Helena Petrovna Blavatsky

Great Teacher Series @ Theosophy Trust


Occult history – the study of the real causes behind the manifest unfolding of the human drama – is the story of the immortal soul striving under the eternally steady Atmic Light to recognize that Light within itself and all beings. It is the evolution of Universal Brotherhood. A chasm exists between history as known to initiates who can peer into the dawn of time and ordinary men often content with a partial account of superficial if turbulent events. Deeper reflections upon the story of man merely intimate the wisdom, power and majesty of the full comprehension of universal history.

However inadequate, a sense of the sweep of the history of the last seven centuries is a minimal requirement for an understanding of the life of the greatest occultist of the age, Helena Petrovna Blavatsky (1831-1891). Tsong-Kha-Pa's fourteenth century reform of Buddhist thought and practice in the ancient East and his decision to send messengers of Truth into the modern West is the fundamental starting point of this period. Bold Renaissance philosophers and Rosicrucian physicians, brilliant aristocrats and men of affairs, carried the impulse toward new levels of spiritual achievement across the pages of history into the nineteenth century, when it was possible to proclaim that Mahatmas – the embodied fountainhead of wisdom – exist on earth.

Nevertheless, dark clouds filled the nineteenth century horizon. The fluidity of change and innovation which made rapid human progress possible also allowed the most greedy and selfish forces in human consciousness to manifest. The industrial revolution led to the exploitation of domestic labour for the profit of a few, and of colonial territories for the glory of the homeland. Squalid slums swelled with those who were drawn to urban centres for work and decent lives and found neither. Vices of the most degrading sorts were spawned. The discovery of the logic of unfoldment in the evolution of nature was appropriated by the crudest and unphilosophical materialism, encouraging an absurd denial of reason in nature by many religious institutions. Representative forms of government revealed their own peculiar flaws, including tendencies to mob rule by whim and an inability to restrain the economically powerful. The abuse of tradition (e.g., the torture of the work ethic to justify near servitude in factories), the collapse of old ideas, and the clash of many discordant interests generated a psychic unrest which precipitated as a highly excited and often escapist spiritualism to satiate a lust for phenomena which was frustrated on the plane of everyday life. Intellectuals, cocksure yet insecure, led the masses down a thousand false corridors, debasing the unconscious virtues of simpler minds.

Through all this pathetic ugliness, the work of the Masters quietly continued, calmly passing through the climacteric of the nineteenth century in its movement toward 1875. At midnight on August 11-12, 1831, that being who was to be known as Helena Petrovna Blavatsky took birth in Ekaterinoslav on the banks of the Dnieper River in the Ukraine. Her family was aristocratic, descended from German and Russian nobility. In peasant lore, her birthdate suggested that she would have great and mysterious powers, and since the robes of the presiding priest caught fire at her christening, it was believed that her life would be difficult.

H.P.Blavatsky showed from the beginning a profound interest in universal learning – in the Enlightenment tradition – and an unshakable sense of individual integrity. This rare combination made her utterly fearless, mentally and physically. She braved every kind of difficult journey and refused to calibrate her actions by the myopic measure of public opinion or conventional morality. Rather, two questions so intensely absorbed her consciousness that mundane concerns paled into insignificance. "Where, WHO, WHAT is GOD? Who ever saw the IMMORTAL SPIRIT of man, so as to be able to assure himself of man's immortality?" Those who could answer these questions would have her unswerving devotion and unstinting service.

She tirelessly educated herself until 1848, and then began her travels across Europe and the Middle East. Though she repeatedly dreamed of a wondrous human being who seemed to protect her in crises, she did not meet him until 1851 in Hyde Park, London. He could answer those fundamental questions, and H.P.Blavatsky placed her whole trust in him as her Guru and in the Brotherhood of Mahatmas. She never wavered in thought, word, feeling or deed from a loyal sense of duty to her Teacher, and a willing obedience to the behests of the Truth he taught and embodied. From that moment her extraordinary powers and will were focused upon one aim: to serve the Fraternity of Mahatmas in whatever way they wished.

She travelled to Canada and the United States, Mexico, the Caribbean and South America, reaching India in 1852. Passing again through England to the United States, then through Japan to India and Tibet, and back to Europe, she arrived in Russia in 1858. She learned both empirically and metaphysically the complexities and possibilities of human nature. Travelling in the Caucasus from 1860 to 1863, she emerged from a prolonged death-struggle with a total mastery of her powers. After further journeys, she accompanied her Master to India and Tibet in 1868. Later shipwrecked en route from Greece to Egypt, she lived in Cairo during 1871-72, and a journey through the Levant brought her to Paris in 1873.

H.P.Blavatsky received orders to go to New York, and though she had little money, she promptly left, arriving there on July 7, 1873. She established herself, earned a simple living and began to meet the people most deeply involved in the examination of spiritualistic phenomena. On October 14, 1874, during a visit to the Eddy farm in Chittenden, Vermont, the scene of remarkable spiritualistic demonstrations, she met Colonel Henry Steel Olcott. At about that time she began publishing defenses of the genuineness of the phenomena while raising questions about the adequacy of the explanations and theories generally proferred.

At her request, Olcott brought a young lawyer and friend to meet her in 1874. The moment William Quan Judge entered her rooms in Irving Place, as he recounted later, "It was her eye that attracted me, the eye of one whom I must have known in lives long passed away. She looked at me in recognition at that first hour, and never since has that look changed." Thus W.Q.Judge saw "the lion's glance, the diamond heart of H.P.B."

In July 1875 H.P.Blavatsky noted in her scrapbook: "Orders received from India direct to establish a philosophico-religious Society and choose a name for it – also to choose Olcott." She published an open letter in the Spiritual Scientist for September 23, 1875, in which she laid down the major themes and key ideas which were to be elaborated in the remainder of her life and in her writings.

Rejecting both blind belief and cynicism, she wrote that "my own principle has ever been to make the Light of Truth, the beacon of my life." Translated into a mode of discovery,

The words uttered by Christ eighteen centuries ago: 'Believe and you will understand,' can be applied in the present case, and repeating them with but a slight modification, I may well say: 'Study and you will believe.'

The Occult Sciences require the devotion of a whole life, she wrote, and the consequences of taking study of them lightly are dangerous.

One must bear forever in mind the impressive fable of Oedipus, and beware of the same consequences. Oedipus unriddled but one-half of the enigma offered him by the Sphinx, and caused its death; the other half of the mystery avenged the death of the symbolic monster, and forced the King of Thebes to prefer blindness and exile in his despair, rather than face what he did not feel himself pure enough to encounter. He unriddled the man, the form and had forgotten God – the idea.

The requirements laid down for the pursuit of esoteric wisdom are stringent: absolute purity, willingness to suffer martyrdom, especially as a personal being before the eyes of the world, and renunciation of all personal pride and all selfish interests.

He must part, once for all, with every remembrance of his earlier ideas, on all and on everything. Existing religions, knowledge, science must rebecome a blank book for him, as in the days of his babyhood, for if he wants to succeed he must learn a new alphabet on the lap of Mother Nature. . . .

The "truly courageous and persevering" Occultist cannot expect comfort from either science or religion.

The two hitherto irreconcilable foes, science and theology – the Montecchi and Capuletti of the nineteenth century – will ally themselves with the ignorant masses, against the modern Occultist.

And their great weapon will not be the stake but rather slander. The Occultist must be prepared to prove to science that there is ''but one positive Science – Occultism."

To Theology, the Occultist of the future will have to demonstrate that the Gods of the Mythologies, the Elohim of Israel as well as the religious, theological mysteries of Christianity, to begin with the Trinity, sprang from the sanctuaries of Memphis and Thebes; that their mother Eve is but the spiritualized Psyche of old, both of them paying a like penalty for their curiosity, descending to Hades or Hell, the latter to bring back to earth the famous Pandora's box – the former, to search out and crush the head of the serpent – symbol of time and evil; the crime of both expatiated by the Pagan Prometheus and the Christian Lucifer; the first, delivered by Hercules – the second conquered by the Saviour.

Those whose interests are bound up with preserving the status quo will not willingly consider the claims of truth: they will attempt to turn the "thousand-headed Hydra" of public opinion against real occultism. Since it is "composed of individual mediocrities," it is a far greater danger to the occultist than the miniature thunderbolts of the clergy" and the "unwarranted negations" of science "in the forthcoming conflict between Truth, Superstition and Presumption; or, to express it in other terms, Occult Spiritualism, Theology and Science."

The keys to truth lie buried deep, and almost insurmountable obstacles bar the path of the disciple.

Faith alone, one grain of which as large as a mustard-seed, according to the words of Christ, can lift a mountain, is able to find out how simple becomes the Cabala to the initiate, once that he has succeeded in conquering the first abstruse difficulties. The dogma of it is logical, easy and absolute. The necessary union of ideas and signs; the trinity of words, letters, numbers and theorems; the religion of it can be compressed into a few words: 'It is the Infinite condensed in the hand of an infant,' says Eliphus Levi. Ten ciphers, 22 alphabetical letters, one triangle, a square and a circle. Such are the elements of the Cabala, from whose mysterious bosom sprang all the religions of the past and present; which endowed all the Free Masonic associations with their symbols and secrets, which alone can reconcile human reason with God and Faith, Power with Freedom, Science with Mystery, and which has alone the keys of the present, past and future.

This language, a veil which protects the mysteries from those seeking only wealth and power, "is a living, eloquent, clear language: but it is and can become such only to the true disciple of Hermes."

Thus the works on Occultism were not, I repeat, written for the masses, but for those of the Brethren who make the solution of the mysteries of the Cabala the principal object of their lives, and who are supposed to have conquered the first abstruse difficulties of the Alpha of Hermetic Philosophy.

Phrasing her discussion of the keys to wisdom in the relatively familiar though misunderstood symbolism of the West, H.P.Blavatsky concludes her open letter with one word of advice: "Try and become."

One single journey to the Orient, made in the proper spirit, and the possible emergencies arising from the meeting of what may seem no more than the chance acquaintances and adventures of any traveller, may quite as likely as not throw wide open to the zealous student, the heretofore closed doors of the final mysteries.

In the same journal, on October 4, 1875, H.P.Blavatsky took up the concept of magic directly. She wrote:

The exercise of magical power is the exercise of natural powers, but SUPERIOR to the ordinary functions of Nature. A miracle is not a violation of the laws of Nature, except for ignorant people. Magic is but a science, a profound knowledge of the occult forces in Nature, and of the laws governing the visible and invisible world. Spiritualism in the hands of an adept becomes Magic, for he is learned in the art of blending together the laws of the Universe, without breaking any of them and thereby violating Nature. In the hands of an inexperienced medium, Spiritualism becomes UNCONSCIOUS SORCERY . . . through which emerge the blind forces of Nature lurking in the astral light, as well as good and bad spirits.

After elaborating upon these statements, illustrating the beneficent use of magic in world history, and pointing to great Initiates who worked in the midst of humanity, H.P.Blavatsky boldly declared:

The BROTHERHOOD OF LUXOR is one of the sections of the Great Lodge of which I am a member.

If someone doubts this claim, "he can, if he chooses, write to Lahore for information," though the "Seven of the Committee" will most likely not reply.

On September 7, 1875, H.P.Blavatsky, W.Q.Judge and H.S.Olcott passed notes at a lecture given by George Felt, and on September 8 they decided to found the Theosophical Society. By mid-October it was agreed that Olcott should be president, Judge legal counselor and H.P.Blavatsky corresponding secretary. On November 17 Olcott delivered the inaugural address of the Theosophical Society. H.P.Blavatsky thereafter outlined the basic principles of the ageless Theosophical Movement. Drawing together the golden threads of past cycles, she crowned them with the public revelation that Masters are living Men, in touch with individuals, and ready to welcome into the Great Work those who meet the criteria set forth for discipleship.

During the next two years, the fledgling Society held a few meetings and received little notice from the public. H.P.Blavatsky, however, instructed Olcott and Judge in Theosophical principles and modes of investigation and self-discovery. While receiving and teaching a continuous flow of visitors from around the world and publishing a number of articles and letters, she worked intently upon her first book. In 1877 she published Isis Unveiled, a master-key to the mysteries of ancient and modern science and theology. W.Q.Judge accompanied her when she signed the contract for its publication. "When that document was signed," he later wrote, "she said to me in the street, 'Now I must go to India.'" The book had a profound impact in America and England, especially among students of occultism. Its insightful treatment of abstruse philosophical problems, its erudition and bold analyses of perplexing phenomena, its first-hand accounts of strange places and stranger events fascinated, excited and sometimes outraged the English-speaking world. It became clear that the Theosophical Movement would neither compromise the right of inquirers to search out knowledge wherever it was to be found nor pander to appeals to external authority. Spiritualists found their phenomena appreciated but their theories criticized, scholars learned that their findings could be used while their preconceptions were abandoned, and scientists discovered that their nineteenth century smugness did not intimidate Theosophical examination.

H.P.Blavatsky became an American citizen on July 8, 1878, and left with Colonel Olcott for India late in the year. W.Q.Judge remained in charge of the Society in America. Establishing herself in Bombay, she began publishing The Theosophist in October 1879. Orientalists were attracted to the Indian centre and thought highly of H.P.Blavatsky's efforts, even when they, like Bernouf, failed to grasp the connection between universal brotherhood and divine wisdom. Indian scholars, naturally pained by the treatment their sacred works received at the profane hands of Western orientalists, came into the Theosophical arena. T.Subba Row and Tukaram Tatya published translations and commentaries in India while Judge encouraged such work in America.

Permanent headquarters were found in Adyar, Madras, in 1883. By now the Society had a broad international impact and its success was marked by the appearance of real chelas like Damodar K. Mavalankar as well as a host of jealous and small-minded self-seekers. In 1884 H.P.Blavatsky travelled to France, Germany and England where she found a favourable climate for Theosophy. After a brief return to India, she left for Europe on March 31, 1885, never to go back. The machinations of the Coulombs, an ungrateful couple who had been housed and fed by H.P.Blavatsky when they were on the verge of starvation, led to the infamous Hodgson Report to the London Society for Psychical Research. Based on falsified evidence, the report accused H.P.Blavatsky of trickery in respect to phenomena she sometimes produced. Though the S.P.R. repudiated its report in 1968, long after it had ceased to be convincing to anyone, it resulted in mutual recriminations and hard feelings in Adyar. H.P.Blavatsky chose not to expend her energies on such matters, and instead travelled through Italy and Germany, settling in London in May 1887. In September she commenced publication of Lucifer.

H.P.Blavatsky knew that time was precious. Theosophy had to be stated in a form which challenged the thought-forms of the age; it had to be accessible to the sincere student; it had to speak to future generations. At the same time, a core of students who could be counted upon to assimilate and propagate the teachings and exemplify them before the world as a prelude to possible chelaship needed to be gathered together in a mutual bond. The ground for the next Teacher had to be prepared. Though in poor health and pestered from every side, she bent her incredible energies towards these ends.

In 1888 Olcott came to England to help her organize the Esoteric Section, designed to draw fully committed Theosophists together in a manner which would guarantee that the spirit of the Movement and the centrality of Masters would be preserved after the Founders departed. On October 9 the Esoteric Section was announced. In the same month The Secret Doctrine, a monument and a mystery in both its production and its contents, was published. In an elaborate commentary on selected stanzas from the Book of Dzyan, the origin, nature and evolution of cosmos and man is outlined and elucidated with a philosophical analysis of myth and religion and an uncompromising critique of nineteenth century science. In 1889 she published The Key to Theosophy and The Voice of the Silence.

The Secret Doctrine aroused great interest among close disciples. H.P.Blavatsky answered questions on the stanzas in London and they were stenographically recorded, revised by her and published as Transactions of the Blavatsky Lodge in 1890 and 1891. In 1890 the European headquarters of the Theosophical Movement was established in London, and a great stream of articles and letters, scintillating with insight and wisdom, poured from her pen throughout this period.

Having seen that the teachings which could be given out in the 1875 Cycle were clearly enunciated and that a core of disciples would carry the torch of Truth into the twentieth century, H.P.Blavatsky was entitled to leave her mortal tenement at the age of sixty on May 8, 1891. W.Q.Judge stayed on in America expanding the work and exemplifying thoughtful and devoted loyalty to the Magus-Teacher until March 21, 1896. H.S.Olcott remained President of the Theosophical Society until his death in 1907.

To honour this remarkable being, who was consistently and totally devoted to the Lodge of Mahatmas, yet who seemed more like one of them than their understudy, her death anniversary is commemorated as White Lotus Day in Theosophical Lodges and Societies throughout the world. W.Q.Judge, in whom H.P.Blavatsky recognized her most faithful disciple and truest friend, wrote:

Her aim was to elevate the race. Her method was to deal with the mind of the century as she found it, by trying to lead it on step by step; to seek out and educate a few who, appreciating the majesty of the Secret Science and devoted to 'the great orphan Humanity,' could carry on her work with zeal and wisdom; to found a Society whose efforts – however small itself might be – would inject into the thought of the day the ideas, the doctrines, the nomenclature of the Wisdom Religion, so that when the next century shall have seen its 75th year the new messenger coming again into the world would find the Society still at work, the ideas sown broadcast, the nomenclature ready to give expression and body to the immutable truth, and thus to make easy the task which for her since 1875 was so difficult and so encompassed with obstacles in the very paucity of the language, – obstacles harder than all else to work against.