Published by Blavatsky Study Center. Online Edition copyright 2004.

Helena Petrovna Hahn Blavatsky

[Reprinted from The National Cyclopedia of American Biography
Volume XV, New York, James T. White & Company, 1916, pp. 336-337.]

BLAVATSKY, Helena Petrovna Hahn, theosophist, was born at Ekaterinoslav, Russia, July 31, 1831, daughter of Col. Hahn von Rothernstern Hahn, who was of a noble family originally hailing from Mecklenburg; her mother was a daughter of the Russian statesman, Andrew Fadeef, and of the Princess Helena Dolgorouky.  She was thus a descendant of Rurik and a member of the highest Russian aristocracy, the Dolgoroukys being a considerably older and nobler family than the Romanoffs themselves.  Her mother, who had some renown in Russia as a novelist, died while Helena was still a child, and the greater part of her childhood was spent at Saratoff on the Volga, at the castle of her grandfather, who was governor of the province.  At the age of fourteen she visited Paris and London with her father, and three years later was married to Gen. Nicephore Blavatsky, vice-governor of Erivan in the Caucasus.  Within a few weeks, however, she found that life with Gen. Blavatsky was impossible, and she left him.  She was but a girl of seventeen; he was over sixty.  The following years were spent in traveling, during which she visited all parts of Europe, Egypt, India, and both North and South America.  In 1848, while in Egypt, she met an old Copt with whom she studied the ancient teachings of that country; she met him again several times during her travels, and spent some time with him at Boulak in 1871.  It is said that she fought under Garibaldi in the wars of Italian liberation, and that she was wounded at Mentana.  After the death of her father Mme. Blavatsky came to the United States in 1873, was naturalized and supported herself in New York city by her writings, which attracted considerable attention.  With Col. Henry S. Olcott and William Q. Judge she founded the Theosophical Society in September, 1875, the objects of which were: (1) To be the nucleus of the universal brotherhood without distinction of race, creed, caste, sex or color; (2) to study oriental and other religions, philosophies, science and art; (3) to indicate the importance of this inquiry; and (4) to investigate the hidden mysteries of nature and the latent powers of man.  Col. Olcott was the first president and Mme. Blavatsky, although holding officially only the position of corresponding secretary, was regarded as teacher and inspirer of the whole society.  A stir in the literary world was created by the publication of her first theosophical book, “Isis Unveiled” (1877), in which almost all the literatures of the world are laid under contribution for the sake of introducing the ideas of theosophy to the western world.  Briefly, the book undertakes to prove the existence of a secret wisdom, preserved by sages in all lands, which is the root from which all the world religions have sprung.  Throughout her life she devoted her immense learning and the titanic force of her nature to ethical and moral ends; she elucidated and examined the world religions in order to prove the essential unity of all religions and of man, and thus to remove one of the most potent causes of strife and human separation.  She founded “The Theosophist” magazine, for a time dwelt at Madras, India, and after 1884 in London, where she was largely engaged in literary work, writing and publishing “The Secret Doctrine” (1888); “The Key to Theosophy” (1889); “The Theosophical Glossary” (1892); translating fragments from the Thibetan “Book of Golden Precepts” under the name of “The Voice of the Silence” (1889); editing and writing for her magazine “Lucifer” and contributing to other theosophical magazines both in French and English; also in teaching the body of disciples that grew up around her and in holding receptions for the public.  She labored under great physical suffering towards the end, and some who worked with her during her latter years declare that her life was shortened by the bitter persecutions she received from her enemies.  She died in London, May 8, 1891.