Elena Petrovna Gan
(Елена Петровна Ган, also Hélène, 12 August
, Russian Empire
— May 8, 1891, London
), better known as Helena Blavatsky
(Елена Блаватская) or Madame Blavatsky
, born Helena von Hahn
, was a founder of Theosophy
and the Theosophical Society
Her parents were Colonel Pyotr Alekseyevich Gan (Пётр Алексеевич Ган) or Peter von Hahn (1798-1873) of ancient (Uradel) German nobility from Basedow
) — and Elena Andreyevna Fadeyeva (Елена Андреевна Фадеева, 1814-1843), the author, under the pen-name "Zeneida R-va", of a dozen novels. Described by Belinsky
as the "Russian George Sand
", she died at the age of 28, when Helena was eleven. Helena's sister Vera Zhelikhovsky
was a writer of occult/ fantastic
fiction. Sergei Witte
- Russian Minister, and then Prime Minister in the reign of Tsar Nicholas II
- was her first cousin. In his memoirs, Count Witte recalls his encounters with Elena.
Elena's maternal grandparents were Andrey Mikhailovich Fadeyev, Governor of Saratov, later of Tbilisi, and his wife Helene (née Princess Dolgoruky) - prominent figures of the age of Russian enlightenment. Elena grew up amid a culture rich in spirituality and traditional Russian mythologies, which introduced her to the realm of the supernatural.
Elena's great-grand nephew Boris de Zirkoff (Борис Цирков, 1902-1981) was an active member of the Theosophical Society and editor of the Blavatsky Collected Writings; her great-grand niece, also Elena (b. 1935), lives in Moscow - her resemblance to HPB is striking.
She was married four weeks before she turned seventeen, on July 7
, to the forty-year old Nikifor (also Nicephor) Vassilievich Blavatsky
, vice-governor of Erivan
. After three unhappy months, she stole a horse and escaped back over the mountains to her grandfather in Tbilisi. 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 Istanbul
. According to her account, they never consummated their marriage, and she remained a virgin her entire life.
According to her own story as told to a later biographer, she spent the years 1848 to 1858 traveling the world, and is said to have visited Egypt
, South America
and especially Tibet
to study for two years with the men she called Brothers. She claimed to have become Buddhist
while in Sri Lanka
and to have been initiated in Tibet. 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.
About this time, she met and left with Agardi Metrovich, an Italian opera
singer. 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.
Another unfounded account is that while in Cairo she formed the Société Spirité for occult phenomena with Emma Cutting (later Emma Coulomb), which is said to have closed after dissatisfied customers complained of fraudulent activities.
To New York
It was in 1873 that she emigrated to New York City
. Impressing people with her psychic
abilities, she was spurred on to continue her mediumship. Mediumship (among other psychical and spiritual sciences of the time), based upon the quasi-religion known as Spiritualism
having began at Rochester, NY
, was a widely popular and fast-spreading field upon which Blavatsky based her career.
Throughout her career she claimed to have demonstrated physical and mental psychic feats which included levitation, clairvoyance, out-of-body projection, telepathy, and clairaudience. Another claim of hers was materialization, that is, producing physical objects out of nothing, though in general, her interests were more in the area of 'theory' and 'laws' rather than demonstration.
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 working together in the "Lamasery" (alternate spelling: "Lamastery") where her book Isis Unveiled was written.
She married her second husband, Michael C. Betanelly on April 3, 1875 in New York City. 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
Living in New York City, she founded the Theosophical Society in September 1875, with Henry Steel Olcott, William Quan Judge and others. Madame Blavatsky wrote that all religions were both true in their inner teachings and problematic or imperfect in their external conventional manifestations. Her writings connecting esoteric spiritual knowledge 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.
She also lived in Philadelphia for part of 1875, where she resided at 3420 Sansom Street, now home of the White Dog Cafe. While living on Sansom Street, Madame Blavatsky became ill with an infected leg. She claimed to have undergone a "transformation" during her illness which inspired her to found the Theosophical Society. In a letter dated June 12, 1875, she described her recovery, explaining that she dismissed the doctors and surgeons who threatened amputation. She is quoted as saying "Fancy my leg going to the spirit land before me!," and had a white dog sleep across her leg by night.
She had moved to India, landing at Bombay on 16 February 1879, where she first made the acquaintance 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 December 1880, while at a dinner party with a group including A.O. Hume and his wife, she is claimed 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 Chennai, India (then known as Madras).
The society headquartered here for some time, but she later went to Germany for a while, in between she stayed at Ostend (15 July 1886 - 1 May 1887) where she could easily meet her English friends. She wrote a big part of the Secret Doctrine in Ostend and there she claimed a revelation during an illness telling her to continue the book at any cost. Finally she went 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.
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, and complications from influenza, Madame Helena Petrovna Blavatsky died at 19 Avenue Road, St Johns Wood, 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 protégé, Annie Besant. Her friend, W.Q. Judge, headed the American Section.
Blavatsky was influenced by the following authors:
Blavatsky's works have shown their influence on the following leaders, thinkers, authors, artists and musicians:
Her books included
Her many articles have been collected in the Collected Writings of H. P. Blavatsky. This series has 15 numbered volumes including the index.
Books about her
- Helena Blavatsky. Edited and introduced by Nicholas Goodrick-Clarke. Western Esoteric Masters Series. North Atlantic Books, Berkeley 2006.
- The Esoteric World of Madame Blavatsky by Daniel Caldwell ISBN 0-8356-0794-1
- HPB: The Extraordinary Life and Influence of Helena Blavatsky by Sylvia Cranston, G. P. Putnam's Sons, 1993. ISBN 0-9662115-1-0
- Theosophy: History of a pseudo-religion, by René Guénon
- H. P. Blavatsky and the SPR by Vernon Harrison
- Blavatsky and The Secret Doctrine by Max Heindel (1933; from Max Heindel writings & with introduction by Manly Palmer Hall)
- "Madame Blavastky, Medium and Magician", John Symonds, Odhams, 1959.
- "Madame Blavatsky: The Woman Behind the Myth" by Marion Meade ISBN 0399123768
- H. P. Blavatsky and the Theosophical Movement by Charles Ryan ISBN 0-911500-80-4
- Critique of Williams' book by Walter A. Carrithers, Jr
- Bleiler, Everett The Checklist of Fantastic Literature. Chicago: Shasta Publishers.
- Biographies / Biographical Studies on and about H. P. Blavatsky
- "Once Upon a Banana Peel" By Jethroe Qwertyuiop, Alfred A Knopf, 1994 0-1234-7689-9