Helena Blavatsky Biography

Helena Petrovna Blavatsky, a nineteenth century Russian occultist, philosopher, and author, is best known as a cofounder of the Theosophical Society. Born into an aristocrat German-Russian family, she displayed psychic abilities from a young age, often experiencing hallucinatory visions and writing messages in unfamiliar handwriting. In addition to her mystical talents, Blavatsky was a talented linguist, pianist, and artist, as well as a fearless rider who had a deep love for nature. After a brief and unconsummated marriage, she embarked on a journey that took her to various parts of the world, including India and Tibet, where she received occult training. At the age of forty-four, she established the Theosophical Society and later became a naturalized US citizen at forty-seven. Despite gaining recognition for her work in India, Blavatsky’s declining health led her to return to Europe, where she spent her final years in London before passing away at the age of fifty-nine.

Quick Facts

  • Also Known As: Helena Petrovna Blavatsky, Yelena Petrovna von Hahn
  • Died At Age: 59
  • Family:
    • Spouse/Ex-: Nikifor Blavatsky, Michael C. Betanelly (m. 1875–1878)
    • Father: Peter Hahn
    • Mother: Yelena von Hahn
  • Born Country: Ukraine
  • Writers
  • Philosophers
  • Died on: May 8, 1891
  • Place of Death: London, England, United Kingdom
  • Ancestry: German Russian
  • Cause of Death: Influenza Epidemic
  • City: Dnipro, Ukraine
  • Founder/Co-Founder: Theosophical Society, Theosophical Society of New York, Theosophical Society in America, Theosophical Society Pasadena, Theosophical Society of the Arya Samaj

Childhood & Early Years

Helena Petrovna Blavatsky was born on 12 August (O.S. 31 July), 1831, in Yekaterinoslav, Ukraine. Her father, Pyotr Alexeyevich von Hahn, was a captain in the Russian Royal Artillery, and her mother, Helena Andreyevna von Hahn, was a noted author. Helena was the eldest of four children and had two brothers and a sister. She also had a half-sister from her father’s second marriage.

Helena spent her early childhood in various military camps due to her father’s military service. However, in 1837, she went to live with her maternal grandparents in Astrakhan, where she had a significant encounter with a Kalmyk leader who practiced Tibetan Buddhism. This meeting had a profound impact on her at a young age.

After her mother’s death in 1842, Helena and her sister were sent to be raised by their maternal grandparents in Saratov. It was during this time that Helena had many paranormal experiences and discovered her great-grandfather’s library of esoteric books, which she began reading.

Marriage & Travels

At the age of seventeen, Helena married Nikifor Blavatsky, a man in his forties. However, the marriage did not last long, and she left her husband’s home to return to her grandparents. She embarked on a long journey, traveling to various countries such as Egypt, Eastern Europe, Greece, and Paris. In London, she met the “mysterious Indian” she had seen in a psychic vision years ago and accepted him as her guru. He instructed her to visit Tibet.

Following her guru’s instructions, Helena embarked on another journey, traveling to India via Canada, the USA, West Indies, and Ceylon. She spent two years in India but was unable to enter Tibet due to British restrictions. She returned to Europe and then set off for India again, this time traveling through the USA and Japan. In India, she spent time in Kashmir and Ladakh before successfully entering Tibet, where she underwent occult training with her masters. She returned to Russia in 1858.

In 1868, Helena returned to Tibet accompanied by her guru. She stayed in Little Tibet, studying scriptures and undergoing further training until 1870. She then returned to Europe via the Middle East and Egypt.

Life in USA

In 1873, Helena Blavatsky arrived in the USA and met Henry Steel Olcott, with whom she wrote articles on spiritualism. She began receiving telepathic communication from the Brotherhood of Luxor, which guided her teachings. In collaboration with Olcott and William Judge, she established the Theosophical Society in 1875. The society grew rapidly, with branches opening worldwide.

In 1877, Helena published her first book, “Isis Unveiled: A Master-Key to the Mysteries of Ancient and Modern Science and Theology.” However, the society failed to attract many followers initially. In 1878, she and Olcott moved to India, where they established the headquarters of the Theosophical Society in Adyar, near Madras.

Last Years

In 1884, Helena returned to Europe but faced accusations of creating fictitious spiritualist phenomena. She promptly returned to India, where she received a warm reception and increased her following. By 1885, the Theosophical Society had grown rapidly, with branches worldwide. However, her health began to decline, and she left for Europe in 1885.

Despite being wheelchair-bound, Helena continued to travel and establish Theosophical Society branches across Europe. In 1888, she established the Esoteric Section of the Theosophical Society and wrote her three “E. S. Instructions.” She also established the European Headquarters of the Theosophical Society in London in 1890.

Major Works

Helena Blavatsky is best known as the founder of “Theosophy,” a philosophy that draws from European and Asian religious traditions. She wrote several books, including her most famous work, “The Secret Doctrine, the Synthesis of Science, Religion and Philosophy,” published in 1888.

Family & Personal Life

Helena married Nikifor Vassilievitch Blavatsky in 1849, but the marriage was never consummated, and she left him after three months. She later married Michael C. Betanelly in 1875, but this marriage was also not consummated, and they divorced in 1878.

In the winter of 1890-91, Helena contracted influenza, which led to her death on 8 May 1891. Her followers commemorate this day as White Lotus Day.

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