Another Courtly Love Tale





Just a while ago, in the context of reading about Mary Magdalene, I reviewed (re-read) Annie Besant’s Esoteric Christianity.  Besant did not mention Mary Magdalene in a significant way.

I was curious, afterward, whether or not Besant mentioned Mary Magdalene in her other works, since she did not mention her in this book. So I went to a good university library (University of Nevada, Las Vegas) to find out.

I also got curious about the Theosophical Society which Besant headed for some time, at first under the tutelage of Helena P. Blavatsky (H.P.B.).

Assuming her to be a disciple of Blavatsky (which she was, to an extent) I was surprised to find another women mentioned in connection with both of their lives: Anna Kingsford.  I had not heard of her before, but I had the feeling I would want to learn something about her: anyone that publishes a book at age 13, a fictional yet well-researched account set during the days of very early Christianity and involving a woman named Beatrice deserves to be looked into!  Age 13!  

I looked through several books on the teachings of both Besant and Blavatsky and found nothing of note on Mary Magdalene.  So much for Blavatsky’s otherworldly sources of information.  Did these otherworldly sources not realize that Magdalene played a big part in the very early days of Christianity?  We know now.  

Maybe people from the other side who communicate with the living only know what is known, or can only speculate within the boundaries of what is known, in the times of the living with whom they communicate?  That comes close to calling the claims to otherworldly intelligence fakery, but that is going too far, as we will discuss in the third part of this series on Kingsford and Maitland.

There were mentions of this Kingsford woman in books about Theosophy focused on Blavatsky, primarily, and also on Besant.  I was immediately attracted by something in this lengthy declaration (by a very critical author, Gertrude Marvin Williams in her Priestess of the Occult {Madame Blavatsky} by (Alfred A. Knopf, 1946), pages 218 and 219):

Note 1: Is Williams correct that H. P. Blavatsky had a low opinion of women?  According to Joy Dixon, in her book Divine Feminine, Theosophy and Feminism in England (The Johns Hopkins University Press, 2001) it was the abhorrence of the feminine trait of sentimentality that caused the Theosophical Society under Blavatsky to reject Christianity, calling it “a religion in fact for women and not for men” (page 30).  It was this attitude in favor of masculine religions, religions like Hinduism and especially its offspring religion Buddhism, religions that were firmly intellectual and unsentimental, that led to the break between the society and Kingsford, continues Dixon (see her pages 165-166 for more on this topic).  Dixon also mentions the bad blood between Blavatsky and Kingsford cited above from Williams, noting that she sarcastically called her the “divine Anna” in correspondence in which she was agreeing with someone seriously objecting to her attachment to Christianity.

Note 2: In England women were not allowed into universities, so Kingsford went to Paris, just as Marie Curie went to Paris because in her native Poland women were not allowed into universities.

Note 3: “Brief encounter”?  Yes, Dr. Kingsford did not stay with the Theosophists for long, just over a year, and she also died young. Blavatsky wrote, to her credit, a beautiful eulogy upon Anna’s passing, in her monthly magazine.  

Besant and Kingsford were mentioned together in this book: The Other World, Spiritualism and psychical research in England, 1850-1914, by Janet Oppenheim (Cambridge University Press, 1985).  On her pages starting at 185 and going on for some time afterward, Oppenheim makes interesting observations about Blavatsky, Besant, and Kingsford, such as (p. 185):

Pages 186-187:

Oppenheim has many more pages on these two women leaders of the leading occult movement of their time.  Kingsford died of consumption in 1888, merely 42 years of age.  Besant, on the other hand, was only a year younger but lived until 1933.  

Besant took the reigns of the Theosophical Society and steered it to becoming larger and more influential.  Kingsford was prominent on the London Theosophy Scene for one year, and then she and Maitland founded the Hermetic Society, in 1884. Her life’s work was written down by Maitland and published through that society.  

Blavatsky, according to Oppenheim (page 189) wanted no part of Christianity.  Kingsford, on the other hand, believed there was much esoteric truth in Christianity and felt herself to be a Christian reformer.  

Kingsford and Besant had more in common that Kingsford and Blavatsky. Continuing her discussion of the common grounds between Kingsford and Besant, Oppenheim wrote (page 190) about Kingsford:

Oppenheim serves much additional food for thought and includes this observation on page 191:

And there you have it.  I wondered what this “Lesser Mysteries” was all about when I looked at other writings by Besant from her earlier Theosophical years (when Blavatsky was alive).  I could not fathom what made these Christian mysteries “lesser” since they seemed so similar to the ancient higher mysteries spoken of in Blavatsky’s and Besant’s other works.  In fact Besant takes great pains to show that these ancient mysteries are well hidden, but definitely exist, in Christianity.  

Now I know: calling Christian mysteries “lesser” was likely a ‘sop’ to the Blavatsky devotees that were the mainstay of Theosophism in her time. Her book was a cautious attempt to turn a new direction, but because of her followers believing the superiority of the ancient mysteries over this relative latecomer, Christianity, she tried to not offend them.  Besant taught that Original Christianity was in harmony with the ancient mysteries, but it was taken over by the blind and the superficial who were no more capable of seeing hidden truth than they were capable of seeing the bottoms of their full wine goblets.  

I see this Esoteric Christianity book by Besant in a new light, now.

I was anxious, at this point in my readings in Oppenheim (who continues to make interesting and insightful observations about the beliefs in the writings of these two interesting women) to get myself to the source: Kingsford’s writings.

Alas, I could not find anything by Kingsford in the university library where I did find the books I just cited.  

I did find one more book that analyzed Kingsford’s work, and perused it, and it helped me, in fact, decide what to hone in on when I finally did gain access to all of Kingsford’s works on a wonderful website:

This last book I perused in the library was Notorious Voices: Feminist Biblical Interpretation, 1500-1920 by Marla J. Selvidge (A Paragon House Book, 1996).  I found Selvidge’s sections on Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Mary Hayes fascinating.  Stanton’s The Woman’s Bible caused quite a stir in her day, and after.  It was published at about the same time as Besant’s Esoteric Christianity, but on a different continent.  I was intrigued to see that (page 87) Selvidge suggested the authors of the The Woman’s Bible drew on “resources from historical critical commentaries and works, the Occult, Theosophy, Astrology, and more.”  That makes me think they were aware of Kingsford’s works, which would have been available then.  On page 100, Blavatsky is named as an acknowledged source, not Kingsford, but this is corrected on page 195, where Selvidge writes that:

I ran into the The Woman’s Bible decades ago when reading Mormon history and finding that a general authority of that church had angrily denounced that book’s assertion that the female principle is and always had been part of the God-nature.  (If that interests you, the “Standing on the Principle” article on this website gives the citation.)

Selvidge’s chapter on “The Feminine as Divine” has a section on “Anna Bonus Kingsford (1846-1888) and Edward Maitland (1824-1897).”  This section occupies mainly pages 186 through 195, and is largely a discussion of Kingsford’s views on and interpretations of scripture.  I was interested in their rejection of the misogyne statements in the Pauline corpus.  They rejected Paul as a misogynist.  They were apparently not familiar with critical textual analyses suggesting these misogyne declarations were interpolations not to be blamed on Paul.

Interesting as some of that was, I was instead quite fascinated by the intimations by Selvidge of this Kingsford/Maitland creative duo being an example of  “mystical love” (what I would call “courtly love").

Here are just a few statements from Selvidge concerning the relationship between Kingsford and Maitland:

Pages 186-187:

Note 1: She left her husband’s home to pursue her studies, but they did not divorce.  Her husband was solicitous and looked out for her as best he could.  She had their daughter with her in Paris, Maitland visited her there, and only lived with her there briefly.  They were together on travels and in England.  Her husband did not condemn their unorthodox relationship but gave her space to fulfill her vision of her life’s purpose.  He believed in her gift.

Note 2: She was disillusioned about the women’s rights movement’s ridiculing a feminine woman, or a woman happy in traditional roles.  She felt this was beside the point, and simply wrong.  She was proudly feminine in her dress, manner and bearing, and a devoted mother.  As a wife she did not fit the traditional mold, of course.

Note 3: One trip to Italy early in her relationship with Maitland was for her health, she suffered from ‘consumption’ (and ultimately died of it)  in Paris, and her husband thought a holiday in sunny Italy would be beneficial. Since he was so busy with his work he actually asked Maitland to accompany and watch over her.  She revived splendidly and went back to school in Paris.  Together, she and Maitland  had many spiritual experiences on this trip, experiences that became part of the basis for their later work.

Note 4: This ‘popular book’ came out almost 20 years before Besant’s Esoteric Christianity, hence the idea that Besant used it, learned from it, or was inspired to create her own version of 'esoteric Christianity' because of it.  

Note 5: If this is so, then this is the most interesting documented case of "courtly love” and its creative effects I have ever read!  This we will explore in greater detail in Part Two.

Note 6: The possible psychological disorder stems from the end of her life when she felt that her thoughts were objects and had physical power.  She was extreme in her anti-vivisectionist views and willed a prominent Parisian vivisectionist who had insulted her personally to die, and he did.  This is indeed a form of madness.

Note 7: In my readings I looked for but found no support for this statement by Selvidge.  Admittedly, my readings are limited.

Selvidge, just like Dixon, describes the reason for their unhappiness with the Theosophical Society that welcomed them as President and Vice-President of the London group.  The London group, following Blavatsky, was into esoteric Buddhism and had no use for Christianity, but Kingsford felt herself to be called to be a reformer of Christianity.  So she and Maitland left, and went their own way.  Selvidge says that Maitland died alone 11 years after Kingsford, and spend his time during those 11 years editing and publishing her writings and composing her biography.  

That doesn’t quite exhaust what I found interesting in the books cited so far, but I am anxious to pull the thread of ‘courtly love’ in the works of Kingsford and Maitland, and especially in a book by Maitland about Kingsford and their collaboration.  

To my delight and surprise, this turns out to involve Mary Magdalene, who visited Anna, and in whose name Anna became a Catholic, and whose revelations led Anna to a deeper understanding of the life-mission of Jesus Christ, according to Williams.   Kingsford, however, had multiple revelatory sources later in her life from which she drew her occult knowledge, and Mary Magdalene was one among many, but Maitland did claim that she received special knowledge about Christ from "Mary Magdalen".  

{See the ADDENDUM linked below for more on Mary Magdalene and 'Mary" kingsford.}

We will show the reference to this in the context of courtly love in Part Two.

I wrote Part Three because, as a former true-believer in one "restorationist" movement, I am always fascinated by examples of other such movements. For example, I was fascinated with the fact that two restoration movements, 300 years apart, both sought to re-establish the Biblical society of the Old Testament that so pleased God that he walked among them.  That society, to make the restoration complete, including polygyny: one man having multiple wives.  (If you want to read that comparison, click here.)

So what do the followers of Maitland and Kingsford have in common with other restoratists also led by prophets?  Revelation (and a very high opinion of their importance to the world), of course!  So a lot of time is spent in Part Three on the nature of revelation, a subject also addressed elsewhere on this site in a different context.