The Theosophical Society in America

Esoteric World Chapter 2

Chapter 2

Travels Around The World and Home to Russia, 1849-1865

A few months after her marriage, Helena escaped from Russia and traveled widely in Turkey, Egypt, and Greece with money supplied by her father.

On her twentieth birthday, in 1851, being then in London, she met the individual whom she had known in her psycho-spiritual visions from childhood—an Eastern Initiate of Rajput birth, the Mahatma Morya or M, as he became known in later years among Theosophists. He told her something of the work that was in store for her, and from that moment she accepted fully his guidance.

Later the same year, Helena embarked for Canada, and after adventurous travels in various parts of the United States, Mexico, South America, and the West Indies, went via the Cape and Ceylon to India in 1852. Her first attempt to enter Tibet failed. She returned to England via Java in 1853. In the Summer of 1854, she went to America again, crossing the Rockies with a caravan of emigrants, probably in a covered wagon.

In late 1855, she left for India via Japan and the Straits. On this trip she succeeded in entering Tibet through Kashmir and Ladakh, undergoing part of her esoteric training with her Master. In 1858 she was in France and Germany, returning to Russia in the late fall of the same year to stay a short time with her sister Vera at Pskov. From 1860 to 1865, she lived in and traveled through the Caucasus, experiencing a severe physical and psychic crisis that placed her in complete control over her occult powers.

2a. Countess Constance Wachtmeister, 1851, London [Wachtmeister 1893, 56–57]

During her childhood [Madame Blavatsky] had often seen near her an Astral form, that always seemed to come in any moment of danger, and save her just at the critical point. HPB had learnt to look upon this Astral form as a guardian angel, and felt that she was under His care and guidance.

In London, in 1851, she was one day out walking when, to her astonishment, she saw a tall Hindu in the street with some Indian princes. She immediately recognized him as the same person that she had seen in the Astral. Her first impulse was to rush forward to speak to him, but he made her a sign not to move, and she stood as if spellbound while he passed on. The next day she went into Hyde Park for a stroll, that she might be alone and free to think over her extraordinary adventure. Looking up, she saw the same form approaching her, and then her Master told her that he had come to London with the Indian princes on an important mission, and he was desirous of meeting her personally, as he required her cooperation in a work which he was about to undertake. He then told her how the Theosophical Society was to be formed, and that he wished her to be the founder. He gave her a slight sketch of all the troubles she would have to undergo, and also told her that she would have to spend three years in Tibet to prepare her for the important task. HPB decided to accept the offer made to her and shortly afterwards left London for India.

2b. Vera P. de Zhelihovsky, Christmas Day, 1858–Spring, 1859, Pskov, Russia [Collated from Zhelihovsky 1894–5, 205–206; and Sinnett 1886, 86, 87–91]

Madame Blavatsky returned to Russia [in 1858]. After her return, she first came and settled herself in Pskov, where I was living. We were not expecting her to arrive for some weeks to come, but, curiously enough, no sooner did I hear her ring at the doorbell than I jumped up, knowing that she had arrived. As it happened there was a party going on that evening in my father-in-law's house, in which I was living. His daughter was to be married that very evening, the guests were seated at table, and the ringing of the doorbell was incessant. Nevertheless I was so sure it was she who had arrived that, to the astonishment of everyone, I hurriedly rose from the wedding feast and ran to open the door, not wishing the servants to do so.

We embraced each other, overcome with joy, forgetting for the moment the strangeness of the event. I took her at once to my room, and that very evening I was convinced that my sister had acquired strange powers. She was constantly surrounded, awake or asleep, with mysterious movements, strange sounds, little taps which came from all sides—from the furniture, from the windowpanes, from the ceiling, from the floor, and from the walls. They were very distinct and seemed intelligent into the bargain; they tapped once and three times for "yes," twice for "no."

My sister asked me to ask them a mental question. This I did, selecting a question as to a fact only known to myself. I recited the alphabet, and the reply I received was so true and so precise that I was positively astounded. I had often heard talk of spirit-rapping, but never before had I had an opportunity of testing their knowledge.

Before long the whole town was talking of the "miracles" which surrounded Madame Blavatsky. The not only intelligent, but even clairvoyant, answers given by these invisible forces, which operated night and day, without any apparent intervention on her part, all round her, struck more astonishment and wonder into the minds of the curious than even the movement of inanimate objects, which apparently gained or lost their weight, which phenomena she directly produced by merely fixing her eyes on the object selected.

It is impossible to give in detail even a portion of what was produced in the way of such phenomena during the stay of Mme. Blavatsky amongst us in the town of Pskov.

The following took place in the presence of many eyewitnesses.

As usual, those nearest and dearest to her were, at the same time, the most skeptical as to her occult powers. Her brother Leonid and her father stood out longer than all against evidence, until at last the doubts of the former were greatly shaken by the following fact.

The drawing room was full of visitors. Some were occupied with music, others with cards, but most of us, as usual, with phenomena. Leonid did not concern himself with anything in particular, but was leisurely walking about, watching everybody and everything. He stopped behind the back of his sister's chair, and was listening to her narratives of how some persons, who called themselves mediums, made light objects become so heavy that it was impossible to lift them, and others which were naturally heavy became again remarkably light.

"And you mean to say that you can do it?" ironically asked the young man of his sister.

"Mediums can, and I have done it occasionally; though I cannot always answer for its success," coolly replied Mme. Blavatsky.

"But would you try?" asked somebody in the room; and immediately all joined in requesting her to do so.

"I will try," she said, "but I beg of you to remember that I promise nothing. I will simply fix this chess table, and try. He who wants to make the experiment, let him lift it now, and then try again after I shall have fixed it."

"After you shall have fixed it?" said a voice, "and what then? Do you mean to say that you will not touch the table at all?"

"Why should I touch it?" answered Mme. Blavatsky, with a quiet smile.

Upon hearing the extraordinary assertion, one of the young men went determinedly to the small chess table, and lifted it up as though it were a feather.

"All right," she said. "Now kindly leave it alone, and stand back!"

The order was at once obeyed, and a great silence fell upon the company. All, holding their breath, anxiously watched for what Mme. Blavatsky would do next. She apparently, however, did nothing at all. She merely fixed her large blue eyes upon the chess table, and kept looking at it with an intense gaze. Then, without removing her gaze, she silently, with a motion of her hand, invited the same young man to remove it. He approached, and grasped the table by its leg with great assurance. The table could not be moved!

He then seized it with both his hands. The table stood as though screwed to the floor.

Then the young man, crouching down, took hold of it with both hands, exerting all his strength to lift it by the additional means of his broad shoulders. He grew red with the effort, but all in vain! The table seemed rooted to the carpet, and would not be moved. There was a loud burst of applause. The young man, looking very much confused, abandoned his task and stood aside.

Folding his arms in quite a Napoleonic way, he only slowly said, "Well, this is a good joke!"

"Indeed, it is a good one!" echoed Leonid.

A suspicion had crossed his mind that the young visitor was acting in secret confederacy with his sister, and was fooling them.

"May I also try?" he suddenly asked her.

"Please do, my dear," was the laughing response.

Her brother upon this approached, smiling, and seized, in his turn, the diminutive table by its leg with his strong muscular arm. But the smile instantly vanished, to give place to an expression of mute amazement. He stepped back a little and examined again very carefully the, to him, well-known chess table. Then he gave it a tremendous kick, but the little table did not even budge.

Suddenly applying to its surface his powerful chest he enclosed it within his arms, trying to shake it. The wood cracked, but would yield to no effort. Its three feet seemed screwed to the floor. Then Leonid Hahn lost all hope, and abandoning the ungrateful task, stepped aside, and frowning, exclaimed but these two words, "How strange!" his eyes turning meanwhile with a wild expression of astonishment from the table to his sister.

The loud debate had meanwhile drawn the attention of several visitors, and they came pouring in from the drawing room into where we were. Many of them, old and young, tried to lift up, or even to impart some slight motion to, the obstinate little chess table. They failed, like the rest of us.

Upon seeing her brother's astonishment, and perchance desiring finally to destroy his doubts, Mme. Blavatsky, addressing him with her usual careless laugh, said, "Try to lift the table now, once more!"

Leonid approached the little thing very irresolutely, grasped it again by the leg, and, pulling it upwards, came very nearly to dislocating his arm owing to the useless effort: the table was lifted like a feather this time!

2c. Vera P. de Zhelihovsky, Spring, 1859, St. Petersburg, Russia [Sinnett 1886, 91–97]

Mme. Blavatsky left Pskov with her father and sister. Living in a hotel, they had come to St. Petersburg. All their forenoons were occupied with business, their afternoons and evenings with making and receiving visits, and there was no time for, or even mention of, phenomena.

One night they received a visit from two old friends of their father; both were old gentlemen Baron M——, the other the well-known K——w. Both were much interested in recent spiritualism and were, of course, anxious to see something.

After a few successful phenomena, the visitors declared themselves positively delighted, amazed and quite at a loss what to make of Mme. Blavatsky's powers. They could neither understand nor account, they said, for her father's indifference in presence of such manifestations. There he was, coolly laying out his "grande patience" [a solitaire game] with cards, while phenomena of such a wonderful nature were occurring around him. The old gentleman, thus taken to task, answered that it was all bosh and that he would not hear of such nonsense, such occupation being hardly worthy of serious people, he added. The rebuke left the two old gentlemen unconcerned. They began, on the contrary, to insist that Col. Hahn should, for old friendship's sake, make an experiment, before denying the importance or even the possibility of his daughter's phenomena. They offered him to test the intelligences and their power by writing a word in another room, secretly from all of them, and then asking the raps to repeat it. The old gentleman, more probably in the hope of a failure that would afford him the opportunity of laughing at his two old friends, than out of a desire to humor them, finally consented. He left his cards, and proceeding into an adjoining room, wrote a word on a bit of paper, after which conveying it to his pocket, he returned to his patience, and waited silently, laughing behind his gray moustache.

"Well, our dispute will now be settled in a few moments," said K——w. "What shall you say, however, old friend, if the word written by you is correctly repeated? Will you not feel compelled to believe in such a case?"

"What I might say, if the word were correctly guessed, I could not tell at present," he skeptically replied. "One thing I could answer, however, from the time I can be made to believe your alleged spiritism and its phenomena, I shall be ready to believe in the existence of the devil, sorcerers, and witches—in the whole paraphernalia, in short, of old women's superstitions; and you may prepare to offer me as an inmate of a lunatic asylum."

Upon delivering himself thus, he went on with his patience, and paid no further attention to the proceedings. He was an old "Voltarian," as the positivists who believed in nothing, are called in Russia. But we, who felt deeply interested in the experiment, began to listen to the loud and unceasing raps coming from a plate brought there for the purpose.

The younger sister was repeating the alphabet; the old general marked the letters down, while Mme. Blavatsky did nothing at all—apparently.

By the means of raps and alphabet we got one word, but it proved such a strange one, so grotesquely absurd, as having no evident relation to anything that might be supposed to have been written by her father, that all of us who had been in the expectation of some complicated sentence looked at each other, dubious whether we ought to read it aloud. To our question, whether it was all, the raps became more energetic in the affirmative. We had several triple raps, which meant in our code—Yes! yes, yes, yes!!!

Remarking our agitation and whispering, Madame B.'s father looked at us over his spectacles, and asked—

"Well! Have you any answer? It must be something very elaborate and profound indeed!"

He arose and, laughing in his moustache, approached us.

"We only got one word."

"And what is it?"


It was a sight indeed to witness the extraordinary change that came over the old man's face at this one word! He became deadly pale. Adjusting his spectacles with a trembling hand, he stretched it out while hurriedly saying "Let me see it! Hand it over. Is it really so?"

He took the slips of paper, and read in a very agitated voice,—"Zaitchik. Yes, Zaitchik; so it is. How very strange!"

Taking out of his pocket the paper he had written upon in the adjoining room, he handed it in silence to his daughter and guests.

They found on it both the question offered and the answer that was anticipated. The words read thus—

"What was the name of my favorite warhorse, which I rode during my first Turkish campaign?" And lower down, in parenthesis: ("Zaitchik").

This solitary word, Zaitchik, had an enormous effect upon the old gentleman. As it often happens with inveterate sceptics, once that he had found out that there was indeed something in his eldest daughter's claims, and that it had nothing to do whatever with deceit or juggling, having been convinced of this one fact, he rushed into the region of phenomena with all the zeal of an ardent investigator. As a matter of course, once he believed he felt no more inclined to doubt his own reason.

Having received from Mme. Blavatsky one correct answer, her father became passionately fond of experimenting with his daughter's powers.

2d. Vera P. de Zhelihovsky, 1859–65, Rugodevo and then later at Tiflis and other parts of the Caucasus, Russia [Sinnett 1886, 115–116, 134–135, 143, 146–151, 150, 152]

In the early part of 1859 Mme. Blavatsky went to live with her father and sister in a country house at Rugodevo.

[But] the quiet life of the sisters at Rugodevo was brought to an end by a terrible illness which befell Mme. Blavatsky. Years before, perhaps during her solitary travels in the steppes of Asia, she had received a remarkable wound. We could never learn how she had met with it. Suffice to say that the profound wound reopened occasionally, and during that time she suffered intense agony, often bringing on convulsions and a deathlike trance. The sickness used to last from three to four days, and then the wound would heal as suddenly as it had reopened, as though an invisible hand had closed it, and there would remain no trace of her illness. But the affrighted family was ignorant at first of this strange peculiarity, and their despair and fear were great indeed. A physician was sent for; but he proved of little use, not so much indeed through his ignorance of surgery, as owing to a remarkable phenomenon which left him almost powerless to act through sheer terror at what he had witnessed. He had hardly examined the wound of the patient prostrated before him in complete unconsciousness, when suddenly he saw a large, dark hand between his own and the wound he was going to anoint. The gaping wound was near the heart, and the hand kept slowly moving at several intervals from the neck down to the waist. To make his terror worse, there began suddenly in the room such a terrific noise, such a chaos of noises and sounds from the ceiling, the floor, window-panes, and every bit of furniture in the apartment, that he begged he might not be left alone in the room with the insensible patient.

In the spring of 1860 both sisters left Rugodevo for the Caucasus, on a visit to their grandparents, whom they had not seen for long years. The three weeks' journey to Tiflis [was taken] in a coach with post horses. Mme. Blavatsky resided at Tiflis less than two years, and not more than three in the Caucasus. The last year she passed roaming about in Imeretia, Georgia, and Mingreliya and along the coasts of the Black Sea.

Her occult powers, all this while, instead of weakening, became every day stronger, and she seemed finally to subject to her direct will every kind of manifestation. The whole country was talking of her. The superstitious nobility began very soon to regard her as a magician, and people came from afar off to consult her about their private affairs. She had long since given up communication through raps, and preferred—what was a far more rapid and satisfactory method—to answer people either verbally or by means of direct writing. At times, during such process, Mme. Blavatsky seemed to fall into a kind of coma, or magnetic sleep, with eyes wide open, though even then her hand never ceased to move, and continued this writing. When thus answering to mental questions, the answers were rarely unsatisfactory. Generally they astonished the querists—friends and enemies.

Meanwhile sporadic phenomena were gradually dying away in her presence. They still occurred, but very rarely, though they were always very remarkable. We give one.

It must, however, be explained, that some months previous to that event, Mme. Blavatsky was taken very ill. No doctor could understand her illness. Soon after the commencement of that illness, she began—as she repeatedly told her friends—"to lead a double life." This is how she herself describes that state:

"Whenever I was called by name, I opened my eyes upon hearing it, and was myself, my own personality in every particular. As soon as I was left alone, however, I relapsed into my usual, half-dreamy condition, and became somebody else. I had simply a mild fever that consumed me slowly but surely, day after day, with entire loss of appetite, and finally of hunger, as I would feel none for days, and often went a week without touching any food whatever, except a little water, so that in four months I was reduced to a living skeleton. In cases when I was interrupted, when in my other self, by the sound of my present name being pronounced, and while I was conversing in my dream life—say at half a sentence either spoken by me or those who were with my second me at the time—and opened my eyes to answer the call, I used to answer very rationally, and understood all, for I was never delirious. But no sooner had I closed my eyes again than the sentence which had been interrupted was completed by my other self, continued from the word, or even half the word, it had stopped at. When awake, and myself, I remembered well who I was in my second capacity, and what I had been and was doing. When somebody else, i.e. the personage I had become, I know I had no idea of who was H. P. Blavatsky! I was in another far-off country, a totally different individuality from myself, and had no connection at all with my actual life."

Such is Mme. Blavatsky's analysis of her state at that time. She was residing then at Ozurgety, a military settlement in Mingreliya, where she had bought a house. It is a little town, lost among the old forests and woods, which, in those days, had neither roads nor conveyances, save of the most primitive kind. The only physician of the place, the army surgeon, could make nothing of her symptoms; but as she was visibly and rapidly declining, he packed her off to Tiflis to her friends. Unable to go on horseback, owing to her great weakness, and a journey in a cart being deemed dangerous, she was sent off in a large native boat along the river—a journey of four days to Kutais—with four native servants only to take care of her.

In that solitary boat, on a narrow river, hedged on both sides by centenarian forests, her position must have been precarious.

The little stream they were sailing along was, though navigable, rarely, if ever, used as a means of transit. As they were gliding slowly along the narrow stream, cutting its way between two steep and woody banks, the servants were several times during three consecutive nights frightened out of their senses by seeing, what they swore was their mistress, gliding off from the boat, and across the water in the direction of the forests, while the body of that same mistress was lying prostrate on her bed at the bottom of the boat. Twice the man who towed the canoe, upon seeing the "form," ran away shrieking and in great terror. Had it not been for a faithful old servant who was taking care of her, the boat and the patient would have been abandoned in the middle of the stream. On the last evening, the servant swore he saw two figures, while the third—his mistress, in flesh and bone—was sleeping before his eyes. No sooner had they arrived at Kutais, where Mme. Blavatsky had a distant relative residing at that place, than all the servants, with the exception of the old butler, left her, and returned no more.

It was with great difficulty that she was transported to Tiflis. A carriage and a friend of the family were sent to meet her; and she was brought into the house of her friends apparently dying.

One afternoon, very weak and delicate still, after the illness just described, Mme. Blavatsky came in to her aunt's, N. A. de Fadeyev's, room. After a few words of conversation, remarking that she felt tired and sleepy, she was offered to rest upon a sofa. Hardly had her head touched her cushion when she fell into a profound sleep. Her aunt had quietly resumed some writing she had interrupted to talk with her niece, when suddenly soft but quite audible steps in the room behind her chair made her rapidly turn her head to see who was the intruder, as she was anxious that Mme. Blavatsky should not be disturbed. The room was empty! There was no other living person in it but herself and her sleeping niece, yet the steps continued, audibly, as though of a heavy person treading softly, the floor creaking all the while. They approached the sofa, and suddenly ceased. Then she heard stronger sounds, as though someone was whispering near Mme. Blavatsky, and presently a book placed on a table near the sofa was seen by N. A. de Fadeyev to open, and its pages kept turning to and fro, as if an invisible hand were busy at it. Another book was snatched from the library shelves, and flew in that same direction.

More astonished than frightened—for everyone in the house had been trained in and become quite familiar with such manifestations—N. A. de Fadeyev arose from her armchair to awaken her niece, hoping thereby to put a stop to the phenomena; but at the same moment a heavy armchair moved at the other end of the room, and rattling on the floor, glided toward the sofa. The noise it made awoke Mme. Blavatsky, who, upon opening her eyes, enquired of the invisible presence what was the matter. A few more whisperings, and all relapsed into quietness and silence, and there was nothing more of the sort during the rest of the evening.

As soon as she was restored to life and health, she left the Caucasus, and went to Italy. Yet it was before her departure from the country in [1865] that the nature of her powers seems to have entirely changed. At what time this complete change in her occult powers was wrought we are unable to say, as she was far away from our observation, and spoke of it but rarely—never unless distinctly asked in our correspondence to answer the question. And we believe her statements with regard to her powers to have been entirely true when she wrote to tell us, "Now [in 1865] I shall never be subjected to external influences." It is not HPB who was from that time forth victim to "influences" which would have without doubt triumphed over a less strong nature than was hers; but, on the contrary, it is she who subjected these influences—whatever they may be—to her will.

  • Sinnett, A. P., ed. 1886. Incidents in the Life Of Madame Blavatsky, Compiled from Information supplied by her Relatives and Friends. London, George Redway; reprint New York: Ayer Co., 1976. Pp. xii + 324. Selections 2b, 2c. 2d.
  • Wachtmeister, Countess Constance and others. 1893. Reminiscences of H. P. Blavatsky and the Secret Doctrine. London, Theosophical Publishing Society; 2d ed. Wheaton, IL: Theosophical Publishing House, 1976. Pp. xiv + 141. Selection 2a.
  • Zhelihovsky, Vera P. de. 1894. "Helena Petrovna Blavatsky." Lucifer 15–16 (November–April): 202–8, 273–9, 361–4, 469–77, 44–50, 99–108. Selection 2b.
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