Helena Blavatsky gained an international following as the leading theoretician of Theosophy.
129 Facts About Helena Blavatsky
Helena Blavatsky claimed that during this period she encountered a group of spiritual adepts, the "Masters of the Ancient Wisdom", who sent her to Shigatse, Tibet, where they trained her to develop a deeper understanding of the synthesis of religion, philosophy, and science.
In 1875, New York City, Helena Blavatsky co-founded the Theosophical Society with Olcott and William Quan Judge.
Helena Blavatsky was a controversial figure during her lifetime, championed by supporters as an enlightened Sage and derided as a charlatan by critics.
Helena Blavatsky's mother was Helena Andreyevna Hahn von Rottenstern, a self-educated 17-year-old who was the daughter of Princess Yelena Pavlovna Dolgorukaya, a similarly self-educated aristocrat.
Helena Blavatsky's father was Pyotr Alexeyevich Hahn von Rottenstern, a descendant of the German Hahn aristocratic family, who served as a captain in the Russian Royal Horse Artillery, and would later rise to the rank of colonel.
When Helena Blavatsky was two years old, her younger brother, Sasha, died in another army town when no medical help could be found.
Helena Blavatsky's mother liked the city, there establishing her own literary career, penning novels under the pseudonym of "Zenaida R-va" and translating the works of the English novelist Edward Bulwer-Lytton for Russian publication.
The Kalmyks were practitioners of Tibetan Buddhism, and it was here that Helena Blavatsky gained her first experience with the religion.
In 1838, Helena Blavatsky's mother moved with her daughters to be with her husband at Poltava, where she taught Helena Blavatsky how to play the piano and organized for her to take dance lessons.
The family proceeded to Poland and then back to Odessa, where Helena Blavatsky's mother died of tuberculosis in June 1842, aged 28.
The historian Richard Davenport-Hines described the young Helena Blavatsky as "a petted, wayward, invalid child" who was a "beguiling story-teller".
Helena Blavatsky was educated in French, art, and music, all subjects designed to enable her to find a husband.
Helena Blavatsky later stated that at this time of life she began to experience visions in which she encountered a "Mysterious Indian" man, and that in later life she would meet this man in the flesh.
However, some Helena Blavatsky biographers believe that this visit to Britain never took place, particularly as no mention of it is made in her sister's memoirs.
Helena Blavatsky claimed that here she established a friendship with Alexander Vladimirovich Golitsyn, a Russian Freemason and member of the Golitsyn family who encouraged her interest in esoteric matters.
Helena Blavatsky claimed that, fleeing her escorts and bribing the captain of the ship that had taken her to Kerch, she reached Constantinople.
Helena Blavatsky did not keep a diary at the time, and was not accompanied by relatives who could verify her activities.
Helena Blavatsky later claimed that in Constantinople she developed a friendship with a Hungarian opera singer named Agardi Metrovitch, whom she first encountered when saving him from being murdered.
Helena Blavatsky made her way to Asia via the Americas, heading to Canada in autumn 1851.
Helena Blavatsky then headed south, visiting New Orleans, Texas, Mexico, and the Andes, before transport via ship from the West Indies to Ceylon and then Bombay.
Helena Blavatsky spent two years in India, allegedly following the instructions found in letters that Morya had sent to her.
Helena Blavatsky attempted to enter Tibet, but was prevented from doing so by the British colonial administration.
Helena Blavatsky later claimed that she then headed back to Europe by ship, surviving a shipwreck near to the Cape of Good Hope before arriving in England in 1854, where she faced hostility as a Russian citizen due to the ongoing Crimean War between Britain and Russia.
Helena Blavatsky claimed that this time she was successful, entering Tibet in 1856 through Kashmir, accompanied by a Tartar shaman who was attempting to reach Siberia and who thought that as a Russian citizen, Blavatsky would be able to aid him in doing so.
Helena Blavatsky later claimed that there she began to exhibit further paranormal abilities, with rapping and creaking accompanying her around the house and furniture moving of its own volition.
In 1864, while riding in Mingrelia, Helena Blavatsky fell from her horse and was in a coma for several months with a spinal fracture.
Helena Blavatsky then proceeded to Italy, Transylvania, and Serbia, possibly studying the Cabalah with a rabbi at this point.
Helena Blavatsky claimed to have then received a message from Morya to travel to Constantinople, where he met her, and together they traveled overland to Tibet, going through Turkey, Persia, Afghanistan, and then into India, entering Tibet via Kashmir.
Helena Blavatsky claimed that in Tibet, she was taught an ancient, unknown language known as Senzar, and translated a number of ancient texts written in this language that were preserved by the monks of a monastery; she stated that she was not permitted entry into the monastery itself.
Helena Blavatsky claimed that while in Tibet, Morya and Koot Hoomi helped her develop and control her psychic powers.
Helena Blavatsky claimed to have remained on this spiritual retreat from late 1868 until late 1870.
Helena Blavatsky never claimed in print to have visited Lhasa, although this is a claim that would be made for her in various later sources, including the account provided by her sister.
Many critics and biographers have expressed doubt about the veracity of Helena Blavatsky's claims regarding her visits to Tibet, which rely entirely on her own claims, lacking any credible independent testimony.
Helena Blavatsky alleged that she departed Tibet with the mission of proving to the world that the phenomena identified by Spiritualists were objectively real, thus defending Spiritualism against accusations of fraud.
Helena Blavatsky proceeded via the Suez Canal to Greece, where she met with another of the Masters, Master Hilarion.
However, Helena Blavatsky believed that Cutting and many of the mediums employed by the society were fraudulent, and she closed it down after two weeks.
Helena Blavatsky was intrigued by a news story about William and Horatio Eddy, brothers based in Chittenden, Vermont, who it was claimed could levitate and manifest spiritual phenomena.
Helena Blavatsky visited Chittenden in October 1874, there meeting the reporter Henry Steel Olcott, who was investigating the brothers' claims for the Daily Graphic.
Helena Blavatsky helped attract greater attention to Blavatsky's claims, encouraging the Daily Graphics editor to publish an interview with her, and discussing her in his book on Spiritualism, People from the Other World, which her Russian correspondent Alexandr Aksakov urged her to translate into Russian.
Helena Blavatsky began to instruct Olcott in her own occult beliefs, and encouraged by her he became celibate, tee-totaling, and vegetarian, although she herself was unable to commit to the latter.
In January 1875 the duo visited the Spiritualist mediums Nelson and Jennie Owen in Philadelphia; the Owens asked Olcott to test them to prove that the phenomena that they produced were not fraudulent, and while Olcott believed them, Helena Blavatsky opined that they faked some of their phenomena in those instances when genuine phenomena failed to manifest.
Helena Blavatsky however insisted that Theosophy was not a religion in itself.
On foundation, Olcott was appointed chairman, with Judge as secretary, and Helena Blavatsky as corresponding secretary, although she remained the group's primary theoretician and leading figure.
In 1875, Helena Blavatsky began work on a book outlining her Theosophical worldview, much of which would be written during a stay in the Ithaca home of Hiram Corson, a Professor of English Literature at Cornell University.
In Isis Unveiled, Helena Blavatsky quoted extensively from other esoteric and religious texts, although her contemporary and colleague Olcott always maintained that she had quoted from books that she did not have access to.
Unhappy with life in the US, Helena Blavatsky decided to move to India, with Olcott agreeing to join her, securing work as a US trade representative to the country.
Hume was a guest at the Sinnett's home, and Helena Blavatsky was encouraged to manifest paranormal phenomena in their presence.
Sinnett was eager to contact the Masters himself, convincing Helena Blavatsky to facilitate this communication, resulting in the production of over 1400 pages allegedly authored by Koot Hoomi and Morya, which came to be known as the Mahatma Letters.
Sinnett summarised the teachings contained in these letters in his book Esoteric Buddhism, although scholars of Buddhism like Max Muller publicly highlighted that the contents were not Buddhist, and Helena Blavatsky herself disliked the misleading title.
Helena Blavatsky had been diagnosed with Bright's disease and hoping the weather to be more conducive to her condition she took up the offer of the Society's Madras Branch to move to their city.
However, in November 1882 the Society purchased an estate in Adyar, which became their permanent headquarters; a few rooms were set aside for Helena Blavatsky, who moved into them in December.
Helena Blavatsky continued to tour the subcontinent, claiming that she then spent time in Sikkim and Tibet, where she visited her teacher's ashram for several days.
In London, Blavatsky made contact with the Society for Psychical Research through Frederic W H Myers.
Helena Blavatsky complied with their request to undertake a study of her and the paranormal abilities that she claimed to possess, although wasn't impressed by the organization and mockingly referred to it as the "Spookical Research Society".
The society refused to pay them and expelled them from their premises, at which the couple turned to the Madras-based Christian College Magazine, who published an expose of Helena Blavatsky's alleged fraudulence using the Coulombs' claims as a basis.
Helena Blavatsky then moved to Wurzburg in the Kingdom of Bavaria, where she was visited by a Swedish Theosophist, the Countess Constance Wachtmeister, who became her constant companion throughout the rest of her life.
Helena Blavatsky wanted to sue her accusers, although Olcott advised against it, believing that the surrounding publicity would damage the Society.
In private letters, Helena Blavatsky expressed relief that the criticism was focused on her and that the identity of the Masters had not been publicly exposed.
In 1886, by which time she was using a wheelchair, Helena Blavatsky moved to Ostend in Belgium, where she was visited by Theosophists from across Europe.
Helena Blavatsky received messages from members of the Society's London Lodge who were dissatisfied with Sinnett's running of it; they believed that he was focusing on attaining upper-class support rather than encouraging the promotion of Theosophy throughout society, a criticism Blavatsky agreed with.
Helena Blavatsky arrived in London in May 1887, initially staying in the Upper Norwood home of Theosophist Mabel Collins.
Lodge meetings were held at the Keightels' house on Thursday nights, with Blavatsky greeting many visitors there, among them the occultist and poet W B Yeats.
Helena Blavatsky became an associate member of Blavatsky's Lodge in March 1891, and would emphasize the close connection between Theosophy and Hinduism throughout his life.
In 1888, Helena Blavatsky established the Esoteric Section of the Theosophical Society, a group under her complete control for which admittance was restricted to those who had passed certain tests.
Helena Blavatsky identified it as a place for "true Theosophists" who would focus on the system's philosophy rather than experiment with producing paranormal phenomena.
In London, Helena Blavatsky founded a magazine, controversially titling it Lucifer; in this Theosophical publication she sought to completely ignore claims regarding paranormal phenomena, and focus instead on a discussion of philosophical ideas.
Helena Blavatsky finished writing The Secret Doctrine, which was then edited by the Keightels.
Helena Blavatsky claimed that the book constituted her commentary on the Book of Dzyan, a religious text written in Senzar which she had been taught while studying in Tibet.
Helena Blavatsky discussed her views about the human being and their soul, thus dealing with issues surrounding an afterlife.
Helena Blavatsky appointed Besant to be the new head of the Blavatsky Lodge, and in July 1890 inaugurated the new European headquarters of the Theosophical Society in Besant's house.
Helena Blavatsky continued to face accusations of fraud; US newspaper The Sun published a July 1890 article based on information provided by an ex-member of the Society, Elliott Coues.
Helena Blavatsky sued the newspaper for libel, and they publicly retracted their accusations in September 1892.
That winter, Britain had been afflicted by an influenza epidemic, with Helena Blavatsky contracting the virus.
Helena Blavatsky talked incessantly in a guttural voice, sometimes wittily and sometimes crudely.
Helena Blavatsky was humorous, vulgar, impulsive and warm-hearted, and didn't give a hoot for anyone or anything.
Helena Blavatsky had distinctive azure-colored eyes, and was overweight throughout her life.
Helena Blavatsky was a heavy cigarette smoker throughout her life, and was known for smoking hashish at times.
Helena Blavatsky lived simply and her followers believed that she refused to accept monetary payment in return for disseminating her teachings.
Helena Blavatsky preferred to be known by the initialism "HPB", a sobriquet applied to her by many of her friends which was first developed by Olcott.
Helena Blavatsky avoided social functions and was scornful of social obligations.
Helena Blavatsky spoke Russian, Georgian, English, French, Italian, Arabic, and Sanskrit.
Meade believed that Helena Blavatsky perceived herself as a messianic figure whose purpose was to save the world by promoting Theosophy.
For Meade, Helena Blavatsky had a "vivid imagination" and a "propensity for lying".
The Indologist Alexander Senkevich stated that Helena Blavatsky's charisma exerted influence on Charles Massey and Stainton Moses.
Helena Blavatsky suggested that her "emotional fuel" was partly "a hatred of oppression", which Godwin claimed was either through the intellectual domination of Christianity or British colonial rule in India.
Conversely, Meade thought Helena Blavatsky to be "basically a non-political person".
Helena Blavatsky had good relations with certain liberal Protestants, nor did she offer much criticism of her natal Eastern Orthodoxy.
Helena Blavatsky claimed that these Theosophical doctrines were not her own invention, but had been received from a brotherhood of secretive spiritual adepts whom she referred to as the "Masters" or "Mahatmas".
Helena Blavatsky was the leading theoretician of the Theosophical Society, responsible for establishing its "doctrinal basis".
Helena Blavatsky subscribed to the anti-Christian current of thought within Western esotericism which emphasized the idea of an ancient and universal "occult science" that should be revived.
Helena Blavatsky stated that the Theosophical teachings were passed on to her by adepts, who lived in various parts of the world.
Fundamentally, the underlying concept behind Helena Blavatsky's Theosophy was that there was an "ancient wisdom religion" which had once been found across the world, and which was known to various ancient figures, such as the Greek philosopher Plato and the ancient Hindu sages.
Helena Blavatsky connected this ancient wisdom religion to Hermetic philosophy, a worldview in which everything in the universe is identified as an emanation from a Godhead.
Helena Blavatsky believed that all of the world's religions developed from this original global faith.
Helena Blavatsky understood her Theosophy to be the heir to the Neoplatonist philosophers of Late Antiquity, who had embraced Hermetic philosophy.
Helena Blavatsky claimed that due to Christianization in Europe, this magical tradition was lost there, but it persisted in modified form in India and Africa, promoting a self-consciously magical disenchantment narrative.
In turn, Helena Blavatsky believed that the Theosophical movement's revival of the "ancient wisdom religion" would lead to it spreading across the world, eclipsing the established world religions.
Helena Blavatsky argued that The Buddha had sought to return to the teachings of the Vedas, and that Buddhism therefore represented a more accurate survival of ancient Brahmanism than modern Hinduism.
Helena Blavatsky's writings garnered the materials of Neoplatonism, Renaissance magic, Kabbalah, and Freemasonry, together with ancient Egyptian and Greco-Roman mythology and religion, joined by Eastern doctrines taken from Buddhism and Advaita Vedanta to present the idea of an ancient wisdom handed down from prehistoric times.
Helena Blavatsky expounded what has been described as a "monotheistic, immanentist, and mystical cosmology".
Helena Blavatsky was a pantheist, and emphasized the idea of an impersonal divinity, referring to the Theosophical God as a "universal Divine Principle, the root of All, from which all proceeds, and within which all shall be absorbed at the end of the great cycle of being".
Helena Blavatsky advocated the idea of "Root Races", each of which was divided into seven Sub-Races.
The third lived on the continent of Lemuria, which Helena Blavatsky alleged survives today as Australia and Rapa Nui.
Helena Blavatsky claimed that some Atlanteans were giants and built such ancient monuments as Stonehenge in southern England and that they mated with "she-animals", resulting in the creation of gorillas and chimpanzees.
Helena Blavatsky believed that the fifth Race would come to be replaced by the sixth, which would be heralded by the arrival of Maitreya, a figure from Mahayana Buddhist mythology.
Helena Blavatsky further believed that humanity would eventually develop into the final, seventh Root Race.
Helena Blavatsky taught that humans composed of three separate parts: a divine spark, an astral fluid body, and the physical body.
In Isis Unveiled, Helena Blavatsky denied that humans would be reincarnated back on the Earth after physical death.
Helena Blavatsky believed that knowledge of karma would ensure that human beings lived according to moral principles, arguing that it provided a far greater basis for moral action than that of the Christian doctrine.
Helena Blavatsky wrote, in Isis Unveiled, that Spiritualism "alone offers a possible last refuge of compromise between" the "revealed religions and materialistic philosophies".
Washington suggested that Helena Blavatsky generated such controversy because she courted publicity without knowing how to manage it.
Eastern literature scholar Arthur Lillie published a list of extracts from mystic works next to extracts from Helena Blavatsky's writings purporting to show her extensive plagiarism in his book Madame Helena Blavatsky and her Theosophy.
Various biographers have noted that, by the late 20th and early 21st centuries, Helena Blavatsky was little-known among the general public.
Helena Blavatsky presented her book, The Voice of the Silence, to Leo Tolstoy.
Helena Blavatsky's writings have been translated and published in a wide range of European and Asian languages.
Helena Blavatsky's Theosophy redirected the interest in Spiritualism toward a more coherent doctrine that included cosmology with theory of evolution in an understanding of humanity's spiritual development.
Helena Blavatsky's Theosophy was able to appeal to women by de-emphasizing the importance of gender and allowing them to take on spiritual leadership equal to that of men, thus allowing them a greater role than that permitted in traditional Christianity.
Helena Blavatsky's Theosophy has been described as representing "a major factor in the modern revival" of Western esotericism.
For Johnson, Helena Blavatsky was "a central figure in the nineteenth-century occult revival".
Helena Blavatsky's published Theosophical ideas, particularly those regarding Root Races, have been cited as an influence on Ariosophy, the esoteric movement established in late 19th- and early 20th-century Germany and Austria by Guido von List and Jorg Lanz von Liebenfels.
Helena Blavatsky's Theosophy has been cited as an influence on the New Age Movement, an esoteric current that emerged in Western nations during the 1970s.
Hutton suggested that Helena Blavatsky had a greater impact in Asia than in the Western world.
Helena Blavatsky has been cited as having inspired Hindus to respect their own religious roots.
Meade stated that "more than any other single individual", Helena Blavatsky was responsible for bringing a knowledge of Eastern religion and philosophy to the West.
Helena Blavatsky believed that Indian religion offered answers to problems then facing Westerners; in particular, she believed that Indian religion contained an evolutionary cosmology which complemented Darwinian evolutionary theory, and that the Indian doctrine of reincarnation met many of the moral qualms surrounding vicarious atonement and eternal damnation that preoccupied 19th-century Westerners.
In doing so, Meade believed that Helena Blavatsky paved the way for the emergence of later movements such as the International Society for Krishna Consciousness, Transcendental Meditation movement, Zen Buddhism, and yoga in the West.
Hutton believed that the two greatest achievements of Helena Blavatsky's movement were in popularizing belief in reincarnation and in a singular divine world soul within the West.
Helena Blavatsky "both incorporated a number of the doctrines of eastern religions into her occultism, and interpreted eastern religions in the light of her occultism", in doing so extending a view of the "mystical East" that had already been popularized through Romanticist poetry.