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Sweden, Theosophy in

The Theosophical Society in Scandinavia started in Sweden in 1889. A year earlier, the Swedish author Viktor Rydberg, who had taken an interest in H. P. BLAVATSKY’s THE SECRET DOCTRINE, called together a group of Swedes, among them two women who had visited Blavatsky in London, in order to start Theosophical activity in Sweden. A Swedish group, attached to the British section, was formed on February 10, 1889. Gustaf Zander became the first chairman. The other members of the board were Baron Victor Pfeiff, vice chairman; A. F. Akerberg, secretary; Amelie Cederschlöld, corresponding secretary; and Emil Zander, treasurer.

The main activity during the first years was concentrated in Stockholm with public lectures, group meetings, discussions, answers to criticism from the press and others, publication of books and booklets in Swedish — among them THE KEY TO THEOSOPHY, The Secret Doctrine (in installments published successively), THE VOICE OF THE SILENCELIGHT ON THE PATH by Mabel Collins, and Man’s Seven Principles by Annie BESANT. A library with some five-hundred 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 during certain periods in cooperation with one or more other Scandinavian countries.

In 1891, then president H. S. 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 were formed in various parts of the country, and membership was 353, a third of them being women, which was remarkable for its time. In addition to Swedish members, some 90 members in the neighboring 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 because 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, 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 organizations 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 that 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 were 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, the last time as international president. On these occasions especially, Besant made long lecture tours in parts of Sweden, which strongly contributed to membership growth. Swedish Theosophical lecturers visited places around the country. The Swedish Countess Constance WACHTMEISTER, 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 Anthroposophical 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 work in the Section, but soon activities again flourished, thanks to a group of young members. Some of the most active of this group were Gunnar Floman, Hugo Fahlcrantz, Sigfried Fjellander, and Anna Pallin, all good speakers. This group for a while 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 fiftieth-year International Jubilee Convention eighteen Swedish members traveled to Adyar to participate in the celebrations. By 1929 there were 763 members and 33 lodges in 29 places. This was the highest number of members in the history of the Swedish section. A change occurred because 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 World War II, activities continued quietly. There were some visits from abroad, including by Edwin Bolt and Adelaide Gardner from England. The then President George Arundale came for a visit in 1936, as well as C JINARAJADASA in 1935. On the occasion in 1939 of the fifty-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 the war, 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 the period of isolation during the war, a very fruitful cooperation between the Scandinavian countries started immediately afterwards. The prime mover in this was a 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, first with England through Josephine Ransom and others. This period of about fifteen years gave much inspiration to the theosophical activity in the Scandinavian countries.

The 1950s and 1960s brought to the Swedish Section several contacts with other sections in Europe and elsewhere. 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 Northern Ireland. In addition, often every year, one or more Swedish members attended summer gatherings in other parts of Europe. 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 the 1960s and 1970s, a lively group of young Theosophists developed. In 1970, twelve lodges were active, four of them new, whereas eight lodges had been dissolved since 1950. The membership in 1970 was about 250. Since the beginning of the 1970s, 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 1980s and 1990s, regular activities were held in five Lodges, and membership at the end of the century was about 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, in various 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 one-hundredth anniversary. The international president, Radha Burnier, was the guest of honor, and 170 Theosophists attended 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 revived in 1990. During the years from 1990 onward, Sweden had many guest speakers, among others Radha Burnier, Ianthe H Hoskins, John Algeo, Richard Brooks, Colin Price, Trân-Thi-Kim-Diêu, Ravi Ravindra, P. Krishna, Halldor Haraldsson, and Changanti Maithreya, at the spring, summer, and autumn meetings.

All through the years, Theosophical books were translated and published in Swedish, and a lending library was open to the public. Since 1975, the Section headquarters have been combined 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 as further points of contact.

General Secretaries:

Gustaf Zander 1889 - 1896

A. Zettersten 1897 - 1899

Emil Zander (acting) 1899

E. Liljestrand 1900 - 1901

Arvid Knöbs 1902 - 1907

A. Zettersten 1908 - 1909

G. Ljungkvist 1909 - 1910

Gustaf Kinell 1910 - 1912

Arvid Knös 1913 - 1915

Erik Cronvall 1915 - 1922

Hugo Fahlcrantz 1923 - 1928

Linda Edström 1929 - 1930

G. Halfdan Leander 1930 - 1932

Elma Berg 1933 - 1935

Erik Cronvall 1935 - 1937

Eva Franzén 1938 - 1941

Theo Lilliefelt 1942 - 1944

Eva Franzén 1945 - 1946

Eva Ostelius 1947

Signe Montell-Fjellander (acting) 1948

Curt Berg 1949 - 1953

Elis Wikström 1954 - 1955

Gösta Lindström 1956 - 1957

Eva Ostelius 1958 - 1961

Kerstin Berg 1962 - 1967

Curt Berg 1968 - 1978

Gunnar Larson 1979 - 1982

Terttu Edin 1983 - 1984

Ing-Britt Wiklund 1985 - 1996

Gunnar Larson 1997 - 1998

Ing-Britt Wiklund 1999 – 2004

Pertti Spets 2005 – 


Teosofisk Tidskrift 1894-1974

Teosofi i Norden 1975-1986

Tidlös Visdom 1987-

Some Swedish members have had offices in the Theosophical Society outside the Swedish section. Barbro Melander was chairman of The European Federation from 1980 to 1989, and Curt Berg held the same office from 1989 to 1995. He continued as treasurer in the Federation from 1995 to 1998. Curt Berg also was international treasurer at headquarters in Adyar from 1987 to 1989 and was an additional member of the General Council until about 2009. Ing-Britt Wiklund was a member of the board of the European Federation of Theosophy from 1999 to 2006.

Ing-Britt Wiklund

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