Theosophy in Sweden

The Theosophical Society (TS) in Scandinavia started in Sweden in 1889. In the year before, the famous Swedish author Viktor Rydberg who had taken an interest in Helena P. BLAVATSKY’s The Secret Doctrine, called together a group of Swedes, among them two ladies who had visited Blavatsky in London; the purpose was to start theosophical activity in Sweden. A Swedish group, attached to the British section, was formed on February 10, 1889. Dr. Gustaf Zander became the first chairman. The other members of the board were baron Victor Pfeiff, Vice-Chairman, A. F. Akerberg, Ph.D., Secretary, Amelie Cederschlöld, Corresponding Secretary, and Emil Zander, B.A. Treasurer.

The main activity during the first years was concentrated in Stockholm with public lectures, group meetings, discussions and answers to criticism from the press and others, the publication of books and booklets in Swedish, among them The Key to Theosophy, The Secret Doctrine (offered in instalments published successively), The Voice of the Silence by Blavatsky, Light on the Path by Mabel COLLINS, and Man’s Seven Principles by Annie BESANT. A library with some 500 titles was gathered and was open to the public. In 1891, a theosophical journal, Teosofisk Tidskrift, started and has been continuously published since then, sometimes under other names and under certain periods in cooperation with one or more of the other Scandinavian countries.

In 1891, then President Henry OLCOTT visited Stockholm. He gave several lectures in public halls, and paid a visit to the King, Oscar II, on the King’s own invitation. Annie Besant visited Sweden in 1894, gave lectures and also was received by the King.

In the period up to 1895, twelve local associations had been formed in different parts of the country, and the membership then comprised 353 members; a third of them being women, which was remarkable for its time. In addition to Swedish members, some 90 members in the neighbouring Scandinavian countries of Denmark, Norway and Finland had joined.

On July 7, 1895, the Swedish section (directly under Headquarters at Adyar) was formed with Gustaf Zander as General Secretary. It was then called The Scandinavian Section of the T.S, because, as mentioned above, it included members in the other Scandinavian countries. Gradually, independent sections were formed in those countries and in 1918 the name of The Theosophical Society in Sweden was adopted.

The following year, i.e., 1896, saw the unrest in the Swedish Theosophical Society that followed the split of the international Theosophical Society caused by the so called “Judge crisis.” In the end, 321 members stayed in the Swedish Theosophical Society with navy commissary A. Zettersten as General Secretary. A separate group was formed of those who chose to join the “Judge society,” but meeting locality and the library were kept in common for the two organisations for some time. One thing that has put Sweden on the theosophical world map may be mentioned here. Katherine TINGLEY, who took over the leadership of the society formed by W. JUDGE, established a “second Point Loma” on the island of Visingsö in lake Vättern, a center which lasted for some time after her death in 1926.

After the unrest of 1896 in the Swedish society, the following one and a half decades was a period of continuous growth of theosophical activity in Sweden. Many lodges were formed and membership increased. G. R. S. MEAD was guest speaker at the annual convention of 1897. President Olcott visited Sweden again in 1900 and Annie Besant came back in 1898 as well as in 1904 and 1907, this last time as President. On these occasions especially, Besant made long lecture tours in different parts of Sweden, which strongly contributed to membership growth. Swedish theosophical lecturers visited places around the country. The Swedish countess Constance WACHTMEISTER, known for being a close friend of Blavatsky, gave strong support to the Swedish Theosophical Society during the first decade of the new century. By 1912 there were 26 lodges and the membership was 508, including some unattached members.

Around this time there were several attacks on theosophy in Sweden, and replies were offered by theosophists. One of the most active defenders was chief engineer Arvid Knös, who became General Secretary in 1913. This change of leadership occurred after his predecessor, Gustaf Kinell, had left the Society and enrolled in the Antroposophical Society together with about a hundred members. 

On Arvid Knös fell the main responsibility of arranging the European Congress, planned to take place that year in Stockholm. This European Congress in Stockholm of 1913 was reported to be well organized and successful. The main guest was Annie Besant and there was also a group of Russian members, notably Anna KAMENSKY.

Soon after this congress World War I began and had at first a moderating effect on the the work in the Section, but soon activities flourished, thanks to a group of young members. Some of the most active members of this group were Gunnar Floman, Hugo Fahicrantz, Sigfried Fjellander and Anna Pallin, all of them good speakers. This group, during periods, lived together in a so-called “colony”; they arranged summer activities and lecture tours in the country. One of them, Hugo Fahlcrantz, a lawyer, was very active as General Secretary from 1923 to 1928. During this time the Swedish section was visited twice by George S. ARUNDALE and his wife Rukmini Devi, and for the 50th-year International Jubilee Convention eighteen Swedish members traveled to Adyar to participate in the celebrations. By 1929 there were 763 members and 33 lodges at 29 places. This was the highest number of members in the history of the Swedish section. A change came because of a well-known event.

In the summer of 1929 J. KRISHNAMURTI dissolved the Order of the Star in the East. Many members came to the conclusion that Krishnamurti frowned on the existence of organizations, and more than 100 of the members left the Section.

At the beginning of WW II, activities continued quietly. There were some visits from abroad, including Edwin Bolt and Adelaide Gardner from England. The then President George Arundale came for a visit in 1936 as well as Curuppumullage JINARĀJADĀSA in 1935. On the occasion in 1939 of the 50- year Jubilee of the beginning of theosophy in Sweden, Sidney Ransom from England was the guest of honor. The membership at that time stood at about 400 and there were 24 lodges.

During the years of WW II, almost no theosophical contacts with other countries were possible (among others, Denmark and Norway were occupied by Germany). Activities within Sweden, however, were comparatively lively thanks to Theo Lilliefelt from Estonia who held the office of General Secretary.

In contrast to this period of isolation, a very fruitful cooperation between the Scandinavian countries started immediately after the war. The prime mover in this was the Danish woman, Birgitte Valvanne, who together with the Dane Jorgen Winde and some others invited all Scandinavian theosophists to summer gatherings in a place called Gammel Praestegaard in Denmark. That also opened contacts with other parts of the theosophical world, firstly with England through Josephine Ransom and others. This period of about fifteen years gave much inspiration to the theosophical activity in the Scandinvian countries.

The 1950’s and 1960’s brought to the Swedish Sections several contacts with other sections in Europe and other parts of the world. Among others, the following theosophical lecturers visited Sweden: the President N. SRI RAM (five visits) and Radha BURNIER (from India), Josephine and Sidney RANSOM, Madeleine and Leslie Leslie-Smith, Phoebe and Laurence BENDIT, John COATS, Geoffrey Farthing, and Mary Elmore (all from England), and Hugh Shearman (from N. Ireland). Coincidentally, and often every year, one or more Swedish members attended summer gatherings in different parts of Europe. Further, the Swedish Section hosted European gatherings arranged by the European Federation under its chairman J.van Dissel: in Mariefred in 1948 and in Uddevalla in 1951. During part of the 1960’s and 1970’s there was a lively group of young theosophists. In 1970, 12 lodges were active, four of them new, while 8 lodges had been dissolved since 1950. The membership in 1970 was around 250.

Since the beginning of the 1970’s, the theosophical work in the Section has carried much influence from the way N. Sri Ram presented theosophy, one important aspect being to look into oneself and connect what is seen with the destiny of every human being.

During the 1980’s and 1990’s, there have been regular activities in 5 lodges and the membership at the end of the century was around 175. Other annual activities, arranged by the Board of the Section, have been a summer gathering with a theosophical theme and two study weekends, one in the spring and one in the autumn, the venues being places in different parts of the country.

The last international gathering of the century arranged by the Swedish Section was hosting the European Congress in 1995, on which occasion the Section celebrated its 100th year anniversary. The International President, Radha Burnier was the guest of honour and there were 170 theosophists attending the Congress, coming from all over Europe as well as other parts of the world. Noteworthy was the participation of a group from Russia and Ukraine, where theosophy restarted in 1990.

All through the years, there took place the translation and printing of theosophical books into Swedish, the keeping of a lending library open to the public, and also the selling of books. Since 1975 it has been possible to combine the Section headquarters with a bookshop having a street frontage, which has turned out to be a good point of contact with the public. During the last few years the Section has arranged a web site and an e-mail address, which has shown itself to be further points of contact.

Teosofisk Tidskrift 1894-1974
Teosofi i Norden 1975-1986
Tidlös Visdom 1987-1999

Some Swedish members have had offices in the Theosophical Society outside the Swedish section. Mrs. Barbro Melander was chairman of The European Federation from 1980 to 1989 and Curt Berg held the same office from 1989-1995. He continued as Treasurer in the Federation from 1995 to 1998. Curt Berg also was International Treasurer at Headquarters in Adyar 1987-1989 and has been an additional member of the General Council since then.

Ing-Britt Wiklund

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