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Helena Petrovna Blavatsky was a self-proclaimed seer, spiritualist and leader. Daughter of Helena Hahn, a writer who advocated women’s rights, Helena married at 17 the Count Nikifor V. Blavatsky, a man forty years older than herself, quickly left him, and became a wanderer in Europe. She became deeply interested in spiritualism and the occult. Between 1867 and 1870 she travelled in the Himalayas, but because of the sensitivity of the British government to threats from Russia she was compelled to abandon her travels there.

She claimed to be in psychic contact with a master called Morya who revealed secrets of occult knowledge to her, and to be in psychic contact with a group in Tibet. With the help of these masters she claimed to be able to perform miracles, though many were sceptical of her powers. She went to the United States in 1873 and two years later in 1875 she set up the Theosophical Society there with Colonel Henry Steel Olcott and others. In 1875 she also married Michael Betanelly for a while but soon separated from him; the divorce was finalized in 1878. Her Society was based on the theory that the spiritual knowledge and ancient occult traditions of the world have been psychically broadcast down the ages by a group of adepts. The theory amalgamated the arcane knowledge of Egyptian, Chaldean, Tibetan, Hindu and other civilisations.

In 1878 she and Colonel H.S. Olcott came to India to establish the Society’s headquarters at Adyar near Madras. Two of her assistants there later exposed her miracles as conjuring tricks requiring their connivance to perform, but the force of her personality nevertheless drew followers to her creed. She was undoubtedly learned in occultism and could quote and comment extensively on passages from ancient writers.

Her most famous work was The Secret Doctrine, published in 1888. In her later years she wrote a few books on her theories, including Isis Unveiled and The Key to Theosophy. At the time of her death it is estimated that her followers numbered over 100,000. She was instrumental in bringing Annie Besant (q.v.), who succeeded her as Head of the Society, to India.
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