Sue Young Histories

Anna Bonus Kingsford 1846 – 1888

March 25, 2009

Anna Bonus Kingsford 1846 – 1888 was one of the first English women, after Elizabeth Garrett Anderson, to obtain a degree in medicine.

Anna Bonus Kingsford was a friend of Edward Maitland and James John Garth Wilkinson, and she was also a friend of Florence Theobald (who she first met in 1867) and Robert Masters Theobald (Edward Maitland, Anna Kingsford: Her Life, Letters, Diary and Work, (Cambridge University Press, 20 Jan 2011). Page 11. See also Alan Pert, Red Cactus: The Life of Anna Kingsford, (Alan Pert, 2006). Page 195. See also Samuel Hopgood Hart, Anna Kingsford - her life and work, Light Magazine, (September, 1930). Pages 472, 486 and 508).

Anna Bonus Kingsford was the President of the Theosophical Society, the founder of Hermetic Society for the study of mystical Christianity in Britain, and a member of The Golden Dawn.

in 1882, Anna Bonus Kingsford wrote (Edward Maitland, Anna Kingsford: Her Life, Letters, Diary and Work, (Cambridge University Press, 20 Jan 2011). Page 55) about On Human Science, Good and Evil, and Its Works: And on Divine Revelation and Its Works and Sciences *(James John Garth Wilkinson, [On Human Science, Good and Evil, and Its Works: And on Divine Revelation and Its Works and Sciences](,+and+on+Divine+Revelation+1876+Garth+Wilkinson&hl=en&sa=X&ei=IFAZT9LnD8rR8QOOhLWtCw&ved=0CDUQ6AEwAA), (James Spiers 1876, Lippincott Philadelphia 1876, reprinted by Kessinger Publications, 2010)), _and after quoting from this book at some length, she said ‘… ’… The scientists...’ says Dr Garth Wilkinson, ‘… _are in a hurry to be scientific, but God opens no gates to hurry…’…’ Anna Bonus Kingsford goes on to explain ‘… *T__hese are the words of a poet, and the poet represents the highest, and therefore the most logical type of mind. For he sees the divine and the beautiful uses of life, and the interweaving and mutual sympathies of lesser and greater, the giving and receiving between creature and creature, which constitutes the purpose and the advantage of life. ‘… Violationism…’ (as Dr. Garth Wilkinson designated vivisection) ’… has no place in the divine system, and no logical mind can regard it as representative of human order…’ …’

Robert Masters Theobald became an active member of The Golden Dawn in 1888. Florence Theobald introduced Anna Bonus Kingsford to Spritualism, and no doubt Robert Masters Theobald introduced Edward Maitland to The Golden Dawn? With Anna Bonus Kingsford, they all left the Theosophical Society in 1885 to found the Hermetic Society for the study of mystical Christianity in Britain, and eventually, to become members of The Golden Dawn, which was formed in 1888, the year Anna Bonus Kingsford died.

Anna Bonus Kingsford was prominent among mystics and theosophists in the 1880’s. Politically active throughout her adult life, she was a feminist, vegetarian, and most especially an anti-vivisectionist. To bolster her authority in the cause of anti vivisectionism, she pursued and achieved a medical degree through the university in Paris.

She lectured on political, social, and religious topics, coming to style herself as an “esoteric Christian.” Although she was an adult convert to Roman Catholicism, taking the name “Mary” at confirmation, she was never a member of any parish, and was not active within the church.

Her beliefs were rooted in visionary experience, and her principal collaborator in mysticism was Edward Maitland, a lapsed Anglican with Spiritualist leanings, who was many years her senior. Together, Kingsford and Edward Maitland elaborated the teachings of what they called “the new Gospel of Interpretation” through a series of lectures and a resultant book: The Perfect Way: or, The Finding of Christ.

Kingsford served a term as President of the London body of the Theosophical Society in 1885. Subsequently, she was the founder and head of the Hermetic Society [Hermetic Society for the study of mystical Christianity in Britain], which was an instrumental forerunner of the Hermetic Order of The Golden Dawn.

Samuel Liddell MacGregor Mathers dedicated The Kabbalah Unveiled to Kingsford and Edward Maitland, and William Wynn Westcott eulogized her as “indeed illuminated by the Sun of Light” in a Golden Dawn history lecture. Both Samuel Liddell MacGregor Mathers and William Wynn Westcott had been lecturers in Kingsford’s Hermetic Society.

Kingsford’s doctrines regarding the role of active will in mysticism 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.”

Aleister Crowley was very much aware of Kingsford’s influence and importance to the occultism of his period. In his introduction to the first volume of Book Four, he wrote that 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 interest is to the Law of Thelema what the preaching of John the Baptist was to Christianity.

Similarly, in General Principles of Astrology, Aleister Crowley observed that Kingsford was “disposed of an initiating force sufficient to transfigure the thought of half the world. […] She was doubtless the head of the battering ram that broke in the gates of the materialist philosophy of the Victorian Age.”

Aleister Crowley particularly pointed to Kingsford’s writings as providing an example of Knowledge and Conversation of the Holy Guardian Angel. The text in question was The Vision of Adonai included in her book Clothed with the Sun.

That book was assembled by Edward Maitland from Kingsford’s writings that were “recieved” through mystic inspiration and “not to be changed in so much as a single word.” It stands as an obvious predecessor to and influence upon the Holy Books of Thelema in both form and content.

In The Vision of Adonai, she wrote: “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”.

Kingsford distinguished between the man Jesus and the historically repeatable phenomenon of “Christs” or fully realized adepts. Her doctrines emphasized a set of archangels which were identical with deities of Hellenic paganism, and were set in presidency over the planets.

Along with her talk of attaining to the condition of “Christ,” it is clear from other indications that Kingsford nursed messianic aspirations. Kingsford and Edward 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 Edward 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 Aleister 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.

Kingsford’s other ideas about the “Aeon Jesus” and the feminine component of deity were transmitted through her friend Lady Caithness to influence Jules Doinel, founder and first patriarch of the glise Gnostique which was an antecedent rite of the Thelemic Gnostic Catholic Church in 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 led quite directly to the fact that the Order of the Eagle now exists to recognize women who have contributed to the principles and work of O.T.O.

A woman of high and intense energies, Kingsford’s health was never robust. While struggling with her final illness, she 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?”

Kingsford was a fervent advocate of the theory of reincarnation, but it is not necessary to suppose her return after death to appreciate her importance to the work of Thelema.

From Kingsford became known as an anti vivisection campaigner, and an advocate of women’s rightsvegetarianism. She pursued her degree in Paris, graduating in 1880 after six years of study, in order to continue her advocacy from a position of authority. She was the only student at the time to graduate in medicine without having experimented on a single animal and her final thesis was on the benefits of vegetarianism, which she later turned into a book, L’Alimentation Végétale de l’Homme, translated as The Perfect Way in Diet.

Kingsford was also active in the theosophical movement in England, becoming president of the Theosophical Society in 1883 [actually 1885] . She said she received had insights in trance like states and in her sleep, which were collected from various manuscripts and pamphlets by her life long collaborator Edward Maitland, and published posthumously in the book, Clothed with the Sun.

Subject to ill health her entire life, she died at the age of 42 in 1888 of consumption, reportedly brought on after she was caught in torrential rain on her way to Louis Pasteur’s laboratory in Paris.

Her life and works have gone virtually unstudied since Edward Maitland published her biography, The Life of Anna Kingsford.

Kingsford was born in Essex to a middle class family. By all accounts a precocious child, she wrote her first poem when she was nine, and Beatrice: a Tale of the Early Christians when she was thirteen. Deborah Rudacille writes that Kingsford enjoyed foxhunting, until one day she reportedly had a vision of herself as the fox.

She married her cousin Algernon Godfrey Kingsford in 1867 when she was twenty one, giving birth to a daughter a year later. Notwithstanding that her husband was an Anglican priest, she converted to Roman Catholicism in 1872, which he appeared not to mind.

Having been left £700 a year by her father, she bought The Lady’s Own Paper, and took up work as its editor, which brought her into contact with some prominent women of the day, including the writer, feminist, and anti vivisectionist Frances Power Cobbe. It was an article by Frances Power Cobbe on vivisection in The Lady’s Own Paper that sparked Kingsford’s interest in the subject.

In 1873, Kingsford met the writer Edward Maitland, a widower, who shared her rejection of materialism. With the blessing of Kingsford’s husband, the two began to collaborate, with Edward Maitland accompanying her to Paris when she decided to study medicine.

Paris at that time was at the center of a revolution in the study of physiology, much of it as a result of experiments on animals, particularly dogs, and mostly carried out with anaesthetic. Claude Bernard, described as the “father of physiology,” was working there, and famously said that “the physiologist is not an ordinary man: he is a scientist, possessed and absorbed by the scientific idea he pursues. He does not hear the cries of the animals, he does not see their flowing blood, he sees nothing but his idea …”

Walter Gratzer, Professor Emeritus of Biochemistry at King’s College London, writes that significant opposition to vivisection emerged in Victorian England, in part in revulsion at the research being conducted in France, which had carried over into England. Claude Bernard and other well known physiologists, such as Charles Richet in France and Michael Foster in England, were strongly criticized for their work.

British anti vivisectionists infiltrated the lectures in Paris of Francois Magendie, Claude Bernard’s teacher, who dissected dogs without anaesthesia, allegedly shouting at them — “Tais-toi, pauvre bête!” (Shut up, you poor beast!) — while he worked. Claude Bernard’s wife, Marie Francoise Bernard, was violently opposed to his research, though she was financing it through her dowry. In the end, she divorced him and set up an anti vivisection society.

This was the atmosphere in the faculty of medicine and the teaching hospitals in Paris when Kingsford arrived, shouldering the additional burden of being a woman. Although women were allowed to study medicine in France, Rudacille writes that they were not welcomed.

Kingsford wrote to her husband in 1874: “Things are not going well for me. My chef at the Charité strongly disapproves of women students and took this means of showing it. About a hundred men (no women except myself) went round the wards today, and when we were all assembled before him to have our names written down, he called and named all the students except me, and then closed the book. I stood forward upon this, and said quietly, ”Et moi aussi, monsieur.” [And me, Sir.] He turned on me sharply, and cried, ”Vous, vous n’êtes ni homme ni femme; je ne veux pas inscrire vôtre nom.” [You, you are neither man nor woman; I don’t want to write your name.] I stood silent in the midst of a dead silence.”

Kingsford was distraught over the sights and sounds of the animal experiments she saw. She wrote on August 20, 1879: “I have found my Hell here in the Faculté de Médecine of Paris, a Hell more real and awful than any I have yet met with elsewhere, and one that fulfills all the dreams of the mediaeval monks. The idea that it was so came strongly upon me one day when I was sitting in the Musée of the school, with my head in my hands, trying vainly to shut out of my ears the piteous shrieks and cries which floated incessantly towards me up the private staircase … Every now and then, as a scream more heart rending than the rest reached me, the moisture burst out on my forehead and on the palms of my hands, and I prayed, “Oh God, take me out of this Hell; do not suffer me to remain in this awful place.”

Alan Pert writes that Kingsford was caught in torrential rain in Paris in November 1886 on her way to the laboratory of Louis Pasteur, one of the most prominent vivisectionists of the period. She reportedly spent hours in wet clothing and developed pneumonia, and then pulmonary consumption.

Pert writes that she travelled to the Riviera and Italy, sometimes with Edward Maitland, at other times with her husband, hoping in vain that a different climate would help her recover. In July 1887, she settled in London in a house she and her husband rented at 15 Wynnstay Gardens, Kensington, and waited to die, although she remained mentally active. She died on February 22, 1888, and was buried in the churchyard of Saint Eata’s, her husband’s 11th century church in Atcham by the River Severn. Her name at death is recorded as Annie Kingsford. On her marriage in Sussex in 1867, her name is also given as Annie Bonus.


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