Pictures of Johanne and Michael Agerskov-

Myths and Facts

By Sverre Avnskog

People who take an interest in Toward the Light! will sooner or later encounter the rumour that there are no pictures of Johanne and Michael Agerskov. Personally I heard this rumour from other TtL-followers shortly after I had discovered the text by the end of the 1980s.  The story, the way it was related to me, was that at a certain point in their life Michael and Johanne Agerskov were requested from the extrasensory side to collect all existing photos of themselves from members of their family and friends and to destroy them. They were asked to do this in order to prevent them to be exposed to personality cult and adoration, since from the extrasensory side it could be predicted that there was such a risk, and this would detract attention from the text itself. This is why the Agerskov couple is alleged to have followed the exhortation from the spirits of the Light, having destroyed all photos of themselves to the effect that there are no pictures of them today. In the following I am going to reveal that only a few details of this account refer to actual facts – and around these few facts has emerged a persistent myth, in particular around the medium Johanne Agerskov.












































As time went by the myth was accepted in the TtL-milieu, and just like most other people I was also convinced that it was true, however for many years I had a feeling that it could not be correct and “heard” from time to time a thought impulse encouraging me to try and find pictures of Johanne and Michael.

Some years ago when I contacted the Danish TtL-milieu, the “non-existing” photos was one of the themes under discussion. And it turned out rather soon that “everyone” knew about this “fact”, but that nobody was certain what or who was the source of the information. Some people thought they had read something about it, but were unable to find it again.

Then in spring 2005 I learned that two photos of Johanne Agerskov had been found, and the thought impulse I had sensed now and then for many years now turned into a very keen wish to get to see these pictures. Unfortunately the preconditions did not make it possible that time, since the finder was persuaded to destroy the copies and not to reveal to anyone where they could be found. However, some time afterwards when I was informed that the pictures were in a public picture archive, it did not take me long to find them: They are, as many people are now aware, in the National Pictorial Data Base and Archive of the Royal Library, Copenhagen. This archive is public and whoever wishes to do so can visit the library and see the pictures. At a rather reasonable fee it is also possible to have digital copies made for personal use. And it is not difficult to get permission to use them for instance in non-commercial websites!
























































These are the two pictures of Johanne Agerskov as they can be seen in the archive of the Royal Library. The first one shows all seven Malling-Hansen sisters as well as their step-mother Anna, the son-in-law Fritz August Bech who was married to Zarah, and their daughter, also named Zarah. Johanne is number two from left. Anna died in 1897, and hence Johanne cannot be more than around 24 years old. In the right hand photo Johanne is seen together with her fiancé, Michael Agerskov. There is one more picture form the same occasion which has been signed by both of them, and Johanne has signed as Johanne Malling-Hansen. Hence, the picture must have been taken before 1899 when they married.

The find of the two pictures of Johanne Agerskov, and in addition of her husband Michael Agerskov, obviously shed some new light on the story about Johanne and Michael Agerskov having destroyed all photos of them. And a number of very reasonable follow-up questions popped up. How did these photos end up in the pictorial archive of the Royal Library? Was the rumour about the destruction not true, after all? I decided to try and find out the real facts in this case and turned to the Publishing Company of Toward the Light in Denmark in order to find the source, if possible. However, it turned out that it would take a very long time to get to the bottom of the actual connections in this case – in spite of the publishing company having known all the time the actual events in detail. They were only willing to reveal that one of the members of the company board, Børge Brønnum, at one time in his youth had helped Johanne Agerskov to destroy photos of herself – but at least I had found out who was the source of the story. Unfortunately Børge Brønnum was not willing to answer any questions from my side. It was also not possible to get any help from the Royal Library, since they have the rule that they never divulge information about who has donated photos to the pictorial archive of the library. In total their photo collection related to the Malling-Hansen family amounts to close to 30 pictures – of Malling-Hansen himself, his second wife, all of his daughters and some of his son-in-laws. However, I noticed that some of the order forms were marked with 1968 as the year of reception – the year when Johanne and Michael Agerskov´s daughter Inger Agerskov died. That might be a clue.

In the meantime I had established contact with descendants in the Agerskov family, however not after Johanne and Michael – their daughter, Inger, never married and never had children. But a sister of Michael Agerskov had children, and their descendants still live in Denmark as of this day, and my surprise was great when I found out that they had no less than five photo albums, originally belonging to Inger Agerskov! They could also inform me that the albums contained several photos of Johanne as well as Michael Agerskov! Obviously I now understood that the old story about the spirits of the light having requested Johanne and Michael to collect and destroy all pictures of them could not be true. In that case their daughter could evidently not have left behind an album with such pictures. She would never have acted against the exhortation of the Light, since she was totally and entirely faithful towards her mother. The descendants of the Agerskov family told me that a member of their family had nursed Inger Agerskov in her last days, and the family had inherited some of her books and also the photo albums. Incidentally, among Inger´s books were Michael´s as well as Johanne´s personal editions of TtL with their autographs on the title page. There was also a writing ball, but that one was inherited by Zarah Odder, daughter of Zarah and Fritz August Bech, and it was later sold to a German collector.

These two pictures I have personally scanned from Inger Agerskov´s photo album. In the albums there were many pictures of Inger and of her father, Michael, who spent much time travelling together, while there were only these two of Johanne Agerskov. The owners of the photo album explained that Johanne Agerskov only rarely left the apartment and almost never participated in excursions or family visits. When she on rare occasions ventured outside, she would dress carefully in heavy and warm clothes and would always wear a hat in order to protect herself against sunlight, which she claimed destroyed her mediumistic ability. The right-hand picture was probably taken by Michael, and it is probably also his shadow we see in the left-hand picture. The comments are Inger´s own from her album.

My further investigations brought me into contact with several descendants in the Malling-Hansen family. I met a great-great-granddaughter of Malling-Hansen´s youngest brother, Johan Frederik Emanuel Hansen, via a website for genealogists on the internet, and information from her helped me to establish contact with several grandchildren of Johanne´s sister Emma, married name Mathiesen. Emma was very close to Johanne, and she was an avid follower of TtL. She wrote, among other things, an open letter to dean Martensen-Larsen, who mentioned TtL in one of his books. Here Emma showed herself as a very articulate woman with great insight into TtL! It is evident from her open letter that she was a close observer of the process leading to Johanne Agerskov´s work as a medium for the spirits of the Light and the publication of TtL, and she also made a few questions to the two supplements published in 1929/30. I visited her descendants in the spring of 2006, and I must admit to being deeply touched by being permitted to study their rich collection of books, letters and old documents! They also had a writing ball as well as the medals that Malling-Hansen was awarded at the Expositions in Copenhagen in 1872 and in Vienna in 1873, where the writing ball was exhibited. The oldest letter was written in 1841, in which Johanne´s maternal grandfather, the principal and pastor Søren Johan Heiberg writes that he had a daughter who shall have the name of Cathrine Georgia – Johanne´s mother. There are also letters written by Malling-Hansen´s mother Juliane and by both of his wives. In addition there are several letters between the Malling-Hansen daughters, and here Johanne was using her nickname in the family: Jeanne. The Mathiesen family also has Rasmus Malling-Hansen´s edition of the New Testament, dated 1850.

However their collection of pictures made the biggest impression on me. They have several large portraits which have obviously adorned the walls of Emma´s home, among them a large, retouched enlargement of the very last portrait of Malling-Hansen from 1890. And an old metal shoebox revealed more than 50 small portraits – of the sisters, some from their childhood, of Malling-Hansen´s mother, of his two wives, some uncles and aunts and so on – it took me three whole days to scan and copy everything. The myth according to which there was a wish from the side of the Light to exterminate all pictures of Johanne was once again and properly punctured. If this was God´s plan He would obviously have involved Johanne´s sister Emma, who was so very close to her and gave her wholehearted support!





































There were as many as four pictures of Johanne Agerskov in the archive, left by her sister Emma. Above, left, is Johanne in the middle, behind her two younger sisters Karen (left) and Marie. Above to the right she is pictured together with Karen. On the lovely portrait, below left, the young Johanne appears in all her beauty and charisma. Her appearance is noble, the face-lines harmonious and beautiful, and her expression conveys strength as well as the quality of being unfathomable, reinforced by the mouth, which is magically both serious and smiling. Why should this wonderful and beautiful portrait be destroyed? Finally we see – below right – an engagement portrait of the young couple taken at the same occasion as the double-portrait in the collection of the Royal Library. If you compare the two pictures carefully you will see that there are some tiny differences in the details of Michael´s expression, proving that it is not the same photo.

My continued search in the literature and on the internet revealed that there is a Heiberg-museum in the Norwegian western province of Sogndal. The Heiberg family was, and is, a very large family of highly talented people both in Denmark and in Norway. The family has produced many artists and scientists, and Johanne Agerskov´s mother, Cathrine Georgia, was a Heiberg. I contacted the present director of this museum, Gert Heiberg, through the internet and he was so generous as to send to me privately the pictures that the museum has in its collection regarding the Malling-Hansen family. The envelopes contained hitherto unknown portraits of Malling-Hansen, Cathrine Georgia, the old principal Heiberg, as well as a very pretty portrait of the sisters together!
























Here all seven sisters are together. The picture was probably sent to the Heiberg Museum together with photos of other family members on the occasion of the collection of information for a Heiberg family book, first published in the early part of the 1900-hundred. Johanne is in the centre of the picture, surrounded by her sisters. It is natural to perceive her position symbolically, well almost prophetically – with a few exceptions the sisters played important roles in terms of supporting Johanne Agerskov in her task.

During the autumn of 2006 events took me once again to Denmark. For a long time I had wanted to visit a descendant of one of the other sisters of Johanne, namely the youngest of them, Marie, married name Forman. I had had advance information that she possessed original letters as well as a large collection of pictures from the family. And quite so – once again it was a great experience to leaf through a photo album from the time around 1900. Apparently the Malling-Hansen sisters were keen to frequently exchange photos of their children with each other, and this was also the case with Johanne. The collection had several pictures of the young daughter, Inger, at 2 and 4 years old as well as later on. There was also a fine double portrait of Johanne and Inger that had been sent to Marie. In addition, once again I found the same beautiful portrait of Johanne which was in Emma´s possession, and this time in a better quality. I spent an entire evening at the scanner but also found time to enjoy a lovely homemade Danish meal. Here, just like other places among the family of Johanne Agerskov, I was received with an open and generous hospitality, pleasing me immeasurably! Generally speaking, my search for information and photos from the Malling-Hansen family has brought me into contact with so many friendly and hospitable people that at times I have been completely overwhelmed! It has been in very stark contrast to how I have been received in a few other places, unfortunately I have to say, where people have obstructed my work from day one. I have at all times tried to maintain a very open line in relationship to the Publishing Company of TtL, informing them about my findings and trying to get their comments to how my findings could tally with the myth about Johanne being requested by the spirits of the Light to destroy all photographs, but from this quarter they have not been willing to contribute any information whatsoever until very recently- when I received a short statement written by Børge Brønnum. I shall return to that later.



















































































The pictures of Johanne left by her sister Marie were, for a long time, the last pictures of her that I had found, but to my great joy a magnificent group picture of Michael Agerskov´s family emerged, taken outside Agrisilvana, the family home at Nykøbing Sjælland, and it included his young fiancée. It is rather strange to imagine, in case this was God´s plan, that all of these photos were meant to be exterminated!? In my view the truth must be completely different!!

Having now presented the result of my investigations of the realities behind the myth about the “non-existing” pictures, I shall present what appear to be facts in this matter as of today. Apart from the declaration from Børge Brønnum I have received no information from those who have first-hand knowledge, namely the members of the TtL Publishing Company. They have in every way possible expressed that they very strongly disapprove of my investigations and have in no way contributed to unravelling the mystery. However, my sources are reliable persons who have received their information from the publishing company.

This is what I know by now with certainty: Some time when Johanne Agerskov had reached old age she phoned Børge Brønnum and two other men and asked them to come to her apartment in order to help her burn some photos. Her husband, Michael Agerskov, had been dead since long time, so he had nothing to do with this. Whether Johanne asked to have pictures from her friends and relatives, I do not know, but it is certain that she did not manage to get them all, for several of her sisters kept their pictures, as did her daughter. Ms Agerskov´s motivation to do this was, according to Børge Brønnum´s declaration, that she did not wish to appear as anything else than a secretary for the extrasensory world. Already these few pieces of information puncture most of the myths around the “non-existing” pictures, which are very much in evidence, as we have seen.  To summarise it in a few points, we can now conclude that:

-   The destruction took place on Johanne Agerskov´s own initiative and was not an “order” from the spirits of the Light

-    She destroyed all of her own pictures

-    We do not know whether she collected pictured also from other people

-    If she did try to get hold of all pictures of herself from friends and family members, she did not manage to find all of them


Since I have not received any information directly from the publishing company I do not know exactly when the incineration took place, but applying reasonable assumptions I tend to believe that the pictures were burnt sometimes between 1940 and the death of Johanne in 1946. (I am happy to receive correcting information from those who know the year with more certainty). If we take as our point of departure that Børge Brønnum (in the year 2007) would be around 90 years old and assume that he was 30 years old when he helped Johanne to burn the pictures, we arrive at the year 1947. Perhaps the destruction took place shortly before Ms Agerskov died.

What remains is only to find out with certainty who were on the pictures destroyed. Even among people who are very close to the TtL Publishing Company there are different opinions on this issue. Some people claim that they were merely pictures of Johanne Agerskov herself – other people say that there were pictures of Johanne, Michael as well as Inger Agerskov. I must say that this seems strange to me, considering that I have been sitting with Inger Agerskov´s own photo album in my hands – knowing with certainty that they exist, containing pictures of all three of them. Inger Agerskov´s photo album was inherited by members of the Agerskov family. They have told me that shortly after Inger Agerskov’s death, the family received a visit from a person alleging to be a representative of the publishers of TtL and he demanded in a very unpleasant and uncivilised manner to have all of the books and documents left behind by Inger Agerskov, claiming that they did not belong to the family but to the publishers of TtL.

The Publishing Company of TtL on their side have informed descendants after Rasmus Malling-Hansen that they have not found any family photos among the documents left behind by Johanne Agerskov. Judging from this one might be tempted to believe that Johanne Agerskov managed to destroy everything she had in terms of photos of her husband and daughter, her parents and siblings and all other relatives and family. In that case the issue seems even more eerie. Did Johanne Agerskov really destroy photos of both her husband, the writer Michael Agerskov and of her father, the inventor Rasmus Malling-Hansen? On this point unfortunately I cannot present any clear answer, since I quite simply do not have any certain information about it. Those who possess information do not wish to contribute with any explanation or revealing, and I can only regret that they do not make sure that the truth comes out. Instead they let Johanne Agerskov´s posthumous reputation be based on non-verified rumours. Is it not better to tell the truth?

Most of the portraits I have found of Johanne has had various small and big damages, which I had repaired digitally by a professional retoucher. She has also coloured a few of the pictures for me. Whether one likes it or not is of course a matter of personal taste. Personally I think Johanne Agerskov in colours is awesome. A Mona Lisa from modern times. Most people like to be able to associate a face to what they are reading. I cannot imagine it would be any drawback for TtL that Johanne and Michael Agerskov’s faces are linked to the text!

In my view it is not at all possible to read TtL without realising that Johanne Agerskov herself was not the author of the book, rather that she merely functioned as a medium for the extrasensory world. It cannot be expressed more clearly than what it does, in several places, in the text itself. Personally I can not at all imagine that anyone, after having read TtL, would remain with an impression that Johanne Agerskov had authored TtL. In other words, on this point I am basically in disagreement with Johanne Agerskov when she was worried that it would have a disturbing effect if her portrait was known, or that it would detract the focus away from the content of TtL. On the contrary, we know from “Some Psychic Experiences” that from the very start there has been a great deal of interest in knowing about the personal experiences that led Johanne into her great mission as conveyor of the extrasensory truths to mankind. And Michael relates in the “biography” about TtL freely and generously also about very personal experiences, where these were import for understanding the events. TtL is, generally speaking, very strongly attached to the people involved in its appearance. It has been published under their full names, and the spirit who functioned as the leader of the work also reveals his name from the last incarnation in order to bear witness of the truth of the message through his life as Rasmus Malling-Hansen. Whatever could be wrong or dangerous in seeing a picture of him and the others?

I am more inclined to search for the reasons for the elderly Johanne’s fear of possible personality cult in her personality and in her life experiences. According to family members she was throughout her entire life a very shy and reserved person. She was very much ill at ease being in the centre of people’s attention and avoided large groups. Well, she even loathed leaving her apartment and preferred having the curtains closed, as she felt that sunlight disturbed her mediumistic abilities. Throughout all the years while working as a medium she forsook all kinds of pleasures and social events, since her work demanded her entire capacity. From the first start she had no desire for and no knowledge about having any central position in any context and was very reluctant to participate in spiritualistic séances. However, when she realised that she had promised to assume the great task of being a medium for the spirits of the Light, she dedicated her life to this mission in spite of she herself never having any personal ambitions or wishes to become known. She did what she felt was her duty – to fulfil her promise to God.

Having studied countless letters from Johanne’s personal correspondence I also know that she was quite disappointed with her fellow beings who had spoken so negatively against TtL. She was exposed to criticism from several quarters, from the church, from the spiritualistic milieu, from her family and from members of the Society for the Propagation of TtL. The publication of the Episcopal Letter had also led to bitter and irreconcilable conflicts, and life-long friendships had been destroyed. And after the publication of the Episcopal Letter in 1938 she also had no mediumistic contact with the spirits of the light. In a letter to the writer Chr Jørgensen, she told him, and other people, that her time as a medium was over. Hence, it cannot have been the spirits of the Light who requested her to destroy the pictures of herself, if this happened after 1938.

Personally I see the find and the publication of the pictures of Johanne Agerskov as a long-awaited and much-needed rectification of the memory after one of the greatest women that lived on Earth. She has given us more than any other woman I know of and she deserves to be honoured with an exalted and central niche in the history of the planet. Personally I hold a deep and heartfelt admiration for Johanne Agerskov – without her self-sacrificing contribution we would not have known about the truths from the extrasensory world that today are accessible to any seeking person – we would not have possessed the inestimable treasure that Johanne Agerskov brought us as God´s gift to mankind. I accept that she did not seek anything for her own personal part, and I accept that she destroyed her own pictures in order not to contribute to deflect the focus from the Message itself, but that people who support her work wish to contribute to reducing her to merely an insignificant secretary - that I find very difficult to understand. Johanne Agerskov was not merely a secretary – she was the very person that, together with her husband, in total confidence in the guidance of the Light offered the loving prayer for Ardor, which at one stroke changed the future of the planet Earth – and led to the victory of the Light over Darkness!

For this, and for her self-sacrificing work as a servant of the Light, she deserves our tribute and respect!








































































This is, so far, the last picture of Johanne Agerskov I have found. The collection now totals 12 portraits. This picture was probably taken by Michael Agerskov around 1897, and we see almost his entire family, including his fiancée Johanne Malling-Hansen. I have also had an enlargement made of Johanne alone (below, left). The picture was given to me by Jette and Rune Scherl, and they found it in an envelope together with some worthless papers when tidying up at home.  I am eternally grateful to them for not throwing away the envelope without investigating properly what was inside! And also my immense gratitude because they so generously have shared their pictures with an interested Norwegian researcher! On the same occation they also sent me a portrait of Michael Agerskov and his sister, Anna, given to them by relatives (below, right).

There are many more portraits of Michael Agerskov than of Johanne, and the same thing goes for her father, Rasmus Malling-Hansen. In the picture archive of the Royal Library they have four portraits of MA and seven of RMH. In addition there are photos from many other sources! From Norway I also tracked down a photo of Michael as a boy of approximately 10 years with his siblings, also in the Royal Library archive. According to the information it was supposed to be a photo of MA´s brother Christian Agerskov, his wife and two children. On an impulse I ordered a copy of the picture and after receiving it, I had MA´s descendants identify the persons in the picture, and it then turned out to be the four Agerskov siblings, Christian, Henriette, Michael and Anna. The portrait above left is from the Heiberg Museum , while the two others are from  the Royal Library. The colouration work is done by Anniken Løvberg, Norway.

Børge Brønnum of the Fund and publishing Company of Toward the Light has written a confirmation that he participated in destroying pictures of Johanne Agerskov. But what did he actually destroy, and when? He refuses to tell anything about that. Did he really destroy also all of her pictures of her husband, the writer Michael Agerskov, and of her father, the inventor Rasmus Malling-Hansen? And what about other family members? We do not know, and perhaps we will never know. Photo: Private.

Oslo, March 3, 2007
Sverre Avnskog

English translation by
Jørgen Malling Christensen