Recent years have seen the passing of several of our Pagan Elders -- and no matter what your current path is, we all owe a huge debt to Maxine Sanders and her part of the work founding what became the Alexandrian tradition of witchcraft. After many long years (and I am sure, a great constant begging!) Ms. Sanders has finally written her autobiography, Fire Child.

This not light reading, and in fact I feel I need to put a trigger warning in effect at this point. Because Ms. Sanders' life was far from halcyon and clean. This is as much a story of a woman brought up by an abusive father (and a mother who was dangerous in some of her practices) and who married an abuser as it one of witchcraft and magic. It's also a tough read because there was little or no editing, and the reader is often left to fight to make sense of the tale being told. (I'm fan of protecting the voice, but a good editor does that while still allowing the reader to relax into the story, an element very much missing I'm sad to say.)

Pushed hard by her eclectic mother into various paths of spirituality, Ms. Sanders was practically destined to become involved in the growing movement of spiritualism and the outpouring of occult interests that was the hallmark of the 1960s. From prepubescent years practicing with descendents of Gurdjieff she moved into a long period of learning and eventually initiation into an Egyptian order.

There is a quality of other-worldness that permeates her story -- the times and places are so different from our modern places and practices. She laments how hard it is to find privacy to do rituals in public places, but talks about filming with Hans Holzer in the center of Stonehenge -- practically an impossibility today unless you've got Hollywood-sized money to spend. Her life is full of encounters with Angels and Beings who manifest clearly and completely, as well as more sinister physical manifestations that cause trouble and do damage.

(I am left feeling that my own powers are weak and I am unfit to be a witch, if I were to use her story as a measurement of fitness. After all. I've never created an elemental, nor have I spent weeks in fasting and constant prayer in preparation for a ritual. My initiations do not draw blood, nor is death a true danger. Has the craft become too symbolic and lost its practical edge? I suspect Ms. Sanders would judge that yes it has.)

Despite my gripe about the editing, there is a refreshing level of honesty shared: spells gone wrong (sometimes terribly so), and paths taken that turned out badly. And the revelations about the time -- the similarities between the problems the Witches and the Occultists had with the media, and the world, the constant answering of the same questions, the countering of the same negative stories, and the constant failures to succeed. As well, Ms. Sanders is frank about her personal problems for the most part. Her upbringing and family circumstances gave her a fragile sense of self-esteem, which was never bolstered by the 'love of her life' Alex Sanders, and being thrust into the celebrity spotlight was an unending torture for her.

This is also a great capturing of a piece of history, albeit tainted by being a personal perspective. But if you put aside the fact that dates are likely a little blurred, and events perhaps exaggerated, you nonetheless have an account that allows us, the children of all of those who broke the silence about magic, a glimpse into our forbearers world.

Strongly recommended.

~review by Lisa Mc Sherry

Author: Maxine Sanders
Mandrake Books, 2008
pp. 316, $23 (pb)