Madame Blavatsky and Theosophy

By: Brian Fagan

Originally Published in 1987

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One of the more popular recent reincarnations of the legend of Atlantis took place in the United States. During the 1870s, Madame Helena Petrovna Blavatsky (1831-1891) lived on Sansom Street, within the present boundaries of the University of Pennsylvania campus. This strange and eccentric Russian woman had enjoyed a diverse career as a circus horse rider, a professional pianist, a business woman, and a spiritualist.

She is, however, best remembered as the founder of a modern religious movement. While living in West Philadelphia, Madame Helena became ill with a seriously infected leg. During a period of delirium she underwent a spiritual transformation, and was inspired to found the Theosophical Society. The term theosophy applies to a set of religious teachings rooted in the ancient tradition of occultism. It incorporates a number of Indian doctrines such as the concepts of reincarnation and Karma. Life is seen as a continuum, and the seeker is encouraged to transcend the current imperfect state of the world, reaching a higher plane of being (Nirvana).

After a visit to India, Madame Henena published The Secret Doctrine (1888), a six-volume work that serves as the basic text for Theosophists all over the world. In this work, she wrote about seven root races of humanity. The first consisted of invisible astral jellyfish. The second, the Hyperborean,lived near the North Pole and were also bodiless. Next came a race of egg-laying lemurs, who had eyes in the back of their heads. They lived on the continent of Lemuria, located in the Pacific Ocean. The Lemurians were naughty. They discovered sex, which was their downfall. Their continent was destroyed, leaving only remnants that we know as Easter Island and Australia. The people of Atlantis were the fourth of Madame Helena’s races, and the fifth were ourselves. The remaining two were, and still are, to come. The guardians for an infant humanity, their home lies in outer space, specifically Venus. All of this is peculiar, strange, and exotic, and has proved enormously popular ever since the 1880s.

Cite This Article

Fagan, Brian. "Madame Blavatsky and Theosophy." Expedition Magazine 29, no. 2 (July, 1987): -. Accessed June 17, 2024.

This digitized article is presented here as a historical reference and may not reflect the current views of the Penn Museum.

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