Judge’s Life: A Personal Viewpoint

By Patrick Powell


Reprinted from Sunrise magazine, April/May 1996. Condensed from an address given to the W. Q. Judge Branch, Liverpool, on March 3, 1996.

William Quan Judge’s standing as one of the three chief founders of the Theosophical Society, strangely, is still questioned by some, even today. It was well substantiated on many occasions by the other main founders, H. P. Blavatsky and Colonel H. S. Olcott. For example, in a letter to Judge from HPB of August 22, 1886, she states: “And you, you are one of the original Founders.” Her messages to the conventions of the American Section of the TS also stress his significance as a co-founder. Again, at the first annual convention of the Theosophical Society in Europe (London, July 9-10, 1891) Olcott explained that upon hearing of HPB’s death in May: “I immediately determined to alter my plans and come on here and summoned by telegraph my old associate and co-founder, Mr. Judge, to meet me here and consult with other friends upon the future of our Society, . . .” There are many more such instances.

When HPB and Olcott left America for India in 1878, it was a testing time for those left behind. Judge kept communications to India going, but with little response. It got to the stage where he felt he had been abandoned. These early days were hindered by Judge’s own youthful sense of insecurity as well as financial and domestic problems. But in his struggle to overcome these he developed a great inner strength. Through his unremitting labour, he eventually built up the TS in America, winning from HPB the name of “Resuscitator of Theosophy in the United States.” The work went slowly at first, but the link was kept unbroken. It was a period of darkness and silence. A similar period had been passed by HPB when she wrote, “For long years I thought Master had quite deserted me.”

In 1883 Judge received a message from Master M summoning him to India. During his brief stay at Adyar in 1884, the Christian College Magazine of Madras published “The Collapse of Koot Hoomi,” with forged letters purported to have been written by HPB. This is part of “The Coulomb Conspiracy,” an event that was to shake the Society with great force and shape its destiny.

Judge returned to America in late 1884, and on board ship first met A. E. S. Smythe, future General Secretary of the Theosophical Society in Canada, who spoke of him this way:

“Judge was the master of ordinary conditions and could get the honey out of the merest weed. To know him was to love him. . . . He walked the decks with those who needed a companion, he played cards, except on Sunday when he drew the line, he played deck quoits, and he chatted, . . . He looked old and pallid and had I been told his age was 33 I would have said it was 20 years out. We knew nothing of . . . the battle that had gone on at Adyar for the reputation of H.P.B.”– The Canadian Theosophist, April 1939, p. 35.

Upon his return to America, Judge’s circumstances greatly improved. He found new interest in theosophy, perhaps partly because of the Coulomb affair. Newspapers and individuals all wanted to know more about it. Judge’s handling of these enquiries earned him great respect and his articles on theosophy became widely accepted. With a small band of devoted workers, and sometimes by himself, he embarked on the building up of the TS in America.

In April 1886 Judge started The Path magazine. His writing style is simple, direct, and unmistakable. He speaks in the language of the common man. He is able to bring very complex teachings to a level that can be understood by many, and yet in his writings there are the deeper meanings for those who can see them. He appeals to the subtle sight of the subtle sighted. A friend of his once said that when he went to theosophical meetings, “I couldn’t understand what they were all talking about until Mr. Judge got up.” And another, “He made the faraway things seem near; and the things too close he made retreat to their proper distance” (Theosophy, March 1933, p. 193).

Judge toured and lectured extensively, and undertook a great deal of literary work during a period of approximately ten years. This work took a toll on the body which from childhood had never been strong. As a young boy he suffered a serious illness. The doctor pronounced him dead, but to everyone’s amazement he regained consciousness and lived. There was then a strange change in character in the boy. This incident is referred to in Judge’s tale, “In a Borrowed Body” (Letters That Have Helped Me 2:86).

To better understand Judge and his special relationship to HPB and the theosophical movement an important feature has to be dealt with, even if we do not fully understand it. A friend and close co-worker of Judge said of him, “He once spent some hours describing to my wife and me the experience the Ego had in assuming control of the instrument it was to use for so many years” (Theosophy, May 1896, p. 52). This process, known in the East as tulku, occurs when a living initiate or occultist sends a portion of his consciousness to take embodiment for a period of time in some person specially chosen to perform a particular task. This teaching provides the key to the many apparent contradictions in the character of messengers and chelas as witnessed in the history of the theosophical movement. Substantiating this point, we have HPB’s 1886 letter to Judge:

The trouble with you is that you do not know the great change that came to pass in you a few years ago. Others have occasionally their astrals changed & replaced by those of Adepts (as of Elementaries) & they influence the outer, and the higher man. With you, it is the NIRMANAKAYA not the “astral” that blended with your astral. Hence the dual nature & fighting.

December 1888 saw Judge in London to assist HPB in the formation of the Esoteric Section. He wrote the Section’s Book of Rules, and HPB issued a special order appointing Judge as “my only representative for said Section in America and . . . the sole channel through whom will be sent and received all communications between the members of said Section and myself,” and did so in virtue of his character “as a chela of thirteen years standing.” In the same year Judge was appointed by Olcott as Vice-President of the Theosophical Society.

When HPB died in 1891, the Society lost a great cohering force. Her death at first strengthened ties between members, but gradually this gave way to the rising of personalities and strong wills. Judge’s was a difficult task indeed when she, who was then the one great exponent, had left the field and the curiosity and interest excited by her original and striking mission had died down. The TS was henceforth to subsist on its philosophical basis, and this, after years of toil and unyielding persistence, was the goal achieved by Judge.

After HPB’s death, Judge sailed to England where he arranged for the Esoteric Section to be placed under the joint Outer Headship of himself and Annie Besant.

In January 1892, less than a year after HPB’s death, Olcott, stating that his health was ailing, resigned the presidency of the TS. When his resignation came up for discussion before the Blavatsky Lodge of London, its president, Annie Besant, addressed a letter to the Lodge, dated March 11, 1892, saying,

“in my view, the present Vice-President, and remaining Co-Founder of the Society, William Quan Judge, is the most suitable person to guide the Society, and one who cannot with justice be passed over. He is not only the Vice-President and a Founder, but he was the trusted friend and colleague of H. P. Blavatsky from 1875 until she passed away.” Echoes of the Orient 1:xliii

The Indian Section had decided as early as February 1892 that Olcott’s position should not be filled during his lifetime as a sign of respect, but that his duties should be performed by the Vice-President. The European and American Sections voted unanimously in favor of Judge as President.

There were a few things going on behind the scenes, however. On April 20 Judge cabled Olcott that he was not able to relinquish his secretaryship of the American Section. According to Olcott, Judge enclosed a transcript of a message he received for Olcott from a Master, telling him, “it is not time, nor right, nor just, nor wise, nor the real wish of the . . . that you should go out, either corporally or officially.” Having recovered his health, Olcott officially withdrew his resignation on August 21 and gave notice that Judge was to be his successor as President (The Theosophist, Supplement, Sept. 1892, p. xci).

In 1893 Judge secured a platform for the Theosophical Society at the World’s Fair Parliament of Religions at Chicago, an event which showed the great impact that theosophical publicity had made in America and throughout the world. Both he and Annie Besant gained much attention with their clear exposition of ancient teachings.

However, there were storms brewing. A student of Judge, C. A. Griscom, Jr., recounts (Theosophy, May 1896, p. 52):

“Mr. Judge told me in December, 1894, that the Judge body was due by its Karma to die the next year and that it would have to be tided over this period by extraordinary means. He then expected this process to be entirely successful and that he would be able to use that body for many years, but he did not count upon the assaults from without . . .”

— which culminated in “The Judge Case,” which had a profound effect upon the TS. The details — and there are many, and quite complex — are available for students to read for themselves. The core of the issue revolves around the fact of Judge receiving communications from Masters. He was accused of “misusing” the Mahatmas’ names and handwritings and “giving a misleading material form to messages received psychically from the Master.” A Master’s message in 1893 foreshadowed the judicial charges against him:

“Take yet more courage. We have not left you comfortless. The Lodge watches ever. A new day will dawn. But there is much darkness yet to traverse and Judge is in danger. You must watch, and stand, and stand and STAND.” — Irish Theosophist, June 1896, p. 168.

I’ve never quite understood what the charges against Judge actually mean; perhaps it was the 19th-century equivalent of our 20th-century spin-doctors’ talk. However, Olcott at the prompting of others decided these accusations were serious enough to ask Judge to resign. In February 1894 Olcott cabled the charges to Judge, offering him two alternatives: (1) resignation from all offices, in which case a general public statement would be made; or (2) to have a Judicial Committee convened as provided for in the constitution of the Society. Faced with a situation in which “innocent until proven guilty” was not thought relevant, Judge chose the latter alternative, replying on March 10, “Charges absolutely false. You can take what proceedings you see fit; going London July.”

A Judicial Committee met in London on July l0, 1894, and Judge was faced with six charges drawn up by Besant. Her basic charges were that Judge had been untruthful in claiming uninterrupted communication with Masters from 1875 to the present time; and that he had sent messages, orders, and letters as if sent by and written by Masters. The hearing was stopped in its tracks by Judge challenging the validity of the Committee by stating that “the President and Vice-President could only be tried as such by such Committee, for official misconduct — that is misfeasances and malfeasances.” More importantly, the charges breached the Society’s neutrality in matters of belief by creating a dogma about the Masters’ existence. The constitution of the Society was clear on these matters, yet it seems that the purpose of ousting Judge clouded the minds of some people. Why? The Mahatma Letters and HPB on chelaship may give a clue.

The collapse of the hearing brought a rather confused and confusing statement by Besant, in which she says, “Further, I wish it to be distinctly understood that I do not charge and have not charged Mr. Judge with forgery in the ordinary sense of the term.” It goes on to explain what she does in fact think Judge is guilty of, but admits that he is an occultist.

Judge was an occultist and understood how these messages were written and precipitated. Why didn’t Olcott and Besant? Perhaps they were not occultists. It is interesting to read what the Masters say about their messages. In The Mahatma Letters, KH wrote Sinnett about M: “you must not feel altogether so sure that because they are in his handwriting, they are written by him, though of course every word is sanctioned by him to serve certain ends” (p. 232); also, “Very often our very letters — something very important and secret — are written in our handwritings by our chelas” (p. 296). A comment by HPB on precipitation appears in The Path, April 1894, “But most of the precipitations are by chelas, who would seem to you almost Masters.” Although the Masters’ letters to Sinnett were not publicly available until 1923, Sinnett had the letters and they were known to officials of the Society. Why weren’t they consulted?

In any case, with a few embarrassments the matter was put away and thought to be over. However — and this points to what I consider a deeply occult matter — Walter Old, who held rank in the Society in Europe and India, was not satisfied, and sent in his resignation because he was not able to accept the findings of the Committee. He was entitled to do this, but he went one step further: he gave the entire series of papers regarding the Judge Case, entrusted to him by Olcott, to the Westminster Gazette, which published them in late 1894. This opened a Pandora’s box: Olcott and Besant renewed the charges with greater determination. Why weren’t the same charges raised against them and several others who had openly admitted that they had received messages from Masters? Why were they so determined to see off Judge? It is interesting to note that all the charges made against Judge were the same as those raised against HPB in earlier years.

The final outcome of this unfortunate affair was the American Section, at its annual convention at Boston on April 28-29, 1895, by a vote of 191 to 10, declaring entire autonomy as the “Theosophical Society in America,” with Judge as President for life. A number of lodges in Britain, Europe, and Australia followed suit.

Both Olcott and Besant in later years admitted they had wronged Judge. From Besant we have this statement given in the 1920s to B. P. Wadia,* who had been a member of the Adyar TS General Council (*The Theosophical Movement. 1875-1950, The Cunningham Press, Los Angeles, 1951, pp. 297-8). When interviewed about the Judge Case, she admitted that it was accurate on the whole that Judge was innocent of the charges made against him. She said that some time previously she had come to the conclusion that Judge had committed no forgery and that the messages by him were genuine. When asked to declare this to the theosophical public the world over, Besant demurred, remarking that it was an old and forgotten matter — “Why revive it?” she said. Wadia asked her if he could make this public, and she flatly refused. Why?

We now turn to Olcott and a conversation with Laura Holloway (one of the authors of Man: Fragments of Forgotten History) in New York in 1907, a year before he died. Holloway had been a long acquaintance of Olcott. During the conversation Olcott reminisced about the early days, and she reminded him that there had been a third co-worker who had been with him and HPB at the beginning, to whom Olcott later became hostile. He took her hand and said “in a manner subdued and most impressive”:

“We learn much and outgrow much, and I have outlived much and learned more, particularly as regards Judge.

I know now, and it will comfort you to hear it, that I wronged Judge, not willfully or in malice; nevertheless, I have done this and I regret it.” — The Word, October 1915, p. 10

Judge’s health had long been poor. He had long sustained life through sheer will-power. In spite of his rapidly deteriorating condition he continued to dictate letters and make notes for future work. His last major plan was to write a book on occultism — a plan he never realized.

On March 21, 1896, William Quan Judge passed away, sitting up-right on the sofa, at about 9 o’clock in the morning, in the presence of his wife, E. T. Hargrove, and an attending nurse. His wife, a strict Methodist, had not shared his theosophical beliefs; however, after his death, she later became a student of the United Lodge of Theosophists — she died April 17,1931. Hargrove has said of Judge:

“We can now afford to console ourselves because of the life he lived and should also remember that this man, William Quan Judge, had more devoted friends, I believe, than any other living man; more friends who would literally have died for him at a moment’s notice, would have gone to any part of the world on the strength of a hint from him. And never once did he use that power and influence for his own personal ends; — never once did he use that power, great as it was, not only in America, but in Europe, Australasia and elsewhere as well, for anything but the good of the Theosophical movement.”

Poor Judge. It was not the charges that stung him, they were too untrue to hurt. It was the fact that those who had once most loudly proclaimed themselves his debtors and his friends were amongst the first to turn against him. He had the heart of a little child and his tenderness was only equalled by his strength. . . . He never cared what people thought of him or his work so long as they would work for brotherhood. . . .His wife has said that she never knew him to tell a lie, and those most closely connected with him theosophically agree that he was the most truthful man they ever knew. — Letters That Have Helped Me, 1953 edition, 2:111-12

William Quan Judge remained to the end loyal to the Cause and the plans that HPB and her Masters had laid down — a cause that was his life. His energy, his detail, his strength, his vision, his simplicity in explaining deep occult teachings, his absolute loyalty to HPB, we share in today. He never proclaimed himself as HPB’s successor; he said HPB was sui generis, of her own kind. He was the one who simply took over the torch when HPB left — she knew it was in good hands. A brief memorial service was held at the Headquarters at 144 Madison Avenue on Monday, March 23, at noon. His remains were cremated the same afternoon at Fresh Pond Crematory on Long Island. Another warrior, who kept the link unbroken, passed on to his reward.