How Helena Blavatsky Influenced Nazi Germany’s Esoteric Philosophy

In Europe, the occult revival was mostly a reaction to the rationalist Enlightenment and materialism of the late 18th century and early 19th century. Theosophy came into being in the 1880s. This short look at its esoteric roots is sad, but it had to be done. Helena Petrovna Blavatsky was the main force behind Theosophy (1831-1891). Her parents, Baron von Hahn, a soldier and member of the lower Russian-German nobility, and Madame von Hahn, a romantic novelist and descendant of the noble house of Dolgorouky, had a somewhat unsettling life because the baron’s regiment was always moving. Madame von Hahn died when Helena was 11 years old, in 1842. This seems to have led to her wandering ways and strong sense of self.

In July 1848, when she was 17, she married Nikifor Blavatsky, the Vice-Governor of Yerevan in the Caucasus. He was 23 years older than her. The marriage didn’t work out after only a few weeks, so Helena left her husband and went to live with her father. She suddenly changed her mind and decided to leave her family and country instead. She got on a steamer on the Black Sea and headed for Constantinople. She moved around Europe, Asia, and the Americas for the next 25 years. Even though her father may have given her an allowance, she also worked as a bareback horse rider in a circus, a piano teacher in London and Paris, and an assistant to the famous medium Daniel Dunglas Home. This is pretty much all we know for sure about this time in her life. The rest is a confusing mix of rumors, contradictions, and legends, many of which Blavatsky made up herself.

In 1873, Blavatsky went to the United States and saw how popular Spiritualism was there. She had no money when she got there, so she had to stay in a hostel for working women and do small jobs like sewing purses to make money. Around this time, she met Henry Olcott, who was born in 1832 and died in 1907. His family in New Jersey said they were related to the pilgrims. Olcott seems to have had trouble with money, so he started farming in Ohio. He did so well at it that he got a job as the Agricultural Editor of the New York Tribune. When the Civil War broke out, he joined the Union Army and served as a signals officer. When the war was over, Olcott went to New York to study for the Bar. In the late 1860s, he opened a law office there. Even though Olcott was pretty successful at his job, he seems to have been pretty unhappy with his life. His marriage was not happy, and he eventually got a divorce from his wife. He became interested in Spiritualism because he was looking for something to keep his mind busy.

As Olcott’s interest in the subject grew, he started to look into individual cases of what people said were psychic happenings, such as those on the Eddy farm in Chittenden, Vermont. His research into what happened at Chittenden, which included seeing ghosts, was written up in articles for the Daily Graphic, a newspaper in New York. Olcott met Blavatsky at the Eddy farm on October 14, 1874. It was one of the many times he went there. Blavatsky was interested in Olcott after reading some articles in the Daily Graphic. She decided to get to know him better.

Olcott became a follower and publicist for Blavatsky after being very impressed by what seemed to be her mediumistic abilities. Blavatsky made a good living as a medium from then until 1875, when she started the Theosophical Society. She ran into trouble when people stopped being interested in Spiritualism all over the country. Blavatsky published Isis Unveiled in 1877. It was an explanation of Egyptian occultism that she said was given to her by spirits through a form of automatic writing. The book argues, in essence, that orthodox science should accept occultism (hidden laws of nature). It helped calm the minds of people whose religious beliefs had been shaken by scientific rationalism, especially Charles Darwin’s ideas about evolution and natural selection. The book sold a lot of copies. Scholars were very harsh on the book, accusing it of intellectual incompetence and outright plagiarism. One critic found more than 2,000 quotations that were not credited.

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A big part of the story Blavatsky made up about herself was that she lived and traveled in Tibet for seven years. (The number seven has a lot of magical meaning, and seven years is the amount of time it takes for someone to learn the secrets of the occult.) She said something very strange: that she had studied with a group of Hidden Masters in the Himalayas, and that with their help she had reached the highest level of initiation into the mysteries of the Universe. But it is very unlikely that a single white woman with a big weight problem and no mountaineering experience could have made the hard trip up the Himalayas, found these “Hidden Masters,” and done so without being seen by the many Chinese, Russian, and British patrols that were in the area at the time.

Master Morya was the name of one of the Tibetan masters with whom Blavatsky studied. She met him in person at the Great Exhibition in London in July 1851, even though she had said she had seen him many times before. Master Morya was a part of the Great White Brotherhood of Masters, which was made up of immortal, spirit-like beings who had reached the highest level of enlightenment but chose to stay on Earth to help people reach the same goal. In Chapter Five, we’ll talk a lot more about the Great White Brotherhood, but for now, let’s go back to Madame Blavatsky.

Since the Theosophical Society wasn’t getting many new members in 1879, Blavatsky decided to go to India, which made sense since Isis Unveiled put a lot of emphasis on eastern philosophy. Several people in Indian society, like the journalist A. P. Sinnett and the politician Alien O. Hume, welcomed her and Olcott with open arms. In 1882, they moved the headquarters of the society to Adyar, which is close to Madras.

In the shrine room of the new headquarters, the Hidden Masters would appear in the real world. But while Blavatsky and Olcott were in Europe on a tour, Emma Coulomb and her husband, who had been in charge of the household but were fired after repeatedly trying to get loans from the society’s wealthy members, decided to get back at them by publishing letters they said were written by Blavatsky and told how to use the secret panels in the shrine room through which the “Masters” appeared.
At this time, the Society for Psychical Research (SPR) decided to look into Theosophy’s claims that it had mediums. This was bad news for Blavatsky. When the Coulombs’ lies were exposed, the SPR had no choice but to write a harsh report about Blavatsky and her claims.

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Blavatsky left India and moved to London because the scandal hurt her and her health was getting worse (she would later die of Bright’s disease). There, she started working on her second and, most people agree, better book, The Secret Doctrine (published in 1888).
The book has two main parts: “Cosmogenesis” and “Anthropogenesis.” Together, they tell the story of how the Universe and intelligent life came to be. The Secret Doctrine is said to be a very long commentary on a very old (several million years) book called The Stanzas of Dzyan. It was written in the Atlantean language Senzar, and Blavatsky saw it in a monastery deep under the Himalayas. The Stanzas tell how spiritual beings from the Moon came to live on Earth. Through a series of so-called “root races,” we are all related to these long-ago people.

Suffice it to say that at the start of the Universe, the divine being split into all the different kinds of life that now live in the cosmos. After that, the Universe went through seven “rounds,” or cycles, of being. During the first four rounds, the Universe fell from God’s grace. During the last three rounds, it will rise again until it is redeemed in ultimate, divine unity, and then the process will start all over again. (It might be best not to compare this plan to the similar-sounding Big Bang/Big Crunch theory of universal evolution put forward by modern physicists, since there isn’t much else in the Stanzas that mainstream science would like.)

Each cosmic round saw the rise and fall of seven root races, whose fates were the same as those of the universe as a whole. The first four races went from the spiritual to the material, and the last three went back up. Blavatsky says that people as they are now are the fifth root race of Earth, which is going through its fourth cosmic round. (The fact that we have a long time to get better spiritually may come as a great relief to the reader.) The first root race was made up of non-corporeal Astral beings who lived in an invisible land. The second race was the Hyperboreans, who lived on a lost polar continent. We will talk more about the important idea of Hyperborea in the next chapter. The third root race was made up of 15-foot-tall brown-skinned hermaphrodites with four arms who were at the bottom of the seven-stage cycle of humanity. Because of this, the Lemurians, who lived on a continent in the Indian Ocean that has since sunk, fell from God’s favor. After separating into two separate sexes, they started to mate with beautiful but less intelligent races, which led to the birth of soulless monsters. The Atlanteans were the fourth root race. They had very advanced psychic and mediumship skills.

The Atlanteans, who were big and strong like the Lemurians, built huge cities on their continent in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean. Their technology was also very advanced. They used a universal electro-spiritual force called Fohat. This force seems to be similar to the vril force. Even though the Atlanteans were smart and powerful, they also had a childlike innocence that made them vulnerable to an evil entity that corrupted them and made them use black magic. This was going to lead to a terrible war that would destroy Atlantis. The Aryan race was the fifth root race, from which we are all descended.

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Theosophy stressed how important reincarnation and the idea of a hierarchy were. Through reincarnation, people who believed in the movement could imagine themselves taking part in the fantastic prehistory of humanity in a variety of magical, exotic, and long-lost places. They could also feel confident that their souls were on a clear path to spiritual salvation and ultimate unity with God. Hierarchy and elitism were both important in the grand scheme of things. As we’ve already said, the Hidden Masters or Mahatmas of Tibet, like Master Morya and Koot Hoomi, were spiritually enlightened beings who chose to stay on Earth and teach the rest of humanity about spiritual wisdom. This idea, as well as Blavatsky’s claim that she had secret occult knowledge, is clearly based on the value of authority and rank. In fact, the story of the Lemurians shows how important this value is. The Lemurians fell from God’s favor because they mixed races. The elite priesthood was the only part of that society that stayed pure. They eventually moved to the wonderful city of Shambhala in what is now the Gobi Desert, which is connected to the Hidden Masters of Tibet.

As we’ve already talked about, the central ideas of Theosophy gave people in the late 1800s a way to keep their religious faith (or at least their faith in the existence of some kind of spirituality in the universe) while also accepting the truth of new theories like evolution that threatened to change the way they thought about the world. But for many people in Europe and the United States, scientific rationalism, fast industrialization, and the growth of cities were another threat to their long-standing way of life. Theosophy was very popular in Germany and Austria because it helped people deal with the fears and uncertainty of modern life. Goodrick-Clarke says that it worked well for the German protest movement called Lebensreform (life reform). This movement was an attempt by people from the middle class to fix the problems caused by the growth of cities and industry. Small groups of people who wanted to get back to a more natural way of life turned to different ways of living, such as herbal and natural medicine, vegetarianism, nudism, and self-sufficient rural communes. Theosophy fit the mood of Lebensreform and gave some of its groups a philosophical reason for what they did. ‘

The German Theosophical Society was started in Elberfeld on July 22, 1884. This made more people interested in Theosophy. Blavatsky and Olcott were staying there at the home of Marie Gebhard (1832–1892), an occultist who had written often to the famous French occultist and magician Eliphas Levi (Alphonse Louis Constant) (c. 1810-1875). Wilhelm HubbeSchleiden, who was in charge of the Colonial Office in Hamburg at the time, was the first president. Hubbe-Schleiden, who had traveled all over the world and was a strong supporter of German colonial expansion abroad, helped the scattered Theosophists in Germany come together to form a single branch of the society. HubbeSchleiden also did a lot to increase interest in the occult in Germany by starting a magazine called Die Sphinx in 1886. Die Sphinx was a scholarly mix of paranormal research, archaeology, and Christian mysticism from a scientific point of view. As such, it had a strong theosophical tone, and scientists, historians, and philosophers all contributed to it.