The Alexandrian Wiccan tradition was among the first offshoots of Gardnerian Wicca. Started by Alex and Maxine Sanders in the 1960s, Alexandrian Wicca has a lot of similarities to the original Gardnerian tradition.
Both are initiatory practices that emphasize the polarity between masculine and feminine energies. That said, Alexandrian Wicca does have some unique characteristics that distinguish it from other branches of Wicca.
Differences From Other Wicca Traditions
When compared to other forms of Wicca, the Alexandrian tradition:
- Is more eclectic. Both Alex and Maxine Sanders felt that if something worked, it should be used. Practitioners are encouraged to experiment.
- Isn’t always skyclad. Not all covens, or individuals within a coven, practice ritual nudity. This is left up to the witch.
- Is more ceremonial. Alexandrian Wicca includes ceremonial elements from Hermetic and Enochian practices.
- Doesn’t use the same tools as other traditions. An Alexandrian altar features a sword, athame, boline, wand, pentacle, scourge, cords, and cup.
- Doesn’t use the same deity or elemental names as other traditions. As a more eclectic path, this can vary from coven to coven.
Practices & Rituals
Alexandrian rituals and practices are similar to other branches of Wicca. Like Gardnerian Wicca, the Alexandrian tradition places a lot of emphasis on the polarity between God and Goddess energy.
The celebration of the Sabbats illustrates this, as they center around the relationship between these two energies. Even so, it’s not necessary for a coven to have both a High Priest and Priestess — one is enough.
Covens are autonomous, and there is no overarching authority in Alexandrian Wicca. This allows for a degree of flexibility and eclecticism from coven to coven. Alexandrian covens meet for rituals on the new moon, Esbats, and Sabbats.
The scourge and cords are used for initiatory rituals, rituals to gain the sight, and as magical weapons. Incense is used as an offering, divination tool, and to produce an altered state of consciousness in a ritual setting.
Some covens hold traditional “Alexandrian Soirées” — essentially open nights where would-be initiates can ask questions and get to know each other. Some modern covens hold casual meetings in bars or restaurants for the same purpose.
Alexandrian covens believe that “only a witch can make another witch.” They have initiations for new practitioners, and a three-level degree system.
Some new witches may be initiated as neophytes, which then must train to attain the first degree. Others consider new initiates to be first degree witches automatically.
Since Gardnerian and Alexandrian Wicca are so similar, some people choose to participate in both groups. Some covens even admit second degree Gardnerian witches as second degree Alexandrian initiates.
After reaching the first degree, witches begin memorizing their coven’s oral traditions and copying its Book of Shadows. Once they reach the second degree, they may go on to form their own coven under the supervision of their current coven’s High Priest and Priestess.
At this point, the second degree witch may initiate neophytes into the craft. Only a third degree witch — the High Priest or Priestess — may advance another witch to the third degree.
While Alexandrian Wicca is initiatory, Alex Sanders firmly believed that you could put all of the secrets of magic in front of someone, and they would only take away what they could understand.
So, despite the existence of Books of Shadows and initiatory rites, the Alexandrian tradition isn’t particularly secretive.
Origins & History of Alexandrian Wicca
Alex and Maxine Sanders began the Alexandrian tradition. Alex began learning witchcraft at his grandmother’s knee at a very young age, and was initiated into Gardnerian Wicca in the 1930s.
He also studied Hermetic Qabalah and other ceremonial magic independently, which is reflected in some Alexandrian practices.
Ever a flamboyant showman, Alex Sanders had a talent for attracting the press — something that most secretive, traditional Wiccans weren’t terribly fond of.
He was known as a magically powerful diviner and healer, and became the subject of June Johns’ King of the Witches and Stewart Farrar’s What Witches Do.
The Sanderses formed the Alexandrian tradition in the mid 1960s, and were largely responsible for bringing witchcraft into the public eye. What Gardner began with his writing, Sanders took further.
The Alexandrian tradition wasn’t always called “Alexandrian.” Both Alex and Maxine were content to simply be “witches,” without any additional appellation.
It was during the writing of What Witches Do that Stewart Farrar asked Sanders what the witches initiated into Sanders’ coven should be called. After some deliberation, Farrar came up with the term “Alexandrian,” which both Sanderses accepted.
Sadly, the world lost Alex Sanders to lung cancer in 1988. His emphasis on coven autonomy means that the Alexandrian tradition is still going strong, with numerous covens across Europe, Australia, North and South America, and South Africa.
Maxine Sanders has retired, and practices her witchcraft as a solitary practitioner. While she is no longer a teacher, she still makes herself available as a counselor and consultant in her role as a Priestess.
The Alexandrian Wiccan tradition offers an alternative to those witches who enjoy Gardnerian Wicca, but prefer Sanders’ approach to the craft. Though the lines between the two traditions have grown increasingly blurred over the years, the addition of Enochian and Hermetic elements in Alexandrian Wicca give it a unique atmosphere and ritual flavor.