Maxine Sanders & Co., January 1966

These images of Maxine Sanders, Alex Sanders, Paul King, Jean Stevens and a few other unnamed coven members were taken in January 1966 by Jack Smith.

The pictures were, seemingly, first published in a local tabloid (The Comet) and were then widely syndicated in newspapers, magazines and books. Each publication would only use a selection of images from the sequence, sometimes using images that had already been published, sometimes using unpublished images; consequently, some images from this sequence appeared for the first time almost a decade after The Comet first ran its sensational story.

I say ‘seemingly’ (above) because I think it is likely that a Tit-Bits article was the first (‘Amazing Pictures of a Moonlight Rite’). The photographer, Jack Smith, was the husband of June Johns; Johns penned both the earliest article I have found on the subject (the Tit-Bits article) and went on to write Sanders’ biography. The accounts we have of the taking of these photos also suggests Sanders’ knew the journalist and photographer.

The circumstances are not mentioned by Alex Sanders (via Johns), but Maxine wrote (in Maxine: The Witch Queen (1976), 60-61):

A local reporter [Alex] knew asked him to ‘give him a break’ and Alex, whose showman instincts … were never far from the surface, let him know when a ritual was taking place on Alderley Edge. I knew nothing of this. Even when I saw the flashes on the Edge that night I began thinking … that my growing clairvoyant powers were really waxing full … the flashes, of course, were from a Press camera. Two days later my doorbell went and there on my doorstep was my landlady. ‘What’s all this?’ she asked, and there on the front page of the little local paper that she pushed under my nose was a picture of me as bare as the day I was born, with my long blond hair hiding nothing really, and there also was a story … ‘Witches in Manchester. Ex Convent Girl Maxine Morris taking part in rites on Alderley Edge’. The landlady said the obvious — I would have to leave. I eventually went round to see Alex but hardly had I got a foot in the door before the National Press arrived, hammering to be let in. From then on I was followed by Pressmen on foot, Pressmen in cars — it was impossible to walk anywhere unmolested in Manchester … There were posters everywhere.

In the following year a few more details emerged in Richard Deutch’s The Ecstatic Mother, Maxine Sanders, Witch Queen (1977), 77-78:

Several days before a scheduled initiation Maxine was introduced to two men who, Alex told her, were Witches. ‘I thought there was something odd about their mannerisms. To me they didn’t look or talk the way I had come to expect of a Witch’. Nevertheless the two accompanied the witches to the site. The bonfire was kindled, and a makeshift stone altar erected. Maxine cast a circle and began the necessary rites before the candidate could be led into it. The initiation started; a man and a woman were led naked and blindfolded into the circle … Maxine had gone into a deep trance … so it was several minutes before she noticed the while flashes of a light outside the circle. At first she thought it was some sort of psychic phenomenon, but then she realised the lights were flashbulbs. Alex and Maxine are great collectors of photographs, so she assumed that some of the witches were recording the ceremony at [Alex's] request .. A week later she answered the doorbell to be confronted by two men. One of them had a camera. ‘Maxine Morris? The Witch? ‘I’m sorry, I don’t give interviews’ … Confused and frightened, she waited inside for an hour. Intending to see Alex, she put on her coat and stepped out of her flat. Immediately she was surrounded by camera-flashing and notepad-waving reporters. She bolted through the crowd and .. outdistanced her pursuers. Catching her breath, she hammered on Alex’s door. Paul answered. He was beaming. Demanding to know what was going on .. they told her. They were all big news now. Papers all over the country were carrying stories about poor, convent-educated Maxine being seduced into Satanic orgies … Alex and Paul roared with laughter. Maxine roared, but not with laughter .. The next week she saw the banned headline of a local paper. WITCHCRAFT — WE REVEAL THE NAKED TRUTH. The naked truth, as it happens, was Maxine .. the day after it appeared posters were put up all over Manchester, proclaiming WE EXPOSE WITCHES IN CHORLTON.’

These accounts differ as to whether the local press or the national press were first on the scene and the number of days between the ceremony and the publicity; but, until someone can show me an article that pre-dates Saturday, 15 January 1966, I will go on assuming that it was the first!

I have no idea how many photos were taken by Smith, whether this is the full ‘set’, or whether more pictures remain unpublished. I have, however, been searching for many years and this is all I have found. For the record: the following are taken from: June Johns, ‘Amazing Pictures of a Moonlight Rite’, Tit-Bits (15 January 1966), Martin A. David, ‘Nude Rites in a “Black Witchcraft” Hideout!’, TAB (December 1966), Anon., Witchcraft Today (1968), June Johns, King of the Witches (1969), Peter Haining, The Anatomy of Witchcraft (1972), and Eric Maple, Witchcraft (1973).

If you compare the above photo, with that below, you will notice that the female figure on the right (the one in front of Alex Sanders), has had long hair painted onto the negative in order to obscure her face.

If you compare the above photo, with that below, you will notice that Maxine has had long hair painted onto the negative (below) in order to obscure her breasts.

9 Responses to “Maxine Sanders & Co., January 1966”

  1. There are a lot of pictures out there of Alex and Maxine Sanders. What always strikes me is that everyone is skyclad except Alex. He’s almost always robed.

  2. Red Witch Says:

    You are right Cosette. Ray Buckland was scathing on the subject: “It may also be noted that the self-styled ‘King’ [of the Witches] is himself always clad in a white, monkish outfit while everyone else is skyclad. Never does he appear nude. Does he have something to hide?” (Ray Buckland, Witchcraft from the Inside (1971), p.82).

    I remember reading somewhere a lame and implausible explanation for Alex’s habit of always wearing a robe. Unfortunately, I can’t find it now. But I think the real explanation is in my post: he was a showman (as Maxine says) and he knew that he could draw a reporter and a photographer from anywhere in the world to photograph his beautiful wife, but he would be just as sure to drive them away if he were to disrobe himself.

    It is surely no accident that the most famous initiation ceremony he presided over, had filmed, and recorded for release on LP, was that of the equally beautiful Janet Owen/Farrar.

  3. I came across another photo somewhere else, so I googled Sanders December 1966 and came here. Thanks for the story.

  4. [...] Maxine Sanders, January 1966 [...]

  5. bunch of nutters

  6. Kimberly Rogers (Starwitch) Says:

    So what if Alex isn’t skyclad? When I perform my spellcasting and rituals (i am a lone practitioner of the Craft) I sometimes don my handmade witches ceremonial gown, or a plain black shawl, but most of the time I feel the truth and spirit in being skyclad. You feel as a witch more free-spirited and like using a white candle during a spell or ritual, it reveals and stands for truth and honesty. I love performing skyclad, even outdoors on stormy rainy nights. When the rain falls on your naked self the feeling is like having sex with
    a god.(if you’re a female) or a goddess (if you’re a male witch). I had sex with Dionysus and Pan, on a dark rainy night. It was utterly euphoric and ecstatic. Try it sometime.
    Blessed Be, Peace, Kimberly
    (Starwitch)

  7. To: Red Witch
    I find it somewhat laughable that Ray Buckland should be casting aspirations on another…
    It is obvious Alex had his reasons, and yes, it could be that if he disrobed it would take attention off his best asset, Maxine, but I would always go with the “Those in glass houses shouldn’t throw stones” concept here and ask Pat Crowther or Gavin Frost about Ray..
    @lisa? If you think they are a bunch of nutters maybe you are tuning in to the wrong things for you.

  8. Alex was skyclad at Janet initiation just look inside the LP cover

  9. felix knight Says:

    adore these photos…enjoyed FIRECHILD, too…even found some old BLACK WIDOW on the web!!!

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