Helena Petrovna Blavatsky

Helena Petrovna Hahn (also Hélène) July 31, 1831 - May 8, 1891, better known as Helena Blavatsky (Russian: Елена Блаватская) or Madame Blavatsky, born Helena von Hahn, was a founder of the Theosophical Society.

Early years

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, of the Dolgorukov family and an amateur botanist. Helena 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 on a feudal estate, with never less than fifty servants.

First marriage

She was 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.)

Wandering years

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.

Agardi Metrovitch

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.
Mme. Blavatsky and Henry Steel Olcott, a lawyer, agricultural expert, and journalist who covered the Spiritualist phenomena.

To New York

It was in 1873 that she emigrated to New York City. Impressing people with her evident psychic abilities she was spurred on to continue her mediumship. Throughout her career she demonstrated physical and mental psychic feats which included levitation, clairvoyance, out-of-body projection, telepathy, and clairaudience. One new skill of hers was materialization, that is, producing physical objects out of nothing. Though she was apparently quite adept at these accomplishments, she claimed that her interests were more in the area of theory and laws of how they work rather than performing them herself.

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 United States.

Foundation of Theosophical Society

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.

To India

She had moved to India, landing at Bombay Feb 16 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.

Sometime around Dec 1880, while at a dinner party with a group including A.O. Hume and his wife, she is stated to have been instrumental in causing the materialization of Mrs Hume's lost brooch.

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 to England.

A disciple put her up in her own house in England and it was here that she lived until the end of her life.

Final years

In August, 1890 she formed the "Inner Circle" of 12 disciples: "Countess Constance Wachtmeister, Mrs Isabel Cooper-Oakley, Miss Emily Kislingbury, Miss Laura Cooper, Mrs Annie Besant, Mrs Alice Cleather, Dr Archibald Keightley, Herbert Coryn, Claude Wright, G.R.S. Mead, E.T. Sturdy, and Walter Old".

Suffering from heart disease, rheumatism, Bright's disease of the kidneys, and complications from influenza, Madame Helena Petrovna Blavatsky died at 19 Avenue Road, St Johns Wood, London the home she shared, in England on May 8, 1891.

Her last words in regard to her work were: "Keep the link unbroken! Do not let my last incarnation be a failure."

Her body was 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, W.Q. Judge, headed the American Section.