Alex Sanders (Wiccan)
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Orrel Alexander Sanders
Alex Sanders, in full ritual garb
Orrell Alexander Carter
6 June 1926
|Died||30 April 1988 (aged 61)|
|Spouse(s)||Doreen Stretton; Arline Maxine Morris|
|Children||Paul and Janice (with Doreen); Maya Alexandria and Victor Mikhael (with Maxine)|
|Parent(s)||Hannah Jane Bibby; Orrell Alexander Carter|
Alex Sanders (6 June 1926 – 30 April 1988), born Orrell Alexander Carter, who went under the craft name Verbius, 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, at St. Catherine's Hospital (56 Church Rd, Tranmere, Birkenhead), he was the oldest of six surviving children. His father was Orrell Alexander Carter - allegedly a dance-hall entertainer who suffered from alcoholism - while his mother was a domestic servant, Hannah Jane Bibby. Later the family, who had been living at the home of his paternal grandmother, Elizabeth Carter (née Gandy), of 1 Moon St, Birkenhead, moved to Grape St, Manchester and unofficially changed their name to Sanders; Sanders 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:
Sanders had tuberculosis as a child and regularly visited his grandmother, Mary Bibby, a cunning woman 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.[This quote needs a citation]
Regaining her composure, she told Sanders 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 Sanders 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. Sanders 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, Sanders' future wife and High Priestess. (See Wicca below)
Maxine Sanders also maintained that although Sanders 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 Sanders' 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 Sanders publicly revealed himself as a witch, however, Mrs. Sanders feigned shock and threatened a nervous breakdown.
According to Maxine Sanders, Sanders 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. Sanders 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 Sanders, Sanders was grief-stricken and cursed Doreen with fertility; she remarried and had three sets of twins.
It was also while working in a pharmaceutical company that he became friends with Maxine Sanders's mother, however they lost contact for a while, probably due to the "intense dislike" that her atheist father had for him.
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 Sanders' 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. Sanders, 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. Within weeks an allegation that he had defecated in the library basement led to the discovery that he had damaged a late 19th century edition of the S.L Mathers translation of the 'Key of Solomon' by ripping out the plates and taking them home. 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. As well as this influence from Goetia which he incorporated into his version of Wicca, Sanders was greatly influenced by the teachings of Eliphas Levi.
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 Sanders copied the Wiccan Book of Shadows in a Gardnerian's garage while a party was going on in the house, however according to Maxine Sanders he copied his book from his initiator's book in the normal manner.
Eventually, Sylvia and several others left the group amicably, leaving Sanders to continue as High Priest. During this period the coven worked at Sanders' 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. He proclaimed himself "King of the Witches".
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).
Births, relationships and the media
During the 1960s Sanders met Arline Maxine Morris (Maxine Sanders), 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. Alex Sanders, as a bisexual man, also had a number of relationships with men during his relationship with Maxine.
The projection of Sanders into the national public spotlight resulted from a sensational newspaper article in 1969 which led to the romanticised biography, King of the Witches, by June Johns in 1969, and the film Legend of the Witches (1970). 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 Sanders, Sanders never courted publicity, but was simply unable to avoid it. She describes how Sanders' initial rise to fame came through an attempt to distract media attention away from other witches. The couple running a coven that Sanders 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. Sanders 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 Sanders' 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; Farrar and Owen formed their own magical partnership and their own coven in 1970 and wrote many books on witchcraft together.
The Sanders separated in 1971, Sanders moved to Sussex while Maxine Sanders 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 Sanders 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 contact in London in 1967 who claimed to be a descendant of the Byzantine Palaeologos dynasty but who was actually an eccentric Englishman of Newport on the Isle of Man called Peter Francis Mills. The pair were reportedly working with celestial intelligences, disembodied spirits and the demiurge itself. They recorded several journals of channelled 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.
- Sanders, O. Alexander (1984). The Alex Sanders Lectures. New York: Magickal Childe Publishing, Inc.
- "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, Maxine. (2007) Firechild: The Life and Magic of Maxine Sanders Witch Queen. Mandrake of Oxford, Ltd, ISBN 1869928784
- Pearson, Joanne. (2007) Wicca and the Christian heritage: ritual, sex and magic, note 4, p114. Abingdon: Routledge, ISBN 0415254132
- 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 Archived 5 March 2007 at the Wayback Machine, hexarchive.com. Retrieved 19 February 2007.
- "Alex Sanders". Archived from the original on 4 June 2007. Retrieved 19 February 2007.
- The Argus, 2 May 1988
- diFiosa, Jimahl (2004). A Voice in the Forest: Spirit conversations with Alex Sanders. Southborough MA: Harvest Shadows Publications. ISBN 0-9741740-0-9.