The Theosophical Society in Europe
Federation of National Societies

History of the Theosophical Society in Europe


Late nineteenth and early twentieth century – start of the European Federation


In the late nineteenth and early twentieth century, the “European Section” (originally “British Section”) “gave birth” to the Scandinavian, Dutch, French, Italian and German National Sections. It then resumed its former title of “British Section” and confined its activities to the United Kingdom.


At the Annual Convention of the British Section in July 1903 in London, the work of inaugurating a Federation of European Sections was started under the chairmanship of Colonel Henry S. Olcott. The second International Congress of European Sections followed in Amsterdam in 1904, under the chairmanship of Dr Annie Besant. Colonel Olcott noted with satisfaction the tendency to create Federations between branches in the same geographical or linguistic areas.


Between 1905 and 1913 (shortly before the outbreak of World War I) European Congresses were held in London, Paris, Munich, Budapest and Stockholm. A break followed during World War I. Many members in Europe were engaged in fighting, many were killed, others tended the wounded. Members in Central Europe were cut off from Adyar.


Following the war, a World Congress was held in Paris in 1921, attended by 1000 members from 39 countries. European Congresses followed in Vienna, in Brussels, Budapest, Geneva and London. The Congress planned for Frankfurt in 1932 and 1933 had to be cancelled.


Congresses followed in Barcelona and Amsterdam, and a World Congress in Geneva in 1936, was presided over by Dr George Arundale, the then International President. In the following years European Congresses were held in Copenhagen, Zagreb and Paris. Mr Jaap van Dissel from Holland had become, as it was called at the time, General Secretary of the Theosophical Society in Europe.


Following the outbreak of war, theosophical work was forbidden in many European countries. European Federation meetings continued during the war years at summer schools in London and Cardiff.


After war – revival of theosophical work


When hostilities ended, European Sections again became active, although difficulties continued due to the lack of many essentials and official restrictions on public meetings, international travel etc. The European Federation Journal “Theosophy in Action” had continued publication during the war. In 1946 the European Federation met at Huizen.


In 1947 a “Round Table Conference”, presided over by the International President, Brother C. Jinarajadasa, and a “Workers’ Week” were held in Switzerland. Theosophists from far-off countries undertook long and uncomfortable train journeys and were overwhelmingly happy to participate again in theosophical activities.


A great achievement of Mr van Dissel was the revival of theosophical work in Continental Europe following the war. He organized what was called regional activity, the regions being language areas. Such activities consisted in the organization of summer schools and the publication of books and magazines in the languages concerned. German-speaking, British, Scandinavian and “Pays Latins” Regions were formed. The last-mentioned consisted and consists of French-speaking countries plus Italy and for a time Spain and Portugal.


Summer schools were and still are organized in the Pays Latins Region alternately in the different countries concerned. In the German-speaking area it was in Austria that a magazine “Adyar” was started and a publishing house “Adyar Verlag” was set up, thanks to Dr Norbert Lauppert. It was also in Austria, in Pichl, that the German regional summer school found its home for many years. There, members and friends from Austria, Germany and Switzerland gathered, and also “clandestine” theosophists from Eastern Europe.


Middle of twentieth century – towards memorable Salzburg Congress


By 1950 theosophical activities had ceased behind the Iron Curtain. However, Russian lodges and at least one Polish lodge “in exile” were formed.


In Spain theosophical activity was forbidden for about 30 years under General Franco. During that time Luis Lorenzana organized theosophical meetings in isolated mountainous regions and in addition brought whole bus-loads of “clandestine” TS members to Pays Latins summer schools.


A Congress was held in Paris in 1949. At the Double Diamond Jubilee at Adyar in 1950, Europe was well represented. The European Federation met that year in Arnhem, Holland, and then in 1951 in Camberley, England. A European Congress followed in Montecatini (Italy) in 1952, after which meetings were in Huizen (Holland) and Novefjell (Norway).


In 1956, a European Congress was held in Baden, Austria, presided over by the International President, Mr N Sri Ram. In 1959 the 23rd European Congress was held in Hamburg, again presided over by the International President. Mr van Dissel retired as General Secretary and was succeeded by Mr John Coats, with the new title of Chairman of the European Council.

Annual Council Meetings followed in the early sixties at summer schools and other events in Milan (Italy), Swanwick (England), Helsinki (Finland), Leysin (Switzerland), Athens (Greece) and Huizen (Holland).


In 1966 a World Congress was held in Salzburg (Austria), presided over by the International President N Sri Ram, organized by Dr Lauppert, the then Austrian General Secretary, and attended by about 1200 delegates. This was a memorable event, during which it was announced that the Theosophical Society was permitted to be active again in Yugoslavia.


Late twentieth century – activities and meetings continue


East. Later flights were organized by the Swiss and French Sections, with stopovers within India and also in Sri Lanka and Nepal.


The European Council met at Sestri Levanti (Italy) in 1967 and in 1968 a European Congress was held in Swanwick (England), where Ms Claire Wyss was elected to succeed John Coats as Chairman. During her term Council meetings were held at summer schools in Uddevalla (Sweden), attended by the International President N Sri Ram and his daughter Dr Radha Burnier (our current President)  in 1969, and iJohn Coats organized two flights in chartered planes, bearing delegates from different parts of Europe to attend the International Convention at Adyar, with stopovers in the Middle n St. Andrews (Scotland) in 1970. The Paris Congress followed in 1971, where Ms Madeleine Leslie-Smith was elected to succeed Claire Wyss as European Chairman. During her term the Council met in successive years at summer schools in Bad Homburg vor der Höhe (Germany), Tremezzo (Italy), Durham (England), again in Bad Homburg, in Territet (Switzerland) and Hillerod (Denmark), followed by a European Congress in Durham (England) in 1978. In 1979 the Council met at a summer school in St. Martin (Germany) and in 1980 in Spa (Belgium), where Ms Barbro Melander (Sweden) was elected Chairman.


Under Barbro Melander's Chairmanship the Council met at summer schools in High Leigh (England), St. Martin (Germany) and again High Leigh. There followed a European Congress in Poitiers (France) in 1984. In the next three years the Council convened at summer schools in Norway, Belgium and Germany. European Congress followed in 1988 in Chalfont St. Giles (England). In 1989 Mr Curt Berg, also from Sweden, was elected Chairman.


Attention to Eastern Europe


From about this time Council meetings have been held roughly every other year at the International Theosophical Centre (ITC) at Naarden, which was formally handed over to the President of the Theosophical Society in 1988. A European Congress was held in Arolsen (Germany) in 1991, attended also by some Russian guests. Russia was opening up and the International President, along with the European Chairman, was invited to the USSR in 1991. Following that visit, there were regular trips by the Chairman Curt Berg and the Vice-Chairman at that time, Ms Trân-Thi-Kim-Diêu, to that country and in due course a Presidential Agency was formed.


The Council meeting at the annual gathering in Rohrbach (Austria) in 1993 was followed by a meeting at Naarden in 1994 and the Congress in Boson, Sweden, in 1995, where Ms Trân-Thi-Kim-Diêu was elected Chairman. The Council Meeting in Weimar (Germany) in 1996 was the first summer school and Council meeting in a town which had been behind the Iron Curtain.


Since then there have been three European Congresses: 1998 in Belgirate (Italy), 2004 in Porto (Portugal), 2007 in Helsinki (Finland).

In 2003 the European Federation celebrated its Centenary at ITC, Naarden, the Netherlands with the then International Vice-President, Dr John Algeo together with his wife Adele. The talks of the Celebration are collated and published in a booklet.


The year of the Centenary marked a new turning point in action for the Federation. Rapid changes took place in Europe so that there was no longer an ‘Eastern Europe’. Keeping the basic philosophy of cooperation, the Federation aims to support any new area that expresses a genuine interest in theosophy.


Congresses in Europe


2010  Rome - Italy (World Congress)

2007  Helsinki - Finland

2004  Porto - Portugal

2003  Naarden - The Netherlands (EFTS Centenary)

1998  Belgirate - Italy

1995  Bosön - Sweden

1991  Arolsen - Germany

1988  Chalfont - England

1984  Poitiers - France

1978  Durham - England

1971  Paris - France (World Congress)

1968  Swanwick - England

1966  Salzburg - Austria (World Congress)

1962  Swanwick - England

1959  Hamburg - Germany

1956  Baden - Austria

1952  Montecatini - Italy

1949  Paris - France

1947  Lützelau-Weggis - Switzerland

1943  London - England

1941  Cardiff - England

1940  London - England

1939  Paris - France

1938  Zagreb - Croatia

1937  Copenhagen - Denmark

1936  Geneva - Switzerland (World Congress)

1935  Amsterdam - The Netherlands

1934  Barcelona - Spain

1931  London - England

1930  Geneva - Switzerland

1929  Budapest - Hungary

1928  Brussels - Belgium

1923  Vienna - Austria

1921  Paris - France (World Congress)

1913  Stockholm - Sweden

1909  Budapest - Hungary

1907  Munich - Germany

1906  Paris - France

1905  London - England

1904  Amsterdam - The Netherlands

1903  London - England with Col. Olcott as the Guest speaker