Helena Petrovna Blavatsky (1831-1891) was a Russian author and the leading person of theosophical movement at the end of the 19th century.
She had spiritual powers already in childhood, and also childhood visions of a hindu she later referred to as Master Morya.
From 1849 she travelled the world with the intention to visit Tibet as part of her mission, but for all kinds of administrative and practical reasons (Tibet was closed to European visitors) she only succeeded in 1856 to visit Tibet. She returned home afterwards in 1858.
Blavatsky stated that in Tibet she had encounters with Masters from the White Lodge, Master Morya and Master Koot Hoomi. Later on she also met Master Hilarion in Greece and Master Serapis in Egypt in the period 1870-71. She referred to these as Master of the Ancient Wisdom or Mahatmas.
Arriving in the United States in 1873, she founded the Theosophical Society in 1875 and that year also started writing Isis Unveiled, published in 1877 (see links in references below).
In the period 1879-1885 she went to India and a change in influences came about. After India her health weakened, she became wheelchair-bound, and spent five years in Europe (Naples, Ostend, London). By that time she had become famous, met with Gandhi, Yeats, and others. In Oct 1888 and Jan 1889 the two volumes of The Secret Doctrine were published. In London she met Annie Besant and appointed here as the new head of the Blavatsky lodge and new European Theosophical Society.
Rudolf Steiner commented on the fact that after publishing Isis Unveiled, Blavatsky became the victim of esoteric groups that took over the influence on her to steer her teachings in another direction. Therefore Steiner, who always speaks highly of Blavatsky's contribution, makes a clear difference between Isis Unveiled, seemingly inspired Master Christian Rosenkreutz, and what happened afterwards - including The Secret Doctrine.
Lecture coverage and references
C. J. Harrison in The Transcendental Universe (1893)
... What is occult ‘imprisonment’, and why was it inflicted on Madame Blavatsky? There is a certain operation of ceremonial magic by means of which a wall of psychic influences may be built up around an individual who has become dangerous, which has the effect of paralysing the higher activities, and producing what is called the ‘repercussion of effort’, and the result is a kind of spiritual sleep characterised by fantastic visions. It is an operation seldom resorted to even by Brothers of the Left, and in the case of Madame Blavatsky was disapproved of by almost all European occultists. On the American brotherhoods alone rests the responsibility for what has since happened. ...
Rudolf Steiner always talked very respectfully of H.P. Blavatsky and especially Isis Unveiled. He explains - see sources below - that after publishing this book, she became the victim of other influences that side-tracked her towards another agenda than the original, and that the Secret Doctrine is from a very different source and caliber.
1904-05-26-GA089 contains interesting background on Blavatsky's Tibet-buddhist source of knowledge ('her Tibetan instructors') as well as about Sinnet's Esoteric Buddhism.
1907-06-01 (Munich, Manuscript from Anna Weissmann) talks about the difference between Isis Unveiled and the Secret Doctrine
That lofty spiritual individuality who recognized this was Christian Rosenkreutz. He was the one who, in the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries, undertook the great work of uniting the spiritual culture of the East with that of the West. He has always lived among us and is still with us today as leader in the spiritual life. He brought the spiritual culture of the East, as it is represented in the Old and New Testaments as the highest blossom of Eastern wisdom, into intimate harmony with the wisdom that originated in Atlantis. ..
.. The Master Jesus and the Master Christian Rosenkreutz prepare for us two paths to invitations, the Christian-esoteric path and the Christian-Rosicrucian path. Both of these paths have existed since the Middle Ages. But the spiritual life has increasingly disappeared from human consciousness with the rise of materialism. At the end of the nineteenth century, materialism had become so powerful that humankind needed a new spiritual infusion if it was not to perish.
There was a single personality who, because of her psychic constitution, was able to perceive the voice of the Master. This was H.P. Blavtasky. When she began her work not all esoteric traditions had been lost. There were, rather, in the West numerous Brotherhoods that had received [preserved] esoteric wisdom, but in a rigid, ossified form without vital life. When H.P. Blavatsky wrote her Isis Unveiled they vociferously claimed that this wisdom belonged to them, for many of the symbols and teachings were known to them and they sought to place hindrances in her path every way possible. Thus Blavatsky was harassed in the worst way possible in an attempt to prevent her from fulfilling her work in a Christian esoteric sense, as was her original intention. Indeed, at that time she had to suffer through terrible things. And those exoteric brotherhoods actually managed to bring things to the point where she had to clothe what she had to say in Eastern dress in her second work, The Secret Doctrine. Even today we are still accustomed to having most terms for esoteric connections in Eastern language. But this Eastern form of wisdom is nothing for us Western people. In can only hinder us and bring us back from our goals. The people who are to form the kernel for the following races are her in the West.
This should be given as a factual answer to what the voice of the Masters from the East made known a short while ago. Our Western Masters have also spoke, although less noisily. And we want to write deeply into our hearts what they said. The called upon us to work with them on the future evolution of humankind and to stand firmly and endure in all the battles that yet stand before us; to hold firmly to what we possess as a living, holy tradition. This call should always sound in our souls. However, no one should believe that there exist any disharmony between the Masters of the East and West.
The Masters always live in harmony. Nevertheless, in recent time a decisive change has taken place in regard for the esoteric school of East and West. Until now both schools were united in a great circle under a common leadership of Masters. Now, however, the western school has made itself independent and there now exist two school on the same level, one in the East and one in the West: two smaller circles instead of one great one. The eastern school is led by Mrs. Annie Besant and those who in their hearts feel themselves drawn to her can no longer remain in our school. Everyone should well consider for which path his or her heart longs. Two Masters stand at the head of our western school: the Master Jesus and the Master Christian Rosenkreutz. And they lead us on two paths, the Christian esoteric and the Christian Rosicrucian. The Great White Lodge guides all spiritual movements, and the Masters Jesus and Christian Rosenkreutz belong to it.
.. commemorating the yearly anniversary of the day on which Madame Helena Petrovna Blavatsky, the founder of the present Theosophical Movement, left the physical plane. It will need very little effort to touch a chord in every soul present here today in order to evoke feelings of admiration, veneration and gratitude towards the individuality who came to the Earth in Helena Petrovna Blavatsky, and inspired men to turn their minds again to the ancient, holy Mysteries whence all the forces and impulses needed for man's spiritual development have proceeded. By devoting herself to what she clearly realised to be the task of the modern age, H. P. Blavatsky was able to present in a popular form what was accessible to her of the Mystery wisdom, a form which differed from that in which Mystery wisdom has, through secret channels, influenced men's activities and endeavours. The significance of the modern age lies in the fact, that what was formerly accessible only to the few, must be given in a form comprehensible to wider circles. And to have acted, as she did at first, in accordance with this trend in the modern age — this was the mission of Madame Blavatsky. Thus, she turned the minds of men to something which has, in truth, always been held sacred by those who had knowledge of it. ...
In her being as a whole, in her individuality, H. P. Blavatsky revealed what inner strength, what a powerful impulse was inherent in the spiritual Movement we call the Theosophical Movement. To substantiate this, I need refer only to the first of H. P. Blavatsky's more important works, Isis Unveiled. This book must give to an ordinary reader the impression of a veritably chaotic, bewildering hotchpotch. A reader who is aware of the existence of an age-old wisdom, guarded through the ages in the Mysteries and protected from profane eyes, and who knows that this wisdom has not been acquired by any external human effort but has been harboured in secret societies, such a reader too finds in the book much that is chaotic — but he finds something else as well. He finds a work that, for the first time, presents to the secular world, courageously and daringly, certain secrets of the Mysteries. One who understands these things finds what an infinite amount has been correctly interpreted — an achievement that would have been possible only by Initiates. Nevertheless, the impression of chaos remains and can be explained by the following reasoned consideration. The outer personality of H. P. Blavatsky, to the extent to which she was incarnated in her physical body, with her intellect, also with her personal characteristics, her sympathies and antipathies, shows us by the very way in which Isis Unveiled is written, that she could not possibly have produced out of her own personality, out of her own soul, what she had to give to the world. She communicates things that she herself was quite incapable of understanding, and if one follows this line of thought further it proves clearly that higher, spiritual Individualities used the body and personality of H. P. Blavatsky in order to communicate what, in accordance with the need of the times, had to be inculcated into humanity. Indeed, the impossibility of attributing to her what she has given is in itself living proof of the fact that those Individualities who are connected with the Theosophical Movement, the ‘Masters of Wisdom and Harmony of Feelings,’ found an instrument in H. P. Blavatsky. Those who see clearly in such matters know that the knowledge did not originate in her but that it flowed through her from lofty spiritual Individualities. Naturally, today is not the appropriate time to speak about these matters in detail.
Now the question might arise — and it often does — why did those lofty Individualities choose Madame Blavatsky as their instrument?
They did so because in spite of everything she was the most suitable. ...
So, the choice had to fall upon a person of no particular intellectual eminence — a situation which naturally had many disadvantages. Thus, Madame Blavatsky brought all the sympathy and antipathy of her extremely passionate nature into the great message. She had a strong antipathy to the world. conception which springs from the Old and the New Testaments, a strong antipathy to Judaism and Christianity. But to apprehend the ancient wisdom of humanity in its pure, primal form one condition is indispensable, namely to face the revelations from the higher worlds in a state of perfect mental and emotional balance. Antipathy and sympathy form a kind of fog before the inner eye. Thus, it came about that Madame Blavatsky's perception became more and more enveloped in a kind of fog, and her mind remained clear only for so-called purely Aryan traditions. Here she looked into spiritual depths with great clarity but became one-sided as a result and so it came about that in her second great work The Secret Doctrine, the early Aryan religion was presented in a biased form. To look for anything about the mystery of Sinai or of Golgotha in Blavatsky's writings would, because of this antipathy, be useless. Hence, she was led to Powers who with great forcefulness and clarity, could impart all non-Christian wisdom. This is revealed in the wonderful ‘Stanzas of Dzyan’ which Madame Blavatsky has quoted in The Secret Doctrine. But this diverted her from the path of Initiation in the physical world that was indicated, although only in a fragmentary way, in Isis Unveiled. But bound as she was by a one-sided Initiation, Madame Blavatsky could present in The Secret Doctrine only the aspect of spiritual knowledge that was inspired by the non-Christian world-conception. Thus, The Secret Doctrine is a book containing the greatest revelations of this order which humanity was able to receive at the time. It contains themes which can also be found in other writings, namely the so-called letters of the ‘Masters of Wisdom and Harmony of Feelings.’
There again some of the greatest wisdom given to mankind is to be found. But there are other sections of The Secret Doctrine, for instance those dealing in great detail with the Quantum theory. Anyone who, out of true understanding, includes the stanzas of Dzyan and the Letters of the Masters among the highest revelations vouchsafed to humanity, gains the impression from the extensive sections dealing with the Quantum theory that they were the work of a person suffering from a mania for writing down whatever came into his head and being incapable of laying down his pen. Then there are other sections where a deeply rooted passionate nature discourses on scientific topics without reliable knowledge of the subject. Thus, The Secret Doctrine is a weird mixture of themes, some of which should be eliminated, while others contain the highest wisdom. This becomes comprehensible when we consider what was said by one of H. P. Blavatsky's friends who had deep insight into her character. He said: Madame Blavatsky was really a threefold phenomenon.
- Firstly, she was a dumpy, plain woman with an illogical mind and a passionate nature, always losing her temper; to be sure, she was good-natured, affectionate and compassionate but she was certainly not what one calls a gifted woman.
- Secondly, when the great truths became articulate through her, she was the pupil of the great Masters: then her facial expression and her gestures changed, she became a different person and the spiritual worlds spoke through her.
- Finally, there was a third, a regal figure, awe-inspiring, supreme, in those rare moments when the Masters themselves spoke through her.
Lovers of truth will always carefully distinguish in Madame Blavatsky's works what is essential and what is not. To her who is in our thoughts today, no greater service could be rendered than to look at her in the light of truth; no greater service could be done to her than to lead the Theosophical Movement in the light of truth...
Blavatsky appeared who, through her natural endowment, was capable of revealing to humanity an extraordinary amount from out of the spiritual world itself. If anyone who is an astrologer wanted to consider this matter, he could undertake the following pretty experiment. He could take the point of time of the strongest utilitarian crisis of the 19th century, and for that point of time set up a horoscope. He would get just the same horoscope if he calculates the horoscope of Time. Blavatsky! ..
.. And so, in Blavatsky there appears a kind of beginning, the announcement of a soul-development. This soul-development of Blavatsky appeared entirely out of a Russian aura, in spite of the fact that her origin was not in itself entirely Russian. This soul, in her mediumship, was developed in a Russian way, but, in the course of her life she was completely led into Western civilisation, — she was so utterly led into Western civilisation that, as you know, she wrote her books in the language of the West; even as far West as America, this figure of Blavatsky was interwoven with the civilisation of our recent age. One might say that in Blavatsky the attempt was made to see how these two things could be intermingled. From all that I have told you concerning the evolution of Blavatsky, you will know that certain things were attempted through her, but, as you also know all meaning, all sense was snatched away from these very exempts. The works of Blavatsky are even chaotic, giving out great significant truths, hut all hopelessly mixed up with the most extraordinary rubbish.
Now what, in reality, has proceeded from that impulse which was attempted with Blavatsky? With Blavatsky, the attempt was made to take occultism, which is a merely traditional occultism, and to propagate that. And what has followed from this, after Blavatsky's death right on to our own age? That you have experienced for yourselves right up to the humbug with Alcyone, and what is now developing from Mrs. Besant herself.
Thus, you have this example before you — an attempt to unite occultism with utilitarianism. Now in the way in which it was attempted there, it could not go on any further. Through that peculiar intermingling of something which was born in the East with what existed in the West, Blavatsky, whose soul was of a mediumistic nature, was intended to incorporate the spirituality of the West with the principle of Utilitarianism An Ahrimanic attempt was begun; and that is a terrible, a horrible, but powerful example of how an Ahrimanic attempt inserts itself, which tries, not only to bring out a certain knowledge concerning the supersensible world, but to place it entirely in the service of utility, of Utilitarianism.
Blavatsky was surrounded by personalities who strove to keep her entirely in their own hands, but that never quite succeeded because she always slipped away from them in a certain way. But a certain number of men in the Western world endeavoured to get Blavatsky entirely into their own hands, and if that had succeeded, if the ideal of uniting spirituality with the principle of utility had been Utterly realised, we should experience something quite different to-day from that Bureau of Julia (Stead's Bureau); for the Bureau of Julia is only a posthumous, an unsuccessful attempt to amalgamate the principle of utility with spiritualism.
What was attempted with Blavatsky was simply only a caricature, but if that had succeeded, we should have everywhere to-day Bureaus where, through mediums, we could get all kinds of information concerning what numbers would win in a lottery, what lady one should marry, whether one should sell out or keep for a time certain stocks and shares. And all that would be arranged from the information to be got from the spiritual world, through mediumship. The spiritual life would be placed utterly at the service of utility. The tragedy of Blavatsky consists in this, — that she was driven to and fro, between both poles, and therefore her life is of such an extraordinary psychological character. In Blavatsky's life, certain doors had to be opened through which one could look into the spiritual world, and so we see this extraordinary phenomenon appearing, of the withdrawal of the Individuality who used Blavatsky as a means of bringing revelations into the world concerning the spirit, ..
1923-06-14-GA258 talks about 'The Decline of the Theosophical Society'
Basically Blavatsky's inspiration also came from the ancient Mysteries. ...
... The ancient wisdom which understood nature and spirit as one was contained in Blavatsky's revelations. That is the way, she thought, to find the divine and the spiritual, to make them accessible to human perception. And from that perspective she turned her attention to what present-day traditional thinking and the modern faiths were saying about Christ Jesus. She could not, of course, understand the Gospels in the way they are understood in anthroposophy, and the knowledge which came from elsewhere was not adequate to deal with the knowledge of the spirit which Blavatsky brought. That is the origin of her contempt for the way in which the Mystery of Golgotha was understood by the world. In her view, what people were saying about the Mystery of Golgotha was on a much lower level than all the majestic wisdom provided by the ancient Mysteries. In other words, the Christian god stands on a lower level than the content of the ancient Mysteries.
That was not the fault of the Christian god, but it was the result of interpretations of the Christian god. Blavatsky simply did not know the nature of the Mystery of Golgotha and was able to judge it only by what was being said about it. These things have to be seen in an objective light.
As the power of the ancient Mysteries was drawing to a final close in the last remnants of Greek culture in the fourth century AD, Rome took possession of Christianity. The empirical attitude of Roman culture to learning was incapable of opening a real path to the spirit. Rome forced Christianity to adopt its outer trappings. It is this romanized Christianity alone which was known to Nietzsche and Blavatsky.
The fact is that Blavatsky was prompted from a certain direction, and as a result of this she produced all the things which are written in Isis Unveiled. But by various machinations Blavatsky for a second time fell under outside influence, namely of eastern esoteric teachers propelled by cultural tendencies of an egoistic nature. From the beginning a biased policy lay at the basis of the things they wished to achieve through Blavatsky. It included the desire to create a kind of sphere of influence — first of a spiritual nature, but then in a more general sense — of the East over the West, by providing the West's spirituality, or lack of it if yo
u like, with eastern wisdom. That is how the transformation took place from the thoroughly European nature of Isis Unveiled to the thoroughly eastern nature of Blavatsky's The Secret Doctrine.
References and further reading
- Helena Blavatsky: 'Isis Unveiled' (1877), online sources versions one and two - with 15 chapters in Vol 1 and 12 chapters in Vol 2.
- Theosophy wiki profile for Helena Blavatsky
- wikipedia profile for Helena Blavatsky