Fire Child by Maxine Sanders, 2008

Maxine Sanders (née Arline Maxine Morris) has finally written an autobiography: Fire Child: The Life & Magic of Maxine Sanders ‘Witch Queen’ (Oxford: Mandrake, 2008).

I say finally because both of the two previous books on Maxine (below) were written by others: Maxine the Witch Queen (London: Star Book, 1976) was ghost-written by the journalist Wally Clapham (as we find out on 259 of Fire Child) and The Ecstatic Mother, Maxine Sanders, Witch Queen (London: Bachman & Turner, 1977) was written by Richard Deutch.

Generations of Wiccans, Witches and historians of The Craft will be grateful to Sanders for overcoming her aversion to writing, but Fire Child is a difficult book to read, not least because it is under-edited, disjointed and unnecessarily obtuse and confusing (as I discuss below).

Sanders bravely recounts physical and sexual abuse at the hands of her father (15, 18, 21, 27, 29) followed by emotional abuse at the hands of Alex, ‘King of the Witches’ (168, 239). Alex betrayed Sanders by sleeping with other men (120, 138, 169; engaging in a week-long bacchanal while she, alone, gave birth to their second child), used her as a prop to his ego (92), his ambition (68) and his finances, relying on her to work (124) and burdening her with substantial debts (171, 208). His meglo- and ego-mania (159) reached absurd heights and, once out of the spotlight, his desire to regain it undermined much of the little good his showmanship has achieved (239, 252, 261; he also deteriorated as a teacher: 173, 241). Future biographers may speculate about why Alex “liked being married to an attractive woman”, whom he “placed on a pedestal”, keeping her “apart and untouchable” (251), when his “preference was for men” (242) and why Sanders endured so many years married to a man with many similarities to her father — whom she long wished dead (both being abusive, yet charismatic, men who were manipulative and unscrupulous spendthrifts and philanders).

Sceptically- and empirically-minded readers will wonder at the extent of Sanders’ delusions about supernatural events, which are presented as matters of fact (levitation and destruction of inanimate objects, materialisation of spirits, use of telepathy and astral-travel to keep an eye on each other etc), as well as the claims made for the extent of Alex’s authority in Wicca circles before leaving Manchester (66, “eight full covens and several smaller ones” in addition to his “teaching” coven in 1963). Personally, I am interested in the historical details, who met whom (real names, in full), when and where, what happened etc. These sort of details are provided sparingly and inconsistently.

For example: Chapter 9 mentions Alex’s famous ‘Grandmother Story’. Sanders states that “Alex’s showmanship made much of it”, cryptically described as “probably more colourful and yet less shocking than Alex described”; his telling of it being “a means to an end” (101). The reader is left wondering how being sexually initiated by one’s grandmother can be “more colourful and yet less shocking”, and what “end” could have been served by telling this story. Sanders also spends pages talking about her “new husband” circuitously, leaving the reader guessing who on earth she is talking about, before finally naming him (290). Why not name him from the outset?

Doubts remain about the dates, too. Sanders says she was born on 30 December, and that she was conceived in the spring of 1946 (11). That is, she was conceived in April 1946 and was born 30 December 1946. This means she had only just turned nineteen on 15 January 1966 when (nude) photographs of her were first published (80; see my post on these photos). The publication of these photos prompted an appalling run-in with the police. In the course of which she says told the police that “no-one had taken my virginity, least of all Alex and at seventeen I was in any case old enough” (82). Even if Sanders was “seventeen” when the full moon rite took place, and that this had occurred before her previous birthday only a few weeks earlier, the dates must still be out by a year (meaning she was born in 1947, not 1946).

(In fact, I have long-suspected that the dates are even further out: that Sanders was born in December 1948, not 1946, turned seventeen in December 1965, and that she has been lying about her age since January 1966 in order to protect Alex and herself. It seems we will only learn the truth when Sanders’ birth certificate becomes available, in about fifty years!)

Nevertheless, we learn a great deal about “Maxine Sanders”, her family, Alex, his family and some of the central figure and events in Sanders’ life. We also discover, indirectly, many details that will be of interest to different readers (such as her impatience with vegetarians, who “cannot master their sentimentality” 276), of her boredom with her role as priestess (112, 142), her struggles as a mother (242), lover and teacher. Though many of the stories are a little disconnected and cryptic, any reader interested in the rise of Wicca will gain much from reading Fire Child.

(And if the very high prices of second-hand copies of Maxine the Witch Queen and The Ecstatic Mother are any guide to the future demand for this book: buy it now, while you can still afford it!)

8 Responses to “Fire Child by Maxine Sanders, 2008”

  1. Thank you for your intelligent and even-handed review of what is sure to be an important book for people interested in Wicca. One of the things I find most fascinating about Maxine Sanders’ story is that it shows how from the very beginning Wicca apparently offered great solace to those who suffered sexual abuse. This tie between abuse survivors and Wicca is a strong one and as much a part of Wicca’s history as any event or individual. It is good to know that she did not shy away from talking about it.

  2. Anonymous Says:

    I am presently creating a pagan calendar in which there will be some event listed for every day of the year, which is either pagan/mystical or otherwise occult in nature, like birthdays of witches, for instance. I would like to include the date of birth for Maxine Sanders, who has played such a large role in the lives of many witches over the years, both due to her relationship with Alex and afterward, on her own. May I have permission to do so, and the date, please. You can email it to me directly at deliathecrone@yahoo.com. Thank you.

  3. [...] Fire Child by Maxine Sanders, 2008 [...]

  4. Are the Frosts respected amongst Wiccan/Pagan society? -and how does a single man go about joining a coven -is it wildly presumptious to hope to find one that is mostly women?

  5. Sorry-that’s terrible-but Firechild is wonderful reading-I love the elementel scene with the bowler hats.

  6. She kind of really comes across as a silly girl who came to be percieved as a symbol and then her whims sort of became akin to law which seems kind of sad to me because I keep wanting to hold her and others like her in such high esteem. Amber K and Azrael Arynn K’s works “Coven Craft” and Ritual Craft” are proving (for me) to be much more satisfiing reads but you have to admit Maxine is pretty damn charming (w/ or w/out a cigarette)!!! Keep coming back… it works if ya work it …I mean um…Blessed Be!!!!

  7. It is a struggle to read straight through and she does kind of come across as a silly girl perpetually infatuated with her gay husband but a sense of the Seventies is loud and clear and sadly I got the idea that her position was largely theatrical but her whims were taken as magical law after a while..excellent photos, tho…Charming and enchanting w/ or w/out a cigarette (etc). keep coming back it works if you work it…I mean..um…Blessed Be. I’m glad I read it.

  8. Andrew Byrne Says:

    I am the youngest of an Irish family of 10 who lived a few doors down from Maxine Saunders all my life to the age of 16. Maxine was such a genuine, loving & giving person with absolutely no airs & graces of who & what title she obviously could (but never did) command. My family was very well known in the area & when I started secondary school (Holland Park) & my teacher learned of my neighbour being Maxine did I fully grasp how the public portrayed her. In 1981 10 days before Christmas, the houses which my mother was housekeeper went up in flames killing 8 people. The Saunders without a second thought opened their doors to all & sundry without a blink. Some would say “standard behaviour” but my life’s journey has well & truly shown me that although we have a romantic image that “we’d all do that” people, on a whole, ‘ain’t all that. Growing up with Mia & Victor & with the unequivocal, non-judgemental attitude that the Saunders family were with us at a time when Irish were ostracised in society (much like Islam is today) restored my faith in people & I thank you all for your natural Love & friendship. Blessed Be to all xxx p.s. my name is Andrew Byrne & am now 47 years young Love & Light

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