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Finland, Theosophy in

The first impetus for Theosophy in Finland happened when the newspaper Åbo Tidning (9/4/1889) dedicated its lead article to Theosophy. This sympathetic article stated that Finns should examine more carefully the aims of the Theosophical Society and that a Scandinavian Section was recently founded in Stockholm, Sweden. Another significant public mention occurred a few years later, when the newspaper Nya Pressen published a series of eight articles by Alexander FULLERTON on a general outline of Theosophy. The main teachings mentioned were reincarnation, karma, death, evolution of planets, and the relationship of Theosophy and religions. This series reached and inspired people all over Finland, as a result of which the first Finns joined the Scandinavian Section of the Theosophical Society in 1891.

Kreivilä — Summer house of the Theosophical Society in Finland
Kreivilä — Summer house of the Theosophical Society in Finland

The first unofficial Lodge started its meetings in 1894 in Helsinki and was called Helsingin Teosofinen Yhdistys (Theosophical Association in Helsinki), with architect A. Wendell acting as the chairman. The library, called Teosofiska Biblioteket i Helsingfors (Theosophical Library in Helsinki), was inaugurated on January 10, 1897, and received substantial support from an accountant, Herman Hellner. The library became the center of Theosophical activity. Herbert Silander and Pekka Ervast began lecturing, and gradually other lecturers joined the team. Regular discussion meetings were held in the library and many Theosophical books were studied.

In the early years, the language used in Theosophical activities was Swedish (which is the second official language in Finland). The first Theosophical book in Finnish was Annie BESANT’s Introduction to Theosophy, published in 1889. This was a pioneering work in Finnish Theosophical life. To support the publishing work, the Theosophical Bookshop and Publishing Company was founded, with the aim of making basic Theosophical literature available to everyone in the Finnish language. A Theosophical magazine, Omatunto (The Conscience), also started to appear and had a thousand subscribers during its first year.

When national conditions became easier in 1905, the need for a Theosophical Section in Finland became apparent. The Section materialized in autumn 1907, when the required seven lodges (Vågen, Kalevala, Atra, Kalervo, Sampo, Etsijä, and Sarastus) had been founded. The Finnish Section of the TS was officially founded on November 17, 1907. The number of members was then 155, and Pekka Ervast was elected as the General Secretary. Much more activity followed: Theosophy was studied, books and a magazine were published, and public lectures were held. The first summer school of the Section was arranged in 1912, and since then it has been a permanent part of Finnish Section’s activities. In 1916 there were already 24 lodges and the number of members was more than 600.

Finland became an independent country in 1917. Theosophical lecturers frequently traveled all over the country, visiting lodges and speaking about Theosophy to various groups in many places. The number of Lodges became stable (about 24). However, conflicts could not be avoided, and eventually the Society in Finland was split up, when Pekka Ervast founded his own organization called Ruusu-Risti (The Rose-Cross) in 1920. After quickly recovering from the confusing situation, the Society took a loan from a bank in 1922 to finance a building. In 1927 work was commenced on a headquarters building and the foundation stone was laid by Annie Besant. A large stone building of five stories was located in the center of Helsinki. The Theosophical magazine Omatunto had changed its name into Tietäjä (The Seer); and, when the Section split up, the official name of the magazine became Teosofi (The Theosophist) in 1920; since then it has been published without interruption.

After World War I, international communication was revived, and correspondence with Adyar became active again. A series of international visits to Finland was started by Ernest WOOD, who presented more than twenty public Theosophical lectures and also held membership meetings in at least eleven places. The next visitors were the international vice president C. JINARAJADASA, Swedish General Secretary Erik Cronvall, George ARUNDALE, J. A. Mazel from the Netherlands, Bishop James I. WEDGWOOD, and president Annie Besant.

Finnish members worked in various groups, such as the Teachers Circle, the Children’s Circle, the Order of the Star in the East, the Lotus School, the international ROUND TABLE, a Theosophical choir, a rhetoric club, and an English study group. Committees, such as the Supporting Alliance of the Theosophical Society, the Fraternal Bank, and the Promotional Fund for Theosophical Literature and Education, were also set up to raise money and take care of financial matters. In the summer of 1933 the Finnish Section became bankrupt when the world financial depression took place; it lost all its property and was officially closed down. However, activity was almost immediately restarted, and a petition was sent to Adyar for the founding of a new Section in Finland; and much committee work aimed at creating the needed number of Lodges.

On November 11, 1933, the refounding of the Section was confirmed in the international list as the Finnish Theosophical Society. Eighteen Lodges were reactivated, and the number of members increased from 376 to 509 by the year 1936. The newly founded Society started working by distributing regular study and research material to Lodges and unattached members. These included short presentations, lectures, and information and news about the Theosophical world. In Helsinki, regular public lectures began again in 1935. Among the lecturers were, for example, Wilho Angervo, Yrjö Kallinen, Atte Pohjanmaa, Armas Rankka, John Sonck, Signe Rosvall, Fredrik Kerttula, Jussi Snellman, Artturi Vesenterä and Fredrik Heliö. International visits continued. The former international vice president C. Jinarajadasa came to Finland during his Scandinavian tour in the autumn of 1935. President George Arundale visited Finland with his wife Shrimati RUKMINI DEVI in the summer of 1936. Next year the English General Secretary, Adelaide Gardner, led the Summer School.

During World War II (1939-44), the situation was difficult in the whole country especially because of bombings. Thus regular meetings were impossible. However, Lodge work continued persistently during this time. John Sonck had bequeathed assets to the Society, and with the help of these assets an apartment was purchased from a block of flats in Vironkatu, Helsinki, in 1942, which became the headquarters. In 1948, the first summer school after the war was held, the international lecturer being Sidney Ransom from England.

From the 1950s onward, annual Theosophical activities have included celebrations, conventions, and summer schools. Lodges started functioning more independently, lecturers toured the country, and public lectures were held in Helsinki every Sunday. In 1954, the Society purchased an estate called Kreivila for its summer place with money received from the Finnish government as compensation for a summer home that the Society had lost to Russia. Kreivila is in the countryside near a lake about 150 kilometers from Helsinki. Kreivila has expanded into a residential course center, which is also offered to other spiritual groups for their courses. Kreivila is well known as a Theosophical center, and nearly every summer school has had an international guest speaker. International presidents such as N. SRI RAM (who inaugurated Kreivila in 1955), John COATS, and Radha BURNIER, as well as many other well-known Theosophists have visited the place.

The European Federation of the Theosophical Society held its annual council meeting in Finland in 1963 preceding the summer school, which made the event very international. European Federation council meetings with workers workshops have been held in Finland also in 2007, 2009, and 2011. At the end of the 1980s members of Blavatsky Lodge established contacts in Estonia and began lecturing there. In 1992, when Estonia became an independent state, HPB Lodge was founded in Tallinn, as a part of the Finnish Section. Regular visits from Finland to Estonia continued through the 1990s and the early twenty-first century. International lecturers have also visited Estonia when they came to Finland: Radha Burnier in 1995, 1997, 2002, and 2007; Joy Mills in 1998; Richard Brooks in 2001; Tran-Thi-Kim-Diêu in 2000 and 2003, Mary Anderson in 2010; and C. V. K Maithreya in 2011. During recent years study letters have been sent to every member, and much new Theosophical literature has been translated. Computers are now a part of everyday communication. An important event of 2007 was the Finnish Section’s centennial, when a European congress was held in Helsinki. President Radha Burnier and the venerable Samdhong Rinpoche were the guests of honor. The congress brought several General Secretaries to Finland. The event has been documented on a DVD.

Many noteworthy individuals have been members. They include the poet Eino Leino (pseudonym of Armas Eino Leopold Lonnbohm), whose poetry often reflected Theosophical ideals and to the memory of whom the Finnish government has erected a statue in Helsinki. The well-known Finnish composers Oskar Merikanto and Leevi Madetoja were also members; Madetoja composed music for a song called “The Command of the Master” (with Alcyone’s words), which is sung on many Theosophical occasions. Yrjö Kallinen (1886-1976) joined the Society at an early age and proved to be a brilliant lecturer; he was a member of the executive committee and vice president of the Section. In 1946, he became Minister of Defense for the Finnish government, being a well-known pacifist. His published works include: Here and NowNoise and SilenceAre We in Sleep? and Zen. After his death, his home town Oulu erected a monument to him called the Stairs of the Light. The number of members in Finland has been 738 (in 1953) at its highest and 376 (in 1962) at its lowest. During the past years it has stayed close to 450. The number of Lodges has steadily been about 22 or 23, in addition to a few official study groups. In 2012 there were 23 active lodges and 2 study groups, including two lodges in Estonia.

General Secretaries:

Pekka Ervast, 1907-17

Willie Angervo, 1917-18

Väinö Valvanne, 1918-19

John Sonck, 1919-31

Armas Rankka, 1931-49

Hugo Valvanne, 1949

Atte Pohjanmaa, 1949-50

Signe Rosvall, 1950-59

Sylvi Horstio, 1959-68

Atte Pohjanmaa, 1968-71

Sirkka Kivilinna, 1971-83

Kyllikki Vuorinen, 1983-89 

Kirsti Elo, 1989-98

Yrjo Kumila, 1998-2004

Kalevi Dunder, 2004-07

Marja Artamaa, 2007-

Katrina Kumila and Marja Artamaa, with Mirva Jaatinen as translator


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