Left to himself, Alex might have ended his foray into witchcraft there and then, but family circumstances forced him into
contact with his grandmother almost daily and before long
he found himselfbecoming interested and then totally absorbed
in the secret teachings. A quick learner-he had been able to
read at the age of three-he was never fully extended by his
school work and had no difficulty maintaining his place at the
top of the class. After school, when he had finished peeling
potatoes and running errands for his mother, he would ask
to go to Gran’s for his lessons in Welsh. Hannah was sadly
out of practice herself and was glad that her son was so keen
to speak a second language

Alex did in fact have Welsh lessons-but only for half
an hour. After that the witch regalia was brought out and the
boy was taught the meaning of each item; the runic symbols
dating back thousands of years when prophets cast sticks into
the air and, from the pattern they made in landing, foretold
the future; the inscriptions on the witches’ dagger-the
kneeling man, the kneeling woman, the bare breasts touching,
the arrow speeding through the wheel of life down into the
pointed blade, ready to strike at its owner’s bidding; the miniature whip, a harmless substitute for the earlier weapon
with which members were scourged, sometimes to the point
of death; and the glistening crystal, which fascinated him
most of all.

He. learnt by .heart the meaningless> chants in a long-dead
language, and at the end ofthe lesson he would take a small
brass bowl ofwater and darken itwith ink. He squatted on the
floor by the light. of the fire, the bowl before. him. At first
he could see only the flickering reflection of the coals, but
Gran urged him to have patience. ‘It. will come,’ she said
confidently. And it did. One day, long after he had given up
hope of ever seeing anything, the reflections seemed to mist
over. When they cleared, his mother was looking up at him
from the ink. She was lying on a bed .. and beside her leg,
splashed with blood, was a new-born baby, its umbilical
cord uncut. Three months later Hannah Sanders gave birth
to her fourth child, Patricia.

Visions did not always confine themselves to the bowl.
Alex was playing in the schoolyard one day when another
boy suddenly appeared to him to have a double image, as
out of focus, and the fainter image revealed the boy’s left
leg in plaster

‘You’re going to break your leg,’ Alex exclaimed. The boy,
who was bigger than Alex,didn’t take kindly to this and
promptly thumpedhim. Several weeks later he fell off a
swing-s-and broke his left leg.

After that Alex was careful to hold his tongue when his
friends appeared in his visions. Once, for instance, a ‘picture’
appeared in his mind of a schoolmate’s mother being taken to
hospital in an ambulance, but there was little he could do
to warn her. Not long after she had to have an appendix

On another occasion he saw a White-haired man whom he
had never met. Weeks later he and two friends, Alan and
David, raided a local soft-drinks factory. They climbed up a
back wall, .crawled across a steeplypitched roof and dropped
into the inner yard where the crates were piled ready for delivery. The three boys each grabbed a bottle and made off
the way they had come. Once in the street, David told Alex
to go back and fetch another bottle.But Alex was less. careful
this time. He missed his footing on the roof and crashed
through a glass skylight, gashing his leg. With difficulty.he
got· back on to the roof and as far as the top of the wall but
then he began to feel faint. Two young men were passing
and Alex called to them for help. That was all he remembered
until he woke up to fmd the white-haired man of his vision
bending over him. He was a. doctor and he was stitching
the cut.

Alex’s ‘growing belief in witchcraft, reinforced by ‘each
experience of clairvoyance, did not conflict with his regular
attendance at Sunday School. His gran had explained .that
there was only one God but that he was known by many
names. It was easy, too, to accept that the Virgin Mary was
the moon goddess in disguise.

Alex’s childhood heroes took on new aspects when Gran
re-told their stories. There was Robin Hood, previously just
the leader ofthe merry men, but now revealed in his real role
as a witch who used his powers to direct money where it was
most needed, and to escape his pursuers. And Joan of Are,
who was really the Witch Queen of France and unashamedly
declared it by her dress in an age when witches were the only
females who would wear men’s clothing. The terror Alex had
felt when he first heard of her dying in the flames was allayed
when he learntthat condemned witches were usually helped
by their companions at liberty. If drugs like dwale or foxglove
could not be smuggled into gaol, then witches in the crowd
round the pyre would use their powers to hypnotize the
victim and deaden her pain when the flames reached her

Love potions, good-luck charms-s-Gran’s remedies were
all absorbed by the enchanted child. He hardly ever saw a
blade of grass in his world ofconcrete, but he learnt how to
recognize wild thyme, rosemary and pimpernel from the
book in which his grandmother had pressed leaves, ferns and
flowers during. her youth in the foothills of Snowdon. As a girl she had belonged to a coven of four witches who were
ardent chapel-goers-in Bethesda anyone who missed a
service without good reason was ostracized by the other
residents. At night the coven used to climb part-way up the
mountain to a small lake reputed to have belonged to witches
since the Middle Ages. Stepping-stones led to the small island
in the centre which was the circle where they performed their
rituals, and in the inky black waters they studied the moon’s
reflections and conjured up the future.

When he was nine, Alex was allowed to take part in his
first full-moon ceremony. Gran had no difficulty in persuading his mother to part with him for the night, for she
was delighted with the progress he had made in Welsh and
grateful to her mother for having taught him

As the moon rose, Gran opened the kitchen curtains and
let its light flood the kitchen. She had banked up the fire with
small coal to deaden its glow and now she led Alex into the
centre of the circle. The air was heavy with incense burning
in four bowls placed at intervals round the perimeter. She
handed him his own athame and told him she was going to
consecrate it. The boy had to lie flat on his back, the dagger
on his bare chest; then shelowered herselfon to him, muttering
incantations he had never heard before. He felt peculiar, his
bare body pressed close to hers, but she was deadly serious
and already he firmly believed in her magic. When they rose,
she led him outside into the yard where she told him to raise
his athame to the moon and repeat the words of the ritual.
It was his first ‘calling down the moon’ ceremony.

Although magic, witchcraft and the ever-increasing affinity
he formed with his grandmother filled most of his childhood,
Alex was usually able to lead an entirely separate life at home.
He was very close to his sisterJoan, two years hisjunior, but
though he often longed to tell her his secrets, there was
scarcely ever the time or privacy required. At one stage he
was getting up at five o’clock every other morning to take a
pillowcase to the local bakery where a new bread-slicing
machine was having teething troubles. The first half-dozen loaves ofthe day were deformed and Alex could buy them for

Boyish rivalry sometimes stretched the promises he had
made to his grandmother. When a classmate boasted of a
Spanish rapier his father had bought, Alex could not resist
mentioning his grandmother’s swords.

‘Go on, you’re a liar!’ jeered his classmate. Alex was too
small and thin to fight, so he marched his friend to Gran’s
house, told him to keep quiet, and led him into the empty
kitchen. He knew how to operate the double-lock on the
chest. As he was turning the key, Gran came in. She had been
in the front room and had seen them coming up the street.
She fetched him a clout across his head that made his ears

‘You’re never to bring boys in here again, do you hear?’

Alex nodded silently, and when his companion had gone,
Gran made him promise never to open the chest again without
her permission

Alex did not forget, but not long afterwards his school was
performing a play and one of the props needed was a ceremonial sword. Alex immediately told the master in charge,
who was his favourite, that he had just the thing. ‘It’s gold
and it has huge rubies in it, I’ll bring it in,’ he volunteered.

Gran was horrified and told him that he certainly could not
borrow it. Even though it was only gilded and the ‘rubies’
were coloured glass, it was a consecrated piece of regalia and
not to be handled by non-witches.

Chastened, Alex went to school the next day and explained
the matter to the master. ‘I’m a witch, you see, and nonwitches aren’t allowed to use such weapons.’ The master
threw back his head and roared with laughter and Alex could
never really like him again.

Now that he had an athame of his own he began to take
part in the rituals within the circle which Gran performed to
cure the sickness of neighbours who had petitioned her. Then
he embarked on the next step ofhis training; he started to make
his own copy of The Book of Shadows, the witchcraft manual containing basic chants, recipes and instructions for various
magic rites. Almost unaltered over the years, the book. had
been copied by every witch in his or her own handwriting
so that jf arrested in the era of persecution, one could not
implicate another.

Carefully Alex copied every word of his grandmother’s
tattered volume into an exercise book, and promised her that
when she died he would destroy her copy and keep only his

This was a major development in Alex’s training as a
witch, and with it came new powers. Instead of gazing into a
bowl of ink, he was now allowed to use his grandmother’s

Don’t clutch it-you’ll mist it over,’ she scolded, the first
time he tried. ‘Sit in a relaxed position and half close your
eyes. Now, tell me what you see.’

Alex gazed in shock and amazement. There were aeroplanes
falling out of the sky and crashing into houses. The side wall
of one house had been tom away, exposing a cross-section of
tilting floors. Flames were licking at buildings; people with
terror-stricken faces were running wildly through the streets,
carrying their screaming children. Five years later, in 1940, he
would gaze again at the identical scene.

He now had his own witch-name, Verbius, and he called
his grandmother by hers, Medea. Sometimes he used it when
his brother and sisters were there and he had to pretend it was
a nickname. He revelled in Gran’s favouritism; he loved his
mother, even his father, but Gran was someone very special.

‘What would have happened,’ he once asked her, ‘if I had
not interrupted your ritual that day? Would you have let me
go on as anon-witch?’

She did not know; for her, Alex’s unscheduled appearance
that day had been the work of fate. None of her own three
daughters had ever discovered her secret; even her own mother
had not known, although she herself had been a witch’s

Gran was certainly proud ofher apt pupil; he had mastered the rituals, he knew how to draw the magic circle, how to
call down the power to work for him, how to conjure up
spirit children he could play with. Gran understood all this
of old and smiled indulgently, but she impressed him with the
need for utter integrity. She warned him that ifhe abused the
power, used it for selfish ends, to the harm of others, it
would destroy him.

For Alex at this point, it was all somewhat exasperating.
He dreamed of riches, even of gaining a few extra inches: to
make him as big as other boys his age. And his rapidly
developing gift of clairvoyance was not always welcome.
Hours before his mother and father had a. quarrel he would
hear the words. they were going to use against each other.
Near to tears, he would bury his head in the pillow and wait
impatiently-i-the sooner the quarrel began, the sooner it
would be over

His grandmother wasted no sympathy on him, and told
him to think of the good he could do. Without letting her
neighbours know she was a witch, she worked to cure their
ailments, both physical and mental.

‘If I can help others, why can’t I help myself?’ Alex once
asked her. He was referred to his Book of Shadows and told to
attend to the basic rules-ask, never command; be grateful
for what you get even though it is not exactly what you want.

Now as it happened, Alex for once knew exactly what he
wanted. He worked out a series ofincantations, and dreamed
of a pair of magnificent brown boots. Three days later, on
his way to school, he saw a splendid second-hand bicycle on
sale for fifteen shillings. However, he didn’t have one shilling,
let alone fifteen, and his mother, who regarded debt as only
one step removed from theft, refused to try to borrow the
money. The next day he was told of a newsagent looking for
a delivery boy. Alex got his mother’s permission to proposition him: he, the employer, should buy the bicycle and for
the next thirty weeks keep sixpence out of Alex’s one-andsixpence-a-week wage to pay for it. Alex would save up his
remaining pay for the brown boots. Sure enough, before three weeks were out, he saw in a pawnbroker’s shop the very boots
he had dreamed of-priced at three shillings!

A by-product ofhis new job was that it absolved him from
the punishment meted out by his father, who was fond of
making an errant child stand upright at the table for two or
three hours at a time. The offence might be as small as making
a noise while Father was listening to a symphony concert on
the radio. Now that Alex was a wage-earner, his mother
demanded that he be spared such treatment.

When Alex was eleven he won a scholarship to William
Hulmes Grammar School, but it never crossed his mind to
use magic to make his parents accept the award. Already
there was a fifth child in the family and much as Alex longed
to be a doctor, taking up a place at grammar school was out
ofthe question, even for a witch. His father was now working
in a floor-tile business, but they had had to leave the house in
Chorlton and were renting a large old house in Old Trafford,
No. 23 Virgil Street. Times were hard. Alex himself was
going through a bleak period-all his visions spoke ofsorrow
and loneliness, there was no one he could turn to. When he
asked his grandmother to interpret them she refused. It was
his future; no one else could read it for him.

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