders, in full ritual garb
6 June 1926|
|Died||30 April 1988
|Children||Paul and Janice (with Doreen); Maya Alexandria and Victor Mikhael (with Maxine)|
|Parents||Margaret Bibby; Albert E Carter|
Alex Sanders (6 June 1926 – 30 April 1988), born Orrell Alexander Carter, was an English occultist and High Priest in the Pagan religion of Wicca, responsible for founding the tradition of Alexandrian Wicca during the 1960s. Raised in a working-class family, he was introduced to esoteric ideas by his mother and grandmother from a young age, and as a young man began working as a medium in the local Spiritualist Churches before going on to study and practice ceremonial magic. In 1963, he was initiated into Gardnerian Wicca before founding his own coven, through which he merged many aspects of ceremonial magic into Wicca. He claimed to have been initiated by his Grandmother as a child, though evidence for this is lacking. Throughout the 1960s, he would court publicity in the press, appearing in a number of documentaries, marrying the far younger Maxine Sanders, and being declared to be the "King of the Witches" by his followers, something that led to other prominent Gardnerian Witches, such as Patricia Crowther and Eleanor Bone, attacking him in the press. In the late 1970s and 1980s, he went on to work with a ceremonial magical group known as the Ordine Della Luna, prior to his death. The tradition he founded with Maxine Sanders became known as Alexandrian Wicca.
Born Orrell Alexander Carter, on 6 June 1926, in a house on Moon St, Birkenhead, Merseyside, he was the oldest of six children. His father, Albert E Carter, was a dance-hall entertainer who suffered from alcoholism and married Margaret Bibby in Wigan in 1920. Later the family moved to Grape St, Manchester and unofficially changed their name to Sanders; Alex was unaware of his official surname until he applied for a passport later in life, and only changed his name by deed poll in the 1960s.
He and his sisters Joan (born 1928) and Elizabeth (1929) - were registered under the name Carter in Birkenhead, then sister Patricia (1933), John R (1934), and David (1937) - the last three registered as Sanders in Barton, Liverpool.
Initiation into witchcraft
Several contradictory accounts have been given of Sanders' initiation into witchcraft, and even his own accounts are inconsistent. The most famous version is that given in his biography, King of the Witches, by June Johns:
Alex had tuberculosis as a child and regularly visited his grandmother, Mary Bibby, in Wales for the fresh air. According to Sanders this was the beginning of his magical education:
- "One evening in 1933, when I was seven, I was sent round to my grandmother's house for tea. For some reason I didn't knock at the door as I went in, and was confronted by my grandmother, naked, with her grey hair hanging down to her waist, standing in a circle drawn on the kitchen floor."
Regaining her composure, she told Alex to step into the circle, take off his clothes, and put his head between his thighs. As he did so, she took a sickle-knife and nicked his scrotum, saying, "You are one of us now." (This was later revealed to be false and Sanders was merely furthering his publicity) It was then that Alex realised she was a witch. His Grandmother was a hereditary witch, a descendant of the Welsh chieftain Owain Glyndŵr, the last man (according to Sanders) to have called himself "King of the Witches"; supposedly his grandmother let him copy her Book of Shadows when he was nine and taught him the rites and magic of Witches. He was taught clairvoyance first by scrying in inky water, then in his grandmother's crystal. Alex claimed that following the Blitz, and a few months before her death at age 74, Mrs Bibby conferred upon him second- and third-grade initiations, involving ritual sex.
Gardnerian High Priestess Patricia Crowther tells a different story. According to letters she claims she received from him in 1961, he did not then claim to be an initiate, but felt an affinity with the occult and had experienced second sight. In a 1962 interview Sanders claimed to have been initiated for a year, working in a coven led by a woman from Nottingham. This claim is corroborated by Maxine Sanders, Alex's future wife and High Priestess. (See Wicca below)
Maxine also maintains that although Alex was later initiated into Wicca, he was indeed taught a form of witchcraft by his grandmother when he was young. She describes Mrs Bibby as an austere lady, wise in folklore, who taught her grandson magic with his mother's knowledge and permission; all of Alex's brothers were also psychic, she says:
- "It wasn't unusual to walk into the Sanders' kitchen in broad daylight to find a full materialisation séance in progress. Mrs. Sanders would be carrying on with the chores regardless of the apparitions in attendance."
When Alex publicly revealed himself as a witch, however, Mrs. Sanders feigned shock and threatened a nervous breakdown.
According to Maxine, Alex also worked for a while as a healer in Spiritualist Churches under the pseudonym Paul Dallas; a famous medium called Edwards discovered him and his brothers and wanted them to do a stage show, however they refused, believing their clairvoyance, healing and mediumship to be divine gifts not to be misused.
Towards the end of the war he began working for a manufacturing chemist's laboratory in Manchester. He married a co-worker, nineteen-year-old Doreen Stretton, in 1948 when he was 22, using the name Alexander O Sanders. They had two children, Paul and Janice. Alex wanted more children but Doreen didn't; she also disapproved of the supernatural. The marriage quickly deteriorated and Doreen took the children and left Sanders when he was 26. According to Maxine, Alex was grief-stricken and cursed Doreen with fertility; she re-married and had three sets of twins.
It was also while working in a pharmaceutical company that he became friends with Maxine's mother, however they lost contact for a while, probably due to the "intense dislike" that Maxine's atheist father had for him.
The left hand path
After the Second World War and his separation from Doreen and the children, Sanders felt isolated by his occult knowledge, and decided to live a life of the "left hand path" after having drifted from one low-level job to another and had sexual affairs with both men and women.
- "I made a dreadful mistake in using black magic in an attempt to bring myself money and sexual success. It worked all right — I was walking through Manchester and I was accosted by a middle-aged couple who told me that I was the exact double of their only son, who had died some years previously. They took me into their home, fed and clothed me, and treated me as one of the family. They were extremely wealthy, and in 1952, when I asked them for a house of my own, with an allowance to run it on, they were quite happy to grant my wishes. I held parties, I bought expensive clothes, I was sexually promiscuous; but it was only after a time that I realised I had a fearful debt to pay."
One of Alex's mistresses who he was particularly fond of committed suicide; his sister Joan was injured in an accidental shooting and shortly after diagnosed with terminal cancer. Alex, blaming himself, resolved to stop using his magic for selfish reasons and instead teach it to others.
During this period he also studied the works of Abramelin. Apparently angels told him to seek employment in 1963 as a porter, book-duster and odd-job man in the John Rylands Library, Manchester, where he could access an original copy of the Key of Solomon. According to his own admission he dismantled this book and borrowed it a few pages at a time for copying; discovery of this nearly led to Sanders' prosecution but the librarians allowed him an amnesty on condition that the materials were safely returned, after which he was dismissed without charges being brought against him.
Sanders' first contact with Wicca was in the early 1960s, through correspondence and meetings with Patricia Crowther. In September 1962, he succeeded in convincing the Manchester Evening News to run a front-page article on Wicca. This publicity had several unfortunate side-effects for Sanders, including the loss of his job at the library and estrangement from the Crowthers, who considered him a troublesome upstart and refused to initiate him.
He was eventually initiated by a priestess who had been a member of the Crowthers' coven, and with whom Maxine Sanders later worked for several years. It was rumoured that Alex copied the Wiccan Book of Shadows in a Gardnerian's garage while a party was going on in the house, however according to Maxine he copied his book from his initiator's book in the normal manner.
Eventually, Sylvia and several others left the group amicably, leaving Alex to continue as High Priest. During this period the coven worked at Alex's home at 24 Egerton Road North, Chorlton-cum-Hardy, Manchester. Sanders continued to attract media attention which brought him more followers. By 1965 he claimed 1,623 initiates in 100 covens, who apparently elected him to the title of "King of the Witches".
Among his alleged magical feats is the creation of a "spiritual baby," who became one of his familiars. The birth is to have resulted from a sacred act of masturbation which occurred between Sanders and a male assistant. Shortly following its creation the spirit Michael disappeared to grow up, but reappeared later to take Sanders over in his channeling. Supposedly Michael forcibly made Sanders carry on at wild parties, insult people and otherwise act abominably. But as Michael matured he became a valuable spirit familiar in channeling and healing matters.
Sanders channeled with another familiar too, Nick Demdike, who claimed to have been persecuted as a witch at the Lancaster Pendle witch trials of the 17th century, and although the name Demdike does appear in the trial records, there was no Nick Demdike. A 16th century warlock named Nicholas Demdike does however appear in the gothic novel The Lancashire Witches (1854) by William Harrison Ainsworth.
Sanders apparently joined other esoteric and chivalric orders beginning in 1968, which numbered 16 in 1974, and possibly more before his death. These included the Knights Templar, the Order of Saint Michael, the Order of Saint George and the Ordine Della Luna (aka the Order of the Romaic Crescent).
His healing feats include getting rid of warts by wishing them on someone else, "Someone who’s already ugly with boil marks, I can fill up with warts." He said he cured a man of heroin addiction and a woman of cystitis by laying his hands on her head and willing the affliction away. He is claimed to have cured a woman of cancer by sitting with her in a hospital for three days and nights, while holding her feet and pouring healing energy into her.
He also healed by pointing to trouble spots on people’s bodies and concentrating. He claimed pointing never failed. He performed abortio by pointing and then commanding the pregnancy to end. Some women he helped by also sending them to certain physicians for the procedure. But others could not afford the physician’s fees. Once it is recorded he ended a pregnancy by returning the soul to the Divine.
One of Sanders’ most famous alleged cures involved his daughter Janice, who was born in dry labour with her left foot twisted backwards. Physicians had said nothing could be done for the foot until the girl reached her teens. An "impression" from Michael instructed Sanders to anoint the foot with warm olive oil. Having done this, Sanders turned his daughter’s foot straight. The foot stayed corrected. Janice walked normally except for a slight limp in cold, damp weather.
Births, relationships and the media
During the 1960s Sanders met Arline Maxine Morris, 20 years his junior, whom he initiated into the Craft and made his high priestess. In 1965 they handfasted, and in 1968 they married in a civil ceremony and moved into a basement flat near Notting Hill Gate in London, where they ran their coven and taught classes on Witchcraft. Many followers came to them. Earlier that year their daughter Maya Alexandria was born.
The projection of Sanders into the national public spotlight resulted from a sensational newspaper article in 1969 which led to the romanticized biography, King of the Witches, by June Johns in 1969, and the film Legend of the Witches. These led to greater publicity, guest appearances on talk-shows, and public speaking engagements. It seemed to other Witches that Sanders was exploiting the Craft and dragging it through the gutter press.
According to Maxine, Alex never courted publicity, but was simply unable to avoid it. She describes how Alex's initial rise to fame came through an attempt to distract media attention away from other witches. The couple running a coven that Alex belonged to were practising Christians, and the local press had become curious about their activities. Had they been exposed it would have been disastrous for them. Alex offered the Press an alternative story, proposing to hold a ritual at a magical site at Alderley Edge, where he would raise a man from the dead. A bandaged up figure lying on a stone altar was examined by one of Alex's colleagues posing as a G.P., who certified it was indeed a corpse.
- "Alex promised the reporter and photographer that he would bring the corpse back to life. It would respond to an ancient and strange invocation, which was in reality a Swiss roll recipe read backwards. After much mumbo jumbo Alex dramatically intoned the invocation slowly and with great deliberation, the corpse couldn't help but respond to such power. It sounds ridiculous today that anyone could fall for it, but the pressmen ran away with their story, which made the headlines. These were the days of innocence, but the Christians were safe and Alex was on his way to a life of self-imposed notoriety."
Sanders frequently appeared in ritual photos as robed wearing only a loincloth while Witches surrounding him were naked. His explanation for this was that "Witch law" required that the elder of a coven to be apart from the others and easily identifiable.
Sanders met Stewart Farrar at the preview of “Legend of the Witches.” Farrar was a feature writer for the weekly Reveille working on a story concerning modern Witchcraft. He was interested in Sanders, and at some point during the evening Sanders invited him to an initiation at his coven. Farrar was later initiated by Maxine Sanders into that same coven, where he also met his future wife, Janet Owen.
The Sanders separated in 1971, Alex moved to Sussex while Maxine remained in the London flat where she continued running the coven and teaching the Craft. A son, Victor Mikhael, was born in 1972. Alex and Maxine's strong relationship continued, "although it varied in intensity, from a fierce sense of loyalty, blasting curses, to declarations of love until his death in 1988".
In 1979 Alex announced to the witchcraft community that he wished "to make amends for some of the past hurts that I have given and many public stupidities I created for others of the Craft", and expressed his desire that the Wicca should some day put aside their differences and "unite in brotherly love before the face of the Lady and the Lord", allowing them to become great again and respected in the outside world.
From 1979 Sanders began working in magical partnership with Derek Taylor, a psychic and trance medium. Together they developed the magical work of Sanders' Order, the Ordine Della Luna in Constantinople which he was chartered to operate as Grand Prior for England and Wales by a Greek contact in London in 1967 who claimed to be a descendant of the Byzantine Palaeologos dynasty. The pair were reportedly working with celestial intelligences, disembodied spirits and the demiurge itself. They recorded several journals of channeled notes, including warning of an apocalyptic World War III.
Another obscure group which Sanders operated in London during the 1960s was the Order of Deucalion, a focus for Atlantean magical research and inner contacts, as Sanders taught that Merlin was an important leader of the last Atlantean migratory wave into Western Europe. The Order of Deucalion existed as an inner cell of the Ordine Della Luna.
At Lammas 1998, ten years after his death, a New England Wiccan coven claimed to have contacted Sanders in spirit. They had several brief bursts of communication leading up to 2000, in which year he apparently expected to reincarnate as a boy on May Eve in the United States; however these communications continued until 2003, Sanders apparently still managing to make contact while his new "self" slept.
The channeled messages, addressed to all Wiccans, urge love for the Goddess and strength and unity within Wicca. Endorsed by several who knew Sanders, including his ex-wife Maxine, as convincingly authentic, the channeling sessions are documented in A Voice in the Forest by Jimahl diFiosa.
- "A Talk by Maxine Sanders" part 1, Witchcraft and Wicca Issue 3, p. 4. London: Children of Artemis.
- Johns, June (1969). King of the Witches. New York: Coward-McCann, Inc.
- Cavendish, Richard (1970). "Alex Sanders", Man, Myth and Magic. ISBN 1-85435-731-X.
- Hutton, Ronald (2001). Triumph of the Moon. Oxford: Oxford University Press. ISBN 0-19-285449-6.
- "A Talk by Maxine Sanders" part 2, Witchcraft and Wicca Issue 4, p. 4. London: Children of Artemis.
- diFiosa, Jimahl (2004). "Alex Sanders on Adeptness and Reincarnation: An interview with Alex Sanders, 26 November 1974 by Loriel". A Voice In the Forest: Spirit conversations with Alex Sanders. Southborough, MA: Harvest Shadows Publications. ISBN 0-9741740-0-9.
- Eddison, Robert "Disciples of the Moon Goddess", Weekend Magazine 13 May 1967
- Guiley, Rosemary Ellen (1989). The Encyclopedia of Witches and Witchcraft. New York: Facts On File. ISBN 0-8160-2268-2.
- Profile of Maxine Sanders at her personal website. Retrieved 6 November 2006.
- "A Talk by Maxine Sanders" part 3, Witchcraft and Wicca Issue 5, p. 22. London: Children of Artemis.
- Sanders, O. Alexander (1979). "The Many Paths of Wicca" in The Cauldron issue 15, Lammas 1979.
- The Ordine Della Luna and Order of Deucalion have entries in Strachan, Francoise (1970). The Aquarian Guide to Occult, Mystical, Religious, Magical, London and Around. London: Aquarian Press. ISBN 0-85030-074-6..
- Sanders, O. Alexander (1987). The Alex Sanders Tapes – Witchcraft as an Initiatory Path; Vol. II: Rites and Ceremonies, Ordine Della Luna
- Derek Taylor obituary, hexarchive.com. Retrieved 2007-02-19.
- "Alex Sanders". Retrieved 19 February 2007.
- diFiosa, Jimahl (2004). A Voice in the Forest: Spirit conversations with Alex Sanders. Southborough MA: Harvest Shadows Publications. ISBN 0-9741740-0-9.
- Farrar, Stewart (1983). What Witches Do. Phoenix Publishing. ISBN 0-919345-17-4.
- Crowther, Patricia (1998). One Witch's World. London: Robert Hale.
- Sanders, O. Alexander (1984). The Alex Sanders Lectures. New York: Magickal Childe Publishing, Inc.