The Enigmatic Occultists Series Part II: “The Secret Doctrine Of Madame Blavatsky”

The Enigmatic Occultists Series

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The Enigmatic Occultist Series will explore the lives of some of the world’s most interesting early-century occult and new-age philosophers. Their infamy stems from the fascination with the unacquainted world of metaphysics, occultism and new-age doctrines which still maintain their obscurity and prevalence today. Some of them mystifying prophets, others the leaders of controversial theological refutations, this list of gifted seers experienced perilous criticism during a time when most opponents of the rigid status-quo were silenced. Let us now venture into the world of the enigmatic occultists.

Part II

“The Secret Doctrine Of Madame Blavatsky”


She was altruistic and destined to attract the attention of the world. Considered a genius by the people of her time, nobody before her had the audacity to try a global reinterpretation of spirituality in the way that she did. On the other hand, there were those who saw her as a fraud and advocated that her only real talent was that she knew how to tell an enticing tale. She was a talented conversationalist who attracted people wherever she went. Given her life-long interest in the metaphysical and spiritual, it’s perhaps surprising to discover that she had an effect on the world in ways that most could hardly imagine. Helena Petrovna Blavatsky, more commonly known as Madame Blavatsky, was a larger than life woman, and few would contest her rights to be called the “mother of the new age.”

A Woman Against Convention

Eastern philosophies had not become rooted in western beliefs in the 1800s.

Eastern philosophies had not yet become rooted in Western society in the 1800s.

It was the late 1800’s, and the majority of Europe saw the ideologies of the East as superstitious, and that followers of such dogmas were gullible members of less superior races.  Blavatsky would make it common to see Eastern religions, Hinduism and Buddhism, as important sacred teachings, and as some might consider, superior to those of the Christian West.

Few in the Toronto of the 19th century would have ever heard of Yoga, let alone practised it. Today, in almost any city, you can choose between dozens of flavours of the spiritual and physical practice out of India. Whether you prefer it stripped of its religious implications, or in a more traditional form, you can buy your specialized Yoga clothes and gear and none of your friends would blink an eye. It’s not just Yoga that has become assimilated into Western life, it’s everything from crystals to religious icons, to books on esoteric secrets of the East and West. Not that long ago, these concepts would have seemed very odd to us indeed.

Blavatsky was one of the first to try and establish a global spirituality

Blavatsky was one of the first to try and establish a global spirituality

The most important thing about Madame Blavatsky’s work was her synthesis of a global spirituality that aimed to explain all religions to help make sense out of our place and expression within the universe. It is something that is almost standard today among gurus of sorts, but she was one of the first people to take on the entire gambit of explaining human spirituality, embodying what she had learned in a path that transcended and incorporated all of them.

“There is a road, steep and thorny, beset with perils of every kind, and it leads to the heart of the Universe, I can show you where to find those who will show the secret gateway, that leads inward only. For those who win onwards there is reward past all telling, the power to bless and save humanity, for those who fail, there are other lives in which success can come.” Madame Blavatsky, The Theosophical Society

She began life as Helena Petrovna von Hahn, born in 1831 in what is today the

Helena Petrovna von Hahn in her younger years

Helena’s mother in her younger years.

Ukraine. She came from a fairly prominent family – her father was a military officer who traveled frequently, and who often took his family with him across the expanding Russian empire. Her mother was one of Russia’s most respected writers, touching upon subjects such as women’s circumstances in society. Blavatsky showed tenancy towards what we would call psychic phenomena, and was a rather impetuous child who in her adolescence was exposed to Russian occultism in the form of Freemasonry and Rosacrucianism because of her grandfather’s collection of texts which she had said she had devoured every one of.

Because of her father's job in the Russian military, Blavatsky traveled often as a child

Because of her father’s job in the Russian military, Blavatsky traveled often as a child.

Blavatsky had a taste for the exotic because of her cosmopolitan family life. As a child, she portrayed sometimes unusual behaviour, having disturbing visions, speaking to beings, and told great tales in which she was the heroine. The stories were so vivid that her sister was sure she actually had these experiences, perhaps in a previous incarnation, though her family was often concerned about her future.

The Quest For The Ultimate Dogma

Blavatsky embarked on her world travels at the age of 17, which saw her in fantastic tales of war and survival.

Blavatsky embarked on her world travels at the age of 17, which saw her in fantastic tales of war and survival, at least according to Blavatsky.

Around the age of 17, Blavatsky married an older man of whom she quickly realised she had nothing in common with, and it wasn’t long until she decided to leave him. This marked Blavatsky’s documented spiritual quest of knowledge and divinity that continued for an estimated length of 20 years. The question of who, what and where is God, and what is the immortal spirit were questions that had always troubled her. And so, she used this yearning to pursue the mysteries of the truth. At the time, Blavatsky would have been one of the very few women who traveled alone, and her behaviour was definitely outside the norm for a woman who wasn’t royalty.

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There is not much said about what she was doing during this time, except that she traveled to areas where esoteric knowledge was prominent. She traveled to India and North and South America, investigating traditions of various cultures and indigenous people. The reason for the lack of understanding of exactly what Blavatsky was doing during her travels comes from the conflicting stories told from her own perspective and those told from others.

One of stories involved her taking part in a military battle in Italy where she was left for dead. Another had Blavatsky alongside a political radical and Hungarian opera singer who involved Blavatsky in the struggle against the Catholic domination of Italy. Blavatsky stated they were both on a cargo ship that was transporting gun powder which ended up exploding and sinking off the coast of Greece. Most ended up dying, although Blavatsky survived. Unfortunately she was left with nothing, and at the age of 40 she migrated to Cairo to start a new life.


Blavatsky discovered the paranormal community in Cairo, where she would become known to host infamous seances

Blavatsky discovered the paranormal community in Cairo, where she would become known to host infamous seances.


To make money, Blavatsky connected with the community in Cairo who were into the paranormal and hosted séances in which she practised mediumship -the ability to communicate with spirits. Her understanding of the process was different than traditional mediums, but she explored the world intently and fascinatingly to many, produced manifestations. She was said to have the ability to slow down time, make things disappear, and whether or not they were tricks, many would believe they were real.

A Paranormal Attraction In America

Blavatsky arrived in New York in 1873; it was a time when the fascination with the occult was at its prime.

Blavatsky arrived in New York in 1873; it was a time when the fascination with the occult was at its prime.


In 1873, Madame Blavatsky continued her spiritual journey, sailing across the Atlantic Ocean to the shores of America and joining the hundreds of thousands who were told of the better land. At that time, spiritualism was a very exciting topic – people with psychic abilities were touring on the Vaudeville Circuit, and spectators were lined up to see their performances. Blavatsky thought this may be somewhere she could fit in, and she did.

People lined up to see metaphysical and paranormal performances in America during the late 1800s

People lined up to see metaphysical and paranormal performances in America during the late 1800s.

Henry Olcott, a journalist and lawyer of New York, became infatuated with Blavatsky after their meeting at a haunted estate.

Henry Olcott, a journalist and lawyer of New York, became infatuated with Blavatsky after their meeting at a haunted estate.

One day Blavatsky was looking in the paper, and saw a story from a man named Henry Olcott, a respected journalist/ lawyer of New York society, one of the selected few who was appointed investigator of the Lincoln assassination. He also shared an interest in the paranormal, and found himself examining a case which reported a series of spirit manifestations that were occurring at a farmhouse in Vermont. He wrote about his experiences in the local paper. The farmhouse was owned by two mediums who would host payed visits from people that were intrigued by the idea of physical manifestations. Blavatsky was also intrigued by these occurrences, longing to continue her spiritual quest of knowledge.


Blavatsky traveled to the farmhouse and eventually met Olcott, who became completely fascinated by her peculiar attractiveness. Not only was he interested in Blavatsky, but the manifestations which he experienced with her convinced him that she was extraordinary.  According to Blavatsky, the spirits they encountered during their séances were numerous, and many were even familiar to her.

“There was a Georgian boy, dressed in historical Caucasian attire, I recognized and questioned him upon circumstances known only to myself, I was understood and answered.”



Their friendship solidified and the two returned to New York. Soon after their arrival they moved in together, not as a couple, but more as kindred spirits, an unusual decision for most in their time. They were both comrades and professional colleagues, and Blavatsky truly earned her title as spiritual teacher after her union with Olcott. They became the forerunners in New York spiritualism.

“It is my duty to expose what [spiritualism] is and what it is not. and I’m afraid it is so, for people seem to care everyday less for truth, and every hour more for gold.” Helena Blavatsky.

Olcott and Blavatsky became professional colleagues of occult phenomena.

Olcott and Blavatsky became professional colleagues of occult phenomena.

They would host social gatherings at their home in New York, and she would tell grandeur stories showcasing her collections from India and elsewhere, becoming very well known among the elite and the intellectuals.

Communicating With “The Masters” & The Formation Of The Theosophical Society

Isis Unveiled became Blavatsky's first published work, and brought with it controversy.

“Isis Unveiled” became Blavatsky’s first published work, and brought with it controversy.

Blavatsky soon became a book author in her own right, slowly beginning to write Isis Unveiled. It was her first piece of work, which offered an insight into Eastern and Western philosophy.


Olcott helped Blavatsky write her books, but there was something strange about the process which Olcott quickly caught onto. According to Blavatsky, during the writing process there were beings that were helping her, beings that were apparently a part of a brotherhood of enlightened spirits. Strangely enough, Olcott reported hands appearing in the night and writing while Blavatsky was sleeping. The composition of Isis Unveiled was only the first case of the authorship being elusive, as both she and Olcott remained consistent in their account of other beings helping them write behind the scenes.

Isis Unveiled explored all conceivable subjects of importance in areas of religion, philosophy, and science, written with inherently trusted knowledge. Many were perplexed of how someone could write with skill in such a way. According to Blavatsky, she communicated with two Tibetan ascended masters who disseminated information they wished to reveal to the world at the time. It was said that these spirits believed they could do more for the world communicating in an energetic form. They were a part of a brotherhood of ascended souls here to help.

These reported masters who Blavatsky was speaking with revealed to her that they possessed answers to scientific, philosophical and spiritual questions which mankind needed to know, knowledge of what we really are and where we came from. These masters were said to represent the “hidden hand theory,” that is a group of beings who are controlling things; they stem from all over the world and are said to  be controlling the progress of the planet while spreading wisdom.


While living in New York, many guests visited Blavatsky’s quarters and were entertained by her stories. They were also touched by something profoundly important in her words, the fascination with the occult. Olcott and Blavatsky began to formulate the idea of a club, or society, which would study the occult phenomenon further.  The Theosophical Society was formed in 1875, and still exists today with branches all over the world. The original objective of the society was very simple, “To collect and diffuse the knowledge and the laws of the Universe.”

“Once a student abandons the old taught highway of routine and enters into the solitary path of independent thought, god word is a theosophist, an original thinker after the eternal truth with the inspiration of his own and the universal problems.”  Blavatsky, The Theosophical Society

According to Blavatsky, Theosophy, or “divine wisdom”, refers to the ultimate truth of the supreme, the cosmos and humanity. It is a truth that has existed since the dawn of time.

“Theosophy is in some way a connection between the world, and the divine. And what it is in the world reflects the divine and is the divine. So the idea is a unified teaching in which everything literally is god.” Professor James Santucci, CSU Fullerton, Dept. of Comparative Religion.”

There has been some question on how the masters communicated with Blavatsky from their relative homes across the world. Along with Olcott, many of Blavatsky’s followers claimed to see these masters as well. Some explained this as examples of astral projection,

“It seems to me that if you put this together with the notion of the masters, it could very well be that the masters were perceived to be human beings who projected themselves out of the body, and that was the reason why they could go anywhere in the entire world to communicate with individuals” Prof. James Santucci.

A New Chapter For Blavatsky: The Secret Doctrine


Isis Unveiled was released in 1877 with mixed reviews. The New York Herald called it “one of the most remarkable productions of the century,” while The Sun called it “discarded rubbish.” Reviews aside, Blavatsky was pleased her message was reaching a wider audience. Eventually the decision was made to spread the message of Theosophy further. Remaining in New York until 1878, Olcott and Blavatsky soon set sail to India, the land of the sacred wisdom. They were received with open arms by the native populous as the two were respected as traveling to investigate Eastern religion, as opposed to trying to convert people to Christianity, the usual at the time. The British had ruled India since 1838, and many Indians believed their culture to be in danger. Olcott was interested in reviving Buddhism in the East, and to a large extent Olcott was successful. They ended up purchasing a property in Madras, and that became the future head-quarters of the Theosophical Society.

Blavatsky and Olcott migrated to the east with a mission of restoring Buddhist philosophy and establishing a new headquarters for the Theosophical Society

Blavatsky and Olcott migrated to the East with a mission of restoring Buddhist philosophy and establishing a new headquarters for the Theosophical Society


As word spread of Blavatsky and Olcott’s work, they attracted the attention of a well-known scientific group at the time, The Society For Psychical Research (SFPR), a British group which was the closest thing at the time to scientists who were interested in exploring the paranormal. They were a very respectable group, and decided to investigate the Theosophical Society.


This group sent someone to India who snooped around for months, speaking to anyone he could find. He eventually issued a report (which many were concerned about due to a lack of understanding and experience) that stated there were no “masters” and that it was all fraudulent. This report forever condemned Blavatsky as one of the most ingenious imposters of the century. As a result of this upheaval, Blavatsky and Olcott turned against each other, blaming one another for the sensationalism that was destroying the Theosophical name. It wasn’t long until the two founders of the society parted ways.

At the time, the report made by the SFPR was a scandal for the Theosophical Society. Ironically, it wasn’t until 100 years later that the SFPR retracted the report, claiming that it was deeply flawed, and that there were still many questions that were unanswered about Madame Blavatsky. The damage was done, however, and in 1885 Blavatsky left India with a heavy heart and eventually settled down in London, England.

“My heart is broken physically and morally, for the first I do not care, Masters shall take care so long as I do not burst. In the second case there is no help, I was ready to shed the last drop of life in me and give up every hope for the last shred of, I shall not say happiness, but rest and comfort in this life of torture, for the cause I serve, and every true Theosophist.” Madame Blavatsky

"The Secret Doctrine" included three volumes, two of which were written by Blavatsky and the other written by Annie Besant, the new head of the Theosophical Society after Blavatsky.

“The Secret Doctrine” included three volumes, two of which were written by Blavatsky and the other written by Annie Besant,  the subsequent head of the Theosophical Society following Blavatsky.

Fortunately, there was still a large group of people who were interested in Blavatsky’s teachings, and her lodge in London served as a gathering ground for a large variety of people who were infatuated with the occult and metaphysical. In the last two years of her life Blavatsky drew the attention of a well-known British woman named Annie Besant, a feminist, union organizer and writer – a person who was enormously admired in British society. Getting the approval of Annie Besant brought Blavatsky an enormous number of new converts, and much better press than she had before. Before Blavatsky’s passing, she left the Theosophical Society to Besant, and with that achieved the ultimate respectability.


Blavatsky’s sincerity increased over the last few years of her life, and she learned from her mistakes, becoming a more careful and responsible writer compared to her previous years of propaganda and controversy. During this time in her life she wrote The Secret Doctrine, a synthesis of science/religion/philosophy, which came to be her magnum opus. The book covered cosmic, planetary and human evolution as well as science, religion and mythology. Critics to this day scorn the text as not having valid sourcing, however Blavatsky did try to give proper citations and was adhering to the standards of the day as best as she was able to. The Secret Doctrine never deliberately discussed religious or philosophical teachings out of context; Blavatsky wanted to be taken seriously as a prominent figure participating in the intellectual debates of her time.

Interestingly, National Geographic’s documentary Hitler and the Occult explored the occult influences of Nazi philosophy, and revealed that Hitler considered Blavatsky’s The Secret Doctrine a masterpiece, so much that he kept a personal copy at his bedside. Opponents of Blavatsky’s work condemn her for any involvement in influencing Hitler’s notion of racial purity, a subject touched upon in The Secret Doctrine. However it couldn’t have influenced Hitler’s racial beliefs very thoroughly; Hitler believed that the New Man would emerge out of Germany and that this emergence would be owing to his racial purity while Blavatsky claimed that the amalgamation of nationalities and interbreading taking place in America would result in the formation of the next root race, a mistaken correlation.

Theosophical knowledge discusses the existence of 7 root races, 5 of which have already inhabited the planet.

Theosophical knowledge discusses the existence of 7 root races, 5 of which have already inhabited the planet.

The Secret Doctrine (TSD) touched upon many controversial subjects, including the origins of the human race, Atlantis and Lemuria. Atlantis, in the Theosophical cosmology, was a continent that covered a significant part of what is now the Atlantic Ocean and, similar to most accounts of the lost continent, vanished after a cataclysmic event caused it to sink. Blavatsky wrote that the disaster was caused by the tilting of the Earth’s axis.  TSD also discussed the idea that the Earth would only ever have 7 races of beings that would inhabit it. Apparently, we are the transition between the 5th and 6th root races, and before us there were 4 different inhabitants of the Earth. The first being an ethereal amoeba which existed when the Earth was still cooling. The second root race was a golden colored race called Kimpurshas, who lived in the Hyperboria region and reproduced by budding. The third race was the Lemurians, who inhabited a large mass of land in the Indian Ocean and South Pacific during the same time as the dinosaurs. Their island also ended up sinking due to massive volcanic eruptions. The fourth race was the Atlanteans, who inhabited the infamous lost continent of Atlantis starting about one million years ago. This race thrived for about one million years until they became tainted by materialism, after which their continent sank in the Atlantic Ocean. The 5th race are the Aryans, descendants of the surviving Atlanteans. The 6th race are said be born in the 21st century, a race with heightened psychic and cognitive abilities. The 7th and final race would be born in the 28th century, inhabiting a new land mass in the Pacific Ocean.

Although only speculative, the Theosophical theory of evolution can be connected to many other new age and historical theories and makes it a fascinating idea to consider nonetheless.

Legacy Of A Spiritual Traveler

In May of 1891, Blavatsky died due to a severe case of influenza at the age of 59.

Her death would make it across the front page of every major newspaper of the time. Most knew of or had heard of Blavatsky at some point during that time – her passing was a subject of international discourse.

Helena Petrovna Blavatsky; controversial, extraordinary, larger than life, harbinger of the new age. Whether a fraud or a messenger of secret wisdom, she has touched our world and lives in ways we may not even realize. Many Theosophists admire Blavatsky’s contributions, but they are also quick to note that they are not followers of Blavatsky, but rather seekers of divine wisdom, the objective of all Theosophists. She was known for her respect to Eastern philosophies, and bringing this wisdom to the West. The very fact that she compared any two religions can be considered one of the main reasons we study comparative religion and philosophy today. Her vision of a global spirituality can serve to inspire us all.

“A mystic force is rising, it is but the first rustling, but it is a super human rustling. It is supernatural only for the superstitious and the ignorant. The spirit of truth is passing now over the face of dark waters, and in parting them is compelling them to reveal their spiritual treasures, and this spirit is a force that cannot be hindered and can never, never, be stopped.” Madame Blavatsky.




3.)    Cranston, S.L.. HPB: The Extraordinary Life and Influence of Helena Blavatsky, Founder of the Modern Theosophical Movement. New York: Putnam, 1993. Print

4.)    Fields, Rick.  How The Swans Came To The Lake. A Narrative History of Buddhism in America, Shambhala, 1992.

*Stay tuned for part III of The Enigmatic Occultists Series: The Most Wicked Man Who Ever Lived

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