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Hungary, Theosophy in

There were Hungarian members in the international Theosophical Society (TS) almost from its formation in 1875. The baron Edmund Vay was a member of the General Council of the TS in 1880 and his wife, Baroness Adelma Vay was a cousin of Helena P. Blavatsky. Before the end of that century, English and German lecturers were visiting Hungary. The Hungarian Theosophical Society was formed on the 2nd of March, 1906, and received its charter from Adyar on July 7, 1907. Among its members were several notable Hungarians of that time, for example Károly (Charles) Zipernovsky, a well-known inventor who was, for a long time, a financial supporter of the TS. The first president of the society was Deszô Nagy. The next president (1908-10) was Gyula Ágoston. A periodical was published in the Hungarian language, and in the spring of 1909 the European Federation of the TS met in Budapest. Lipót Stark was president from 1910-11 and from 1911 to 1927 the president was professor Róbert Nádler, the director of the High School of Arts. ISABELLE COOPER-OAKLEY, a close friend and co-worker of Blavatsky and Henry S. OLCOTT and later of Annie BESANT, came to Hungary in 1905 and she helped with the formation of the Hungarian TS giving lectures and presenting books. She died in Budapest on March 3, 1914.

By 1914-15 membership was already 217 and the Hungarian TS continued its work during World War I, organizing lectures and offering its income to war widows and orphans. The TS in Hungary raised its voice against the war and proposed a peaceful solution of contradicting views, but, towards the end of the war their activities were declining and about the time of the peace treaties it paused. The Peace Treaty of Trianon (1920) took away two-thirds of Hungarian territory, which was a shock for Hungarians and, during her lecture tours, Annie Besant raised her voice against the injustice done to Hungary.

The society restarted its regular work in 1921. One of the members, Miklós Mitrowácz, who had been blinded in the war, translated many TS books into Braille. The Hungarian TS had its highest membership in the next few years, but in the years 1926-27 the formation of the ORDER OF THE STAR IN THE EAST caused concern and many members left.

Elizabeth Rátonyi became president from 1927-32 and in May 1929 the European Federation of the TS once again had its session in Budapest. During the war, on the proposal of the English TS, the Hungarian TS had been declared “dormant,” so, as a kind of compensation, with the help of Besant, a headquarters house was bought for the Hungarian TS. Unfortunately they were able to work there only until 1937 because there was a big debt on the house.

In the thirties the work of the TS was again revived, several books were published, members were joining from outside Budapest and several lodges were organized. In the beginning of the forties the following lodges were active: Activity, Service, Rainbow, Platon, Giordano Bruno, Krishnamurti and one for interested newcomers. Outside work was at a minimum in 1944 but during the German occupation Jews were hidden and saved, and Polish and other refugees were helped by the members.

In 1945, after World War II, work was restarted in the following lodges: Adyar, Besant, Giordano Bruno, Rákóczi, Rainbow, Urania and later Activity. A very good and active group of 15-20 members formed the nucleus of the TS.

As theosophists all over the world were starting movements based on the Ancient Wisdom, the same was happening in Hungary; the LIBERAL CATHOLIC CHURCH was started in 1923 and later, in 1948, the ROUND TABLE, based on the Grail Mystery, was formed for children and young people. But, after the communists seized power in 1948 the activities of the TS in Hungary were investigated. On Good Friday of 1950 the TS was prohibited “according to laws from 1922 and 1937.” A part of the Library of the Society was taken to the Hungarian Academy and a large part was later given to the Buddhist Mission, where the leader had good connections with the communist authorities. Several hundred kilos of books and printed matter were destroyed and other possessions of the TS were given to welfare societies.

The members saved the main part of the Library, under the direction of the then Librarian László Reicher. Members also did everything to maintain contact with one another. They organized excursions, and studies continued. In 1950 the then president, Flóra Selevér died. She had been president from 1932 and continued her duties with much effort, enthusiasm and self-sacrifice till the last minute of her life.

During the next few years the members met regularly, celebrating festivals and organizing summer camps. Emma Vadnay, Gizella Hary and others translated much theosophical literature into Hungarian as a preparation for the future. Lectures were given by Ernô Martinovich and Zoltán Ráth and good discussions followed. During the revolution and freedom fighting of 1956 and later, several young members left the country and groups were decreasing in numbers but the work continued.

The Presidential Representative, László Reicher, has been a member since 1946. He started to look for members in the surrounding countries and found some in Poland. Sophie, the younger daughter of a theosophical family in Kraków, became his wife and is presently working hard in the re-started Executive Committee of the Society.

In 1966, 13 members succeeded in traveling to Salzburg, to the 5th World Congress of the TS. Later, in 1967, they organized a Middle-East European Theosophical Conference. This was a seven-day meeting with theosophists from Bulgaria, Yugoslavia, Poland, Roumania and Holland.

In 1969-70 the communist police started proceedings against some of the Hungarian members. Emma Vadnay, one of the best qualified translators of the society and not then 55 years of age, was so much wearied by the proceedings that she died shortly afterwards. The Society again retreated and continued only as a friendly group, organizing excursions and meetings over a cup of tea.

In 1972, John COATS, later the International President of the TS, visited Hungary and also traveled to Transylvania in Rumania and to Yugoslavia and Bulgaria. In the 80s the political situation became looser and Yoga came into fashion. On the pretext of Yoga it was possible to lecture in Budapest and other places in Hungary on theosophy and to contact other groups. This was the beginning of the end of isolation.

Official functioning of the Society was re-started just on the centenary of Blavatsky’s death, on the 8th of May, 1991. László Reicher was elected leader and also nominated as Presidential Representative by the International President, Radha BURNIER. From nearly 200 members before the action of the authorities in 1950, eight members rejoined the present TS in Hungary as members attached to Adyar. The others had all died or left the country.

In 1997 László Reicher stepped down as Presidential Representative; since then this work has been continued by Thomas Martinovich, who was a child in 1950, but participated in all activities during the “silent” decades. Reicher passed away in August 2000; his widow Sophie moved back to Poland to her relations in 2003.

The number of the members is now (2003) around 35. Some new members are very enthusiastic, and with their help the public lectures (monthly, from September. to June) are presented and the publishing and selling of translated theosophical books resumed.