Helena Petrovna Blavatsky was born on August 12, 1831, at Dnepropetrovsk (Ekaterinoslav), Ukraine, daughter of Colonel Peter Alexeyevich von Hahn and novelist Helena Andreyevna (née de Fadeyev). In 1849 she married N. V. Blavatsky, and shortly thereafter began more than 20 years of extensive travel, bringing her into contact with mystic traditions the world over.
In 1873 Blavatsky arrived in New York from Paris where, impelled by her teachers, she began her work. At first she attempted to interest the Spiritualists in the philosophy behind phenomena but they resented her refusal to accept their standard explanations. In July 1875 she was urged "to establish a philosophico-religious society," and in the Fall of the same year she became the principal founder, along with H. S. Olcott and W. Q. Judge, of The Theosophical Society. She devoted the rest of her life to its humanitarian and educational objectives.
About the time the Society began, she started to write her first major work, Isis Unveiled, and after its publication in 1878 she and H. S. Olcott left for India. There they worked to re-establish Oriental philosophical and religious ideas, largely through the pages of The Theosophist, a magazine which Blavatsky founded and edited.
In 1884, while Blavatsky was traveling in Europe, disgruntled TS employees in India went to the missionaries with forged documents, bringing charges of fraud against her. The Society for Psychical Research (SPR) then sent Richard Hodgson to investigate the charges, and subsequently published an unfavorable report. (In 1986 the SPR published an analysis of the Hodgson Report by Dr. Vernon Harrison, an SPR member expert in forgery and handwriting analysis, who concluded that the Hodgson Report was biased, unscientific, and completely unconvincing.)
Under the strain, Blavatsky's health had broken down, and in 1885 she left India for Europe, where she continued to write The Secret Doctrine, her masterwork. In 1887 she settled in London, and began a new magazine Lucifer ("Light-bringer"). In 1888 The Secret Doctrine was published and, in the same year, aided by W. Q. Judge, she formed the Esoteric Section of The Theosophical Society. Shortly afterwards she wrote The Key to Theosophy and The Voice of the Silence. In 1890 she became head of a newly-established European Section. She died in London on May 8, 1891 after many years of chronic illness.
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