Reinterpreting Christianity

Like many revolutionary thinkers, Anna Kingsford and Edward Maitland saw themselves as restoring a corrupted or lost system rather than making a radical break. In The Perfect Way or the Finding of Christ, they proclaimed:

We will now define more precisely the nature of the system we seek to restore, and its relation towards that so long in possession in the West. Although neither Christian nor Catholic in the accepted sense of the word, it claims to be both Christian and Catholic in their original and true sense, and to be itself the lawful heir, whose inheritance has been usurped by a presentment altogether corrupt, false, superstitious, idolatrous. [49]

The new religion Kingsford and Maitland began to form together was from the start to be a reinterpretation of Christianity, not a recreation or destruction. It was not until eighteen eighty-two that they would align their beliefs with Theosophy, and even then they maintained a discrete distance. The teachings of Christ and the scriptures would be Kingsford's main theological focus for her entire life. However, the nature and subjects of her focus would never be conventional. She was convinced there was an esoteric message behind traditional interpretations of the Bible and understood it to be her mission to interpret and impart this new 'divine truth'.

The Essential Unity of All Religions

Religious Ideas are true ideas, and, being such, they are common to all ages of history and to all peoples, the difference being one of expression merely . . . The fact that every nation in every age has conceived in some shape of the Gods constitutes of itself a proof that the Gods really are. [Life, 412]

Kingsford believed all religions derived from one essential 'Divine Truth', which was subsequently misinterpreted and perverted by materialistic religious institutions — namely, the Church. While arguing that the Gods are real because we believe in them is a somewhat cyclical argument, this statement does show the strong conviction Anna had from the start in the universality of her doctrine. Comparisons between Islam, Spiritualism, Buddhism, Christianity and Egyptian myth, to name a few examples, abound in her writings. Deviations between religions are attributed to human error.

The Nature of the Soul

Our souls, then, are the agglomerate essences of the numberless consciousnesses composing us. They have grown, evolving gradually from rudimentary entities which were themselves evolved, by polarization, from gaseous and mineral matter. And these entities combine and coalesce to form higher, -- because more complex, -- entities, the soul the individual representing the combined forces of their manifold consciousness, polarized and centralized into an indefeasible unity. [The Perfect Way, 38]

Kingsford and Maitland's religion system was complex to say the least. The Victorian partially for taxonomy and description is unmistakable in Kingsford and Maitland's work. Categories and subcategories document the unravelling of the elusive Truth and at times The Perfect Way is repetitive and overwritten. The crucial component of Kingsford's theory to remember is the four elements of the human: the material body, the astral body, the soul and the spirit. How these four elements interact determine the proximity of an individual to the divine truth. The soul is the most crucial element of the human as it is reincarnates and therefore has evolved. The spirit, on the other hand, is 'the first principle'; it is divine in origin and comparable to the Christian Holy Spirit. It is the highest and finest element of humans, and often the most ignored. The astral body is perhaps the most difficult concept to grasp, unlike the soul and spirit it exists on the material plane and therefore is actually physical; however it cannot be detected by the senses, unless by an individual who is a 'spiritual adept'. The astral body 'constitutes the bond between the soul and the material body' and is described best as liminal. It is the physical manifestation of the soul or the spiritual manifestation of the body. Physically it looks like a shadow of the body and abides by the same rules of space and time.

Christianity and Theosophy

By the time Kingsford became the President of the London Theosophical Society she and Alfred P. Sinnett had had their disagreements. Kingsford's scholarly, rational approach to religion conflicted with Sinnett's tendency towards drama and mysticism. Anna was also growing frustrated with the shift in focus towards the mysterious religions of the East and the resulting disregard for Christianity. Her "Presidentisal Address" therefore voiced her "sorrow and concern on the growing tendency of the Theosophical Society to introduce into its method the superstitions; the exaggerated veneration for persons and for personal authority; and element which has been the ruin of every other religious system in the past" (83). Anna was also growing frustrated with the shift in focus towards the mysterious religions of the East and the resulting disregard for Christianity. The scope of 'the world's religions' was growing smaller. The rift became so intense that Madame Blavatsky had to pay a visit to London from India to smooth ruffled feathers. She supported Sinnett publicly but visited Kingsford privately and told her she believed she should remain president.

Related Material

References

Kingsford, Anna and Edward Maitland. The Perfect Way or the Finding of Christ. Boston: Esoteric Publishing Company, 1972.

Kingsford, Anna, "Presidential Address." Theosophical History 2 (1987): 82-85.

Maitland, Edward. Anna Kingsford: Her Life, Letters, Diary and Work. 2 Vols. Whitefish: Kessinger Publishing, 2003.


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Last modified 14 August 2007