William Quan Judge




William Quan Judge:
A Forerunner


by Sam J. Sheldon
(First published 1993, Beacon magazine.)






The life of William Quan Judge is so inti­mately intertwined with the theosophical movement that had been revived in the last quar­ter of the nineteenth century in America, that it is impossible to mention one without referring to the other. Judge was one of the three co-founders of the Theosophical Society in New York City; the other two, H. P. Blavatsky and Henry S. Olcott, are fairly well-known to students of the Ageless Wisdom. However, the impact that Judge had on the movement in his day and there­after, as a pioneering thinker and tireless server of humanity, has deeply contributed to the devel­opment of an esoteric group in the world and its work of encouraging new prospects for human progress through the lifting of consciousness.

W. Q. Judge was born in Dublin, Ireland on April 13, 1851. At the age of seven a serious illness came over the boy which almost claimed his life. During his convalescence the lad showed knowl­edge and abilities that were not exhibited at all prior to the near death ailment which came close to claiming him. The child. to the complete amaze­ment of his elders, displayed an immediate skill at reading which they never before had witnessed in him and the kinds of books that interested the young boy were related to the subjects of mesmer­ism, phrenology, character-reading, religion, magic, Rosicrucianism, and a deep, absorbing study of the Book of Revelations from which he tried to discover its underlying meaning. The psychological mystery behind the change in the young boy's behaviour could possibly be explained by what is known in Tibetan Buddhism as "Tulku", a technical term which concerns the ability of a high initiate or Adept to project his consciousness, for a longer or shorter period of time, into the psychological mechanism of a messenger or a vacated body at the moment of death.  The objective for performing this conscious projection of an adept's refined intermediate psychological principle is to render a phase of service in the world that is aligned with the Plan.  The contemporary Theosophical Movement, that began around 1875, was just such a phase of world service at that time.

William Judge arrived in New York in July 1864 and became a naturalized American citizen at the age of 21. He was admitted to the State Bar of New York in 1872 and became a specialist in Commer­cial Law. As was said of him, then and later: "Judge would walk over hot ploughshares from here to India to do his duty." [1] His degree of goodwill that guided his conduct in the legal profession won respect from both his employers and clients.

In 1874 he married Ella M. Smith, by whom he had one child whose death in early childhood was a source of deep, though quiet, sorrow to both. From many different accounts Mr. Judge was very fond of children and had the tendency, of attracting them around him, whether in public or private, and without any effort on his part. It was observed by associates of his that oil many occasions, wherever he was, one would see children beginning to sidle up to him, eventually becoming immersed with their new friend.

It was in the fall of 1864 that Judge first came into contact with H. P. Blavatsky. Thus began, or rather resumed, a deep subjective relationship be­tween two co-workers in the spreading of the esoteric philosophy throughout the West and East. Later in her life H. P. B. spoke of Judge as being "part of myself since several aeons".[2] During November 1875 the Theosophical Society was launched in the world as one of the vehicles used by some of the disciples in the last quarter of the nineteenth century to disseminate some of the principles and values of esotericism for the solving of world problems. Judge knew well the distinction between the Theosophical Society and the move­ment that has been called theosophical, as he later wrote: "There is a very great difference between the Theosophical Movement and any Theosophi­cal Society. The Movement is moral, ethical, spiritual, universal, invisible save in effect, and continuous. A Society formed for Theosophical work is a visible organization, an effect, a machine for conserving energy and putting it to use: it is not nor can it be universal, nor is it continuous. Organ­ized Theosophical bodies are made by men for their better cooperation. but, being mere outer shells, they must change from time to time as human defects come out, as the times change, and as the great underlying spiritual movement com­pels such alterations.

"The Theosophical Movement being continu­ous, it is to be found in all times and in all nations. Wherever thought has struggled to be free, wher­ever spiritual ideas, as opposed to forms and dogmatism, have been promulgated, there the great movement is to be discerned… the real unity and prevalence, the real internationalism, do not consist in having a single organization. They are found in the similarity of aim, of aspiration, of purpose, of teaching, 'of ethics." [3]

Such was the view that Judge expressed through a society that he devoted all his spare time and energy to, for the rest of his mortal life.

      At the onset it was not easy adjusting to the new conditions brought into play from his deep asso­ciation with the Society's work. Judge was at first, confronted with adverse financial and domestic difficulties which were increased by years of lone­liness when in 1878, Blavatsky and Olcott left the U.S.A. for India. Judge came to realise however, that the circumstances and environment that con­fronted him were exactly what was needed to take the next step forward. Later on he wrote about this, saying: "Thus we see that it is a mistake to say –as we often hear it said – 'If only he had a fair chance, if only his surroundings were more favor­able he would do better', since he really could not be in any other circumstances at that time, for if he were it would not be he but someone else. It must be necessary for him to pass through those identi­cal trials and disadvantages to perfect the Self: and it is only because we see but an infinitesimal part of the long series that any apparent confusion or difficulty arises. So our strife will be, not to escape from anything, but to realise that these… sheaths are an integral portion of ourselves, which we must fully understand before we can change the ab­horred surroundings. This is done by acknowledging the unity of spirit, by knowing that everything, good and bad alike, is the Supreme. We then come into harmony with the Supreme Soul, with the whole universe, and no environment is detrimental. [4]

     When at first Blavatsky left the T.S. in New York for India, Mr. Judge was left to carry on as best he could. Everyone at first was stimulated by H.P.B.'s originality, but after her departure interest in the T.S. died down to zero attendance. In spite of this condition Judge persistently laboured by opening meetings, reading a chapter from the Bha­gavad Gita and carrying on as if he were not the only person present, and eventually through this unremitting labour he rebuilt the T.S. in America as well as aiding other branches in the world. Gradually the momentum of the work began to pick up. He instituted The Path magazine, writing incessantly for it serious and common sense arti­cles, dealing with the overall themes of Theosophy and its application to daily life. He lectured all over the States and translated and published some of the Eastern pearls of wisdom: The Bhagavad Gita and The Yoga Aphorisms of Patanjali. Judge had a wide ranging correspondence with many students and aspirants both in and out of the Theosophical Society. One of the books he later wrote and pub­lished: The Ocean of Theosophy, has been through numerous reprintings and is a theosophical classic.

      The Esoteric Section of the T.S. was begun in December of 1888 with Judge being selected as the representative of that section in America. This early seed group of probationers was the foundation stone laid by H.P.B. with the assistance of Judge and others for starting a school in this particular cycle, being the outgrowth of the fifth root-race, the efflo­rescence of the fifth principle manas or mind. In regards to Western Esotericism, Judge wrote vari­ous papers and letters explaining the nature of the cycle. Here are some of his thoughts: "begun in the Western world, in the country where the prepara­tions for the new race are going on. … this was not to give precedence over one race or country, but was and is according to the law of cycles, which is part of evolution. In the eye of that great Law no country is first or last, new or old, high or low, but each at the right time is appropriate for whatever the work is that must be performed. Each country is bound up with all the others and must assist them … this movement has, among others, an object which should be borne in mind. It is the union of the West with the East, the revival in the East of those great­nesses which once were hers, the development in the West of that Occultism which is appropriate for it, so that it may, in its turn, hold out a helping hand to those of older blood who may have become fixed in one idea, or degraded in spirituality.”[5] “…if this does not point to a plan and purpose then nothing has meaning… India was being materialized by the West. Hence the West – for the sake of all – must be worked with so that, coming out of its materialism. it should see the value of the Aryan philosophy, assimilate it, put it – socially and politically – into practice and then, in its turn, reform India.” [6]

      Judge's attitude towards occult knowledge and speculations is expressed very clearly in a response to an enquirer: "As far as your private conclusions are concerned, use your discrimination always. Do not adopt any conclusions merely because they are uttered by one in whom you have confidence, but adopt them when they coincide with your intuition. To be even unconsciously deluded by the influence of another is to have a counterfeit faith." [7] One of the first axioms of any true esoteric school in the outer world that has any merit is to communicate the basic concept that it is the individual's own soul which is the first Teacher and Master. This fact Judge knew well when he stated in a letter to a student that: "The true monitor is within. That is so. Ten thousand Adepts can do one no great good unless we ourselves are ready, and They only act as suggestors to us of what possibilities there are in every human heart. If we dwell within ourselves. and must live and die by ourselves, it must follow that running here and there to see any thing or person does not in itself give progress … the impor­tant thing is to develop the Self in the self, and then the possessions of wisdom belonging to all wise men at once belong to us." [8]

      So Judge joyfully assisted H.P.B. in the added work of the Esoteric Section while always main­taining his various other theosophical responsibilities, even while under the pressure and strain of constant slanderous attacks and criticisms that were aimed at both H.P.B. and him during their final years in the work. One of Judge's replies to a wave of attacks he was experiencing during his last years was: "Let me say one thing I KNOW: only the feeling of true brotherhood, of true love to­wards humanity aroused in the soul of someone strong enough to stem this tide, can carry us through. For LOVE and TRUST are the only weapons that can overcome the REAL enemies against which the true theosophist must fight. If I, or you, go into this battle from pride, from self-will, from desire to hold our position in the face of the world, from anything but the purest motives, we shall fail. Let us search ourselves well and look at it as we never looked before: see if there is in us the reality of the brotherhood which we preach and which we are supposed to represent." [9]

     About the last major event that took place in Judge's life was in 1893. At the Chicago World's Fair occurred the Parliament of Religions which had distinguished representatives of many Oriental religions. W.Q. Judge organized the theosophical meeting and was one of the chief speakers for theosophy. He along with Annie Besant attracted great attention and enthusiasm by their clear, logi­cal and brilliant eloquence in presenting the main principles of theosophy. The sessions were at­tended by such large audiences that overflow meetings had to be arranged. Following this suc­cess the Ageless Wisdom received a great impetus in America.

      On March 21, 1896, W. Q. Judge passed away sitting upright on the sofa, at about nine o'clock in the morning. His last words were "There should be calmness. Hold fast. Go slow." [10] Sacrificial serv­ice was the keynote in the life of William Quan Judge and there may be no better way to end this brief sketch of his life than with a paragraph from one of his letters in response to someone, about a few lines in The Voice of the Silence by H.P.B.: “Now as to The Voice of the Silence and the cycles of woe (undergone by the Arhat who remains to help mankind) it is easy to understand. You must always remember when reading such things, that terms must be used that the reader will understand. Hence, speaking thus, it must be said that there are such cycles of woe – from our standpoint – just as the fact that I have no amusements but nothing but work in the T.S. seems a great penance to those who like their pleasures. I, on the contrary, take pleasure and peace in the 'self-denial' as they call it. Therefore it must follow that he who enters the secret Path finds his peace and pleasure in endless work for ages for Humanity. But, of course, with the added sight and knowledge, he must always be seeing the miseries of men self-inflicted. The mis­take you make is to give the person thus ‘sacrificed' the same small qualities and longings as we now have, whereas the wider sweep and power of the soul make what we call sacrifice and woe seem something different. Is not this clear, then'? If it were stated otherwise than as the Voice has it, you would find many making the vow and breaking it, but he who makes the vow with the full idea of its misery will keep it." [11]

Goodwill star


Since 1973, Sam Sheldon has been cooperating with various groups involved with the spreading and study of the Ageless Wisdom Teachings. 
At the present he resides in Portland, Oregon and is a faculty member with the Morya Federation, sponsored by the University of the Seven Rays.


[1] William Quail Judge, Letters That Have Helped Me, Part 2, p. 102

[2] William Quail Judge, Echoes of the Orient, Vol. I. P. xxxvii

[3] Ibid., pp. 463-464

[4] Ibid., p. 30

[5] William   Quan Judge, Letters That Have Helped Mc, Part 2, p. 11

[6] William Quan Judge, Echoes of the Orient, I Vol. 111, p. 471

[7] William Quail Judge, Letters That Have Helped Me, Part 1, p. 28

[8] MO., Part 1 , p. 52

[9] MO., Part 2, p. 46

[10] William Quail Judge. Echoes of the Orient, Vol. P. 1iii

[11] Letters That Have Helped Me. Part 2, p. 66


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