As biographer Charles Ryan puts it, Helena Petrovna Blavatsky was “A mystery in her very simplicity, like a great mountain or the ocean. She was called the Sphinx of the nineteenth century.” Born prematurely in 1831 when cholera was haunting the Ukrainian steppe and the town of Ekaterinoslav (Glory of Katherine), the baby was so weak that in the words of biographer Howard Murphet “her sojourn in the world of cadavers and coffins threatened to be a very brief one indeed.”
The world was fortunate that HPB survived, even though dogged by poor health much of her life, for she resuscitated timeless truths that had long remained hidden or suppressed. On her passing in 8 May 1891, her colleague Henry Steel Olcott (first International President of the TS) said: “H. P. B.’s enthusiasm was a quenchless flame at which all our Theosophists lit their torches . . . “
The Ukraine is in the news this year for very different reasons but the Theosophical Society in that country is doing all it can to make better known the eternal verities of the Esoteric Philosophy which demonstrates that the true way to happiness, peace and power, is to find the divine nature within ourselves.
The ideas of Theosophy took root in Ukraine in 1883 (which at that time was part of the Russian Empire) when the first Theosophical Lodge was organized in Odessa. Nadezhda Fadeeva, a relative of H. P. Blavatsky, as head of the Lodge, received the lodge charter. At the beginning of the 20th century, theosophical groups that were part of the Russian Theosophical Society worked in Kyiv, Yalta, and Zhytomyr. Unfortunately, the Russian Theosophical Society lasted only ten years – from 1908 to 1918 – and only resumed after the collapse of the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics in 1989.
Hermes Risen spoke to Svitlana Gavrylenko, General Secretary of the TS in the Ukraine, about theosophical initiatives in that country in the 21st century.
Hermes Risen: How long have you been a member of the TS and what prompted you to join the Society?
Svitlana Gavrylenko: My spiritual Path began in the late 80s, during perestroika, when the Iron Curtain separating the Soviet Union from the whole world, had come down. It was an acquaintance with the philosophy of the East, yoga, Agni yoga, over time it turned into the study of Theosophy. It was serious and systematic group work in which I took part as a student. I created the first theosophical group in Kyiv in 1996, I applied to join the Theosophical Society in 1998, and my Diploma dates from the year 2000.
HR: What subjects particularly interest you?
SG: I am interested in questions of evolution, the connection between Theosophy and scientific knowledge, psychology. But I devote more time to practical work with people, organizational and administrative duties.
HR: Many of our readers are acquainted with Blavatsky as a writer but know little of her early life. Was it the significance of her birth in the Ukraine?
SG: Yes, of course, Helena Blavatsky did not choose her parents by chance, as well as the place of her birth and childhood. She needed to absorb a very powerful transformational potential, which her family and her place of birth, Ukraine, possessed.
HR: How long has there been a Theosophical Society in the modern day Ukraine?
SG: The first members of the Theosophical Society appeared in Ukraine in 1998, the first branch in 2007, the Regional Association was approved in 2013, and the status of the Section was assigned in 2018.
HR: Where do you have branches?
SG: There are eight branches in the nation – including in Kyiv (“Ankh”), Yalta (“Aletheiya”), Odessa (“Pearl Necklace”) Dnipro (“H.P.Blavatsky” ) and Kropyvnytskyi (“Laya”) in central Ukraine.
HR: And what sort of activities do you hold – i.e. lectures, study courses, weekend and annual conferences?
SG: Yes, I conduct all these types of activities in Ukraine and previously during 20 years in Russia. I have delivered lectures and talks at the Adyar Conventions, for the Italian and Philippines Sections of the Society. I am TS National Lecturer. In addition, I lead other social activities of a spiritual nature.
HR: Perhaps you could tell us a few of the subject areas covered in your events.
SG: 1. The moving exhibition “Inexhaustible Source”, dedicated to the life and heritage of Helena Blavatsky, continued to be exhibited in our country as part of the TOS activity. It visited 10 cities and had 15 expositions between 2016 and 2020. The exhibition was accompanied by public lectures and round tables.
2. From October 2020 to the end of March 2021, on Saturdays, TSU offered its online project – a series of 18 lecture and discussion meetings “Ageless Wisdom For Beginners” providing the basic tenets of ancient wisdom, which include ideas about human evolution and the universe. They took place on the Zoom platform with a simultaneous broadcast on the Facebook page of the Theosophical Society in Ukraine. All lectures were given in Russian and accompanied by slide presentations. On average, 35-40 listeners were present, mostly from Ukraine, as well as Russia, America and Israel. About 1,500 views of the recording of each lecture were registered on Facebook. All recordings of lectures are processed and posted on our YouTube channel “Theosophical Commonwealth of Ukraine”, playlist: https://www.youtube.com/playlist?list=PLyxdgvFBab34_HJEFNvzMs6hpet6vU5I5
3. A two-month spring cycle of Saturday online meetings “Highest Laws And Rules Of Spiritual Life In Different Traditions” were held on Saturdays, online, through Zoom. Lectures were followed by question and answer sessions and aroused keen interest of Ukrainian and Russian theosophists.
A way of perfection is in Christianity
Higher aspects of spiritual life are in the Sufi tradition
Higher aspects of spiritual way of Vajrayana and Large Perfection
Teaching of Baha’i about perfection of Mankind
Higher laws of the universe in the Kabbalah tradition
Laws of spiritual life in Freemasonry
The meetings were broadcast in real time on the Facebook page of the Theosophical Society in Ukraine https://www.facebook.com/theosophy.in.ua/ Records of the meetings are now posted on the YouTube channel “Theosophical Commonwealth of Ukraine” https://www.youtube.com/playlist?list=PLyxdgvFBab356iETtdULaQAxwpopvO_0q
HR: And would you name some high profile speakers who have appeared on your programmes
SG: In the early days there was Radha Burnier, (past International President) Kurt Berg, Tran Thi Kim Dieu, (TS in Europe ‘Chairpersons’) and Mary Anderson (past International Secretary). In recent years, prominent Italian theosophists Antonio Girardi (General Secretary) and Patrizia Calvi (Secretary) and other well known European TS members have given talks in Ukraine. Since the Covid Quarantine of 2020, we have a lot of virtual contacts with different Brothers and Sisters from all over the world.
HR: Has the Russian ‘invasion’ stopped you from holding any meetings?
SG: Up to the present, all our theosophical activity continues online. Even those who went abroad or to the western parts of the Ukraine continue their participation at the online meetings.
HR: Looking ahead, what plans do you hope to put in place for the future?
SG: Now our people have a great challenge and after the overcoming this crisis the spiritual values have to prevail. So we expect activation of our activity and also the spreading of the ageless wisdom ideas.
In an article entitled ‘Milestones in the History of the TS in Ukraine, Svitlana adds the following interesting information.
“In 2009, the Museum Centre of H. P. Blavatsky and her family was opened in Dnipro, in the house where H. P. Blavatsky was born in 1831. In August 2013, marked the milestone of a decade since Theosophists in the Ukraine and Russia, assisted by more than 60 volunteers, worked in urgent areas of construction work to prevent the destruction of the building and make it possible to hold meetings and programes of the Museum Centre in this building.
Since 2010, the electronic magazine “Svitoch” has been published in Ukraine. And to reflect the work of the Theosophical Order of Service (founded by Annie Besant in 1908) which appealed to many Theosophists in different cities of Ukraine, an informational video blog “Hearts without Borders” is being maintained, its address is https://ukr-tos.blogspot.com/”
A Canadian by birth, Colyn Boyce is a former radio journalist, who worked in central British Columbia in the 1970s. 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. He is a National Lecturer for the TS in England and has spoken on numerous occasions in London and at various other locations throughout the UK, Canada and the USA. During 2021 he gave zoom lectures on his favourite subject – Atlantis – for the European School of Theosophy and the Philippines Section of the Society.