#SuperstitionSat Spooky Season Highlights: The Witches’ Sabbath, Curses & Rituals

Greetings! You have arrived—good! That means the Coven has all gathered at last for another round of #SuperstitionSat Highlights. Yesterday (08/10/22), we went to the fields for The Witches’ Sabbath: Curses and Rituals, and we danced to the rhythm of some more of your Spooky Season tweets. Here are just a few that stood out to us, among so many other great ones. Yet, a warning: do prepare yourselves, for today we are going to dwell on some heavy subjects.

The first Highlight was from Annie Brassey, who told us a tale of a real life witch. This was Alex Sanders, born in 1926 and passed away in 1988; and the co-founder of a branch of Witchcraft called “Alexandrian”, together with his wife, Maxine. At the height of the so-called “Satanic Panic” of the 70’s and 80’s, Sanders was responsible for shaping much of the image of the witch that we still think of today, frequently appearing in TV shows and other media to talk about his craft and demystify the witch’s association with evil—much like the newspaper clipping Annie shared with us. Both Alex and Maxine Sanders were also frequently invited to serve as consultants in horror and fantasy motion pictures such as Eye of the Devil (1966), to provide some advice on props and ritual aspects in these films. But an awful story later came to surround this flick, as participating actress Sharon Tate was brutally assassinated by a cult three years after release, and rumours began to circulate it was due to having engaged in a satanic ritual during the Eye of the Devil‘s production. And who should happen to be questioned on this but Alex and Maxine Sanders, who had had nothing to do with it. Fortunately today, Maxine Sanders leads a much quieter life than her husband once did, although her coven still meets regularly in the UK. For more information about Alex Sanders and his legacy, check out the Alexandrian Witchcraft Archive here, with plenty of documents and footage available for totally free perusal.

Tweet says:

"Witches prepare for Halloween, from the Bexhill Observer, October 30th,1976. Witch King Alex Sanders takes part in an ancient witches' celebration, part of the Halloween rites."

Includes two images, of said newspaper clipping and a close up of the featured photo of Alex Sanders.
Tweet by Annie Brassey.

Our second Highlight was from Gessica Sakamoto, with an ‘unconventional’ look at witches and the way we might imagine them today; this time, through Literature. As Gessica shared, the most frequent metaphor for tales of witches or wizards is that these are people with fascinating arcane knowledge, that can stay in tune with the seasons, and keep the ability to see beyond the veil. Indeed, the witch has been much romanticized in recent years but unfortunately, as we all already know, this was not always the case. The witch was once thought of as an individual who would solely work with the power of curses, leading to the persecution of many innocent lives from around 1500 to the 1700s; even people who might have merely been working with healing and medicine. Lives were cut short and ruined by neighbourly rumours, as women, men and even children were forced to admit to gruesome fantasies described to them by their captors, just to make all the pain go away—and often finding that it would not. But this is a subject that has been discussed at length by those far more eloquent than me, a humble cat, so I urge you to explore the socio-political context of witch trials and why they happened, for instance, here at the National Archives.

Tweet says:

"The witch embodies the uncanny aspect of nature and is able to see what convetionality cannot. In tales, the encounter with the witch is crucial because, although fearsome, she is the keeper of wisdom and the only one who can stir change and transformation in us."

Includes image of witch standing on top of a chimney with her broom.
Tweet by Gessica Sakamoto.

I’m afraid that we picked our last Highlight as yet another opportunity to talk about the lives ruined due to exaggerated tales of witchcraft, which extended even to us poor animals—especially my species, the cats. As Rivka asked “Was the cat a witch, or was the witch a cat?” This question alluded to the belief that witches had the ability to shapeshift into other beings, for instance hares, like this tale from Essex we found in the Folklore Journal for you. But no other animal was as maligned as the felines, who despite being useful to humans as mice catchers, gained the association with witchcraft and the devil, and came to be cruelly tormented at major holidays like St John’s Eve, to appease ill fortune and entertain crowds. You would think that something like this might have consigned itself to the distant past already, but a rural festival in northern Portugal was found to have been tormenting cats as late as Midsummer 2015! This was the Festas de Vila Flor, where the zenith of the evening was strapping a cat into a basket on top of a pole, then setting that pole on fire and seeing whether the cat jumped out or roasted alive. We have linked the source here for the most curious, but we do not recommend that those sensitive to violence should click on it.

Tweet says:

Cat as Witch or Witch as Cat?

According to superstitious beliefs beginning in the Middle Ages, either could be true, as a witch could shapeshift into a cat, and their feline companion could become a witch."

Includes image of woman bending over table with black cat.
Tweet by Rivka.

That was all for today. These were rather moving and unusual comments on your Highlights, I admit, but if there’s one thing that we are trying to learn at Superstition Saturday it’s that there is a difference between beautiful traditions that might bring some meaning to life, and customs so brutal (sometimes deliberately so) that there is no other place for them anymore except the distant past. In the event, I hope you weren’t too frightened, because we’re not even halfway through Spooky Season yet—that’s coming up next week (15/10/22), with some howling superstitions of


Photo by Superstition Sam, featuring a full moon visible through rickety tree branches.

You already know that whether you’re old, new or just passing through, your presence is very much appreciated, and I am ever so glad to see you stop by for our #SuperstitionSat Sessions every week or even just once in a while. I hope that we will see each other again next week! Keep being kind to each other.

Merry meet, and merry part, and merry meet again,
– Superstition Sam 🐾