H. P. Blavatsky and The Legend of The White Dog

April 20 2020 London England — The co-founder of the Theosophical Society, Helena Petrovna Blavatsky, was plagued by poor health during much of her life and at one point, in 1875, she was due to suffer amputation of a leg.

The incident is mentioned in an article entitled, HPB’S LEG INJURY, which was sent to me by Nancy Bragin of the Abraxas Lodge of the Theosophical Society In America, shortly before my lecture tour of the northeast USA and visit to Philadelphia in October 2019.

Nancy Bragin with Colyn Boyce at The White Dog Cafe

In January 1875, while HPB was staying in Philadelphia, Henry Olcott returned there periodically to begin his formal investigation of the Holmeses séances, which occurred sometimes on a daily basis. Towards the end of the month Blavatsky suffered an injury to one of her legs. She claimed she nearly broke her leg when she fell under a heavy bedstead after trying to move the furniture. Olcott gives a different account, claiming that the original injury was a result of “a bruise on one knee caused by a fall the previous winter (i.e. January 1875) in New York upon the stone flagging of a sidewalk, which ended in violent inflammation of the periosteum and partial mortification of the leg.” His account is supported by an announcement in the Spiritual Scientist of 3 June 1875, although it is possible both events occurred.

Regardless of the cause, the membrane of the knee became severely inflamed with subsequent death of the tissue and partial paralysis by April. By mid May her physician had recommended the leg be amputated to prevent the spread of gangrene. However a remarkable cure occurred in early June. We are told that two days of cold water poultices and a white pup, a dog by night laid across the leg – cured all in no time. The story of the white dog gave rise to a legend that is still current in Philadelphia.

The article also reminded me that Blavatsky was married briefly for a second time and was living with Michael Betanelli. Infatuated with HPB, he pestered her repeatedly to marry him and when he threatened to commit suicide if she did not, she eventually agreed (her first husband, Nikifor Blavatsky, having died.) The agreement was on the strict stipulation that he would not expect any conjugal rights; that she could retain the name of Blavatsky, and that she would be free of all marital responsibilities. They married in March 1875. Betanelli failed to keep his half of the bargain, however, and they separated after a few months of unhappiness. They were divorced May 25, 1878. The home in which they lived, on Sansom Street, is now the White Dog Café.

— Colyn Boyce, originally published for The Theosophical Society In England

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