HPB – A Short Biography

By Harry Young


A talk by Harry Young given as part of an H.P. Blavatsky “Theme Day” at Glasgow Friends House, Saturday 5th December 1997.

“Helena Petrovna Blavatsky has ceased to exist on this earthly plane… She was not of this nation or that. The wide earth was her home, and all mankind were her brothers…the whole of her life was extraordinary. There is no existing human standard by which to judge her. She will always stand alone.”

Indian Mirror on May 15

“However Utopian may appear to some minds an attempt in the nineteenth century to break down the barriers of race, nationality, caste, and class prejudice and to inculcate that spirit of brotherly love which the greatest of all Teachers enjoined in the first century, the nobility of the aim can only be impeached by those who repudiate Christianity. Madame Blavatsky held that the regeneration of mankind must be based on the development of altruism. In this she was at one with the greatest thinkers, not alone of the present day, but of all time…. This alone would entitle her teachings to the candid and serious consideration of all who respect the influences that make for righteousness.”

New York Daily Tribune on May 10

What kind of person was Helena Petrovna Blavatsky that such profound words should be written about her? Her life was one of public meetings, meetings with famous scientists and thinkers of the day as well as confrontations with many in high offices, literary fame as well as fame for her regular nightly audiences during her stay in London where she would entertain a roomful of people with conversation and discussions on theosophy, battles with slanderers and enemies of the TS, friends and associates turned traitors, not to mention her battles with illness upon illness. All this occurred during the sixteen years as head of the TS. But the forty four years of Blavatsky’s life before the TS was formed was every bit as full of excitement.

Rather than give my opinion of her I’m going to present a short biography of her in the hope that her deeds and exploits speak for themselves. Also that your imagination and intuition together with what you already know of her might help to build up a picture of what she was like, although not too rigid a picture.

Born in Ekaterinoslav in the Ukraine in 1931, Blavatsky had a very distinguished ancestry, being the daughter of a military colonel and a renowned novelist, the granddaughter of royalty, the Russian Princess Helena Pavlovna Dolgorukov who was a noted scientist and artist and supervised HPB’s limited education. It was noticed that from early childhood she had advanced psychic powers.

She married the state official Nikifor Blavatsky but subsequently left him to travel the world in 1849. Her first travels were to the various countries around the Mediterranean, and she settled in London for a while. This is where Blavatsky first met her Master in Hyde Park during the Great Exhibition of 1851, and when she was first made aware that she was needed to help the Mahatma in his work, which as it transpired among other things to form the TS and to disseminate in the West knowledge of esoteric wisdom. After travelling to Canada, Mexico, S. America, the W. Indies, then via the Cape to Ceylon and India she tried to enter Tibet in 1853 but was refused entry, so in 1854 she went back to the Americas only to leave again for India via Japan the following year.

Travelling the world may sound easy today. With air travel we can get to the other side of the world in a few hours. 130-140 years ago however, all that was available was ocean-going vessels, on which accommodation was pretty basic – not exactly QE2 standard – no cars or buses, only horse drawn carriages, wagons or shanks’ pony. Travelling the world then was no leisurely pursuit, but a serious and toilsome expedition, especially for a woman, and who traveled alone.

In 1856 H. P. Blavatsky travelled widely in and around India reaching parts of Tibet and Burma until 1858 when Blavatsky returned to Europe where she visited France and Germany and her family in Russia. She spent the next seven years touring Russia, but her most famous exploits at this time was the increased psychic activity wherever she went. Knockings were heard in rooms, furniture moved around, and this HPB attributed to her exercising her occult powers with a view to acquiring complete control, which she was later to demonstrate.

After touring Egypt, Syria, the Balkans and Italy in 1866-7 she once again returned to India and finally entered Tibet with her Master where she stayed for three years. Very little is known of her stay in Tibet save that there she learned much of what she later taught, receiving occult training from Mahatmas and associating with other occult students in the clean and peaceful mountain air and countryside which she said was “free from hundreds of miles round of all mephytic influence; the atmosphere and human magnetism absolutely pure and – no animal blood is spilt” (H. P. B.: The Extraordinary Life and Influence of Helena Blavatsky, Cranston p.80). On leaving Tibet in 1870, HPB visited Greece and Egypt during 1870-72 where it is said she met with other Adepts of the Great Brotherhood. Then, whilst next in Paris in 1873 she received word that she was to leave for New York.

These instructions were to prove very significant as the events which followed led to the founding of the TS. Madame Blavatsky met Col. Henry Steele Olcott at a meeting of Spiritualists in 1874, and after discovering a mutual interest in mysticism and the occult they, along with William Quan Judge and others, formed the TS in September 1875. From then on HPB was visited by and met with many people who wished to know about Theosophy, and it was recognised that literature which dealt with the subject in detail was needed. So HPB wrote Isis Unveiled in 1877, which covered amongst other things Comparative Buddhism and Christianity, the Inner and Outer Man, Cycles in Nature, the Astral Light, Mediumship via Adeptship. The book was an instant success.

After becoming an American citizen in 1878 Blavatsky left for India with Col. Olcott, and upon reaching India launched her first magazine, The Theosophist, and set up International Headquarters at Adyar, Madras. She stayed there for four years leaving for Europe in 1884 again with Olcott. She toured Europe again for a few months and also started work on her next major literary work The Secret Doctrine, but returned to India later in the year.

HPB became very ill and almost died in 1885 and was advised to leave for a more temperate climate by her doctor and so she left for Europe again where she stayed in Germany and wrote most of The Secret Doctrine. After a brief stay in Ostende she moved to London in 1887 where she formed the Blavatsky Lodge of the TS and also set up her second magazine, Lucifer. The Secret Doctrine was published in 1888, with further works, The Key To Theosophy and The Voice of the Silence published the following year.

During the time she spent in Europe HPB’s health deteriorated. She suffered a mixture of chronic chest complaints, influenza, arthritis, and a kidney problem which affected her legs in such a way that she couldn’t walk. While she endured these afflictions she continued her regular meetings and discussions with anyone and everyone who came to see her to ask her questions about Theosophy. She also kept up her large written correspondence while also writing the The Secret Doctrine, The Key To Theosophy, and The Voice of the Silence. No mean feat.

Finally, after numerous brushes with death over the years, H. P. Blavatsky died on May 8 1891 in London.