Sanders rose to fame during the 1960s. He was flamboyant in character, and proclaimed himself “King of Witches” in his native England as he founded the Alexandrian tradition which bears his name.
He was born in Manchester, the oldest of six children. His father was a dance-hall entertainer and suffered from alcoholism. Sanders said his grandmother, Mary Biddy, initiated him into Witchcraft. As a youth he found her one day standing naked in the middle of a circle. She told him to take his clothes off and enter the circle with her. When doing so she told him that she was an hereditary Witch, and told him to put his head down between his thighs. As he did so, she took a knife and nicked his scrotum, saying, “You are one of us now.”
He became an analytical chemist in a laboratory in Manchester. He married a co-worker, nineteen-year-old Doreen, when he was 21. They had two children, Paul and Janice, but the marriage quickly deteriorated and Doreen took the children and left Sanders when he was 26.
After this came the period when Sanders life a life of the “left-handed-path” after having drifted from one low-level job to another and had sexual affairs with both men and women. He used magic to secure wealth and power. He worshipped the Devil for awhile and studied Abra-Melin magic. Apparently he attracted people to him who financially supported him. He founded his first coven and attracted media attention which brought him more followers. By 1965 he claimed 1,623 initiates in 100 covens he persuaded him to be elected as King of the Witches.
Among his alleged magical feats is the creation of a “spiritual baby,” who became one of his familiars. The birth is to have resulted from a sacred act of masturbation which occurred between Sanders and a male assistant. Shortly following its creation the spirit Michael disappeared to grow up, but reappeared later to take Sanders over in his channeling. Supposedly Michael forcibly made Sanders carry on at wild parties, insult people and otherwise act abominably. But as Michael matured he became a valuably spirit familiar in channeling and healing matters.
Sanders channeled with another familiar too, Nick Demdike, who claimed to have been persecuted as a witch at the Lancaster trails of the 17th century, although the name is not mentioned in the records of those trails.
His healing feats include getting rid of warts by “wishing them on someone else, someone who’s already ugly with boil marks, I can fill up with warts.” He said he cured a man of heroin addiction and a woman of cystitis by laying his hands on her head and willing the affliction away. He cure a woman of cancer but sitting with her in a hospital three days and nights, while holding her feet and pouring healing energy into her.
He also healed but pointing to troubled spots on people’s bodies and concentrating. He claimed pointing never failed. He performed aborting by pointing and commanding the pregnancy to end. Some women he helped by sending them to certain physicians for the procedure. But others could not afford the physician’s fees. Once it is recorded he ended a pregnancy by returning the soul to the Divine.
One of Sanders’ most famous alleged cures involved his daughter Janice, who was born in dry labor with her left foot twisted backwards. Physicians had said nothing could be done for the foot until the girl reached her teens. It was an “impression” from Michael which instructed Sanders to anoint the foot with warm olive oil. Having done this, Sanders turned his daughter’s foot straight. The foot stayed corrected. Janice walked normally except for a slight limp in cold, damp weather.
During the 1960s Sanders met Maxine Morris, a Roman Catholic and 20 years his junior, whom he initiated into the Craft and handfasted. She became his high priestess. In 1967 they married in a civil ceremony and moved into a basement flat near Notting Hill Gate in London, where they ran their coven and taught classes on Witchcraft. Many followers came to them. In the same year their daughter Maya was born.
The projection of Sanders into the national public spotlight resulted from a sensational newspaper article in 1969 which led to a romanticized biography , King of the Witches, by June Johns in 1969, and the film, Legend of the Witches. All of which led to much media publicity, guest appearances on talk-shows, and public speaking engagements. It seemed to other Witches that Sanders enjoyed all of this too much to where it was exploitation, and he drug the Craft through a gutter press.
Sanders frequently appeared in ritual photos as robed wearing only a loincloth while Witches surrounding him were naked. His explanation for this was that “Witch law” required that the elder of a coven to be apart from the others and easy identifiable.
It was at the preview of Legend of the Witches that Sanders met Stewart Farrar. Farrar was impressed with Sanders. He, a feature writer for the weekly Reveille was working on a story concerning modern Witchcraft and attended an initiation which Sanders invited him to. The ceremony impressed and interested Farrar who later was initiated by Maxine Sanders into the coven where he met Janet Owens. (see Janet and Stewart Farrar )
It seems that Sanders’ flamboyance irritated many people and seemed to be a cause for him to receive much criticism. Whether this was justly earned or not is had to say. There are even questions about whether Sanders was even initiated by his grandmother or copied her book of shadows at the age of nine. To the objective and scholarly observer such questions seem frivolous. What is known is that the Alexandrian tradition does exist in modern Witchcraft. There were enough believers of what Sanders taught to make this possible.
No objective researcher can say any or all of the criticism aimed at Sanders is true or not. All one can do is to make note of it without trying to appear bias. Some claim Sanders plagiarized some of his material, although, it must be noted, this criticism came after Sanders’ publicity was at its highest. It is said he took material from the Gardnerian book of shadows, from material written by Eliphas Levi, and from the Austrian occultist Franz Bardon. Since the Alexandrian tradition closely follows the Gardnerian tradition some claim this is proof of plagiary. Some say he made few changes in some material, others say he made no changes at all. Others claim the name “Alexander Sanders” was not his own, but one he assumed.
The Sanders separated in 1971. Sanders moved to Sussex, while Maxine remained in the London flat where she continued running the coven and teaching the Craft. A son Victor was born in 1972.
Sanders lived in seclusion until his death on Beltane Eve, April 30, 1988, after suffering from lung cancer. Even at his death Sanders seemed to arose controversy. A tape recording was played at his funeral in which Sanders declared Victor was to succeed him as King of the Witches. According to his mother, Maxine, Victor did not want to do so, and had moved to the United States. He would have led the “Witchcraft Council of Elders,” which claimed an incredible 100,000 members. The entire thing seemed preposterous since no king or queen of the craft is ever elected. Other witches said the council was a “fabrication” of the followers of Sanders. It seemed highly unlikely there are 100,000 witches in Britain alone, not to mention members of a council.
The Alexandrian tradition now exists in other countries beside Britain. In the United States it never gained the popularity as did the Gardnerian tradition because it is believed Sanders’ negative publicity hurt it. As of the 1980s none of the American Alexandrian coven had any connection with Sanders himself. The Alexandrian covens have done better in Canada where they were more firmly established before all of Sanders’ negative publicity.
Many, including Stewart Farrar, felt Sanders made major contributions to the Craft. A.G.H.