The Judge Case - A Conspiracy Which Ruined the Theosophical Cause;

Review by Katinka Hesselink (****)

[Reprinted from December 2004 issue of Lucifer7, with slight modification March 2007 and a note on the authorship added February 2008]


The Judge Case is an episode in theosophical history that has had enormous implications for the theosophical movement. It was the final straw in splitting up the Theosophical Society. In trying to understand the Judge-case various strands have to be pulled together. First and foremost of those is obviously a knowledge of the history of the Theosophical Society, its founders and the life of W.Q. Judge. In order for the case to be finally laid to rest, the issue needs an impartial handling in which testimony from both sides is taken into consideration. Unfortunately, The Judge Case - A Conspiracy Which Ruined the Theosophical Cause (TJC) leaves out important documentation previously published in Theosophical History (TH). Judge made claims that can only be seen in their proper perspective within the framework of theosophical doctrines and practice with regard to the Mahatma-chela- relationship ($). The below is the editor's attempt at making sense of the whole mess, with help of the book under review, some articles in the Dutch magazine Theosofia (by Henk Spierenburg) and various articles in TH. Spierenburg has been instrumental in writing this review as he pointed me to the relevant sources and has made sure I had them all to begin with.

First a historical reminder for those who haven't studied theosophical history in depth. W.Q. Judge was one of the co-founders of the Theosophical Society when it started out in New York in 1875. During H.P. Blavatsky's lifetime Judge organized the American Section (i.e. the one in the United States), wrote articles, claims to have given the initiative to start the EST (%) and set up his own magazine (The Path) which was filled to a large extent with articles he wrote himself, often using pseudonyms. All in all he was a supporter of H.P. Blavatsky, helped when the troubles in India reached a head (the Coulomb-case) and made himself generally useful. On the other hand, according to countess Wachtmeister, he did not help much when the final report by the SPR came out. (%$)

After H.P. Blavatsky died at first the survivors seemed to get along fine. Annie Besant, a more recent 'convert' to the Theosophical Society and Judge together headed the Esoteric Section, Olcott was president of the TS internationally and all seemed well. Trouble broke out soon though, over messages that Judge was accused of having forgered - short ones, usually, supposedly by Mahatmas. This issue eventually split up the Theosophical Society in two: the American Section became the independent Theosophical Society of America (by which term the USA was again meant). Soon after, in 1896, Judge died and the fledgling society tried to find an occult successor to him, and Catherine Tingley was the only candidate. This is the story in short. The long story has kept debate going ever since.

Since this book is so full of source material, reproduced in the appendices, a lot of interesting information is there even for those who don't support the final conclusion the compiler comes to. For instance in relation to a question a fellow Dutch theosophist asked me a few years ago: when did the sanskrit-sign for Aum end up on the seal of the Theosophical Society? Since in this book a few US-membership diploma's are photographically reproduced one can say for sure that from 1887 to 1900 the seal used on membership diploma's there did not include the aum topping off the seal. Also the six-pointed star hangs free of the serpent that bites its own tail. (p. 192-205) Interesting, and meriting its own booklet as far as I'm concerned is the collection of Judge quotes included in TJC.

The Judge Case [TJC] and evidence missed

Those interested in his life ought to buy the present book and are sure to find new information in it. Spierenburg noted that this is not really a book - it is a library. This comment is pertinent because not only does this book include a part 1 and 2 (each 400+ pages) in one volume - both volumes consist of various supplements, appendices etc. Since no index to the whole book is included (there is one to the supplement though) it is very hard to get a comprehensive idea about the book, without actually reading it. To help herself the present editor has compiled the various 'contents-pages' into one long contents page to the whole book. See the link below.

Often with books from volunteer-based publishers it is hard to overlook the flaws in a work and get to the content. In this case the lack of a contents page makes it even harder to do that. The structure of the book is so unique that it needs a few more words. It starts out with a chronology. This highly useful researchers tool is the heart of the book. Then follows the part where the compiler uses his own words to formulate his opinion: the supplement. This follows Judge and the Judge case and its various threads starting at the beginning and going on roughly chronologically. Then follow lists of sources. This concludes part 1. Part 2 is a series of appendices. Each is listed in a contents page. Since these appendices are thematically organized reproduced sources each appendix also has a contents page. The value of the book is mostly in the chronology and the reproduced sources.

In the introduction Pelletier says that he has not been able to prove to his own satisfaction whether Judge falsified Mahatma-letters or not. In fact, those mahatma-messages are not even reproduced here, because they were destroyed by Annie Besant. Pelletier has proved to his own satisfaction that Judge was conspired against. This is where it gets tricky. The book is put together in such a way that the reader has to become a researcher themselves in order to be able to do more than take the authors words at face value. The main thesis of this book seems to be that a conspiracy existed, from the Black Brotherhood, to attack first H.P. Blavatsky and when she was no longer alive, her successor as representative of the White Brotherhood: W.Q. Judge. The evidence supplied to make this reasonable is the following. (1) Blavatsky quotes are supplied where she names Judge her successor after she and Olcott are gone. Another piece of the puzzle (2) is the idea that Judge was an initiate. At the heart of the supposed conspiracy is a Brahman from India: (3) Chakravarti. Judge claims Chakravarti magnetized Annie Besant. To elaborate on these three points:

(1) Blavatsky was also very positive about Besant, this cannot be used to support Judge's position in the TS. To quote Henk Spierenburg (TH-HJS, p. 205):

Indeed, already in June 1882 H.P.B. even made the following remarks:

Another lady orator, of deservedly great fame, both for eloquence and learning - the good Mrs. Annie Besant - without believing in controlling spirits, or, for that matter, in her own spirit, yet speaks and writes such sensible and wise things, that we might almost say that one of her speeches or chapters contains more matter to benefit humanity, than would equip a modern trance-speaker for an entire oratorical career. [H.P.Blavatsky Collected Writings: 1882-1883. vol. IV, p, 124]

Also, though in this book the fact is downplayed: Besant was made secretary of the Inner Group. Secretaries are amongst the hardest working members in any council. They are also often the real decision-makers. In this case the secretary was responsible for the recording of the teachings. What job could be more responsible? To top it all off, according to Blavatsky's devoted friend countess Wachtmeister (TPH-W, p. 55) the signet-ring that Blavatsky had, was going to belong

"to her successor, and ... the properties attached to it were very magnetic. When after H.P.B.'s decease in London, I was informed that the ring had been given to Annie Besant by her express directions, I knew that Annie Besant was her successor."

(2) Pelletier uses the following to support his case that Judge was an initiate: during the time W.Q. Judge was in India his route can apparently not be traced. Unfortunately, as with most initiates, Judge did not actually come right out and say he was an initiate. Still, the personage Z in 'Letters that Have Helped Me' does claim occult knowledge and is widely assumed to be Judge.
On the other hand, the following quote from Theosophical History makes his initiation highly unlikely. Blavatsky wrote the following to Judge in 1887 and the bulk of it is still relevant when the Judge-case rocks the TS since Judge remained maried his whole life. In other words the chances of him being the kind of initiate that Pelletier infers he is, seem slim to me. Here it is in Blavatsky's words:

If you went in search of the Masters now - you would not find Them.One must be free & unclaimed by man or woman if he would offer himself personally to them. Otherwise the link which binds you to Brooklyn [where his wife lived] would be like a rope ever pulling you back. [TH-HPB, p. 126]

(3) Judge was not an eye-witness to the magnetization of Besant by Chakravarti. He did see that Besant and Chakravarti were getting close (during the convention in Chicago) and did not like this. The original source for the claim that Besant was magnetized is Archibald Keightley. Another piece of evidence is that Besant reportedly changed her attitude to non theosophists drastically around the same time that Chakravarti supposedly influenced her: she simply ignored non-members of the Theosophical Society (TS) while visiting Toronto at this time. Chakravarti was apparently a skilled hypnotist. In this relation the Prayag Letter (see links) is relevant. In it the Mahatmas make it clear that though everybody (including Indian Brahmans) are allowed as members into the TS, but brahmins can only expect help from the white brotherhood if they give up all the advantages of their caste. Chakravarti was one of the Prayag Brahmins. This led Judge to distrust him even more. But Wachtmeister records that previous to the troubles, Judge had thought Chakravarti might make a good TS-president. This again puts Judge's inside-knowledge on a loose footing.

Echoing other Judge-apologists, this book puts a lot of stock on Judge's calm demeaner all through the troubles. His attitude is contrasted with that of Besant and Olcott who both seemed more insecure and each expressed regret at the end of their life for prosecuting Judge. But reading the book it is difficult to ignore that at about the time the troubles came to a head Judge was spreading rumours to well placed people that Besant was hypnotized by Chakravarti and thus lost her balance. The evidence of that has been carefully collected by Judge-adherents because they see it as evidence that Besant was hypnotized. But it is equally rational to conclude that Judge was conspiring against Besant, because he might have been jealous of her influence (by all accounts she was a very good orator) or worried about the direction her version of theosophy seemed to take. I'm not saying this was his motivation, I'm just noting that the evidence can go both ways.

Pelletier is obviously a supporter of W.Q. Judge. As such he stands in a tradition of not taking H.S. Olcott very seriously. This tradition bases itself on the famous statement by a mahatma to Olcott:

H.P.B. has next to no concern with administrative details, and should be kept clear of them, so far as her strong nature can be controlled. But this you must tell all: With occult matters she has everything to do. We have not abandoned her; she is not "given over to chelas". She is our direct agent. [Letters from the Masters of the Wisdom 1870-1900, First Series, p. 46; TH-HJS, p. 203]

But Olcott was appointed as an officer of the E.S. [TH-HJS, p. 203], and like Judge did not have to take new vows. The same article by Henk Spierenburg also points to another all but forgotten piece of Blavatsky-testimony:

she [H.P.B.] recognizes but one person in the T.S. besides herself, namely Colonel Olcott, as having the right of effecting fundamental re-organizations in a Society which owes its life to them, and for which they are karmically responsible. [ H.P.B. Collected Writings, vol. XI, p. 382; TH-HJS, p. 204]

In this struggle both sides have accused the other side of losing their spiritual compass after the demise of H.P. Blavatsky. Every spiritual movement has a difficult time after the demise of its main inspiration. People can no longer go to their 'leader' but have to decide for themselves what is true and what is right action. In a sense it is the ultimate spiritual test: how to cope without the support of an authoritative teacher. There is evidence that Judge lost touch with Blavatsky's version of theosophy. Though his articles for the Path are generally inspiring and clear and students haven't noted many places where he contradicts her or the Mahatmas. The Letters That Have Helped Me are generally inspiring to read and highly recommended for anyone new to theosophy.

There is one issue that requires a closer look. In his personal life Judge had been looking for an occult successor for years. First for H.P. Blavatsky, later perhaps for himself as his health was not good. Appendix G (TJC part 2 p. 371-419) goes into the issue of the succession of Judge by Katherine Tingley. Though, according to the introduction to Appendix G the evidence can go both ways, there is one piece of evidence there that in my opinion can't be said to go both ways. This is the letter to Archibald Keightley (TJC part 2 p. 398  - see links below). Here he says, 4 years after Blavatsky passed away, "Enclosed is an exact transcript of what HPB said to me Jan[uar]y 3."... "You can let all worthy & devoted loyalists read this". Despite this the introduction to appendix G says "The conclusion that Judge received and accepted communications from the deceased H.P.B. as genuine, may or may not be accurate". The compiler makes no attempt to show the above mentioned letter as itself a forgery, probably because ample testimony exists that it is authentic. If Judge was an occult teacher, why would he send such a message to his followers with the implication that they should take heart (the message from H.P.B. is positive towards Judge and tells him that 'all will end for the good of all') if he does not believe it is genuine? Obviously he does believe H.P.B. was talking to him. If he was a mere human, this isn't to be wondered at (#). He was in dire straits and would have wondered what to do with himself, the difficulties and the Theosophical Society. That he would turn to mediums to tell him what to do is not strange since the belief was current that sometimes mediums brought messages from Mahatmas. Also it was thought that mediums, if they left their mediumistic talents alone for a bit, might turn into reliable mediators for the Mahatmas at a later date when they got full control over their powers, as H.P.B. herself had done. Where he does cross the line of Blavatsky-based theosophical practice is in assuming that H.P.B. would talk through mediums after her death. She clearly stated she wouldn't. (*) Easy as it is to say this in hindsight: the message in question is an obvious case of a medium (Tingley) telling a client exactly what they want to hear.

On the other hand - Mrs. Besant and the committee which prosecuted Judge did not give Judge proper time and occasion to defend himself. The letters which supposedly incriminate Judge were not given out. Defence was therefore not possible under the normal circumstances of the law (TJC: part 2, p. 304). In fact, the Adyar-TS has not given those documents out for the publication of this book, more than a century later. In her defence Annie Besant says that Judge did have access to the material she planned to use in the proceedings. She also claims she destroyed much of the evidence. It may be, therefore, that the material that is in this book, is really all that can at present be found even if the ES-archives of the TS-Adyar had been open to the investigators. In the end, Judge claimed that he had the right, as of the TS-constitution, to his own opinion on whether or not he was in touch with Mahatmas and had a right to give out messages in their name. Olcott and Besant had to agree on this. Judge therefore had no need of any evidence they might have brought with them as he used the very foundation of the TS (freedom of thought and speech) as his defence. Granting that Judge believed he was a messenger of the Masters, it is still relevant to theosophists even now to form an opinion on whether he in fact was such a messenger. Though Judge obviously had a point - freedom of opinion is indeed a central issue in the TS - the outcome was obviously highly frustrating to many members. The evidence brought forward by Besant hadn't even been discussed.

The case against Judge was solved (officially) by not solving it. In the end Besant's case was brought out through the media and Judge wrote a reply. Judge deals with most incidents to my satisfaction, except for two incidents where either of the two theories given below may fit. In both theories Judge made mistakes. The gravity of those mistakes (based after all on motive) varies with the theory.

For me it is difficult to ignore the evidence by Alexander Fullerton (TJC: 21-24). Fullerton was a longtime member of the TS in New York, never much in the foreground. He did not write much but the TS in the USA was built on his work (as on that of W.Q. Judge). Fullerton's story makes it sound as if Judge used the Mahatma's authority to get his way. Judge-supporters may be impressed by the many instances where Judge graciously stepped aside and did not take all the organisational power he might have. But was this spiritual grandure or the simple recognition that real power is not in the office one holds, but in the influence one has on other people? Krishnamurti rightly warned against the wish to influence people. The reason why Chakravarti's magnetizing Besant is made so much of is that he thereby could have influenced her. Judge clearly also influenced many people. This is in itself is not suspect. Blavatsky also influenced many people. There is a fine line between teaching and influencing that is probably the line between white and black magic. But what if Judge came to depend on the ability to influence people? What if he became used to getting his way - as he was apparently very popular in the US and in most places he went? What if he came to think that what he wanted was what the masters wanted? In the Letters That Have Helped Me he expresses the opinion that one should never doubt oneself (**). This can easily lead to lack of self-reflection. The Fullerton-material implies that Judge used the mahatma-support he felt he had for political issues. Personally I can't read this without very much doubting whether Judge still knew his own inner voice from that of the Mahatma. Again: this is quite normal. It is only very high initiates who will always be able to make this distinction. Blavatsky herself is known to have made mistakes in this regard. Unfortunately though, if the connection with the Mahatmas isn't such that they will step in, in most cases a free fall into error is inevitable. This is where later on Leadbeater and Besant ended up making their worst mistakes.

An alternative theory, which implies Judge to have been a high initiate (though the Blavatsky quote above pretty much shatters this assumption), is that Judge did hear the Master's voice and knew how to distinguish it (even when emotionally and mentally upset) from his own thoughts. Even if he did know that distinction at all times, I don't think he handled that expertly in all cases. It seems to me that he referred to their authority a bit too often. Especially in cases where he had not been ordered to share their opinion, he still managed to refer to them, hinting at their involvement. This must have frustrated the readers and could have been avoided if Judge had simply not hinted at the source his occult knowledge or insight so much. As with Blavatsky it may be that his crime lay not so much in referring to the Mahatmas and misusing their authority, but simply in not being a skillfull liar. As he was bound to secrecy - lying would have been at times the only option if repeated questions were asked. Had he just avoided referring to them, even when he did believe they were involved, he would have gotten into less trouble.


Was W.Q. Judge conspired against? Did Annie Besant become magnetized to trust in Brahmin-hinduism too much? Did Olcott lose touch with the Mahatmas? I don't know. Unfortunately The Judge Case ignores much of the material that has been gathered in the magazine Theosophical History over the years, making it necessary for the present reviewer to look them up personally. The letter by Blavatsky, the article by Spierenburg and the testimony of Wachtmeister taken together pull the rug under most of Pelletier's thesis and minor points. I have only gone into the main issues here. The result of the Judge case was in all events the split up of the Theosophical Society and with that starting point, the movement shattered ultimately into far more fragments. Whatever his mistakes, the literature Judge produced stands as a monument to his theosophical insight even now. As this case is still a dividing point between the various theosophical groups, it is unfortunate that a more impartial hearing wasn't produced. Still, TJC pulls together pieces of evidence and details from Judge's life that have been hard to find otherwise. The serious student of theosophical history can't do without this book.


Related links


(****) (2008) This article really should have been published as dual authorship. I was helped to a considerable extent by Henk Spierenburg who pointed out which sources weren't reproduced in the work under discussion here. The main thrust of the argument however, is mine. Henk didn't want the credit because of the controversy that would (and did) inevitably follow its publication. Now that he's gone however, and my reputation as a theosophical historian is perhaps larger than it deserves to be because of this article, I feel it necessary to make the following very clear: I started a review right after receiving the book in question through the agency of Henk Spierenburg who and ordered and paid for it. (My debt to Henk is in general immeasurable.) Knowing my notes on the book were a bit thin, I mailed them to Henk to see what he thought about them. He referred me to several printed articles in Theosophical History. I used these references and integrated them in my article (see the sources). So if this article suggests to anyone that I could hold my own in a discussion about the subject - that's simply not true. I brought some psychological insight and common sense to this article - the historical foundation was provided by Henk Spierenburg. 

($) A mahatma is, in Blavatskyan theosophy, a human being with psychic abilities beyond those of average mankind and a relative command of psychic forces. A chela is any accepted disciple of a mahatma (or mahatmas). These will undergo various tests and trials in which their ethical nature, their stamina and intuition are all tested. Chela's range from the almost normal person to a near-mahatma. In fact: a mahatma is usually not considered fully enlightened yet, and to the extent that they are still learning, are also still chela's. An accepted disciple is someone who has been tested to at least the extent that they are trusted by the mahatmas and are not going to be fooled by the more basic psychic and psychological traps the path has in store for us. More on this in the form of quotes by Blavatsky and the Mahatmas in  the Esoteric Studies Guide [Katinka Hesselink Net] - Editor

(%) Countess Wachtmeister claims she had discussed this option years before Judge came up with the idea. TH-W, p. 54.

(%$) SPR: Society for Psychic Research. Countess Wachtmeister says the following:

H.P.B. had undoubtedly a sincere affection for W.Q. Judge, though he did not always prove himself worthy of it. I know how bitterly she felt in Würzburg that he did not take up her defence against the attacks of the Psychical Research Society. When he read that book in which she was so cruelly accused and trampled upon, surely, had he possessed the devotion for her which he now blazons forth before the world, he would have flown to her side, and tried through his great ability, his devotion, and his presence, to heal some of the wounds of that bleeding heart. I can never forget those days of agony for H.P.B., and how she felt herself deserted by all those who had professed such devotion to her. As she pathetically said one day: "If there was only one man, who had the courage to come forward and defend me as he would defend his own mother, if thus scurrilously attacked, the whole current of the Theosophical Society would be changed." [TH-W, p. 55]

(#) Actually, infallible initiates aren't supposed to exist, except perhaps the highest of them. Even the Mahatmas didn't claim infallibility for themselves. They were very clear in stressing that only in their Mahatmic-state were they close to all-knowing. In their normal state (and they wrote their letters in their normal state) they were just highly evolved human beings, liable to error. This does not decrease the value of their teachings, for they had the time (in the A.P. Sinnett Letters) to correct mistakes in many cases. Still it does make the idea that because Judge was an initiate of some grade or other, he could not make mistakes, incorrect, based on theosophical doctrine. It is noted by the Compiler of this volume that Judge does not admit to any mistakes. This is taken as evidence that he did not make any. I would take it as evidence that he was no longer seeing clearly.

(*) While it is yet time, both the founders of the Theosophical Society place upon record their solemn promise that they will let trance mediums severely alone after they get to “the other side.” [The Theosophist, Vol. IV, No. 6, March, 1883, p. 137; H.P. Blavatsky C.W. Vol. 4, p. 352-353] The full article will be published in the next Lucifer7.

(**) Letters That Have Helped Me; letter 11:

The doubt which you now feel as to success is morbid. Please destroy it. Better a false hope with no doubt, than much knowledge with doubts of your own chances. "He that doubteth is like the waves of the sea, driven by the wind and tossed." Doubt is not to be solely guarded against when applied to Masters (whom I know you doubt not). It is most to be guarded and repelled in relation to oneself. Any idea that one cannot succeed, or had better die than live because an injured body seems to make success unattainable, is doubt.

This advice seems problematic to me. One has to always doubt the lower self (the personality) and guard against all vice (as Judge does warn to do) and on the other hand trust in the ability to overcome all problems.

"234.    Beware of this, O candidate! Beware of fear that spreadeth, like the black and soundless wings of midnight bat, between the moonlight of thy Soul and thy great goal that loometh in the distance far away.

235.    Fear, O disciple, kills the will and stays all action. If lacking in the Shila virtue, -- the pilgrim trips, and Karmic pebbles bruise his feet along the rocky path." (H.P. Blavatsky, Voice of the Silence, Fragment III) [Shila means patience]

But the paradox here is that one has to also face whatever personality-flaws one may have and be able to face up to mistakes and if possible, correct them. A pertinent article by (probably) Blavatsky is The Great Paradox.