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James Randi Educational Foundation

An Encyclopedia of Claims, Frauds, and Hoaxes of the Occult and Supernatural

Introduction | "R" Reading | Curse of the Pharaoh | End-of-the-World Prophecies

Index | A | B | C | D | E | F | G | H | I | J | K | L | M | N | O | P | Q | R | S | T | U | V | W | Y | Z

Blavatsky, Helena Petrovna (1831-1891) This woman was born Helena Von Hahn in the Ukraine. Like many psychics, HPB, as she was known to her disciples, claimed that as a child she had been given divine visions and had experienced magical gifts, being able to move objects by psychokinesis.
      At seventeen, she was married to a forty-year-old general named Nikifor Blavatsky, but left him after three months and went off to Constantinople. She retained the noble name. Later in her life, she claimed that for the next few years she visited every exotic place known, was initiated into mystical orders, and finally settled in Tibet, where she contacted the “mahatmas,” adepts who lived in caves and taught her the mysteries she was to subsequently teach. All these tales are highly doubtful.
      What is known to be true is that she went from being a piano teacher to a circus bareback rider to a spirit medium, and she eventually was employed by the spirit medium Daniel Dunglas Home as an assistant, where she doubtless learned some of the tricks of the trade.
      At age forty, while she was operating as a spirit medium in Cairo, where she had started her Société Spirite, a great commotion arose when a long cotton glove stuffed with cotton was discovered in the séance room, and HPB wisely departed hastily for Paris.
      Two years later, in 1873, she moved to the United States and began performing séances for wealthy patrons there. In 1875, in partnership with Colonel Henry Steel Olcott, a lawyer and writer who dealt with spiritualistic claims, she founded the Theosophical Society.


Spirit medium Helena Petrovna Blavatsky with Colonel Henry Steel Olcott in 1888.

      Theosophy became the passion and the profession of the woman who insisted upon being addressed as “Madame.” She claimed to bring messages from two “masters” or “mahatmas” named Koot Hoomi and Morya. These messages were often in the form of small bits of paper that floated down from the ceiling above her. She attracted many prominent persons to the movement by her performance of these effective diversions.
      In India, HPB flourished as a cult figure for several years, until a housekeeper who had formerly worked as a magician's assistant exposed the tricks by which Blavatsky had been fooling her followers. Blavatsky blustered a great deal and threatened to sue, but instead chose to leave India, and never went back.
      Next in England in 1885, her tricks were exposed by the Society for Psychical Research, when certain pieces of conjuring equipment were shown to be the means by which she produced the written messages from her mahatmas, and it was revealed that she had deceived a disciple by hiring an actor wearing a dummy bearded head and flowing costume to impersonate the mahatma Koot Hoomi. The exposure did little to shake the belief of the faithful of England, who have always been tolerant of those who would take advantage of them.
      Madame Blavatsky wrote several mystical books, among them Isis Unveiled (1877), which was shown to have been copied from previous works of other authors, and The Secret Doctrine (1888). A basic part of the mythology given in these books is that mankind is passing through a series of seven “root races.” These are: Astrals (pure spirits), Hyperboreans (from a now-vanished continent), Lemurians (who interbred with animals and thus went bye-bye), Atlanteans (who had psychic powers and secret energy sources, but went under during a cataclysm), and the Race of Hope, the Aryans. This fifth group was seized upon by the Nazi theorists, along with the Rosicrucian ideas, as a basis for their racial superiority notions.
      After Blavatsky's death in 1891 from Bright's disease, a disciple named Annie (Wood) Besant (1847/8-1933), a former militant atheist, took over Theosophy along with Charles Webster Leadbeater (1854-1934). The religion, over the ensuing years, split up into several factions, each with its own charismatic guru, and it has never been the same since.


Annie Besant, who took over Theosophy after Blavatsky's death.

      Heinrich Himmler, the chief of the Nazi SS (Schutzstaffel, meaning “protection squadron”), was a devoted follower of the racial theories of Blavatsky and based the design of the SS on her teachings and on those of Aleister Crowley and the Templars, the band of 12th-century knights who protected the pilgrims of the crusades.
      The parent group of the Theosophists is still a minor religious movement headquartered in Adyar, India, and its activities now concentrate on social welfare.



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