Blavatsky, Helena Petrovna (blətvătˈskē) [key], 1831–91, Russian theosophist and occultist. She was the daughter of a German named Hahn who had settled in Russia and who was distantly connected with the Russian aristocracy. At the age of 16 she married an elderly man, Nicephore Blavatsky, whom she soon left. She traveled extensively in Asia, the United States, and Europe. An imposing and persuasive woman, she claimed to have spent seven years in Tibet, where she was supposedly initiated into mysteries of the occult. In 1873 she went to New York City, and in collaboration with prominent persons interested in spiritism she founded (1875) the Theosophical Society. The society soon experienced serious schisms, and in 1878 Madame Blavatsky, as she was known, left for India, where she established headquarters at Adyar near Madras (now Chennai). There she devoted herself, with some success, to theosophical organization and propaganda. She demonstrated many supernormal phenomena, which were accepted as miracles by her followers, but published claims of fraud in the 1880s and 90s seriously damaged her reputation. Her major works were Isis Unveiled (1877) and The Secret Doctrine (1888), which became the textbooks of her disciples. The day of her death (May 8) is celebrated by her followers as White Lotus Day.
See her memoirs (comp. by M. K. Neff, 2d ed. 1967); biographies by G. M. Williams (1946) and J. Symonds (1959, repr. 1960); K. Paul Johnson, The Masters Revealed: Madame Blavatsky and the Myth of the Great White Lodge (1995); P. Washington, Madame Blavatsky's Baboon: A History of the Mystics, Mediums, and Misfits Who Brought Spiritualism to America (1995). See also bibliography under theosophy.