Helena Petrovna Blavatsky (Russian: Елена Петровна Блаватская), nee von Hahn, was a Russian writer co-founder in 1875 of the Theosophical Society.
Drawing a profile of Helena Blavatsky is not easy, given the intertwining of facts and words whose veracity is often questioned. Her uncompromising character, accusations of manipulation and quackery, and adventurous life help create a substrate where belief in her inexplicable qualities and denial of her abilities go hand in hand. However, we cannot deny that we are in the presence of a charismatic personage, who in her way has aroused a vast echo in the world that gravitates around the spiritual sciences, an echo that still survives today.
Helena Blavatsky was born on 12 August 1831, to a Russian-German aristocratic family, in Ekaterinoslav (today Dnipro in Ukraine); her mother was the daughter of a princess, her father was the descendant of a family of German aristocrats. She studied independently, and from her teens, she developed a keen interest in Western esoteric texts. Her father’s profession, a colonel in the army, forced the family to make numerous trips.
In 1838, at the age of 28, her mother died of tuberculosis. Blavatsky moved to Saratov in southwestern Russia with her grandparents and two brothers. Here, in her maternal grandfather’s library, she discovered numerous esoteric books that aroused her interest in the subject. She later stated that it was around this time that she began to have visions of a “mysterious Indian” that she would meet in person for years to come.
In 1845 she was in London and Bath with her father. After a year, she moved to Tiflis (today Tbilisi, the capital of Georgia). She later claimed to have had her first paranormal experiences, accompanied by astral travel in which she met the “mysterious Indian”.
In 1849, at the age of 18, she agreed to marry Nikifor Vladimirovich Blavatsky, a 40-year-old deputy governor of a Russian province. She tried several times to escape from her husband’s villa until, after three months of married life, her father’s emissaries came to take her back to Odessa, where her father was residing at that time. Along the way, she fled again; she bribed the captain of a ship and reached Constantinople. From here on, and until 1873, the year of her arrival in New York, the story of Helena Blavatsky is cloaked in half-truths and legends; there are no journals or direct records of her travels.
According to her subsequent statements, in Constantinople, she met Countess Sofia Kyseliova, whom she accompanied on a trip to Egypt, Greece and Eastern Europe. In 1851 she was in Paris and then visited London. According to the official versions, she had the opportunity to meet at the Great Exhibition that year the “mysterious Indian” of her youthful visions, who introduced himself as the Master Morya. The latter told her that he had a mission for her, which would take her to Tibet.
In the same year, she decides to travel to Canada to meet the Native American communities of Quebec. She then headed south to the Andes and from there by ship to Ceylon and Bombay. She remained in India for two years following Morya’s directions, but she could not enter Tibet, hampered by the British authorities. She then returned to Europe by ship, having survived a shipwreck at the Cape of Good Hope.
In 1854 Helena Blavatsky was in London, from where she sailed for New York; in San Francisco, she embarked again for India; here, in 1856, she finally managed to enter Tibet. She later returned to Europe and, in 1858, was reunited with her family; in this period, according to her statements, she began to manifest her paranormal faculties. In 1864 she fell from her horse during a ride and was in a coma for several months. Blavatsky claimed to have taken complete control of her paranormal powers upon awakening. In 1867, in Italy, she fought with Giuseppe Garibaldi in the battle of Mentana, getting wounded.
Later still, according to her story, she had a meeting with Master Morya in Constantinople; together, they embarked on the long overland journey to reach Tibet. Here they were guests of a friend of Morya, Master Koot Homi (mentioned as KH in Blavatsky’s books); apparently educated in Europe before his adeptship, Koot Homi was considered one of the Mahatmas who inspired the birth of the theosophical movement. According to her memoirs, Blavatsky was educated to master various psychic powers such as clairvoyance, telepathy, dematerialisation of physical objects. She was also taught an unknown language, Senzar, which is supposed to be the original language in which the Stanzas of Dzyan were composed – one of the canonical texts of Theosophism. Many critical voices have risen over time to challenge the truthfulness of her stay in Tibet. Only a scholar like DT Suzuki declared that Blavatsky’s knowledge of Mahayana Buddhism seemed compatible with studies that could be done in a Tibetan monastery.
After a stay in Tibet of about two years, in 1871, Blavatsky set sail for Greece to meet another of the masters, Hilarion . She later went to Egypt to meet Master Serapis Bay  and then to Lebanon to reach some members of the Druze religion . In 1872 she returned to Odessa to her family. In 1873, at the instruction of Morya, Blavatsky went to New York. In 1874 she married a Georgian she met there, but once again, the marriage didn’t last long.
Furthermore, in 1874, Blavatsky met the journalist-lawyer Henry Steel Olcott, who was impressed by her ability to manifest paranormal phenomena. From this meeting, a deep friendship was born, which, through various circumstances and the encouragement of Blavatsky’s Masters, led to the foundation in 1875 of the Theosophical Society. The Society’s objectives consisted of 1) forming a nucleus of universal fraternity; 2) the study of religion, philosophy and sciences; 3) the study and investigation of latent powers in human beings.
In 1877 her first work, Isis Unveiled, was released, and its diffusion was a success. The book defined Theosophy as “an ancient wisdom-religion, an ageless occult guide to the cosmos, nature and human life … This ancient occult guide will become the religion of the future.” (I, 613). The new lodges were not as successful, despite the presence of prominent figures such as Thomas Edison. In 1878 Blavatsky obtained US citizenship.
In 1879, dissatisfied with her life in the United States, Blavatsky sailed to India with Olcott after establishing contacts with the Hindu Reform Movement, which proposed the renewal of Hinduism in a social and spiritual sense. After visiting several sacred sites, the couple began working on a monthly magazine, The Theosophist, which had a wide circulation. In 1880 they both converted to Buddhism in a ceremony in Sri Lanka.
Furthermore, in those years, a controversy arose with Emma Coulomb, flat owner in Madras, who publicly accused Blavatsky of staging fraudulent phenomena. Around the same time, the Psychological Research Society investigated her alleged powers, eventually declaring Blavatsky as “one of the most ingenious and interesting impostors in history”.
In 1882, Blavatsky was diagnosed with Bright’s disease, now known as diabetic nephropathy. She later moved to France and the United Kingdom to visit some theosophical lodges and counter their problems. In 1884 she travelled to Cairo where she, along with the eminent Theosophist and Freemason Charles Webster Leadbeater, found evidence of Emma Coulomb’s extortionate and criminal nature.
In 1885 she left India for good due to her health problems. She settled for some time in Naples and then in the kingdom of Bavaria. Meanwhile, despite allegations of quackery, the movement grew, reaching 121 lodges worldwide. In 1886, the Psychic Research Society admitted that it had researched her frauds impartially, although it noted that the many questions that arose remained inexplicable. In the same year, Blavatsky, now in a wheelchair, moved to Belgium, where she received visits from theosophists from all over Europe.
In 1887 Blavatsky arrived in London, where she founded the Blavatsky Lodge; here, she welcomed many visitors, including poet William Butler Yeats and Mohandas Gandhi, then a lawyer, who became an affiliate of the lodge. In 1888 Blavatsky founded the Esoteric Section of the Theosophical Society, reserved for a small group of people and devoted to philosophical and esoteric study rather than paranormal experiments. In the same year, the magazine Lucifer was published, always focusing on the philosophical aspect of the doctrine. Later the Secret Doctrine came out, her commentary on the Stanzas of Dzyan; the book deals with cosmogonic ideas about the nature of the universe, the planets and the appearance on Earth of the human being.
In 1890 Blavatsky moved to the home of Annie Besant, a British activist, writer and philanthropist, who later headed the Blavatsky Lodge. There, she wrote her latest works: The Key to Theosophy, The Voice of Silence and a devotional text, The Book of Golden Precepts, based – according to her opinion – on a text in Senzar. In 1891 she contracted the flu virus (that of the 1889-1890 pandemic) and died in May of the same year. Her body was cremated. At the time of her death, and thanks to her charismatic leadership, the number of members of the theosophical movement was estimated at around 100,000.
In 1890 Blavatsky moved into the home of Annie Besant, a British activist, writer and philanthropist, who later ran the Blavatsky Lodge. There she wrote her latest works: The Key to Theosophy, The Voice of Silence and a devotional text, The Book of Golden Precepts, based – in her opinion – on a text in Senzar. In 1891 she contracted the flu virus (that of the 1889-1890 pandemic) and died in May of the same year; her body was cremated. At the time of her death, and thanks to her charismatic leadership, the number of members of the theosophical movement was estimated at around 100,000.
- A Modern Panarion – A collection of fugitive fragments
- An abridgment by Katharine Hillard of the secret doctrine – A synthesis of science, religion and philosophy
- Ancient Egyptian Magic
- An Introduction to Theosophy
- Black Magic in Science
- Buddhism, Christianity and Phallacism
- Collected Writings
- From the Caves and Jungles of Hindostan
- Isis Unveiled – A master-key to the mysteries of ancient and modern science and theology
- Nightmare Tales
- The Key to Theosophy – Being a clear exposition, in the form of question and answer, of the ethics, science, and philosophy, for the study of which the Theosophical Society has been founded
- The Secret Doctrine – The synthesis of science, religion and philosophy
- The Theosophical Glossary
- The Voice of the Silence – Being chosen fragments from the “Book of Golden Precepts” for the daily use of disciples