Alexander Sanders (1929-1988)

Alexander Sanders was a flamboyant British witch who generated some controversy during his life for his publicity-mongering and slightly dubious magical ethics. He may be the best known modern witch after Gerald Gardner. Sanders claimed to have been initiated into witchcraft by his grandmother, a hereditary witch, during a nude ritual when he was a child. Others noted that his writings (such as King of the Witches) seemed to be influenced by other writers such as Eliphas Levi and Gerald Gardner himself.

Like Aleister Crowley (with whom he shared part of his name, “Alexander”), Sanders possessed an ambisexual flexibility and was possessed by a decidedly "dark" streak. He had no ethical qualms against casting spells of destruction when he deemed it justified, and was substantially inspired by ceremonial magic sources such as the Book of Abramelin the Mage. His coven practice and writings emphasize the study of the Qabalah and Enochian magic, though it is not known how much contact he may have had with any Golden Dawn offshoots. Also like Crowley, Sanders experimented with the creation of at least one "moonchild" (or "spiritual baby" as he called it), an offspring conceived under carefully selected magickal and astrological criteria, who he later utilized as a human familiar.

Sanders was first initiated into the path of the Craft by an associate of British Wiccan Patricia Crowther, although he may have had earlier (childhood) encounters too. In the early 1960s he became involved with several groups of differing traditions, and by 1965 he claimed to have over 1,600 initiates in 100 covens, and acquired the informal title King of the Witches.

The late 1960s saw Sanders and his wife leading a coven in London and garnering the expected publicity in local scandal sheets. A film, Legend of the Witches, was released in 1969 which brought national notoriety to Sanders and directly led to his meeting with journalist Stewart Farrar, who was later initiated into the craft by Sanders' wife. Stewart's future partner Janet met him in the Sanders' coven.

The glare of the spotlight eventually dimmed for Sanders, although he continued to work in his tradition with his own students. He avoided public appearances prior to his death from lung cancer on Beltane (April 30) 1988 at the age of 61. His influence upon modern wicca created a tradition that is now called "Alexandrian Wicca," althought whether this term is derived from his name or from the ancient city of Alexandria in Egypt is still in dispute. Alexandrian Wicca is noted for being more eclectic than Gardnerian Wicca; Alexandrian covens also emphasize more study of ceremonial magic and the Qabalah, and it seems to be more popular in Great Britain and Canada than the United States. This pragmatic and ceremonial-magick approach to witchcraft strongly influenced the development of Mountain Temple Center director Michael J. Crowley, who always felt free to draw on a wide range of traditions in his rituals.

 

A young Sanders striking a Crowleyan pose

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