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Theosophical Encyclopedia

Switzerland, Theosophy in

There has been a continuous theosophical activity in Switzerland since the beginning of the 20th century. In French-speaking areas it began with lectures delivered in Geneva by the French theosophist, Dr. Theophile PASCAL at the end of the year 1900. Those well-attended meetings were commented on in the local press and led as early as 1901 to the founding of lodges affiliated with the French Section. About the same time, theosophical groups were created in German-speaking Swiss cities (for instance in Basel in 1902) but they were related to the work of Rudolf STEINER while most of the French-speaking lodges definitely followed the line of Annie BESANT.

The birth of the Swiss Section was closely connected with the growing differences between Steiner and Besant. On December 1, 1910, Annie BESANT granted a charter providing for the constitution of the Theosophical Society in Switzerland. In order to reach the required number of lodges for a National Society, the four lodges in Geneva divided into seven lodges which allowed the newly-born Swiss Section to be put under the full control of theosophists faithful to Besant, there being 61 of them while the Swiss groups around Steiner numbered 132 members. As a result, six Swiss lodges refused to affiliate with the newly-created Swiss Section. After the break with Steiner, the Swiss Section began to establish branches in German-speaking areas (the first one in Zurich in 1916), but a majority of Swiss theosophists have always been found in the French-speaking areas, and such is the case today.

Up to 1918, the Swiss Section developed rapidly: it numbered 198 members in 1913 and 362 members five years later. A Star Club for ladies from the working-class had been founded in 1912; a Karma and Reincarnation Legion (on the pattern of Weller van Hook’s American group) was launched in 1916; a vegetarian restaurant was opened in 1917. But a serious internal crisis began in the Swiss Section in 1918 which weakened it considerably. These internal tensions were related to concerns regarding the difficult financial situation in the Swiss Section (claimed excessive expenses) and disagreement about the way the Swiss Section was led under the direction of its first General Secretary, H. Stephani. In 1920 a schism occurred and the Theosophical Society in Switzerland became divided into two groups, both affiliated with Adyar: the “Swiss Section” and the “International Federation.” Attempts made by J. KRISHNAMURTI at reconciling both groups at the Vienna Congress (1923) proved unsuccessful. However, in 1926 the General Secretary resigned and, after more turmoil, the two groups decided at last to merge, but the quarrels had brought the number of members down to 120.

Following the merger the Swiss Section began to grow again and its membership reached 260 in 1929, helped by the efforts of Anna KAMENSKY (1867-1952). This Russian theosophist in exile had created in 1924 in Geneva the “Russian Theosophical Society Outside Russia,” which was accepted by Besant in 1925 as an equivalent of a National Section. Kamensky, who later taught at Geneva University, gave lectures around Switzerland in an attempt to stimulate the life of the Swiss Section and she was entrusted with the responsibility of the International Theosophical Center, the creation of which was decided upon at the Brussels Congress (1928).

The 10th Congress of the Theosophical Society in Europe (1930) took place in Geneva; Besant and Charles W. LEADBEATER were among the participants. In 1930 Georges Tripet (1903-1981) and his wife Rachel (1904-1980) arrived in Geneva where they discovered the Theosophical teachings and became active workers, devoting much energy to the Theosophical cause. Having become General Secretary of the Swiss Section in 1935, Georges Tripet greatly contributed to the organization of the 4th World Congress of the Theosophical Society in Geneva in 1936. The membership of the Swiss Section remained relatively stable throughout those years (315 members in 1937).

Neutral Switzerland having been able to maintain its independence throughout World War II, the Theosophical Society did not have to suspend its activities during those dark years, but the circumstances did not help the Swiss Section to expand (230 members in 1949). The first European Theosophical meeting after the war was held in Switzerland in July 1947, under the presidency of Curuppumullage JINARĀJADĀSA. In the following decades, the membership of the Swiss Section remained numerically rather stable: 205 members in 1967, 214 in 1977. While there were still branches in more than half-a-dozen Swiss cities in 1967, the activity today is mainly concentrated in Geneva, where the Theosophical Society has its national headquarters with a lecture hall and a library. By the end of the 80s there were fewer than 100 members, but at the turn of the century it had risen to about 150.

J.F.M.

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