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An Evening with the Fire Child

The fireworks started before she turned up. I mentioned that R was in Israel, which quickly led to a face-off between two of my closest friends, one Jewish, fiercely proud of her inheritance and of Israel's ability to defend itself against those who would harm it, the other ardently pro-Palestine and deeply concerned about the suffering of innocents there. Things got mucky fast, and it took much effort plus the arrival of the buffet to calm them both down. Even after, they were generous enough with each other, but the atmosphere stayed scratchy. And then she turned up and sat herself down in an armchair before all our enquiring gazes; Maxine Sanders, High Priestess of Alexandrian Wicca, whose beauty, buttocks and bewitchings kept the News of the World in print throughout much of the 60s and 70s.

Decades later she has a handsome presence enhanced by a very earthy approach. The evening was a questions and answers session with her. Personally I could have spent the night interviewing the lady, though she may well have found me impertinent. When I asked her if she believed in Gods outside of human invention, she said she adored them entirely within the context of ritual and the magic; and outside of that context, it didn't matter whether she was an atheist, or whatever she believed. An interesting and layered answer...

In general though, her comments were less enigmatic. No, all that filming hadn't interested her,it had been boring, No she didn't want Wicca to become mainstream because it would become common, No, she didn't believe that circles should work together for the greater good, No, what happened in other people's circles didn't concern her, only her own.

When people paused, she supplied her own questions with a gentle mocking smile. British Wiccans were among the most prudish, judgemental hypocritical people, she said... she wondered if any looking at their FB friends list realised how many of their Wiccan priestly chums were rapists? At least half, she assured the shocked room. [NB:See below for  the dispelling of  some muddle on this issue]  And wasn't anyone going to ask her about disability? her views on this were famously controversial; she initiated very few disabled people because they couldn't do the dancing, and dancing is very important in Wicca. Someone challenged her, saying that surely the strength of mind needed to overcome a disability was a huge disciplinary asset and she agreed with a caveat, 'But few and far between...' She didn't budge on this, nor did she on my next question, after she declared that a Witch Queen had to be young and beautiful, and I asked why that was the case when Witch Kings could be such munters.

'Have you ever seen images of the horned god?' She asked me.

'Yes, many,' I supplied.

'Then you have your answer.'

An answer indeed! It was perfect for setting right in my mind the images of the Wiccan deities; the God is a goatish creature of lust, the Goddess a paragon of youth and perfection. The parallel between the above idea and the story of the older, pleasant but distinctly plain Alex Sanders and the 15 year old beautiful girl he met and made his high priestess and wife is very clear. Gerald Gardner's own writings display something similar, when he tried to claw back a little power over his groups. Having established a spiritual practice where women could rule and express their spirituality, he attempted something of a volte-face:

"And the High Priestess shall rule her Coven as representative of the Goddess, and the High Priest shall support her as the representative of the God, And the High Priestess shall choose whom she will, if he have sufficient rank, to be her High Priest, For the God himself, kissed her feet in the fivefold salute, laying his power at the feet of the Goddess, because of her youth and beauty, her sweetness and kindness, her wisdom and Justice, her humility and generosity. So he resigned his lordship to her. But the Priestess should ever mind that all power comes from him. It is only lent when it is used wisely and justly. And the greatest virtue of a High Priestess is that she recognizes that youth is necessary to the representative of the Goddess, so that she will retire gracefully in favour of a younger woman, Should the Coven so decide in Council, For the true High Priestess realizes that gracefully surrendering pride of place is one of the greatest of virtues, and that thereby she will return to that pride of place in another life, with greater power and beauty."

Gerald Gardner never felt the need to show virtue in 'gracefully surrendering pride of place' of course. Priestesses like Doreen Valiente were not suddenly going to accept this new dictat that all power came from the God, not the Goddess, so that GG could get his end away tied up by a pretty girl in front of an altar. They carried on without him.

Sanders seems to have been more generous and less overtly gagging for it than Gardner. But it does demonstrate the possibility that Wicca might suffer from a strange irony, that the same Craft that created a spiritual outlet for women, offering dignity and power and freedom, had at its base boring familiar shaghunting - like the guy who wants to help you get out of an oppressive relationship so that he can nail you himself.

This business about a high priestess needing to be pretty and young, without any such onus on the high priest is the stuff of men's dreams; internalised objectification? More sexism, with the onus taken away from being beautiful madonna to being beautiful sex object? Really?

My suspicion is that Maxine would shrug and tell me that this is how it works, and if it feels wrong then the Craft is not for me. She certainly doesn't want it to become a world religion or anything like that, she says witches should stay secretive and shadowy... again, an irony, considering her fame.

I found her directness refreshing and funny, though it was very evident there's lots she doesn't say. Perhaps the Craft has grown less glamourous, less magical even as it has become kinder and more inclusive. Certainly I understand much more clearly my own relationship with the Craft, where it starts and stops. Especially where it stops.

Edited on 23/2/16 :
So on the 22/2/16 I was contacted by a good friend from within the community. Her comment is below but I repeat it as it  has considerable bearing on the subject;

"I think it is worth mentioning that there is a slight but significant misquote here regarding the rapist chums on FB Friends lists. Maxine wondered how many people in the room realised they had two people in particular (unnamed but prominent Wiccan Priests) on their FB Friends list who were rapists - probably half the people in the room [had these two individuals on their FB Friends list].

That is very different to quoting her as saying "at least half" of each person's FB Friends list are rapists."

It feels inauthentic to change my original writing, but it is perfectly possible that I misheard/misunderstood, so I place this here for the sake of clarity and fairness.


( 6 comments — Leave a comment )
Sharon Day
Feb. 22nd, 2016 02:05 pm (UTC)
Rapist Chums on FB Friends Lists
I think it is worth mentioning that there is a slight but significant misquote here regarding the rapist chums on FB Friends lists. Maxine wondered how many people in the room realised they had two people in particular (unnamed but prominent Wiccan Priests) on their FB Friends list who were rapists - probably half the people in the room [had these two individuals on their FB Friends list].

That is very different to quoting her as saying "at least half" of each person's FB Friends list are rapists.
Feb. 22nd, 2016 02:38 pm (UTC)
Re: Rapist Chums on FB Friends Lists
Thank you for contacting me, Sharon.

First of all,can I ask what brought you to my little corner of LJ? It is very quiet and remote. Maxine's name runs out at about page 17 on google,and it is very hard to find this unless someone specifically points at it.

Re the quote, I cannot call it a misquote for I wrote it down as I heard it at the time, though it is possible that I misheard it. Certainly what I thought I heard was very much the same as what other members of the audience thought they heard, because there were several discussions of it afterwards.

However, between what is meant and what is said/thought to be said/heard/thought to be heard, there can be obviously be discrepancies, and as the meaning you give is far less horrible and catastrophic - though still distressing - than what many of us understood on the evening,I am relieved to hear it,and will add it to the entry above.

Edited at 2016-02-22 03:27 pm (UTC)
Sharon Day
Feb. 24th, 2016 08:26 pm (UTC)
Re: Rapist Chums on FB Friends Lists
As we subsequently discussed, twas an Elder of the Craft innocently surfing, not to worry, nothing sinister. :-)
Sharon Day
Feb. 24th, 2016 08:14 pm (UTC)
Young and Beautiful Witch Queens
I thought it might help if I were to expand a bit on Maxine's comments about why the Witch Queen is supposed to be young and beautiful. Let's firstly set aside the mundane-level interpretations of a 'fertility cult', and consider the matter on a higher-consciousness level.

'Fertility', on this level refers to 'fertility of the mind' - as in the 'fertile mind in its purest, untouched state'. 'Untouched' in this context refers to the pure innocence of the Maiden aspect which is yet to be replaced, or 'touched', by the acquisition of knowledge and experience. Knowledge and experience bring forth new understandings and realisations as the Child of Promise develops within the womb of the Mother aspect. And, as the physical birth process can at times be messy, so too can it be on the higher levels.

The acquisition of knowledge and experience is often accompanied by Ego; and it is the ego which creates the image of the young and beautiful female physical body in a sexist or objectified way. Indeed, it is often the Priests who do this who like to warn that the power is only loaned. Priestesses who are confident in their Priesthood, however, like to respond with something akin to ‘just try taking it back’.

Nowadays one would hope that the Alexandrian Priesthood are well practiced in equality and magical balance in their circles; but alas, it seems the harsh reality is that we are all prone to abusing the magical ego by merging it with the mundane.

When the ego is brought to heel, knowledge and experience gained through the Mother aspect becomes the Wisdom of the Crone aspect, and so long as we can rid ourselves of the tarnish of ego we acquired through the process of birthing and bringing up our Child, we can progress with the development of our higher consciousness.

The Witch Queen is therefore supposed to represent the Goddess in Her purest form, for it is within the purity of the Maiden aspect that Beauty lay.

Maxine has often suggested the appropriate time for a Witch Queen to retire is the age of 28, usually the time of one’s Saturn Return. By this time, the Witch Queen has normally acquired a certain amount of occult knowledge and with it - the tarnish of ego. No longer is she the pure, untouched Maiden; rather, she is about to give birth - to herself.

To put it a bit more concisely, as Maxine states in Firechild :-

"When I asked Alex and Sylvia about my title of 'Witch Queen' they were casually dismissive of my concerns saying, "Your title is one of ritual. Your task is to represent the Goddess; knowledge is not required, only beauty."
"Only Beauty! I was ugly, awkward and gawky. . . Ye Gods! I was confused." (p. 68);

and later -

"As a 'Witch Queen', the Craft had taught me to be a representative of the Goddess. She in turn had begun to bestow her favours on me." (ibid p. 92).

Edited at 2016-02-24 09:21 pm (UTC)
Feb. 25th, 2016 08:12 am (UTC)
Only Beauty?
Thank you for this very interesting expansion, Sharon, I appreciate the time you have taken to hone this, and it gives real food for thought.

The idea of 'purity' is an interesting one when connected with the Goddess. Which goddess of antiquity is 'pure' as such? Inanna? Hera? Demeter? Ereshkigal? All have active sex lives and understanding of their worlds...Isis gained her power through the poisoning of Rah, Persephone became Queen of the Underworld through an acceptance of the rhythms of life, death and love. Knowledge really is power.

Celestial or earthly, rulers do not require innocence. The maiden goddess with the most obvious link to the craft is Artemis who has no truck with men at all and has plenty of ferocity, strength, ego and self-sufficiency.

The obvious exception to these examples is Mary, whose innocence and lack of ego make her the ultimate channel for God's will.Mary's meek compliance is her beauty as a maiden; as a channel for a male identifying god, her triumph is to become a mother,The Mother throughout time. A witch queen channels a feminine identifying deity...and her triumph is to be beautiful for a while, without knowledge of others or self. Such deficits are very useful for somebody, but not for a queen or a goddess, and it is hard to see how it would make for a particularly effective coven leader.

Why do we assume that the feminine ego is a taint? We don't make that assumption when it comes to the god(s),we are happy with him to have an ego, and his most famous high priests had no lack of it. And why is it his blessing to have knowledge and his queen be without? Isn't that a promise that any older man may make to a pretty girl he can't entice with looks? ('I can teach you such things, such marvels'...we all know this deal and what lies behind it.)

It seems that traditional male perspective is all over this. There is a standard trope, a desire for the beautiful virgin to be deflowered, but once she is 'done,' the magic starts to fade, until it's time to play with another beautiful virgin... Beauty without power is the standard requirement of this trope, a desire that has been at the heart of Hollywood and the porn industry for a long time. It may be important for the man who wants a girl to treat his penis like a mighty wand but to my mind that's only magic for him ;-)

Edited at 2016-02-25 08:28 am (UTC)
Feb. 25th, 2016 09:12 am (UTC)
Re: Only Beauty?
Forgot to say that I can understand your description of the development of wisdom in the understanding of a Wiccan Witch Queen. I am not sure if I agree but am still mulling it over!

One thing I do not understand is why there should be any difference in timing between said development of a Witch Queen and that of a High Priest.
( 6 comments — Leave a comment )



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