(Investigator 212, 2023 September)

Born at Ekaterinoslav in the Ukraine on July 31, 1831, into a titled Russian family, Helena Petrova Hahn became one of the most controversial figures in the history of the occult.

Hyperactive and given to hypochondria as a child, she showed unmistakable signs of possessing the psychic gifts of mediumship and clairvoyance. Despite living in a superstitious society few restraints were imposed by the family and many regarded her in awe.

Her mother died when Helena was eleven and she was sent to live with her grandparents in Saratow. Her new environment, a vast rambling country house with hidden passages and disused galleries around which she would often roam, was conducive to honing the girls imagination. On occasions she would be heard conversing with unseen spirits. Defiant, mischievous, and in some cases displaying a terrifying aspect of her personality by accurately predicting dire events. At seventeen she married General Blavatsky fifty years her senior. The marriage was doomed from the start lasting barely three months, after which Mde Blavatsky set out on the first of her many jaunts around the world.

For a brief time she acted as an assistant to the spiritualist Daniel Dunglas Home, then in July 1851, after surviving a shipwreck when the steamship Eumona exploded and sank on its way to Egypt, she studied the occult with a magician in Cairo. This introduction to the mysterious and unknown seems to have been the catalyst that put her on the road to becoming a world renowned figure.

Financed by her father, Helena continued her travels studying the occult in Canada, voodoo in New Orleans, and spent time in India, Tibet and Nepal. Returning to Russia in 1857, she proceeded to astonish everyone with her psychic powers and the mysterious things that happened in her presence. The furniture would move of its own accord, raps and bangs would seemingly come from everywhere, and strange unintelligible whisperings would be heard. Often Helena would describe in detail the ghosts and apparitions she encountered, and servants would confirm that they were indeed previous members of the household.

Returning to India she became a chela studying at the feet of holymen and mystics, and developed an appreciation of the teachings of the great Mahatmas, the masters of Eastern religion.

With her psychic powers fully manifested, Mde Blavatsky returned to America hoping to gain the patronage of wealthy families interested in psychic phenomena. Although well known as a medium she was not too comfortable with that description, her aim was to communicate the great philosophical truths of the East to those living in the West. The opportunity to do so came when she met Colonel Henry S. Olcott at a spiritualist meeting at the house of the Eddy brothers, two famous American mediums. Between them they founded a society to study and propagate their findings, and with a rapidly growing membership became known world-wide as the Theosophical Society.

Learned and enthusiastic, Theosophy became her life. After writing on Esotericism and Nirvana, and publishing a weighty tome entitled Isis Unveiled, Madame Blavatsky was on her way to becoming a cult figure. However, she saw her future in India and in 1879 returned there with a band of loyal followers.

Setting up headquarters in an allegedly haunted house at Breach Candy, near Bombay, Madame Blavatsky threw herself into writing articles, the means by which the society was kept afloat, while Colonel Olcott travelled India setting up new branches. The house soon became a shrine to which visitors beat a path, Madame Blavatsky spending more and more time in her inner sanctum where she communed with her astral master the Mahatma Koot Hoomi in far away Tibet, taking down that which he wished to be passed on to the devoted. It was these writings known as the Mahatma letters together with an exposé by a former housekeeper, Mrs Coulomb, that caused a scandal in occult circles. Although Madame Blavatsky was adamant that she was innocent of the accusations leveled against her, Richard Hodgson who had investigated the scandal on behalf of the Society for Psychical Research decided otherwise.

Sick and demoralized, in 1885, she moved to Würzburg where she wrote her magnum opus The Secret Doctrine. With the controversy still raging and now living in England, Madame Blavatsky suffered an attack of influenza and died on May 8, 1891. Her legacy lives on.


Following the investigation by Hodgson the Society for Psychical Research issued their report in 1885. in which it succinctly summed up Madame Blavatsky in unflattering terms: "For our own part, we regard her as neither the mouthpiece of hidden seers, nor as a mere vulgar adventuress; we think that she has achieved a title to permanent remembrance as one of the most accomplished, ingenious, and interesting imposters of history."

Further reading:

Brandon, Ruth. 1984. The Spiritualists. Prometheus Books, Buffalo 14215. NY.

Gardner, Martin. 1957. Fads and Fallacies In the name of Science. Dover Publications Inc., New York.

Kurtz. Paul. (Ed.) 1985. A Skeptic's Handbook of Parapsychology. Prometheus Books, Buffalo, 14215. NY.

From:  Edwards, H. 1994 Magic Minds Miraculous Moments, Harry Edwards Publications