Theosophy & the Occult - Anna Kingsford
1 | Part 2
Theosophy 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
Theosophy was based on an interpretation of Eastern religions, whereas
Anna wished to teach in the Western Mystery Tradition, encompassing Western, Christian and Hermetic
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
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
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.'
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.
by Brian Haughton. All Rights Reserved.