Madame Blavatsky

By: Barbara Bogaev
August 12, 2015


Yoga, crystals, rebirthing — nearly the entire ahistorical mash-up of religions known as New Age spirituality owes a huge debt to HELENA PETROVNA BLAVATSKY (1831–91). Equal parts seeker and charlatan, she spent much of her childhood in Ukraine channeling the consciousness of inanimate objects and putting pigeons to sleep with a technique she called “Solomon’s Wisdom.” Early on she dreamed of a man she called The Protector (later: Master Morya) who, along with other spirit masters including the delightfully named Koot Hoomi, came in handy throughout her life. Morya prevented a 20-year-old Blavatsky from committing suicide by jumping into the Thames; instead, he ordered her to travel to Tibet — in order to prepare for her great life assignment. Whether Blavatsky did travel to Constantinople, South America, and Tibet, escape Indian bandits in Quebec, or fight in Garibaldi’s army in 1867’s Battle of Mentana… does it really matter? Blavatsky did log time in India, and read widely enough about Hindu scripture, Buddhist thought, and Greek philosophy to later plagiarize large swaths of these secondary sources in books that explicated her theory of an ancient wisdom at the heart of all faiths. Blavatsky’s heady blend of spirituality and scientific method, dubbed Theosophy, was well-suited to the era: natural science had just come of age with standards of verification and experimentation; mesmerizers and spirit channelers were celebrity superstars. The money poured into the Theosophy Society’s coffers, allowing HPV to spend the last years of her life writing an impenetrable sci-fi-like attempt at a mythology for the modern day, complete with a made-up language.


On his or her birthday, HiLobrow irregularly pays tribute to one of our high-, low-, no-, or hilobrow heroes. Also born this date: Erwin Schrodinger, Buck Owens.

READ MORE about members of the Post-Romantic Generation (1825–33).