A Dangerous Book

Fire Child: The Life and Magic of Maxine Sanders ‘Witch Queen’

I’ve often claimed that Paul Thomas Anderson’s Magnolia is the most dangerous movie ever made. The reason is that, after you watch it, you may have the overwhelming urge to tell the whole truth to the ones you love.

Fire Child is a dangerous book for any teacher of the Craft to read, because it can leave them with the feeling that they’ve short-changed their students; at least, if they haven’t passed on the experiences that Maxine Sanders describes in this autobiography.

Maxine paints a very complete picture of her magical life: her connection with fire as a child; her exploration of Egyptian occultism; her introduction into Wicca by Alex Sanders; the rise and fall of her relationship with him; her continual struggle with the balance between Craft, work, and family; dealing with the skepticism, hostility, and exploitation of the Craft by the mundane world. Throughout it all, I feel she describes herself honestly, including at least as many failures as successes.

I don’t know I accept everything she describes factually. For example, her description of Alex Sanders’ assumption of the title "King of the Witches" seems too good to be true; her Egyptian group seems almost too grand to have actually existed. However, these are my prejudices, and have nothing to do with the facts; I am not a historian, and perhaps everything she describes has been verified elsewhere. I can only describe my reaction.

As I implied earlier, what resonated most strongly with me are her descriptions of how first Alex, and later Maxine, taught their students. Some of what she describes I’d never do; I’d never tolerate outright competition between members of my group, under the rationale that it taught the students magical self-defense. But there’s so much that they passed on or experienced that I hadn’t even considered teaching my students: astral projection, mirror work, meditation. And so much that their group did in the ’60s that seems difficult to do today: meeting almost daily;  students cleaning every item of ritual gear before each ritual; festivals in the hills and by the sea.

I’m torn between recommending this book to my students, or advising them never to read it lest it give them the sense of inferiority that I had reading the book. It’s an excellent look at the early history of modern Neopaganism in Britain. But perhaps only the most self-confident of magical practitioners should open it up.

In the meantime, Fire Child has left me with a firm resolve to start working more deeply with my students… and perhaps on them as well.

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