Temple of the Dark Moon

ALEX SANDERS (1928-1988)

by Vivianne Crowley

Placed online June 18, 1998 - Text © 1998 by Vivianne Crowley

Beltane 1998 was the tenth anniversary of Alex Sanders' death. A great deal has been said and written about Alex. He had many faults and many objected to his semi-tongue-in-cheek title of 'King of the Witches', but he was a wonderful kind and loving person, a powerful magician and a true and devoted priest of the Goddess.

The Wiccan world owes him a great deal. His flurry of activity in the 1960s took up where Gerald Gardner left off and aroused interest in Wicca in new generations. Many talented people were attracted by his blend of Wicca and high magick and his energy current was a galvanizing force.

Alex was 61 when he died, having fought for a long time against lung cancer. Tired and only able to control the pain by large doses of morphine, at 6 30 am on April 30 1988 he failed to wake and, as Gemini his sun sign ascended on the horizon, the 'King of the Witches' stepped from his body to complete the last round of the Goddess' spiral dance.

With Alex's death, the gutter-press had a field day, printing the most lurid stories their fevered imaginations could manufacture. The funeral itself was as much a media happening as the rest of Alex's Wiccan career. Journalists wrote about the 'la crème de la crème of the Witchcraft world arriving in their Astra GTEs'. Press photographers and television crews pursued Alex to the end, with a TV cameraman thrusting us from the hearse to get a better view of the coffin and press cameramen lurking in the bushes. Despite the attentions of the media, the funeral was very beautiful and moving and brought together the Wiccan community in a very special way.

Alex's death in 1988 changed the course of Chris and my lives considerably. We met some lovely German witches who arranged that I would go to Germany that summer to help run a summercamp for the German Wicca. The summercamp was the beginning of European Wicca as we know it. It helped create a German Wicca network and it inspired me to create what has become an annual meeting of the witches of Europe. After the German experience, I felt that Wicca in England needed to be more accessible. In the two days between coming back from Germany and going to India, I started the Wicca Study Group which has been teaching Wicca in Britain ever since.

This is what happened to us on the day of Alex's death and my thoughts at that time.

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Alex died on the morning of April 30 1988, the festival of Beltane. As Gemini his Sun sign rose on the Eastern horizon and as the Moon waxed to fullness in the last degrees of Libra and headed for Scorpio the sign of his Ascendant, he passed out of his body and into a new phase of incarnation, another spiral of the Goddess' spiral dance.

Chris and I did not hear of Alex's death until later in the day because that morning we had gone to Wiltshire to greet a coven member's new baby. Before we left, I went into the temple to meditate and picked up a piece of rose quartz which I keep on the altar, a gift from Alex. To my surprise I found that there was a small round burn beneath the stone which went right through the four layers of altar cloth and into the wood of the altar beneath. I knew then that some strange focusing of the power had taken place, but I did not know why.

We saw the new baby and headed home to London. Anticipating the baby's birth, we had already celebrated Beltane a few days before, but since the Moon was almost full we intended have a circle to have another celebration. However, when we reached the motorway, on impulse we decided to go to Wayland's Smithy, a burial mound on the Ridgeway, a four thousand year old track that crosses part of Southern Britain.

Chris and I arrived at dusk. Surprisingly the site was not full of other Pagans; we were alone. We said the invocations and charges of the Full Moon and meditated on the forces of Beltane moving across the land. We thought of all the other Beltanes when we had come here and of how, two years before, we had found two crowns of leaves and flowers upon the mound, a sign that others had also come to the holy spot to celebrate the Sacred Marriage of Goddess and God.

We thought of that sacred marriage between the beautiful May Queen and the Greenwood King, but as we looked up to the Moon hanging golden above the hushed fields of Wiltshire, it was as though another force contacted us, not the Green Man aspect of the God, but the solar force, the God as Sun King, and I realized that all day I had been singing a Pagan song:

This is the wake of Lugh the Sun King;
he lost his life on the Sabbat Day.
This is the wake of Lugh the Sun King;
he steps into the dark to guide the way.

In singing the song unconsciously I had changed one word of the original; instead of 'solstice', I sang 'sabbat'.

As we stood up the burial mound looking Eastwards, the direction of birth, I finished the song and began to say a charge not usually spoken by a Priestess, but the words that the God speaks at Midsummer, the feast of Kingship.

This is then my Will as King:
I will rise in strength to defend my people,
I will rise in majesty to defend their land,
and when my power wanes, as it must,
I shall go forth to be renewed within the Earth.
I am youngest of the gods,
and I can never grow old;
nor can I come but once.
It is my son who will rise again to take my place.
Yet this one lifetime is my glory,
and when I die, I shall depart
like a shooting star across the heavens.
And men shall turn to say:
'What great king was his who passed?'

At Wayland's Smithy as I spoke these words of kingship, we sensed that a power was moving across the land and we looked up at the twinkling stars and wondered. Then another song came into my mind and we went to the entrance of the barrow and sang the words that open the tomb:

Hecate, Cerridwen, Dark Mother take us in;
Hecate, Cerridwen, let us be reborn.

In my mind, I raised an athame and it was as though the stones that blocked the entrance to the tomb rolled away and a vision came then of a procession of naked priestesses carrying a bier on which lay a body which I knew was of a king. Still we did not understand what we saw, for the body was covered in a black cloth, but inside the tomb it seemed that torches had appeared and far to the back a veiled figure stood waiting. We knew the Dark Mother had truly come.

We returned to London and found a message on our answerphone telling us that Alex had died.

In the three days of the Full Moon in Scorpio, Alex walked amongst us and his spirit said farewell to many. Some spoke of his death on the Sabbat as that of a Sacrificial King, but it is Lammas which is the celebration of that feast and Alex was too good a magician to get it wrong. Alex died when he wished, not on a death feast, but on the marriage feast of Goddess and God.

Saint Augustine wrote that it was not to his death that Christ went at his crucifixion, but to marriage with his destiny. This may seem a strange analogy for Alex's death, but Saint Augustine, that most anti-Pagan missionary, seems to have been fated to bless both the beginning and ending of Alex's life. As Alex explained in his last taped message to the world, he had been baptized at Saint Augustine's Church and would die at Saint Augustine's Priory. His life had come full circle.

So Beltane was a marriage feast and not a feast of death, and since all marriages must be celebrated by a dance, what better dance for a magician and a witch, or for any man, than the dance of the elements?


He stepped out of his mortal body,
and bowing once in its direction,
in honour of the Earthly temple of his being,
he began the dance of the elements.

He danced upon the waves of sea,
and leapt the clouds across the sky;
he landed on the Earth,
and danced by light of Moon and Sun.

He danced the flashing of the lightning,
and the falling of a flake of snow,
and the journey of a leaf upon the wind,
and the dancing of the rain,
and he did not come back again

For at the end of the elements' dance,
he threw out his arms to embrace the universe,
and saving until last the pirouette,
he spun on tiptoe faster, faster and more fast,
until he was no longer seen.

But do not grieve,
O do not grieve,
for behind the veil of matter,
he shall be dancing still;
weaving between the molecules,
and laughing with the atoms,
and chasing the electrons,
across the cosmos to the stars.

And he shall be in ecstasy,
and he shall be,
he shall
he all
all he
Ain soph aur
Ain soph

No, he will not come back again

So for Alex there was a second marriage feast; not this time to the beautiful Star Goddess to whom he had always been true, but to the Dark Earth Mother, the keeper of the tomb. But as folk songs tell us, when the king or the gentle knight is prevailed upon to lie all night with the Hag, he awakes to find himself in bed not with an ugly crone, but with a beautiful princess. Thus the Goddess tries the faith of all who would win her.

After the sickle of the waning Moon which takes away all that is given, comes the dark of the Moon when all is shadow, the hidden marriage bed. But the tomb is a passage and not a grave and at the end of the dark earth barrow, we find ourselves walking once more beneath the waxing crescent Moon of Isis Urania the Star Goddess, in the Isles of the Blessed.

So we who loved him say:

The King is dead,
long live the King,
Blessed Be Alex,
Blessed Be.

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