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Blavatsky, Helena Petrovna (1831-1891)
It seemed that the lady's activities included more than hold seances.
A young baron from Estonia, Nicholas Meyendorff who was an ardent Spiritualist,
found HPB delightful. Meyendorff was a closed friend of D. D. Home, in fact,
he considered Home as a brother, so he confided his affair with HPB to Home.
He insisted she divorced Blavatsky and marry him, or so the lady later claimed.
It seems Meyendorff later said Helena was unfaithful. From latter correspondence, in 1886, to her biographer it seems that Meyendorff was correct. About this time unexpectedly Agardi Metrovich appeared sometime in the early 1860's. He was an opera singer accompanied by a female singer who it seems was his wife. Metrovich had know Helena and her family previously. It seems he now wanted her back. He was almost sixty in 1861, and had about begged an engagement from the Italian Opera of Tiflis was one of the worst in Europe. He was on a decline in his career.
It is somewhat of a puzzle how Helena managed living with her husband, lover Meyendoroff, and Metrovich at the same time while holding seances in her grandfather's home. But, the fact is that she became pregnant and a child was born. The only existence of the child's birth date is on a passport dated August 23 "(Old Style)" 1862. It designated him as an infant, leaving speculation he was born in 1862, or late 1861. His name was Yuri, and he was deformed. He was born in the settlement of Ozurgety which had a military surgeon. Helena settled there buying a house to escape the scandal her pregnancy had caused in Tiflis. All men she knew denied fathering the child, but Blavatsky continued her monthly allowance. Helena referred to him as "the poor crippled child," while Meyendorff's relatives said he had a hunchback. Whether the handicap resulted from a birth defect or an accident cause by the military physician unaccustomed delivering babies is not known.
After the birth Helena suffered, or arranged, a nervous breakdown. The significance of which is that she describes a dual personality:
"When awake and myself, I remembered well who I was in my second capacity, and what I had been and was doing. When someone else, i.e., the personage I became, I know I had no idea of who was H. P. Blavatsky! I was in another far-off country, a total different individuality from myself, and had no connection at all with my actual life."
Yuri was about five years when Helena took him Bologna trying to help him. It is known that Metrovitch accompany them. But, the journey proved fruitless and the child died. They buried him in a small town in Southern Russia under Metrovitch's name; the latter saying that "he did not care."
Even though Helena had reason to detest Russia, she could not bury her son on foreign soil. This among other things illustrated that she dearly loved the child. It had been difficult for her to keep the child, and easier for her to have abandoned him as an orphan, but this she did not do. She did everything she could for him. Although later she denied he was her child. When taking him to visit her father, she wrote that her father suspected her of wrongful sexual conduct and she produced evidence from two doctors that she was unable to bare children. Perhaps she did this more for Yuri's sake than her own, because, it is thought, she could not bear for anyone to think ill of her son. She also claimed Yuri was an illegitimate child of Meyendorff and a friend of hers. The stories she told got so tangled that her biographer. Alfred Sinnett, omitted Yuri altogether.
However, the child seems an important factor in her life; otherwise, why would she have cared for him approximately five years? Her career in the paranormal was of great concern to her. Factors concerning the child outweighed this. Yuri, ironically, resembled the little hunchback invisible which she had played with in her own childhood. She, herself, described Yuri as "the only being who made life worth living, a being whom I loved according to the phraseology of Hamlet as `forty thousand fathers and brothers will never love their children and sisters.'" Later she wrote to Metrovitch, "'I loved one man deeply but still more I love occult science,' but the one she loved `more than anything else in all the world,' or anything, was Yuri."
It was later after Yuri's death that Helena confided in writing to her cousin Nadyezha Fadeyev of her rejection of Christianity, "the Russian Orthodox god had died for her on the day of Yuri's death." Although, she had never been at peace with Christianity, "there were moments when I believed deeply that sins can be remitted by the Church, and that the blood of Christ has redeemed me, together with the whole race of Adam."
Yet it should be noted toward the end of Helena's life, as with so many others, the encroachment of fragments of an earlier religious experience are seen. Increasingly in her writings she used words like the Holy Cause, with their ecclesiastical flavor, phrases reminiscent of the childhood religion which she had rebelled against all of her life. She was humbling her pride to join the host of other rebel spirits who creep back to the sanctity of the Holy Church. She even admitted when in Paris she had in secrecy slipped off to the Russian Cathedral. In secrecy was correct, because even though in her heart toward the end her life her confidence in her Mahatmas and the occult may have decrease or fallen away, in public her concern was to insure the realty of her Masters Morya and Koot Hoomi and all the hierarchy for her followers. She apologized for the mistakes and misrepresentations in her works but not for the Masters who had dictated her books. The faults of the books she laid on others.
After 1869 both the Fadeyev and Witte families had dwindled. Adey Fadeyev had died at 81. The families pooled their assets and moved to Odessa where Helena and Metrovitch joined them. It was tough going for everyone, but Helena, in her flighty manner, tried starting several small businesses, but in the perilous times they all failed. Metrovitch still trying to make a comeback got an engagement with the Italian opera of Cairo, so he and Helena sailed for Egypt.
It was during their voyage that Metrovitch lost his life in an explosion of gunpowder and fireworks which the ship was carrying. Helena was one of seventeen passengers out of 400 which survived. She latter said Metrovitch died trying to save her life, although there are other versions of his death which are not connected with the explosion at all. Anyway Helena thought that Metrovitch would want her to go on. She went to Alexandria with help of the Greek government funds. It is thought she buried Metrovitch's remains there, and then proceeded to Cairo when she became a medium by teaming up with another woman. The relationship in Cairo lasted for some time, then both went back to Odessa. However, Russia did not provide the stimulation which Helena longed for, and she tired of quarreling with her aunts whom she said did not understand her. She saw other people and then went to Paris. It was there she heard of the enthusiasm for Spiritualism that was spreading in the United States. She almost immediately sailed, saying that it was "my mysterious Hindu" that ordered her "to embark for North America, which I did without protesting."
She did not travel first class though. On the dock at Le Havre she by chance met a German peasant and her children who had been sold bogus tickets. Helena gave the woman and children her deluxe passage and traveled herself in steerage because that was all she could then afford. She, like millions of other poor emigrants, and rebellious aristocrats traveled to America, the land of opportunity and hope. It was her second chance.
As with thousands of other immigrants Helena's second chance did not come easy, but she was determined to obtain it. It was July, 1873 when she reached New York. As did other single women, she first lodged in a home for woman that was a tenement house that had be made into a cooperative by the 65 occupants. The landlord introduced Helena to the owners of a shirt-and-collar factory where she tried selling elaborate designs to the owners. The designs were good but she was bad at selling, so it was Odessa all over again.
HPB was penniless but said that she had wrote home to her relatives for money and expected to receive it from the Russian Council at anytime. This is how she survived in the home. She managed to divide the home into two groups, those not liking her and those that did. She entertained the latter group with stories of her life and by holding seances on Sunday nights. This seemed to work until a newspaper took a dislike to her and accused her of using hashish and opium.
Soon after this her father died and she received $500 of her modest inheritance which went fast. She moved into a smart hotel and began to live Bohemian again in a cooperate flat with three journalists, two men and another woman. Then a new phenomenon appeared. Ordinary photographs left in a wooden box overnight were found in the morning to be tinted with water colors by spirits. Although impressive, the others occupants became skeptical of HPB's powers. Then one night they watched the Madame leave her room in night clothes, carrying paint and brushes to assist the spirits.
Following this HPB worked whenever she could, one job was in a sweatshop making artificial flowers, and accepting charity from whomever gave it. This continued until June, 1874 when she met Clementine Jerebko and her husband who has just arrived from Caucasus. She had known them both in Russia. The Jerebkos had just bought farmland on Long Island and HPB agreed to join in the adventure by buying in at $1,000. By the end of the first month all parties knew it was a disastrous decision. Clementine agreed to return Helena's money after the farm been sold by auction, but three days later she and her husband disappeared. Helena tried pursuing them by hiring a creditable law firm which took the case to court.
The next important event in her life occurred ten days after Henry Steele Olcott's first article on the Eddy seances appeared in New York, on October 14, 1874, when she introduced herself to Olcott at the remote Chittenden, Vermont farm. Immediately she claimed to be a spiritualist who had spend fifteen years in the cult, but it soon became apparent that she had come to see Olcott.
During the next ten days Helena exhibited her techniques. Her seances accompanied those of the Eddy Brothers. Although Olcott was not a Spiritualist, he had a keen interest in the phenomena. Each night the seance began at ten minutes to seven. The procession of apparitions began drifting in and out of the Eddy cabinet on the schedule of every one to five minutes. The appearances of Honto and the Indians were slightly dim compared to Madame Blavatsky's peopled apparitions. "Hassan Aga," the wealthy merchant wearing a black Astarkhan cap and tasseled hood who said three times he had a secret to revel, but never did; "Safer Ali Bak," the man that guarded Helena for Nicephore Blavatsky in Erivan, now appearing as a Kurd warrior carrying a feathered spear; a Circassian noukar who bowed, smiled and said, "Tchock yachtchi (all right); a giant muscular black man in white-and-gold-horned headdress, a conjurer who she had met in Africa. Also, there were less exotic phantoms such as an old woman in a babushka, whom Helena said was Vera's nurse; and the portly man in a black evening suit and frilled white shirt, around whose neck hung a Greek cross of St. Anne suspended by a red moiré ribbon with two black stripes.
"Are you my father?" she asked, confessing later that she was trembling.
The apparition approached her and stopped, "Djadja," he answered reproachfully.
HPB knew that Olcott was enthused with her performance, although his articles about her would not be published for several weeks, she decided much could be achieved in the meantime. She with another medium rushed back to New York. When Olcott mentioned putting his collection of articles that appeared in the Graphic into a book she volunteered to translate them into Russian for the Psychisen Studien or some other Russian journal. Olcott was thrilled with the idea.
She did like Olcott, but still considered him childish and gullible. She knew, even though she had warned him that William Eddy's spooks were not necessarily proof of spirit entities, that Olcott was "in love with the spirits," as she put it. Nevertheless, they continued working together. HPB had feelings for Olcott, but they were not mutually shared at first. Olcott considered her androgynous. He just did not see her as an attractive sexual person, even though she was in her earthly, sensual manner.
It was at this time that she engaged in a confrontation with a New York neuropathologist, Dr. George Beard, who claimed in the Daily Graphic that the Eddy brothers were frauds and that Colonel Olcott had been blinded by a handful of bad magicians' tricks. HPB had two reasons to be upset by the article. First, her first real success in Spiritualism might be thwarted; and secondly, the article questioned Olcott's integrity as a serious investigator. If this went unchallenged it would dash any hopes of selling any translations of his articles. This episode became a fight between Beard and Helena, but took an unexpected turn when she was recognized by both the Spiritual Scientist and Daily Graphic. The editor of the former said he would publish all she could write. In an interview with the Graphic she gained so much publicity that Helena Blavatsky was known throughout the New York area.
But, as usual, her troubles were not over. She had tried to sell the Russian translation of Olcott's articles through Andrew Jackson Davis who admired her as a medium, a friend of Alexander Aksakov who could get the articles in the Psychisen Studien. In his reply to Davis, Aksakov said that he had heard of Madame Blavatsky, and she was a powerful medium, but her communications show moral flows. Toward Davis Helena appeared casual, and Davis thought his friend didn't know her as well as he did. However, Helena suspected Aksakov had heard rumors and hastily sent a letter to him pleading with him not to exposed everything to Davis. It is later noted that Alsakov did receive some of the translations, but he never printed them, nor did any other publication.
Fearing that Aksakov revelations would come down upon her at any time Helena was in a desperate period. She still conducted seances, hoping for the best. She still needed financial support. The man, Henry Olcott, she wanted was unavailable to her. Olcott was supporting an estranged wife and two children, also his law practice had been neglected during his Spiritualism investigations. Michael Betanelly was available and wanted to marry her to look after her, he said he would expect no martial privileges of her. Betanelly was friend to both Helena and Olcott. It was Betanelly who had written a letter to Olcott, on Helena's behalf, verifying the Georgian that materialized during a seance at Chittenden. The letter was to served to disprove Dr. Beard's accusations aimed at Olcott and also give Olcott more creditability. The truth was that Betanelly knew nothing about Spiritualism when writing the letter.
Helena and Betanelly were married on April 3, 1875. They had not told Olcott, when he heard of the marriage he called it "a freak of madness." He later said he had ridiculed her for marrying a man so much younger than herself and unequal to her mental capacity. However, Helena already had her defense planned: she said, " their fates were linked by karma, and the marriage was her punishment for `awful pride and combativeness.'" She added that Betanelly had threaten suicide if she did not marry him. Helena assured Olcott the marriage would not be consummated; although her reason was not clear, it would seem she did so because of her interest in Olcott. Olcott believed her. It may have been a non-sexual marriage, but it is doubtful her entire relationship with Betanelly was non-physical.
Helena's main concern seemed to always lie in Olcott. To her he was always essential to the Spiritualist movement. Later many would say she broke up his marriage, even though the Spiritualists eventually denied it, it is a fact they met shortly before his divorce. But it seemed they just collaborated, with HPB being dominate, at first, intimacy would come later. HPB dictated Olcott's writings and where to send them. Before the establishment of the Theosophical Society there was the founding of the Miracle Club. This was a club where members were admitted to seances conducted by the club medium David Dana, brother of Charles Dana editor of the New York Sun, and suggested by HPB. Members were forbidden to disclose their experiences or the address of the meeting place. The club only lasted a few weeks because David wanted to be paid, which HPB did not agree to.
The failure of the Miracle Club, however, sparked the founding of the Theosophical Society. The membership itself, with the enthusiasm of HPB, did not disperse. In striving to find a common purpose Olcott scribbled a hasty note asking, "Would it not be a good thing to form a society for this kind of study?" The phrase this kind of study referred to subjects such as the Egyptian mysteries and the kabbalah which had been discussed in a lecture previously given to an informal group by J. H. Felt, an architect and engineer. He had said, "the dog-and hawk-headed figures of Egyptian hieroglyphics were accurate pictures of elementals, the spirits who convey messages at seances."
The infant society was eagerly formed in September1875. It was co-founded by Olcott along with William Q. Judge. Its name was furnished by Charles Sotheran who was of independent means, a high Mason, a Rosicrucian, and a student of the kabbalah. Sotheran thought the name of the Miracle Club was too cheap; he considered Egyptological Society, too limited; looking through a dictionary, he found the word theosophy, a word that was unanimously agreed on at the next meeting because it seemed to express esoteric truth as well as covering the aspects of occult scientific research, both of which were goals of the Society. Because of Olcott's love for red tape and Helena's ritualism the Society included all of the pomp originally planned for the Miracle Club. There was the policy of secrecy, each member wrote F.T.S (Fellow, Theosophical Society) after their name, and recognized each other by secret signs, most of which were borrowed from Egyptian occultism and the Grand Lodge of Cairo.
After its establishment the Theosophical Society expounded the esoteric tradition of Buddhism aiming to form an universal brotherhood of man, studying and making known the ancient religions, philosophies and sciences, and investigating the laws of nature and divine powers latent in man. The direction of the society was claimed to be directed by the secret Mahatmas or Masters of Wisdom.
After reading the evidence of the letters supposedly written from these Mahatmas many concluded that they were written by friends of HPB, or by HPB herself. The letters conveyed her ideas. These conclusions were drawn after earnest men and women lavished an aggregate of several lifetimes of study and research on the Mahatmas letters. Several books and monographs, pro and con, were written. Who Wrote the Mahatmas Letters, a book by the Hare brothers, one a disillusion Theosophist, was a well researched work.
Although there is not any certain evidence of these Mahatmas or Masters of Wisdom, Helena's first book Isis Unveiled, 1877, outlined the basic precepts and the secret knowledge which they protected. In the book's preface HPB inserted `a plea for the recognition of the Hermetic philosophy, the ancient universal wisdom." The success of the book was greater than that of the society, which by 1878 almost collapsed.
In July 1878 Helena P. Blavatsky became the first Russian woman to acquire United States citizenship. Some say she did so not to have the English in India think she was a Russian spy. She and Olcott went to India in December of that year in order to revive the society's study of Hindu and Buddha religions.
It was in India that HPB and the society gained much support. Newly acquired supporters included Sinnett, the statesman Allen O. Hume, and various high-caste Indians and English officials. At this time HPB aided Sinnett and Hume in corresponding with the Masters Koot Hoomi and Morya. From this the first suspicions of the Masters occurred, when their handwriting closely resembled that of HPB. However, nothing was every proven conclusively.
In 1882 the headquarters of the society was moved to an estate in Adyar, near Madras. There HPB had a shrine room constructed for the Mahatmas where they could directly manifest their communications. A former colleague of HPB, Emma Cutting Coulomb and her husband managed the household. They were later discharged for dishonest practices.
In 1884 HPB and Olcott toured Europe while in the United State the Coulomb's published letters which they claimed to be written by HPB containing instructions for the Masters' manifestations and for the operation of the shrine through secret black panels. Apparently, the panels were constructed by Coulomb during HPB's absent to destroy her reputation. During December 1884, Richard Hodgson of the Psychical Research Society (PRS) in London went to Adyar to investigate the activity there. In the following spring he released a scathing report alleging fraud and trickery by HPB and her associates. To HPB and the Theosophical Society the report was controversial for over one hundred years. It put a tarnish upon the name of HPB and the Society. In 1986 the PRS published an article in its Journal calling the report prejudiced, saying that Hodgson had ignored all evidence favorable to HPB, and, that an apology was due.
Because of the controversy, Olcott sent HPB to Europe in 1885, where she toured different countries finally settling in Germany due to deteriorating health. By then the French-born Swedish Countess Constance Wachrmeister had moved in with HPB and helped her with her work, especially her second book, The Secret Doctrine (1888), which is said to be her greatest work.
The Secret Doctrine outlined a scheme of evolution relating to the universe (cosmogenesis) and humankind (anthropogenesis), and is based on three premises: (1) Ultimate Reality, as an omnipresent, transcendent principle beyond the reach of thought; (2) the universality law of cycles throughout nature; and (3) the identity of all souls with the Universal Oversoul and their journey through many degrees of intelligence by means if reincarnation, in accordance with "Cyclic and Karmic law."
The Secret Doctrine is claimed to have been largely based on the archaic manuscript of The Book of Dyzan, which HPB interpreted. She claimed the Mahatmas communicated parts of The Secret Doctrine to her, claiming they impressed thoughts in her mind which she put to paper. Critics say she copied her thoughts from various existing works.
During 1889 HPB finished two more books: The Key to Theosophy an introduction to theosophical thought and philosophy; and, The Voice of the Silence, a mystical and poetic work on the path of enlightenment.
The work of the Theosophical Society was continued by activist Annie Wood Besant, a reviewer of The Secret Doctrine and a convert to Theosophy. Besant's home in London became the headquarters of the Society. She actively supported progressive causes, bringing another generation of liberal intellectuals into the society, and became president following Olcott's death in 1907.
In all respects it is not difficult to believe that HPB possessed genuine occult inspiration and powers for she exerted enormous influence over some of the most talented individuals of her time. Touched by her were persons like Horace Greeley, the Honorable John L. O'Sullivan, ex-Ambassador to Portugal; P. B. Randolph, leading American Rosicrucian; Prince Wittgenstein.
Also among those influenced by her are W. B. Yeats, the Irish poet, and "AE" (George W. Russell). She was influential in the development of the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn
by promoting the translations of Hindu scriptures and philosophical works.
HPB died in her home on May 8, 1891. She became unable to walk and suffered from various diseases. She was cremated with a third of her ashes remaining in Europe, and a third going to America and India each. Theosophists commemorate her death on May 8, called White Lotus Day.
It would not be a mere understatement to say Madame's Blavatsky's life was different, because it was very different. There seems to be no single reason for this difference; one cannot say it was just her childhood, her adolescence, her adult life; the lost of her son, or the child she dearly loved; or her love of occult science. One is forced to say that is was several or all of these factors which made her different and who she was. Over a hundred years following her death people are still fascinated by the name of Madame Helena Blavatsky.
One presumes this fascination is generated by the unique pursuit of Madame Blavatsky's life itself. One never could say she allowed life to pass her by; if anything, she propelled life. Divine revelations appealed to her for she was mystical by nature. Yori resembled her invisible playmate in early childhood. She did not share Christian visions because of her violent rebellion against the church. A heaven containing thousands of angelic creatures was not for her. She was too earthy. Her life was with people. Her saints were the Mahatmas or Masters of Wisdom, modeled on Buddhist and Christian monks, who resided in the inaccessible portion of the earth. They were the "old souls" who had completed their rounds of incarnations on earth, but frequently returned to help members of humankind who deserved it: the Theosophists.
Even though many have been and are skeptical of HPB, and it must be said they have cause to be, it cannot be believed she deliberately intended to hurt people. Although some of her ways were suspicious, it is doubtful that she intentionally exploited people with her glimpses of the truth. This seems contradictory to the nature of a woman who gave her deluxe accommodations to a peasant family and came to America in steerage. She seemed to possess a strange and uncanny power, even in youth, to hurl defiance in the face of polite society, and then force it to take her seriously. Perhaps this is the charm and complexity of Madame Blavatsky which even today compels some individuals to try and follow her. A.G.H.
Meade, Marion, Madame Blavatsky: The Woman Behind the Myth, New
York, G. P. Putman's Sons, 1980.
Williams, Gertrude Marvin, Priestess of the Occult: Madame Blavatsky, New York, Alfred A. Knopf, 1946.
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