1991 is the centenary of the death of H.P. Blavatsky after whom this Trust is named. She was born in Russia at Ekaterinoslow in 1831. By her father she was descended from the reigning Mecklenberg Princes, Hahn von Rottenstern-Hahn. Her mother was also very well connected so that by birth Helena Petrovna was of the aristocracy and was a Countess in her own right. When she was eleven her mother died and she was brought up by her grandmother. According to her sister Vera:
Helena was a precocious child, and from her earliest youth attracted the attention of all with whom she came in contact. Her nature was quite intractable to the routine demanded by her instructors. She rebelled against all discipline, recognized no master but her own good will and her personal tastes. She was exclusive, original and at times bold even to roughness.
When at the death of our mother we went to live with her relations all our teachers had exhausted their patience with Helena, who never conformed to fixed hours for lessons but who notwithstanding astonished them with the brilliancy of her abilities, especially with the ease by which she mastered languages and by her musical talent. She has the character, and all the good and bad qualities of an energetic boy; she loved travels and adventures and despised dangers and cared little for remonstrance.
She had an adventurous childhood and adolescence, demonstrating remarkable psychic powers. In 1848 when she was only seventeen she made a most unfortunate marriage with a General Blavatsky, Vice Governor of a large province but very much older than herself. Before she was married she tried very hard to escape the betrothal but the family traditions were very strong and she was virtually forced into a marriage which then she did not want. She left her husband soon afterwards and went on extensive travels into the Far East.
She lived what was virtually a nomadic life until the early 1870's when she settled in Europe after having been in Egypt where she founded a psychical society which, however, came to nothing.
According to her own accounts, in 1874 she was ordered by her occult Teacher whose acquaintance she had then made in person, having been in 'astral' communication with him since she was a child, to go to the United States. There she lived in considerable poverty for a time. Eventually she made the acquaintance of Col. Olcott who was then an ex-army man practising law. They met at the Eddy homestead in Chittenden, Vermont, where some remarkable spiritualistic phenomena were taking place. Col. Olcott had been investigating them and writing accounts of them for the newspapers. Soon after their meeting they collected round them other people interested in psychical research and similar matters. At one of their meetings it was proposed to form a society. Late in 1875 they did, and called it the Theosophical Society.
Meanwhile Mme Blavatsky, although she had little knowledge of English, began writing one of her vast volumes, Isis Unveiled. This not only demonstrated a very considerable command of the English language but showed an enormous erudition, with references to many hundreds of other works.
At about this time she also began to earn a precarious living by writing articles for journals and was thereby enabled to move into an apartment in New York. This soon became a centre for the intelligentsia who had an interest not only in matters psychic but also in the marvellous learning of Mme Blavatsky. Many a professor was attracted to her and found that her knowledge was as great as, if not greater than, his own, even in his special subject.
In December 1878 she and Col. Olcott sailed to India to establish the Theosophical Society there. A founder member of the Society, W.Q. Judge, was left in the United States to look after its fortunes.
After the founding of the Theosophical Society it seems that Mme Blavatsky's connection with her own Master and others was strengthened and she was apparently in continuous communication with them. Through her a number of other people also made contact with them. One of these people was A.P. Sinnett, whose book Esoteric Budhism [sic] relayed to the general public much of the teaching he had received and which was to become known as Theosophy.
Mme Blavatsky's time in India came to an abrupt end in 1884, largely as a result of charges of fraud pressed against her by the Christian missionaries in Madras. They had been fed with some forged letters by a Mme Coulomb which indicated that much of what Mme Blavatsky had written, purporting to come from her Masters, was in fact written by herself. She wanted to refute these charges in court but was strongly advised by the General Council of the Theosophical Society not to do so. The result of this was that she left India, having made over The Theosophist, the magazine which she had founded in India, to the Theosophical Society there.
She travelled to Europe in March where she established a magazine called Lucifer, and in 1889 published one of her literary gems, a small mystical treatise, The Voice of the Silence. She then started to write her magnum opus, The Secret Doctrine. No review of this book could possibly do it justice, and certainly not a few sparse remarks in this article. However, here is something she said of it herself:
The Secret Doctrine was the universally diffused religion of the ancient and prehistoric world. Proofs of its diffusion, authentic records of its history, a complete chain of documents showing its character and presence in every land together with the teaching of all its great adepts, exist to this day in the secret crypts of libraries belonging to the occult fraternity. This statement is rendered more credible by a consideration of the following facts: the tradition of the thousands of ancient parchments saved when the Alexandrian library was destroyed; the thousands of Sanskrit works which disappeared in India in the reign of Akbar; the universal tradition in China and Japan that the true old texts with the commentaries which alone made them comprehensible - amounting to many thousands of volumes - have long passed out of the reach of profane hands; the disappearance of the vast sacred and occult literature of Babylon; the loss of those keys which alone could solve the thousand riddles of the Egyptian hieroglyphic records; the tradition in India that the real secret commentaries which alone make the Veda intelligible, though no longer visible to profane eyes, still remain for the initiate, hidden in secret caves and crypts; and an identical belief among the Buddhists, with regard to their secret books.
And further about the Secret Doctrine she said:
Is it a new religion, we are asked? By no means; it is not a religion, nor is its philosophy new; for, as already stated, it is as old as thinking man. Its tenets are not now published for the first time but have been cautiously given out to, and taught by, more than one European initiate - especially by the late Ragon (a master Mason of the 19th century).
And she went on:
More than one great scholar has stated that there never was a religious founder, whether Aryan, Semitic or Turanian, who had invented a new religion, or revealed a new truth. These founders were all translators, not original teachers. They were the authors of new forms and interpretations, while the truths upon which the latter were based, were as old as mankind ...
In the Preface to her monumental work are these paragraphs:
These truths are in no sense put forward as a revelation; nor does the author claim the position of a revealer of mystic law, now made public for the first time in the world's history. For what is contained in this work is to be found scattered throughout thousands of volumes, embodying the scriptures of the great Asiatic and early European religions, hidden under glyph and symbol and hitherto left unnoticed because of this veil. What is now attempted is to gather the oldest tenets together and to make of them one harmonious and unbroken whole. The sole advantage which the writer has over her predecessors is that she need not resort to personal speculations and theories for this work is a partial statement of what she herself has been taught by more advanced students, supplemented, in a few details only, by the results of her own study and observation.
Later she said about the world's religions:
Sprung from it [the Secret Doctrine] in their origins, the various religious schemes are now made to merge back into their original element, out of which every mystery and dogma had grown, developed, and become materialized.
Towards the end of this Preface she said:
The aim of this work may be thus stated: to show that Nature is not "a fortuitous concurrence of atoms", and to assign to man his rightful place in the scheme of the Universe; to rescue from degradation the archaic faiths which are the basis of all religions; and to uncover, to some extent, the fundamental unity from which they all sprang; finally, to show that the occult side of Nature has never been approached by the Science of modern civilization.
If this is in any degree accomplished, the writer is content. It is written in the service of humanity, and by humanity and the future generations it must be judged. Its author recognizes no inferior court of appeal; abuse she is accustomed to; calumny she is daily acquainted with; at slander she smiles in silent contempt.
That there was such calumny and slander directed against her, not only in her life but also ever since, is evidenced by the number of scurrilous and inaccurate books about her which have been written. Her own mighty, and they are nothing less, works confound and totally eclipse all these petty efforts to belittle her.
The world has not yet in any way appreciated what she attempted to do for it.