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Helena Blavatsky was an intriguing woman from the country of Ukraine. She could be considered a nomad for her time; however, she was not interested in finding food and shelter. Helena wanted to find those who were considered spiritualists like herself. She lived from 1831-1891 and can be considered a very influential woman from her era.
Helena Petrovna Blavatsky was born August 12, 1831 in Dnepropetrovsk, Ukraine. Her father was Colonel Peter von Hahn and her mother was Helena Andreyevna von Hahn. Colonel von Hahn was a military man fighting in Poland when Helena was born. Her mother, often hurt by her husband’s absence and wrote about the turmoil of being a woman in her time. She published 8 novels by the time she faced an untimely death at the age of 27 as a highly regarded novelist. Helena’s mother knew from the time she was born that she was no average child. (3, 4, 5, 6)
When Helena was born she was very weak and the people around doubted she would even live. Therefore, before the baby was even 24 hours old a baptism was held. Helena’s aunt, a young child, was asked to stand in as a godmother. During the ceremony, the child became restless and knocked over a candle without anyone noticing. The priest performing the baptism suffered severe burns when his robe caught fire. The people at Helena’s baptism saw this as a sign. She was nicknamed Lyola because her grandparents and servants thought she had powers. (6)
As a child, she had great passion for magic and the unknown. She was often found playing by the river in Ekaterinoslav. She said she was playing with the russalkas whom were green haired nymphs thought to haunt the riverbanks. When servants and other children bothered her, she threatened to have the russalkas tickle them to death. (2)
While Helena, her mother, sister, and brother traveled a lot due to her father’s military position, Helena was always happiest playing with the servants’ children and not the children of her rank and aristocracy.
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In 1849, at the young age of 17, she married Nikifor Blavatsky who she referred to as being ancient and the age of 70. In reality, he was around the age of 40. Blavatsky Brooch (2) Helena saw marriage as an escape to freedom, something she yearned for as a child. After only three weeks of marriage, she was able to escape her unhappiness and begin her travels. She spent time in Central Asia, India, South America, Africa, Europe, and the United States. (4, 6) Picture of Helena (4)
In 1851 during her travels, Helena met her master in London while she was with her father. He was a tall Hindu man, who resembled someone she had always seen standing by her side when she needed help. Her master instructed her she was to start the Theosophical Society and gave her hints on the troubles she might encounter. He informed her that she would first need to study in Tibet. (2, 4) Picture of Helena with her alleged masters (2)
Helena made several attempts to enter Tibet, but was unable to stay for a period long enough to study; therefore, she continued her travels. In late 1861 or early 1862, she gave birth to a son, who no one would father because of her acts of adultery. She had reencountered her husband as well as two other lovers, Nicholas Meyendorff and Agardi Metrovich. She named her son Yuri and suffered from postpartum dual personality. Yuri was a sick child, but out of love Helena tried to get him help in Bologna with the aid of Metrovich. Despite the attempts to help Yuri, he died at age five and was buried. (2,4)
In 1864, Helena was able to spend three years in Tibet and study with Master Morya. After studying she continued her travels to disperse her spiritualist ideals, but heard of the phenomena of spreading spiritualism in the United States. Therefore, in 1873, she set out for America. Initially, she lived in New York in home for women while she tried to sell her designs. While her designs were good, Helena was not a good seller and was forced to live mostly off of money sent from her Russian relatives. In the women’s home she told stories and held séances for the individuals who liked her. (2)
It was in Vermont that Helena met Henry Steele Olcott who would eventually help her achieve her ultimate goals. Olcott did not consider himself a spiritualist, but was interested in Helena’s ideas. Together they held séances and Helena translated his books into Russian. In 1875, after the failure of the Miracle Club, they founded the Theosophical Society and Helena married Michael Betanelly. Betanelly married her on the conditions that she owed him no marital privileges, although it is uncertain that this relationship was not physical. The Theosophical Society had a secrecy policy and the members signed FTS (Fellow, Theosophical Society) after their name. The society’s direction claimed to be taken from the secret letters of the Mahatmas, Masters of Wisdom. Individuals often claimed that Helena wrote these letters herself. (2, 3)
During Helena’s stay in America she published her first book, Isis Unveiled, which revealed the concepts and knowledge of the Mahatmas. In 1978, Helena was the first Russian woman to gain U.S. citizenship and took that opportunity to travel with Olcott to India to revive the societies studies of Hindu and Buddha religions. The society gained a lot of support in India. Therefore, the Theosophical Society’s headquarters were moved to Adyar, where Helena built a shrine for the Mahatmas. (1, 2, 3)
Helena continued to tour Europe to spread the ideas of the Theosophical Society. In 1885, she settled in Germany due to illness and wrote her second book The Secret Doctrine with the aid of Constance Wachmeister. (2) The Secret Doctrine is said to be her best work. (1) Prior to here death in 1891, she established European headquarters for the Theosophy Society and published two other books: The Key to Theosophy and The Voice of Silence. (1, 2, 5) When Helena died on May 8, 1891 in Surrey, England she was cremated. (5) Helena as an author (1)
Although Helena lived a short life, she had many accomplishments throughout her travels. As the founder of the Theosophy Society and the author of four books, I would say she was quite the influential person of her time.
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2. “Helena Petrovna Blavatsky.” www.crystalinks.com/blavatsky.html. March 21, 2005.
3. Cranston, Sylvia. HPB: The Extraordinary Life of Helena Blavatsky, Founder of the
Modern Theosophical Movement. New York: G.P. Putnam’s Sons Publishing, 1993.
4. “Life of Elena Petrovna Blavatskaya.” http://sangha.net/agni-yoga/hpbio.htm. March
5. “Madame Blavatsky – Who Was She?”
2Fwww.blavatsky.net%2Fintro%2FMadame_Blavatsky.htm. March 2, 2005.
6. Murphet, Howard. When Daylight Comes: A Bibliography of Helena Petrovna
Blavatsky. Illinois: The Theosophical Publishing House, 1975.