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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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