Capital punishment, also known as the death penalty, is a government-sanctioned practice whereby a person is put to death by the state as a punishment for a crime. Theosophists have traditionally been opposed to capital punishment on account of the facts that it does not solve the problem of crime, it merely responds to an evil with another evil, and it sets the criminal free on the astral plane, who then becomes a more dangerous influence than when alive.
When asked about this question with a Note to the Editor of the journal Lucifer, H. P. Blavatsky answered:
We are equally with yourself opposed to capital punishment, so that your difficulty becomes our own. In the first place the “head” only of the juryman has to decide whether or not the accused has committed murder, and this is all the so-called “law” requires of him. Practically, however, since the juryman has, or ought to have, a “heart,” the law neglects an important factor in the problem, for if it punishes murder with death, the juryman, in deciding for a verdict of guilty, of necessity becomes an accessory in a fresh murder. But the “heart” of the people is beginning to protest against this “eye for an eye” code and is refusing to render evil for evil. Capital punishment is nothing but a relic of Jewish barbarity. So that we are of opinion that this feeling should be fostered by open protest on every occasion, and by a refusal to participate in such half-human proceedings. The true physician cures the disease, and does not kill his patient. But we are afraid that the murder-doctors are in the majority for the moment, so that we can only protest.
Referring to the "occult" problems in connection with the death penalty, Annie Besant wrote:
Sometimes a voice gives an incitement to crime. . . . Whence come these promptings? They are often nothing more than this: that some one who has committed a murder has been, by the folly of our law, thrown on to the astral plane, when he should be within the walls of a prison, and is left there free to roam about, trying to get others to repeat his crime. It is a characteristic of the criminal that he repeats over and over again in his astral body the crime which has sent him out of the world. Repeating this time after time in the astral body, he will try to impress it upon some one who seems a likely person to respond, and especially upon a person whose energies are overstrained, and who has not, therefore, the normal strength which would make him insensitive to the vibrations. So that you may have this pressure simply coming from a criminal very much alive on the astral plane after he has been hanged here. I may say in passing that the most foolish thing to do with such a man is to hang him. So long as he is in the physical body, being an undeveloped creature, he cannot do much by thought-force, or on the astral plane at all; but, the moment you free him from the physical body his very coarseness and lack of development make him wide-awake on the lowest divisions of the astral plane, whence communication with the physical plane can be most readily made.
This also may have an effect on the number of suicides. Annie Besant wrote:
If you have taken the trouble, or if it has come in your way, to examine at all into the condition of people in whose family a suicide has taken place, you will very often find that someone in that family is conscious continually of a prompting to self-murder. I have come across such cases over and over again, where a man or a woman has come to me and said:  “I feel that I must kill myself, what can I do?” “I hear a voice telling me to kill myself”, and so on. Part of that is due to a fact that when a person has committed a crime followed by death, or has committed self-murder, that person on the other side of death has the inclination to prompt others to a similar crime. That is one of the very many reasons against capital punishment, and an explanation of the fact that where capital punishment is largely used crimes accompany it, which do not show themselves as much in a nation when the death penalty for a particular kind of crime has been swept away.
- Anti-Capital Punishment by Clarence Darrow
- Capital Punishment by Franz Hartmann
- Theosophy and Capital Punishment by William Q. Judge
- Capital Punishment by Theosophy Canada
- Helena Petrovna Blavatsky, Collected Writings vol. XII (Wheaton, IL: Theosophical Publishing House, 1980), 237-238.
- Annie Besant, Theosophy And The New Psychology, (London and Benares: The Theosophical Publishing Society, 1904), 89-91.
- Annie Besant, Mysticism, (London: The Theosophical Publishing Society, 1914), 128-129.