Hermetic Library fellow T Polyphilus reviews Clothed With the Sun: Being the Book of the Illuminations of Anna Bonus Kingsford by Anna Bonus Kingsford.
Hermetic occultist Kingsford (1846-1888) was a diarist, and her programmatic effort to maintain written records of her visions and ideas stands as a clear presage of the method of the magical record in Thelemic magick. She and her collaborator Edward Maitland even undertook to fabricate a talismanic version of her record, “a volume, large, handsome, of superfine paper, with lock and key, and bearing on the cover a solid brass pentagram,” in which Kingsford’s interlocutor spirits instructed her to assemble the writings that they inspired. In addition to the scrupulous care with which she generated and preserved records, the records of certain “chapters” were understood by her explicitly as received texts, which were not to be changed in so much as a single word. Many of these were divided into numbered verses, and Maitland memorized some of these texts for devotional use. Clothed with the Sun posthumously collected these writings under Maitland’s editorship. (This sort of work set an obvious—though seldom noted—precedent for the “Class A” and “Holy Book” categories in the later Thelemic canon.)
In notes written after Kingsford’s death, Maitland is insistent that her “illuminations are in no way due to artificial stimulation of faculty, whether by means of drugs, or by ‘animal magnetism,’ ‘mesmerism,’ or ‘hypnotism,’ or to the induction of any abnormal state through the act of the recipient herself or some other person.” He points out that many of her visions occurred “during natural sleep,” and basically attributes the experiences to earnest aspiration, combined with proper diet, and “the spontaneous operation of Spirit in a soul duly luminous and responsive.” In his annotations to Kingsford’s “Vision of Adonai,” however, he writes that in that instance she “was prompted to make certain ceremonial preparations obviously calculated to impress the imagination,” without specifying the precise nature of the ceremony. Furthermore, accounts from Maitland and others indicate that Kingsford’s visionary experiences were often obtained under the influence of chloroform or ether.
While noted as a Christian mystic for her prominent use of Christian language and images, Kingsford’s Christianity was of a very unorthodox and inclusive type, identifying pagan gods with archangels, for example. But it set a pattern for much of the ahistorical “New Age Christianity” developed in the Theosophical and para-Theosophical milieus of the 20th century. Kingsford discriminated between “Jesus,” a particular man, and “Christ,” a state of personal apotheosis not unique to Jesus. According to Kingsford, “The fundamental truth embodied in the crucifixion is Pantheism.”
Along with her doctrines regarding attainment to the condition of “Christ,” it is clear from other indications that Kingsford nursed messianic aspirations. Kingsford and 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 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.