The International Theosophical Centre at Naarden is a quiet and beautiful place set apart for spiritual work. In the western world, there is at present a growing awareness of the existence of those aspects of matter and consciousness which cannot be observed with the physical senses. This idea has always been familiar in the ancient wisdom of the East. A century ago, this wisdom was partially presented to the West by modern theosophy. At the present time, people all over the world are seeking a deeper understanding of their inner nature, and of the influence these inner worlds of consciousness have on daily life. Theosophy stands for “Wisdom concerning the Divine”. A spark of the Divine can be found in the depths of the human spirit.
The Centre is part of the Theosophical Society (Adyar) and theosophy is the guiding principle in all its activities. All activities conducted on its estate have their roots in a theosophical attitude towards life. By theosophy is meant Ageless Wisdom, which is non-sectarian and cannot be claimed by any organization. The Centre is dedicated to the service of the Great Brotherhood of perfected men, the elder brothers of humanity, who inspire all who have an open mind and heart and are willing to work for that same humanity. Theosophists call them Mahatmas or Masters of the Wisdom, or Elder Brothers of Humanity. These Mahatmas are always ready to inspire those who are open to Their influence and to help them to develop their spiritual potential. The work of the Centre may be summed up as an attempt to be an instrument for the light and love powers of the inner worlds. These powers work at all levels: physical, emotional, mental and spiritual. Each of the activities at the Centre can be used as a focus and a means of sending these powers out into the world of thought and feeling so that mankind may come to a deeper understanding of Life. A deeper unity of all beings on earth and with the earth may be the result. The Centre is a place for retreat, but at the same time a focus-point for many seekers for Truth and Light.
How the Centre came into being
The pivotal figure in the early history of the Centre is undoubtedly Mrs. Mary Van Eeghen-Boissevain. The main house, called “De Duinen” (the Dunes), and the estate of the Centre belonged to her. In the early twenties, “Mevrouw Mary” became a member of the Theosophical Society. One day the newspapers mentioned that a committee was looking for someone with a big house who was willing to accommodate the famous Indian poet, Rabindranath Tagore. Mevrouw Mary volunteered, and from that time they became great friends. Tagore invited her to come to India. As she felt lonely in her big house, she put it up for sale and traveled to India.
Sitting there one evening on Tyre Hill in Darjeeling, with a view of the Himalayas, a spiritual rapture came over her. She understood from a vision that she should not sell her estate, as it was destined for a great spiritual work. This experience made a deep impression on her, and she at once sent a cable canceling the order to sell her country home.
In 1924, she heard that Bishop J.I. Wedgwood was seeking a place in Europe where he could train people and prepare them for priesthood in the Liberal Catholic Church. Bishop Wedgwood was a prominent theosophist, an active Co-mason, and together with Bishop C.W. Leadbeater a founder of the Liberal Catholic Church. Mrs. Van Eeghen invited him to stay at her home, and he accepted. Mrs. Van Eeghen was greatly interested in this work. Soon a small chapel was built on the estate and consecrated on 29th September 1924. It was dedicated to the Archangel St. Michael and All Angels. Thereafter, services were held daily in the chapel. Mrs. Van Eeghen wanted to give the entire estate to Bishop Wedgwood for the work of the church, but he would not accept the gift. He had a wider end in view and wanted a Centre where different activities, all rooted in theosophy, would work together in a brotherly atmosphere in order to establish an instrument for the work of the Masters of Wisdom.
This was the beginning of many important events. In 1925, George and Rukmini Arundale visited the Centre. Afterwards Dr. Annie Besant, then President of the Theosophical Society, came and while she was here, Mrs. Van Eeghen offered the whole of her beautiful estate, altogether nearly 41 acres and including the big house, to her for the service of the Masters. Dr. Besant accepted this offer in Their name. The offer was made and accepted formally on 25th July 1925. On 11th September 1925, the deed was signed at 2:00 o’clock in the afternoon and St. Michael’s Foundation was created on the same day for the administration of the estate. The Foundation had no official contact with the Theosophical Society.
From this time onward, the Centre was linked with the Masters of Wisdom. A Lodge of the Theosophical Society was founded in October 1925, and also a Montessori school. In the same year, a Lodge of the Co-Masonic Order was founded, and a branch of the Order of the Star, the Round Table and groups of Young Theosophists, a Healing group, and the World League of Motherhood.
Under the first Head of the Centre, Bishop Wedgwood, the Centre developed rapidly, and soon several hundred people were taking part in this work. In 1930, Dr. G.S. Arundale became the Head and remained so until he became President of the Theosophical Society in 1934. Mrs. Rukmini Devi Arundale succeeded him and continued as Head of the Centre up to 1986. Although her chief activities were in India in the fields of art, education and animal welfare, she visited the Centre as often as she could, which was usually once a year. Rukmini Devi always took a broad view of theosophy in which the arts, animal welfare and vegetarianism were integrated in theosophy.
Gradually various changes took place. Initially the Centre was a place of peace and contemplation with a somewhat private character. As the years went by, more and more open activities of a varied nature were organized through which universal wisdom could be expressed. However, the distinctive meditative character of the Centre has been maintained. After Rukmini Devi passed away in 1986, the Trust Board decided that a direct relationship with the Theosophical Society Adyar was desirable. The title “Head” of the Centre is no longer used; the President of the Theosophical Society is also President of the Centre. The Trust Board, now called the Council of the Foundation, has an appointed chairman. The President of the Theosophical Society has a supervising influence with regard to the appointment of new Council members of the Foundation.
The International Theosophical Centre should be a source of inspiration within the Theosophical Society, just like the other international centres at Adyar (India) and Sydney (Australia). The objects of the Centre indicate that it has a task towards all mankind together with the living earth.
Objects of the Centre
The objects of the Centre are described in the Regulations as follows:
The object of the Foundation is to promote the principle of Universal Brotherhood and Peace under the inspiration of the highest human values, and with the will to be of service to the world.
The Foundation endeavors to achieve this objective by means of:
- stimulating and carrying out work in the fields of theosophy,
religion, education and culture, etc.;
- maintenance, development and use of the estate of the International Theosophical Centre at Naarden;
- taking all necessary steps in order to achieve the object in view.
Within the Theosophical Society, the Centre has, and has always had, its own place. It has a special task as the European home of the Theosophical Society, where people from different countries can meet. The Centre has always stood for an active approach to theosophy. To illustrate this, some roses have been added to the emblem of the Theosophical Society. The roses symbolize love, peace, caring, renewal, growth and also beauty which expresses wisdom, by which Truth reveals itself.
Groups and activities at the Centre
The Centre itself organizes public lectures, courses, weekend programmes, etc., both in the Dutch and in the English language. On the second and fourth Sunday each month, there are short morning talks. Occasionally musical performances and art exhibitions are organized. The programmes are varied, either of an introductory character or more profound. An attempt is made to explore the esoteric traditions of East and West. The activities function as a sort of laboratory for the exploration of the Eternal Truth which may sometimes be hidden in the form of the newest scientific discourses. The Centre wishes to cherish the treasures of the past and at the same time to prepare for the new era.
The seminars and courses generally are not only meant for members of the Theosophical Society in Europe, but also for those non-members who are interested in spiritual life. In some cases, programmes are organized together with other groups which work at the Centre.
The Centre has many international contacts, both in Europe and in other parts of the world. There is a group of Friends of the Centre who meet regularly and maintain contacts through correspondence and meditation. They work for the unification of Europe, and hence for unity of the whole world. Various other groups work independently at the Centre.
The Theosophical Society has a lodge at the Centre. It endeavors to bring people of good will together in their search for Truth. This Truth is hidden in nature, in all great religions and spiritual and philosophical movements. Truth must be sought through study, through meditation, through a pure life, through dedication to high ideals. Truth is not a dogma and can never be the sole property of anyone movement.
Under the auspices of the (TS) lodge a Healing group works at the Centre. In a short ceremony, the members try to help the world and mankind, especially people who are ill.
The Liberal Catholic Church has its own chapel. The L.C.C. is a comparatively new denomination, free of dogmas, allowing its members freedom in their approach to the scriptures and the ceremonies, emphasizing individual responsibility in all areas regarding life and death, and freedom from obligatory confession. The church has retained the precious occult and mystical values of the traditional sacraments. Services are held regularly.
Co-masonry, an international brotherhood of men and women, works on a ceremonial basis. Based on the admonition ‘Know thyself’, the members work for self-development and to gain insight in the realities of life, the essence of which is the deeper mystery of all existence. In order to approach this mystery, the language of symbols is utilized. For reflection on these, a free exchange of views regarding spiritual and social issues is necessary.
The Round Table is an international league for children and young people. Angels, people, animals, plants and minerals/stones - and especially the way in which they relate to each other - play an important role in the work, which is two-fold: ceremonial and artistic creative. Within a defined space, together with the children, the perfect world is symbolically represented. Natural discipline and solidarity are vivified and reinforced.
The “New Man” work group has organized meetings at the Centre since it was started in 1976. It is an independent group of some 35 persons who feel strongly attracted to New Age ideas and developments. The work group is not linked to any organization or establishment, but presents an open, universal platform to speakers from a diversity of backgrounds, recognizing that spiritual wisdom and teachings are now available to all from various sources.
The group organizes lectures, courses and weekend seminars on a regular basis throughout the year, and these are attended by visitors from all parts of the Netherlands.
Key words in the activities of the group are: creativity, open-mindedness, a caring attitude, synthesis, integration.
On the estate, both individuals and groups of workers work as volunteers for the Centre. Small groups work in the woods and the gardens, in the kitchen garden, and for the upkeep and maintenance of the buildings - both inside and outside. Volunteers see to the smooth running of the organization and of the administration, the finances, etc. In this way, workers try to bring the idea of service into practice a11d to promote a living community at the Centre.
From time to time hospitality extends to other groups which have no definite relation to the Centre but which appreciate the atmosphere of the estate. All of these groups have been working for years at the Centre.
The estate and its buildings
The estate extends over about 17 hectares bordered in the east by the Valkeveenselaan, a stately avenue with beautiful beech trees, and in the west by the Meentweg, a picturesque little country road. Meent is equivalent to the English word “Common”.
A beautiful drive leads from the Valkeveenselaan to St. Michael’s House, a large country house built in 1912 with an extension built in 1932; this side of the estate is mainly residential. The entrance leading to the Besant Hall, the chapel, the restaurant Sattvika and the Guest House is on the Meentweg side. There are also seven houses belonging to the estate on the Meentweg and the Valkeveenselaan; all are meant to house workers at the Centre. The estate itself is a wooded area with a great variety of trees and shrubs. Along the southern border, there are camping sites - one for families and individual campers, another for groups. Every summer a Round Table camp is held there.
The estate has a lovely natural setting; many visitors come to the Centre for inspiration. It is a place that can be compared to an ashram in India, where attention is focused on spiritual life. For this reason, visitors are asked to respect the visible and invisible helpers. Therefore, on the estate visitors are requested not to smoke and to abstain from the use of alcohol. Meals are vegetarian.
The main building is called Besant Hall. The original wooden building was destroyed by fire in 1966. A new Besant Hall was built and inaugurated in 1970. It contains a large auditorium, a spacious hall, an office, several small rooms and a kitchen. The library in this building contains about 9000 books, mainly in English and Dutch. The Besant Hall as it is now is a practical and attractive building. It is excellent for meetings and conferences, and can comfortably seat 250 persons, although there have been meetings attended by more than 400 people. In exceptional cases, organizations sympathetic to the objects of the Centre may rent the Hall and or the Guest House for a day, a few days or a week. Information regarding the cost can be obtained from the administration.
St. Michael’s House, or the “Big House” is a spacious and lovely country house with 18 rooms (14 bedrooms). There are a few permanent residents, but most of the rooms are reserved for guests. Near St. Michael’s House is a pretty garden with a pond in the middle.
The Guest House was built after the Second World War; it has about 20 beds, mostly in double rooms. There is a meeting room, a kitchen, and showers with hot and cold water. Those who love the simple life will feel at home here. As there is still insufficient accommodation for guests at the Centre, plans for a new Guest House are being developed.
The Chapel, which before the fire in 1966 was part of the Besant Hall, is now separate and is used exclusively for the services of the Liberal Catholic Church. The Liberal Catholic Church has leased the ground on which the Chapel stands. The design of the Chapel is quite different from conventional church buildings. It would be ideal to hold the services in the open air in such lovely surroundings, but the climate does not permit this. Therefore, the architect has designed the building with large windows reaching to the floor, so that there is a feeling of oneness with nature. Some 100 persons can be accommodated in the Chapel.
The vegetarian restaurant Sattvika was opened in 1975. The building was originally called “Ashrama” and was built in 1932 as a meeting place for the young people of St. Michael’s (Young Theosophists). Sattvika is pleasantly furnished, and is only open when activities take place.
The Atelier, a studio for smaller groups, was completely rebuilt in 1980.
The Centre is located in the municipality of Naarden, the Netherlands. As the Centre was formerly part of the municipality of Huizen, it was often referred to as the “Huizen Centre”. It is near the former “Zuiderzee” (South Sea), now Gooi Lake, about halfway between the towns of Naarden and Huizen, and between Valkeveenselaan and Meentweg.
It can be reached by car, leaving the freeway between Amsterdam and Amersfoort to the east at Bussum. At the T-crossing, turn right in the direction of Naarden/Jan Tabak until the traffic light near Hotel Golden Tulip Jan Tabak. Turn right again in the direction of Valkeveen/Huizen and follow the Bollelaan to the Flevolaan (signpost Valkeveen). Turn left here; follow this road past the crossing with the Huizerstraatweg. After this crossing the road is named the Meentweg. The Valkeveenselaan leading to St. Michael’s House is half a mile to the right at the crossroad Flevolaan/Huizerstraatweg. Turn left at the sign post Valkeveen.
From the railway station Naarden-Bussum, there is a bus at least every half hour in the direction of Huizen/Hilversum. If one gets off the bus at the stop Flevolaan, it is a 20 minute walk to the Centre. There are also taxicabs available at the railway station to take visitors to St. Michael’s House.
Support of the Centre
The Centre can be designated as unique. Although both public and private activities can be held there, it is clear that to maintain the function and the distinctive atmosphere it is not possible to receive large groups of visitors for long periods of time. In spite of public activities, the Centre must remain quiet, as an area of peace and contemplation.
In order to ensure that the Centre remains a source of inspiration, constant support of organizations and friends is indispensable. For the last 60 years of its existence, the Centre has known great loyalty from friends who have contributed generously from their resources. Others have offered voluntary help to develop and expand its activities. Formally, there is no membership; however, a strong tie has come into existence through the support and contributions, in many forms, of the workers and visitors. We should like to call attention to the fact that you too can support the Centre, whether or not you are a member of the Theosophical Society. You can give your support in the following way:
1. Sponsors are those who wish to support the work of the Centre financially. The Sponsors receive St. Michael’s News at least twice a year. Sponsors in the Netherlands and all those elsewhere who so wish, likewise receive a bi-monthly newsletter (in the Dutch language) announcing the public activities organized at the Centre. The annual contribution of the Sponsors is a minimum of Hfl.25.00.
2. Friends of the Centre are those who support the work of the Centre through their activities. They have to endorse the objects of the Centre and need two sponsors (Friends) for their application. Friends get reduced rates for their stay at St. Michael’s House and the Guest House. They receive St. Michael’s News and, in the Netherlands, the bi-monthly newsletter. The annual contribution of the Friends is Hfl. 60.00.
“Friends of the Centre” are especially those who make a larger contribution to the Centre, both financially and physically. From time to time, the Council organizes special meetings with the Friends in order to promote unity between all who in some way try to support the Centre. In the past, there was also a special tie with the friends who were referred to as Centre members or “Friends”. It is important for the future that these friends know each other, and that they form a basis of unity for the work of the Centre.
The Council is aware of the fact that the above mentioned amounts are high for many Friends. The relationship to the Friends is primarily of a spiritual nature, so the payment of contributions should never be a point of consideration for becoming a “Friend”.
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Last update: October 2009