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BLAVATSKY, Helena Petrovna (1831-91)

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BLAVATSKY, Helena Petrovna (1831-91), Russian-born American leader of the modern religiophi-losophical system known as THEOSOPHY (q.v.) . Originally named Helena Hahn, she was born of German parents in Yekaterinoslav (now Dnepropetrovsk, Ukraine). At the age of 16 she married a much older man but left him after a few months. She spent the next 20 years traveling in Europe, Asia, and the U.S., later claiming to have studied for seven years under Hindu mahatmas (masters) in the East. After a narrow escape from drowning at sea, she turned to SPIRITUALISM (q.v.) and claimed to possess psychic powers. In 1873 Madame Blavatsky, as she was always known, went to New York City. Within two years she was to become one of the founders and eventually the central figure of the Theosophical Society, a small but active international group of occultists who believed in reincarnation as the necessary path to the ultimate, inevitable purification of humanity. She became an American citizen, but in 1878 she established a new headquarters in India. Soon she was faced with dissension, charges of chicanery and plagiarism, and considerable notoriety. She maintained to the end of her life, however, that the mahatmas had actually been able to pass on to her their own uncommonly developed spiritual state. Blavatsky's major works, Isis Unveiled (1877) and The Sacred Doctrine (1888), became the textbooks used by the Theosophical Society.

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