Birthday: August 12, 1831
Nationality: American, Russian
Died At Age: 59
Sun Sign: Leo
Also Known As: Helena Petrovna Blavatsky, Yelena Petrovna von Hahn
Born Country: Russia
Born in: Yekaterinoslav, Russian Empire (now Ukraine)
Famous as: Philosopher
Spouse/Ex-: Nikifor Blavatsky, Michael C. Betanelly (m. 1875–1878)
father: Peter Hahn
mother: Yelena von Hahn
Died on: May 8, 1891
place of death: London, United Kingdom
Cause of Death: Flu
Founder/Co-Founder: Theosophical Society, Theosophical Society of New York, Theosophical Society in America, Theosophical Society Pasadena, Theosophical Society of the Arya Samaj
Who was Helena Blavatsky?
Helena Petrovna Blavatsky was a nineteenth century Russian occultist, philosopher and author. Best known as a cofounder of the Theosophical Society, she was born into an aristocrat German-Russian family. From her early childhood, she showed some kind of psychic power, very often experiencing hallucinatory visions, occasionally writing messages in handwritings that were not her own. Moreover, she was a clever linguist, a gifted pianist and a great artist. Also a fearless rider, she rode half-broken horses with ease and loved nature. At eighteen, after a short unconsummated marriage, she left home, traveling far and wide for many years, reaching India and then Tibet, where she underwent occult training, eventually founding the Theosophical Society at the age of forty-four and becoming a naturalized US citizen at the age of forty-seven. Thereafter, she returned to India, where her work gained recognition. Later, she returned to Europe due to ill-health, spending the last few years of her life in London, where she died at the age of fifty-nine.
Childhood & Early Years
Helena Petrovna Blavatsky was born as Yelena Petrovna von Hahn on 12 August (O.S. 31 July), 1831, in her maternal grandparents’ home in Yekaterinoslav, now in Ukraine. At the time of her birth, her father Pyotr Alexeyevich von Hahn was a captain in the Russian Royal Artillery. Her mother Helena Andreyevna von Hahn (née Fadeyeva) is remembered as a noted author.
Born the eldest of her parents’ four children, she had two brothers named Sasha (died in infancy) and Leonid and a sister named Vera. From her father’s second marriage, she also had a half-sister called Liza.
Because of her father’s military service, Helena spent her early childhood in various military camps. However, in 1837, she went to live with her maternal grandparents at Astrakhan, where she met a Kalmyk leader who practiced Tibetan Buddhism. Although she was very young, the meeting had a great impact on her.
Her mother died in 1842. Thereafter, Helena and her sister were sent to be raised by their maternal grandparents in Saratov. Here, she had many paranormal experiences, including a vision of a “mysterious Indian”. She also discovered her great-grandfather's library of esoteric books and began reading them.
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Marriage & Travels
On 7 July 1849, not yet eighteen, Helena married Nikifor Blavatsky, a man in his forties. Within three months, she left her husband’s home to return to her grandparents’. Later, as she was traveling by ship to meet her father, she escaped, eventually reaching Constantinople, thereafter setting off on a long journey.
In 1851, after visiting Egypt, Eastern Europe, Greece and Paris, she reached London, where she met the “mysterious Indian” she had seen in a psychic vision many years ago and accepted him as her “Guru.” Master Morya, as he was known, told her that she must visit Tibet.
In the autumn of 1851, on Morya’s instruction, she set out on another long journey, traveling to India via Canada, USA, West Indies and Ceylon. She spent two years in India, but was prevented from entering Tibet by the British. Thereafter, she left for Europe, returning to London in 1854.
In 1855, she once again set off for India, this time traveling through USA and Japan. In India, she spent some time in Kashmir and Ladakh, before successfully entering Tibet, where she underwent occult training with her masters and returned to Russia in the fall of 1858.
In 1868, she returned to Tibet via India, accompanied in this journey by Master Morya. This time, she stayed in the house of Master Koot Hoomi in Little Tibet, studying scriptures with him and undergoing further training till 1870. Thereafter, she returned to Europe via Middle East and Egypt.
Life in USA
In 1873, Helena Blavatsky set sail for USA, reaching New York City on 8 July. There in 1874, she met Henry Steel Olcott, with whom she wrote articles on spiritualism. Soon, she began communicating telepathically with the learned members of the Brotherhood of Luxor, receiving guidance from them.
On September 8, 1875, based on the teachings she received from the Brotherhood, Blavatsky in collaboration with Olcott and William Judge established the Theosophical Society. It was inaugurated on November 17, 1875, which is now considered the organization's official founding date.
In 1877, she published her first book, ‘Isis Unveiled: A Master-Key to the Mysteries of Ancient and Modern Science and Theology’. Although the book attracted attention, the society she established failed to draw many people.
In December 1878, Blavatsky and Olcott moved to India, where they traveled intensively, meeting both Indians and the British, eventually establishing the headquarters of the theosophical Society in Adyar, near Madras on December 19, 1882. Shortly, they also began publishing the society’s journal and opening branches in other places.
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In 1884, she returned to Europe and while she was there, she was accused of creating fictitious spiritualist phenomena by two of her disciples in India. On hearing this, she promptly returned to India, where she was met with enthusiastic reception, which in turn helped to increase her following.
By 1885, the Theosophical Society had grown rapidly, with 121 lodges being opened worldwide. More than a hundred of these were located in India, Myanmar and Sri Lanka. However, her health had begun to fail by then. Therefore, in March 1885, she left for Europe, settling down in Naples by April.
In December 1885, London-based Society for Psychical Research published a report, claiming that she was a Russian spy and that she faked her supernatural phenomena. Although she wanted to sue the SPR, she refrained from doing so on the advice of Olcott.
By 1886, she was largely wheelchair-bound and yet she traveled to Belgium, where she met Theosophists from across Europe. Thereafter in May 1887, she traveled to London on the invitation of the members of London Lodge, shortly establishing The Blavatsky Lodge of the Theosophical Society.
In October 1888, she established the Esoteric Section of the Theosophical Society, a school dedicated to the study of the Esoteric Philosophy, and also wrote her three “E. S. Instructions.” In July 1890, she established the European Headquarters of the Theosophical Society in London.
Helena Blavatsky is best known as the founder of “Theosophy,” a philosophy that draws as much upon older European thoughts like Neoplatonism as from Asian religions like Hinduism and Buddhism. A prolific writer, she is equally known for her second book, ‘The Secret Doctrine, the Synthesis of Science, Religion and Philosophy’, published in 1888.
Family & Personal Life
On July 7, 1849, Blavatsky married Nikifor Vassilievitch Blavatsky, a highly placed Russian official. However, the marriage was never consummated and she left him after three months. Later in 1858, she returned to live with him for a short while before leaving again.
On April 3, 1875, she married Michael C. Betanelly, a Georgian-American, without actually divorcing her first husband. This marriage was also not consummated and they divorced on May 25, 1878.
In the winter of 1890-91, while living in London, she was infected with influenza virus, which led to her death on 8 May 1891. On 11 May, her mortal remains were cremated at Woking Crematorium, Woking.
Ever since her death, 8 May is commemorated by her followers as White Lotus Day.