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Sanford was the son of Edgar L. Sanford, also an Episcopal priest, as was his own father and grandfather, the author of God's Healing Power and of Agnes Sanford (1897–1982), the founder of the Inner Healing Movement.
Sanford was born in Moorestown, New Jersey. His parents were both leaders in the spiritual healing movement. In his early 20s, he decided to follow in the footsteps of his father, grandfather, and two great-grandfathers, and entered the Episcopal Theological Seminary in Cambridge, Massachusetts, to prepare to be an Episcopal priest. He earned a bachelor's degree in philosophy, graduating Phi Beta Kappa at Kenyon College in Gambier, Ohio. Later on, he obtained an honorary Doctor of Divinity degree from Kenyon, based on his work in the fields of religion and psychology. Sanford studied and mastered Greek mythology, Greek language, and American Indian history.
In 1955, he was ordained a priest at the Episcopal Theological Seminary in Cambridge, Massachusetts. Later he was deeply influenced by his mentor, Fritz Kunkel, himself a disciple of Carl G. Jung the Swiss psychiatrist and founder of analytical psychology, of whom Sanford was also a devoted student.
His first ordained ministry position was as assistant priest at St. Luke's Parish in Monrovia in 1955. He became rector at Trinity Church in Los Angeles in 1958.
Sanford and his wife, Adaline, whom he married in 1954, grew weary of the downtown Los Angeles environment and its declining air quality. When he was offered a position at St. Paul's Cathedral near Balboa Park in 1965 he welcomed the move to San Diego.
Sanford worked as a parish priest for 19 years. In 1974, he left parochial ministry for full-time work as a Jungian analyst and psychotherapist, lecturing and authoring a series of books, most of them regarding religion, psychology, Greek mythology, and American Indian history.
Since those years, Sanford enjoyed his private practice as a psychoanalyst focusing on psychology, religion and inner growth and he found some time every day for writing his books. He was a mentor for Journey into Wholeness from its beginning in 1977.
Sanford authored books on serious dream study and interpretation, combining both spirituality and science.
On the lighter side, Sanford also wrote novels, reflecting his interest in American Indian history, lore and legend. He also wrote a piece in an entirely different area: Running with your dogs, in which he reflected an extension of his passion for long-distance running. He ran consistently into his early 70s and completed the Mission Bay Marathon in the 1970s. He was also an avid hiker, backpacking in the Sierras for many years.
Sandford's children are Kathryn and John Stuart Sanford.
During 2002 and 2003, Sanford started showing symptoms of Alzheimer's disease, which became worse with time, so the family decided to move him to a retirement house named Silverado Senior Living in Escondido, California, where he lived his final years and where he died on October 17, 2005, from Alzheimer's complications.
Sanford's books include: