Anna Kingsford and Theosophy

Anna Bonus Kingsford (1846-1888) was a prominent member of the Theosophical Society in England during the early 1880s.

This article is not intended to persuade people who are reading Kingsford’s writings to stop doing so, nor to convince others who may be considering studying her work to not do so. There must always be free will and spiritual and mental independence.

But it is the aim of this article to present some information and details which many people are not likely to otherwise come across. By all means, people should study and appreciate Kingsford’s work if they wish but it is surely better to do so in possession of all the available facts, rather than from the one-sided perspective that is usually encountered among supporters of her teachings.

Firstly, although the Masters of the Trans-Himalayan Brotherhood – who were the true Founders of the modern Theosophical Movement and the Teachers and colleagues of H. P. Blavatsky – spoke of Anna Kingsford on two occasions as being a “Fifth Rounder” (i.e. having characteristics and qualities more representative of the next Round or major evolutionary cycle than of the present mass of humanity, as we are currently only in the Fourth Round) and were greatly impressed and favourably disposed towards her staunch vegetarianism and campaigns against vivisection and animal cruelty, They also viewed her as being in many respects a deluded psychic, possessed of unreliable clairvoyance, and influenced for the worse by her vanity and fondness for the Christian religion.

This italicised part is the part generally left unmentioned by Kingsford promoters within “The Theosophical Society – Adyar.” It is perhaps worth pointing out that Kingsford supporters and promoters appear to almost never be found within the three other international and independent Theosophical associations, namely “The Theosophical Society – Pasadena,” “The Theosophical Society – Point Loma,” and the United Lodge of Theosophists. (See The Four Branches of The Theosophical Movement for a brief overview.)

In 1882, Kingsford and her close friend and colleague Edward Maitland published the book “The Perfect Way; or, the Finding of Christ.”

The wife of a Church of England minister and a convert to the Roman Catholic Church, Kingsford developed a peculiar form of esotericism based upon her own visions – or “illuminations” as she called them – and made no secret of the fact that she considered Western Esotericism, and Esoteric Christianity in particular, to be of far greater value, importance, and legitimacy, than the Eastern Esotericism promulgated by HPB, her Adept Teachers, and those who were at the time working on their behalf, such as A. P. Sinnett, author of “The Occult Word” and “Esoteric Buddhism” and recipient of many letters from the Mahatmas.

HPB spoke of Kingsford and Maitland as “the Perfect Way twins” and had very little complimentary to say about either of them, although she did quote from and refer positively to Kingsford’s translations of Hermetic texts several times in “The Secret Doctrine.” Kingsford had passed away the year “The Secret Doctrine” was written, hence why HPB refers to her therein as “our late lamented friend.”

Kingsford and Maitland, who claimed to have met and conversed with “God Himself,” came to describe their teachings as “the New Gospel of Interpretation” and were looked upon by their admirers as “prophet-souls.”

After the untimely death of the seeress, who said her inspirations came mainly in mediumistic trance states and dreams, Maitland founded the Esoteric Christian Union in an attempt to promote her work. He was not very successful. In much more recent times, however, her writings have begun to acquire a new popularity, particularly amongst those who prefer to follow “lone prophet” figures and single or isolated religions than to study and apply “the accumulated Wisdom of the Ages,” the universal Esoteric Teaching which underlies all the world’s religions.

The fact is that HPB and the Mahatmas had both good and not so good things to say about Anna Kingsford. It seems that there was more bad than good, in the case of both her and Maitland, but one point insisted upon by the Masters is that both were unfailingly honest and sincere in their endeavours, no matter how deluded they might have been. This can by no means be said for all who claim to be seers, visionaries, or prophets.

If one does not yet clearly understand the role and nature of H. P. Blavatsky or of her work or of her Adept-Teachers, it is perhaps understandable to interpret their views and positions regarding Kingsford and Maitland as “petty jealousy” or “unfriendly gossip,” as some contemporary Kingsford supporters have claimed. It is therefore necessary to gain an understanding of why they wrote about her as they did. But for this, it is really necessary to read carefully the majority of the articles listed under the heading “THE MASTERS” on the Articles page. It’s also important to be aware that their criticisms were private criticisms and not publicly announced or published for all to see. Only a few decades after HPB’s (and Kingsford’s) death did most of these remarks come to light and become publicly accessible, in such books as “The Letters of H. P. Blavatsky to A. P. Sinnett.”

One instance was this comment and insight provided by the Master K.H. in a letter to A. P. Sinnett:

“So is Jesus and John the Baptist [visible] to Edward Maitland; as true and as honest and sincere as S.M. [i.e. Stainton Moses, a Spiritualist medium]; though neither knew the other, John the Baptist having never heard of Jesus who is a spiritual abstraction and no living man of that epoch. And does not E. Maitland see Hermes the first and second and Elijah, etc. Finally does not Mrs. Kingsford feel as sure as S.M. with regard to + [i.e. the symbol or sign of “Imperator,” the entity supposedly channelled by Stainton Moses] that she saw and conversed with God!!; and that but a few evenings after she had talked with, and received a written communication from the Spirit of a dog? Read, read Maitland’s Soul, etc., once more my friend, see pp. 180, 194, 239, 240, and 267-8-9, etc. And who purer or more truthful than that woman or Maitland! Mystery, mystery will you exclaim. IGNORANCE we answer; the creation of that we believe in and want to see.”

Promoters of Anna Kingsford’s works often point to the historical fact that at one point (in 1883) the Trans-Himalayan Masters expressed a clear and unequivocal wish for Anna Kingsford to become the president of the Theosophical Society in England, rather than Sinnett, despite Sinnett being the one who was (at that time, at least) in communication by letter with those Masters. “This shows that Anna was a respected agent of the Masters!” some declare. But anyone who researches the matter will soon learn otherwise.

The Masters came to this decision, They said, because “it seems absolutely necessary in order to re-establish the lost harmony” among the members of the Society and because Kingsford’s Christian ideas would be better received by “the actual bent of English national intelligence and spirit of conservatism.” After all, this was still the very Christian and very conservative England of Victorian times, thoroughly different from the situation we find in the UK or anywhere else today.

“Mrs. K. is thus more adapted to lead the movement successfully in England,” the Master wrote, but added, “as the services of Mr. Sinnett in the good cause are great indeed – far greater, so far, than of any Western Theosophist – therefore, a new arrangement is found advisable. . . . To carry out this programme, it is desirable that the “London Lodge” should be administered by, at least, fourteen Councillors – one half openly inclining towards the Christian Esotericism as represented by Mrs. K., and the other half following Buddhist Esotericism as represented by Mr. S.; all important business to be transacted by the majority of votes. We are well aware of and quite alive to the difficulties of such an arrangement. Yet, it seems absolutely necessary in order to re-establish the lost harmony.”

The Master K.H. shortly afterwards clarified to Sinnett that in presenting and ordering this plan, “I myself am simply carrying out the wishes of my Chohan,” by which is meant the Maha Chohan, the Master of the Masters of the Trans-Himalayan Brotherhood or Trans-Himalayan Lodge or Trans-Himalayan Esoteric School. “Suffice that you should know that her anti-vivisection struggle and her strict vegetarian diet have won entirely over to her side our stern Master. He cares less than we do for any outward – or even inward – expression or feeling of disrespect to the “Mahatmas.” Let her do her duty by the Society, be true to her principles and all the rest will come in good time. She is very young, and her personal vanity and other womanly short-comings are to be laid at the door of Mr. Maitland and the Greek chorus of her admirers.”

HPB was perhaps somewhat less diplomatic in a letter she sent to Sinnett at that time:

“Ye gods! why is it that the Chohan wants her [i.e. Kingsford] at all! Is it for our or your sins? I know that all the rest (K.H. and Boss [i.e. the Master M., HPB’s Guru] and chelas in and out of Tibet) do not want her. But it seems a fatality that the old venerable gentleman who never meddles in anything theosophical least of all European, should have thrown his eye upon her! Djual Khool told me in Madras that he never saw his “Master” so embarrassed. Is it that the Chohan Rimbochy wants to disgust you all, with all such contradictions, inconsistencies and counter-orders? I asked D.K. and he only looked at me and said nothing. . . . I know that Their desire is to have you President of the Society of the “Occultists” of London – and no one else, and that They are forced to tolerate her on account of and out of deference for the wishes of the Chohan – His name be blessed.”

At another point around that time, HPB wrote to Sinnett:

“Let her [i.e. Kingsford] found a Society apart from yours – a distinct “Esoteric Christianity London Lodge,” and you establish a Society of your own. How is it possible to accept the proposed farce of a Theos. Society alleged to draw its teachings from our Mahatmas, when, as soon as the latter will say anything that does not quite agree with Mrs. K.’s inspiration and prophetic utterances – their teachings will be forthwith attributed to either “a wilful misrepresentation of doctrine,” or, from the fact that “the teacher has not as yet reached the degree of initiation to which disclosure of such truth belongs.” Who is to check the utterances and denials of Mrs. K.? Who can control her assumptions and assertions. She will say – “It is not so, I know it, for I have been initiated during the reign of Psametichus or Sesostris,” and the people will have to open their mouths and hold their tongues. Impossible!”

But the situation with Anna Kingsford as president of the Theosophical Society in England did not last very long, as soon she made a demand that HPB should get the Master K.H. to formally appoint her (Kingsford) with the grand title of “The Apostle of Eastern and Western Esotericism.” Unsurprisingly, the Masters were not impressed by this, and Their refusal to grant her request (or rather her demand) led in turn to greater and angrier opposition from Kingsford and Maitland towards the Masters and HPB and Sinnett than ever before.

“The turn of the Kingsford-Maitland party has come,” wrote Mahatma K.H. to Sinnett shortly afterwards. “The diabolical malice which breathes thro’ his [i.e. Maitland’s] present letter comes straight from the Dugpas [i.e. black magicians, the Adepts of the “Black Lodge” who work in constant opposition to the Theosophical Adepts] who provoke his vanity and blind his reason.”

In 1884, the year after having been made president in London, Kingsford, separating entirely from the Theosophical Society, at last founded her own organisation, called The Hermetic Society. Although the Hermetic Society ceased its activities in 1887, due to Kingsford becoming ill with tuberculosis, from which she was to die the following year at only 41 years of age, that Society is said to have been instrumental in the inspiration and formation of the far better known Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn, a society or organisation of Western occultism and ceremonial magic which had its first beginnings in that year of 1887 but did not become well established until the early 1890s.

As most readers may have guessed, the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn was in many respects the antithesis of the teachings, approach, and impulse found in the work and writings of H. P. Blavatsky, her most trusted colleague and co-founder William Q. Judge, and the Mahatmas.

The infamous Aleister Crowley – whose life and deeds, focusing greatly on sexual magic and depraved perversions, show him to have been one of the worst sorts of black magician – was for a time a member of the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn and wrote that Anna Kingsford had done “more in the religious world than any other person had done for generations. She, and she alone, made Theosophy possible, and without Theosophy the world-wide interest in similar matters would never have been aroused.” This by itself shows that Crowley had no conception or understanding of genuine Theosophy, nor of the role, mission, and status of HPB.

As for William Judge, writing in his magazine “The Path” for March 1896, Judge informed readers that:

“Mr. Edward Maitland has recently issued a memoir of Dr. Anna Kingsford, in which there is an interesting account of her continuous attack on vivisection and vivisectionists. So bitter was her feeling against all those who practiced this form of “scientific research,” as it was called, that she claimed to have turned the force of her will against two of them with a view to their destruction – with success, she afterwards said. Certain it is that the two vivisectionists died. Elated by her achievement, she wrote to Mme. Blavatsky proposing a joint psychic onslaught on these miserable sinners wherever they could be found, in the hope of killing them off en masse. To this proposal H.P.B. is recorded as having replied in the following clear and noteworthy words:

“”I feel sure and know that Master approves your opposing the principle of Vivisection, but not the practical way you do it, injuring yourself and doing injury to others, without much benefiting the poor animals. Of course it is Karma in the case of Paul Bert. But so it is in the case of every murdered man. Nevertheless the weapon of Karma, unless he acts unconsciously, is a murderer in the sight of that same Karma that used him. Let us work against the principle then; not against personalities. For it is a weed that requires more than seven, or seven times seven, of us to extirpate it.” [quoted from “Anna Kingsford: Her Life” 2:274]”

Judge commented: “H.P.B.’s words are of great importance. Mania to act as Chief Executioner of all disapproved and disapprovable things was not confined to Anna Kingsford. Members of the Theosophical Society have been known to burn with a passionate longing to act as agents far Karma, forgetting that the sword of the Executioner is a two-edged sword, forgetting also that they do not know Karma, and are held responsible by Karma for the mischief they will inevitably work.” (from “The Screen of Time” in “William Q. Judge Theosophical Articles” Vol. 2, p. 529-530)

After Kingsford’s death, Edward Maitland used mediums and automatic writing in attempts to make contact with her soul. The Theosophical teaching is that this is an impossibility (see Death and The Afterlife and When We Die) and that the thing or entity with which one makes contact will not be the actual departed soul, for that cannot be interrupted, disturbed, or intruded upon during its perfectly blissful heavenly interim, the Devachanic state, between lives on Earth.

Nevertheless, the disembodied “Anna” informed Maitland in such communications that “The Secret Doctrine” was unreliable and unimportant and that HPB had never been able to reach a very high spiritual state and was significantly lower in grades of initiation than herself, for she – Anna Kingsford – privately believed herself to be the “woman clothed with the sun” spoken of in the Book of Revelation, the last book in the Bible. Maitland, incidentally, believed himself to have been in a previous life the Apostle John, the author of the Book of Revelation, just as many people before him and many people since have claimed about themselves. The communications from “Anna” reflected what Maitland already believed and what he no doubt wanted to hear. It is widely believed that he almost worshipped Kingsford and implicitly accepted and believed all of her claims and visions, no matter how peculiar or grandiose.

A fervently devoted Christian, a believer in the superiority of Western Esotericism, and a vision-prone psychic until the end, Anna Kingsford’s work – in no way “essential” to an understanding of Theosophy or “central” within the modern Theosophical Movement, as some people claim today – appeals most to those of similar nature and beliefs.

Some researchers have suggested that Kingsford’s most well known book “The Perfect Way” may have influenced and inspired Rudolf Steiner, founder of the Anthroposophical Society, in formulating his own concepts of Christ.

As was said in our article Rudolf Steiner’s Lies about H. P. Blavatsky and the Mahatmas: “Whereas Theosophy doesn’t promote or recommend any one particular religion, or even any religion at all, Anthroposophy teaches that Esoteric Christianity is the one religion which needs to be accepted in the world today and that it’s the only thing which can make the necessary changes for humanity. But they don’t mean the genuine Gnostic Christianity of old but rather Steiner’s own concoction.”

Students of the Theosophical teachings of H. P. Blavatsky and William Q. Judge have absolutely nothing against Esoteric Christianity. But by “Esoteric Christianity” we mean real, genuine Esoteric Christianity, as exemplified in the best principles and teachings of the ancient Gnostic Gospels.

If one were to carefully and meditatively study these, and do so in the light of HPB’s many explanations about Gnosticism and the early Christian Gnostics, one would eventually arrive at something resembling far more closely the secret teachings of Jesus than one can ever hope to gain by following the mass of clairvoyant visions, psychic experiences, and so-called “readings of the Akashic Records” published by people such as Anna Kingsford, Rudolf Steiner, Daskalos (Stylianos Atteshlis), Martinus, or Abd-ru-shin (Oskar Bernhardt), all of whom considered their own visions and experiences infallible and unquestionable and all of whom contradict one another on numerous major and fundamental points.

There is an almost endless number of seers, clairvoyants, and psychics, barely any of whom ever agree upon even the most vital and central subjects, and whose visions and otherworldly communications almost always reflect what they already believe in and what they want to see and hear, including in regard to their own supposed spiritual importance and greatness.

Nevertheless, all of these people just named presumably have their “place” and their work and writings can sometimes lead people towards, or into, Theosophy and a more de-personalised and universal conception of reality.

Having read all this, someone might ask, “But isn’t Theosophy itself just based on the visions and clairvoyance or ideas of one person or at least a few people?” If one’s only experience of or encounter with Theosophy has been through “The Theosophical Society – Adyar” one could understandably reach this conclusion. But genuine Theosophy is not that and no, it is not based on H. P. Blavatsky’s or any other individual’s or group of people’s visions, clairvoyance, ideas, or opinions. To explain and explore this further would make the present article much too long, so please go to the article Theosophy: The Ancient Wisdom to discover more.

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Further information and explanation about some of the things mentioned here can be found in other articles on this site. The complete listing of over 300 articles related to all aspects of Theosophy and the Theosophical Movement can be found on the Articles page.

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