Sunday, February 10, 2008

Firechild By Maxine Sanders

Yesterday, I read Firechild, Maxine Sanders' autobiography. It's a fascinating and v. readable book and, I thought, pretty brave in its discussions of her sexual abuse by her father, exploitation by her husband, Alex Sanders, and her own foibles and failures.

What I found really interesting was the contrast between the witchcraft she was teaching in the 60s and 70s and the witchcraft that I know today. I'll caveat this by saying that, of course, there are still many Alexandrians and Gardnerians who practice what I'll call 60s/70s style witchcraft, with an emphasis on male-female duality, nakedness, and "getting the ritual right," "right" being the way that Alex Sanders or Gerald Gardner said it should be, down to the correct chant, sigils, dance steps, etc. But the witchcraft that I practice is much more free form and, obviously, more feminist than the religion that she describes. I was also interested in the degree to which Maxine's witchcraft overlapped with what I think of as a general British fascination with the occult that I just don't see in the Wiccan circles in which I travel.

I also hadn't realized the degree to which Maxine continued to embrace other religions throughout her life, Liberal Catholicism and a group focused on Egyptian gods and goddesses and rather removed from Wicca, for example. She also did real work as a ceremonial magician, which she distinguished from her work as a witch.

One of her most interesting points, I thought, was her discussion of Wicca as both a religion and a magical system. She describes it as both, but seems to believe that one could accept one without the other. I'm still debating whether or not I think she's correct about that.

All in all, an interesting read and one that could easily be done in a day at the beach or on a long flight. We likely wouldn't be where we are today had it not been for Maxine and Alex Sanders and other of their era who put up with everything (in Maxine's case, from being stoned to having her house set on fire, to being fired from her job), for daring to be open about being witches.

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