W Q Judge, Theosophy, Theosophical Society
[W Q Judge, biography] biography, William Quan Judge

Home > Theosophy Index > W Q Judge biography

  Age of the Sage ~ Home   |   Explore our site   |   Download Wisdoms  

W Q Judge biography

William Quan Judge ( W Q Judge ) was born in Dublin, Ireland, on April 13, 1851, to Frederic H. Judge and Alice Mary Quan. His mother died giving birth to her seventh child, and his father decided in 1864 to emigrate to New York with six children. Judge studied law while living with his father, who soon died. At 21 Judge became a US citizen and in May 1872 was admitted to the bar. He married Ella M. Smith, a school teacher, in 1874 and they lived in Brooklyn until 1893 when they moved to New York City.

Judge had an interest in Mysticism and Spiritualism and wrote to H. S. Olcott, author of "People of the Other World" seeking advice about consultation with a medium. This letter led to Judge being invited to call upon Madame Blavatsky in 1874. In 1875, at the age of 24, Judge was a co-founder of the Theosophical Society with H. P. Blavatsky and H. S. Olcott, He continued to work ardently for its cause for the next 20 years, until his death in 1896. As the leading theosophical official in America from 1886 to 1896, he guided the Section so that it became the most vigorous in the Society, with the largest effective membership. He relentlessly pursued his high vision for the Society's work in the world: humanity's great need for a new perspective on itself and the universe.

When Madame Blavatsky and H. S. Olcott left for India late in 1878, Judge was most disappointed that family obligations prevented his accompanying them. In efforts to provide himself with a fortune sufficient to allow him to persue his Mystical and Theosophical interests whilst also providing for his family Judge became involved with mining schemes in Venezuela and Mexico. Unfortunately these schemes proved most unsuccessful, Judge fell deeply into debt, his Law practice fell into decay and he also caught a debilitating disease known as Chagas Fever that continued to affect his health for many years.

In 1883, he picked up his theosophical work again, and was instrumental in founding the Aryan Theosophical Society of New York City (the word Aryan in Judge's time was in good repute, having reference to the people of Aryavarta [India], a Sanskrit word meaning "abode of the noble ones.")

By 1884 Judge was somehow able to contain his financial obligations and felt able to move to India, although just how he adjusted his financial problems and provided for his wife's support is not known. Early in that year he went to England where he visited the Sinnetts, Arundales, and other London members, then joined H P Blavatsky and Olcott in Paris. At this time a scandal irrupted centered on allegations made by sometime employees of the Theosophical Society headquarters at Adyar, Madras, India. Fraud charges, eventually shown to be unfounded, were made against Madame Blavatsky and Judge was given sweeping powers of Attorney by H. S. Olcott to make decisions on the spot in India in efforts to resolve the crisis.

Judge started the American monthly, The Path, in 1886, and thereafter wrote for it unceasingly until the time of this death in 1896.

This book (Theosophical Articles by William Q. Judge) presents the bulk of his contribution to the Path, and articles written for the Theosophist, founded by H P Blavatsky in 1879 in India, for Lucifer (i.e. Light Giver), begun by H P Blavatsky in 1887 in England and for one or two other journals. As a result of his efforts, the Theosophical Society grew to major proportions in the United States. A biographer has said of this work:

"He lectured all over the States, and did the work of several men. Every spare moment was given to Theosophy, and taken from his meals and his rest. Finally, when the New York Headquarters were bought, and when the work had increased to large proportions, Mr. Judge relinquished his profession and gave his entire life and time to the Society."

On his return to New York, Judge joined the law firm for which Olcott's brother worked. He continued to earn his living until the last two years of his life, when his health became so poor that he was supported by the American Theosophical Society. Once re-established in law, Judge put his energies into promoting theosophy. He revitalized the New York work, reorganizing it under its original Charter and name, "The Aryan Theosophical Society of New York," held regular meetings, started a theosophical lending library, and launched the printing of inexpensive literature.

In April 1886 Arthur Gebhard and Judge founded The Path magazine, with Judge as editor and Gebhard as business manager. This later became the official organ of the American Section of the Theosophical Society. Practicing law during the day, he worked at home far into the night, as at first he had to write almost every article himself under various pen names.

Under Judge's guidance, moves were made to unite in thought and action the membership scattered across the United States. With himself at first as primary speaker, he eventually placed three full-time traveling lecturers in the field to aid struggling groups and to support established centers. The Path leaflets, and specialized small magazines were regularly circulated among the membership, keeping them in touch with one another and with the headquarters in New York. Local speakers were encouraged to start new centers in nearby communities. With only about a dozen Branches in 1886, by 1896 there were over one hundred.

In H P Blavatsky's letter to Judge as General Secretary of the American Section, dated April 3, 1888, to be read to the American Convention at her request, she called Judge "the heart and soul" of the Theosophical Society in America, saying that "It is to you chiefly, if not entirely, that the Theosophical Society owes its existence in 1888."
(Second Annual Convention -- April 22-23 [1888], American Section of the Theosophical Society, Sherman House, Chicago, Illinois; reprinted in H. P. Blavatsky to the American Conventions 1888-1891, p. 3.)

By 1887 members had asked Judge if esoteric work might become more formally established, and he wrote H P Blavatsky in May suggesting such a move. She said to wait. Some time early in 1888 or perhaps late 1887 H P Blavatsky had a conversation with one of her own teachers (Master KH - an Eastern Master), she greatly respected, about the general state of the Theosophical Society. This Eastern Master told H P Blavatsky that although the Theosophical Society as established by H S Olcott at Adyar ran like a machine, it was "a soulless corpse" and that matters had reached such a point that the Eastern Masters' influence upon the Theosophical Society was not possible, and they had largely discontinued their own efforts in its support.
(Letters from the Masters of the Wisdom, First Series, transcribed and compiled by C. Jinarajadasa, Theosophical Publishing House, Adyar, India; 5th ed., 1973, Letter 47, pp. 100-103 [6th ed., 1988, Letter 60, pp. 125-7].)

H P Blavatsky's response in 1888 was to propose an Esoteric Section based on the original lines set forth by the Masters. When Olcott learned of H P Blavatsky's intention to found an inner section of the Theosophical Society, he hastened to London to keep her from doing so at any cost, leaving Bombay August 7. If it had not been for the intervention of Master KH, perhaps the Society would have divided at that time. One day out of Brindisi on board the steamer Shannon, Olcott received a letter from Master KH covering the following points:

To help you in your present perplexity: H P Blavatsky 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 to 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. I warn you against permitting your suspicions and resentment against "her many follies" to bias your intuitive loyalty to her....
I have also noted, your thoughts about the "Secret Doctrine." Be assured that what she has not annotated from scientific and other works, we have given or suggested to her. Every mistake or erroneous notion, corrected and explained by her from the works of other theosophists was corrected by me, or under my instruction. It is a more valuable work than its predecessor, an epitome of occult truths that will make it a source of information and instruction for the earnest student for long years to come.
-- Ibid., Letter 19, pp. 46-7 (6th ed., 1988, Letter 19, pp. 48-9).

In London H P Blavatsky and Olcott issued a joint announcement about the formation of an Esoteric Section in the October and November issues of Lucifer, 1888, to the effect that an inner section of the work was to be started under H P Blavatsky's direction, "to be organized on the ORIGINAL LINES devised by the real founders of the Theosophical Society".

After The Secret Doctrine was published in November, H P Blavatsky invited Judge to London (Olcott was again at Adyar). Together they drew up the Preliminary Memorandum and Rules of the Esoteric Section. Judge thereafter conducted the Esoteric Section in America as Secretary to H P Blavatsky, and in December H P Blavatsky appointed Olcott as sole official representative of the Esoteric Section for Asiatic countries, but he soon relinquished the post.

In 1889 members of the Aryan Branch Theosophical Society purchased a press and type, and secured the services of a member to operate it. Aside from pamphlets, etc., the first publications included three small magazines for members, Patanjali's Yoga Aphorisms (1889), Judge's Echoes from the Orient (1890), his recension of the Bhagavad-Gita with introduction and footnotes (1890), Letters That Have Helped Me (1891) and The Ocean of Theosophy (1893). In 1895 Judge estimated that a half million flyers had been printed by the Aryan Press.

After H P Blavatsky's death in 1891, William Q. Judge and Annie Besant jointly headed the Esoteric Section. As American General Secretary and later, in addition, as Vice-President of the Theosophical Society, Judge continued to concentrate on the American work. He spoke on theosophy at the Parliament of Religions at the Chicago World's Fair of 1893, and the following year at the Religious Parliament of San Francisco's Mid Winter Fair. After the December 1891 convention at Adyar, Colonel Olcott's health became such that he was unwilling to hold office longer and he resigned his position as President of the Theosophical Society on January 21, 1892. Judge notified the Section and other General Secretaries of this move and, as their yearly conventions came due, their deliberations reflected the views of their membership in regard to the presidency. At the Sixth Annual Convention in America on April 24-5, Judge was duly elected to succeed Henry S. Olcott as President of the Theosophical Society; the Convention further resolved that Colonel Olcott be asked to revoke his resignation (Sixth Annual Convention Report, 1892, p. 19).

The same year Judge went to London to attend the Second Annual Convention of the European Section, July 14-15. G. R. S. Mead, the European General Secretary, announced that the European members were almost unanimously in favor of Judge as President, and needed only confirmation by the convention. He also reported the request of the American members that Olcott reconsider his resignation. However, Olcott's May 25th reply to the American resolution was taken by the European delegates as final -- that he would not reconsider and Judge was elected President.

A letter from Bertram Keightley, General Secretary in India, addressed to the European Convention stated that the action of the American Convention asking Colonel Olcott to reconsider was unanimously and enthusiastically endorsed. As to the nomination of Judge they would follow the American action if Europe did also. Olcott, however, being deeply moved by requests to continue as president, did reconsider and, on the 17th of August 1892, withdrew his resignation.
He subsequently remained president until his death in 1907.

Judge had always been sensitive to the Masters' influence and maintained that he received messages from them, at times in his own handwriting, at other times in theirs.
(See W. Q. Judge to A. P. Sinnett, Aug. 1, 1881, and to H. P. Blavatsky, Feb. 5, 1886, in The Letters of H. P. Blavatsky to A. P. Sinnett, pp. 312-14).

There were, however, those who accused him of sending fraudulent messages. In 1894 Olcott, Besant, and various members charged Judge with "misusing" the Mahatmas' names and handwriting on letters to others, a charge which apparently arose from their not realizing that the Masters often use chelas, such as Blavatsky and others, to communicate their messages in the Masters' handwriting.
Olcott asked Judge to retire from all Theosophical Society offices, but Judge cabled: "Charges absolutely false. You can take what proceedings you see fit; going London July." They met in London as planned, and though advised by Judge and others that they could not legally hold such a trial without creating a dogma as to the existence of Masters, they tried to do so. The case was dismissed, and Besant stated that the charges had been blown out of all proportion by other parties and that she never doubted that Judge had in fact received the Masters' messages.

The attack, however, was continued after a disaffected English official, Walter R. Old, handed over to the editor of the Westminster Gazette, London, papers from the so-called "Judge case" that Olcott had entrusted him with. Judge was again slandered at the 1894 annual convention at Adyar and Besant renewed her charges. Consequently, in an effort to protect Judge against further onslaughts, the delegates to the 1895 annual convention of the American Section, while recognizing Olcott as President-Founder, declared "complete autonomy from Adyar and elected Judge President of the Theosophical Society in America for life, an action supported by groups of members in other Sections. Thereupon Olcott canceled the membership of all individuals and withdrew the Charters of all Branches supporting Judge.

Judge continued his theosophical work, but years of ceaseless labor, combined with the effects of Chagres Fever, finally took their toll. William Quan Judge died March 21,1896, just short of his 45th birthday. His last words were: "There should be calmness. Hold fast. Go slow."

Claude Bragdon, American architect, writer, and theosophist, sums up the man:

No figure rises out of the dim limbo of that recent, though already distant past, with a more engaging presence than that of this handsome Irish-American, and I venture to say that in a movement which has been a forcing-house for greatness, no one developed such power, such capacity, such insight, in so short a space of time -- when the pressure was put upon him -- as Judge.
There is abundant evidence, aside from the best evidence of all -- the fruitfulness of his labors -- that he was under the direct guidance of the Masters.
One Adept wrote of him, "when the presence is upon him, he knows well that which others only suspect and 'divine'." In the same letter he is referred to as the one "who of all chelas suffers most and demands, or even expects, the least." He was a man of exquisite sympathy and gentleness; stern with himself, he was lenient toward others. Mr. Keightley has said, "Judge made the life portrayed by Jesus realizable to me." He was that rare and beautiful thing, a practical mystic. One of his last messages to his intimate band of followers was that they should learn, by actual experience, that occult development comes best, quickest and safest, in the punctilious fulfillment of the small duties of every day.
Episodes from an Unwritten History, pp. 24-5


Introductory quotations
"Central" mysticism insights
"Other" spiritual wisdom
"Central" poetry insights
"Other" poetry wisdom

Return to start of
W Q Judge biography page