The furor of interest in Spiritualism set off by the Fox sisters
H. P. Blavatsky was born in 1831, the daughter of a Russian colonel. Her early life reads remarkably like a tale from a cheap pulp narrative. After marrying a forty-year old man at the eager ripe age of sixteen, she swiftly deserted him, leaving the marriage unconsummated as she spun like a whirlwind through a series of odd jobs, including one as a bareback rider in a circus. There she apparently fell off a horse and damaged her womb and uterine canal which made sexual intercourse impossible.
found its philosophical outlet in the writings of an incredible woman, Madam Blavatsky.
She traveled extensively for the next twenty years or so throughout Europe, Mexico, America, Canada, and the Himalayan mountains. Another tragedy befell the future mystic in her fortieth year when the passenger ship she was sailing from Greece to Italy exploded and sank with only seventeen of the four hundred plus passengers surviving. In her accounts she described the awful scene, referring to the rain of body parts falling all around her as she struggled to swim for safety.
The years had matured the once delicate yet precocious virgin into an enormously stout woman who possessed great candor in speech, a speech nearly always punctuated with a resourceful, picturesque profanity quite uncommon to women of her era. She was a life-long chain-smoker, and occasionally pacified her bouts of raw nerves by inhaling marijuana, which was not illegal in those days.
Details of her earlier experiences dealing with the occult are sketchy at best, but in 1873 she returned to America, at the height of the spiritualist fad then sweeping the nation. Her knack for nosing out the best and the brightest in this latest surge of occult practitioners led her to a farm in northwest Vermont. The locally renowned Eddy brothers had been stirring things up lately with their demonstrations of flying furniture, musical spirits, and the like.
In 1875 she founded the Theosophical Society in New York City in collaboration with Henry Steele Olcott, a lawyer and writer
While at the farm she met Henry Steel Olcott, a quaint, serious-minded man who was immediately enchanted by Madame Blavatsky, and was to remain a lifelong friend and admirer, save for a few professional jealousies. Her explosive vitality made for irresistible copy and Olcott, among the many other newspaper correspondents eager to please an audience hungry for the bizarre tales of high seances and the active spirit world, made her a frequent subject for his articles.
She and Olcott were never linked romantically, although they traveled extensively and together founded the Theosophical Society in September, 1875, after they attended a lecture on the ascetic mathematical proportions of the pyramids and their use for the conjuring of spirits. Soon Mrs. Blavatsky was deeply involved in writing the great volumes upon which the foundation of the Society still rests.
Numerous commentators have remarked in awe of the extreme diligence with which she gave herself to the task of distilling what she called the true or secret doctrine of man's beginning and his ultimate fate. She wrote tirelessly in long hand, day after day, endlessly puffing on cigarette after cigarette, deep into the night. Frequently she copied from books held up to her by spirits who were said to be guiding her in this most necessary project of revealing the true essence of man's inner life.
Quick to claim that she was not channeling any new doctrine, she considered herself merely a vessel or medium for the assimilation of all the ancient ontological knowledge and wisdoms that have since been lost or buried within the profane interpretations of science and the revealed theology of the world's major religions.
Her books are an incredibly difficult read, scholarly in tenor, and filled with references to scriptures and secret writings of every contemporary culture, in addition to those now lost to archaeology and world catastrophe. Threaded within the fabric of the occultist's teachings are sweeping rebuttals of the many conflicting theories of scientific materialism. Mysteries of "dead-letter" theology are granted true interpretations, that is to say, given deeper resonance by unlocking the keys to the proper symbology, thus providing theosophists everywhere a sacred cure for the world's discouraging theological blindness.
Central to the "Secret Doctrine" is her teaching on root races. Ancient continents, lands, and peoples of Atlantis and Lemuria play pivotal roles in her eschatology as man struggles to evolve into the godlike creature he is destined to become. She taught that the current race of humanity is the Aryan race, the fifth incarnation of man. Her Aryan race is not to be confused with teachings of white supremacists, European in identity, but rather, her concept included the whole of the Indo-Eurasiastic races, including the African peoples.
Her definitive text "Isis Unveiled" was issued in two volumes in September, 1877, selling incredibly well from the outset.
The wide scope of Madame Blavatsky's enormous bulk of written work is best described as unprecedented. She did not learn English until late in life, prompting her work to be criticized harshly over the years for its defects of literary style and clarity. As stated before, she did not pretend that she was revealing some new revelation, but rather, she was merely shining a spotlight upon the great scriptures, whose true meaning had long suffered under veiled glyph and symbol.
Theosophical Society Convention, Bombay, 1881.
HP Blavatsky is standing behind Colonel Henry S. Olcott.
Damodar Mavalankar is to the left of Colonel Olcott.
Three years after they had organized the Theosophical Society, Madame Blavatsky decided interest in America was waning, so she and Henry Olcott shoved off to India. There they met a Hindu called Swami Dayananda Sarasvati, who subsequently found the Theosophists rather naive and too preoccupied with occult phenomena. But the swami's teachings were absorbed into the Blavatsky scheme, and her own fame in Asia began to grow.
Eventually, the three of them grew to mistrust each other. Olcott went astray and converted to Buddhism, later developing his own healing powers, and writings. The swami was furious with both of them, accusing them of charlatanism, and fought to disassociate his Arya Samaj movement from the Theosophical Society.
But the ever bombastic first lady of occult affairs continued to launch branches of the Society throughout India and Ceylon. Meanwhile as her powers continued to increase, and her health began to fail, she decided it was time for a trip back to Europe, where she was approached by the Society for Psychical Research of London for permission to investigate her claims.
Mysterious letters from a Mahatma Koot Hoomi were observed floating from the ceiling during her sessions. Initially the research team was persuaded of Madame's powers and were going to report favorably but suspicions of fraud soon were satisfied by accident when a faithful disciple, in his glee, slapped the rear wall of a shrine, popping open the panel which revealed another room.
Phenomena were common in her presence. When a visitor remarked that he had tried spiritualism once, but couldn't even get a rap on the table, she replied, "Raps are the easiest thing to get." Tapping sounds at once began to dance around the room to the visitor's amazement.
Like Crowley, Madame Blavatsky developed a taste for court battle, and threatened to sue some Christian missionaries who had been her staunchest rivals. But after a cat and mouse game of threatened libel suits versus charges of fraud, Blavatsky gave up on that, and spent the next few months traveling back and forth across Europe and India. The poet W.B. Yeats met her several times and was impressed with her sense of humor. But for all her charm and self-possession, Madame Blavatsky suffered a series of grave illnesses during her last six or seven years of life, her enormous weight affecting her heart and kidneys. And surely a lifetime of tar and nicotine did her lungs no favors. Just shy of sixty, she died on May 8, 1891, undoubtedly a woman of spectacular passion and spit, and one of the most prolific mystic writers of all time.
Text of Blavatsky Online
Books by Blavatsky
Books by Blavatsky