poison letter; postmodern conf.; misc.
Sep 24, 1994 04:40 AM
by Jerry Hejka-Ekins
PJ> Give me a break. I said nothing about what "you" are to
> believe. All I said was that the story seemed credible to me,
> and that I would pursue the lead.
That is not what you wrote:
PJ> Since Annie was of course alive
> when the story was published, first in the Theosophist and
> then in ODL, she would have been able to correct it if she had
> wanted to. Thus-- it seems credible."
> Will look for the specific passage.
If you had indeed written that the story "seemed credible to
me.", I would have understood you to be referring to yourself,
and would not have bothered to respond to your post in the first
PJ> Why are you being so adversarial about this? All I did was
> post a work-in-progress news flash.
My reason for being so "adversarial" is because I believe it
to be irresponsible for researchers to repeat unsubstantiated
information as fact. You had done just that in your first post,
when you repeated Nethercot's unsubstantiated statement
concerning a "poison" letter as fact. In your second post, after
I had presented contradictory information, you again attributed
credibility to the story because a friend told you that he read
about it in ODL. As I said, if you had written that your
friend's comment led you to conclude that the story seems
creditable *to you*, I would not have commented. But you did not
write that. You wrote that the story "seems credible."
PJ> You seem to be very resistant to believing something bad
> about Judge, while quite ready to believe bad things about
> Olcott and Besant.
You are wrong about that. If you make a statement and
substantiate it about Judge, Olcott or Besant, I will judge it on
the weight of the evidence. These people were human beings,
warts and all. If you have source evidence concerning Judge that
is unfavorable to him, then it should be posted. It should come
out so that we can look at it. Same for Olcott and Besant.
PJ> Paul's accusation? Why call it that? All I am doing
> is repeating from a source, and you know well that the story
> appears in more than one. Better to call it "Nethercot's and
> Williams's (and perhaps Olcott's and Besant's) accusation."
I call it "Paul's accusation" because you cited it from
Nethercot (a secondary source) as a fact, without bothering to
determine his source for the story. Williams, as I had already
pointed out, cites the story as gossip.
> What is "giving credence" anyway? Of course I don't expect
> you to believe it without the citation, which is the reason I
> looked for it.
"Giving credence" is giving credibility to a story based
upon *source documentation*, not secondary information. Perhaps
you need to take a course in research methodology.
PJ> But you might at least acknowledge the
> possibility that Nethercot and Williams didn't just invent the
> story-- which you seem reluctant to do unless forced to.
Wrong again. I never denied the possibility that Nethercot
and Williams based the story upon something. In fact, I figured
that it was likely. I only asked that you find and examine the
source of that story before repeating it.
PJ> Therefore, why is it not just as fair for me to turn the
> tables and say "until evidence is found and substantiated
> to prove that Nethercot and or Williams invented the story, I
> for one refuse to give credence to Jerry's accusation?" You
> are accusing them of just a serious a misdeed as they attribute
> to Judge.
Wrong again! Nethercot repeated the story as fact.
Williams repeated the story as gossip. Neither one gave a source
for their information. The lack of citations and the
contradictory presentation of the story as fact in one case and
gossip in another is enough to IMHO make a reasonable person
question the story. My "accusation" or rather criticism is
towards you for posting the story from a secondary source as
fact, when another equally credible secondary source cites the
story as gossip. I'm saying that this is not responsible
scholarship for a historical researcher, especially one who is
now published in an academic press. Presently, I'm
systematically going through academic papers that discuss
theosophical history, and find major and utterly stupid factual
errors on almost every page. For instance, one I was looking at
yesterday informs me that Annie Besant became President of the
T.S. upon HPB's death in 1891. These errors come from slipshod
work and reliance on secondary sources. There is no excuse for
this kind of sloppiness. But it slips into academic publications
and is picked up and repeated by other academic publications. As
HPB said "Error runs down an inclined plane." Come on Paul,
let's be responsible and not contribute to the abundance of shit
that is already out there.
PJ> "Seems credible" is no more a judgment that "not willing to
> give credence" is. Why are you blaming me for something that
> you yourself are doing?
Wong again. I'm blaming you for giving credibility to
secondary sources that contradict each other. I stated that I'm
not willing to give credence to such secondary and contradictory
information. I want to look at the source of their information
and draw my own conclusions.
PJ> We all have some kind of opinion/judgment on the Judge case,
> and we all know that it is based on inadequate evidence. Your
> guess is as good as mine. Please be generous enough to admit
> the same.
My whole point. I try not to form judgements on inadequate
evidence. That is why I was critical of you for presenting the
poison letter story as a fact, and citing a secondary source who
neglects to give a primary one.
PJ> You say "let's work," but where's the "us"? Why put
> the burden of looking for evidence entirely on me? Your
> attitude seems to be "my mind is made up, and I have no
> interest in examining the matter. If you want me to think
> about changing my mind, you must do all the work."
Wrong again! I provided the Williams Quote, not you. I
pointed out the inconsistency. You insisted that Nethercot got
the evidence for his story from the Adyar archives, thus putting
the burden on me to check that out. I came up with the evidence
from Nethercot's own statement that he never was permitted to see
the Adyar archives. You then insisted that it was in ODL. Well
Paul, I have ten novels to read in 13 weeks, two papers and a
bibliography to write, plus a class to teach, so I'll be damn if
I'm going to page through Olcott's six volumes of poorly indexed
memoirs just because you decided that "it must be in ODL." No, I
did the research for your last two quesses, so I figure that it
is your turn to substantiate your own speculations. Now you say
that you have a friend who found it for you. The rest should be
easy, all you have to do now is post the reference, so that we
can look at it.
PJ> Dismissing Williams and Nethercot as "gossip" is rather
Wrong again! Williams herself dismissed the story as
gossip. As for Nethercot, I only questioned his source. If his
source was Williams, then it becomes gossip too. If his source
was ODL, then it may still be gossip. We'll see.
PJ> The overall quality of Nethercot's books suggests
> that his scholarly standards deserve more respect than that.
That's your opinion. The first rule in scholarship is to
cite your sources. The second rule is to stick to primary
sources whenever possible. Nethercot does neither. He only
gives a general statement at the beginning of each section as to
his sources, without citing specific sources for specific
information. Further, his sources are often as not secondary.
His work is nowhere near "scholarly standards."
PJ> Well I did find the citation, but it's rather elliptical. I
> left it at home but will post it when I can bring it to work.
> Olcott says that Judge used bogus Mahatma letters to dissuade
> Annie from going to India after she had already agreed to do
> so, and adds that the manner in which he dissuaded her "is now
> a matter of history." Which means that the missing details
> must appear in another contemporary source, probably the
> Theosophist. Which I don't expect to have access to any time
Olcott is probably alluding to Edmund Garrett's series,
published in the ~Review of Reviews~ and reprinted in ~Isis Very
Much Unveiled Being the Story of the Great Mahatma Hoax.~ (1894),
not ~The Theosophist.~ Though Garrett presents the evidence
against Judge (he got copies of the evidence against Judge from
Old), he also dismisses the poisoning incident as gossip. So
that won't help you either.
In a latter message Paul cites the passage in question from
PJ> As it turns out, the elliptical passage I found day before
> yesterday is eclipsed by a very straightforward one found last
> night. It's in volume IV, pp. 523-4:
>..Mr. Walter R. Old, of the London working staff, arrived and
> joined out Headquarters organization. Almost immediately there
> was an interchange of confidences between us, which for the
> first time opened my eyes to the treacherous policy that Mr.
> Judge had been following up with regard to the Society and
> myself in the matter of his relations with the Masters. I
> cannot tell how shocked I was to discover his lack of
> principle, and to find that my previously more or less vague
> suspicions fell far short of the reality. Without making any
> pretensions to exceptional goodness, I certainly never did
> anything to warrant him in making, in a forged letter, my own
> Teacher and adored Guru seem to say that, if Mrs. Besant should
> carry out her intention of visiting India, she might run the
> risk of my poisoning her! Let any of my honorable colleagues
> picture to themselves how they would feel if such cruel and
> baseless imputations were made against their character.
> Elsewhere in Vol. IV, I can't find it at the moment, HSO says
> that Old didn't just "exchange confidences" but also presented
> documents to back up his charges. These presumably remain in
> the archives at Adyar.
Now I am becoming more impressed. Three possibilities come
to mind for this citation: 1. Olcott is citing a "Mahatma letter"
shown to him by Old, that warned Besant that Olcott plans to
poison her. 2. Olcott is repeating the same gossip that was
extant at the time, and believes it to be true. 3. Such a
*genuine* Mahatma letter exists that really warned Besant of such
Considering the evidence offered by Garrett, I'm inclined to
discount the third alternative, that such a genuine Mahatma
letter exists as described. But that doesn't prove that Judge's
Mahatma letters were or were not genuine. If you can find a
passage in Olcott's memoirs (you say it exists) that Old showed
Olcott a letter that warns Besant that Olcott intends to poison
her, then you will have presented a very strong argument that
Judge forged such a letter, thus substantiating the first
However, we must keep in mind Garrett's 1894 account, which
is also based upon both Old's testimony and copies of the same
documents that Olcott was shown. I quote from Garrett's account
During the very next month Mrs. Besant, then preparing
for her trip to India, received a cablegram from the vice-
president in America to this effect:--
You are desired not to go to India remain where you are
grave danger Olcott await further particulars by an
At Avenue-road this mysterious telegram was at first
read in the sense, "Grave danger to Olcott." The president
was just then due at Tokyo, and there was a report of an
earthquake thereabouts. For a while there was a great
flutter over this convincing case of Mahatmic prescience.
When, however, the "early mail" arrived with Mr. Judges
explanatory letter, quite a different complexion was put on
the telegram. After reading this letter, and one from the
inevitable Mahatma which Mr. Judge enclosed, the conclusion
of the Inner Group was that the "grave danger" against which
the Master warned Mrs. Besant was "from Olcott." The
Tibetan founder of the society, in short, warned Mrs. Besant
against imperilling her safety in the neighborhood of its
The Mahatma had declared war on Colonel Olcott.
This was the first shot in the campaign.
But what could this danger from Colonel Olcott be? Mr.
Judge and his Mahatma left that darkly vague. Some of their
friends in England dotted the i's and crossed the t's for
them. It is hardly credible, but the suggestion was nothing
less preposterous than that Colonel Olcott intended to
~poison~ Mrs. Besant!....
Positively, the only material which these ladies and
gentlemen had to work on was an innocent conversation of the
Colonel's with a friend on the subject of poisons, Indian
and other, which took place at a date when Mrs. Besant was
not yet even a member of the society! The "evidence"--save
the mark--was such as ordinary non-Theosophical folk would
not give even a dog a bad name on. But Mahatmas and their
friends are different, and Mr. Judge's Mahatma was well
served. For this trivial episode buzzed about from mouth to
mouth in connexion with the sinister hints of "Mahatma M,"
sufficed to make this monstrous charge against their
president currently believed at Avenue-road, for some weeks
at least, by the very inmost and governing circle of his
colleagues, with Mrs. Besant at their head!
A belief once discarded, it is easy to deny that it
ever existed. But this particular belief, or half-belief,
showed itself in action. Mrs. Besant deferred her visit to
India, and to impatient Indian disciples wrote that "Master
had forbidden her to come," and "till that order was
countermanded" she would not budge (pp 45-46).
Thus Garrett reproduces the letter that started the
"poisoning" controversy. But it is also clear that "poison" is
not even mentioned in this "Mahatmic" communication. Rather, it
was inferred by members of the inner group, and that even Besant
bought into this inference!
Therefore Garrett shows that the poison letter story is
gossip, and Besant and Olcott bought into it. Unless you can
find evidence that a letter ever existed that specifically warned
Besant that Olcott planned to poison her, Garrett's account will
have to remain the most plausible one, and I will have to go with
ET> I'm not sure that you have come up with an new
> organization type. What you describe sounds like what happens
> when friends hang out together. It is also similar to what
> I've seen a graduate class in management back in 1973. The
> different ways that people can relate to each other are as old
> as humanity itself. Approaches seem new to us if we're
> unfamiliar with them, but do you really think that you're on
> to something really new?
No. I don't claim to have come up with a new organization
type. We are pursuing post-modern principles. They have been
around for thirty years under that name, and no doubt, for
millennia under other names. It's not new, but an alternative to
the approaches used by the Theosophical Organizations.
ET> When I read about the conference, though, I feel
> that a statement is implicitly being made about what Theosophy
> is and where it can be found, a statement that I feel that
> must be questioned.
How was this statement "implicitly being made"? Can you
give an example of a conference announcement where this is not
JA> As I write, I've recently reached the heartening place where
> Arvind says he thinks the best way to go is to get thoroughly
> grounded in HPB first, then look at who came after. Your mostly
> patient persistence and largely admirable clarity of expression
> are to be awarded palms with respect to the prospective
Thank you. You made my day. However, Arvind later signed
off the net, saying that he found another "guru" that does not
require study or reading, but only devotion--thus he declared
that he no longer is interested in either Bailey or Blavatsky.
JA> On the other hand, though I am more inclined toward your
> perspective on things than toward Arvind's, I find that you are
> too often argumentative and unwarrantedly condescending.
Thank you for your perspective.
> You appreciate your abilities a bit too much, and thereby do
> Arvind wrong. For example, after lecturing AK at length on his
> misreading your feelings when he says you are irritated, you
> say in the very next paragraph or so that you are indeed
> irritated by the very things he cites as causing you
> irritation. This is not good, not right. Arvind's humble
> apologies for misreading you are misplaced, for he didn't
> misread you, as your own words quickly reveal. Your
> intimidating him into admitting that he misread you is, on his
> side, an example of politeness doing injustice to right, and on
> your side, ego successfully clothing with right that which is
> wrong. Both of you should be on guard against letting this
> dynamic continue in any form.
I'm afraid that you had misread the communication. I told
Arvind that I was irritated for his mis-quoting me to someone
else on the net, in a message not sent to me. It is one thing to
mis-read someone, and is quite understandable. It is quite
another thing to repeat that mis-representation to others,
especially when he was already told that he had misread me.
JA> Now a few brief comments on what I've so far found in
> catching up on the dialogue (I'm still back in May somewhere.)
> (1) As for HPB not understanding what her teachers taught her
> and what she taught the public by way of her teachers, there is
> a sizeable correct middle ground between your two technically
> correct but misleading extremes. You say she understood
> everything (one extreme) except for an occasional mathematical
> this or phrase that (the other extreme.) Not so. She remarks
> on this matter many times. I think one instance is found in
> Letter CXXXIV of The Mahatma Letters where, in the midst of
> relaying to APS a communication from M via herself, she says,
> "Explain this to Mr. Sinnett ( I CAN'T) ..."
When I archived the dialogue between Arvind and I, it took
up over a million bits of space on a disk, so I hope you
understand when I say that I can't spare the time to find,
retrieve and review six month old posts. However, I will try to
respond to what I can from memory.
As I recall, this dialogue involved several people. I don't
recall who raised the issue in the first place. It wasn't me,
and may not have been Arvind. Anyway, I don't recall writing
that HPB understood "everything," but do recall giving an example
from her correspondence with Ralston Skinner that she did not
understand mathematics. There are many such examples. For
instance she once asked Mead to translate some Greek for her. In
another letter to Sinnett, she admitted her ignorance of
physiology. HPB's limitations are quite evident. On the other
hand, there are extraordinary things in her writings that seem to
go beyond her limitations. Anyway, your remark that I said she
"understood everything except for an occasional mathematical this
or phrase that..." doesn't fit my understanding of her. I think
the issue is far more complicated then this.
JA> (2 - maybe applying not to anything you said but to someone
> else - can't recall) Amusing (also not amusing) this
> self-righteous orthodoxy stating that anyone who claims occult
> status shows thereby the lack of that status. Take note, Jesus,
> M, KH, others - your saying who and what you are condemns you.
> Take note, theosophists - discrimination is the thing, not the
> big blanket.
You are probably thinking of mine, or someone else's
citation of HPB's warning to this effect. She warned that anyone
claiming to be in touch with the Mahatmas is not.
JA> (3) Tillett's discrepancies re CWL are CWL lies? You assert
> specific discrepancies (birth certificate, siblings, etc.) but
> don't show how those discrepancies become lies. My perspective
> on Leadbeater is closely akin to yours, but so far in my
> catching up, your assertion that the man was a liar is by no
> means established by the discrepancies you indicate. A number
> of things besides lies can account for discrepancies. Maybe CWL
> was indeed a pathological liar - I don't know - but your charge
> is much too strong for the weak support you offer for it.
O.K., if C.W.L.'s claim to be born in 1847 when he was
actually born in 1856, and his claim to have a brother who was
killed by Indians in So. America when he in reality had no
brother etc., are not lies, what would you prefer to call them?
JA> (4) Why that casual, parenthetical throwing out that the
> letters from KH to CWL are thought by many to be forgeries?
> Many think that The Mahatma Letters are forgeries.
I may have mentioned that many think the KH letters to CWL
are forgeries, but I have never stated that to be my position.
JA> (5) Where do Krishnamurti, Van Hook, and the other two you
> name accuse Leadbeater of ruining their lives?
Krishnamurti used to occasionally refer to CWL as "that evil
man", but I don't believe I ever stated that CWL "ruined his
life." Hubert Van Hook didn't like CWL, but I never stated that
he ruined his life either. The Knothe and Dennis boys were
victims of and deeply affected by the 1906 scandal. I know a
woman in Los Angeles who met the Knothe boy as an old man, and
says he was still very bitter about CWL and the TS. Can't say
about the Dennis boy, but children who go through that kind of
trauma are affected for their entire lives, says our latest
psychological wisdom on the subject. Kollerstrom, whom Mrs.
Martin witnessed CWL to be masturbating, grew up to be a
psychiatrist then became an alcoholic. How much of this had to
do with CWL I can't say, but it is pretty clear that he was a
very troubled person.
> (6) Argumentative, posturing nonsense saying you don't care
> what AK believes so long as what he believes is harmless.
> What belief (belief system) is harmless? What's fun for the
> boys is death for the frogs, goes the wise saying. And so it
> goes in the spiritual realm also. Granted, you have a lot of
> age-old company in the nonsense - a natural magnet, a
> sweet-sounding trap. Discrimination is the thing, not the false
What the devil are you talking about? Discrimination has
been one of my major bottom line themes in all of my theosophical
discussions. But I also don't care what others believe. It is
their business, just as long as it doesn't abridge the freedom of
others. Who am I to tell people what they should believe? I
don't understand your problem with this.
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