At 18 she married the much older Nikifor Blavatsky, Vice-Governor of Yerivan Province. The marriage was never consummated and she soon escaped and travelled across Turkey, Egypt and Greece. Only 2 years later, in London in 1851, she met the Mahatma/Master Morya of her childhood visions, and fully accepted his guidance.
In 1852, Helena left for Canada, the USA, Mexico, South America and the West Indies, then went via the Cape to India and Tibet. Then to Britain, America again, India via Japan and the Straits. She entered Tibet through Kashmir, under-going part of her occult training with her Mahatma. She was again in France, Germany and Russia. From 1860-5, she lived in the Caucasus, experiencing a severe physical and psychic crisis. She travelled via the Balkans, Greece, Egypt, Syria and Italy. Then to India & Tibet, meeting the Mahatma Koot Hoomi. Then back to Cyprus, Greece and the Middle East.
Why the constant travel? In 1873, Helena was specifically instructed by her Teacher to go to New York to meet Col Henry Olcott. The Mahatmas believed Helena was the best means to offer the world the accumulated Wisdom of the ages, verified by generations of Seers; that body of Truth of which all religions were branches of one parent-tree. They co-founded the Theosophical Society of America in Nov 1875, where Olcott was made President for life.
The Theosophical Society's goals were to:
a] form a nucleus of the Universal Brotherhood of Humanity, regardless of race, creed, sex, caste or colour;
b] encourage the study of Comparative Religion, Philosophy and Science and
c] investigate the unexplained laws of Nature.
Helena’s first monumental work Isis Unveiled was published in New York in 1877, outlining the development of the Occult Sciences and of Magic. Her task was to challenge both the entrenched dogmas of Christian Theology and the dogmatic materialistic view of Science.
Arriving in Bombay in Feb 1879, Helena and colleagues established the Theosophical Headquarters. The Founders started their first journal The Theosophist in Bombay with Helena as editor, and the society experienced a rapid growth. Alfred Percy Sinnett, editor of The Pioneer of Allahabad, and Helena wrote The Occult World 1881 and Esoteric Buddhism 1883, both generating even more public interest in Theosophy. In May 1882 a large estate was bought near Madras for the Theosophical Headquarters.
Helena was busy writing her next work, The Secret Doctrine. But it didn’t save her. A vicious attack by staffers Alexis & Emma Coulomb was erupting, about Helena’s fraudulent production of psychic phenomena. She returned to Madras on Dec 1884 to sue the couple, but they'd already left. Alas Helena was overruled by the Theosophical Society committee and resigned in disgust. She left India for ever.
The "Coulomb attack" was based on partially forged letters, presumably written by Helena, with instructions to arrange fraudulent psychic phenomena. So London’s Society for Psychical Research appointed a special investigative committee. Richard Hodgson arrived in India to report on the Coulombs’ allegations, which the research committee published in Dec 1885. William Emmette Coleman, a leading spiritualist, was also involved in the Coulomb case. He left the USA for London to obtain from the Scottish missionary Patterson the "original" Blavatsky-Coulomb letters, and published scathing denunciations of Theosophy and HPB in spiritualist journals.
Blavatsky was branded as one of the most accomplished impostors in history, and probably a Russian spy. The Hodgson Report was the basis of later attacks on Helena’s and Theosophy’s honesty. Madame Blavatsky was soon called a plagiarist, con artist, trickster and a manipulator of males. Coleman focused on her plagiarism.
London, 1887 (Wiki)
Blavatsky’s health was damaged, so she focused on writing. The Secret Doctrine was the peak of her literary career. Vol. I dealt with the evolution of the Universe, and the fundamental symbols of the world’s great religions. Vol. 2 described the evolution of humanity. Then Blavatsky published the devotional mystical work called The Voice of the Silence, translated from an Eastern scripture.
Helena Blavatsky aged 60 died in London in May 1891. Her ashes were divided between New York, London and Madras.
How important was Theosophy in modern history? Evidence suggested it significantly influenced the development of other mystical, philosophical and religious movements. And even psychological movements in the West. Supporters said Helena was among the modern world’s innovative psychologists of the visionary mind. At the same time that Freud and others were articulating their secularised theory of mind, the Theosophists were rescuing a forgotten psychology of the extra-sensory from exotic religion. Madame Blavatsky was setting the style for modern occult literature.
Theosophy also influenced the growth of Indian national consciousness, inspiring key figures in the Indian independence movement. In Nov 1889 Gandhi met Blavatsky. He did not join the Theosophical Society because, with poor knowledge of his own religion, he did not want to belong to any religious body. However in March 1891, he became an associate member of the Blavatsky Lodge. Three months later Gandhi returned to India. Nehru learned the mysterious philosophy of Theosophy with his childhood tutor Ferdinand Brooks. Young Nehru (13) was initiated into the Theosophical Society in 1902 by Annie Besant, a Theosophist who supported home-rule for Ireland and India.
Was Theosophy the most important avenue of Eastern teaching to the West? Rudolf Steiner said yes. He first began speaking publicly about spiritual experiences in his 1899 lectures to the Theosophical Society. Steiner kept Helena’s original approach, replacing her terminology with his own. Sylvia Cranston noted theosophy’s influence on important artists, writers and composers like TS Eliot, Wassily Kandinsky, Boris Pasternak, Paul Gauguin, James Joyce, William Butler Yeats and Jean Sibelius.
The Theosophist monthly journal, 1885
published in Madras
edited by H.P Blavatsky
And consider the importance of Blavatsky and the Theosophical Society in the feminist movement, as described in Theosophy, Gender and the New Woman by Siv Ellen Kraft. Theosophy downplayed the importance of marriage, insisted upon the spiritual independence of women, included women on all levels of the organisation, and gave formal religious authority to women. Blavatsky described the suppression of women as typical of all religions, but was taken to the extreme by Christianity.