Alex Sanders – the “King of the Witches” as he became known - was responsible for founding the Alexandrian Tradition of Wicca, now one of the main traditions of the Wicca/Witchcraft movement. But his reign was fraught with criticism and controversy.
Alex Sanders was born Orrel Alexander Carter on the 06th June 1926 in a house on Moon St, Birkenhead. He was the eldest of six children to parents Hannah and Harold Carter. His father Harold Carter was a music hall entertainer who suffered from alcoholism, and soon after the birth of Alex, moved the family to Grape St in Manchester, there he unofficially changed the family name to Sanders. Alex was unaware of his official surname until he applied for a passport later in life, at which time he officially changed his name to Sanders by deed poll.
As a young boy Sanders suffered with tuberculosis and would regularly visit with his grandmother in Wales, where he could benefit from the Welsh fresh air. At the age of seven, he is believed to have happened upon his grandmother “Mary Biddy” performing some sort of pagan ritual. Taken by surprise she immediately swore young Sanders to secrecy, and initiated him on the spot claiming, “Now, you are one of us”. Thus he became her student and started on the path of the Old Religion.
Sanders was a natural psychic who learned all he could from his grandmother. He claimed that she gave him her “Book of Shadows” to copy and taught him all the rites and magic of the witches including clairvoyance by scrying in inky water and using his grandmother's crystal. Sanders also claimed that following the Blitz during WWII and just a few months before her death at age 74, his grandmother conferred upon him the second and third grade initiations involving ritual sex. After her death he tried to contact other witches, and though failing continued with his studies while working for a time as a healer in Spiritualist Churches under the pseudonym of Paul Dallas.
After the War had ended Sanders began working as an analytical chemist at a laboratory in Manchester, were 1947 he met and then married a co-worker called "Doreen". He was 21 at the time, she 19, and together they had two children "Paul and Janice". Sanders had wanted more children but not Doreen, she also disapproved of his practicing Witchcraft. Five years later the marriage deteriorated and Doreen took the two children and left him. According to his later second wife Maxine, Sanders had been so grief-stricken that he cursed Doreen with a fertility spell; when she later re-married she had three sets of twins??
Depressed Sanders began drinking; he drifted from one low paid job to another and indulged in sex with both men and women. He started on the left-hand path, worshiped the devil and studied "Abra-Melin" magic, hoping to use it to gain wealth and fame. He regularly boosted about his feats of magic and made some amazing claims. One like Aleister Crowley before him, he claims to have created a “magical child”. He created it during a rite of ritual masturbation with the aide of a male assistant. He says, “the baby disappeared shortly after its creation and grew up as a spirit called Michael”.
"Michael" was the spirit he used during trance work, and it was Michael (he claims) who was responsible for forcing him to act badly at wild parties, to insult people, and generally act in an abominable way. “Eventually the spirit of Michael settled down and I was able to control it”, he says. When channeling Sanders used a familiar entity called "Nick Demdike", who claimed to have been a persecuted witch from Lancaster during the trails of the 17th century.
In the early 60’s, Sanders is reported to have sought entrance to some Gardnerian covens, including that run by Patricia and Arnold Crowther, who refused to accept him. Not to be put off so easily, he somehow managed to obtain a copy of the Gardnerian Book of Shadows. This he copied (badly from all accounts) and embellished it with a few of his own amendments. He then used this as the bases to found his own coven, claiming it to be a copy of his grandmother’s Book of Shadows.
Sanders was a born showman who avidly courted publicity. In September of 1962 he even succeeded in convincing the Manchester Evening News to run a front-page article about Wicca. As a result he soon attracted a large following. During this period Sanders and his coven worked from his home at 24 Egerton Road North, Chorlton-cum-Hardy, Manchester. One of his initiates was "Maxine Morris", a Roman Catholic 20 years his junior. After her initiation, they handfasted and she became his High Priestess. They were married in a civil ceremony in 1968 and moved into a basement flat near Nottinghill Gate, London. Later that same year, Maxine bore him a daughter they called "Maya".
From their new home the Sanders’ ran his London coven and taught training classes, he claimed to have initiated more than 1,623 witches working in 100 covens around the country, all-practicing what had become known as the Alexandrian Tradition. At one meeting, a gathering of sixteen of his covens, Sanders was bestowed with the title of “King of the Witches”. Sanders frequently appeared in ritual photos as robed or wearing only a loincloth while Witches surrounding him were naked. His explanation for this was that the old “Witch laws” required that the Elder of a coven should be easily identifiable from the other coven members.
In 1968-69, Sanders with Maxine appeared in and gave technical advice on a film called “Legend of the Witches”. During the press preview of the film, they met with and were introduced to Stewart Farrar, then a reporter for the Reveille. Stewart would later be initiated by Maxine, and move on to become famous himself as a witch and author.
In 1972 Maxine gave birth to another child, a son they named "Victor", then just a year later in 1973 they separated. Sanders moved to Sussex were he resided in relative obscurity until he died on the 30th April 1988 after a long battle with lung cancer. His funeral was a mass media event, Witches and Pagans from all over the country attended to pay their respects. During the course of the funeral a pre-recorded tape was played in which he declared that his son "Victor" should succeed him as “King of the Witches”.
Victor Sanders had no desire to take up the title and left the country for the United States. Maxine stayed on in London and continued to run a coven and teach the craft, her half-brother "David Goddard" acting as High Priest. A short time after his funeral, a Witches Council of Elders was convened formed mainly from the Alexandrian tradition. They decided there would be no successor to the “King of Witches” and the title was discontinued.
Without doubt Alex Sanders was a controversial and flamboyant man, who without scruples plagiarised the work of others to embellish his own. Whither he did so with malice, remains the question? Personally I don’t think so. More I assume through innocuous indifference, and mainly for the benefit of his students, even though it resulted in criticism from many in the craft. He was also without doubt a very skilled witch, and powerful magician, whose contribution to the newly evolving movement, brought witchcraft back into the public arena and changed the face of Wicca. He helped to influence many newcomers entering the craft and Alexandrian Wicca remains today one of the largest traditions of the craft.
The Encyclopedia of Witches &Witchcraft - by Rosemary Ellen Guiley.
Encyclopedia of Wicca & Witchcraft - By Raven Grimassi
A Witches' Bible - By Janet and Stewart Farrar
What Witches Do - By Stewart Farrar
Man, Myth and Magic - Edited by Richard Cavendish
Triumph of the Moon - Ronald Hutton