Helena Petrovna Blavatsky

Madame Blavatsky, 'that extraordinary woman,' was co-founder, with Colonel H.S. Olcott, of the Theosophical Society. She was born at Ekaterinoslav in Russia at midnight between 30 and 31 July 1831. Her father, Colonel Peter Hahn, came of a noble family originally of Mecklenburg, Germany, but which had settled in Russia for some 300 years. Her mother's family, also of noble lineage, traced its origins to a ninth century ancestor.

H.P.B.'s clairvoyant faculty was such that, even as a child, she was consulted by the nobility about their private affairs and by the police regarding crimes committed. She was a talented pianist, and as a young girl, played in London with Clara Schumann and Arabelle Goddard.

In 1848 when she was seventeen, she married General Blavatsky, a very elderly man, from whom she soon separated. During 1848 and 1849, she studied magic in Egypt with an aged Copt and joined 'The Druses of Lebanon,' a secret society. She was present with Garibaldi at the battle of Mentana in 1849 and 'was picked out of a ditch for dead with the left arm broken in two places, musket balls embedded in right shoulder and leg, and a stiletto wound in the heart.'

When walking with her father in London in 1851, she saw a tall and stately Rajput whom she recognized as a Protector known in her visions from childhood. He spoke to her of a future work she was to do under His direction after preparation in the East. In 1852-54 she attempted to enter Tibet; however she was not successful until 1867-70. During the intervening period, she made contact with spiritualism, learned to 'bring under her control her marvellous power to produce phenomena at will,' and engaged in 'several commercial enterprises' (a trade in high class woods, head of an artificial flower factory, etc.). In Tibet, she learned, we are told, to manipulate occult forces. In Cairo in 1871 she made an unsuccessful attempt to found a spiritual society upon the basis of phenomena. Then as 'Madame Laura,' she did concert tours in Italy and Russia. In 1873 she lived with her brother in Paris, painting and writing (in addition to her other accomplishments she was a fine artist and a very clever caricaturist).

Whilst in Paris she received peremptory orders from 'the Brothers' to go to New York to await instructions. She landed on 7 July 1873, without personal funds, having exchanged her first class passage to steerage class (the cheapest) in order to buy steerage class for a poor woman and children who had been swindled. Although she had in her trunk 23,000 francs entrusted to her by her Master, she earned her living by working for a maker of cravats. Still acting under orders she finally took the money to town of Buffalo and gave it to an unknown man just in time to prevent him from committing suicide! An unsuccessful business venture in a Long Island Farm, used up the 1,000 ruble legacy she had received on the death of her father.

In 1874 she was ordered to go to the Eddy homestead in Chittenden. This was the scene of various occult phenomena being investigated by Colonel H.S. Olcott. With him in 1875, in New York, she founded the Theosophical Society. Isis Unveiled, her magnificent attack upon the materialism of religion and science, was published in 1877. She sent the first proceeds together with money received for her various articles published by Russian newspapers and journals, to the Red Cross in Russia to help her compatriots wounded in the Russo-Turkish war.

On 8 July 1878, she became an American citizen. Later that year, acting 'under orders,' she and Olcott sailed for India; they landed in Bombay in February 1879. In 1880 the two founders toured Sri Lanka on behalf of Buddhism, themselves becoming Buddhists on 19 May 1881. In 1882, the headquarters of the Society was moved to its present site in Adyar, Madras. She made various tours of India between her arrival in 1879 and her visit to Europe in 1884. In the absence of the Founders, came the one sided report of the Society for Psychical Research, in an attempt to show her up as an impostor. Since then, the S.P.R. has retracted the allegations against her. Despite the intervention of her Guru to restore her health, it deteriorated and she was unable to remain at Adyar for more than a short visit paid later that year.

In Wurzburg she worked at The Secret Doctrine, whose real authors, according to Countess Wachtmeister, were the Adept Brothers. As with Isis Unveiled, the Brothers collected the material and passed it before the inner gaze of H.P.B. In 1887 at Ostend, H.P.B. fell very ill but made another strange recovery explaining that she had 'elected' to work for a few more years in her suffering body. By invitation, she moved to London which then became the centre of the Theosophical work in Europe. In this she was assisted by occasional visits of the President-Founder (Colonel Olcott). In 1888 the first two volumes of The Secret Doctrine were published. She died on 8 May 1891 in London. Her ashes were divided between New York, India, and London, and part of it is interred under her statue in Adyar. In her will she requested that each year, on the anniversary of her death, her friends should assemble and read from The Light of Asia and the Bhagavad Gita. By Colonel Olcott's wish, this anniversary came to be known as 'White Lotus Day.'

Colonel Olcott summed up the secret of H.P.B.'s remarkable power in producing swift changes in the lives of those about her as due to:

  • Her amazing occult knowledge and phenomena-working powers, together with her relation to the hidden Masters.
  • Her sparkling talents, especially as a conversationalist with her social accomplishments, wide travels, and extraordinary adventures.
  • Her insight into problems of philology, racial origins, fundamental bases of religions, and keys to old mysteries and symbols.

Unflinching self-consecration to the Great Ones irradiated the life of H.P.B. and she will ever be known as the 'Light-Bringer' of the nineteenth Century.

Some Publications: Editor, The Theosophist, The Secret Doctrine (in three Volumes), Isis Unveiled, Practical Occultism, The Voice of the Silence, two books of The Stanzas of Dzyan, The Key to Theosophy, Original Programme of the TS, Dynamics of the Psychic World, etc.

Henry Steel Olcott

Colonel H.S. Olcott. President-Founder, The Theosophical Society, 1875-1907. Born 2 August 1832 at Orange, New Jersey, U.S.A. Gained international renown at 23 for his work on the model farm of Scientific Agriculture at Newark. Declined Chair of Agriculture in University of Athens offered by Greek Government. Co-Founder of Westchester Farm School, near Mount Vernon, New York, the first American Scientific School of Agriculture. His first book Sorghum and Imphee became a school textbook and brought him at 25 offers of a governmental botanical mission to Caffraria, S. Africa, Directorship of Agricultural Bureau at Washington, and managership of two immense properties, all of which he declined. At 26 he toured Europe in the interests of agriculture and his report was published in the American Cyclopedia. Became American correspondent of Mark Lane Express (London), Associate Agricultural Editor (1858-60) of New York Tribune, and published two more books on agriculture. For his public service in agricultural reform was voted two medals of honour and a silver goblet.

As reporter for New York Tribune in 1859, Olcott was present at hanging of John Brown, and though in considerable danger, extricated himself under the seal of Masonic confidence. Joined the Northern Army and fought through North Carolina Campaign, invalided to New York (1862-5). Drafted as Special Commissioner of the War Department and later Navy Department for the investigation of frauds. Received high commendation for purifying the Public Service and cleansing these departments in peril of life and reputation. In 1868 admitted to the Bar. Practised till 1878, specializing in customs, revenue and insurance cases. Published valuable report on insurance while Secretary and Managing Director of National Insurance Convention, a conference or league of State officials to codify and simplify insurance laws. A statute drafted by H.S.O. and another lawyer was passed in ten State Legislatures. As Attorney he had such clients as New York City, N.Y. Stock Exchange, Mutual Equitable Life and Continental Life Insurance Companies, Gold Exchange Bank, Panama Railways, The United Steel Manufacturers of Sheffield, England. Also Hon. Sec. to Citizens' National Committee working with French Government for first International Exposition of World Industries; also served on International Italian Committee to erect statue to Mazzini in New York. Was nominated by retiring Assistant Secretary of the Treasury and listed by President Johnson to succeed in that office, but he took sides with Congress against the President and lost the appointment. Member of Lotos Club, and intimate friend of Mark Twain, and other famous authors.

Interested in Spiritualism from the age of 19, he reported the psychic phenomena at Eddy Farm in 1874 for New York Sun and New York Graphic. Single copies sold at $1 and seven publishers contended for book rights. Published as People from the Other World, 1875, one of the earliest books on psychical research, highly praised by Alfred Russel Wallace, FRS and Sir William Crookes, FRS. At Eddy Homestead met Helena Petrovna Blavatsky and together they threw themselves into defence of reality of spiritualistic phenomena while attempting to purify spiritualistic movement of its materialistic trend. Helped with the preparation of her book, Isis Unveiled. Together they founded The Theosophical Society at New York, 17 November 1875. Organized the first public cremation in the U.S.A. in 1876. In 1878 the Co-Founders moved T.S. Headquarters to Bombay, India. Before leaving, H.S.O. received from U.S. President autographed letter of recommendation to all U.S. Ministers and Consuls; and from Dept. of State a special diplomatic passport, and a commission to report to Government upon the practicability of extending the commercial interests of U.S. in Asia. Held first Swadeshi Exhibition in Bombay, 1879. As President of the T.S., championed in India, Ceylon, Japan and other oriental countries the revival of Hinduism, Buddhism, Zoroastrianism, Islam and other faiths. Stimulated Sanskrit revival. United the sects of Ceylon in the Buddhist Section of the Theosophical Society (1880); the 12 sects of Japan into a Joint Committee for the promotion of Buddhism (1889); Burma, Siam, and Ceylon into a Convention of Southern Buddhists (1891); and finally Northern and Southern Buddhism through joint signatures to his Fourteen Propositions of Buddhism (1891). With delegation of Buddhists (1882) in a Hindu Temple at Tinnevelly, planted "Tree of Friendship" as the first act of fraternization for hundreds of years between Buddhists and Hindus. Founded Adyar Library (1886) at which for the first time in history the religious teachers of Hinduism, Buddhism, Zoroastrianism and Islam united to bless a common cause.

Though H.S.O.'s vision the principle of autonomous Sections with an international Headquarters was developed. In one year (1882-83) of mesmeric healing treated 6,000 cripples, deaf, dumb, blind and insane with phenomenal success. Started Olcott Harijan Free Schools for the education of the outcastes of India. Throughout India founded Hindu schools, Boy's Aryan Leagues and libraries, and sponsored and published Arya Bala Bodhini for Hindu boys. In Ceylon established schools for Buddhist children. Secured for Ceylon Buddhists freedom from religious persecution and Wesak as public holiday. Sponsored informal conference 1891 on possibility of Women's National Society in India. Planned institute of technological education for the Maharaja of Baroda (1888).

Lectured and travelled for T.S. many thousands of miles yearly by land and sea. Made Hon. Member of many famous clubs and learned societies. Received official blessing of Pope Pio Nono; blessed by the Buddhist High Priests of Ceylon, Burma, Siam and Japan, for his work for Buddhism (he took Pancha Sheela as a Buddhist in 1880); and adopted into the Brahmin caste for distinguished services to Hinduism.

Publications: Editor The Theosophist after H.P.B. left for Europe 1885; The Buddhist Catechism, 44 editions (1938), translated into 20 languages, an internationally used textbook; Old Diary Leaves, history of T.S. (in six volumes); and many pamphlets and articles on Theosophy, religion, psychic phenomena, etc. Died 17 February 1907, at Adyar, nominating as his successor Annie Besant.


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