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along with Mary Walcott, Abigail Williams, Ann Putnam, Jr. and Mercy Lewis all claimed that the witches' specters tortured them, urging them to sign the Devil's book and drink victims' blood. During the interrogation, Abigail and Ann Jr. saw John Procter's specter sitting on a ceiling beam and tormenting the girls.
Abigail accused Elizabeth Procter of forcing her maid, Mary Warren, to sign the Devil's book, a shrewd defense against Mary's reluctance to testify against her employer. By doing so, the girls named Mary a witch and gave notice to the other afflicted that hesitation or denial would result in their being named witches. During her own interrogation, Mary had no choice but to confirm the girls' accusations and rejoin their ranks.
Arrested along with Mary Warren were Giles Corey, Bridget Bishop and Abigail Hobbs. Bishop entertained people in her home with liquor and games to all hours, dressed in flashy red outfits and had scandalized Salem for years. Accusations of witchcraft were not far behind. Abigail Hobbs, mentally unbalanced, readily confessed to witchcraft and told Hathorne of her bargain with "the old boy" that allowed him to appear to the afflicted girls in her shape. Instead of dismissing her story as that of an insane person, the magistrates believed every word and found vindication in it for the girls' spectral attacks.
Eighty-year-old Giles Corey, Martha's husband, described as powerful and brutal, resolutely denied any involvement with witchcraft. But the girls' usual performance, claiming spectral pinching and other torments, sealed his fate as a wizard.
On April 21 Abigail Hobbs' wild tales led to the arrests of nine more people: a very old man named Nehemiah Abbot; Abigail's parents, William and Deliverance Hobbs; Bridget Bishop's stepson Edward and his wife Sarah; Mary Esty, sister of Rebecca Nurse and Sarah Cloyce; a Negro slave named Mary Black; Sarah Wilds; and Mary English, wife of the wealthy Salem merchant Philip English. Up to now, all the accused had lived in the Salem vicinity, but five of these suspects were from Topsfield. Eventually, witches were sought in 22 other communities.
The interrogations before Hathorne and Corwin followed the usual pattern, with the magistrates badgering the accused and the girls throwing fits and claiming spectral violence. But for the first time, they recanted their accusations against a victim, and Nehemiah Abbot was acquitted. If their change of heart was intentional, it was judged a shrewd move: the girls would not charge an innocent person and could tell witches from godly people.
The others were not so lucky. Edward and Sarah Bishop were guilty by association with his mother. Deliverance Hobbs first denied involvement but then succumbed to the magistrates' bullying and confessed signing the Devil's book, brought to her by Sarah Wilds. Such confessions brought the girls temporary relief. Her husband obdurately held onto his innocence but was carried off to prison just the same. Mary Black, the slave, denied prick ing dolls and said she just pinned her collar. But when the magistrates asked her to pin her collar, the girls screamed in pain, and Mary Walcott appeared so badly pricked that she bled. Sarah Wilds's meek denials did not save her, either.
Villagers considered Mary Esty a likely witch since her sisters were already accused. But her adamant protestations of innocence impressed even Hathorne, leading him to demand of the girls that they be sure. Naturally, spectral evidence found Goody Esty guilty. When Hathorne, angry at what he thought was Esty's lying, asked her if she believed the girls bewitched, she is reported to have replied, "It is an evil spirit, but wither it be witchcraft I do not know." Over the next few weeks, the girls—all but Mercy Lewis—began to doubt they had seen Esty's specter, and she was freed. But then Mercy fell into terrible convulsions and claimed that Esty's specter was choking her because she alone maintained the woman was a witch. Esty was returned to prison.
On April 30 six more people were arrested: Sarah Mo-rey, Lydia Dustin, Susannah Martin, Dorcas Hoar, merchant Philip English and Rev. GEORGE Burroughs. Morey was eventually acquitted, and Dustin died in prison. Dorcas Hoar and Susannah Martin, independently minded, had long been accused of witchcraft; Martin even had the temerity to laugh at the antics of the girls. Philip English escaped to Boston with his wife Mary, also accused, until the affair died down. He saved their lives but lost most of his property.
Rev. Burroughs, however, had been brought to Salem from his home in Wells, Maine. A minister at Salem Village before Parris, he had alienated many of the parishioners, especially Ann Putnam Sr., and witchcraft was a convenient vehicle for her vengeance. Ann Jr. actually first accused Burroughs, screaming that a minister was offering her the Devil's book. The specter told young Ann that his name was Burroughs, that he had murdered several people while in Salem and that "he was above witch for he was a conjurer." All agreed that Burroughs was the coven leader that Tituba had described.
Given Burroughs' station and occupation, the magistrates decided a more discreet examination would be in order. He was interrogated at Ingersoll's ordinary by Hathorne, Corwin, Captain Sewall and William Stoughton, a man vigorously in favor of rooting out witchcraft. After the private questioning, various citizens stepped forth and accused Burroughs, a small man, of feats of superhuman strength and cruelty, and the girls writhed as always. The magistrates sighed collectively at the capture of the witches' ringleader.
Unfortunately, Burroughs still had followers unap-prehended. John Willard, who had earlier helped in the arrests, was himself accused and caught after he refused to issue any more warrants. His damning evidence was his inability to recite the LORD'S PRAYER, viewed as certain proof of the Devil's handiwork; only the godly can recite the Lord's word. George Jacobs, an early opponent of the proceedings, was arrested with Willard and Jacobs' granddaughter Margaret. Jacobs could not recite the Lord's Prayer either, and his maidservant, Sarah Churchill, said she had seen his name in the Devil's book.
Like Mary Warren, Churchill had second thoughts about the girls' games when Jacobs, her employer, stood accused. But the girls turned on her as well, saying she had signed. She confessed, but later recanted. Haunted by her false confession, Churchill complained that everyone believed her accusations, but no one believed her when she said someone was innocent. None of this impaired her qualifications as an accuser of others, and Churchill remained in company with the other afflicted girls.
Prosecution, condemnation and execution. As noted earlier, no trials could be held until Massachusetts obtained a new charter, and so all the accused remained in prison without a formal trial. Finally, in May of 1692, the new royal governor, Sir William Phips, arrived with a charter. Unwilling to concern himself with the witchcraft mess, Phips established a Court of Oyer and Terminer ("to hear and determine") to try the witches. Sitting on the court were now Lt. Governor William Stoughton as chief justice, Bartholomew Gedney, Jonathan Corwin, John Ha-thorne, Nathaniel Saltonstall, Peter Sergeant, Wait Still Winthrop, Samuel Sewall and John Richards. All were among the most respected men in the colony, but many were the same men already sending accused witches to prison.
By May's end, approximately 100 people sat in prison based on the girls' accusations. Three of the more memorable were Elizabeth Cary, Martha Carrier and John Al-den, the son of John and Priscilla Alden of Plymouth. Judge Gedney was shocked to find Alden, a respected sea captain, accused of witchcraft, but when the girls shrieked and cried out in pain, Gedney pressed Alden to confess. He refused and was led away; he later escaped to New York. Elizabeth Cary came of her own free will to the court when she heard she had been accused, and she learned that her specter did no harm to the girls until they were sure it was she.
Martha Carrier was the first accused from Andover, Massachusetts, which eventually named 43 witches in its citizenry. Defiantly, Carrier denied tormenting the girls or seeing any black man, but the more she stood firm, the more the girls writhed. Finally, Carrier's hands and feet were bound to keep her specter from torturing the girls further, for the wisdom of the day said a witch in bondage could harm no one.
The Court of Oyer and Terminer first sat on June 2 and lost no time in trying and sentencing the accused witches. Bridget Bishop was first on the docket and was found guilty. Chief Justice Stoughton signed her death warrant on June 8, and she was hanged two days later. The body was casually placed in a shallow grave on Salem's GALLOWS HILL, for witches did not deserve Christian burial.
Justice Saltonstall resigned from the court not too long thereafter, disgusted at the entire affair and uncomfortable at the total reliance on the girls' spectral evidence. His opposition later earned him an accusation of witchcraft.
The question of spectral evidence had dominated the proceedings from the beginning. The problem was not whether the girls saw the spectral shenanigans but whether a righteous God could allow the Devil to afflict the girls in the shape of an innocent person. If the Devil could not assume an innocent's shape, the spectral evidence was invaluable against the accused. If he could, how else were the magistrates to tell who was guilty? Turning to the colony's clergy, the court asked for an opinion, and on June 15 the ministers, led by Increase and Cotton Mather, cautioned the judges against placing too much emphasis on spectral evidence alone. Other tests, such as "falling at the sight," in which victims collapsed at a look from a witch, or the touch test, in which victims were relieved of their torments by touching the witch, were considered more reliable. Nevertheless, the ministers thanked the court for its diligence and pushed for "the vigorous prosecution of such as have rendered themselves obnoxious."
Chief Justice Stoughton firmly believed until his death that God would not allow the Devil to assume an innocent's shape, and so the court pressed on. The next to appear were Susannah Martin, Sarah Good and Rebecca Nurse. Martin and Good were condemned, but Nurse was originally acquitted. The girls, present as always, went into terrible fits at the news, and Stoughton calmly asked the jury if it was certain of her innocence. The jury reconsidered and found her guilty. Again, Nurse's friends tried to save her, petitioning Governor Phips to reprieve her. He did but later rescinded his order.
On June 30 the court tried and condemned Sarah Wilds and Elizabeth How. How, of Topsfield, had cured John Indian's fits by touching him, and others accused her of bewitching their children and animals. Interestingly, during the trials one of the afflicted accused Rev. Samuel Willard, pastor of the Old South Meeting House in Boston. Because he was minister for three of the justices, the court protected Willard, reprimanded the accuser and explained to the public that she had meant John Willard, already imprisoned.
The executions of Nurse, How, Martin, Sarah Good and Sarah Wilds took place July 19. Rev. Noyes, present as a witch-hunter from the beginning, urged Sarah Good to confess, but she defiantly cursed him, saying, "I am no more a witch than you are a wizard, and if you take away my life, God will give you blood to drink." Noyes died in 1717, supposedly of an internal hemorrhage, choking on his own blood. All but Nurse remained in the shallow grave on the hill; her family secretly removed the body that night to give it a decent burial.
Witchcraft in other communities. By now the girls' power was so great that they were celebrities in the colony and were believed to be invincible. Consequently, citizens of
neighboring towns requested that the girls look at their communities with their spectral vision and find the witches responsible for whatever problems existed: illness, poor crops, dead livestock. Most affected was the town of Andover, which the girls found to be crawling with witches. The problem with these later hotbeds of witchcraft was that the girls knew no one by name and had to identify the criminals by fits in front of individuals or the touch test. Many confessed to witchcraft in Andover, because all had realized that those who confessed were spared execution. Lying was preferable to hanging.
The girls began naming very prominent people as witches, including Andover's justice of the peace, Dudley Bradstreet, the son of the colony's former governor. His brother John was also accused. The brothers and their wives fled the colony before they could be arrested. Two dogs were executed as witches in Andover as well. One man accused by the girls, described as a "worthy Gentleman from Boston," turned the tables on them and issued a warrant for their arrest for slander, demanding £1000 in damages. The afflicted balked and quickly went on to scrutinize other towns.
The executions continue. The next group condemned by the Court of Oyer and Terminer consisted of Elizabeth and John Procter, John Willard, George Burroughs, George Jacobs and Martha Carrier. The court granted Elizabeth Procter a stay of execution because she was pregnant, a delay that saved her life. Carrier's own sons confessed to witchcraft, but their confessions were obtained after torture. Jacobs' granddaughter Margaret also testified he was a wizard but later retracted her testimony. No one believed her, but she was later acquitted.
Willard, Jacobs, Carrier, Burroughs and John Procter went to Gallows Hill on August 19. Before Burroughs died, he shocked the crowd by reciting the Lord's Prayer perfectly, creating an uproar. Demands for Burroughs' freedom were countered by the afflicted girls, who cried out that "the Black Man" had prompted Burroughs through his recital of the prayer. It was generally believed that even the Devil could not recite the Lord's Prayer, and the crowd's mood grew darker. A riot was thwarted by Rev. Cotton Mather, who told the crowd that Burroughs was not an ordained minister and that the Devil was known to change himself often into an angel of light if there was profit in doing so. When the crowd was calmed, Mather urged that the executions proceed, and they did. As before, the bodies were dumped into a shallow grave, leaving Burroughs' hand and chin exposed.
Fifteen more witches were tried and convicted in September. Of those, four confessed and escaped execution to save their souls. Three more avoided death either by pregnancy, confession or outright escape from prison. The remaining eight—Martha Corey, Mary Esty, Alice Parker, Ann Pudeater, Margaret Scot, Wilmott Redd, Samuel Wardwell and Mary Parker—were hanged on September 22.
Alice Parker, Ann Pudeater and Wilmott Redd were all hanged based on the spectral evidence of the girls. Mary Parker of Andover had passed the touch test in court and had caused a pin to run through Mary Warren's hand and blood to run out of her mouth. Samuel Wardwell, completely intimidated, confessed to signing the Devil's book for a black man who promised him riches. He later retracted his confession, but the court believed his earlier testimony. Wardwell choked on smoke from the hangman's pipe during his execution, and the girls, ever-present, claimed it was the Devil preventing him from finally confessing.
Giles Corey was pressed to death on September 19 for refusing to acknowledge the court's right to try him. A landowner, Corey knew that as a convicted witch his property would be confiscated by the Crown. He reasoned that if he did not acknowledge the right of trial, he could not be tried and convicted, and without conviction his property remained his. In frustration, the court sentenced Corey to a "punishment hard and severe." He was taken to a Salem field, staked to the ground and covered with a large wooden plank. Stones were piled on the plank one at a time, until the weight was so great his tongue was forced out of his mouth. Sheriff George Corwin used his cane to poke it back into Corey's mouth. Corey's only response to the questions put to him was to ask for more weight. More stones were piled atop him, until finally he was crushed lifeless. Ann Putnam Jr. saw his execution as divine justice, for she claimed that when Corey had signed on with the Devil, he had been promised never to die by hanging.
The hysteria subsides. The crowd didn't know it in late September, but these were the last executions. The col ony's ministers, long skeptical of the spectral evidence, finally took a stand against such proof, casting doubt on the decisions of the court. The number of accusers had grown to more than 50 people, leading even dedicated witch-hunters like Rev. John Hale to question such large numbers of witches and bewitched in so small a colony. And the afflicted girls, giddy with power, had gone so far as to accuse Lady Phips, wife of the royal governor. That was the last straw; on October 29 Governor Phips dissolved the Court of Oyer and Terminer.
But the prisons were still overflowing with accused witches, so Governor Phips asked the General Court to establish a Superior Court to finish the business. Sitting on the Superior Court in January 1693 were William Stoughton, again as chief justice, John Richards, Wait Still Winthrop, Samuel Sewall and Thomas Danforth. All but Danforth had been on the Court of Oyer and Terminer, but except for Stoughton, they had confided to the governor their uneasiness over the convictions and their desire to try again. He agreed. The trials were no longer held exclusively in Salem but traveled to the seat of each witch's county. Most importantly, spectral evidence was no longer admissible.
Without spectral evidence, juries acquitted most of the accused. Only three were convicted, and Stoughton quickly signed their death warrants and those for five more convicted in September. But Governor Phips, tired of Stoughton's intransigence, reprieved all eight. The Superior Court again sat on April 25 and for the last time on May 9; all those tried were acquitted, and Massachusetts' witchcraft nightmare was over. Tituba was released from jail in May and was sold as a slave to cover her prison expenses.
The aftermath. Throwing out spectral evidence placed the colony in a grave dilemma: either the state admitted it was wrong and had committed murder, threatening the political system, or the men involved confessed their sins before God and protected their Puritan covenant. If spectral evidence was inadmissible, could witchcraft ever be proven?
Eventually, the prosecutions were seen as one more trial placed on God's covenant with New England—not so much a judicial miscarriage as a terrible sin to be expiated. Those who had participated in the proceedings— Cotton and Increase Mather, the other clergy, the magistrates, even the accusers—suffered illness and personal setbacks in the years following the hysteria. Samuel Par-ris was forced to leave his ministry in Salem, while Ann Putnam Jr. publicly begged forgiveness before the village in 1706. Long before that, the Puritan clergy had called for an Official Day of Humiliation on January 14, 1697, for fasting and public apology. Samuel Sewall heard his confession of guilt read that morning from the pulpit of his church.
By 1703 the Massachusetts colonial legislature began granting retroactive amnesties to the convicted and ex ecuted. Even more amazing, they authorized financial restitution to the victims and their families. In 1711 Massachusetts Bay became one of the first governments ever to compensate voluntarily persons victimized by its own mistakes.
As early as 1693 Increase Mather wrote in Cases of Conscience Concerning Evil Spirits Personating Men that finding a witch was probably impossible, because the determination rested on the assumption that God had set humanly recognizable limits on Satan, but Satan and God are beyond human comprehension. Summing up, Rev. John Hale, an early supporter of the witch hunt, wrote in his Modest Enquiry into the Nature of Witchcraft (1697) that "I have had a deep sence of the sad consequences of mistakes in matters Capital; and their impossibility of recovering when compleated." He went on to say that the people involved meant well, but "such was the darkness of that day, the tortures and lamentations of the afflicted, and the power of former presidents [precedents], that we walked in the clouds, and could not see our way."
Giles Corey, who died the most unusual death of the Salem victims, was memorialized in a ballad:
Giles Corey was a Wizzard strong, And a stubborn Wretch was he,
And fitt was he to hang on high Upon the Locust Tree.
So when before the Magistrates For Triall did he come,
He would no true Confession make But was compleatlie dumbe.
"Giles Corey," said the Magistrate, "What hast thou heare to pleade
To these that now accuse thy Soule Of Crimes and horrid Deed?"
Giles Corey—he said not a Worde, No single Worde spake he;
"Giles Corey," sayeth the Magistrate, "We'll press it out of thee."
They got them then a heavy Beam, They laid it on his Breast;
They loaded it with heavie Stones, And hard upon him prest.
"More weight," now said this wretched Man, "More weight," again he cryed,
And he did no Confession make, But wickedly he died.
One interesting footnote to the Salem witch hysteria is that the American author NATHANIEL HAWTHORNE, a descendent of magistrate John Hathorne, added the w to his name to expunge some of the Puritan guilt by association. The trials also served as an allegory for the communist purges in America during the 1950s; the most notable example of this is Arthur Miller's play The Crucible.
Modern Salem's legacy. The witchcraft hysteria of 1692 still attracts many tourists to Salem and the neighboring town of Danvers each year. Gallows Hill, the once remote site where the victims were executed and buried in shallow graves, has long been built over with residential dwellings. Legend has it that the ghosts of the victims haunt the area. The Witch House, the restored Salem home of Judge Jonathan Corwin, is open for tours; visitors see the small upper chamber where the magistrates subjected nervous townsfolk to the questioning that determined whether or not they would be charged and tried. The original jail no longer exists, but the dungeon has been re-created in the Witch Dungeon Museum. The entire witch episode is recreated in a narrated, multisensory presentation in the Witch Museum, located in a former church, which draws more than 140,000 visitors a year.
Boyer, Paul, and Stephen Nissenbaum. Salem Possessed: The Social Origins of Witchcraft. Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1974. Demos, John Putnam. Entertaining Satan: Witchcraft and the Culture of Early New England. Rev. ed. New York: Oxford University Press, 2004. Hansen, Chadwick. Witchcraft at Salem. New York: New
American Library, 1969. Karlsen, Carol F. The Devil in the Shape of a Woman: Witchcraft in Colonial New England. New York: W.W. Norton & Co, 1987.
Mather, Cotton. On Witchcraft: Being the Wonders of the Invisible World. 1692. Reprint. Mt. Vernon, N.Y.: The Peter Pauper Press, 1950. Mather, Increase. Cases of Conscience Concerning Evil Spirits Personating Men; Witchcrafts, Infallible Proofs of Guilt in such as are Accused with that Crime. Boston: 1693. Starkey, Marion L. The Devil in Massachusetts. New York: Alfred Knopf, 1950.
salt Preservative linked to luck and protection against evil. Salt superstitions have a long history going back to ancient times.
Folklore. Salt is essential to health, as well as a preservative of food, and in ancient times it was more valuable than gold. Roman soldiers were often paid in salt; hence the phrase that someone is "worth his salt." The word salary is derived from salt.
Sharing a person's salt is symbolic of establishing a deep bond between people. When a new home was occupied, salt was often one of the first things to be brought across the threshold in order to drive away evil influences and establish good energy and luck. A pinch of salt was sprinkled before any job or task in order to ensure the same.
Salt was used in divination. At Halloween, every person in a house turned over a thimbleful of salt upon a platter. Whoever's pillar fell apart by the next day would die within a year. At Christmas, omens for the coming year were read from the dryness or moistness of salt.
Because of the high value of salt, spilling it has long been considered bad luck. To counter the bad luck, spilt salt should be thrown over the left shoulder, for that is where evil spirits can be found lurking. Spilling salt can make a person vulnerable to the Devil. In FAIRY lore, spilt salt should be thrown into the home fire so that the household brownies can lick it.
In Christianity, salt is symbolic of incorruptibility, eternity and divine wisdom. Early Christians began using salt in christenings and baptisms as a purification and protection. Church sites were consecrated with salt and holy water. The Catholic ritual of the benediction of salt and water ensures physical health. Oaths sometimes were taken on salt instead of the Bible.
Demon and witch lore. As a preservative, salt is contrary to the nature of demons, who are intent upon corrupting and destroying. Salt is sometimes thrown at weddings, to preserve marital happiness and also to repel evil spirits who might be intent upon wreaking havoc with the new-lyweds. Salt was placed in coffins as a preservative for the soul after death and to protect it against assaults by evil spirits. Salt was used in pagan sacrifices. It was placed in the cribs of infants to protect them against evil spirits.
Salt and salted water, especially blessed, are used to cleanse premises believed to be infested by demons. Salted water is washed around mirrors, windows and doorways and sometimes washed over entire walls and ceilings.
Witches as well as demons are repelled by salt. In medieval times, it was believed that witches and the animals they bewitched were unable to eat anything salted. Inquisitors who interrogated accused witches were advised by demonologists to first protect themselves by wearing a sacramental amulet made of salt consecrated on Palm Sunday and blessed herbs, pressed into a disc of blessed wax. One means of torturing accused witches was to force-feed them heavily salted food and deny them water.
An old recipe for breaking an evil spell calls for stealing a tile from a witch's roof, sprinkling it with salt and urine and then heating it over fire while reciting a CHARM. Such antidotes were still in use in modern times in rural parts of Europe to remove spells from stables and homes and to cure illness. In American Ozark lore, women who complain of food being too salty are suspected of being witches. One Ozark way to detect a witch is to sprinkle salt on her chair. If she is a witch, the salt will melt and cause her dress to stick to the chair.
Magic. Salt is used in spELLs and magical rituals as a representative of the element of earth. It also purifies and defines magical boundaries. For example, salt might be sprinkled around a MAGIC CIRCLE as an added protection.
Alchemy. In alchemy, all things, including the four elements, are composed of a divine trinity that includes salt, mercury and sulphur. Salt represents the body, female and earth aspects, and was a crucial ingredient in alchemic recipes for making gold. One 17th-century formula for potable gold, believed to be an antidote for poison, a cura tive of heart disease and a repellent of the Devil, included gold, salt, red wine vinegar, the ashes of a block of tin burnt in an iron pan, wine and honey.
Cahill, Robert Ellis. Strange Superstitions. Danvers, Mass.:
Old Saltbox Publishing, 1990. Radford, E. and M.A. The Encyclopedia of Superstitions.
Edited and revised by Christina Hole. New York: Barnes
Salt Lane Witches In English folklore, two white witches who once lived in Castle Street, Worcester, in medieval times. They were considered white witches because instead of bewitching others to their harm, they used their MAGIC to free the carts that frequently became stuck in the mud near their cottages. For sixpence, one witch would stroke and bless the horse while the other would stroke the cartwheels.
One day a wagoner tried to bargain with the witches and noticed a piece of straw on his horse's back. Thinking it was part of their magic, he cut it in half. Immediately, the witch who was stroking the horse screamed and fell dead, severed in two. The cart was freed, and the wagoner fled. The second witch lived on and later turned a troop of soldiers into stone, when they appeared in town to collect taxes. According to legend, their petrified figures once stood at what is now the main road that passes through Worcester. A local merchant tried to break the spell of the figures, but one of the stones turned into a giant horse which reared up and pawed the air, frightening him off.
Folklore, Myths and Legends of Britain. London: Reader's
Digest Assoc. Ltd., 1977.
Sanders, Alex (1926-1988) Self-proclaimed "King of the Witches" in his native England, Alex Sanders rose to fame in the 1960s, founding a major tradition bearing his name: the Alexandrian tradition. A gifted psychic with a flamboyant style, he was for years the most public witch in Britain, gaining headlines for his reputed sensational acts of MAGIC. Some called him the enfant terrible of British witchcraft, whose life was surrounded by more myth than fact.
Sanders was born in Manchester, the oldest of six children. His father was a music hall entertainer and suffered from alcoholism. By Sanders' own account, he was seven when he discovered his grandmother, Mary Bibby, standing naked in the kitchen in the middle of a circle drawn on the floor. She revealed herself as a hereditary Witch and initiated him on the spot. She ordered him to enter the circle, take off his clothes and bend down with his head between his thighs. She took a knife and nicked his scrotum, saying, "You are one of us now."
According to Sanders, Mary Bibby gave him her book of shadows, which he copied, and taught him the rites
and magic of witches. He discovered his own natural psychic gifts for clairvoyance and healing by touch. He worked as an analytical chemist at a laboratory in Manchester, where he met and married a 19-year-old coworker, Doreen, when he was 21. They had two children, Paul and Janice, but the marriage rapidly disintegrated. Do-reen took the children and left Sanders when he was 26.
Sanders then entered a long period of drifting from one low-level job to another, drinking and indulging in sexual flings with both men and women, according to his account of his life. He decided to follow the left-hand path and use magic to bring him wealth and power. For a time, he worshiped the DEVIL and studied Abra-Melin magic. He apparently attracted people who supported him financially. He formed his first COVEN, began getting media attention, attracted more followers and by 1965, claimed to have 1,623 initiates in 100 covens, who then "persuaded" him to be elected King of the Witches. Although he emphasized that the title of king pertained only to his own Alexandrian tradition, the media treated it otherwise, as though he were king of all Witches.
Sanders boasted about his alleged feats of magic. He claimed to create a flesh-and-blood "spiritual baby" in a rite of ritual masturbation, with the help of a male assistant. Sanders said the baby disappeared shortly after its creation, and "grew up" as a spirit that took over him in his trance channeling. Michael, as the spirit was called, supposedly was responsible for "forcing" Sanders to carry on at wild parties, insult others and otherwise act abominably. Eventually, Sanders claimed, Michael simmered down and became a valuable spirit familiar, offering advice in healing matters. Sanders also channeled a FAMILIAR entity, Nick Demdike, who said he had been persecuted as a witch in the Lancaster trials of the 17th century. (See LANCASTER WITCHES.)
Sanders reportedly got rid of warts by "wishing them on someone else, someone who's already ugly, with boil marks I can fill up with the warts." He claimed to cure a man of heroin addiction, and cure cystitis in a woman by laying his hands on her head and willing her affliction away. He also said he cured a young woman of stomach cancer by sitting with her in the hospital for three days and nights, holding her feet and pouring healing energy into her.
He effected other cures by pointing at the troubled spots on the body and concentrating. Pointing, he said, never failed. He claimed he gave magical abortions by pointing at the womb and commanding the pregnancy to end.
One of Sanders' more famous alleged cures concerned his daughter, Janice, who was born in dry labor with her left foot twisted backwards. Doctors said nothing could be done until the child was in her teens. Sanders received an "impression" from Michael to take olive oil, warm it, and anoint Janice's foot. Sanders did so, then simply twisted Janice's foot straight. The foot remained corrected; Janice walked normally, except for a slight limp in cold, damp weather.
In the 1960s, Sanders met Maxine Morris, a Roman Catholic and 20 years his junior, whom he initiated into the Craft in 1964 and handfasted in 1965. Maxine became his high priestess. In 1968, They married in a civil ceremony and moved to a basement flat near Notting Hill Gate in London, where they ran their coven and taught training classes. They attracted many followers and initiated people into the Craft. Their daughter, Maya, was born the same year. (See MAXINE SANDERS.)
Sanders was catapulted into the national public spotlight by a sensational newspaper article in 1969. The publicity led to a romanticized biography, King of the Witches, by June Johns (1969), a film, "Legend of the Witches," and numerous appearances on media talk shows, and public speaking engagements. Sanders enjoyed the publicity and was adept at exploiting it, to the dismay of other Witches who felt he dragged the Craft through the gutter press.
Curiously, Sanders always appeared robed or clad in a loincloth in photos of himself in rituals, while other witches with him were naked. He explained this by saying that "witch law" required the elder of a coven to be apart from the others and easily identifiable.
Sanders' accounts of his INITIATION into the Craft by his grandmother, his magical escapades, and the extent of his "kingdom" are dubious. Years after his publicity peaked, it was revealed that he passed off the writings and teachings of others as his own. STEWART FARRAR, a journalist who was initiated by Sanders, said Sanders used material from the Gardnerian BOOK OF SHADOWS, written by GERALD B. GARDNER and DOREEN VALIENTE, and either took credit for it himself or passed it off as inherited material. He also passed off material written by occultist Eliphas Levi and Franz Bardon as his own, sometimes after making slight changes in it, and other times not bothering to make any changes at all.
According to some Gardnerian Witches, Sanders created his Alexandrian tradition after he was refused initiation into various Gardnerian covens, having obtained a copy of the Gardnerian book of shadows. However, there is some evidence in Gardner's correspondence papers that Sanders was a Gardnerian initiate. He was initiated by a high priestess whose Craft name was Medea and who was described as "the Derbyshire priestess."
In 1972, Alex and Maxine had a son, Victor. In 1973, they separated. Sanders moved to Sussex, where he was less active and away from the media limelight. Maxine remained in the London flat, where she continued to run a coven and teach the Craft. Sanders took his teaching to Continental Europe.
Sanders died on April 30, 1988 (Beltane), after a long battle with lung cancer. His funeral was a media event. Witches and Pagans from various traditions attended to pay their respects. A tape recording was played in which he declared that Victor should succeed him as "King of
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