Mysticism. Theosophy.

Mysticism, Theosophy & the Occult - Anna Kingsford

Part 1 | Part 2

Anna KingsfordTheosophy and Western Mysticism

The late 19th century was a time of high interest in the occult, mysticism, and spiritualism and perhaps the most extraordinary figure of this age was the flamboyant Russian-born Madame Helena Blavatsky, co-founder of the Theosophical Society. Blavatsky was apparently impressed by Anna's work and The Perfect Way was gaining its authors a reputation in Theosophical and spiritual circles. 

Consequently, in 1883, prominent Theosophist Charles C. Massey offered Anna and Edward the posts of President and Vice-President of the London Lodge of the Theosophical Society. However there were problems when Society member Alfred Percy Sinnett, author of The Occult World (1881) and Esoteric Buddhism (1883) arrived from India. He had aspirations to be head of the Lodge, and disagreements arose between himself and Anna due to his dependence on teachings from supposedly secret Tibetan masters. Perhaps the differences were deeper than this. 

Theosophy was based on an interpretation of Eastern religions, whereas Anna wished to teach in the Western Mystery Tradition, encompassing Western, Christian and Hermetic esotericism as shown in The Perfect Way. All this came to a head in April 1884 when  the founders of Theosophy, Madame Blavatsky and Colonel Henry Olcott arrived from India to try and clear matters up. Eventually a compromise was reached, but because of a divergence of beliefs, Anna and Edward resigned their posts. They were now determined to found their own society based on Western esotericism, though they did not want to sever all links with Theosophy, 

The Hermetic Society

In 1884, therefore, they formed the Hermetic Society, whose purpose Anna described in a letter to journalist W.T. Stead:  ' that at which the Society aims is the recovery of what is really the oldest thing in religion, so old as to have become forgotten and lost - namely, its esoteric and spiritual, and therefore its true significance.' The Society would give a series of lectures each summer featuring, apart from Anna, future Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn founders MacGregor Mathers and William Westcott. By 1887 the Society could not continue due to Anna's ill health, though its ideas were to have a profound influence on Western mysticism and occultism, especially in reshaping Theosophical concepts for the Western mind. Highly esteemed by prominent occultists such as Macgregor Mathers, Madame Blavatsky and Aleister Crowley, Anna was the first to encourage the involvement of both women and men in such esoteric organizations as the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn and the German O.T.O (Ordo Templi Orientis - Order of the Temple of the East), of which Aleister Crowley was at one time head, thus setting the precedents for modern esotericism and occultism. 

Whilst organising the Hermetic Society, Anna was also involved with her many other of her interests. Apart from an active social life, she was running her own medical practice in London, campaigning for vegetarianism, protesting against vivisection with lecture tours in Britain and abroad, and writing pamphlets, articles and letters.

She had such strong feelings against vivisection that she apparently tried cursing the doctors involved in the practice, at least one of whom, Professor Claude Bernard, died shortly afterwards. Whatever the truth of this story, she soon developed serious health problems of her own. On 17 November, 1886, whilst visiting Louis Pasteur's laboratory in Paris to obtain evidence for her campaign against his abuse of animals, Anna was caught in heavy rain which brought on consumption. One of her friends, Lady Isabel Burton, wife of the famous explorer, spent much of her time in Paris in January 1887, helping to nurse Anna, as she was by now dying of consumption and, as Richard Burton wrote, 'suffering in mind and soul . . . at the sights and sounds connected with Parisian vivisection.' 

Final Days

Visits abroad to the Riviera and Italy did nothing to improve her condition. On 15th July 1887, she moved into what was to be her last home, at 15 Wynnstay Gardens, London. Ann was in extremely bad health for months, until at noon on 22 February, 1888, in the presence of both Algernon and Edward, she died from chronic lung disease. she had decided to be buried back in Shropshire, at Atcham, where her funeral took place on 29th February, 1888.  Edward edited her Dreams and Dream Stories (1888) and collected some of her mystical illuminations and published them as Clothed With the Sun (1889). After completing her biography Anna Kingsford: Her Life, Letters, Diary and Work (1896), he destroyed all her letters, manuscripts and papers.  

During her last months Ann wrote in her diary of her sorrow at the approach of death, not out of self-pity, but because she, as she put it, 'had hoped to have been one of the pioneers of the new awakening of the world'. In some sense she was. A profoundly influential and highly individual woman on so many levels, Anna Bonus Kingsford deserves more recognition than she has so far received in both occult / esoteric circles and in the history of women's rights.

Sources and Further Reading

Cavendish, Richard (ed). The Encyclopedia of the Unexplained. London & Henley. Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1974, p131.

Greer, Mary K. Women of the Golden Dawn. Rochester, Park Street Press. 1995, pp52-56.

Lovell, Mary S.  A Rage to Live. A Biography of Richard and Isabel Burton. London, Abacus. 1999, p705.

Shirley, R. Occultists & Mystics of All Ages. New York, University Books. 1972 (1920), pp145-175.

Copyright 2002 by Brian Haughton. All Rights Reserved.


 [     Strange Powers & Abilities    |    Psychics     |    Feral Children     |    Poltergeist Stories     |    Weird People    |    Occult People    ]

 [      Home     |      What's New     |      Introduction      |     Bibliography      |     Links     |     Mailing List      |     Send e-mail      ]



Except where otherwise indicated all articles on Mysterious People are written by Brian Haughton and may not be copied 
in any format without his express written permission. If you use Mysterious People for research please reference it and its URL
. All photographs used on this site are believed to be in the public domain unless 
stated otherwise, if there is an error please contact me by email and I will accredit the photograph or remove it from the site. 
Copyright ? 2002-2007 Brian Haughton, all rights reserved. Web site design by Brian Haughton, July-November 2002.