On 4 December 1969 a press party was held for a documentary film on Witchcraft, Legend of the Witches, directed by Malcolm Leigh. Among the media types attending was a magazine writer on assignment, a fifty-something man named Stewart Farrar, but that is another story.
Legend of the Witches offers a very Margaret Murray-style reading of the “Old Religion” — which everyone in the Craft wholeheartedly believed in then, I think — complete with the “Plantagenet dynasty as pro-Pagan sacred kings” legend, the bit about Joan of Arc being “really a witch,” and the alleged founding of the Order of the Garter as a group of covens with royal patronage.
One cult-movie site says, “Legend Of The Witches remains one of those films so ephemeral and so synonymous with the very concept of ‘collectable’ that you sometimes wonder if people are refusing to buy it or maybe even refusing to acknowledge its availability in order to preserve the legend.”
It is all presented very seriously:
The narrator (whose name does not seem to appear on the credits, and who employs the quintessentially polite, Ealing-trained yet slightly foreboding tone of voice so beloved of most contemporaneous documentaries, not too dissimilar to the camp voiceover that links the tracks on the equally-legendary 666 album by Greek prog-rockers Aphrodite’s Child) delivers several pieces of information which, although maybe not entirely grounded in fact, seem well-informed and at least blessed with a certain degree of enthusiasm for the subject.
The star is Alex Sanders, assisted by his Witch Queen, his wife Maxine in her bleach-blonde days. Sanders leads coven ritual, sacrifices a rooster and divines from its entrails, performs poppet magic at great length, and officiates at a Luciferian Mass, thus indulging his love of ecclesiastical vestments.
That era was the peak of his publicity seeking, and Maxine was the most photographed nude Witch of the 1960s. In her autobiography, Fire Child, she writes,
[In 1969] the requests for interviews and documentaries continued; filming took priority over ritual wrok. The new flat was constantly abuzz with people who wanted to know the witches for one reason or another. If we were not filming or appearing on some television show, people would crowd into the living room to listen to Alex talk. They were beginning to worship him. Alex was, in my opinion, developing megalomaniac tendencies. He began to use tacky shock tactics that did not portray the Craft in a true light (p. 159).
Other highlights include footage of a pregnant woman eating allegedly unspecified herbal entheogens? (Hey, it’s the Sixties. The kid will be groovy.) and scenes from one of the witchcraft museums founded by Gerald Gardner’s associate Cecil Williams. Sybil Leek is shown but not named.
The video is available on YouTube, as linked, and elsewhere. You can also buy it on Amazon. I would not show it to new students without a lot of explaining, but then I am one who is more offended by historically unsupported statements than by chicken sacrifice.
3 thoughts on “This is Not a Film for Your Wicca 101 Class”
Mmm, rather slow to get going, isn’t it. But aesthetically pleasing. How nice it was to just believe in the ‘history’ of witchcraft back then without all that pesky historical interference that made us doubt.
It was nice. That narrative had enormous fictive power — and still does.
Oh you could really break your teeth while attempting to climb blindfolded on those rocks… I don’t suppose they had insurance.
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