The Moon under Her Feet
Being an Acclamation of
Madam Dr. Anna Mary Bonus Kingsford
(Inductee of the Order of the Eagle of of the United States Grand Lodge of Ordo Templi Orientis)
by T Polyphilus
“That which endureth unto the end, the same shall be saved.” —Anna Kingsford, “Hymn to Hephaistos” (paraphrasing Matthew 25:13)
A Brief Biography
Annie Bonus was born at 5:00 p.m. on September 16, 1846, the daughter of a successful merchant family. She had a chronic lung condition and other ailments which made her somewhat frail, but she was active in sports when she could be, and she was intellectually precocious, writing poetry and stories for publication starting in her teens. In her twenty-first year her father died, leaving her a comfortable income, and she married a cousin, the Anglican clergyman Algernon Godfrey Kingsford. They conceived a daughter on their wedding night, but the remainder of their marriage appears to have been non-sexual in its basis, and she was purportedly sexually abstinent for the rest of her life. In 1870 she converted to Roman Catholicism, receiving the name Mary at her confirmation.
Anna Kingsford quickly found focuses for her intellectual energies, taking up a series of social causes. She began with property rights for married women, that being in her case not merely an altruistic struggle. While involved in that effort, she encountered and joined the movement for Dress Reform (to promote healthier and more comfortable women’s clothing than the Victorian standard) and Spiritualism. She bought and briefly edited a magazine, The Lady’s Own Paper: A Journal of Progress, Taste, and Art. Kingsford was most aggressive in her campaigning against vivisection, a cause that also involved her in vegetarianism. In 1873 she described herself as “one of those strong-minded women who believe in Liberal politics and natural religion.” She supported her various causes by writing, lecturing and organizing.
Idealistic and judgmental towards men and women, her affections were largely directed towards animals. She constantly kept a guinea pig as a pet, usually carrying it with her even in public. One of these named Rufus lived to the remarkable age of nine years. Eventually, she determined to acquire medical credentials in support of her anti-vivisectionist advocacy, but there were no medical schools in England that would offer a degree to women. So she went to Paris, chaperoned by a fellow writer Edward Maitland, a man many years her senior who shared her spiritual interests. As he later put it, her mission in Paris was “to undergo initiation in the chief strongholds of the doomed system” of materialism. In France, and on other travels, these two encouraged each other in their visionary experiences and mystical ideas. They also began their study of the occult tradition there, reading first in Eliphas Levi and Jacob Boehme. Kingsford received her medical doctorate in 1880, and the two returned to England.
In a vision in January of 1881, Kingsford’s personal genius introduced her to the shade of William Lilly (a 17th century astrologer and friend of Elias Ashmole), who interpreted her nativity. He told her that the stars had marked her out for a single career in which she could enjoy wealth and success. “The course is, however, an evil one. It is the career of the Harlot.” He told her that she had begun to bring ruin on herself by marrying, and that by becoming a mother, she had closed herself off to the benefits of her stars. He forecast misfortune for her as long as she should “persist in a virtuous course of life; and, indeed, it is now too late to adopt another.”
Drawing on their Parisian visions, Kingsford and Maitland gave a private lecture series on mystical Christianity, and then collected this material into a book called The Perfect Way; or, the Finding of Christ. Now convinced of her magical abilities as well, Kingsford claimed to have assassinated famous French vivisectors by occult means. She wrote in her diary, “The will can and does kill … I have killed Paul Bert, as I killed Claude Bernard; as I will kill Louis Pasteur….”
In addition to The Perfect Way, Kingsford wrote The Perfect Way in Diet (a translation of her French medical dissertation on vegetarianism), The Credo of Christendom and Other Addresses and Essays on Esoteric Christianity, Addresses and Essays on Vegetarianism, Dreams and Dream Stories, and Health, Beauty and the Toilet. She also edited and commented on The Virgin of the World of Hermes Mercurius Trismegistus and Valentin Weigelius’ Astrology Theologized. During the 1880’s, she organized the Hermetic Society, which included many leading British esoteric thinkers of the time.
Kingsford died at noon on February 22, 1888, concluding an eighteen-month bout of the illness that had challenged her repeatedly throughout her life.
Mystical Practices and Doctrines
Kingsford was a diarist, and her programmatic effort to maintain written records of her visions and esoteric ideas stands as a clear presage of the method of the magical record in Crowley’s teachings. She and Maitland even undertook to fabricate a talismanic version of her record, “a volume, large, handsome, of superfine paper, with lock and key, and bearing on the cover a solid brass pentagram,” in which Kingsford’s interlocutor spirits instructed her to assemble the writings that they inspired. In addition to the scrupulous care with which she generated and preserved records — a care which doubtless made possible Maitland’s two-volume spiritual biography of Kingsford — the records of certain “chapters” were understood by her explicitly as received texts, which were not to be changed in so much as a single word. They were divided into numbered verses, and Maitland memorized many of these texts. This sort of work set an obvious (though seldom noted) precedent for the “Class A” and “Holy Book” categories in the later Thelemic canon. These Kingsford writings are also of significant interest with respect to their numinous style and profound content. Here is a passage from the “Hymn to Iacchus,” verses 36-41:
No man can know God unless he first understand himself.
God is nothing that man is not.
What man is, that God is likewise.
As God is the heart of the outer world, so also is God at the heart of the world within thee.
When the God within thee shall be wholly united to the God without, then shalt thou be one with the Most High.
Thy will shall be God's will, and the Son shall be as the Father.
Kingsford’s doctrines constantly emphasize the occult importance of will. She writes that astral or elemental spirits may “control” (she adds the scare quotes herself to reference Spiritualist usage) a passive medium, but that “the more positive and pronounced the will of the individual, the more open he is to divine communication.” In “The Mystery of Redemption,” she wrote, “For thou art God, if thy will be the Divine will.” She also paired will with love, as in this received text:
It is love which is the centripetal power of the universe; it is by Love that all creation returns to the bosom of God. The force which projected all things is Will, and Will is the centrifugal power of the universe. Will alone could not overcome the evil which results from the limitations of Matter; but it shall be overcome in the end by Sympathy, which is the knowledge of God in others — the recognition of the omnipresent Self. This is Love. And it is with the children of the Spirit, the servants of Love, that the dragon of Matter makes war.
Another example is this passage from “The Vision of Adonai”:
In the midst stands Deity erect, His right hand raised aloft, and from Him pours the light of light. Forth from His right hand streams the universe, projected by the omnipotent repulsion of his will. Back to His left, which is depressed and set backwards, returns the universe, drawn by the attraction of His love. Repulsion and attraction, will and love, right and left, these are the forces, centrifugal and centripetal, male and female, whereby God creates and redeems. […] O God, O God! Why didst Thou create this stupendous existence? Surely, surely, it had been better in love to have restrained Thy will. It was by will that Thou createdst, by will alone, not by love, was it not?—was it not?
In notes written after Kingsford’s death, Maitland is insistent that her “illuminations are in no way due to artificial stimulation of faculty, whether by means of drugs, or by ‘animal magnetism,’ ‘mesmerism,’ or ‘hypnotism,’ or to the induction of any abnormal state through the act of the recipient herself or some other person.” He points out that many of her visions occurred “during natural sleep,” and basically attributes the experiences to earnest aspiration, combined with right diet, and “the spontaneous operation of Spirit in a soul duly luminous and responsive.” In his annotations to Kingsford’s “Vision of Adonai,” however, he writes that in that instance she “was prompted to make certain ceremonial preparations obviously calculated to impress the imagination,” without specifying the precise nature of the ceremony. Furthermore, accounts from Maitland and others indicate that Kingsford’s visionary experiences were often obtained under the influence of chloroform or ether.
Kingsford advanced a doctrine regarding the personal genius or ministering spirit, which appears to be a clear predecessor to Crowley’s emphasis on the Knowledge and Conversation of the Holy Guardian Angel. Part III of the Third Lecture of The Perfect Way provides an explanation of “the Genius or guardian angel, his genesis, nature, and functions.” In one of her most significant visions Kingsford attained to direct communication with her Genius, expressed in this manner:
Oh, I see masses, masses of stars! It makes me giddy to look at them. O my God, my God, why didst Thou create? It was by Will, all Will, that Thou didst it. Oh! what might, what might of Will! Oh, what gulfs! what gulfs! Millions and millions of miles broad and deep! Hold me – hold me up! I shall sink — I shall sink into the gulfs. I am sick and giddy, as on a billowy sea. I am on a sea, an ocean — the ocean of infinite space. Oh, what depths! I sink — I fall! I cannot, cannot bear it!
I shall never come back. I have left my body for ever. I am dying; I believe I am dead. Impossible to return from such a distance! Oh, what colossal forms! They are the angels of the planets. Every planet has its angel standing erect above it. And what beauty — what marvellous beauty! I see Raphael. I see the angel of the earth. He has six wings. He is a god — the god of our planet. I see my genius who called himself A.Z.; but his name is Salathiel. Oh, how surpassingly beautiful he is!
In other visions, Kingsford describes her Genius as looking like Dante, dressed always in red. He prefers to be called a “minister” rather than an angel, because the latter term is subject to common misunderstanding. (Thelemites will compare CCXX I:7.) And he carries a cactus, on which he comments at one point: “Do not fret yourself about trying to get into the lucid state. In a short time it will be unnecessary to become somnolent at all.” With the benefit of hindsight, this passage looks remarkably like a prophecy of Crowley’s later mescaline innovations.
In The Perfect Way, Kingsford asserted a doctrine of reincarnation or “transmigration of the soul” that was highly controversial at the time. Her writings in Clothed with the Sun elaborated on her reincarnation theories to discuss “the memory of the soul” that Crowley would later term “Magical Memory.” She also interrelated this idea with her genius doctrine and her appreciation for the kabalistic anatomy of the soul. In her personal forays into the Magical Memory, Kingsford discovered her identity with Anne Boleyn, Joan of Arc, the Roman Empress Faustine, and most importantly to her, Mary Magdalene.
Her memories as Mary Magdalene gave her an authoritative perspective on the historical Jesus, whom she understood to have been a great adept, but not the unique son of God. Kingsford discriminated between “Jesus,” a particular man, and “Christ,” a state of personal apotheosis not unique to Jesus. According to Kingsford, “The fundamental truth embodied in the crucifixion is Pantheism.” While noted as a Christian mystic for her prominent use of Christian language and images, Kingsford’s Christianity was of a very unorthodox and inclusive type, identifying pagan gods with archangels, for example. But it set a pattern for much of the ahistorical “New Age Christianity” developed in the 20th century.
Along with all of her talk of attaining to the condition of “Christ,” it is clear from other indications that Kingsford nursed messianic aspirations. Kingsford and Maitland developed an idea of historical Apocalypse, which treated 1881 as the beginning of the “Age of Michael” and a new spiritual regime, according to the calculations of Trithemius. Despite the protestations of modesty by Maitland in his “Preface” to Clothed with the Sun, it seems that Kingsford did view herself in some sense as the “woman clothed with the sun” from the twelfth chapter of the final book of the Bible, just as Crowley would later identify himself with the Great Beast of the thirteenth. In the sixth appendix of The Perfect Way, Kingsford explained various points of apocalyptic symbolism, including “the Abomination of Desolation” and the precession of the equinoxes.
The doctrines contained in The Perfect Way were supposed to be a key to the new metaphysical conditions of the world. In her “Hymn to Iacchos,” received in 1881, Kingsford wrote, “But now is the gospel of interpretation come, and the kingdom of the Mother of God.” In Maitland’s evangelizing for Kingford’s doctrines, he codified them as “The Gospel of Interpretation.” Kingsford and Maitland understood the “esoteric” to mean the inspired allegorical understanding of conventional doctrines. So their gospel was one of interpretation, which would restore and reconcile the sense of old teachings, rather than the assertion of a “new gospel.”
One of these interpretations concerned the idea of an Aeon. According to Kingsford, the “dove” that descended on Jesus at his baptism in the Jordan was “the Aeon of the Christ.” This entity is “the angel, or God, of the planet,” and mediates between the Christ (redeemed human) and the universal Divinity. It is in some sense, then, the highest order of personal genius, adhering to one who is completely fulfilling the divine potential of humanity. Kingsford also wrote that the Aeon of the Christ departed from Jesus on Gethsemane, provoking the latter to exclaim, “Why hast thou forsaken me?” There is no firm evidence that Kingsford’s somewhat different idea of an Aeon influenced Aleister Crowley’s later conception that used the same term. It does seem more than likely, however, that her ideas about the “Aeon Jesus” and the feminine component of deity were transmitted quite fully through Lady Caithness to Jules Doinel, founder and first patriarch of the Église Gnostique which was an antecedent rite of the Thelemic Gnostic Catholic Church in O.T.O.
Another common expression of Kingsford’s, which must be strikingly familiar to Thelemites, is “The Great Work.” To be sure, this phrase has a long history of prior use in Hermeticism and alchemy, but Kingsford certainly gave it prominence in her literature. She defines the Great Work as “the redemption of spirit from matter,” as the regeneration of the soul, and as “the establishment of the kingdom of God.”
In describing the essential innovation of her system of doctrines, Kingsford wrote:
Students of the “solar myth” have again and again demonstrated the fact that the dogmas and central figures of Christianity are identical with those of all other religious systems, and are probably all traceable to a common astronomical origin; but it was reserved for the writers of [The Perfect Way] to define the esoteric significance of the solar myth, and to point out the correspondence subsisting between the symbology of the various creeds founded on the terms of this universal myth, and the processes and principles concerned in the interior development of the individual human Ego.
Interaction with the Theosophical Society
While Kingsford and Maitland were in Paris, they discovered H.P. Blavatsky’s Isis Unveiled, and found that the esoteric subject matter strongly mirrored their own interests. Later, when Kingsford was back in England, the British Theosophical Society (B.T.S.) experienced a leadership crisis with the resignation of its president George Wyld. Charles Carleton Massey, a friend of Theosophical Society cofounder Henry Steele Olcott and the first president of the society’s London branch, proposed the recruitment of Kingsford to the presidency, although she was not a member of the T.S. or living in London at the time. Kingsford’s Christian esotericism was in keeping with the tastes of Massey (whose occult interests began as a theosopher in the Behmenist vein), and he hoped that the celebrity authoress of The Perfect Way would be a compelling spokesperson for the B.T.S.
Kingsford accepted the nomination to the presidency, and was duly elected in May of 1883, installing Maitland as a vice-president. She changed the name of the British Theosophical Society to the “London Lodge of the Theosophical Society,” and she expressed her ambition to “make our London Lodge a really influential and scientific body.” There was no love lost between Kingsford and Blavatsky. Kingsford had no great sympathy for the Asian emphasis of Blavatsky’s post-Isis writings, and no particular confidence in the Mahatmas. Within the English Theosophical leadership, this particular disharmony tended to take for its poles Kingsford on one hand and on the other A.P. Sinnett, whose books The Occult World and Esoteric Buddhism set forth an Asian-based occultism for English consumption. In a letter (to a third party who seems to have forwarded it to Sinnett), Kingsford wrote about hazards to “the schemes and pretensions of the Indian T.S.” She and Maitland also issued a thirty-page pamphlet to the London Lodge, criticizing Sinnett’s Esoteric Buddhism and insisting that, in Kingsford’s words “the Vedas and the Tripitakas find their interpretation in the same language and by the same method as the Christian evangel; Chrishna, Buddha, and Christ are united, and a true Brotherhood—a true Eirenicon—is preached to men.”
Blavatsky’s relationship with Kingsford’s sponsor Massey had already been difficult and tense. Massey had himself expressed skepticism about the Mahatmas, and Blavatsky was dependent on him for coordinating leadership of the Theosophists in England. Even without meeting her personally, Blavatsky took a dislike to Kingsford that can only be described as personal. Regarding a report of a London Lodge meeting, Blavatsky wrote,
Mrs. Kingsford. Say—why was she dressed in a dress that looked like “the black and yellow coat of the zebras in the menagerie of the Rajah of Kashmir?” And is it true she had roses on her hair “which is like a flaming sunset, yellow gold?” And why—mercy on us! Why did she have “her arms painted black, jet black—up to the elbows” for? or was it gloves? […] But why—why had she “the mystic of the century” so much jewellery on her! How can she confabulate with the unseen Gods when she looks “like a Delhi English Jeweller’s front window!”
As time went on, Blavatsky declared of Kingsford, “Oh woman—cunning, besides frailty—is thy name!” and even gave her another name: “the divine Whistle-breeches.”
At one point, Blavatsky became convinced that Kingsford was “mixed up in” the H.B. of L. This mistaken idea was probably inspired by an inquiry from the American Theosophist J.D. Buck, who drew his concern from the fact that the bookseller Robert Fryar of Bath was both a contact point for the H.B. of L. and a publisher of Kingsford’s edition of Gnostic texts The Virgin of the World. At any rate, Blavatsky’s intelligence on the H.B. of L. appears to have been of a fairly low quality; she explained the initials incorrectly as “Hindu Brotherhood of Luxor.”
Despite these antagonisms, Blavatsky was under a mandate from her Mahatmas to accommodate Kingsford. Khoot Hoomi had written to Sinnett regarding Kingsford,
Well may you admire and more should you wonder at the marvellous lucidity of that remarkable seeress, who ignorant of Sanskrit or Pali, and thus shut out from their metaphysical treasures, has yet seen a great light shining from behind the dark hills of exoteric religions. How, think you, did the ‘Writers of the Perfect Way’ come to know that Adonai was the Son and not the Father; or that the third person of the Christian Trinity is—female? Verily, they lay in that work several times their hands upon the keystone of Occultism.
Of course it rankled Blavatsky, who complained, “Why Mahatma K.H. should have inflicted upon your [Sinnett’s] Society such a plaster as Mrs. K. seems to be, a haughty, imperious, vain and self-opinionated creature, a bag of Western conceit—‘God’ knows, I do not.”
The solution to the conflict between the “Hermetic” and “Mahatmic” parties was not difficult to conceive, and was even intimated in the Kingsford-Maitland pamphlet. With the 1884 election for the presidency of the London Lodge on the horizon, Olcott offered Kingsford a charter for her own subordinate body of the Society, “The Hermetic Lodge of the Theosophical Society.” Kingsford accepted it, and as soon as she had established the “Hermetic Lodge,” she declared its independence from the T.S. altogether, creating the “Hermetic Society” as such on 22 April 1884. The new organization was a lecture society structured similarly to the T.S., but more accepting of Christian symbolism, and devoid of unseen Mahatmas in its leadership.
Blavatsky and Kingsford were cordial to one another in person, and it appears that their friendship warmed as the events of Kingsford’s London Lodge presidency receded into the past.
Influence on the Golden Dawn
The young S.L. MacGregor Mathers met Kingsford in 1885 and was won over by her to virtually all of her causes. He embraced her feminist agenda, enlisted in her anti-vivisectionist campaign, and even adopted vegetarianism at her encouragement. Kingsford also introduced Mathers to Blavatsky in 1886. Mathers dedicated his first published work of occultism The Kabbalah Unveiled to Kingsford and Maitland, describing The Perfect Way in his dedication as “one of the most deeply occult works that has been written for centuries.”
At least two of the original three chiefs of the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn had been active in Kingsford’s Hermetic Society. Besides Mathers, W.W. Westcott was a conspicuous participant. In July 1886, the full roster of speakers for Hermetic Society meetings consisted of Kingsford, Maitland, Mathers and Westcott.
The Theosophical Society created an “Esoteric Section” to provide initiatory services beyond the capabilities of the public lecture society. In view of the collaboration among Kingsford, Mathers and Westcott, it may be that the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn was in part conceived as performing an analogous role for the Hermetic Society. With the demise of Kingsford, the others would have been aware that they must put their plan into operation, or lose the opportunity altogether as the Hermetic Society dissolved without its leader. Wasting no time, Westcott, Mathers and Woodman signed the charter of the Isis-Urania Temple, the first Golden Dawn body in England, one week after Kingsford’s death. Westcott later wrote in the Golden Dawn “History Lecture,”
The occultists of today do not need to be reminded of the Great Hermetists and Theosophists of our day, of Dr Anna Kingsford, of whom death prematurely robbed us. She was indeed illuminated by the Sun of Light, and no one who ever heard her lecture and discuss the Hermetic Doctrines will ever forget her learning or her eloquence, her beauty or her grace.
Another curious fact implicates Kingsford in the origins of the Golden Dawn. She edited Valentine Weigelius’ Astrology Theologized (1649) for publication in 1886. On the original title page of this book, there was a Latin motto: Sapiens Dominabitur Astris. Westcott attributed this same motto to the putative German adept who first authorized the formation of the Golden Dawn. The correspondence between Westcott and Soror S.D.A. began in November of 1887, and enjoyed near-monthly frequency until the time of Kingsford’s death in February 1888. There was then a hiatus of about seven months, before the correspondence resumed with the final three letters, followed by one from Fr. Ex Uno Disces Omnes notifying Westcott of the death of S.D.A. The civil name of this S.D.A. was allegedly Anna Sprengel; and it is not difficult to imagine that Anna Kingsford contributed—even if only as a model in memory—to the myth of this mysterious adept.
Kingsford’s doctrines regarding the role of active will in magical work and the undesirability of “passive mediumship” may well have influenced the composition of the original Golden Dawn Neophyte obligation, in which the initiand swore, “I will not suffer myself to be hypnotized, or mesmerized, nor will I place myself in such a passive state that any uninitiated person, power, or being may cause me to lose control of my thoughts, words or actions.”
Besides the founders of the Golden Dawn, it should be noted that Kingsford’s Hermetic Society was important to other prominent G.D. initiates. One of these was the young William Butler Yeats. It does not appear that he ever met Kingsford, but as his first involvement in an occult organization he led the Dublin group of the Hermetic Society. Another Hermetic Society member—one of the initial enrollees—was Arthur Edward Waite. His conception of mysticism, complete with an emphasis on the mythical and allegorical dimensions of Christianity, is strongly reminiscent of Kingsford’s doctrines. Waite, of course, went on to become the initial authority on the occult to be consulted by the young Aleister Crowley.
In general, Kingsford and Maitland’s The Perfect Way was a book ubiquitously read by English occultists during the origins and heyday of the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn, and it is hard to overrate its influence (direct and indirect) on esoteric theorists and practitioners of that set and period.
In his “Preliminary Remarks” to the first volume of Book Four, Crowley writes:
Anna Kingsford, who had dabbled in Hebrew mysticism, and was a feminist, got an almost identical vision [to that of the Bhagavad-gita]; but called the “divine” figure which she saw alternately “Adonai” and “Maria.”
Now this woman, though handicapped by a brain that was a mass of putrid pulp, and a complete lack of social status, education, and moral character, did 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 interest is to the Law of Thelema what the preaching of John the Baptist was to Christianity.
With respect to the remark about Kingsford’s vision, it is clear that Crowley is referring to an attainment of the type that he usually characterizes as “Knowledge and Conversation of the Holy Guardian Angel.” In fact, in a journal excerpt reproduced in The Temple of Solomon the King, he is even more explicit, writing of the Holy Guardian Angel, “Anna Kingsford calls him Adonai (Clothed with the Sun).” It hardly needs remarking that “Adonai” is a form of address to his own Angel used by Crowley when writing not only in his profane persona, but as the inspired Master of the Temple V.V.V.V.V. In fairness, though, Crowley attributes this usage to the precedent of Bulwer-Lytton’s novel Zanoni, in which the title character’s Angel is named “Adon-Ai.” Zanoni was probably a source for Kingsford as well; it certainly was for Mathers. But by the time Crowley was publishing The Equinox, Kingsford’s works were at least as well known as Zanoni among students of occultism, and it is apparent that rather than trying to dissociate himself from her work, Crowley was explicitly claiming her as a precursor.
As we have seen, Kingsford’s strained eighteen-month leadership of the London Lodge of the Theosophical Society hardly “made Theosophy possible,” as the Book Four appraisal claims. An element of accidental or deliberate misdirection may be involved in this remark by Crowley, however. Considering Crowley’s association with Mathers during the Golden Dawn crisis of 1900, it may be that Mathers had provided Crowley with some insights regarding Kingsford’s seminal relationship with the Golden Dawn, of which group (and hence Thelema) it would be much fairer to say that her work was a necessary precondition.
In his General Principles of Astrology, Crowley evaluated several features of Kingsford’s nativity. He wrote that her Moon in Leo gave her “great confidence born of the conviction that one is, as it were, a medium of the forces from beyond.” While noting her Jupiter in Gemini, he called her “One of the greatest religious geniuses of modern times—very Jupiterian both in devotionalism and humanitarianism.” He praised other portions of her horoscope as well, and in an overview of her chart as a whole, he remarked:
Here we find then a great example of the driving force of these configurations, for Anna Kingsford, despite all mental and moral disqualifications, disposed of an initiating force sufficient to transfigure the thought of half the world. It is her work which made Theosophy and its analogous cults at all possible. She was doubtless the head of the battering-ram that broke in the gates of the materialist philosophy of the Victorian Age.
So Crowley is at least consistent in claiming that Kingsford’s work was the basis for Theosophy. In the sense that the publication of The Perfect Way in 1882 could have generated public interest that promoted the growth of English Theosophy, Crowley’s observation may have some merit. Additionally, the Hermetic Society was the first of many schisms and derivatives that helped to spread the cultural influence of Theosophy outside of the original Theosophical Society.
Crowley’s estimation of Kingsford seems to have declined in later years. In the 1917 article “The Revival of Magick,” he describes her as “a mere megaphone for Edward Maitland.” In Magick in Theory and Practice he instances her only as the leader of a group of black magicians, with particular reference to her magical attacks on vivisectionists. In a footnote to that passage, he repeats that “Anna Kingsford, so far as her good work is concerned, was only the rubber stamp of Edward Maitland.” While the two were certainly close and constant collaborators, there seem to be no genuine grounds for this dismissal on Crowley’s part. Blavatsky derided Kingsford and Maitland as “the Perfect Way twins,” but she never discounted Kingsford’s bylines. And as an organizer, Kingsford was clearly far more than a “rubber stamp.” Maitland himself frequently emphasized the autonomy of her contributions to their joint efforts, although he struggled with the issue at times. There was one source that did categorically allege that Kingsford’s contributions to The Perfect Way amounted to a mere eighteen pages that she later sought to withdraw: the Roman Catholic nun who served as a nurse during Kingsford’s terminal illness, and persuaded her (coerced her, in Maitland’s view) to receive a few visits from a local priest. These unsuccessful efforts to get Kingsford to submit to the doctrinal authority of the Roman Catholic Church on her deathbed were then used as a pretext for alleging that she had repented of her writings.
Crowley’s later negative attitude towards Kingsford may have been colored by the development of his antagonism towards Theosophical leader Annie Besant, who shared many of Kingsford’s traits and ideals. After more than a decade of vilifying Besant, Crowley may have reflexively categorized Kingsford as a no-account rival, despite his earlier willingness to acknowledge his debts to her and her work. A more cynical possibility is that the older Crowley was more concerned to assert his own work as sui generis, and that he wanted to dissuade students from discovering his own adoption of Kingsford’s ideas.
The last of Crowley’s published writings to reference Kingsford was Magick Without Tears (written as Aleister Explains Everything), in which he represents her and Maitland as “trying rather helplessly to put the exoteric formulae of the White School into the hands of students.” This remark is more like the strongly mixed praise of his earlier comments, since it does, after all, indicate that Kingsford was in possession of the “exoteric formulae of the White School.” As before, Crowley represents the work of Kingsford and Maitland as a “necessary” influence on Blavatsky and the Theosophical Society.
Kingsford’s membership in the Order of the Eagle could be justified simply on the basis of Crowley’s explicit acknowledgement of her role as “John the Baptist” of the Law of Thelema. Similarly, his assessment of her “initiating force sufficient to transfigure the thought of half the world” cannot fail to impress his heirs in the work of fraternal and ceremonial initiation. An examination of her actual writings presents many details that were unquestionably influential on Crowley’s early development of Thelemic philosophy.
Kingsford’s writings still have the ability to inspire both scholars and aspirants. Antoine Faivre, who recently held the chair of “History of Esoteric and Mystical Currents in Modern and Contemporary Europe” at the Sorbonne, calls Kingsford’s The Perfect Way a “wonderful book.” For my own part, I would like to add yet another quote from her received writings, verses 38-42 of “Concerning the ‘Great Work’”:
And within the soul is the Spirit: and the Spirit is One, yet has it likewise three elements. And these are the gates of the oracle of God, which is the ark of the covenant: The rod, the host, and the law. The force which solves, and transmutes, and divines: the bread of heaven which is the substance of all things and the food of angels; the table of the law, which is the will of God, written with the finger of the Lord. If these three be within thy spirit, then shall the Spirit of God be within thee.
This passage is one of many among Kingsford’s works that I find relevant to my own sacramental efforts in the Gnostic Catholic Church of O.T.O.
Not the least of Kingsford’s accomplishments was her infusion of a self-conscious feminism into the occultist organizations of the late nineteenth century, with a pronounced influence on the founders of the Golden Dawn. She was an important player in setting the precedents that led modern occultism to encourage the equal participation of women with men in such organizations as the Golden Dawn and the O.T.O. Indeed, one might fairly say that Kingsford’s work contributed quite directly to the fact that the Order of the Eagle exists at all.
While struggling with her final illness, Kingsford wrote in her diary,
I had hoped to have been one of the pioneers of the new awakening of the world. I had thought to have helped in the overthrow of the idolatrous altars and the purging of the temple; and now I must die just as the day of battle dawns and the sound of the chariot wheels is heard. Is it, perhaps, all premature? Have we thought the time nearer than it really is? Must I go, and sleep, and come again before the hour sounds?
It is only fitting that we, who have heard the hour being sounded in the Equinox of the Gods, should recognize Madam Dr. Anna Mary Bonus Kingsford as one who knowingly girded herself and others for what would reveal itself as the Aeon of Horus. So mote it be.
- Blavatsky, Helena P. The Key to Theosophy. Covina: Theosophical University Press, 1946 .
- _____________. The Letters of H.P. Blavatsky to A.P. Sinnett. Pasadena: Theosophical University, 1973.
- Bulwer-Lytton, Edward. Zanoni. New York: Crowell [n.d.].
- Butler, Alison. “Magical Beginnings: The Intellectual Origins of the Victorian Occult Revival.” Limina 9, 2003. pp. 78-95.
- Crowley, Aleister. The General Principles of Astrology. Boston: Weiser, 2002.
- _____________. The Confessions of Aleister Crowley: An Autohagiography. London: Arkana, 1989.
- _____________. Magick. York Beach: Weiser, 1997.
- _____________. Magick Without Tears. Tempe: New Falcon, 1997.
- _____________. “The Revival of Magick” in ibid., The Revival of Magick and Other Essays. Tempe: New Falcon, 1998.
- Fuller, J.F.C. and Aleister Crowley. The Temple of Solomon the King. Serialized in The Equinox I (1-10).
- Gilbert, R.A. The Golden Dawn: Twilight of the Magicians. Wellinborough: Aquarian, 1983.
- _____________. The Golden Dawn Scrapbook. York Beach: Weiser, 1997.
- Godwin, Joscelyn. The Theosophical Enlightenment. Albany: SUNY, 1994.
- _____________, Christian Chanel, and John P. Deveney. The Hermetic Brotherhood of Luxor: Initiatic and Historical Documents of an Order of Practical Occultism. York Beach: Weiser, 1995.
- Greer, Mary K. Women of the Golden Dawn: Rebels and Priestesses. Rochester: Park Street, 1995.
- Faivre, Antoine. Access to Western Esotericism. Albany: SUNY, 1994.
- Hart, Samuel Hopgood. “Preface to the Third Edition” of <>i>Clothed with the Sun (by Anna Bonus Kingsford). London: Watkins, 1937.
- King, Francis. Modern Ritual Magic: The Rise of Western Occultism. Bridgport: Prism, 1990.
- Kingsford, Anna Bonus. Clothed with the Sun. (3rd edition) London: Watkins, 1937.
- _____________ and Edward Maitland. The Perfect Way: or, The Finding of Christ. (Revised Edition) Boston: Esoteric Publishing Company, 1888.
- _____________, editor and author of Prefatory Essay. Astrology Theologized: The Spiritual Hermeneutic of Astrology and Holy Writ. London: George Redway, 1886.
- Maitland, Edward. “Preface to the First Edition” of Clothed with the Sun (by Anna Bonus Kingsford, in 3rd edition). London: Watkins, 1937.
- _____________. Anna Kingsford: Her Life, Letters, Diary and Work. (3rd edition) London: Watkins, 1913.
- Mathers, S.L. MacGregor (trans.). The Kabbalah Unveiled. York Beach: Weiser, 1997.
- Regardie, F. Israel. The Complete Golden Dawn System of Magic. Santa Monica: Falcon Press, 1987.
- Sapere Aude [Westcott, W. Wynn]. “Historical Lecture,” in Gilbert, R.A., The Golden Dawn: Twilight of the Magicians. Wellinborough: Aquarian, 1983.
- Starr, Martin P. The Unknown God. Bolingbrook: Teitan, 2003.
- Washington, Peter. Madame Blavatsky’s Baboon. New York: Schocken, 1995.
FURTHER RESOURCES ONLINE
- Anna Kingsford Site (her life and works) – a rather comprehensive collection
- Anna Mary Bonus Kingsford: Esotericist, Visionary, Hermetic Mystic – an abridgement of the paper on this page
- Anna Kingsford, Madame Blavatsky and the Theosophists – selections from Maitland's biography of Kingsford, pertinent to the history of the Theosophical Society
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