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|Born||Helena von Hahn|
12 August 1831
Yekaterinoslav, Russian Empire (now Dnipropetrovsk, Ukraine)
|Died||8 May 1891 (aged 59)|
London, United Kingdom
|Parents||Peter Alekseevich Hahn|
|The neutrality of this article is disputed. (October 2013)|
|Born||Helena von Hahn|
12 August 1831
Yekaterinoslav, Russian Empire (now Dnipropetrovsk, Ukraine)
|Died||8 May 1891 (aged 59)|
London, United Kingdom
|Parents||Peter Alekseevich Hahn|
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Helena Petrovna Blavatsky (Russian: Еле́на Петро́вна Блава́тская, Ukrainian: Олена Петрівна Блаватська), born as Helena von Hahn (Russian: Елена Петровна Ган, Ukrainian: Олена Петрівна Ган; 12 August [O.S. 31 July] 1831 – 8 May 1891), was a Russian occultist.
In 1875, Blavatsky, Henry Steel Olcott, and William Quan Judge established a research and publishing institute called the Theosophical Society. Blavatsky defined Theosophy as "the archaic Wisdom-Religion, the esoteric doctrine once known in every ancient country having claims to civilization." One of the main purposes of the Theosophical Society was "to form a nucleus of the Universal Brotherhood of Humanity, without distinction of race, creed, sex, caste or color". Blavatsky saw herself as a missionary of this ancient knowledge.
Her extensive research into the spiritual traditions of the world led to the publication of what is now considered her magnum opus, The Secret Doctrine, which organizes the essence of these teachings into a comprehensive synthesis. Blavatsky's other works include Isis Unveiled, The Key to Theosophy and The Voice of the Silence. Well-known and controversial during her life, Blavatsky was no stranger to criticism. Some authors have questioned the authenticity of her writings and the validity of her claims while others have praised them. Blavatsky is a leading name in the New Age Movement.
The Theosophical Society had a major influence on Buddhist modernism and Hindu reform movements, and the spread of those modernised versions in the west. Along with H. S. Olcott and Anagarika Dharmapala, Blavatsky was instrumental in the Western transmission and revival of Theravada Buddhism.
Maternally, H. P. Blavatsky's lineage goes back through Prince Michael of Chernigov to Rurik, founder of the Russian state at Novgorod. One of Blavatsky's direct ancestors was Sergey Grigor’yevich Dolgoruky, a well-known diplomat of his time and the brother of Aleksey Grigor’evich Dolgoruky, a member of Supreme Secret Council under Peter the Second, both members of the noble House of Dolgorukov. Sergei Grigor’evich was the great grandfather of Helena Pavlovna Fadeyeva-Dolgorukaya (H.P. Blavatsky’s grandmother and also the grandmother of Count Sergei Witte) and great-great-great-grandfather of Helena Petrovna Blavatsky.
H.P. Blavatsky’s great grandfather, Prince Pavel Vasilyievich Dolgorukov (1755–1837) was a Major General during the reign of Catherine the Great. He was decorated with the highest army award, the Order of St. George and was a companion in arms of Kutuzov. His wife was Henrietta Adolfovna de Bandre du Plessis (died 1812), a daughter of a military officer (of French descent) who had command of an army corps during the Crimea campaign and, according to A.M. Fadeyev, was a favorite of Suvorov.
Princess Helena Pavlovna, H.P. Blavatsky’s grandmother, was a daughter of Pavel Vasilyievich and Henrietta Adolfovna. She received a versatile home education, spoke five languages, and focused her studies in archeology, numismatics, and botany. Fadeyev’s herbariums and pictures of various plants aroused the admiration of many scientists. Helena Pavlovna was in scientific correspondence with : well-known German scientist, Alexander von Humboldt ; English geologist and founder of Geographic Society, Sir Roderick Murchison ; Swedish botanist, Christian Steven, a researcher of Caucasus flora and fauna. According to H.F. Pisareva, botanist Homer de Hel named a shell found by him Venus-Fadeyeff in honor of Helena Pavlovna.
In 1813, Princess Helena Pavlovna Dolgoroukov married Andrey Mikhailovich Fadeyev who was the state officer and later the Secret Councilor Governor of Saratov and Tiflice. His lineage goes back to Russian hereditary noblemen and the German von Krause lineage. Andrey Mikhailovich’s grandfather, Peter Mikhailovich Fadeyev, was a captain in the army of Peter the Great. Helena Pavlovna and Andrey Mikhailovich had four children. The eldest daughter, Elena Gan (Helena von Hahn), was a well-known writer and made a name for herself as a Russian George Sand (she was the mother of Helena Petrovna Blavatsky, Vera Petrovna Zhelihovsky and Leonid Petrovich von Hahn). Their son, Rostislav Andreevich Fadeyev, was a general, army writer and reformer. Their daughter, Ekaterina Andreevna, was the mother of the well-known Russian statesman, Sergei Witte. Lastly, youngest daughter Nadejda Andreevna became an active member of the Theosophical Society.
Sergei Witte wrote that his grandfather, P.V. Dolgorukov, during his daughter’s marriage had blessed his daughter and new son-in-law with an ancient cross which, according to family legend, belonged to the Grand Prince of Kiev, St. Michael of Chernigov. Later, this cross passed into the hands of Helena Pavlovna and further to Sergei Witte.
According to the genealogy of her father, Peter Alekseevich Hahn, Helena Petrovna belongs to the Baltic-German family von Hahn. Boris Zirkoff, an editor and active promoter of theosophy, pointed out in his introduction to H.P. Blavatsky’s collected works that Hahn's family (H.P. Blavatsky’s forefathers on her father’s side) belonged to the Count von Hahn's family line from Basedov (Mecklenburg). According to information from another source, this family is traceable back to the Carolingian dynasty and German knights and crusaders. Meanwhile, any documents supporting a relationship between H.P. Blavatsky’s family and the Mecklenburg Counts von Hahn (a.k.a. Hahn von Rottenstern-Hahn) have yet to be located. In the record of service of “Aleksey Fedorov Hahn’s son” (1751–1815) (H.P.Blavatsky’s grandfather, Governor of the fortress Kamenets-Podolsk), he is mentioned as descended from “Eastland’s inhabitants." His father had foreign citizenship and was Kraits-Commissioner in the Eastland”. The archives contain the documents supporting the existence of “Kraits-Commissioner” Johann Friedrich (Fyodor) Hahn who was born in 1719 at Narva and died 31 May 1803 in the same place. The documents do not contain any information about the lineage or ties of relationship of the family. Note that B. Zirkoff himself belongs to Hahn's family on the female side, not Johann Friedrich but Johann August von Hahn, whose connection to H.P. Blavatsky’s family is not as yet documented.
Helena Petrovna was born on 31 July (12 August new style), 1831, at Yekaterinoslav (from 1926 Dnepropetrovsk). Her parents were Colonel Peter von Hahn (Russian: Пётр Алексеевич Ган, 1798–1873) of the ancient von Hahn family of German nobility (German: Uradel) from Basedow (Mecklenburg) and her mother Helena Andreevna von Hahn (Fadeyeva).
Because of her father’s profession, the family often moved. A year after Helena’s birth, the family moved to Romankovo (now part of Dneprodzerzhinsk), and in 1835 they moved to Odessa, where Helena’s sister, Vera (the future writer Zhelihovsky), was born. Later the family lived in Tula and Kursk. In the spring of 1836 they arrived in St. Petersburg where they lived until May 1837. From St. Petersburg, Helena Petrovna, along with her sister, mother, and grandfather Andrei Mikhailovich Fadeyev moved to Astrakhan. There, Andrei Mikhailovich was an officer in charge of Kalmyks and local German colonists. In 1838, Helena's mother moved with her daughters to Poltava, where Helena began to take dance lessons and her mother taught her to play the piano.
In spring 1839, the family moved to Odessa. There Helena Andreevna found a governess for her children, who taught them English. In November, Helena’s grandfather Andrei Mikhailovich was assigned governor of Saratov by Emperor Nikolai I. After this, Helena Andreevna and her children moved to live with him. In June 1840, at Saratov, Helena Andreevna's son Leonid was born. Helena Petrovna was then nine years old. Nadezhda Fadeyeva, Helena’s aunt, wrote to A. Sinnett of her memory of her niece:
In childhood, all [Helena’s] likings and interests were concentrated on the people from lower estates. She preferred to play with the children of domestics but not with equals. <…> She always needs attention to prevent her escape from home and meetings with street ragamuffins. And at a mature age she irrepressibly reached out to those whose status was lower than her own, and displayed a marked indifference to the “nobles”, to which she belongs by birth.
At ten years old, Helena began to study German. Her progress was so appreciable that, according to V. Zhelihovsky, her father “complimented her, and in jest called her a worthy heiress of her glorious ancestors, German knights Hahn-Hahn von der Rother Hahn, who knew no other language besides German."
In 1841, the family returned to Ukraine. On 6 July 1842, Helena Andreevna Hahn, Helena’s mother and at that time a well-known writer, died at the age of 28 of galloping consumption.
According to Vera Zhelihovsky, Helena's mother, at the time, was worried about the destiny of her elder daughter, “gifted from childhood with outstanding features”. Before her death, her mother said: “Well! Perhaps it is for the better that I am dying: at least, I will not suffer from seeing Helena’s hard lot! I am quite sure that her destiny will be not womanly, that she will suffer much”.
After her mother’s death, Helena’s grandfather Andrei Mikhailovich and grandmother Helena Pavlovna took the children to Saratov, where they had quite a different life. Fadeyev’s house was visited by Saratov’s intellectuals. A well-known historian, Kostomarov, and writer, Mary Zhukova, were among them. Helena's grandmother and three teachers were occupied with the children’s upbringing and education, so she received a solid home education.
Helena’s favorite place in the house was her grandmother’s library, which Helena Pavlovna inherited from her father. In this voluminous library, Helena Petrovna paid special attention to the books on medieval occultism.
In 1847, the family had moved from Saratov to Tiflis (now Tbilisi, Georgia), where Andrei Mikhailovich was invited to work at the Council of Senior Governance in the Transcaucasia region. H.F. Pisareva wrote in her biographic essay “Helena Petrovna Blavatsky”:
They who knew her … in youth remember with delight her inexhaustibly merry, cheerful, sparkling with wit. She liked jokes, teasing and to cause a commotion.
Nadejda Andreevna Fadeyeva, Helena’s aunt, remembered the following:
“As a child, as a young woman, as a woman, she always was so higher than her surroundings that she never was could not appreciate its true value. She was trained as a girl from good family … extraordinary wealth in the form of her intellectual faculties, fineness and quickness of thought, amazing understanding and learning of most difficult disciplines, unusually developed mind together with chivalrous, direct, energetic and open character—this is what raised her so high over the level of conventional society and could not help attracting the common attention and therefore the envy and hostility from these who with their nonentity can not stand of luster and gifts of this wonderful nature”.
In youth, Helena had a high life, often was in society, danced at the balls and visited the parties. But when she reached 16, she experienced a sudden inner change, and she began to study the books from her great-grandfather’s library more deeply.
In 1910, H.F. Pisareva, in her essay dedicated to Blavatsky, cited the reminiscences of Mary Grigor’evna Yermolova, the Tiflis governor’s wife: “Simultaneously with Fadeev’s family, in Tiflis lived a relation of the Caucasian Governor-general, prince Golitsin. He often visited Fadeyevs and was greatly interested by an original young woman”. Due to Golitsin (Yermolova did not cite his name) who, as it was rumored, was “either mason or magician or soothsayer” Blavatsky tried “to come into contact with a mysterious sage of the East where prince Golitsin was going to”. This version was further supported by many biographers of H. Blavatsky. According to A.M.Fadeyev and V.P. Jelihovsky, at the end of 1847, an old friend of Andrei Mikhailovich prince Vladimir Sergeevich Golitsin (1794–1861), Major General, Head of the Caucasian line centre and further privy councilor, arrived to Tiflis and lived there a few months. He almost daily visited Fadeyevs, and often with his young sons Sergei (1823–1873) and Alexander (1825–1864). Therefore, some researchers of H.P. Blavatsky consider the information from M. Yermolova about prince Golitsin improbable because the young Golitsin’s sons did not correspond to Yermolova’s description because of age, and aged prince Golitsin could not be “strongly interested for an original young woman” because of moral reasons. In addition, according to his biographers, prince Golitsin never was going to the East.
Striving for full independence during the winter of 1848/1849 at Tiflis, Helena Petrovna entered into a sham marriage with the vice-governor of Erevan, Nikifor Vladimirovich Blavatsky, who was much older than she. On 7 June 1849, their wedding ceremony took place. Soon after their wedding, Helena escaped from her husband and returned to her relatives. Further, she was going to Odessa and sailed away from Poti to Kerch in the English sailboat “Commodore”. Then she moved to Constantinople. There she met a Russian countess Kiseleva, and together they traveled over Egypt, Greece and Eastern Europe.
The next period of Blavatsky’s life is difficult for her biographers, as she did not keep diaries and there was nobody with her to tell about these events. In general, a picture of a route and course of the travels is based mainly on Blavatsky’s memoirs, which sometimes contain chronological contradictions. N.A. Fadeyeva reported that of all her relatives only her father knew where she was, and from time to time he sent money to her. It is known that Helena Blavatsky met an art student named Albert Rawson in Cairo. After Blavatsky’s death, Rawson, who by that time was a doctor of theology and of law at Oxford, described their meeting at Cairo. According to her memory, Blavatsky told him about her future participation in the work which some day would serve to liberate the human mind. Rawson wrote:
Her relation to her mission was highly impersonal because she often repeated: "This work is not mine, but he who sends me."
According to Blavatsky’s reminiscences, after leaving the Middle East she began to travel Europe with her father. It is known that at this time she learned to play piano with Ignaz Moscheles, the well-known composer and virtuoso pianist. Later she gave several concerts in England and other countries.
In 1851, on her birthday (12 August), Blavatsky met her Teacher for the first time in Hyde Park in London. Previously, she had seen this Teacher in her dreams. Countess Konstanz Wachtmeister, widow of the Swedish ambassador at London, remembered the details of this conversation in which Blavatsky's Teacher said that he "needs her participation in the work he is going to undertake" and "she will live three years in Tibet to prepare for this important mission." After leaving England, H.P. Blavatsky went to Canada, then to Mexico, Central and South America. In 1852 she arrived in India, where she remembered, "I lived there about two years and received money monthly from [an] unknown person. I honestly followed the pointed route. I received letters from this Hindu but [have] not once seen him during these two years".
Before leaving India, Blavatsky tried to enter Tibet through Nepal but a British representative would not permit it.
From India, Blavatsky went back to London, where, according to V. Zhelihovsky, she acquired "fame by her musical talent. She was a member of the philharmonic society". Here, according to H.P. Blavatsky, she met her Teacher again. After this meeting she went to New York, where she again met A. Rawson. Then, according to A.P. Sinnett, she traveled to Chicago, and further, together with settler caravans, to the West through the Rocky Mountains. After this, she stayed some time in San Francisco. In 1855 (or 1856), she sailed across the Pacific Ocean to the Far East, via Japan and Singapore, to arrive in Calcutta.
In 1856, Blavatsky’s memories about living in India were published in the book From the Caves and Jungles of Hindustan. The book was composed of essays written from 1879 to 1886 under the pen name "Radda-Bay". In Russian, the essays were first published in the newspaper Moskovskie vedomosti, which was edited by Mikhail Katkov. The essays attracted great interest among the readership, so Katkov republished them as an attachment to The Russian Messenger and then published new letters written specially for this journal. In 1892, the book was partially translated into English; in 1975 it was fully translated into English.
The book From the Caves and Jungles of Hindustan describes the travels of Blavatsky and her Teacher, whom she named Takhur Gulab-Singh. Though the book was considered a novel, Blavatsky asserted that "the facts and persons that I cited are true. I simply collected to time interval in three-four months the events and cases occurring during several years just like the part of the phenomena that the Teacher has shown".
In 1857, Blavatsky repeatedly tried to pass to Tibet from India via Kashmir but shortly before the Mutiny she received instructions from her Teacher and sailed on a Dutch ship from Madras to Java. Later she returned to Europe.
Blavatsky spent several months in France and Germany, and then she moved to Pskov to be with her relatives. She arrived on Christmas night of 1858. According to V. Jelihovsky, H.P. Blavatsky returned from the travels as "a human gifted by exceptional features and forces amazing [to] all the people around her".
In May 1859 Blavatsky moved with her family to the village Rugodevo in the Novorzhev district, where Blavatsky stayed for almost a year. This period ended with Blavatsky falling ill. In the spring of 1860, after she recovered, she, together with her sister, moved to Caucasus to visit her grandparents.
V. Jelihovsky reported that on the way to Caucasus, at Zadonsk, Blavatsky met the former exarch, Georgia Isidor. He was the Metropolitan of Kiev and then Novgorod, St-Petersburg and Finland. Isidor gave his blessing to H.P. Blavatsky. (Details see below). From Russia, Blavatsky began to travel again. Although her route is not known for certain, she probably visited Persia, Syria, Lebanon, Jerusalem and went multiple times to Egypt, Greece and Italy.
In 1867, she traveled through Hungary and Balkans for a few months. Then she visited Venice, Florence and Mentana. According to N. Fodor’s biography, in 17 November 1867 she took part in the Battle of Mentana on the side of Giuseppe Garibaldi. Her left hand was broken twice by saber stabs; in addition, she experienced two hard missile wounds in her right shoulder and leg. Initially, she was thought killed but later was picked up at the battlefield. Blavatsky told Olcott that she was a volunteer at Mentana along with other European women.
On the beginning of 1868, when Blavatsky recovered from her wounds, she moved to Florence. Then she traveled to Northern Italy and the Balkans and further to Constantinople, India and Tibet.
Later, when she answered to the question why she traveled to Tibet, H.P. Blavatsky wrote:
Really, it is quite useless to go to Tibet or India to recover some knowledge or power that are hidden in any human soul; but acquisition of higher knowledge and power requires not only many years of intensive studying under the guidance of higher mind together with a resolution that cannot be shaken by any danger, and as much as years of relative solitude, in communication with disciples only which pursue the same aim, and in such a place where both the nature and the neophyte preserve a perfect and unbroken rest if not the silence! There the air is not poisoned by miasmas around a hundreds miles, and there the atmosphere and human magnetism are quite clear and there the animal’s blood is never shed.
According to biographers, H.P. Blavatsky’s path led to Tashilunpo monastery (near Shigatse). A book "The Voice of the Silence", published for the request of Panchen Lama IX in 1927 by Chinese society for Buddhism study at Peking, reports that H. Blavatsky during several years studied in Tashilunpo and knew Panchen Lama VIII Tenpay Vangchug well. Blavatsky also confirmed her living at Tashilunpo and Shigatse. In a letter, she depicted for her correspondent a solitary temple of Tashi Lama near Shigatse.
S. Cranston asserts that, according to H.P. Blavatsky, it was not known she was at Lhasa in that time, but V. Jelihovsky affirmed the follows: "It is reliably that she (Blavatsky) sometimes was at Lhasa, capital of Tibet, and also at Shigatse, main Tibetan religious centre … and at Karakoram mountains in Kunlun Shan. Her living stories about this proved that for me many times".
According to the biographers, H.P. Blavatsky's last period of living in Tibet was in the home of her Teacher Koot Hoomi (K.H.). He also helped Blavatsky to get to several lamaseries where no European had been before her. In the letter from 2 October 1991 (?) she wrote to M. Hillis-Billing that the house of Teacher K.H. "is in the region of Karakoram mountains beyond Ladakh which is at minor Tibet and related now to Kashmir. This is a large wooden building in China style looking like to pagoda located between lake and a nice river".
Researchers believe that just at this time (while living in Tibet) Blavatsky began to study the texts which later will come to the book "The Voice of the Silence".
In 1927, one of the eminent explorers of Tibet and its philosophy W.Y. Evans-Wentz wrote in introduction to his translation of "The Tibetan Book of the Dead": "As concerning an esoteric meaning of forty ninth day of Bardo, please see about this in H.P. Blavatsky’s “The Secret Doctrine” (London, 1888, v. 1, pp. 238, 411; v. 2, pp. 617, 628). Late lama K.D. Samdup believed that in spite of malevolent critics of Blavatsky’s works, this author has undisputable proofs that she was well acquainted with the highest lamaist teaching, and for this she needs to get an initiation". Doctor Malalasekera, founder and President of the World Buddhist brotherhood, wrote about Blavatsky in a monumental "Buddhism Encyclopedia": "Her acquaintance with Tibetan Buddhism and also with esoteric Buddhism practices is indubitable". Thus, Japanese philosopher and Buddhologist D. T. Suzuki supposes that
"undoubtedly Ms. Blavatsky somehow or other was initiated into deeper propositions of the Mahayana teaching".
After almost three years living at Tibet, Blavatsky began to travel through Middle East. Then she visited Cyprus and Greece.
In 1871, during the travel from Piraeus to Egypt on the ship "Evnomia" the powder magazine blew up and the ship was destroyed. Thirty passengers died. H.P. Blavatsky escaped but lost her luggage and money.
In 1871, Blavatsky arrived to Cairo where she has founded a Spiritualistic society (Societe Sirite) aimed on studying of mental phenomena. However, soon the society turned out in centre of financial scandal and was disbanded.
In July 1872, after leaving of Cairo, Blavatsky came to Odessa through Syria, Palestine and Constantinople where she lived for nine months.
Count Sergei Witte, her cousin, remembered that Blavatsky "when settled at Odessa, <…> firstly opened a shop and factory for ink and then a flower shop (for artificial flowers). At this time she often visited my mother. … When I make the acquaintance of her, I was surprised by her colossal talent to grasp any thing very quickly. … Many times before my very eyes she wrote the longest letters to her friends and relatives. … In the main, she was very not unkindly woman. She has so huge blue eyes that I never see in my life".
On April 1873, Blavatsky moved from Odessa to Bucharest to visit her friend. Then she came to Paris where she lived with her first cousin Nikolai Hahn. In the end of July, she purchased a ticket to New York. H. Olcott and Countess K. Vahtmeister reported that when H.P. Blavatsky saw a poor woman with two children who could not pay the fare, she changed her first-class ticket for four third-class tickets and traveled the Pacific Ocean for two weeks in third-class.
In 1873, Blavatsky moved to Paris and then to the USA where she met Colonel Henry Steel Olcott. In 1875, they established the Theosophical Society. On April 3, 1875, in New York, Blavatsky formally married Michael Betanelly, a Georgian living in America. The marriage dissolved after several months, and on 8 July 1878 she became an American citizen.
In February 1879, Blavatsky and Olcott left for Bombay. In 1882, they founded a headquarters of the Theosophical Society in Adyar, in the southern suburbs of Madras, which still exists today. From 1879 to 1888 Blavatsky edited the magazine The Theosophist.
They soon met Alfred Sinnett, editor of the government Allahabad’s newspaper The Pioneer. Sinnett was seriously interested in the activities of the Society. Using H. Blavatsky’s mediation, he began to correspond with Mahatmas. While Sinnett was against the publication of these letters in total volume, he selected for publication some fragments which, as he believed, reflected the Mahatmas' thoughts exactly enough. The full correspondence was published by Alfred Barker in 1923, after Sinnett’s death.
Blavatsky left India in 1885, making her way to Germany and Belgium, where she lived for some time. She later moved to London where she was occupied with writing of the books. She then wrote The Voice of the Silence (1889), The Secret Doctrine (1888), The Key to Theosophy (1889).
On 8 May 1891 Blavatsky died of influenza during the 1889–1890 flu pandemic. Her body was cremated at Woking Crematorium and the ashes were divided between three centers of the theosophical movement: London, New York and Adyar (near Madras). The day of her death is observed by the followers as “day of the white lotus”.
Blavatsky helped found the Theosophical Society in New York City in 1875 with the motto, "There is no Religion higher than Truth". Its other principal founding members include Henry Steel Olcott (1832–1907), and William Quan Judge (1851–1896). After several changes and iterations its declared objectives became the following:
The Society was organized as a non-proselytizing, non-sectarian entity. Blavatsky and Olcott (the first President of the Society) moved from New York to Bombay, India in 1878. The International Headquarters of the Society was eventually established in Adyar, a suburb of Madras. Following Blavatsky’s death, disagreements among prominent Theosophists caused a series of splits and several Theosophical Societies and Organizations emerged. As of 2011[update] Theosophy remains an active philosophical school with presences in more than 50 countries around the world.
|It has been suggested that this section be merged into Theosophy. (Discuss) Proposed since March 2013.|
Blavatsky is most well known for her promulgation of a theosophical system of thought, often referred to under various names, including: The Occult Science, The Esoteric Tradition, The Wisdom of the Ages, etc., or simply as Occultism or Theosophy.
Theosophy was considered by Blavatsky to be “the substratum and basis of all the world-religions and philosophies” In her book “The Key to Theosophy”, she stated the following about the meaning and origin of the term:
ENQUIRER. Theosophy and its doctrines are often referred to as a new-fangled religion. Is it a religion?
THEOSOPHIST. It is not. Theosophy is Divine Knowledge or Science.THEOSOPHIST. It comes to us from the Alexandrian philosophers, called lovers of truth, Philaletheians, from phil "loving," and aletheia "truth." The name Theosophy dates from the third century of our era, and began with Ammonius Saccas and his disciples, who started the Eclectic Theosophical system.
ENQUIRER. What is the real meaning of the term?
THEOSOPHIST. "Divine Wisdom," (Theosophia) or Wisdom of the gods, as (theogonia), genealogy of the gods. The word theos means a god in Greek, one of the divine beings, certainly not "God" in the sense attached in our day to the term. Therefore, it is not "Wisdom of God," as translated by some, but Divine Wisdom such as that possessed by the gods. The term is many thousand years old.
ENQUIRER. What is the origin of the name?
According to her, all real lovers of divine wisdom and truth had, and have, a right to the name of Theosophist. Blavatsky discussed the major themes of Theosophy in several major works, including The Secret Doctrine, Isis Unveiled, The Key to Theosophy, and The Voice of the Silence. She also wrote over 200 articles in various theosophical magazines and periodicals. Contemporaries of Blavatsky, as well as later theosophists, contributed to the development of this school of theosophical thought, producing works that at times sought to elucidate the ideas she presented (see Gottfried de Purucker), and at times to expand upon them. Since its inception, and through doctrinal assimilation or divergence, Theosophy has also given rise to or influenced the development of other mystical, philosophical, and religious movements.
Broadly, Theosophy attempts to reconcile humanity's scientific, philosophical, and religious disciplines and practices into a unified worldview. As it largely employs a synthesizing approach, it makes extensive use of the vocabulary and concepts of many philosophical and religious traditions. However these, along with all other fields of knowledge, are investigated, amended, and explained within an esoteric or occult framework. In often elaborate exposition, Theosophy's all-encompassing worldview proposes explanations for the origin, workings and ultimate fate of the universe and humanity; it has therefore also been called a system of "absolutist metaphysics".[note 1]
According to Blavatsky, Theosophy is neither revelation nor speculation.[note 2] It is portrayed as an attempt at gradual, faithful reintroduction of a hitherto hidden science, which is called in Theosophical literature The Occult Science. According to Blavatsky, this postulated science provides a description of Reality not only at a physical level, but also on a metaphysical one. The Occult Science is said to have been preserved (and practiced) throughout history by carefully selected and trained individuals.[note 3] Theosophists further assert that Theosophy's precepts and their axiomatic foundation may be verified by following certain prescribed disciplines that develop in the practitioner metaphysical means of knowledge, which transcend the limitations of the senses. It is commonly held by Theosophists that many of the basic Theosophical tenets may in the future be empirically and objectively verified by science, as it develops further.
In The Secret Doctrine, Blavatsky spoke of a basic item of cosmogony reflected in the ancient saying: “as above, so below”. This item is used by many theosophists as a method of study and has been called “The Law of Correspondences”. Briefly, the law of correspondences states that the microcosm is the miniature copy of the macrocosm and therefore what is found “below” can be found, often through analogy, “above”. Examples include the basic structures of microcosmic organisms mirroring the structure of macrocosmic organisms (see septenary systems, below). The lifespan of a human being can be seen to follow, by analogy, the same path as the seasons of the Earth, and in theosophy it is postulated that the same general process is equally applied to the lifespan of a planet, a solar system, a galaxy and to the universe itself. Through the Law of Correspondences, a theosophist seeks to discover the first principles underlying various phenomenon by finding the shared essence or idea, and thus to move from particulars to principles.
Applied Theosophy was one of the main reasons for the foundation of the Theosophical Society in 1875; the practice of Theosophy was considered an integral part of its contemporary incarnation.[note 4] Theosophical discipline includes the practice of study, meditation, and service, which are traditionally seen as necessary for a holistic development. Also, the acceptance and practical application of the Society's motto and of its three objectives are part of the Theosophical life. Efforts at applying its tenets started early. Study and meditation are normally promoted in the activities of the Theosophical Society, and in 1908 an international charitable organization to promote service, the Theosophical Order of Service, was founded.
Despite extensively using Sanskrit terminology in her works, many Theosophical concepts are expressed differently than in the original scriptures. To provide clarity on her intended meanings, Blavatsky's The Theosophical Glossary was published in 1892, one year after her death. According to the editor, G.R.S. Mead, in his Preface to the Glossary, Blavatsky wished to express her indebtedness to four works: the Sanskrit-Chinese Dictionary, the Hindu Classical Dictionary, Vishnu-Purana, and the Royal Masonic Cyclopaedia.
Blavatsky explained the essential component ideas of her cosmogony in her magnum opus, The Secret Doctrine. She began with three fundamental propositions, of which she said: “Before the reader proceeds … it is absolutely necessary that he should be made acquainted with the few fundamental conceptions which underlie and pervade the entire system of thought to which his attention is invited. These basic ideas are few in number, and on their clear apprehension depends the understanding of all that follows…”
The first proposition is that there is one underlying, unconditioned, indivisible Truth, variously called "the Absolute", "the Unknown Root", "the One Reality", etc. It is causeless and timeless, and therefore unknowable and non-describable: "It is 'Be-ness' rather than Being". However, transient states of matter and consciousness are manifested in IT, in an unfolding gradation from the subtlest to the densest, the final of which is physical plane. According to this view, manifest existence is a "change of condition" and therefore neither the result of creation nor a random event.
Everything in the universe is informed by the potentialities present in the "Unknown Root," and manifest with different degrees of Life (or energy), Consciousness, and Matter.
The second proposition is "the absolute universality of that law of periodicity, of flux and reflux, ebb and flow". Accordingly, manifest existence is an eternally re-occurring event on a "boundless plane": "'the playground of numberless Universes incessantly manifesting and disappearing,'" each one "standing in the relation of an effect as regards its predecessor, and being a cause as regards its successor", doing so over vast but finite periods of time.
Related to the above is the third proposition: "The fundamental identity of all Souls with the Universal Over-Soul... and the obligatory pilgrimage for every Soul—a spark of the former—through the Cycle of Incarnation (or 'Necessity') in accordance with Cyclic and Karmic law, during the whole term." The individual souls are seen as units of consciousness (Monads) that are intrinsic parts of a universal oversoul, just as different sparks are parts of a fire. These Monads undergo a process of evolution where consciousness unfolds and matter develops. This evolution is not random, but informed by intelligence and with a purpose. Evolution follows distinct paths in accord with certain immutable laws, aspects of which are perceivable on the physical level. One such law is the law of periodicity and cyclicity; another is the law of karma or cause and effect.
In this recapitulation of The Secret Doctrine, Blavatsky gave a summary of the central points of her system of cosmogony. These central points are as follows:
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In the first book of The Secret Doctrine Blavatsky drew an "analogy between the Aryan or Brahmanical and the Egyptian esotericism." She said that the "seven rays of the Chaldean Heptakis or Iao, on the Gnostic stones" represent the seven large stars of the Egyptian "Great Bear" constellation, the seven elemental powers, and the Hindu "seven Rishis." Blavatsky saw the seven rays of the Vedic sun deity Vishnu as representing the same concept as the "astral fluid or 'Light' of the Kabalists," and said that the seven emanations of the lower seven sephiroth are the "primeval seven rays," and "will be found and recognized in every religion."
Theosophy holds that the manifested universe is ordered by the number seven, a common claim among Esoteric and mystical doctrines and religions. Thus, the evolutionary "pilgrimage" proceeds cyclically through seven stages, the three first steps involving an apparent involution, the fourth one being one of equilibrium, and the last three involving a progressive development.
There are seven symbols of particular importance to the Society's symbology: 1) the seal of the Society, 2) a serpent biting its tail, 3) the gnostic cross (near the serpent's head), 4) the interlaced triangles, 5) the cruxansata (in the centre), 6) the pin of the Society, composed of cruxansata and serpent entwined, forming together "T.S.", and, 7) Om (or aum), the sacred syllable of the Vedas. The seal of the Society contains all of these symbols, except aum, and thus contains, in symbolic form, the doctrines its members follow.
In the Theosophical view all major facets of existence manifest following a seven-fold model: "Our philosophy teaches us that, as there are seven fundamental forces in nature, and seven planes of being, so there are seven states of consciousness in which man can live, think, remember and have his being."
The Cosmos does not consist only of the physical plane that can be perceived with the five senses, but there is a succession of seven Cosmic planes of existence, composed of increasingly subtler forms of matter-energy, and in which states of consciousness other than the commonly known can manifest. Blavatsky described the planes according to these states of consciousness. In her system, for example, the plane of the material and concrete mind (lower mental plane) is classified as different from the plane of the spiritual and holistic mind (higher mental plane). Later Theosophists like Charles Webster Leadbeater and Annie Besant classified the seven planes according to the kind of subtle matter that compose them. Since both the higher and lower mental planes share the same type of subtle matter, they regard them as one single plane with two subdivisions. In this later view the seven cosmic planes include (from spiritual to material):
Just as the Cosmos is not limited to its physical dimension, human beings have also subtler dimensions and bodies. The "Septenary Nature of Man" was described by Blavatsky in, among other works, The Key to Theosophy; in descending order, it ranges from a postulated purely spiritual essence (called a "Ray of the Absolute") to the physical body.
The Theosophical teachings about the constitution of human beings talk about two different, but related, things: principles and bodies. Principles are the seven basic constituents of the universe, usually described by Mme. Blavatsky as follows:
These Principles in Man may or may not form one or more bodies. Mme. Blavatsky's teachings about subtle bodies were few and not very systematic. In an article she described three subtle bodies:
The Linga Sharira is the invisible double of the human body, elsewhere referred to as the etheric body or doppelgänger and serves as a model or matrix of the physical body, which conforms to the shape, appearance and condition of his "double". The linga sarira can be separated or projected a limited distance from the body. When separated from the body it can be wounded by sharp objects. When it returns to the physical frame, the wound will be reflected in the physical counterpart, a phenomenon called "repercussion." At death, it is discarded together with the physical body and eventually disintegrates or decomposes. This can be seen over the graves like a luminous figure of the man that was, during certain atmospheric conditions.
The mayavi-rupa is dual in its functions, being: "...the vehicle both of thought and of the animal passions and desires, drawing at one and the same time from the lowest terrestrial manas (mind) and Kama, the element of desire."
The higher part of this body, containing the spiritual elements gathered during life, merges after death entirely into the causal body; while the lower part, containing the animal elements, forms the Kama-rupa, the source of "spooks" or apparitions of the dead.
Therefore, besides the dense physical body, the subtle bodies in a human being are:
These bodies go up to the higher mental plane. The two higher spiritual Principles of Buddhi and Atma do not form bodies proper but are something more like "sheaths".
It follows from the above that to Theosophy, all Evolution is basically the evolution of Consciousness, physical-biological evolution being only a constituent part.[note 5] All evolutionary paths involve the serial immersion (or reincarnation) of basic units of consciousness called Monads into forms that become gradually denser, and which eventually culminate in gross physical matter. At that point the process reverses towards a respiritualization of consciousness. The experience gained in the previous evolutionary stages is retained; and so consciousness inexorably advances towards greater completeness.
All individuated existence, regardless of stature, apparent animation, or complexity, is thought to be informed by a Monad; in its human phase, the Monad consists of the two highest-ordered (out of seven) constituents or principles of human nature and is connected to the third-highest principle, that of mind and self-consciousness (see Septenary above).
Theosophy describes humanity's evolution on Earth in the doctrine of Root races.[note 6] These are seven stages of development, during which every human Monad evolves alongside others in stages that last millions of years, each stage occurring mostly in a different super-continent—these continents are actually, according to Theosophy co-evolving geological and climatic stages.[note 7] At present, humanity's evolution is at the fifth stage, the so-called Aryan Root race, which is developing on its appointed geologic/climatic period.[note 8] The continuing development of the Aryan stage has been taking place since about the middle of the Calabrian (about 1,000,000 years ago).[note 9] The previous fourth Root race was at the midpoint of the sevenfold evolutionary cycle, the point in which the "human" Monad became fully vested in the increasingly complex and dense forms that developed for it. A component of that investment was the gradual appearance of contemporary human physiology, which finalized to the form known to early 21st century medical science during the fourth Root race.[note 10] The current fifth stage is on the ascending arc, signifying the gradual reemergence of spiritualized consciousness (and of the proper forms, or "vehicles", for it) as humanity's dominant characteristic. The appearance of Root races is not strictly serial; they first develop while the preceding Race is still dominant. Older races complete their evolutionary cycle and die out; the present fifth Root race will in time evolve into the more advanced spiritually sixth.
Humanity's evolution is a subset of planetary evolution, which is described in the doctrine of Rounds, itself a subject of Theosophy's Esoteric cosmology. Rounds may last hundreds of millions of years each. Theosophy states that Earth is currently in the fourth Round of the planet's own sevenfold development.[note 11] Human evolution is tied to the particular Round or planetary stage of evolution—the Monads informing humans in this Round were previously informing the third Round's animal class, and will "migrate" to a different class of entities in the fifth Round.[note 12]
The Secret Doctrine (II, 610) states:
Mankind did not issue from one solitary couple. Nor was there ever a first man—whether Adam or Yima—but a first mankind. It may, or may not, be "mitigated polygenism." Once that both creation ex nihilo—an absurdity—and a superhuman Creator or creators—a fact—are made away with by science, polygenism presents no more difficulties or inconveniences (rather fewer from a scientific point of view) than monogenism does.
Blavatsky used the compounded word Root race to describe each of the seven successive stages of human evolution that take place over large time periods in her cosmology. A Root-race is the archetype from which spring all the races that form humanity in a particular evolutionary cycle. She called the current Root-race, the fifth one, "Aryan,".
The present Root-race was preceded by the fourth one, which developed in Atlantis, while the third Root-race is denominated "Lemurian". She described the Aryan Root-race in the following way:
The Aryan races, for instance, now varying from dark brown, almost black, red-brown-yellow, down to the whitest creamy colour, are yet all of one and the same stock—the Fifth Root-Race—and spring from one single progenitor, (...) who is said to have lived over 18,000,000 years ago, and also 850,000 years ago—at the time of the sinking of the last remnants of the great continent of Atlantis.
Her evolutionary view admits a difference in development between various ethnic groups:
The occult doctrine admits of no such divisions as the Aryan and the Semite, accepting even the Turanian [as part of the same language group] with ample reservations. The Semites, especially the Arabs, are later Aryans—degenerate in spirituality and perfected in materiality."
She also states that:
There are, or rather still were a few years ago, descendants of these half-animal tribes or races, both of remote Lemurian and Lemuro-Atlantean origin ... Of such semi-animal creatures, the sole remnants known to Ethnology were the Tasmanians, a portion of the Australians and a mountain tribe in China, the men and women of which are entirely covered with hair.
Blavatsky's teachings talk about three separate levels of evolution: physical, intellectual, and spiritual. Blavatsky states that there are differences in the spiritual evolution of the Monads (the "divine spark" in human beings), in the intellectual development of the souls, and in the physical qualities of the bodies. These levels of evolution are independent. A highly evolved Monad may incarnate, for karmic reasons, in a rather crude personality. Also, a very intellectual person may be less evolved at the spiritual level than an illiterate.
She also states that cultures follow a cycle of rising, development, degeneration, and eventually disappear. Also, according to her there is a fixed number of reincarnating souls evolving, all of which are beyond sex, nationality, religion, and other physical or cultural characteristics. In its evolutionary journey, every soul has to take birth in every culture in the world, where it acquires different skills and learns different lessons.
Even though she declares that at this point of their cultural evolutionary cycle the Semites, especially the Arabs, are "degenerate in spirituality and perfected in materiality," she also stated that there were wise and initiated teachers among the Jews and the Arabs, some of them were Blavatsky's teachers early in her life.
Blavatsky does not claim that the present Aryan Root-race is the last and highest of them all. The Indo-European races will also eventually degenerate and disappear, as new and more developed races and cultures develop on the planet:
Thus will mankind, race after race, perform its appointed cycle-pilgrimage. Climates will, and have already begun, to change, each tropical year after the other dropping one sub-race, but only to beget another higher race on the ascending cycle; while a series of other less favoured groups—the failures of nature—will, like some individual men, vanish from the human family without even leaving a trace behind.
Such is the course of Nature under the sway of KARMIC LAW: of the ever present and the ever-becoming Nature.
The first aim of the Theosophical Society she founded is "To form a nucleus of the Universal Brotherhood of Humanity, without distinction of race, creed, sex, caste or colour", and her writings also include references emphasizing the unity of humanity: "all men have spiritually and physically the same origin" and that "mankind is essentially of one and the same essence".
In Sylvia Cranston's biography, Blavatsky is quoted as saying that in reality there is no inferior or low-grade races because all of it are one common humankind. A view which is also evident in the Secret Doctrine.
During the 1920s the Theosophical Society Adyar had around 7,000 members in the USA. There also was a substantial following in Asia. According to a Theosophical source, the Indian section in 2008 was said to have around 13,000 members while in the US the 2008 membership was reported at around 3,900.
Very few scientists have been Theosophists, though some notable exceptions have included the chemists William Crookes and Ernest Lester Smith who were elected members of the British Royal Society and I. K. Taimni a professor of Chemistry at the Allahabad University in India.[note 13]
Rudolf Steiner, head of the German branch of the Theosophical Society in the early part of the 20th-century, disagreed with the Adyar-based international leadership of the Society over several doctrinal matters including the so-called World Teacher Project (see above). Steiner left the Theosophical Society in 1913 to promote his own Theosophy-influenced philosophy, which he called Anthroposophy through a new organization, the Anthroposophical Society; the great majority of German-speaking Theosophists joined him in the new group.
Austrian/German ultra-nationalist Guido von List and his followers such as Lanz von Liebenfels, selectively mixed Theosophical doctrine on the evolution of Humanity and on Root races with nationalistic and fascist ideas; this system of thought became known as Ariosophy, a precursor of Nazism. The central importance of "Aryan" racism in Ariosophy, albeit compounded by occult notions deriving from theosophy, may be traced to the racial concerns of Social Darwinism in Germany.
The present-day New Age movement is said to be based to a considerable extent on the Theosophical tenets and ideas presented by Blavatsky and her contemporaries. "No single organization or movement has contributed so many components to the New Age Movement as the Theosophical Society. ... It has been the major force in the dissemination of occult literature in the West in the twentieth century."
Other organizations loosely based on Theosophical texts and doctrines include the Agni Yoga, and a group of religions based on Theosophy called the Ascended Master Teachings: the "I AM" Activity, The Bridge to Freedom and The Summit Lighthouse, which evolved into the Church Universal and Triumphant.
Some early members of the Theosophical Society were closely linked to the Indian independence movement, including Allan Octavian Hume, Annie Besant and others. Hume was particularly involved in the founding of the Indian National Congress.
Artists and authors who investigated Theosophy include Talbot Mundy, Charles Howard Hinton, Geoffrey Hodson, James Jones, H. P. Lovecraft, Robert E. Howard, Clark Ashton Smith, Sun Ra, Lawren Harris and L. Frank Baum. Composer Alexander Scriabin was a Theosophist whose beliefs influenced his music, especially by providing a justification or rationale for his chromatic language. Scriabin devised a quartal synthetic chord, often called his "mystic" chord, and before his death Scriabin planned a multimedia work to be performed in the Himalayas that would bring about the armageddon; "a grandiose religious synthesis of all arts which would herald the birth of a new world." This piece, Mysterium, was never realized, due to his death in 1915.
Blavatsky presented her book The Voice of the Silence. The Seven gates. Two ways to Tolstoy. In his works, Tolstoy used the dicta from the theosophical journal “Teosophisner Wegwiser”. In his diary, on 12 February 1903 he made a following writing:
I am writing a beautiful theosophical journal and find many common with my understanding”.
Leonid Sabaneev, in his book “Reminiscences about Scriabin” (1925), wrote that Blavatsky’s “The Secret Doctrine” and journals “Bulletin of theosophy” constantly were on Scriabin’s work table]. Scriabin reread the “Secret Doctrine” very carefully and marked the most important places by a pencil.
Blavatsky was influential on spiritualism and related subcultures: "The western esoteric tradition has no more important figure in modern times." She wrote prolifically, publishing thousands of pages and debate continues about her work. She taught about very abstract and metaphysical principles, but also sought to denounce and correct superstitions that, in her view, had grown in different esoteric religions. Some of these statements are controversial. For example, she quotes Dr. A. Kingsford’s book "Perfect Way" (section "The Secret of Satan"): "It is Satan who is the god of our planet and the only god" and adds "and this without any allusive metaphor to its wickedness and depravity." In this reference Blavatsky explains that he whom the Christian dogma calls Lucifer was never the representative of the evil in ancient myths but, on the contrary, the light-bringer (which is the literal meaning of the name Lucifer). According to Blavatsky the church turned him into Satan (which means "the opponent") to misrepresent pre-Christian beliefs and fit him into the newly framed Christian dogmas. A similar view is also shared by some Christian Gnostics, ancient and modern.
Throughout much of Blavatsky's public life her work drew harsh criticism from some of the learned authorities of her day, as for example when she said that the atom was divisible.
Max Müller, the renowned philologist and orientalist, was scathing in his criticism of Blavatsky's Esoteric Buddhism. Whilst he was willing to give her credit for good motives, at least at the beginning of her career, in his view she ceased to be truthful both to herself and to others with her later "hysterical writings and performances". Müller felt he had to speak out when he saw the Buddha being "lowered to the level of religious charlatans, or his teaching misrepresented as esoteric twaddle". There is a nothing esoteric or secretive in Buddhism, he wrote, in fact the very opposite. "Whatever was esoteric was ipso facto not Buddha’s teaching; whatever was Buddha’s teaching was ipso facto not esoteric". Madame Blavatsky, it seemed to Müller, "was either deceived by others or carried away by her own imaginations".
Critics pronounced her claim of the existence of masters of wisdom to be utterly false, and accused her of being a charlatan, a false medium, evil, a spy for the Russians, a smoker of cannabis, a plagiarist, a spy for the English, a racist and a falsifier of letters. Most of the accusations remain undocumented.
In The New York Times Edward Hower wrote, "Theosophical writers have defended her sources vehemently. Skeptics have painted her as a great fraud." The authenticity and originality of her writings were questioned. Blavatsky was accused of having plagiarized a number of sources, copying the texts crudely enough to misspell the more difficult words. See: The Sources of Madame Blavatsky's Writings by William Emmette Coleman from Modern Priestess of Isis by Vsevolod Sergyeevich Solovyoff (author), Walter Leaf (translator).
In his 1885 report to the Society for Psychical Research (SPR), Richard Hodgson concluded that Blavatsky was a fraud. However, in a 1986 press release to the newspapers and leading magazines in Great Britain, Canada and the USA, the same SPR retracted the Hodgson Report, after a re-examination of the case by the Fortean psychic Dr. Vernon Harrison, past president of The Royal Photographic Society and formerly Research Manager to Thomas De La Rue, an expert on forgery, as follows: "Madame Blavatsky, co-founder of the Theosophical Society, was unjustly condemned, new study concludes."
René Guénon wrote a detailed critique of Theosophy titled Theosophy: history of a pseudo-religion (1921). In the book Guenon claimed that Blavatsky had acquired all her knowledge naturally from other books, not from any supernatural masters. Guenon points out that Blavatsky spent a long time visiting a library at New York where she had easy access to the works of Jacob Boehme, Eliphas Levi, the Kabbala and other Hermetic treatises. Guenon also wrote that Blavatsky had borrowed passages from extracts of the Kanjur and Tanjur, translated by the eccentric orientalist Sándor Kőrösi Csoma, published in 1836 in the twentieth volume of the Asiatic Researchers of Calcutta .
Robert Todd Carroll in his book The skeptic's dictionary (2003) wrote that Blavatsky used trickery into deceiving others into thinking she had paranormal powers. Carroll wrote that Blavatsky had faked a materialization of a tea cup and saucer as well as written the messages from her masters herself. Mattias Gardell in Gods of the blood: the pagan revival and white separatism (2003) has documented how the Aryan race ideas of Blavatsky and other Theosophists have influenced esoteric racialist groups such as Ariosophy and scientific racism.
The books written by Madame Blavatsky included:
Her many articles have been collected in the Collected Writings of H. P. Blavatsky. An alternative link is: http://collectedwritings.net This series has 15 numbered volumes including the index.
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