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Blavatsky in 1877. photo courtesy of Theosophy Wiki

The 8th of May is White Lotus Day.

Each year on this date, theosophists around the world mark the passing of the co-founder of the Theosophical Society, Madame Blavatsky (1831 – 1891).

It is 130 years since Helena Petrovna Blavatsky ‘shed her mortal coil’ and passed into the light, as some might have put it. Indeed Blavatsky has herself often been described as ‘the Light Bringer’ and she brought to the gross materialism of Victorian England society the light of truth as enshrined in the ageless wisdom of Theo Sophia.

Throughout the theosophical world – in national headquarters in nearly 70 countries and in individual branches, there will commemorative lectures covering her major works,  and devotional readings from two of her favourite books, The Bhagvad-Gita and The Light of Asia. At the London headquarters of the Society, where I was publicist for 37 years, we used to also include concerts of music from the East and West, and those most important of institutions in British Society – tea and cakes.

But what of that ‘enigma’ behind the pen? H. P. B., as she was known to her friends, was a larger than life figure on the world stage of esotericism and as such attracted her fair share of criticism and abuse. The fact that she is still the butt of much derision in the eyes of the world media is a testimony to her ongoing importance and as a result it keeps Theosophy and the Theosophical Society relevant to modern society. As politicians might put it “We don’t care what you say about us, as long as you spell our names correctly!”

You might quite rightly ask who ever reads the writings of her contemporary critics? And over 130 years after its first publication, Blavatsky’s magnum opus,The Secret Doctrine (1888) is still in print.

Helena Petrovna von Hahn was born in 1831 in what is now the Ukraine, within an aristocratic Russo-German family that had links with the Russian royal house. A tomboy of a girl, she had a daring skill on horseback from an early age, and used to ride with her grandfather’s Cossack soldiers. At just 13 she suffered a serious accident after being thrown from a saddle. According to later medical testimony this made it impossible for her to bear children.

Even as a child she was cantankerous and when aged 16 her governess commented that with her “temper and disposition” she would never get a husband, not even old General Blavatsky. Never one to turn down a challenge, the young Helena took up the dare and succeeded in gaining a proposal of marriage from the 40 something soldier. Though she tried to wriggle out of the arrangement, her relatives made her go through with the ceremony which happened a fortnight before her 17th birthday.

HPB and her mother. H. P. B. museum in Dnepropetrovsk. photo courtesy of Theosophy Wiki

What sort of time Nikifor had with this wild, untamed child has never been made known but HPB left after just three months with the marriage unconsummated. She went abroad and he didn’t see her again for 12 years.

HPB was psychic from early childhood, mediumistic phenomena occurred through her, and she was fascinated by the ghostly and occult, reading all she could about magic and seeking practical knowledge from a local wizard.

Her aunt described her as having a “passionate love and curiosity for everything unknown and mysterious, weird and fantastical”

And her sister Mme Vera Zhelikovsky, wrote at length about her escapades and psychism.

“She was the strangest girl one has ever seen, one with a distinct, dual nature, that made one think here were two beings in one and the same body; one mischievous, combative and obstinate – in every way graceless; the other as mystical and metaphysically inclined as a seeress.

“No schoolboy was ever more uncontrollable or more full of the most unimaginable and daring pranks . . . At the same time, when the paroxysm of mischief-making has run its course, no old scholar could be more assiduous in his study, and she could not be prevailed to give up her books, which she would devour night and day as long as the impulse lasted”.

These books were from the library of her grandfather, Prince Paul Dolgorouky, who had a large collection of volumes on alchemy, magic and the occult sciences. Her favourite book was called Solomon’s Wisdom. One of her hiding places was up among the pigeons’ nests in a dark loft where she experimented in putting the birds to sleep according to the instructions in Solomon’s Wisdom.

Blavatsky left her husband in 1848. For the next 25 years she lived adventurously, sometimes dangerously but details are very sketchy. What we do know – partly from herself and from accounts by her relatives – is that she lived in Paris, London, Canada, the U. S. A., the West Indies, Mexico, Peru, Greece, Turkey, Lebanon, Egypt, India, Sikkim, Tibet and Java. It must be pointed out that her travel took place before the era of the aeroplane and the automobile and even railroads were in their infancy.

Ignaz Moscheles,1860. photo courtesy of Wikipedia

HPB had an allowance from her father until he died but at times she earned some supplementary income, and later had to fend for herself. As a musician she had expert tuition on the piano in London from a famous composer and teacher, Ignaz Moscheles. She played professionally and taught.

Her equestrian skill helped her in Turkey, where she rode horses in a circus, according to her cousin, Count Witte. But her riding came to an end after a wild horse fell on top of her. She was just 19 or 20 at the time.

Later she dabbled in various commercial enterprises, sold a cargo of coconuts, traded in high-class timber and opened an ink-factory. She quickly tired of such ventures, even though in the main they were successful.

After moving to the USA, before the founding of The Theosophical Society, she maintained herself by making artificial flowers. Later, journalism for the Russian press, and an occasional book about her travels, became her main source of income.

Throughout her life Blavatsky had been rebellious and self-willed, yet intense in search of understanding of the occult side of things that she had been aware of since girlhood. In her own words

“Since the age of 14, I have always seen the day in my physical body and my nights in my astral body. I was in search of the unknown. Nobody, not even my parents, have understood anything whatsoever of my intimate inner life . . . Since 14 I have always lived a double existence, mysterious, incomprehensible even to myself, until I met for the second time my still more mysterious Indian.”

Master Morya, photo courtesy of Theosophy Wiki

This Indian she regarded as a Guardian Angel, who intervened physically in moments of grave danger. She met him in the flesh in London during the early 1850s. At one of these meetings he dissuaded her from suicide.

Their second meeting was in Tibet in 1865, when her Master, as she now described him, awakened in her the need to change the tenor of her life. While in Tibet she was initiated into occultism and accepted authority and discipline, seeking to redeem her life by service.

In 1873 she was sent to the United States of America by her Master to begin the work that resulted in the founding of the Theosophical Society, working, she wrote “to expiate her faults, attempting to make men better, and sacrificing herself for their regeneration.”

Blavatsky claimed that she was the agent of a body of Adepts or Masters of Wisdom, who are dedicated to the welfare of humanity, and that her work was under their direction. Various psychical phenomena were attributed to them, and there was a whole correspondence conducted for several years with some of them, most of their letters having since been published in three volumes, the main collection being in the British Library.

Accusations of fraud and imposture were made against her. The charges were that there are no Masters, the phenomena were spurious, and the letters forged by Madame Blavatsky; and that, when they appeared to be delivered in mysterious ways, this was in fact manipulated by her or her confederates.

The most infamous of the allegations of fraud  revolves around a cupboard orshrine at the international headquarters of the Theosophical Society in Adyar, Chennai, India, that in the 1880s was used for communication – by occult means – by Blavatsky’s Teachers.

Two disgruntled ex-employees, Monsieur and Madame Coulomb claimed they had been confederates in frauds by Blavatsky, supporting this by letters from her, the incriminating parts of which Blavatsky claimed to be forged.

The Coulomb attack, publicised by some Christian missionaries, is the foundation of a report by the Society for Psychical Research, which is the keystone of all subsequent defamation of Blavatsky.

Vernon Harrison, photo by Colyn Boyce

In the 1980s, Vernon Harrison, a counterfeit expert for the banknote printer Thomas de la Rue examined the so-called evidence and in his own report, entitled ‘J’Accuse’ said the case was not proven. Somewhat whimsically, he claimed the handwriting which was purportedly to have been HPB’s could just as easily have been that of General Dwight Eisenhower.

In the last few years, the SPR itself has accepted, officially, that their investigator Richard Hodgson’s account that formed the basis of the original indictment, was full of flaws.

However the British press continues to repeat ‘old chestnuts’ and seems unmoved. After all, why let the truth get in the way of a good story. I hate to think of what karma lies is in store for the main players in this calumny – the Coulombs, some Christian missionaries, Richard Hodgson and the ranks of media both in this country and around the world who have told and repeated these lies.

In spite of this treachery, it is encouraging to read that the Theosophical Society continues, increasingly, to attract new recruits inside and outside of the UK. Its growth, not surprisingly, is greatest in the newer democracies of Latin America and south Asia. In recent times a branch was chartered in Bangkok, Thailand.

Henry S Olcott in 1884. photo courtesy of Theosophy Wiki

Blavatsky had a complex character and as her compatriot Henry Steel Olcott (the TS first President) can well attest, was a difficult person with whom to work and live. Her teachers admit that she was far from flawed but was the best available channel at the time to do their bidding.

One of them once said

“We have to act with and through an enfeebled female body in which, as we might say, a vital cyclone is raging much of the time. But, imperfect as may be our visible agent – and often most unsatisfactory and impatient she is – yet she is the best available at present, and her phenomena have . . . astounded and baffled some of the cleverest minds of the age.

Her own Master described her as

” . . . a woman of most exceptional and wonderful endowments. Combined with them she had strong personal defects, but just as she was, there was no second to her living fit for this work.”

On their behalf, Blavatsky gave out teachings giving a corrective lead in the fields of science, religion and ethical standards. They were vast in scope.

Through her manifold writings, HPB gave readers something of her tremendous knowledge of the wisdom of the Far East, symbology, metaphysics, occultism, psychism, and the practical application of all these to life.

She  is best known for two substantial books Isis Unveiled (1877) and The Secret Doctrine (1888) both still in print.

Isis created a sensation when published in New York City and the first edition of 1,000 copies were sold out in just two days. Within only seven months three printings had been issued.

The book had as its sub-title: A Master-Key to the Mysteries of Ancient and Modern Science and Theology. While dealing in the main with the so-called ‘infallability’ of both science and religion, the book covers much more.

Bust of Pythagoras in the Roman Forum, Colosseum. photo courtesy of Wikipedia

The author moves from the ancient Greek views on matter and force advanced by Pythagoras and Plato to the cablistic religious philosophy developed by certain Jewish rabbis from a mystical interpretation of the scriptures.

She discusses the interpretation of mythological stories in several religious scriptures, aspects of magic, ancient Egyptian writings, the classic philosophies, world religions compared and a multitude of other subjects.

In the preface, Blavatsky states the book Isis Unveiled is in essence “a plea for the recognition of the Hermetic philosophy, the ancient universal Wisdom-Religion.”

Because of the advance of science since 1900 and today’s broadened approach to religion, some portions of what Blavatsky wrote in the 1870s are not longer pertinent; yet Isis Unveiled is filled with challenging pages of undiminished importance.

Helena Petrovna Blavatsky’s greatest work is The Secret Doctrine. The book appeared in 1888 in two tremendous volumes. It outlines a vast scheme of evolution relating to both the universe and to humanity, and to the unseen as well as the seen worlds of manifestation in which life is said to exist  in thousands of forms.

Blavatsky was clearly ahead of her times and a number of predictions concerning molecular science, notably the divisibility of the atom, were corroborated in 20th century laboratories.

Carl Gustav Jung,

And what of the moral impact of this great movement that was launched through Blavatsky’s agency?

Dr Carl Jung says of the modern gnostic movement that “the world  has seen nothing like it since the end of the seventh century. We can compare it only with the flowering of gnostic thought in the first and second centuries.” He had little patience with theosophists but he recognises that the Theosophical Society is the spearhead of that movement.

Blavatsky was driving force behind the effort to bring this knowledge to modern society and free humanity from the shackles of ignorance.

For a quarter of a century she lived, worked, suffered – often in bad health – and died for the theosophical cause.

We give the final say to T. H. Redfern. In his booklet, The Work and Worth ofMadame Blavatsky he says

“Those of us who have studied her work, recognise the heroic character of her life, and are grateful for her contribution to the upliftment of mankind, will continue to work unremittingly for the fulfilment of all this great woman stood for.”

A Canadian by birth, Colyn Boyce is a former radio journalist, who worked in central British Columbia in the 1970s. Born in 1951, he joined the Theosophical Society in Vancouver in 1969. An inveterate traveller, he hitch-hiked across America in 1972 and travelled extensively through southern and central Europe after arriving in Britain in 1977. What was meant to be a six month holiday, turned in permanent residency in the UK. From 1981 until 2018, he was Publicist for the English Section of the Theosophical Society – arranging an ambitious programme of lectures, seminars and courses. For about 25 years he was assistant editor of the house magazine, ‘Insight‘, which he typeset and illustrated – showcasing many of his own photographs. In 2018 he undertook a lecture tour of theosophical branches in western Canada and in 2019 – over a 3 week stint – spoke in Detroit, Cleveland, Philadelphia, Washington D.C., New York City and Buffalo.


Published by hermesrisen

writer, theologian and broadcaster, my work can be found at Colyn Boyce is co-editor for Hermes Risen and is a writer, photographer and all round good guy.

5 thoughts on “THE PRIESTESS OF ISIS – H. P. BLAVATSKY. by Colyn Boyce

  1. I would like to find more on Carl Jung’s understanding of H.P.B. and why he had ” little paience with Theosophists”.I have respected Jung and his writings that I’ve read as well as H.P.B.’S


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