We remember Paul Zwollo, 16 September, 1930 – August 28, 2007
Jan Nicolaas Kind – Brazil
An “early” photo taken at St. Michael’s House in Naarden the Netherlands, from the left to the right: Rohit Mehta, Mr. and Mrs. Tijssen, Shridevi Mehta, Ineke Vrolijk, Minouc Heijbroek holding her daughter Nienke and Paul Zwollo with an impressive beard
In previous issues of Theosophy Forward we’ve honored Theosophists such as Dr. Richard Brooks, Ianthe Hoskins, Einar Adalsteinsson and Shirley Nicholson. In this current issue we will remember another remarkable Theosophist and artist: Paul Zwollo from the Netherlands. As stated in earlier issues of this magazine, and although we should live most consciously in the present, it is vital to look backwards once in a while, in order to determine in which direction our future could develop.
Paul Zwollo, Mary Anderson and Pablo Sender at the Adyar archives
By profession Paul Zwollo was a goldsmith (in Dutch: edelsmid) and a jewelry designer. He was the son of Frans Zwollo Jr. (1896 – 1989), who was a well-known Theosophist and goldsmith himself. Paul studied at the Academy of Arts and Crafts (in Dutch: Academie voor Beeldende Kunsten) in Arnhem and graduated in 1964.
Wonderful TS emblem in gold, especially hand-made for Minouc Heijbroek by Paul Zwollo
He later taught there from 1967-1968. Rather unusual for his initial professional discipline, he was also educated to be a specialist in tropical agriculture. During the 1950s, as a young man, he worked for the Trade Association Amsterdam in North Sumatra (Indonesia) and Ethiopia. Until 1990 Paul worked in the studio of his family in Oosterbeek, after which he spent two years working for the Theosophical Society in Adyar.
Paul “at home” in St Michael’s House, Naarden the Netherlands
After his return to the Netherlands in 1992, Paul dedicated himself fully to Theosophical work in his home-country. His humbleness, sincerity, and openness, combined with a deep knowledge of The Mahatma Letters to A.P. Sinnett and The Secret Doctrine made him a formidable teacher. He touched many people’s hearts through what he simply represented as a human being. Some would find him shy, withdrawn, or even too serene, labelling him as not too strong or assertive perhaps. Quite contrarily, I would argue that these typical characteristics made him a robust and deeply committed worker, always willing to help others, an impartial listener, a loyal friend and a priceless guide in the land of Theosophists.
Paul, a priceless guide in the land of Theosophists
I remember vividly when he would come to Adyar during the international conventions while I was working there as a volunteer. Paul enjoyed being with people and as a convention participant he was, I think, a most pleasant TS member to be with. He would help out with the archives exhibitions or give talks. As a perfect host, he would show “first-time” visitors where to go and where not to go in downtown Adyar. He always was concerned about other people’s well-being during the convention.
Paul, second from the left during an International Convention, the year: probably 2006, next to Paul, on the right, Mary Anderson
Although he was known to be somewhat silent and introvert, I also witnessed another side of Paul. At the time, I was living in Adyar at the Octagonal Bungalow, close to headquarters building. From my room on the upper floor it was easy to climb up to the roof. One evening, when Paul visited me, we decided to climb upon that roof to sit under the stars. While we both were there, looking at the incredible firmament in comfortable chairs, Paul, out of the blue, fully relaxed, and feeling “at home” began cracking jokes. I don’t think I ever laughed so much as that memorable night, discovering that Paul also had a great sense of humor.
Els Rijneker (left) former General Secretary of the Dutch Section and Paul preparing an exhibition at the Adyar Archives, in the background a desk used by President-Founder Henry Olcott
To conclude I wish to say that, indeed, Paul and I were very different, but we got along so very well we actually joked about our differences. One of the phrases we used to indicate our “alleged” differences was that I was “Woodstock” and that he was “The First Night of the Proms,” I was “Jim Morrison” and he was “Hector Berlioz.”
Ineke Vrolijk and Paul Zwollo working on an interview
I was with Paul for the last time at the platform of the Naarden train station in the summer of 2007. Actually it was quite symbolic. With around ten other Theosophists, including residents of St. Michael’s House in Naarden, he was on his way to Schiphol airport in order to fly to Finland to attend a gathering of the European Federation of Theosophical Societies. I was not going to travel with the group, but decided to see them off. Those who are familiar with that train station know that before one reaches the platform a few huge staircases need to be climbed. All the other travelers had reached the platform but to my surprise Paul was nowhere to be seen, he seemingly had disappeared. I went down one of the staircases again and saw Paul out of breath leaning against the wall all by himself. He looked terribly pale and told me that all of a sudden he had started to feel dizzy and in pain and couldn’t keep up with the others. I took his suitcase and helped him up the stairs and into the train where his friends were waiting for him. He got on just in time, and before the train doors closed, he looked me straight into the eyes, thanking me and telling me that I needed to take care of myself. The doors closed, the train took off and that was the last time I ever saw Paul.
Paul at the Adyar Archives-Museum with HPB’s famous cup and saucer
It is with pleasure that in our second quarter 2016 issue we pay tribute to Paul Zwollo by publishing five fine articles written by him: “Ethics,” “Together differently,” “Inner Journey to Regeneration,” “Sacrificing the Self,” and “Who Am 1?”
I thank all of Paul’s friends, Trân-Thi-Kim-Diêu, Els Rijneker, Fay van Ierlant, Arend Heijbroek, Elisabeth Raven and Femmie Liezenga for sharing some of their wonderful memories and thoughts. Ineke Vrolijk passed on unique photo material and Elly van Doorn helped out as well. Janet Kerschner at Olcott in Wheaton was, like always, my formidable guide in tracing the articles.
Note: for sake of authenticity the contributions below have not been edited for grammar or style. The format though, was slightly revised.
Our dear brother Paul Zwollo passed over on 28 August in his 77th year, after a brief illness.
Paul Zwollo was born into a Theosophical family in 1930; both his father and grandfather were TS members and well-known artists in Holland. He joined the TS in 1954. Paul had been trained in agriculture and had worked in this field for some years, mainly in Indonesia. Later he got trained to be a gold- and silversmith at the School of Arts and Crafts at Arnhem. Since 1992, he had been living at the International Theosophical Centre (ITC) in Naarden, the Netherlands, being the Presidential Representative in the Council of the Centre, as. Elected and re-elected to the European Federation Executive Committee since 1995 and to the General Council of the TS worldwide since 1998.
He served the TS Holland in various capacities – chairman of the lodge at Arnhem, General Secretary to the Dutch Section, and lecturing at Lodges on various Theosophical subjects. He was a very keen student of Theosophy, especially of the Mahatma Letters. At the International Headquarters of the Society at Adyar he had worked for several years both in the Gardens and the Archives; and for a number of years he had been involved in organizing exhibitions in the Adyar Archives during the International Conventions.
As a Mason, he was involved in ceremonial work for several decades whilst serving the deeper aspects of Theosophy.
We affectionately remember an affable gentleman, a kind-hearted friend, and a tender brother, always ready to help and serve, even with humble tasks, in a humble manner, with a fraternal approach. We wish him a deserved rest in a greater Light - one which he had been aiming for and serving during his whole lifetime on earth.
Paul Zwollo was the reason I joined the Theosophical Society in The Netherlands in 1998: he gave a series of lectures about The Mahatma Letters, for members only, and I felt the strong urge to be present there and then. He guided us through the entire book, using ‘The Hoskin Rule’, a transparent sheet with the numbers 1 to 21, very helpful in finding lines in the text.
Paul lived in Adyar from 1990 – 1992. His health and duties however did bring him to the International Theosophical Centre (ITC) where he lived, but each year he went back to Adyar to perform his many duties there, sometimes wearing his beautifully colored shirts. Many years he organized the exhibition in the Archives during the International Conventions in December; it is there that the photo with H.P.B’s cup and saucer was taken.
Paul was a gentleman, modestly and silently, present at every Theosophical meeting at the ITC, only talking when strictly necessary, for a better understanding of the participants. He inspired many, worked, worked, worked, and worked, giving his life for Theosophy. He is still dearly missed!
Standing in front of him after his passing we honored and saluted the ‘diamond soul ’(one of his favorite subjects) in this beautiful Theosophist, with our inner spoken promise to continue the work…
Paul Zwollo and Adele Algeo at the Adyar archives; two great souls …
Fay van Ierlant
In 1980 visiting the Besant hall of the International Theosophical Centre in Naarden for the first time, I wanted to buy some books at the book-table. The man behind the table knew my name. I was surprised, but then he told me that he remembered me as we both lived some years in Medan, a city in Indonesia. The man was Paul Zwollo.
We became friends, he really inaugurated me in the Theosophical Society, explained how it worked, how one could join the workers and what that meant.
As Paul went to India every year, being a member of the International Board of the TS, it did not take long before I also went to Adyar for a while and discovered why he was so completely devoted to the work of the TS.
In the Netherlands working at the Naarden Centre together with Paul and the workers of the Centre we saw that Paul knew and was known to many of the international teachers and visitors as he travelled and worked around the world.
Being a third generation Theosophist, whose grandfather, Frans Zwollo Sr. was a member of the famous Vahana Lodge of Amsterdam, a lodge for artists and architects that worked out of their Theosophical background, he grew up with their geometric designs and used them even when he explained the process of dying in a Lodge! He could make things really clear that way.
Paul was a dear friend who was there when you needed help while working but also when you needed advise in personal affairs.
Being an expert on The Mahatma Letters he could make you see the incredible wisdom behind those letters, in sayings like: “Discord is the harmony of the universe”and “We never whine over the inevitable, we try to make the best of the worst.”
The Letters mention membership very clearly: “Spiritual strength and power depend not on numbers. Rather do they depend upon burning sincerity.”
That burning sincerity could be recognised in Paul, he was what HPB called a Theosophist when she mentions in The Key to Theosophy: “there are members of the Theosophical Society and there are Theosophists.”
His sudden death in 2007 came as a shock, he is still missed.
It was a privilege knowing Paul, thank you Paul.
Paul wearing his famous and colorful blue shirt, sitting behind Olcott’s desk in Adyar
My first recollection of Paul was in the early 1970’s during young Theosophist weekends. With a long beard Paul looked quite modern at the time.
Paul was always ready to help with the work of the TS. Also at times of turmoil he offered his services as a quiet mediator. This resulted in Paul becoming chairman of the Dutch section in 1987. But turmoil was not an environment in which he felt comfortable, so he resigned again in one years’ time.
Paul was the third generation of the famous Zwollo family of goldsmiths, all TS members. He used to live with his father. At their home in Oosterbeek near Arnhem they both had their studio. In the course of the 1980s Paul decided to give up his time consuming work as goldsmith, as he wanted to spend more time on Theosophy. The Mahatma letters and symbolism in art where subjects he was frequently asked to lecture on.
When his father passed away in 1990 Paul decided to live for two years in Adyar, after which he decided to live at St. Michaels House of the ITC-Naarden. (1992 – 2007) This was probably the first time in his life that he was part of a – small – community. There it was observed that he lived a very private life. Paul did not say very much – some people feel that he should have been more outspoken – but when he spoke, it was always important to listen well.
There are a few incidents in life one will always remember, where and when the news came in. The news of Pauls passing away was such an event for me. I was in Perth, Australia, on a business trip, when I got a text. It came in as a big shock. Then back at the ITC one could feel a major gap, something, a certain quality, was missing. From hind side a remarkable observation, as Paul was a quiet, introvert presence, other than his Theosophical work we know very little off.
Paul’s professional and private archive are now stored at the Nederlands Instituut voor Kunstgeschiedenis (Dutch Institute of History of Art).
Although we met each other already in the nineteen-sixties, I became to know Paul better when we were working together as members of the board of the International Theosophical Centre in Naarden. He then lived in St. Michael’s House. He was a competent and reliable member of the board and a good adviser in difficult matters. He was humble and friendly and very dedicated to the cause of Theosophy and the tasks he was fulfilling.
Paul had many talents and worked successfully during his life in different ways. I enjoyed his talks and especially on certain occasions when he would appear with a beautifully colored tie and a matching jacket. Paul then showed another side of his being, the artist who he actually was and practically had been when he was a worker in precious metals. But the element of beauty he carried with him his whole life.
Sometimes I visualize Paul in the garden of St. Michael’s House, kneeling near the pond and looking after the plants in the water. I also visualize him on the terrace of the House, preparing the tables and chairs for the tea we all would have in the afternoon sun. Paul was a perfect host. Guests he would show around the premises and inside the buildings. He was able to answer many questions because he knew the history of the Centre and the people who had lived and worked there.
You had to take two staircases to reach the room of Paul in St. Michael’s House. I remember him and me, sitting quietly in his simple but beautiful room to ponder over things that had happened. It was summer, the door to the balcony was open. Standing on the balcony you had a beautiful overview of the big garden. There was a huge maple tree which was reaching out with its branches, surrounding the balcony. You had the feeling that you were within the tree. So, when I remember Paul I also see him standing on the balcony in the huge, beautiful tree. The tree is still there.
Paul died in 2007. We lost a special friend and brother. He had the gift to connect people and create harmony. We still miss him.
Paul Zwollo, always sincere, humble and above all pure; a friend, a guide and a teacher, here lecturing in Athens, Greece
When first meeting Paul Zwollo somewhere in the eighties I could not know that much later we would live together with some others in a residential group at St. Michael’s House Naarden. (1993-1998).
Meeting him this first time, he was going to give a talk on the Masters in our lodge. Of course he would give a talk about Them because he was so dedicated to Them, always studying in the book Letters from the Master of Wisdom to Sinnett. Looking in this book after his death one could see that many sentences were underlined in different colours, carefully done with the help of a ruler.
For me Paul felt as a very serene man with a good sense of humour and very gentle. He never talked much; sometimes this was not so easy for us, because it seemed as if he was afraid to give his opinion on certain matters. But I noticed that, when it was really necessary in certain matters Paul would not keep his mouth shut.
Living with Paul in our residence group at St. Michael’s was very special. I remember very fine talks with him together with the other residents. Especially his behaviour to my teenage son was very special: he was always kind and had a fatherly and understanding approach to him. He never forgot to give him a present when coming back from a journey outside the country.
To many he seemed to be totally unworldly, but at his funeral we came to know from his sister that Paul as a youngster had been a good dancer and had played football very well. She told us he never asked much for himself and was happy with a simple life.
Paul never had told us about his dancing. He sometimes talked about his time in the army being the only vegetarian and telling he did not put too much attention on that to the other soldiers, in order not to make fuss out of it.
In those years many people came from all over the world to Naarden, having meals and chats with us, and as usual Paul advised them to go to a museum. He himself came from a family of artists. So art was something he liked to promote to all visitors.
When entering his room, I always felt a serene silence which I did not wish to break, and saw him sitting behind his desk, studying or writing, preparing for the many talks he had to give. After his death when emptying his room, I found many, many notes, papers full, in his characteristic handwriting. And also many articles in newspapers which he kept for his talks. Paul was well aware of all the affairs in the world.
He has been a bachelor all his life and I don’t know if he ever had fallen in love. When I one day, after just having divorced, came to him to tell this, he just said to me: “Well, that’s life; now you are free, now you are a sannyasin.” Of course this felt for me at that moment a bit odd. I needed comfort, not to be told that I now was a sannyasin!
But much later I understood what he meant to say: now that I had in his point of view no other obligations anymore to my former husband I could dedicate my whole life to the cause of Theosophy. This is how Paul lived his life.
As far as I can see Paul was a sannyasin, who dedicated his whole life to live a pure life in order to be a good instrument for the work of the Masters.
He has been an example for me and for many others.