Iceland's first president had close ties to spiritism

Right: The Icelandic flag. Left The Icelandic Coat of arms.

Sveinn Björnsson (1881-1952) was the first president of the Republic of Iceland. He became president on June 17th, 1944 and served as the president until the day he died on January 25th, 1952. 
Before he was elected president, he was elected the Regent of Iceland in 1941, 1942 and in 1943. In fact, he was elected on June 17th, 1941 and for the first time, Iceland received its very own chieftain (governor). Denmark was at the time occupied by Nazi Germany and leadership roles were changing. 

In Sveinn's speech after winning the election on June 17th, 1941, he said:

" First and foremost I see my duty to be of service, service completely and favorably towards the Icelandic nation, service for the Icelander's cause, regardless of what lies ahead. It is therefore my intention to put forth all my strengths, spiritual and physical, so that the service will be completely in favor of my country and nation." (Translated by author).

Sveinn was heavily engaged in Freemasonry. The organisation belonged to the Freemasonry lodge, Edda, in Denmark. Sveinn was Iceland's first Grand Master. In fact he was one of the founders of the Freemasonry in Iceland in 1951. 

Sveinn's funeral on February 2nd, 1952. Note that it is not the swastika on the flag in the background. It is the logo for the ship company Eimskip. Ljósmyndasafn Reykjavíkur

Eimskipafélag Íslands. Photo was taken in 1921-1922 when the building was brand new. Ljósmyndasafn Reykjavíkur

President Sveinn Björnsson was born in Denmark of Icelandic parents. When he was two years old, the family moved back to Iceland. He was the son of Ísafold-Björn who  is mentioned in my previous blogs  here and here

Björn Jónsson was probably the most influential man in Iceland for quite some time. He was the Minister of State, a position equal to the president before Iceland became a republic. He was also the founder and editor of Ísafold the leading newspaper and later Ísafold Printing Company. He was an avid spiritist, a member of the Experimental Society ( Icelandic Society for Psychical Research) and a high-ranking member of the Independent Organisation of Good Templar. It is safe to suspect that these two organizations had a great influence on Sveinn's home life. 

Sveinn's mother was Elísabet Sveinsdóttir. She was a very accomplished woman, educated, modest and took very good care of her home. Her father was Reverend Sveinn Níelsson, the brother of the devout spiritist Reverend Haraldur Níelsson. You can read about Haraldur in my blogs here, here, here and here.

The Independent (International) Order of Good Templars. Sveinn is furthest to the left.

Sveinn grew up in a home where friends from all societal classes were welcome and they were all treated with equal respect. Since both his parents came from highly accomplished families, the Icelandic traditions ran deep in their home. Those traditions included confidence, entrepreneurship and being unostentatious. Many political figures visited their home and it was important that the children knew how to carry themselves properly.

Sveinn had been active in politics for decades before he was elected president. His lifelong accomplishments were impressive and many. I will only mention a few of them here.

Sóleyjargata 1 is today the president's office. In 1912 Sveinn's father, Björn Jónsson, had this house built. He named the house Staðastað after the place Sveinn´s mother grew up.

In 1908 Sveinn married the Danish  Georgia Hoff Hansen (1884-1957). She was a great supporter of Sveinn and her strength, love and devotion for him could not be measured. Their home was immaculate and beautiful, which did not go unnoticed. Georgia may not have been from Iceland, but she embraced this new country with all her heart and is considered one of Iceland´s best daughters. In 1946 she received  Hin íslenska fálkaorða ( Order of the Falcon) which is the order of chivalry.

Sveinn was one of the founders of  Eimskipafélag Íslands (The Icelandic Steamship Company), the leading shipping company in Iceland. Before the company was founded, ship traffic was solely dominated by foreign countries. In order to pave the way for political independence and  autonomy on several issues, the shipping company was established. 

At the time there were no insurance companies in Iceland. This was unfortunate, because Iceland was paying large sums of money in insurance premiums to foreign companies. On top of Sveinn's list was to get rid of those fees and fight for their own ship traffic rights. 

So, the next thing Sveinn did was to establish two insurance companies: Brunabótafélag Íslands (Icelandic Fire Insurance Company) and Sjóvátryggingafélag Íslands (Icelandic Maritime Insurance Company). 

In 1926 he was also one of the founders of Rauðikross Íslands (the Red Cross in Iceland).

Sveinn Björnsson

Sveinn was very well aware that no nation could be strong and protect its heritage except with agriculture. During his presidency he lived at Bessastaðir. Large-scale farming was planned when Bessastaðir was made into a presidential residency. Sveinn was a great supporter of agriculture and used the farming to its fullest. He became a big spokesman for the agricultural society.

June 18th, 1944. Celebration of Iceland becoming a republic. Sveinn is standing out on the balcony on the Althing House giving a speech. Ljósmyndasafn Reykjavikur

Sveinn's new year's speech in 1952 turned out to be his farewell speech. He said: 

" If we dedicate us more to the spirit of Christianity, then man's history would not show as much self-created misery as we have witnessed. We must dedicate ourselves to righteousness, tolerance, goodwill and charity. We must learn to respect other's opinions, even when we don't agree, but not to judge or rule alone. It is my belief that the problems are few, that can't be solved with goodwill and care.
The past and the future are inseparable concepts. If we want to live in this nation in better days than we ourselves have hitherto lived, then we have to act with affection towards the upbringing of the young generation.....Cultivating the nation is not less problematic than cultivating the country, but everyone knows how it fares in these cases if men don't apply themselves." (translated by author).

His personality has been described has honest, kind, generous, gives good advice, gentlemanly, respectable, trustworthy, reverent, considerate and wishes only good towards his fellow men. He also knew how to control his temper. He was a very good businessman and knew how to close a deal. His law degree may have helped him in that area.

Matthías Jochumsson wrote the lyrics to the national anthem and Sveinbjörn Sveinbjörnsson composed the music. After his death, Sveinbjörn was known to appear at séances with the medium Indriði Indriðason for the Experimental Society. Björn Jónsson, Sveinn's father, would have been present. It is likely that Sveinn himself attended several séances as well.

Additional sources:


  1. Masonic Viking, that's super cool.

    1. Yeah it's actually pretty awesome. Many of the higher-ups in the society belonged to either organized spiritism, Good Templar or Freemasonry. I liked how they looked for deeper meanings outside the box, rather than sticking only to what was being taught by the State Church.


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