one girl’s perspective on life, neopaganism, veganism, politics, books, films, and… stuff.

Book Review: Fire Child

Fire Child by Maxine Sanders.

I have to admit, this book really wasn’t what I was expecting. Well, in some ways it was, but not in others. Allow me to explain:

First off, this book is almost solely an autobiography of Maxine Sanders’ magickal life (that is, it doesn’t really deal with her personal life, except as it pertains to magick/witchcraft). For instance, it turns out she has a sibling; this is only described in terms of, basically, a one-word mention, in passing. It’s a bit unexpected for a biography, but when you consider that she is one of the founders of a major Wiccan tradition, it makes sense to focus primarily on what is considered one of her major achievements.

I’d like to point out that the integration of magick in her everyday life was interesting; there were a lot of insights into the daily life of a coven, and especially how much British Traditional Wiccan practices differ vastly from what most people think is Wicca today (i.e. what I generally call ‘neo-Wicca’). The techniques of ritual fasting and scourging are nowhere near as prevalent as they seem to have been at the time.

Mostly, this book is useful in this manner; as a sort of time capsule and historical document, giving an account (albeit a highly subjective one, but that’s the nature of religious study, which is by it’s nature qualitative) of the burgeoning Wiccan movement. I found it particularly interesting to compare the way that most people came about witchcraft/Wicca, through the Egyptian religious orders that were so popular in Britain at the time, as well as the Theosophical movement, with the “straight into reading Cunningham (now easily available) and Internet sites devoted to Wicca” introduction that most neophytes now undergo.

One thing that I found a little appalling was the instance of a ‘bad witch’ who led a woman into his house under false pretenses (something about being a grand high magus and going to ordain her, or some such), and then subjecting her to emotional and sexual abuse. When Maxine and the others found out about this, rather than go to the police, they decided to keep it “in community” and basically excommunicate him from the Wiccan culture. Um, that’s all well and good, but when religious organisations take it upon themselves to mete out their own ‘justice’, and believe themselves to be separate from secular law, that’s a problem. Maybe that’s another sign of how much things have changed. At least, I certainly hope they have.

Another surprising thing, for me, was the reminder that, yes, she was the co-founder of a Wiccan tradition, but she is still a human being. She made many mistakes, and at times I was somewhat shocked by her extremely trusting and naïve nature, but that’s the point: it made me stop and reflect upon the fact that we tend to pseudo-deify our religious leaders. It was a good wake-up call.

Obviously, the stylistic elements of auto-biographies are kind of secondary to theme and content; that being said, Maxine definitely could have benefited from a better editor. There are a few grammatical errors and misspellings, and I found that I had to occasionally reread a sentence in order to sort out the meaning that was being obfuscated by poor syntax.

Overall, 7/10.

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