The Unveiling of Helena Petrovna Blavatsky
Author: Marina Alexandrova
The legacy of Helena Petrovna Blavatsky (1831–1891), the Russian-American occultist, philosopher, and writer, whose Theosophical teachings influenced generations of spiritual seekers of every shade worldwide, has ignited intense debates among scholars and her devotees alike even today, nearly 130 years after her death. With her Theosophical teachings, colorful adventures, intense personality, and unparalleled ability to garner a devout following, HPB is clearly one of the most fascinating knowledge producers of the modern era. Among the more contentious debates that still surround her legacy are issues of authorship and authenticity – a controversy that relates to the true source of her Theosophical teachings – and whether all letters, including those that have been deemed inauthentic by some, should be included in her collected works.
If conference presentations and academic publications are any indication, these questions are as pressing now as they have ever been. With the recent resurgence of academic and popular interest in HPB’s life and legacy, there is now a greater demand for reliable collections of her works, and questions of which texts should be included within the Blavatsky “canon” have taken on a fresh urgency. This renewed interest in her writings is fueled in part by the increased availability of her works, both in newly accessible archives, and especially in digital format, downloadable for free, in Russian, French, and English on a number of websites.
The most reliable edition of her works in English to date, a 14-volume collection (plus an index volume), prepared by her indefatigable editor Boris de Zirkoff (1902–1981) over the course of 50 years, was published by Quest Books, the in-house publisher for the Theosophical Society. Following Zirkoff’s death, the task of systematizing Blavatsky’s correspondence and preparing it for publication fell on John Algeo, whose decision to include the notorious “Letter 7” provoked much ire from many fellow Theosophists, when Letters of H. P. Blavatsky: Volume I, 1861–1889 were published in 2003. In this letter, which has been considered a forgery by some, ever since it was discovered in the Central State Archive in Moscow in 1988 (now preserved in the State Archive of the Russian Federation), the author – allegedly, HPB herself – offers her services to the Russian Secret Police. Algeo’s death interrupted the publication of the second volume of HPB’s correspondence, spanning the period from 1889 to her death in 1891. At this point, it is not clear when the second volume will come out and which letters it will contain.
The situation with the publication of Blavatsky’s works and letters in Russian is just as complicated. The most recent project, the publication of all of HPB’s writings, both those originally written in Russian and those translated into Russian, is currently being carried out by the Prologue RH publishing house in Moscow. While Prologue RH initially planned to translate Zirkoff’s 14-volume collection for a Russian readership, and already published its first volume in 2016, the plan changed drastically after the team received permission to publish Blavatsky’s personal archive, currently held at the International Headquarters of the Theosophical Society in Adyar, India. The second volume will contain the first of 24 albums of material carefully curated by Blavatsky herself, including handwritten notes and illustrations she added to her own writings as well as to those of others. While representing a unique treasure trove of materials and providing insight into the development of the Theosophical movement, the albums also grant readers a glimpse of Blavatsky’s more lively side, as seen in the figures 1 and 2. These and other images have already been made available at https://en.teopedia.org by Prologue RH.
With these new developments in Russia and beyond, along with greater openness of the study of HPB’s life and works, there is hope that Blavatsky will soon be restored to her rightful place among the most influential esoteric teachers in the modern period. The forthcoming 24-volume edition of her Adyar albums is sure to unveil an important new dimension of her legacy.
Cite this article as: Marina Alexandrova, “The Unveiling of Helena Petrovna Blavatsky”, in New Age in Russia, 26/02/2020, https://newageru.hypotheses.org/3350