Interview with Dagmar Kirjanov:
Descendent of Madame Helena Blavatsky
By Deni Gross
To see her stroking her cat, reading a favorite book or quietly watching the birds at the feeder outside her window, one would think that Dagmar Kirjanov has led a very simple life; but nothing could be further from the truth. Multi-lingual, a resident of several different continents, a survivor of wars and revolutions, and a direct descendent of famous Russian aristocrats, Dagmar more resembles a character from an epic historical novel.
Dagmar’s father was born in England of German descent. He studied and lived in Germany, eventually becoming a German citizen. After receiving his civil engineering degree, he worked in Africa, China and Macedonia, before moving to Tehran for a job. During this same time period, Dagmar’s mother, having witnessed the atrocities committed by the Russian Bolsheviks and fearing for her own life, fled her native Saint Petersburg, Russia, for Tehran. Thus, the two met, and Dagmar was born in Tehran, Iran, then known as Persia.
During the Second World War, Dagmar’s family faced persecution in Iran. In 1941, regardless of political affiliations, all Italians and Germans were exiled from the country. Dagmar’s father was sent to Australia, and the family was split up. During this period of exile, Dagmar and her mother experienced two episodes, which bore a striking similarity to events from the life of the famous esotericist, Madame Helena Petrovna Blavatsky (HPB), many years earlier. Dagmar describes in her own words that period in time as follows:
In 1941, Persia was occupied by Russian and British armies, and all German and Italian citizens were exiled. Papa was interned in the Australian outback, where he died. Mama and I spent the rest of the war in the Tirolean Alps. Thence we were sent to displaced person camps in Austria and Italy, where we lived bed to bed with nationalities, races and religions from all over the world . . . and we all got along! After returning to Tehran, I was accepted at the American Community School, also very international, though quite affluent. The turmoil in Persia prompted us to accept an invitation from an aunt in South America. Upon embarking in Niece on the Italian ship, “Conte Grande,” for Buenos Aires, we learned that we were cheated, and that our first-class tickets were converted into third-class. We thus travelled on bunk beds with Italian immigrants. Thus, I first heard the name “Blavatzkaya” from Mama, who previously referred to her as aunt Lyolya or Helena Petrovna. Mama explained that 80 or 90 years ago, “Blavatzkaya” was ordered to sail to New York, and she had a first-class ticket. At embarcation in Genoa, she noticed an Italian mother surrounded by her children, crying bitterly for lack of funds to reunite with her husband in New York. HPB sold her first-class ticket and paid the fare for the mother and her chidren. Thus, all of them, including HPB, travelled third-class to the New World with Italian immigrants . . . as did we.
The other similarity was in 1941 when at the foot of Mt. Ararat, we were herded into tents by the infuriated Russians (who had just been invaded) to be stripped of all our jewelry, all except me. I was the only one not touched. Looking up at Mt. Ararat, I screamed for Mama. Ninety years before, HPB, a superb equestrienne, tried to outrun her Kurdish guards ordered to guard her by her husband, Blavatzky, and cross into Persia or Turkey and thus gain her “freedom.” It must have been at the very spot where, 90 years later, we found ourselves.
Eventually, Dagmar and her mother made it to South America. While a young woman working in Buenos Aires, Dagmar met Alex Kirjanov, the son of Russian emigrees who had fled to Czechoslovakia because of their anti-communist leanings. The two married in 1961 and came to the United States in 1964.
Having lived in so many countries and been exposed to so many different traditions, Dagmar became an accomplished linguist. She speaks Russian, German, Spanish and English and understands French. Perhaps what is most fascinating to those of us who are interested in esoteric studies is the fact that her ancestry directly links her with one of the most well-known esotericists of our time – Madame Helena Petrovna Blavatsky – founder of the modern theosophical movement. Dagmar explains the connection in her own words as follows.
General Alexis von Hahn and his wife Elizabeth Proebsen von Hahn were Helena Blavatsky's (HPB) grandparents and my great-great-great-great-grandparents. They had two children, Elizabeth von Hahn Markoff who was my great-great-great-grandmother (and HPB's aunt ) and Colonel Peter von Hahn, HPB's father. Upon the death of General Alexis von Hahn, his widow moved in with her daughter's family to their beloved estate Alexandrovka, whereto the Markoff family was banned by the czar, who suspected my “4xgreat” grandfather to have Decembrist (anti-czarist ) sympathies. All in all, they fared better than my husband's ancestor, Sergei Wolkonsky, who was exiled to Siberia, whereto his exquisite wife, the subject of a famous poem by Pushkin, followed him. Eventually the czar came to his senses and pardoned everybody.
The Markoffs had numerous offspring, most of them making solid names for themselves in various capacities. One in particular, Evgeny Markoff (HPB's first cousin), wrote a fascinating book about life on the estate titled “Bartchuki” where he describes Elizabeth Proebsen von Hahn, i.e HPB's grandmother and my great, etc. grandmother as as a grande dame, loved and respected by everyone on the estate. Every evening upon her insistence, they had religious services in German using an old family bible. Otherwise, she was reputed to be full of puckish humour and an asset to her family and her grandchildren. Her daughter, i.e. my great, great, great grandmother, was equally easygoing, remarried at the age of 75, played the pianoforte superbly and always wore high heels. Everybody spoke several languages, although French was frowned upon due to General Alexis von Hahn being one of Suvorov's generals who chased Napoleon out of Russia (according to the Russian encyclopedia). My mother liked to recall that when she played with her cousins on the estate, they often all became aware of an elegant lady in a wide-brimmed hat looking at them affectionately and then disappearing.
Mama spoke seldom of the Old Times, but when she did it was with great tenderness. Mama did not know HPB personally, obviously, but heard many a story from her grandmother. She loved to describe HPB as a remarkable, unusually gifted person who was constantly traveling, studied in Tibet and sent articles describing her amazing adventures to Russian publications. Mama also mentioned that HPB was wont to appear at the door where family reunions were taking place, never announcing her arrival; and that during her often extended stays, there were constant knocks and rappings throughout the residences. These apparently were taken in stride by the family members who knew that once HPB left, all the noise would disappear as well.
Dagmar had always felt a strong connection to her unusual aunt. Though she knew much about her beloved “Aunt Helena,” it wasn’t until many years later that she realized that the Helena of her mother’s stories and HPB, founder of the Theosophical Society (TS) were one and the same. It was only by the slightest of coincidences that she once mentioned her aunt to someone who was familiar with the TS. This person informed Dagmar that there was a whole society built around the teachings of her aunt and encouraged Dagmar to find out more about the organization. She did, eventually joined the Theosophical Society and is still a member today.
When we asked Dagmar how knowledge of her connection to HPB has affected her, she replied that she feels HPB’s presence, something that one can’t articulate, but can only know in the depths of one’s Soul. Says Dagmar about her relationship with her beloved Aunt Helena:
It has deepened me. I was searching for Wisdom, miserable in the mundane. The more I read about HPB and those around her, I found my home. I regret it took me so long.