Madame Blavatsky and the Theosophists
Helena Petrovna Blavatsky, the enigmatic founder of theosophy, was a Russian-born medium whose followers included many noted individuals, among them Thomas Edison, William Butler Yeats, Annie Besant, Rudolf Steiner, and Krishnamurti. Even Mahatma Gandhi visited Blavatsky. Many of the details about Blavatsky's life are simply conjecture. What is known, however, is that she was born in 1831 and married a Russian general when she was sixteen. She abandoned him eventually and took off for Constantinople. After this, she supposedly traveled extensively and worked at a variety of unusual jobs. On July 7, 1873, she landed in New York City, one of a wave of immigrants.
She hooked up with Henry Steel Olcott, a colonel and a student of the occult, and together they founded the Brotherhood of Luxor in 1874, which evolved into the Theosophical Society a year later. Her concepts, put forth in her books
Blavatsky proposed that human life on earth began millions of years ago, on the legendary continents of Atlantis and Lemuria. According to her, seven types of people — the great races, as she called them — would evolve over the course of humankind's history, and that currently five of those types have appeared. She believed in the doctrine of reincarnation and taught that humans are immortal beings comprised of subtle energy bodies — astral, etheric, and mental — in addition to a physical one.
In the late 1870s, Blavatsky moved her society to India, the spiritual home of her guides and masters. The Theosophical Society flourished and, at its peak, boasted something between 50,000 and 100,000 followers worldwide.