Tuesday, 24 January 2012
Madame H.P. Blavatsky
"There is no religion higher than truth " - Theosophical Society Motto
Helena Petrovna Blavatsky was born to a noble Russian family in 1831 in the Ukraine, a highly supersititious people. During her childhood family moved frequently, and she continued this wanderlust all her life, travelling all over the world. Her mother was a well-known writer, her father an officer in the horse-artillery. Her grandmother spoke five languages and had corresponded with some of Europe's eminent natural scientists.
Madame Blavatsky, as she would become to be known, was the founder of the Theosophical Society and controvercial pioneer is eastern mysticism, opening up a whole new branch of esoteric study to the world. Theosophy is the word she uses to describe "Divine Knowledge".
She was a gifted child, though something of the enfant terrible, preferring to spend time with the children of the domestic servants, rather than those of her own social class, and conversing with nature spirits. After the death of her mother, the family moved to a house that contained her grandmother's library - a place that Helena spent a lot of time. As well as receiving an excellent education, it was here that she developed her interest in medieval occultism.
In 1949, Helena married a much older man, Vice-governor of Yerevan, Nikifor Vladimirovich Blavatsky. This was no love match, merely a stepping stone towards her own independence. Almost as soon as the marriage took place, Helena left her husband, returned to her relatives, and embarked on her life-long world travels: Constantinople, Egypt Greece and Eastern Europe. During this time she learned to play the piano, taught by I. Mosheles, a famous composer and pianist. She even toured internationally, performing at concerts.
It was during one such tour, in London, that the she first mentions meeting her "Teacher", an Eastern Initiate, the Mahatma Morya. She had seen her Teacher many times, but usually in her dreams. It was her Teacher that guided her travels, bringing her into contact with the people from which she could learn. In Hyde Park, on her birthday in 1851, she had met and talked with her Teacher, who had informed that that she would go to Tibet for three years and study there.
She travelled to India via Canada and Central and South America, staying in the country for two years. Every month she said that she received instuctions and money from her unknown sponsor. She attempted to pass into Tibet at the end of this time, but a British representative prevented her. It was extremely rare at this time for any Westerner to gain entry to Tibet.
Helena returned to England, there she again met with her Teacher, before sailing for the United States. She travelled across the States, through the Rockies she accompanied a settler caravan. She continued her travels across the Pacific to the Far East, and again returned to India via Japan and Singapore.
In later years she would publish an account of her travels in India with her Teacher, the book, "From caves and jungles of Hindustan", a collection of essays, which she published under the pen name of Radda-Bay. In 1857 she repeatedly tried to cross into Tibet, until shortly before the Mutiny, where she was instructed by her Teacher to return Madras and thence to Java and Europe.
1859 brought illness to Helena, which lasted some months. Once she was stronger again, she was travelling once again, through Eastern Europe, the Middle East and southern Europe. She was present and an active participant at the Battle of Mentana in Italy. She received a broken hand from a sabre and two separate shrapnel wounds.
After recovering from her injuries, she once again travelled eastwards, finally succeeding in getting to Tibet. When questioned about why it had to be Tibet, she replied
"Really, it is quite useless to go to Tibet or India to recover some knowledge or power that are hidden in any human soul; but acquisition of higher knowledge and power requires not only many years of intensive studying under the guidance of higher mind together with a resolution that cannot be shaken by any danger, and as much as years of relative solitude, in communication with disciples only which pursue the same aim, and in such a place where both the nature and the neophyte preserve a perfect and unbroken rest if not the silence! There the air is not poisoned by miasmas around a hundreds miles, and there the atmosphere and human magnetism are quite clear and there the animal’s blood is never shed."
Here in Tibet, she spent several years in tutilage with the Buddhist masters, without doubt she was initiated into the deeper levels of the teachings. Nearly three years later she began her travelling again.
She was shipwrecked in 1871 off the island of Spetsai, in the Mediterranean, when the powder magazine of the ship she travelled in exploded. She survived, 30 of her fellow shipmates were killed, her belongings and money were lost. She made her way to Cairo, where she founded a Spiritualistic Society along with Emma Cutting, a woman who would reappear in India years later as Emma Coulomb. The Society in Cairo was forced to close after a financial scandal, and later Emma Coulomb would seriously undermine Helena's reputation.
Helena once again travelled north, around the Mediterranean countries, before coming to Paris. Here she purchased a ticket to New York. Here it is rumoured that on meeting a lone woman with two children who could not afford the fare, she herself exchanged her first class ticket for four third class ones. Thus she travelled to America in the not so comfortable steerage.
In 1873 in the USA, she met Colonel Henry Steel Olcott. Together they founded the Theosophical Society in 1875 in New York. The objectives written down then are the same objectives in use to this very day:
1. to form a nucleus of the Universal Brotherhood of Humanity, without distinction of race, creed, sex, caste or color.
2. to encourage the study of Comparative Religion, Philosophy and Science.
3. to investigate unexplained laws of Nature, and the powers latent in man.
She married a Georgian in America, but the marriage only lasted a few months. She published the first of her seminal works in 1877, "Isis Unveiled". The first thousand copies of the first print were sold out within ten days.
She became an American citizen in 1878, and within a year, she and Olcott left for India. Here she founded the headquarters of the Theosophical Society near Madras. It was during this time that her previous acquaintance from Cairo reappeared, Emma Coulomb. She and her husband were employed by Helena, They were later accused of fraudulent behaviour and asked to leave. In revenge, the Coulombs engineered evidence apparently proving Helena a fraud. This unfortunately coincided with an investigation by one Richard Hodgson, employed by the Society of Psychical Research, who unsurprisingly wrote an extremely unfavourable report. A modern investigation into the charges against Madame Blavastsky, again conducted by the SPR, have found the Hodgson Report to be "biased, unscientific and completely unconvincing".
She remained in India until 1885, moving to Europe due to ill health, and then London. During the years 1878 to 1888 she was the editor of the Theosophist Magazine. Once in London she busied herself in writing, three of her influential works, "The Secret Doctrine” (1888), "The Voice of the Silence” (1889)and “The Key to Theosophy” (1889), publised in quick succession. Helena died after a bout of influenza in 1891 at her home in London.
There are many differing opinions as to whether Madame Blavatsky was a true visionary or whether she was merely a skilled fraudster, as with any controvercial subject facts can be provided to prove either case, and as such an influential character, she will have attracted her fair share of critics. She claimed to have psychic powers, and performed many acts of magic throughout her career. There are many texts attempting to prove her guilt or innocence, controversy was to plague her within her lifetime, many claims of fraud laid before her, but none that her charm and force of personality could not weather in her favour.
What cannot be denied is that her work was of incredible importance to the New Age movement. She may have prempted the coming change and shift towards spiritualism, or, indeed, she may have hastened its arrival, influencing the formation of such societies as the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn. Whatever your opinion, she has certainly inspired a whole movement, and synthesising the hidden esoteric mysteries of the east with the scientific knowledge of the west, laying down the spritualist concepts that we now are all familiar with, and even some scientific ones that were unheard of in her day - the splitting of the atom.
* Blavatsky, H P (1877), Isis unveiled, J.W. Bouton, OCLC 7211493
* Blavatsky, H P (1880), From the Caves and Jungles of Hindostan, Floating Press, ISBN 1775416038
* Blavatsky, H P (1888), The Secret Doctrine, Theosophical Publ. Co, OCLC 61915001
* Blavatsky, H P (1933) , The Voice of the Silence, Theosophy Co. (India) Ltd, OCLC 220858481
* Blavatsky, H P (1889), The key to theosophy, Theosophical Pub. Co, OCLC 612505
* Blavatsky, H P (1892), Nightmare tales, London, Theosophical publishing society, OCLC 454984121
* Blavatsky, H P; Neff, Mary Katherine (1937), Personal memoirs, London, OCLC 84938217
* Blavatsky, H P; Goodrick-Clarke, Nicholas (2004), Helena Blavatsky, Western esoteric masters series, North Atlantic Books, ISBN 9781556434570
Her many articles have been collected in the Collected Writings of H. P. Blavatsky. An alternative link is: collectedwritings.net This series has 15 numbered volumes including the index.