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!)