From Chapter 1: Pekka Ervast, the Light of the North
Any treatment of the general topic of Finnish esotericism must take into account the figure of Pekka Ervast. This young man, filled with spiritual fire, entered the stage at the right time--the world was ripe for him and his message. Ervast, an idealistic lightbringer, made contacts all around the world, brought new international theosophical ideas to Finland, and also founded his own society, the Ruusu-Risti (Rose-Cross). He was both admired and hated. Even though there were those who branded him as a black magician and a traitor to Theosophy, the general opinion still stands that he was the most significant Finnish theosophical author, as well as a spiritual teacher and the founder of a new religion. And in 1932 Ervast even predicted the political future in which we now live: the European Union, including a common currency.
* * *
Ervast had been making annual trips to Sweden to lecture about Theosophy since 1897. He became acquainted with many foreign colleagues during these trips. In 1900 he served as an interpreter for Henry Steel Olcott, one of the Theosophical Society’s founders, and the two men got along well. The most significant of Ervast’s acquaintances was the Countess Constance Wachtmeister, who had kept company with H. P. Blavatsky while the latter was writing her thick classic, The Secret Doctrine. In 1898 the countess invited Ervast to return to Sweden the next year, adding mysteriously:
And since I am not forbidden to speak, I can tell you that I made my invitation to you based on what the Master has told to me and commanded me to do. He has told me you will be the helper of your people, and that is why you must be protected from all politics.
Later, the countess expressed further words to Pekka that were no less mysterious:
You don’t know what Madame Blavatsky predicted for Finland and the Nordic countries in general? No, I answered with curiosity. She emphasized to me many times: Remember the countess, and take heed of time, while you still live. There will come a time so difficult for the whole world that all people will be on the verge of losing their equilibrium, and the theosophists, too, who have received so much spiritual light, will desperately ask themselves and each other: What is Theosophy really all about, and what is its mission in the world? It seems like everything is crumbling underfoot and that darkness reigns in the world. Let theosophists then turn their gaze toward the North, because there will be light coming from Finland. Thus spoke Madame Blavatsky.
Although Ervast continued to travel to Sweden and he maintained a lively correspondence with the Swedes for years, it began to become apparent to him, as an avatar of the “Light of the North,” that his work would primarily be in Finland. At the time Finland did not have its own branch of the Theosophical Society, but it is safe to assume that the idea of founding such a branch had now entered Ervast’s mind. Before his conversations with Countess Wachtmeister, Ervast had been still pondering whether he should carry out his theosophical work in Finland or Sweden. Now the answer was clear.
Ervast was a busy man indeed. He had started to write his book Haaveilija (Dreamer) back in 1895. It was finally self-published in 1902, following directly on the heels of another work, Valoa kohti (Toward Light). He lectured to packed rooms at the Sörnäinen Worker’s Association, his articles were published in Työmiehen illanvietto magazine, and in 1902 he was among the founders of Valon Airut (Herald of Light) group, which was dedicated to translating and publishing theosophical literature in Finnish. In 1905 the theosophical bookstore and publishing house in Finland was established. This resulted in a huge outpouring of publications--from Ervast alone there were reprints and twelve other works published between 1903 and 1904. One of these, Mitä on kuolema? (What is Death?), deserves specific mention. Oskar Merikanto, a famous Finnish musician and composer, wrote a cantata called Kuoleman kunniaksi (For the Honor of Death) based on the book. The cantata was later performed for a pan-European theosophical conference in Stockholm in 1913.
In 1905 London beckoned once more. Ervast attended the Theosophical Society’s congress in the city as an unofficial representative from Finland, since the country still lacked its own official branch. That same year Ervast and several of his colleagues founded the magazine Omatunto (Conscience), which was later renamed Tietäjä (Seer) in 1908.
THE FINNISH BRANCH OF THE THEOSOPHICAL SOCIETY
On November 4, 1906, about eighty enthusiastic theosophists met under the leadership of Pekka Ervast. The aim was clear: they were there to found the Finnish branch of the Theosophical Society. After some preparatory groundwork, Ervast received the founding document from Annie Besant in Stockholm on October 10th, 1907. The Finnish branch was officially founded in Helsinki on November 17 of that same year, thus becoming the thirteenth branch of the Theosophical Society worldwide. Ervast was unanimously voted in as general secretary of the branch.
These activities continued with increasing productivity: Tietäjä magazine was being published, lectures were held, the library continued to expand, and the publishing house issued books that were then sold and distributed through the bookstore.
Pekka focused his attention on two different areas of research. Firstly, he was interested in Christianity’s inner side and a sort of “reformation” of Christianity; and secondly, he was contemplating the spiritual mission of Finland itself. Pekka thought that Väinämöinen, the main mythological character in the stories of the Kalevala, Finland’s national epic, had a special role in this mission as a servant of Christ.
The young theosophist saw the mission of Finland as something very noble. Later, in his books Eurooppalaisia näköaloja (European Views, 1929) and Mitä on vapaus? (What is Freedom? 1932), he took his ideas further--Finland should create a European federation similar to the United States. The vision included the abolition of national states and the establishment of a common currency. The underlying basis was the ideal of the brotherhood of mankind:
And if societies behave accordingly and don’t just think of plundering one another, but instead there arises a Greater Europe, in which there are no longer national borders, and, for example, no longer separate currencies but one common currency, then it will also become clear in different countries that these societies have been founded upon brotherhood.
One can only wonder what Ervast would think of the current state of Europe. In this context we should also mention one of Ervast’s books on Väinämöinen, his legendary Kalevalan avain (The Key to the Kalevala, 1916), which was praised by various people including his spiritual compatriot, the famous Finnish author Eino Leino.
There was much work to be done. In 1910 Ervast began to translate H. P. Blavatsky’s massive tome The Secret Doctrine into Finnish with Väinö Valvanne. Ervast also conceived the idea for the first theosophical summer course, which took place in Kitee in 1912, and in 1910 he purchased property where he arranged for the construction of the first headquarters of the Finnish theosophists, called “Tonttula” or “Tuonenkylä.”
THE ORDER OF THE STAR IN THE EAST AND THE SCHISM AMONG THEOSOPHISTS
The tensions that were rising within the theosophical movement began to be felt in Finland, too. In 1911 Annie Besant, the new president of the Theosophical Society, founded the Order of the Star in the East. The members of the Order were awaiting the coming of a World Teacher and they had a clear vision of what this entailed: Christ would assume the body and persona of a Hindu boy called Krishnamurti, who was being raised by the theosophical movement, as his vehicle for teaching when the time was right. Not everyone agreed about this vision--and eventually the dissenters included even Krishnamurti himself, who renounced his role in 1929, thereby also dissolving the Order of the Star in the East. But before this would come about, the theosophists had considerable time to fight over the whole affair.
The most significant dispute took place in 1912 between Annie Besant and Rudolf Steiner, the general secretary of the German branch of the Theosophical Society. On the surface, the disagreement revolved around Steiner’s unwillingness to allow two new local lodges of the Society to be formed, as well as his reasons for forbidding the members of the Order of the Star in the East to take part in the meetings of the Theosophical Society in Germany. The real and deeper reasons for the dispute concerned Besant’s and Steiner’s differing interpretations of the work of Christ. According to Besant, the World Teacher used the body of Christ 2,000 years ago and he would use the body of Krishnamurti for the same purpose now. Steiner saw this as utter nonsense, for he thought that Christ, who had used the body of Jesus for teaching, had completed his mission and had no reason to incarnate again. For this reason the council of the Theosophical Society revoked the memberships of Steiner and approximately 2,400 German members in 1913. This naturally irritated many theosophists in Germany and elsewhere. In Finland, 154 of the branch’s 500 members, most of them supporters of Steiner, left the Society.
Ervast, a diplomatic man who emphasized brotherhood above all else, found the situation very troubling. He understood Christ as the consciousness of the World Soul, which manifested in humans as a mystical Christ. This cosmic consciousness had persistently tried to get closer to mankind, achieving its most perfect manifestation in the figure of Jesus Christ. As the general secretary of the Finnish branch of the Society, and thus a member of the council of the Society, Ervast finally made a suggestion: members of the Society could join whichever branch they felt to be their own, regardless of geographical location. The suggestion received no support.
As the First World War erupted, the political fallout began to increase. The leaders of the Society issued a statement that the Mystical White Brotherhood was fighting against Germany alongside the Allied forces. A. P. Sinnett, a senior member who had emigrated from the United Kingdom to India, threw additional gasoline onto the fire by explaining that the Axis powers were under the influence of a black satanic entity from outer space. Unsurprisingly, this did not cheer the hearts of the German Theosophists, whose memory was still fresh of the previous year’s conflict and its outcome. For a Society that emphasized brotherhood as a leading principle, the actual experience of it seemed to be in short supply.
Ervast thought that all these political quarrels and nationalistic tendencies had caused his fellow Theosophists to lose sight of their vision. He did his best to remind them about the concept of brotherhood and the original teachings of Blavatsky. His conscience did not allow him to publish any pro-war writings in Tietäjä, which naturally led to misunderstandings.