BlavatskyHelena Petrovna Hahn (also Hélène) (July 31,
1831 (O.S.) (August 12, 1831 (N.S.)) - May 8, 1891 London), better known
as Helena Blavatsky or Madame Blavatsky, born Helena von Hahn, was a
founder of the Theosophical Society.
She was born in the house of her mother's parents in Ekaterinoslav (now
Dnipropetrovsk), Ukraine (then part of the Russian Empire). Her parents
were Col. Peter von Hahn, a German officer in Russian service, and Helena
Andreyevna Fadeyeva. Her mother belonged to an old Russian noble family
and was the author, under the pen-name Zenaida R, of a dozen novels.
Described by Belinsky as the "Russian George Sand", she died
at the age of 28, when Helena was eleven.
Upon his wife's
death, Peter, being in the armed forces and realizing that army camps
were unsuitable for little girls, sent Helena and her brother to live
with her maternal grandparents. They were Andrey Fadeyev (at that time
the Civil Governor of Saratov) and his wife Princess Helene Dolgoruki
(see talk), of the Dolgorukov family and an amateur botanist. She was
cared for by servants who believed in the many superstitions of Old
Russia and apparently encouraged her to believe she had supernatural
powers at a very early age. Her grandparents lived in feudal state,
with never less than fifty servants.
She married three weeks before she turned seventeen, on July 7, 1848,
to the forty-year old Nikifor (also Nicephor) Vassilievitch Blavatsky,
vice-governor of Erivan. After three unhappy months, she took a horse,
and escaped back over the mountains to her grandfather in Tiflis. Her
grandfather shipped her off immediately to her father who was retired
and living near Saint Petersburg. He travelled two thousand miles to
meet her at Odessa, but she wasn't there. She had missed the steamer,
and sailed away with the skipper of an English bark bound for Constantinople.
According to her account, they never consummated their marriage, and
she remained a virgin her entire life. (For a counter-claim, see the
section on Agardi Metrovitch.)
According to her own story as told to a later biographer, she spent
the years 1848 to 1858 traveling the world, claiming to have visited
Egypt, France, Quebec, England, South America, Germany, Mexico, India,
Greece and especially Tibet to study for two years with the men she
called Brothers. She returned to Russia in 1858 and went first to see
her sister Vera, a young widow living in Rugodevo, a village which she
had inherited from her husband.
About this time, she met and left with Italian opera singer Agardi Metrovich.
Some sources say
that she had several extramarital affairs, became pregnant, and bore
a deformed child, Yuri, whom she loved dearly. She wrote that Yuri was
a child of her friends the Metroviches (C.W.I p. xlvi-ii, HPB TO APS
p. 147). To balance this statement, Count Witte, her first cousin on
her mother's side, stated in his Memoirs (as quoted by G. Williams),
that her father read aloud a letter in which Metrovich signed himself
as "your affectionate grandson". This is evidence that Metrovich
considered himself Helena's husband at this point. Yuri died at the
age of five, and Helena said that she ceased to believe in the Russian
Orthodox God at this point.
Two different versions
of how Agardi died are extant. In one, G. Williams states that Agardi
had been taken sick with a fever and delirium in Ramleh, and that he
died in bed April 19, 1870. In the second version, while bound for Cairo
on a boat, the 'Evmonia', in 1871, an explosion claimed Agardi’s
life, but H.P. Blavatsky continued on to Cairo herself.
While in Cairo she
formed the Societe Spirite for occult phenomena with Emma Cutting (later
Emma Coulomb), which closed after dissatisfied customers complained
of fraudulent activities.
To New York
It was in 1873 that she emigrated to New York City. Impressing people
with her psychic abilities she was spurred on to continue her mediumship.
Throughout her career she was able to perform physical and mental psychic
feats which included levitation, clairvoyance, out-of-body projection,
telepathy, and clairaudience. One new feat of hers was materialization,
that is, producing physical objects out of nothing. Though she was apparently
quite adept at these feats, she claimed that her interests were more
in the area of theory and laws of how they work rather than performing
In 1874 at the farm
of the Eddy Brothers, Helena met Henry Steel Olcott, a lawyer, agricultural
expert, and journalist who covered the Spiritualist phenomena. Soon
they were living together in the "Lamasery" (alternate spelling:
"Lamastery") where her work Isis Unveiled was created.
She married her
second husband, Michael C. Betanelly on April 3, 1875 in New York City.
She maintained that this marriage was not consummated either. She separated
from Betanelly after a few months, and their divorce was legalized on
May 25, 1878. On July 8, 1878, she became a naturalized citizen of the
While living in New York City, she founded the Theosophical Society
in September 1875, with Henry Steel Olcott, William Quan Judge and others.
Madame Blavatsky claimed that all religions were both true in their
inner teachings and false or imperfect in their external conventional
manifestations. Imperfect men attempting to translate the divine knowledge
had corrupted it in the translation. Her claim that esoteric spiritual
knowledge is consistent with new science may be considered to be the
first instance of what is now called New Age thinking. In fact, many
researchers feel that much of New Age thought started with Blavatsky.
She had moved to India, sometime before 1879, where she first made the
acquaintaince of A P Sinnett. In his book Occult World he describes
how she stayed at his home in Allahabad for six weeks that year, and
again the following year.
By 1882 the Theosophical
Society became an international organization, and it was at this time
that she moved the headquarters to Adyar near Madras, India.
The society headquartered
here for some time, but she later went to Germany for a while and finally
A disciple put her
up in her own house in England and it was here that she lived the end
of her life.
Her last words in regard to her work were: "Keep the link unbroken!
Do not let my last incarnation be a failure."
Suffering from heart
disease, rheumatism, Bright's disease of the kidneys, and complications
from influenza, Madame Helena Petrovna Blavatsky died at the home she
shared, in England on May 8, 1891. Her body was then cremated; one third
of her ashes were sent to Europe, one third with William Quan Judge
to the United States, and one third to India where her ashes were scattered
in the Ganges River. May 8 is celebrated by Theosophists, and it is
called White Lotus Day.
She was succeeded
as head of one branch of the Theosophical Society, by her protege, Annie
Besant. Her friend, WQ Judge, headed the American Section.
She was born of
Russian nobility and later became the secretary of the Theosophical
Society. Also, she was referred to as HPB. She did much to spread Eastern
religious, philosophical and occult concepts throughout the Western
Her father Peter
von Hahn was in the Russian army. Shortly after he married Helena Andreyevna
he was called into war and his wife returned to her parent' home when
their daughter Helena was born. Helena Andreyevna wrote novels concerning
restricted Russian women and was called the George Sand of Russia.
She died when Helena
was twelve, but later Helena would say that her mother had died when
she was a baby. The question is why did Helena Blavatsky deny the existence
of her mother in her childhood. It is true that she grew from a sickly
baby into a problem child subjected to hysteria and convulsions. When
dying her mother observed sadly, "Ah well, perhaps it is best that
I am dying, so at least I shall be spared seeing what befalls Helena.
Of one thing I am certain, her life will not be that of other women,
and she will have much to suffer."
This statement that
her mother died when she was a baby seems to suggest that there was
strife between the mother and daughter. It indicates a conflict between
the wills. That Helen resented her mother's long absences, her intimate
friendships in the bohemian world of letters, and felt it as a desertion
of the home and herself. Her mother seemed to have hurt her pride.
was not the usual one. She displayed neurotic behavior from almost infancy
by walking and talking in her sleep at four, exhibiting morbid tendencies,
and loving the weird and fantastic. One of her earliest recollections
was macabre in nature. At Ekaterinoslav, the countryside was said to
be haunted with russalkas, green-haired nymphs living in willow trees
along the river banks. Whenever her nurses crossed her Helena threaten
to have the russalkas tickle them to death. One day when Helena was
four she was walking by the river bank with one of her nurses while
a serf-boy of fourteen followed them and annoyed Helena by pulling her
perambutor. She them imitated one of her father's roars threatening
to have the russalkas tickle the boy to death. The boy being scarred,
took to his heels over the river bank. He was not seen again until fishermen
discovered his dead body weeks later. Helena's family supposed he had
accidentally stepped into a sand-pit whirlpool. But, the household surfs
knew otherwise; they knew that the four-year-old girl had withdrawn
her protection from the boy and delivered him over to the russalkas.
It is significant that HPB should later accuse herself of homicide at
the age of four, and the victim a boy ten years her senior.
Her memory of this
incident is not surprising when view in perspective with other incidents
of her childhood. Those who took care of her, besides her parents, were
serfs and women who had learned and believed in superstitions. At the
time Old Russia was a hothouse for superstitions. It was alive with
tales of wolves, monsters, ghosts, leshes, brownies and goblins which
were thought to manipulate human lives.. Even though the educated people
accepted Russian Orthodoxy, along with its icons filling every room,
priests and sacraments, their serfs still kept alive the Empire's pagan
religion among themselves. The nurses of Helena, or Lelinka as they
affectionately called her, believed these superstitions. Furthermore,
Lelinka, being born in the seventh month of the year, was called a sedmitchka,
a word that is difficult to translate but is connected with the number
According to legend
it was believed that supernatural beings could be placated or even controlled
by people like Helena. On the night of her birthday the servants would
carry the little girl around the house and stables while sprinkling
holy water and repeating magical incantations to appease the domovoy,
a goblin in the form of an old man who lived behind the stove and played
tricks whenever displeased. Some thought each household had one. Supposedly
such activities were not known by her mother or grandparents. If they
did know about them, initially they refused to assign any importance
to them until later.
It was not that
the household servants thought that Helena was special, she showed it.
She threw temper tantrums whenever she did not get her way. Finally,
as she later recalled, the family members noticed her abnormalities
and she was exorcised many times, but the rituals proved to no avail.
Even scolding and punishments failed to change her outrageous unacceptable
behavior. She fail to change as a child because, it seems, after the
servant boy drown, plus the attention she was receiving, she felt she
was powerful and invulnerable, and increasingly believed that mighty
forces would carry out her wishes. A belief that seemed to permeate
Her only happy childhood
memories seem to be between six and twelve in her father's army camps.
She was petted and spoiled as the enfant du regiment. She tyrannized
over her father's orderlies whom she preferred to her female nurses
and governesses. While being pampered she managed to pickup a smattering
of knowledge about shamans and magic which she put to good use later
After the death
of their mother, at age 28, Helena with her sister and brother lived
with their maternal grandparents. The grandmother, Helena Palovna de
Fadeev, was a princess of the Dolgorkurov family, and a famous botanist.
So from her mother and grandmother HPB inherited her characteristics
of stubbornness, a fiery temper, and a disregard for social norms, all
of which she amplified.
Helena's first love
affair, at age 16, had been with Prince Alexander Galistin, cousin to
the Viceroy of the Caucasus. At the time her grandfather served as his
Imperial Councilor. Her interest in the Prince was because of his interest
in occultism and magic. She later claimed the affair ended on the Prince's
death, but he jilted her.
When 17 she married
General Nicephore Blavatsky. There are several stories for this marriage,
but it seems to be that a governess had scolded Helena for her temper
tantrums, saying she could not even get an old man to marry her. To
prove the governess wrong, and to divert attention from her unhappy
affair with Prince Galistin she married Blavatsky, who she called old
and about seventy or eighty. Actually he was around forty when they
married and outlived her. After three unhappy months of a honeymoon,
HPB managed to escape from the General's bodyguards and return to her
grandfather who was not glad to see her. Her quickly shipped her off
to her father, now retired and living near St. Peterburg, in charge
of a maid and three men servants, all of whom she escaped. Her father
traveled two thousand mile for nothing to meet her in Odessa. Helena
was aboard an English bark, some say eloping with the skipper, sailing
The years between
1848-1858 are known as Helena's vagabond years. The actual events are
rather sketchy. The important thing to HPB, at least, was the two years
she was in Tibet studying with the Lama. In 1856, according to her version,
while in India she met a Lutheran minister who was with two mystics.
None had passports or proper identification. The mystics did not enter
Tibet, but the minister, although not permitted in the country, did
travel a good way with the party to a mud hut. Helena wore a mysterious
disguise supplied by a Tartar shaman. At a hut they met the Chief Lama
who would not allow them admittance until Helena showed him a carnelian
talisman given to her as a child by a high priest of a Calmuck tribe.
Within the hut,
which was a great hall, they witnessed a reincarnation ceremony. A four-month-old
baby laid on a carpet in the center of the hall. "Under the influence
of the venerable lama, the baby rose to its feet and walked up and down
the strip of carpet, repeating, `I am Buddha, I am the old Lama, I am
his spirit in a new body.'" The three men accompanying Helena were
terrified. The minister said his blood ran cold because the infant's
eyes "seemed to search his very soul."
Some believe that
HPB fabricated the reincarnation story because similar descriptions
could be found in Abbe Huc's Recollection's of Travel in Tartary, Tibet
and China Further they reasoned, her reason for the story was for psychological
importance, showing she had traveled in Tibet where other men could
not, and her talisman had admitted them to see the ritual; however,
it must be remembered these were her critics.
When returning to
Russia Helena agreed to return to Nicephore Blavatsky on the condition
that she would be required to see him as little as possible, which she
did. Also, at this time her grandfather Andrey Fadeyev was 71 and retiring
from the Viceroy's Board of Caucasus. He usually retired early and Helena's
two cousins, both unmarried, came to the Fadeyev home in Taiflis to
entertain while seances were held. At the time the many of the Russian
intellectuals were beginning to be fascinated with the paranormal. Helena
made a big impression. Her cousin Sergei Witte wrote, "My cousin
did not confine the demonstrations of her power to table rapping, evocation
of spirits, and similar mediumistic hocus-pocus. On one occasion she
caused a closed piano in an adjacent room to emit sounds as if invisible
hands were playing upon it. This was done in my presence, at the insistence
of one of the guests."
It seemed that the
lady's activities included more than hold seances. A young baron from
Estonia, Nicholas Meyendorff who was an ardent Spiritualist, found HPB
delightful. Meyendorff was a closed friend of D. D. Home, in fact, he
considered Home as a brother, so he confided his affair with HPB to
Home. He insisted she divorced Blavatsky and marry him, or so the lady
It seems Meyendorff
later said Helena was unfaithful. From latter correspondence, in 1886,
to her biographer it seems that Meyendorff was correct. About this time
unexpectedly Agardi Metrovich appeared sometime in the early 1860's.
He was an opera singer accompanied by a female singer who it seems was
his wife. Metrovich had know Helena and her family previously. It seems
he now wanted her back. He was almost sixty in 1861, and had about begged
an engagement from the Italian Opera of Tiflis was one of the worst
in Europe. He was on a decline in his career.
It is somewhat of
a puzzle how Helena managed living with her husband, lover Meyendoroff,
and Metrovich at the same time while holding seances in her grandfather's
home. But, the fact is that she became pregnant and a child was born.
The only existence of the child's birth date is on a passport dated
August 23 "(Old Style)" 1862. It designated him as an infant,
leaving speculation he was born in 1862, or late 1861. His name was
Yuri, and he was deformed. He was born in the settlement of Ozurgety
which had a military surgeon. Helena settled there buying a house to
escape the scandal her pregnancy had caused in Tiflis. All men she knew
denied fathering the child, but Blavatsky continued her monthly allowance.
Helena referred to him as "the poor crippled child," while
Meyendorff's relatives said he had a hunchback. Whether the handicap
resulted from a birth defect or an accident cause by the military physician
unaccustomed delivering babies is not known.
After the birth
Helena suffered, or arranged, a nervous breakdown. The significance
of which is that she describes a dual personality:
and myself, I remembered well who I was in my second capacity, and what
I had been and was doing. When someone else, i.e., the personage I became,
I know I had no idea of who was H. P. Blavatsky! I was in another far-off
country, a total different individuality from myself, and had no connection
at all with my actual life."
Yuri was about five
years when Helena took him Bologna trying to help him. It is known that
Metrovitch accompany them. But, the journey proved fruitless and the
child died. They buried him in a small town in Southern Russia under
Metrovitch's name; the latter saying that "he did not care."
Even though Helena
had reason to detest Russia, she could not bury her son on foreign soil.
This among other things illustrated that she dearly loved the child.
It had been difficult for her to keep the child, and easier for her
to have abandoned him as an orphan, but this she did not do. She did
everything she could for him. Although later she denied he was her child.
When taking him to visit her father, she wrote that her father suspected
her of wrongful sexual conduct and she produced evidence from two doctors
that she was unable to bare children. Perhaps she did this more for
Yuri's sake than her own, because, it is thought, she could not bear
for anyone to think ill of her son. She also claimed Yuri was an illegitimate
child of Meyendorff and a friend of hers. The stories she told got so
tangled that her biographer. Alfred Sinnett, omitted Yuri altogether.
However, the child
seems an important factor in her life; otherwise, why would she have
cared for him approximately five years? Her career in the paranormal
was of great concern to her. Factors concerning the child outweighed
this. Yuri, ironically, resembled the little hunchback invisible which
she had played with in her own childhood. She, herself, described Yuri
as "the only being who made life worth living, a being whom I loved
according to the phraseology of Hamlet as `forty thousand fathers and
brothers will never love their children and sisters.'" Later she
wrote to Metrovitch, "'I loved one man deeply but still more I
love occult science,' but the one she loved `more than anything else
in all the world,' or anything, was Yuri."
It was later after
Yuri's death that Helena confided in writing to her cousin Nadyezha
Fadeyev of her rejection of Christianity, "the Russian Orthodox
god had died for her on the day of Yuri's death." Although, she
had never been at peace with Christianity, "there were moments
when I believed deeply that sins can be remitted by the Church, and
that the blood of Christ has redeemed me, together with the whole race
Yet it should be
noted toward the end of Helena's life, as with so many others, the encroachment
of fragments of an earlier religious experience are seen. Increasingly
in her writings she used words like the Holy Cause, with their ecclesiastical
flavor, phrases reminiscent of the childhood religion which she had
rebelled against all of her life. She was humbling her pride to join
the host of other rebel spirits who creep back to the sanctity of the
Holy Church. She even admitted when in Paris she had in secrecy slipped
off to the Russian Cathedral. In secrecy was correct, because even though
in her heart toward the end her life her confidence in her Mahatmas
and the occult may have decrease or fallen away, in public her concern
was to insure the realty of her Masters Morya and Koot Hoomi and all
the hierarchy for her followers. She apologized for the mistakes and
misrepresentations in her works but not for the Masters who had dictated
her books. The faults of the books she laid on others.
After 1869 both
the Fadeyev and Witte families had dwindled. Adey Fadeyev had died at
81. The families pooled their assets and moved to Odessa where Helena
and Metrovitch joined them. It was tough going for everyone, but Helena,
in her flighty manner, tried starting several small businesses, but
in the perilous times they all failed. Metrovitch still trying to make
a comeback got an engagement with the Italian opera of Cairo, so he
and Helena sailed for Egypt.
It was during their
voyage that Metrovitch lost his life in an explosion of gunpowder and
fireworks which the ship was carrying. Helena was one of seventeen passengers
out of 400 which survived. She latter said Metrovitch died trying to
save her life, although there are other versions of his death which
are not connected with the explosion at all. Anyway Helena thought that
Metrovitch would want her to go on. She went to Alexandria with help
of the Greek government funds. It is thought she buried Metrovitch's
remains there, and then proceeded to Cairo when she became a medium
by teaming up with another woman. The relationship in Cairo lasted for
some time, then both went back to Odessa. However, Russia did not provide
the stimulation which Helena longed for, and she tired of quarreling
with her aunts whom she said did not understand her. She saw other people
and then went to Paris. It was there she heard of the enthusiasm for
Spiritualism that was spreading in the United States. She almost immediately
sailed, saying that it was "my mysterious Hindu" that ordered
her "to embark for North America, which I did without protesting."
She did not travel
first class though. On the dock at Le Havre she by chance met a German
peasant and her children who had been sold bogus tickets. Helena gave
the woman and children her deluxe passage and traveled herself in steerage
because that was all she could then afford. She, like millions of other
poor emigrants, and rebellious aristocrats traveled to America, the
land of opportunity and hope. It was her second chance.
As with thousands
of other immigrants Helena's second chance did not come easy, but she
was determined to obtain it. It was July, 1873 when she reached New
York. As did other single women, she first lodged in a home for woman
that was a tenement house that had be made into a cooperative by the
65 occupants. The landlord introduced Helena to the owners of a shirt-and-collar
factory where she tried selling elaborate designs to the owners. The
designs were good but she was bad at selling, so it was Odessa all over
HPB was penniless
but said that she had wrote home to her relatives for money and expected
to receive it from the Russian Council at anytime. This is how she survived
in the home. She managed to divide the home into two groups, those not
liking her and those that did. She entertained the latter group with
stories of her life and by holding seances on Sunday nights. This seemed
to work until a newspaper took a dislike to her and accused her of using
hashish and opium.
Soon after this
her father died and she received $500 of her modest inheritance which
went fast. She moved into a smart hotel and began to live Bohemian again
in a cooperate flat with three journalists, two men and another woman.
Then a new phenomenon appeared. Ordinary photographs left in a wooden
box overnight were found in the morning to be tinted with water colors
by spirits. Although impressive, the others occupants became skeptical
of HPB's powers. Then one night they watched the Madame leave her room
in night clothes, carrying paint and brushes to assist the spirits.
Following this HPB
worked whenever she could, one job was in a sweatshop making artificial
flowers, and accepting charity from whomever gave it. This continued
until June, 1874 when she met Clementine Jerebko and her husband who
has just arrived from Caucasus. She had known them both in Russia. The
Jerebkos had just bought farmland on Long Island and HPB agreed to join
in the adventure by buying in at $1,000. By the end of the first month
all parties knew it was a disastrous decision. Clementine agreed to
return Helena's money after the farm been sold by auction, but three
days later she and her husband disappeared. Helena tried pursuing them
by hiring a creditable law firm which took the case to court.
The next important
event in her life occurred ten days after Henry Steele Olcott's first
article on the Eddy seances appeared in New York, on October 14, 1874,
when she introduced herself to Olcott at the remote Chittenden, Vermont
farm. Immediately she claimed to be a spiritualist who had spend fifteen
years in the cult, but it soon became apparent that she had come to
During the next
ten days Helena exhibited her techniques. Her seances accompanied those
of the Eddy Brothers. Although Olcott was not a Spiritualist, he had
a keen interest in the phenomena. Each night the seance began at ten
minutes to seven. The procession of apparitions began drifting in and
out of the Eddy cabinet on the schedule of every one to five minutes.
The appearances of Honto and the Indians were slightly dim compared
to Madame Blavatsky's peopled apparitions. "Hassan Aga," the
wealthy merchant wearing a black Astarkhan cap and tasseled hood who
said three times he had a secret to revel, but never did; "Safer
Ali Bak," the man that guarded Helena for Nicephore Blavatsky in
Erivan, now appearing as a Kurd warrior carrying a feathered spear;
a Circassian noukar who bowed, smiled and said, "Tchock yachtchi
(all right); a giant muscular black man in white-and-gold-horned headdress,
a conjurer who she had met in Africa. Also, there were less exotic phantoms
such as an old woman in a babushka, whom Helena said was Vera's nurse;
and the portly man in a black evening suit and frilled white shirt,
around whose neck hung a Greek cross of St. Anne suspended by a red
moiré ribbon with two black stripes.
"Are you my
father?" she asked, confessing later that she was trembling.
The apparition approached
her and stopped, "Djadja," he answered reproachfully.
HPB knew that Olcott
was enthused with her performance, although his articles about her would
not be published for several weeks, she decided much could be achieved
in the meantime. She with another medium rushed back to New York. When
Olcott mentioned putting his collection of articles that appeared in
the Graphic into a book she volunteered to translate them into Russian
for the Psychisen Studien or some other Russian journal. Olcott was
thrilled with the idea.
She did like Olcott,
but still considered him childish and gullible. She knew, even though
she had warned him that William Eddy's spooks were not necessarily proof
of spirit entities, that Olcott was "in love with the spirits,"
as she put it. Nevertheless, they continued working together. HPB had
feelings for Olcott, but they were not mutually shared at first. Olcott
considered her androgynous. He just did not see her as an attractive
sexual person, even though she was in her earthly, sensual manner.
It was at this time
that she engaged in a confrontation with a New York neuropathologist,
Dr. George Beard, who claimed in the Daily Graphic that the Eddy brothers
were frauds and that Colonel Olcott had been blinded by a handful of
bad magicians' tricks. HPB had two reasons to be upset by the article.
First, her first real success in Spiritualism might be thwarted; and
secondly, the article questioned Olcott's integrity as a serious investigator.
If this went unchallenged it would dash any hopes of selling any translations
of his articles. This episode became a fight between Beard and Helena,
but took an unexpected turn when she was recognized by both the Spiritual
Scientist and Daily Graphic. The editor of the former said he would
publish all she could write. In an interview with the Graphic she gained
so much publicity that Helena Blavatsky was known throughout the New
But, as usual, her
troubles were not over. She had tried to sell the Russian translation
of Olcott's articles through Andrew Jackson Davis who admired her as
a medium, a friend of Alexander Aksakov who could get the articles in
the Psychisen Studien. In his reply to Davis, Aksakov said that he had
heard of Madame Blavatsky, and she was a powerful medium, but her communications
show moral flows. Toward Davis Helena appeared casual, and Davis thought
his friend didn't know her as well as he did. However, Helena suspected
Aksakov had heard rumors and hastily sent a letter to him pleading with
him not to exposed everything to Davis. It is later noted that Alsakov
did receive some of the translations, but he never printed them, nor
did any other publication.
Fearing that Aksakov
revelations would come down upon her at any time Helena was in a desperate
period. She still conducted seances, hoping for the best. She still
needed financial support. The man, Henry Olcott, she wanted was unavailable
to her. Olcott was supporting an estranged wife and two children, also
his law practice had been neglected during his Spiritualism investigations.
Michael Betanelly was available and wanted to marry her to look after
her, he said he would expect no martial privileges of her. Betanelly
was friend to both Helena and Olcott. It was Betanelly who had written
a letter to Olcott, on Helena's behalf, verifying the Georgian that
materialized during a seance at Chittenden. The letter was to served
to disprove Dr. Beard's accusations aimed at Olcott and also give Olcott
more creditability. The truth was that Betanelly knew nothing about
Spiritualism when writing the letter.
Helena and Betanelly
were married on April 3, 1875. They had not told Olcott, when he heard
of the marriage he called it "a freak of madness." He later
said he had ridiculed her for marrying a man so much younger than herself
and unequal to her mental capacity. However, Helena already had her
defense planned: she said, " their fates were linked by karma,
and the marriage was her punishment for `awful pride and combativeness.'"
She added that Betanelly had threaten suicide if she did not marry him.
Helena assured Olcott the marriage would not be consummated; although
her reason was not clear, it would seem she did so because of her interest
in Olcott. Olcott believed her. It may have been a non-sexual marriage,
but it is doubtful her entire relationship with Betanelly was non-physical.
Helena's main concern
seemed to always lie in Olcott. To her he was always essential to the
Spiritualist movement. Later many would say she broke up his marriage,
even though the Spiritualists eventually denied it, it is a fact they
met shortly before his divorce. But it seemed they just collaborated,
with HPB being dominate, at first, intimacy would come later. HPB dictated
Olcott's writings and where to send them. Before the establishment of
the Theosophical Society there was the founding of the Miracle Club.
This was a club where members were admitted to seances conducted by
the club medium David Dana, brother of Charles Dana editor of the New
York Sun, and suggested by HPB. Members were forbidden to disclose their
experiences or the address of the meeting place. The club only lasted
a few weeks because David wanted to be paid, which HPB did not agree
The failure of the
Miracle Club, however, sparked the founding of the Theosophical Society.
The membership itself, with the enthusiasm of HPB, did not disperse.
In striving to find a common purpose Olcott scribbled a hasty note asking,
"Would it not be a good thing to form a society for this kind of
study?" The phrase this kind of study referred to subjects such
as the Egyptian mysteries and the kabbalah which had been discussed
in a lecture previously given to an informal group by J. H. Felt, an
architect and engineer. He had said, "the dog-and hawk-headed figures
of Egyptian hieroglyphics were accurate pictures of elementals, the
spirits who convey messages at seances."
The infant society
was eagerly formed in September1875. It was co-founded by Olcott along
with William Q. Judge. Its name was furnished by Charles Sotheran who
was of independent means, a high Mason, a Rosicrucian, and a student
of the kabbalah. Sotheran thought the name of the Miracle Club was too
cheap; he considered Egyptological Society, too limited; looking through
a dictionary, he found the word theosophy, a word that was unanimously
agreed on at the next meeting because it seemed to express esoteric
truth as well as covering the aspects of occult scientific research,
both of which were goals of the Society. Because of Olcott's love for
red tape and Helena's ritualism the Society included all of the pomp
originally planned for the Miracle Club. There was the policy of secrecy,
each member wrote F.T.S (Fellow, Theosophical Society) after their name,
and recognized each other by secret signs, most of which were borrowed
from Egyptian occultism and the Grand Lodge of Cairo.
After its establishment
the Theosophical Society expounded the esoteric tradition of Buddhism
aiming to form an universal brotherhood of man, studying and making
known the ancient religions, philosophies and sciences, and investigating
the laws of nature and divine powers latent in man. The direction of
the society was claimed to be directed by the secret Mahatmas or Masters
After reading the
evidence of the letters supposedly written from these Mahatmas many
concluded that they were written by friends of HPB, or by HPB herself.
The letters conveyed her ideas. These conclusions were drawn after earnest
men and women lavished an aggregate of several lifetimes of study and
research on the Mahatmas letters. Several books and monographs, pro
and con, were written. Who Wrote the Mahatmas Letters, a book by the
Hare brothers, one a disillusion Theosophist, was a well researched
Although there is
not any certain evidence of these Mahatmas or Masters of Wisdom, Helena's
first book Isis Unveiled, 1877, outlined the basic precepts and the
secret knowledge which they protected. In the book's preface HPB inserted
`a plea for the recognition of the Hermetic philosophy, the ancient
universal wisdom." The success of the book was greater than that
of the society, which by 1878 almost collapsed.
In July 1878 Helena
P. Blavatsky became the first Russian woman to acquire United States
citizenship. Some say she did so not to have the English in India think
she was a Russian spy. She and Olcott went to India in December of that
year in order to revive the society's study of Hindu and Buddha religions.
It was in India
that HPB and the society gained much support. Newly acquired supporters
included Sinnett, the statesman Allen O. Hume, and various high-caste
Indians and English officials. At this time HPB aided Sinnett and Hume
in corresponding with the Masters Koot Hoomi and Morya. From this the
first suspicions of the Masters occurred, when their handwriting closely
resembled that of HPB. However, nothing was every proven conclusively.
In 1882 the headquarters
of the society was moved to an estate in Adyar, near Madras. There HPB
had a shrine room constructed for the Mahatmas where they could directly
manifest their communications. A former colleague of HPB, Emma Cutting
Coulomb and her husband managed the household. They were later discharged
for dishonest practices.
In 1884 HPB and
Olcott toured Europe while in the United State the Coulomb's published
letters which they claimed to be written by HPB containing instructions
for the Masters' manifestations and for the operation of the shrine
through secret black panels. Apparently, the panels were constructed
by Coulomb during HPB's absent to destroy her reputation. During December
1884, Richard Hodgson of the Psychical Research Society (PRS) in London
went to Adyar to investigate the activity there. In the following spring
he released a scathing report alleging fraud and trickery by HPB and
her associates. To HPB and the Theosophical Society the report was controversial
for over one hundred years. It put a tarnish upon the name of HPB and
the Society. In 1986 the PRS published an article in its Journal calling
the report prejudiced, saying that Hodgson had ignored all evidence
favorable to HPB, and, that an apology was due.
Because of the controversy,
Olcott sent HPB to Europe in 1885, where she toured different countries
finally settling in Germany due to deteriorating health. By then the
French-born Swedish Countess Constance Wachrmeister had moved in with
HPB and helped her with her work, especially her second book, The Secret
Doctrine (1888), which is said to be her greatest work.
The Secret Doctrine
outlined a scheme of evolution relating to the universe (cosmogenesis)
and humankind (anthropogenesis), and is based on three premises: (1)
Ultimate Reality, as an omnipresent, transcendent principle beyond the
reach of thought; (2) the universality law of cycles throughout nature;
and (3) the identity of all souls with the Universal Oversoul and their
journey through many degrees of intelligence by means if reincarnation,
in accordance with "Cyclic and Karmic law."
The Secret Doctrine
is claimed to have been largely based on the archaic manuscript of The
Book of Dyzan, which HPB interpreted. She claimed the Mahatmas communicated
parts of The Secret Doctrine to her, claiming they impressed thoughts
in her mind which she put to paper. Critics say she copied her thoughts
from various existing works.
During 1889 HPB
finished two more books: The Key to Theosophy an introduction to theosophical
thought and philosophy; and, The Voice of the Silence, a mystical and
poetic work on the path of enlightenment.
The work of the
Theosophical Society was continued by activist Annie Wood Besant, a
reviewer of The Secret Doctrine and a convert to Theosophy. Besant's
home in London became the headquarters of the Society. She actively
supported progressive causes, bringing another generation of liberal
intellectuals into the society, and became president following Olcott's
death in 1907.
In all respects
it is not difficult to believe that HPB possessed genuine occult inspiration
and powers for she exerted enormous influence over some of the most
talented individuals of her time. Touched by her were persons like Horace
Greeley, the Honorable John L. O'Sullivan, ex-Ambassador to Portugal;
P. B. Randolph, leading American Rosicrucian; Prince Wittgenstein.
Also among those influenced by her are W. B. Yeats, the Irish poet,
and "AE" (George W. Russell). She was influential in the development
of the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn by promoting the translations
of Hindu scriptures and philosophical works.
HPB died in her
home on May 8, 1891. She became unable to walk and suffered from various
diseases. She was cremated with a third of her ashes remaining in Europe,
and a third going to America and India each. Theosophists commemorate
her death on May 8, called White Lotus Day.
It would not be
a mere understatement to say Madame's Blavatsky's life was different,
because it was very different. There seems to be no single reason for
this difference; one cannot say it was just her childhood, her adolescence,
her adult life; the lost of her son, or the child she dearly loved;
or her love of occult science. One is forced to say that is was several
or all of these factors which made her different and who she was. Over
a hundred years following her death people are still fascinated by the
name of Madame Helena Blavatsky.
One presumes this
fascination is generated by the unique pursuit of Madame Blavatsky's
life itself. One never could say she allowed life to pass her by; if
anything, she propelled life. Divine revelations appealed to her for
she was mystical by nature. Yori resembled her invisible playmate in
early childhood. She did not share Christian visions because of her
violent rebellion against the church. A heaven containing thousands
of angelic creatures was not for her. She was too earthy. Her life was
with people. Her saints were the Mahatmas or Masters of Wisdom, modeled
on Buddhist and Christian monks, who resided in the inaccessible portion
of the earth. They were the "old souls" who had completed
their rounds of incarnations on earth, but frequently returned to help
members of humankind who deserved it: the Theosophists.
Even though many
have been and are skeptical of HPB, and it must be said they have cause
to be, it cannot be believed she deliberately intended to hurt people.
Although some of her ways were suspicious, it is doubtful that she intentionally
exploited people with her glimpses of the truth. This seems contradictory
to the nature of a woman who gave her deluxe accommodations to a peasant
family and came to America in steerage. She seemed to possess a strange
and uncanny power, even in youth, to hurl defiance in the face of polite
society, and then force it to take her seriously. Perhaps this is the
charm and complexity of Madame Blavatsky which even today compels some
individuals to try and follow her. A.G.H.