‘What Alexandrian Witches Do’: or the followers of the ‘old ways’ do anyway . . .
‘Alexandrian Witchcraft’ is a designation for the witchcraft practises of Alex and Maxine Sanders and was coined circa 1971 when Stewart Farrar, a journalist at the time, was writing ‘What Witches Do’ with Alex Sanders. Farrar, who based his book on hours of recorded interviews with Alex, wanted to know how the Sanders’ witchcraft practises should be described in the book.
Given the term was already in general use by the witches since the mid-late Sixties, it was decided at a meeting amongst Farrar, Alex, and Maxine to adopt that which was already in use.
Later editions of ‘What Witches Do’ were substantially edited; photographs depicting Alex and Maxine removed.
The origins of Alexandrian Witchcraft (some refer to as ‘Wicca’) deriving from Gardnerian Wicca are well documented; the connection between Alex Sanders and Gerald Gardner is also historically enshrined complete with colourful and controversial lore — a Sanders’ hallmark — eg ‘was Alex initiated by his grandmother’; ‘was Alex initiated Gardnerian and if so by whom’’; ‘what’s the bad blood between Alex and Pat Crowther’, just to name a few.
Since those early days, the ancestral tree of the Tradition has branched into many generations and lines in multiple countries. Although the rite of Initiation is what connects all First Wiccan Initiates of any derivation, covens are autonomous. As such, many will find variations on the original Sanders’ practices and teachings.
There was never a head/leader of the Alexandrian Tradition. Each coven, as mentioned, is autonomous. It is always hoped that Alexandrian elders will take on the original role of humility and be approachable in times of need.
When an Initiate has passed all the tests of Initiation and received their Second and Third degrees, they are free to either stay with the coven or leave and establish their own, they can take with them any who wish to go. It is not necessary for there to be a High Priest and High Priestess, either one is enough. The Alexandrian Tradition focus is more on ritual and knowledge in action than on the propagation of large covens and extensive downlines.
Some of the original framework described below comes from the Sanders’ covens and is still practised today:
We are an initiatory tradition. Initiation must be asked for and a formal initiation rite gone through. We do not seek converts in any way; in fact, some covens insist on being asked multiple times; some require a period of training prior to initiation — Alex and Maxine did not. In their covens, initiation was followed by training, a practise that continues through several lines today. The basic training is approximately two years depending on the teacher and the student.
In the Sanders’ covens, we were and still are ‘free to come and go as our conscience dictates.’ There are no holds or veiled threats of reprisals if one chooses to leave. One does not have to sign a ‘loyalty document’ or pledge loyalty to a particular Priest, Priestess, or coven. Requiring such goes against the very core of Alexandrian tenets.
We have few Secrets; and many Mysteries.
Alex believed you can put all of the Mysteries before the pupil who will only take away that which they understand. This is one reason why it is of little concern to those of us who adhere to this sentiment, that there is published material on the internet; purported Books of Shadows; rituals, and so on.
For example, the rite of Initiation can be found online in various media forms — books, sound recordings, videos — and yet, the reality is that no amount of studying these will ever prepare one for the actual rite one goes through. By virtue of the fact that everyone perceives the Mysteries differently and that they must be experienced personally in order to gain a degree of enlightenment — the Mysteries themselves are safeguarded.
Hence, why Alex maintained an attitude of openness rather than secrecy. Stories abound about Alex freely giving away his writings, notes, papers; sitting in a favourite armchair espousing his teachings.
Respect for other Traditions and Religions
Alex held and encouraged his coven to respect other Craft traditions. He believed all major religions had a truth that resonated within the Soul of its followers and was therefore worthy of respect.
We recognise that persecution is just a few bigots away.
The Worship & Magic of which we have Eight Ways:
Scourging and Cords
In the early 60’s the Scourge and Cords were only used for the Initiation Rite and Gaining of the Sight. Alex and Maxine introduced the ways of magic we use today. The Cords and the Scourge are used as magical weapons rather than just Gaining the Sight or Scourging in the traditional manner.
Alex believed in the freedom of the witches, that we are not bound by the words in the Charge written by Doreen Valiente ‘And as a sign that ye be truly free, ye shall be naked in your rites’. We see this as yet another form of control and yet we use the Charge as it has a ritual rhythm that enables the worship of the Goddess through its emotive beauty. Initiations, however, are always performed skyclad.
Incense and Wine
Incense creates atmosphere and is used as an offering unto the nostrils of the Gods. It is also used as a way to scry, find the lost, encourage out of body travel, and to awaken different levels of consciousness. Wine is good after the workings and is often poured as a libation.
Chant, Dance and Breath
Chant creates the rhythm and speed of dance. The Witch’s Rune is possibly the most used of chants; each coven develops their own rhythm, step and breath technique. There are temple chants of worship that combined with consciousness of vibration are both an offering and spiritual elevation of sound and beauty.
Alex and Maxine introduced recorded music into their circles — Carmina Burana was one of the favourites . . .
Tendency to be more Ritualistic
Many but not all Alexandrians abhor empty ritual, we emphasise conscious action within the circle which in turn creates a natural flow from the rites of worship into the magic.
Not all groups practice in the same way; each group develops their own techniques within their witches’ potential and around the basic framework of Alexandrian Witchcraft. It is also true that not all Alexandrian circles use Cabbala.
Alexandrians all seem to share a quest for secret wisdom and occult knowledge whether it be Angelic, Cabbala etc.
The Sanders always advised the witch not to mix their magic drinks although witches tend to be natural rebels who often break every rule in the book, until they get burnt.
The history of the Alexandrian Soirée comes from the early days in Chorlton-cum-Hardy, Manchester when the door knocker never stopped and the phone had to be left off the hook when ritual was to begin. It seemed a wise idea to invite the many to an ‘open evening’; only a couple were held before Alex & Maxine moved to London where they continued under that name until The Temple of the Mother came into being and ‘Soirée’ became the new name for a Q&A evening.
Finding a Coven is not always easy as still today many covens choose to be hidden. Word of mouth is still used so asking the whereabouts of a group will not always elicit an answer, however, once the question is asked, your location may be requested and the message passed on.
There are groups who hold the traditional Soirees where there is an opportunity for you to ask questions in a comparatively relaxed atmosphere. Other groups hold pub moots which have more room, and sensibly, offer a degree of safety for all concerned.
It is suggested that the seeker looks into several groups until they feel that absolute sense of ‘this is the group I can learn from and laugh with.’
Why Witches Do
The quest and vocation for Initiation into the circle of Witchcraft is overwhelming and only satisfied by Initiation and the power and knowledge of the circle.
It is a strange world where the Magic will have its way.
— Maxine Sanders and Sharon Day