Photo by Laura Kelly
Maxine Sanders is one of the country’s most iconic and possibly most controversial witches. In the 1960s and 70s, she and her late husband Alex Sanders were at the centre of Britain’s witchcraft boom. At the height of their fame, they were featured weekly in tabloid newspapers and starred in numerous documentaries and films where they would recreate their dramatic rituals…
It was the era when Flower Power and the sexual revolution were in full swing. The Witchcraft Act was repealed in 1951 making it no longer illegal to practise witchcraft, and Maxine and Alex were sexing its image up. Their coven was rapidly growing in size, as more and more people were drawn to the occult, and eventually they moved from Alderley Edge, near Manchester, to Notting Hill in London, where musicians like Jimmy Paige and Marc Bolan flocked to their wild parties. But it was also where a strange set of circumstances saw them linked to Sharon Tate and the Manson Murders in California...
Presenter Kate Hutchinson came across Maxine in a book that she'd bought on her birthday in 2019, from Donlon Books in east London – in it was a striking image of a stunning woman with long blond hair, holding a dagger, in the middle of a circle, and she knew she had to find out more.
We finally tracked Maxine down to her home in North West London, where we sat in her living room, filled with amazing antique books and ancient magic regalia. What she told us may raise an eyebrow
or two, as Maxine recounts her early years in the craft, meeting her husband – the King of the Witches, Alex Sanders, how she dealt with being the subject of a tabloid frenzy week on week, the meaning
of being a witch today, what it feels like to do a spell, her experiences of astral projection, sex magic
and death, and overcoming persecution.
It's quite a magical ride, so strap in tight.
This episode was produced by Hannah Fisher.
With thanks to Sharon Day and Atlantis Bookshop.
1. Malani Bulathsinhala - Wasan Karannata Bae
2. Roh Hamilton and Tiffany Seal - Enchanted Forest
3. Bishi - All Across The Universe (BISHI's 'The Telescope Eye,' EP, produced on by BISHI & Richard Norris. Out on Gryphon Records on all streaming platforms now)
4. Lobo Loco - Lake of Avalon
TRANSCRIPT: Maxine Sanders
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Maxine Sanders: Most of my life is quite normal, or considered normal. I care for my son, who's disabled and badly brain damaged, I chat with the neighbours, I get involved with the betterment of our surroundings, until it comes to say a Saturday or a festival, and then I'll be working witchcraft.
Kate Hutchinson intro: That's Maxine Sanders, one of the country's most iconic and possibly most controversial witches. In the 1960s and 70s, Maxine and her late husband Alex Sanders were at the centre of Britain's witchcraft boom. At the height of their fame, they were featured weekly in tabloid newspapers and starred in numerous documentaries and films where they would recreate their dramatic rituals.
Maxine: We used to get mailed, you know, from all over the world saying, 'The King of the Witches', or 'Maxine, the Witch Queen, England' - no address. And it was amazing.
Kate Hutchinson intro: Flower power and the sexual revolution were in full swing. Maxine and Alex's coven was rapidly growing in size, as more and more people were drawn to the cult. The Witchcraft Act had been repealed in 1951 making it no longer illegal to practise witchcraft, and Maxine and Alex were sexing its image up. They moved from Alderley Edge in Manchester to Notting Hill in London, where musicians like Jimmy Page and Marc Bolan flocked to their wild parties. I came across Maxine on my birthday in 2019. I'd bought an occult book in Donlon Books in east London called Imponderable and in it there was a striking image of a stunning woman with long blonde hair holding a dagger in the middle of a circle. I knew we needed to find out more about her, so we tracked her down to her home in north west London and sat in her living room, filled with antique books and ancient magic regalia. And what she told us may well raise an eyebrow or two...
Maxine: I grew up in several places, mainly in Manchester, but my happiest place was out in the country in Castleton, where my aunt and uncle had a farm, and so I would spend half the year with them and the other half with my parents who were down in the village and I would go to school from there. I knew that I was odd as a child because people told me I was odd. And it wasn't aware that I could see auras, I thought everybody could, everybody saw them. Um, so, but I don't think I had any special powers, yet on reflection I look back and think, "Well, Maxine, you were projecting out of your body as a young girl" – very young. You know, my mother used to use my ability to be able to go and spy on my father to see whether he was winning at the gambling table or what he was doing. So, I suppose it's not a special power! Astral projection isn't. It means moving your consciousness, your mental consciousness, out of your body to another place. Most children have that ability, they grow out of it as they become worldly wise, as the world has its effect on them. I think my oddness protected me from joining in normal things like joining the girl guides or anything like that. I was quite a reclusive child but I wasn't fascinated by people or by objects or anything, I had a much better time outside my body than in it. I had an incredibly abusive father, so I think that helped me to maintain the ability. It's not a power, it's a natural ability.
Kate: How did you get involved in the craft?
Maxine: My mother was a dabbler, a dabbler in religions, in ouija boards, tarot cards, mediumship. Um, she was brought up a christian but she studied Judaism. She was a yoga fanatic, and she became involved with an Eastern cult called Subud. And she met a man called Alex Sanders at this place, it was called the Seven Circles cafe in Manchester, and she'd known him when she'd worked as a nurse in a factory many years before, and, um, anyway she invited him to one of her Sunday gatherings where, she was very arty, and was surrounded by musicians and artists, and then this man called Alex Sanders, and when she told me that she'd invited him to tea on Sunday I was furious. I phoned the priest up, Father George, and he said, "Oh Maxine", he said, "Your mother reads the News of the World, and we banned that too! She still does it. She's bound to invite a witch to tea". Anyway, this witch arrived, and he was quite unimpressive in appearance. He was short, slightly balding and I was not pleased.
Kate: It's fair to say you didn't fancy him straight away?
Maxine: Oh god no, I don't think I ever did, I just fell in love with the man – there's a difference. But the house was buzzing with people, and my mother was a brilliant, brilliant chef, and she did his marvelous buffet and I suddenly noticed nobody was eating from it. They were just enthralled by this man who was humble, knowledgeable and he had an aura about him which was fascinating. And people were fascinated. And I sat, you know, a sulky 13-year-old, "What's this witch doing in our house, a Catholic household?". And he started to come every Sunday and the more he came, the more fascinating his, his talk on witchcraft. And, and its work and, I yes, I was in awe of it. As time went by my desire to be part of it grew and grew, even though I'd been involved in other spiritual methods of evolution, which sounded balanced, down to earth, very much earthy, loving things of nature, and then using that to cast a spell. Fabulous.
Kate: So you eventually married Alex Sanders, became witch queen to his witch king...
Maxine: No, he was the King of the Witches, I was Witch Queen. The two are not connected. The King of the Witches was a very very old title that was given when it was felt that the earth, or the country, needed a sacrifice, or somebody that would give themselves up as a sacrifice for the wellbeing of the country, and I think the occultists at the time took him and gave him that title. Witch Queen is, well she's young, usually young and beautiful, not worldly wise, so she's sensitive and she's a representative of our Goddess - she doesn't say anything much but in circle she's powerful but quite a figure of truth. And as years go by and she becomes worldly-wise she must resign, she must retire, and of course I retired from being Witch Queen when I was 28. It's a ceremonial title, but in those days, 1964, the press eventually turned up - Alex was a magnet for the press and he loved every minute of it - and he said, "Of course, this is my Witch Queen", and then the press took hold of this title 'Witch Queen', and it was a good one, you know. My objection to one of them was The People, The Sunday People, and it said 'Poor little Maxine, naked underneath her robes'. Well I'm not poor, I'm not little, and everybody's naked under there... that was the sort of publicity, it was eye-catching, it was titillating, and none of it was good. And I used to say to Alex, "Why do you let these people in?"
Kate: And why did he?
Maxine: Because one day somebody will write a decent article and it won't have their slant on it. And since then the books that have been written, the serious books, the rubbish that is still written, but amongst it there are one or two really good books.
Kate: How did you feel when you saw the newspaper the day after doing a ritual and you saw your naked photograph in there?
Maxine: I wasn't worried about the naked photograph, no, if it got a good angle I think good, what I didn't like was the lies and how they put a twist on whatever the interview was. They liked the nudity, they liked the nakedness. And Alex was one, he could create a really good, titillating picture. Was it his aim? He said it was his aim to get something good but I think he enjoyed every moment of the publicity. I didn't like the publicity, I have just as much dislike for being interviewed as I did then. But it was part of the life that I'd chosen, if I wanted, I was initiated and married to a man who was a showman, it was an unavoidable discomfort.
Kate: People made a lot of the fact that in your covens there was a lot of nudity. What was the relationship between witchcraft and nudity?
Maxine: I didn't like it when photographers were there taking pictures. And all the rituals that we did, um, for the press, were out of order, some of them were made up. Witchcraft circles can be very boring if you're looking at them from the outside, they take a while, you know, so you have to condense it for a film to keep the audience's interest. The nudity, I didn't like that at all, public things, but it was a way with it. As for when the cameras aren't there, and we are working witchcraft, it's strange. We're only in naked when there's an initiation or when the magic calls for it, where robes would go up in flames because maybe you're going to be working with fire. And so it's a very practical thing of being naked. Some people feel this marvellous release through being naked. It affects everybody differently. But when we're initiated, we are naked. But we used to work out all weathers. And they say the difference between a northern witch and a southern witch is the northern witches were naked all year round.
Kate: What were some of the films you were a part of?
Maxine: Well there was a big one that was done when we were in Manchester, and in London, that was Legend of the Witches. Then there was a film called Secret Rites, I wasn't in that, fortunately. But there were lots of documentaries, you know every halloween, on BBC nationwide here, and they'd come and you know. We got it down to a fine art, which are the ritual best bits and what would go down well on television. We just got very savvy.
Kate: What was that coven in Alderley Edge like?
Maxine: Alderley Edge is a really magical place. And we used to, it moved the paths, the trees moved, and sometimes the circle would become hidden. And no matter how well we thought we knew the Edge, finding our way to the circle, and in those days, all the weapons, all the regalia would be carried. You know, broomstick, swords, the lot.
Kate: Wait, you had broomsticks?
Maxine: Oh yes.
Kate: What did you do with the broomsticks?
Maxine: Ride them. Sweep the circle of purification and within the broomstick is a phallus. And when you see the witches riding the broom, you'll always find the brush end, here, up, not behind her, because it's the erect phallus and when she's in the field wanting the crops to grow, she jumps and as high as she jumps, so the crops grow. But she has the erect phallus between her legs as she's running and jumping.
Kate: Have you ever seen anyone fly?
Maxine: No. I've seen people levitate. I've been in a circle where the witches have levitated.
Kate: But not full on, not full on fly
Maxine: No, not like the Buddhist monks.
Kate: Yeah, ok.
Maxine: We're good but we're not that good.
Maxine: Being a full time witch, and a known witch, your door is ever-open. You'll have things from people wanting to commit suicide, people that need healing, people who have had traumatic events in their life, people who have a bad conscience. You know, the people that came to me would range from the local stripper to Roman Catholic priests who are having affairs left, right and centre with members of their Parrish, they have that guilt. So I suppose a full time witch is there in the community for people to come and ask for help. You know, we work in secret, we work in a circle because our work, our religious work and our spiritual work and our magical work is sacred. And we keep it secret to keep it sacred, but you're there to serve your community. And when it comes to not working with the community, when we go into our circle and we raise power, people have asked us to do things, you know maybe they're having problems with their business, maybe they want their podcast, you know really to get good marks on them, whatever it is podcasts get good marks on. Um, to work for the best in people, to bring the best out in people. I always say that magic, 99% of it is coincidental, a half a percent is psychological and the other half percent is magic.
Kate: That's quite a low percentage.
Maxine: Absolutely. But we have a lot of fun getting to that half percent.
Kate: How many witches or wannabe witches were coming to visit you at that time?
Maxine: Ooh, well we'd had the coven in Manchester and a lot of people were travelling to Manchester every weekend to work the craft, they were initiates. And so eventually we had several covens, but London seemed to be needing us more than Manchester witches, so we came to London, there was already a group established except we'd worked in Manchester, so it wasn't difficult. Then people got to know that we were there, and so the place was never empty. The telephone never stopped. The letters never stopped.
Kate: So you started a coven in Notting Hill. When did you arrive in London and what was it like?
Maxine: One of our witches, his Greek friend owned houses that he let out to bedsitters. He needed a housekeeper for one and it was time for us to move, so I came down first, leaving Alex to get rid of furniture and what have you, and I got into this place and it, oh, terrifying! Absolutely terrifying. The street was full of brothels and madams and old hags sitting on the steps with their curlers in and their teeth out and cigarettes in their mouth and what have you. But it was one of those places that had a vitality, Notting Hill Gate. And Alex came down a week later and life began. It was an artistic place, people were so poor. I mean, we were so poor, we'd go down Portobello on a Saturday when it was closing and there would be the vegetables on the floor and we picked them up. Oh, we used to live very well on Portobello's thrown out, you know, stews, curries, because Alex was a good cook. But people were forever coming to the basement, or they'd knock on people's doors saying, "Where's the witches?", it was annoying for them because they were constantly being disturbed. But the place was run by a gang of, well, they ran the brothels and what have you, and they wanted money every week off the people that had the houses, and they came to our house, and I was quite a tall, imposing figure at nine months pregnant, and I went to the door and I said, "Get off my doorstep". And they looked up and I thought, "They're going to hit me". And they didn't, because I said, "I am a witch. And in the morning, ducks feet are liable to be at the end of your legs", and they went away. And then we heard the housekeeper next door opening the door and she said, "I'm a friend of her next door" [Laughing]. And so we started to clean up the street, and I suppose the people of Clanricarde Gardens started to love us.
Maxine: People were wanting something, they were going off to India at the time looking for the gurus, you know, and those that couldn't afford it came to us. And we did! I mean I remember one day this big Bentley turned up and all these flower power ladies and boys got out, youngsters, and they came down our steps carrying incense sticks and flowers and things - "Hi, we want to be initiated". "Oh, come in, would you like a cup of tea?", you know, and they all came in and then nobody left! They didn't, no. We had a house, it was a house full of bedsitters and eventually the witches moved into each one of the bed sits and we had a house full of witches. And that was another witches that came. It was a good job, it was a big flat because the circles were very big, you know, to have 40 in a circle wasn't unusual.
Kate: What's your favourite memory of that period, Maxine?
Maxine: Parties. Beautiful, wonderful, wonderful parties where the grand and glorious and the poverty stricken came. We used to throw parties on a regular basis, usually for charity, we used to raise lots of money, and um, they were outrageous parties. There was no plus one, and people just craved to get an invite to come. And we used to feed - we had no money, Alex would make these great big vegetable pies, and he'd make this pie top with a rather large phallus and testicles on the top of it, you know, just to let everybody know that it was witches. And, um, we used to raise a lot of money. We got a lot of sirs and a lot of the aristocrats that came. I don't know why they came but they did. I mean, witches come from all levels of society. We'd throw fairy parties and everybody would come down in fairy costumes and what have you, and they'd go on all night! You know, it was, yeah. No drugs, lots of wine.
Kate: It certainly attracted a lot of people from the music world at that time. When you were living in Notting Hill, did people like Marc Bolan come to your house?
Maxine: Mmm. Well I thought he was wearing silly little satin trousers and dressed up to the nines. And I thought, "What are you doing sat on our floor?". And um, there were a lot of them. I mean just because, people think, "Oh you've met all these people?" - I didn't meet them to know them, and I didn't know who they were. Alex would sit there in the corner in his brown chair and the room would be packed, people on the floor asking questions all day. He was like a holy man in the corner.
Kate: In the late 60s and 70s witchcraft really exploded. Why was everybody so interested in the occult?
Maxine: I think because they'd been bound by religion, um, there was no freedom of expression. I mean, there was, you've got these adorers of the world and the freedom lovers, but they could afford, or they were either too poor or too rich. The general man and woman who had worked the folklore thing, it’s traditional in every family, and it used to be everybody the moment they got pregnant, Granny would come along and get the pendulum out, "Oh, it's going to be a boy". You know, these things happened, people read the tea leaves, you know, people did the ouija boards. It was always there, it was always an undercurrent in society. And people eventually just had to break free. People are becoming less religious and more open in a way because there's so much choice, but witchcraft is not something, it doesn't control like religions do. Who was it that said 'Religion is the opium of the people', was it Karl Marx or somebody? And it's true! In 1964 the majority of people in England were subject to their local priest. And when Alex and I appeared in the newspaper it was shocking! These people, witchcraft had always been about frogs and toads and horrible things and stirring them, 'Hubble bubble toil and trouble'. And so I think there's an inbred, there is something inside of us all, the fear of the unknown, and we keep, we keep a lot of our work not secret but we don't broadcast it because we don't want people to go dabbling. I don't think witchcraft is dangerous as long as you know what you're doing, and that's why you have training. But there are certain aspects that certainly could give you a nervous breakdown.
Kate: Do spells ever go wrong?
Maxine: Yes, of course they do. Very disappointing. I can't think of one of them at the moment, there are a few. You know, I was asked recently, "What's the best magic that ever worked, Maxine?", and for the life of me I couldn't think. And then I thought about a recent magic that had been worked and I answered, and afterwards I realised that I'd broken the craft law, and the law is never boast, never threaten, never say you would wish ill of anyone. And there was I talking about this piece of magic, a lady who'd been scammed and against all the odds she got all her money back and interest I think, and I shouldn't have said it, because in a way it's a form of boasting.
Kate: What does an initiation ceremony actually involve?
Maxine: In witchcraft you have three degrees of initiation, and it's called 'initiation, penetration and celebration of the mysteries'. Well, first you've got to find the right coven, and there are enough of them about. I think you have to go and ask questions, really make sure. You get a lot of people who think they've got a vocation and they want initiation more than anything in the world. The only thing a true vocation will be satisfied by is the magic of the circle. So it's a difficult one when people come to me and ask for initiation, I ponder long and hard and ask a lot of questions and I don't initiate just because somebody wants it. The answer, nine times out of 10, is no. When the answer is yes, then they know they're going to be naked, they're going to be blindfold, and they're going to be bound - not bound in a way that they couldn't just slip off, it's not that kind of binding, it's symbolic. And then they'll be brought to the edge of the circle, they are blindfolded, they can hear what's going on and in our covens we use music. And, um, they're challenged, the sword is placed in their chest and then they're taken into the circle and they go through the initiation rite. And they're scourged during that rite.
Kate: Scourging being ‘whipping’?
Maxine: Ah, it sounds awful but they are scourged but it isn't painful. Within it is one of the ways of magic where we course the blood. But it's initiation, it's to let you know, you know, that you are physical, you are physical and that it's to heighten to senses, which it does. But it's not used in... in any way to hurt. The craft is symbolic nowadays because it's legal. Before it was legal then the binding and everything was very very committed to – you're not going to trust this knowledge of you being in a witches circle to somebody that's coming to investigate you and you can go into prison for it, so you had to know that these would be witches who are trustworthy. So people want initiation because they're seeking that fulfilment of self that they're lacking or they feel they're lacking. Sometimes they're not lacking it at all, you just have to wake it up in them, or the craft wakes it up.
Kate: What does it feel like to do a ritual, to do a spell?
Maxine: Raising the power is very exciting. It's a thrill. And I suppose in a way that makes it addictive. The rituals are there to hone your consciousness into what you're going to do, it's psyching you up really, it all leads up to the working of the magic or that thrill of the moment of that experience of raised power. How does it feel? Wonderful.
Kate: Reading up about the initiation ceremonies, I can't help but feel slightly uneasy, because they seem to be about the subordination of women, and I wondered what you thought about that opinion? And whether looking back on it your take on it has changed at all?
Maxine: Um, the initiate, male or female, are treated exactly the same. There's no one greater. We're a fertility cult, where we worship the God and the Goddess. The women and the men in the craft are uplifted, absolutely. We don't, we don't mind what your sexuality is, just don't impose it. It's not about being inclusive of everything that's going these days, it is about being men and women, and seeing the beauty within each and every one of them. The subordination of women? No.
Kate: I suppose, just watching, and maybe it's exaggerated because I'm only watching the videos, you know, the footage from the documentaries and the films. But part of the initiation ceremony is when a man lies on top of a woman
Maxine: Oh, that's - no, no, no. [Laughing] That's Alex just making it really spectacular to - and that was done in the 60s, a lot of that, early 70s. And it got to be a good shot and everybody wanted it. No, it doesn't happen in the initiation. The third degree is a sex act, that can be in token or in deed, and it's usually between an established couple. In the craft, particularly Alexandrian craft, um... no. It's an elevation, no. Not subordination. At all. Because we are working with Mother Nature, you know, we're a fertility cult, and not that we work for fertility with babies, we've got far too many of those, but the witch is coming back into fashion because of the need for our agriculture, for the growth of the land, the survival of the land. It is important, and a lot of witches have put in a tremendous amount of effort, not just on working witchcraft spells but getting out there and doing things. We've always done things like clear streams and help clear up beaches and what have you. That's part of the craft.
Kate: So is the craft about reclaiming female power at all?
Maxine: No, not particularly.
Kate: Do you see the witch as being a feminist symbol?
Maxine: No. No.
Kate: How so?
Maxine: Because it takes a man and a woman to make a baby. We're a fertility cult and so rather than make a baby we'll put that energy – it's still sexual energy – but we'll put it into raising that energy to put into a spell.
Kate: In the 60s and 70s, did witchcraft and the sexual revolution come hand in hand?
Maxine: Probably. Probably. Sex is very much an important aspect to witchcraft - the centre of it. For instance, lots of people think, "Oh I'll get into a witchcraft circle, there's lots of sex in there", well no. Lots of sex outside because a lot of the witches can be very attractive and very ready to have lots of sex, just the same as anybody else. However inside a circle there's a difference. There's a difference because the magnetism, you know, there's certain rules in the craft. We're not allowed to go socialising with other witches until we're fully trained. So that sort of puts a curb on that. So when you're in a circle, you will feel the magnetism, you feel it happening. You know, you've got a priest there and, you know, sometimes you'll think, "Not my normal type, what's this happening?". And it's an energy, an energy that we put to use. And everybody in a circle is beautiful.
Kate: Your book Maxine: The Witch Queen has an entire chapter called 'Sex Magic'. What is sex magic?
Maxine: Where you have sex and you put the energy that that sex raises, rather than you taking it into that wow free orgasmic state, it is consciously transferred into, "Right this is a thought this is what I want to happen".
Kate: So kind of tantric, in a way?
Maxine: Yes, very much so.
Kate: And so do you mean that when two witches might be having sex that they're also thinking about
Maxine: It can be very boring if you work in magic all the time, all the fun would go out of it! For goodness sake.
Kate: I read that you manifested that you wanted a colour TV during a sex ritual?
Maxine: Did I? Oh yes it was, yeah. £87, and we got it. One of the people that wasn't a witch but he came, he said, "Maxine, I've just been through my boxes", and he was a foreign traveller, he said, "and I've got all this foreign money, I'm sure your cauldron could do something with it", and it came to £87 exactly. And this secondhand television cost £87 exactly. Bought it in Camden.
Kate: I can only imagine what I might manifest the next time that I have sex.
Maxine: Well the thing is you need training. Not that I've ever taught sex magic as such, but it takes a bit of guidance, you know, the build up to be able to have that freedom of mind and that choice to do with your thought what you will. I think you go into full ecstasy of the sex act, or you use that ecstasy in a matter or will. If you're going to work with sex magic, it's usually an established couple, and no, there's no witness to sex magic, it's considered sacred.
Kate: What's the link between you and Sharon Tate?
Maxine: Um, we'd come to London, we'd been invited to come to London, they were doing a film, forgot what it was called, what was it called?
Kate: Eye of the Devil.
Maxine: Eye of the Devil. And um Sharon Tate, David Niven and a young man who was a very famous actor at the time, and basically they wanted to know some ritual movement, just to get an inkling of it. And, yes, I met her there. She was a bit empty. You know, she was on set, we were all on set, and afterwards, I mean I misjudged her because I said she was an empty person, she was a good actress. Well, was she a good actress? She put herself in the right state of being. And, yeah, I went off for a cup of tea, the three of them disappeared off, and when she came back she said, "Oh, I'm your sister now, I'm of the craft", or something like that. And, that was it. Years later I met Polanski and we'd been invited to come to London to go on this show, it was one of those first late night shows, which was a bit, not risqué but everybody thought this was really fab. And, um, we had to go into the makeup room, and they hated me because I was a witch, these makeup ladies. They said, "Oh, oh, you've got a lovely face we can work", and they made me look like Humpty Dumpty, but that's beside the point. But this man in the lift, I didn't know who he was, he was a little man, I couldn't bare, I suddenly felt sick but my body felt sick because, and I said to her, "It's that man, there's something very wrong with him", and it was Roman Polanski.
Maxine: There was a movement in London called the Process Movement, and they dressed in black and they all wore cloaks down to here, and they all smelled a bit and weren't very clean. They had a place in Park Lane, basically it was a brainwashing cult, but one of them kept coming down, and I said to her, I said, "I don't like these men coming down". Anyway there were books, Crowley books, and um, one of them saw them and Alex, trusting me said, "Yes, of course you can borrow them". And we didn't hear for a long time. They came back and there were certain things underlined and 'kill the pigs', which is a saying of Aleister Crowley. And of course these books had gone over to America and apparently Manson had gone through them. One thing I can say, they returned the borrowed books, which was very nice of them, but it sort of gave, you know, the connection. There's always a connection in life whether you're magical or not.
Kate: So the Process borrowed the books, they handed up in the hands or Charles Manson in California, and the books were sent back. So what kind of message was the books arriving back, was that?
Maxine: Never ever loan books from your own library to anybody. Because if they come back returned, they can, well, I do, and I've lost lots of books just like everybody else who's got a library
Kate: What happened with the Moors murders?
Maxine: He said, um, he had um, couple of books on witchcraft on his bookshelf...
Kate: Ian Brady...
Maxine: And we'd been actually on the way back from, um, meeting Sharon Tate and the others, going back and the moment we got back got this phone call from the police. We were all picked up independently and it was dreadful. Absolutely dreadful. They interrogated us because we worked on the Moors, we didn't know, but we'd worked not far away from where they'd murdered. They subjected us to the tapes – it was inhuman.
Kate: You mean the tapes of the children being killed?
Kate: That must've been unthinkably horrendous.
Maxine: Very bad. Mind you, what's her name, she couldn't have been that much older than me.
Kate: Myra Hindley.
Maxine: Yeah. She was infatuated with the man, I think he was an evil man, and she loved him and would do anything that he asked. Would I have done anything that Alex asked? And the answer was no, I wouldn't. It has occurred to me that I was fascinated by the man, but um, not enough to do things wrong.
Kate: Have you ever killed someone?
Kate: You say that very matter of factly. What happened?
Maxine: I was, um, had been to Spain a few times, and I was on a programme called La Clave, which means key...
Kate: You were a minor celebrity in Spain at this time?
Maxine: Hmm. I didn't know it, but yes. And, anyway, I met this man called Enrique Meneses, quite a famous reporter. He was the reporter, there was a big magazine, I think it was called Time, American magazine. And this man was really lovely, he wrote a book about witches and he invited me to go over to Spain to be on this programme, and he sort of introduced the television world to the world of witches. But anyway I went back a few times and Enrique's wife Barbara had cancer and he phoned me up, he said, "Maxine, can you come over?". I went over, walked in and this woman's skin and bones, she's getting the morphine jabs and whatever, and she said, "Maxine, I can't die. What's Enrique going to do without me?", and I said, "And if he was alright, how would you feel?", and she said, "I'm happy to go, I'm happy to go." Walked out of that room and, ah, Enrique said, "I want her to die, the pain is too much", I said, "Alright". And we got back and it must've been winter because we used mistletoe in the magic, and it's a sacred druid, and we worked the magic and we were still in the circle and the phone went and it was Enrique, and she'd just passed over. It was one of the best killings.
Kate: One of the best killings? How many have there been?
Maxine: A lot of failures.
Kate: When you say failures what do you mean?
Maxine: Um, well, no, actually, we were with people that had become comatose, and they're not quite brain dead and you know them really well, and so witches will take it in and relay to be with them and to send them on the way.
Kate: So euthanasia within Alexandrian witchcraft is
Maxine: Not all of them. A lot of them were discrete, absolutely, and everybody's entitled to their opinion. But when we know somebody well enough it's compassionate, a compassionate death.
Kate: Have you ever felt guilty after the...
Maxine: No. No.
Kate: Has this been controversial within witchcraft?
Kate: Have you had people criticise you for it?
Kate: And what do you say to them?
Maxine: I don't. There's no defence.
Kate: How do you clear your conscience after that?
Maxine: How would I clear my conscience if I hadn't? I don't think I could.
Maxine: There have been times in my life which have been really really tough. I've been stoned, having people try to burn my house down. Lots of things. And would I do it again? Yes I would do it again.
Kate: Has there ever been a time where witchcraft has become a burden? Or you thought about giving it up?
Maxine: Witchcraft's never been a burden, witches have. They're an argumentative lot. There are some horrid witches out there, and some lovely ones, but don't want to be in a community with them. And it's true, they, if they get on with their own work and mind their own business they'd be good. But I believe, my personal opinion regarding the witches of today, there's far too many of them, and I believe that people are initiated that don't have a vocation, that really don't have an ounce of magic, and they're in it for the thrill, the title. And there's a lot of them seeking fame because it's a place where you can write a book and become somebody. No. And there are a lot of people out there, they wouldn't know magic if it bopped them on the nose.
Kate: It's become very fashionable again. The dawn of the Instagram witch is upon us.
Maxine: I'd never worried about it being fashionable. It's not, it's not part of my craft, which sounds so contradictory to all those books and photographs sessions and all of them, and doing documentaries. I mean we did so many documentaries, we should've been rich, we just weren't money wise.
Kate: Why did you go along with it?
Maxine: Alex loved it! And one of the things that when you're initiated, I can speak for myself, you come out of that initiation and you feel so elated you want to tell the world how wonderful it is.
Kate: What do you think when you look back at those photographs of you when you're in the nude holding a dagger or in a circle?
Maxine: I think, "Maxine, you were so innocent". If I had that youth again I would've done it, um, I'd have put more gloss on it. I think that ritual done well is a beautiful thing to see and be a part of. A good ritual, everything in it means something. They're not empty poses. A good ritual flows, it's like a dance, it has rhythm and it builds up. A bit like Ravel's Bolero, it builds up to this crescendo of power, and yet when you look at these poses, yeah, some of them are very good but they could've been done better. I mean, I could've done my roots more often or put more mascara on or, I wasn't polished in any way.
Kate: You look very glamorous.
Maxine: I think I was very naive. I didn't realise the impact. I can just see a naive girl who loved the magic, loved Alex and loved witchcraft. We should endeavour to see the beauty in the world, and to do that takes a certain aspect of chosen nativity, to be able to see that and to not become bitter and cynical and not trusting.
Kate: It seems to me from reading your books that you might've thought of yourself as a naive young witch - there was this sort of image of you as quite pure, you were helping out with all of these rituals, you were the right-hand woman to Alex Sanders – but there was a point where you broke off from him?
Maxine: He broke off, he went. He went. That was devastating, absolutely devastating, and I don't know what happened. I think the witches around, they kept saying, "Maxine, come on you've got to stop, everybody wants to be taught, they're all waiting for you!". And the months are going by and I'm bereft and suffering the most unbearable pain of loss and the sort of pain when that love break up happens. And slowly I came out of it. And even to this day I think, "Well how did I come out of it and manage to be the teacher? How did it happen?" I don't know but it did.
Kate: Do witches ever really retire?
Maxine: Well if they do they were never very good witches in the first place. How can you retire from something you absolutely love, that constantly is a thrill and excitement to be working inside a magic circle? You can't retire from that. It's a bit like saying when you're tired of London you're tired of life. Well, when you're tired of witchcraft you're most certainly tired of life, because witchcraft is all about life - the life force, whether it is in flowers, grass, vegetables, humanity – just life. And there's nothing more exciting than that.
Hannah Fisher: This episode was produced by me, Hannah Fisher. To listen to the rest of the series, subscribe to The Last Bohemians wherever you get your podcasts from. If you want to find out more about the team behind the series, and see Laura Kelly's fantastic portrait series, visit thelastbohemians.co.uk.