This is an article originally in Swedish, so any translation errors or strange sentences is on me. I grew up not far from Molkom and you might actually have seen or heard about Ängsbacka before:
The above clip is from the documentary Three Miles North of Molkom which I highly recommend.
- Saturday the 31st of July is the closing ceremony at the tantra festival in Molkom, 30 km north of Karlstad. Hundreds of participants, volunteers and workshop leaders sit down on mattresses in a large festival tent at the course center Ängsbacka.
The ceremony is led by Lin Holmquist. She is the program coordinator and has been the center of the festival for six days. An ordeal, but she loves it. Now she wants to thank everyone who helped: assistants, teachers, volunteers.
She also turns to her boyfriend Marek who is in the audience and thanks for his emotional support.
Marek responds by walking up to her, taking the microphone and falling to his knees. He's proposing. Several of the spectators shout out loud.
- In that moment, I release everything. I go into a bubble with him, says Lin Holmquist.
The couple's favorite song is played in the speakers. They dance while Donna Lewis sings “I love you always forever. Near and far closer together ”.
- After the dance, I look out over the participants. Everyone is so moved. Some cry, others hug each other, another couple makes out.
Lin Holmquist's voice cracks.
- There was so much freedom, joy and love in that moment. The feeling that a dark time for all of us was coming to an end, that we can now start to get closer to each other again…
-… and then this happens. It's very sad.
The final ceremony became the euphoria before the storm. It's what happens afterwards everyone will talk about.
In the following days, over a hundred people on site test positive for covid-19. The Tantra Festival is mocked throughout the country. Norway red-lists Värmland due to the increased infection rates. Media in the UK, Switzerland and France suddenly write about Molkom.
Ängsbacka, a hub in the Swedish countryside for courses and festivals in personal development, is transformed into a hotbed where people must be isolated. All public activities are closed indefinitely.
It will be September before the main characters want to talk about what really happened.
We meet Lin Holmquist for the first time in a hotel dining room in Stockholm, where she is on a business trip. She will have a private session with a client and lead a "play party" ("guide a group in their sexuality") in Bromma.
She alternately smiles, alternately cries. Tears come when she tells how she found tantra just over ten years ago, how it can help people who do not feel unconditionally loved, and when she remembers the climax of the final ceremony.
She is convinced that what she says will be misconstrued:
- The whole event triggers the human desire to judge others. This is how they mock us as filthy hippies or call us unvaccinated dunces who are desperate for sex.
A few days later we visit Ängsbacka. Then a police investigation is still ongoing after this summer's covid outbreak, where the charges are causing danger to others.
CEO Ida Freyschuss shows us around. Autumn leaves have begun to settle over the farm. The skeletons of the big tents remain. In the barn's workshop rooms, mattresses are stacked. On a small stage are two rolls of kitchen paper.
There is smoke coming out of the chimney of the yellow main building. More than thirty people in Ängsbacka's work community are here. Inside the café, a group is sitting on the sofas. Some are busy in the vegetable garden, others are cooking in the communal kitchen.
- This is paradise on a beautiful summer day, says Ida Freyschuss and strikes out with her arms.
- We often talk about the "field" here. The visitor who gets off the bus down by the road and goes up here immediately feels a different energy. An openness. Here you are allowed to be yourself.
In the last days of July, close to 230 participants plus 270 volunteers and workshop leaders entered an alternative tantra world at Ängsbacka. A drug- and alcohol-free environment, where the days were filled with morning workouts, workshops, sharing circles, group hugs, energy orgasms, hangouts on the cafe stairs and evening concerts.
The participants paid 5,900 SEK [680 USD] to participate. They all have different favorite memories when you call and ask. For the British tantra guru Shaft Uddin, the festival's great experience was to cry and confront the grief of not having become a father.
- Five percent of the festival is about sex. Calling it a sex festival is not the truth. Do you know what the truth is? To process mother and father complexes, says Shaft Uddin.
Lin Holmquist does not belong to the management of Ängsbacka, but joins in the summers as an outside coordinator.
She introduced the tantra festival as a concept at the course center in 2012. Then 70 people came. Seven years later, they were close to 900 - one of the world's largest festivals of its kind. Ängsbacka's status as a festival center had been strengthened and a sales record was broken: 17 million SEK [1.9 million USD].
If you quote the [Swedish] National Encyclopedia, tantrism is "an Indian religiosity that is formulated in the tantra texts". The focus is on meditative and ritual methods to achieve "perfection". It is often a matter of exceeding "polar opposing forces" - but there are different answers to how to do it.
Lin Holmquist points in her version to the relationship between consciousness and body. Practicing tantra marries them together, she says, so that the practitioner finds the path to total mindfulness.
- When it happens, I am filled with such a huge love… It's like breathtaking.
She wants a variety of tantra styles at the festival. In the program you will find everything from yoga, meditation and tea sessions, to ecstatic dances, nudity and spaces to cuddle.
Here are more intimate workshops with names like "Fuck and kill to consciousness" (a male workshop to release two archetypal masculine energies), "Art of submission" (about how deeply you can submit to someone else) and "Conscious touch" (a workshop to learn what touch the body needs).
Lin Holmquist teaches tantra all year round, often as a therapeutic method for people who have had problems with their sexuality. At the festival, she held a workshop in yoni healing (yoni is Sanskrit, and a vulva symbol). The woman and her partner receive a guided meditation that begins with her talking about the relationship to her genitals. This is followed by a tantric massage.
- Then she is held with one hand on the genitals and the other hand on the heart. It may sound banal, but it opens up an enormous amount of emotions, insights and memories.
In the western world, much of tantra has come to be about sexuality. It is in a way natural, says Lin Holmquist, because we live here far from true love and true intimacy. But that does not mean that the tantra festival is about sleeping around. She emphasizes that penetration is forbidden during workshops.
- I would guess that 95 percent of those who go to the tantra festival do not sleep with anyone. If someone has sex, it happens in their tent or room, she says and continues:
- If you instead talk about sexuality, that is, the relationship to pleasure in the body, then maybe it makes up 60 percent. Otherwise, it's mostly about your attitude to life.
At Ängsbacka, a major revision of the tantra program was made a few years ago. Ida Freyschuss says that when she started as CEO in 2014, she reacted to what some teachers at the festival wanted to achieve.
- I felt that there were teachers who almost manipulated people into exercises so that they themselves would get something out of it. It felt in the energy that it was not a safe space. Today we are very clear that it is not possible to do anything if it is not safe for everyone.
During the pandemic years 2020 and 2021, the participants have only been allowed to visit the most intimate courses at the tantra festival with their partner. You are not allowed to mingle around and change partners.
An example is "Dakini temple" - a place that is open four of the festival nights. There you can, while live music is performed, be naked together, give each other a massage, kiss or meditate. Or you can come in to watch.
- If you go in there without pre-understanding, you probably think that it is just "hanky-panky", says Lin Holmquist. But you will probably also be amazed at the slowness and the lovely sensual presence in the erotic encounter.
In retrospect, it is obvious that the coronavirus took root on Ängsbacka long before the final ceremony.
The first case was discovered on Thursday, July 29. A man developed symptoms and took a rapid test on his own. When the message reached the management, a discussion arose. Should they talk about it openly? It was decided not to do so.
"In this case, no further effort was required on our part as the person could safely leave the campsite," Ängsbacka later wrote in a statement.
Ida Freyschuss still insists that the decision was the best.
- Hindsight is 20/20. To outsiders, it may sound better if we say: "Of course we should have done differently", but based on what we knew then, it was right.
She says that the management thought about what the consequences would be if they informed others on the spot.
- I think it would have been very chaotic ... People might have started going home left and right, at the same time as we would have had to offer a place to everyone who was left, and handle their reactions. I do not know how we would have handled such a situation.
Lin Holmquist also claims that she discussed with the management whether to tell about the covid case, but that the answer she received was no.
- Now in retrospect, I think that the management should have gone out and said that now we need to change our attitude to each other. I'm a little sorry it did not happen.
She takes a breath.
- I'm probably a part of it… But I was told that I should not say anything to anyone. That as long as there are less than ten people infected, we should not make any hysteria out of it.
The second covid case at Ängsbacka was discovered on Saturday, when the festival ended. Towards noon that day, more people who remained in the course center started to feel sick.
Lin Holmquist had then left Molkom and traveled on holiday with the new fiancé to the forests outside Prague in the Czech Republic. In the following days, she was reached by messages from seven friends. All had contracted covid-19.
The first tip about the spread of infection on Ängsbacka reached the County Administrative Board of Värmland late in the evening on Monday 2 August, two days after the end of the tantra festival.
The county administrative board contacted the region's infection control doctor the next day. A digital meeting with Ängsbacka's management was booked.
Neither the infection control nor the County Administrative Board knew before that that nearly 500 people had been at the course center last week.
- We had a meeting with Ängsbacka and the health center in Molkom in June. Then we talked about what they should do if they had a positive case, says Anna Skogstam, infection control doctor in Region Värmland.
- But at the time there were no festivals in the course offerings. They also did not contact us when they changed their program for the summer.
She describes the situation on Ängsbacka after the covid outbreak as chaotic. Many participants had already gone home. Hundreds of volunteers remained, at the same time as people began to arrive who would participate in the next festival, Sexibility.
Testing and isolation were eventually organised. The small health center in Molkom received help from colleagues from Forshaga and Karlstad. Those who could not leave the place in their own cars had to stay in their tents, caravans or in rooms with bunk beds.
CEO Ida Freyschuss makes the analogy of a field hospital. At Ängsbacka, people are used to housing a lot of people, but now the work was completely reorganized.
A volunteer nurse supervised the sickest. In retrospect, Ida Freyschuss has received information that some of those who had already left the course center received hospital care.
- But as I understand it, everyone is fine today ... I really hope we hear if someone is not, she says.
Day by day, the number of confirmed cases increased, to be finally be summed up to 109. Two were outsiders, close relatives of those infected on the spot.
The societal spread many were afraid of in Molkom and the surrounding area was not realized, according to Anna Skogstam. But the infection control doctor is convinced that the number of infections after the festival is actually more than those who have been confirmed.
- Hundreds had already left during the weekend or the beginning of the week, before we got everything organised.
She sees two main explanations for the cluster eruption: first, many people were in a confined space and engaged in activities that invited physical proximity; secondly, the low vaccination rate among persons sampled on the spot: fourteen of the confirmed cases had received at least one dose. Four had received both.
- It is clear in our contacts with Ängsbacka that many people on site think differently about vaccinations, says Anna Skogstam.
All throughout the pandemic, Ängsbacka has been one of the businesses that the County Administrative Board has assessed as risky for potential spread of infection. According to a legal assessment, however, the activities conducted - courses and conferences - are not subject to supervision.
The festival itself was therefore not illegal. It was also arranged after the government lifted several restrictions in July.
- But that does not mean that the festival was suitable to hold, says Anna Skogstam.
On Friday 13 August, the Norwegian government announced that Värmland would be red-listed. This means, among other things, a requirement for quarantine for entry without a covid certificate.
When Daniel Schützer (S), chairman of the municipal board in Årjäng, 130 kilometers from Molkom, received the message, he was furious. He reacted to the low vaccination rate among those infected at Ängsbacka - and that the border was closed because many visitors (about 40 percent of the visitors to the tantra festival were international guests) became ill.
- The authorities' reactions to what happened were also very wimpy and tame. Infection control said it was "inappropriate" but no more than that, says Daniel Schützer over the phone.
- We have a broad support for vaccination in Sweden. Here in Värmland, over 80 percent of the adult population. But when this happened, no one took the vaccinated's side seriously. I wanted to do that.
The next day, he published a post on Facebook:
"When the fact that a bunch of anti-vaxxers have fucked around in Molkom leads to the border being closed for the whole of Värmland, it should be clear to everyone that there is a complete hole in the head of both anti-vaxxers and the rules around border closure!"
- I spiced it up a bit, of course, but you have to do that to make an impact in the media world, says Daniel Schützer and laughs.
He is far from alone in being angry. Free crossings to Norway are of the utmost importance in Värmland, not least for the municipalities further west that are dependent on cross-border trade.
"This is almost sabotage by the hippies," wrote Nya Wermlands-Tidningen in an editorial. In social and traditional media, the people of Molkom also express anger that Ängsbacka has gathered so many people, a few kilometers from the town center.
When we talk to passers-by at the Coop store in the September rain, many do not want their names mentioned in the newspaper. They are reluctant to create conflict in a town where most people know each other.
Some call Ängsbacka "fuzzy" and say that the course center is about "pure business". Others, such as restaurant owner Elie Saad, emphasize that visitors to the course center never bothers anyone.
- I live near Ängsbacka and can hear when they play music at night, says Elie Saad and drums with his hands against an invisible drum.
- It's so nice to listen to when I sit out on the terrace and smoke.
Are visitors to Ängsbacka "anti-vaxxers"? And can the alternative community be maintained when it becomes so clear that what happens there can have major consequences for the rest of society?
Lin Holmquist and the management at the course center believe that there is no basis for Daniel Schützer's claim that the visitors are vaccine opponents - but it is not only he who raises the questions. They are also discussed internally within the "community" that Ängsbacka is in so many ways, with chat groups, parties and informal meetings that take place all year round, throughout the country.
One of those who are part of the community is the Stockholmer Minna Janusson, who has visited the Sexibility Festival for several years in a row. When she received second hand information about the spread of infection at the course center, she emailed the County Administrative Board - the alarm that made the authorities act.
- It dawned on me when I began to understand what had happened, and when I realized that the authorities did not know what was going on, Minna Janusson says over the phone.
At first she felt like a traitor. In retrospect, however, she is strengthened by the belief that Ängsbacka can do better. The place means a lot to her.
- Many who go there are like me ... I am an academic and live a daily organized family life but also love to let go of control, get spiritual development and be where it flips out a bit.
During the pandemic, she has at the same time increasingly begun to doubt the alternative view of life that many visitors have. The problem becomes extra clear in connection with the mass vaccination, she thinks.
- The pandemic has split the community. People are divided when many do not believe in science but instead are very open about spreading conspiracy theories.
After the outbreak, discussions about the vaccine have been intense in Facebook groups where the community gathers. In parts, the conversation and argumentation are reminiscent of those seen elsewhere in the Swedish alternative health movement, where conspiracy theories have gained ground in recent years.
CEO Ida Freyschuss says that she has noticed that the scientific doubts are expressed online, but believes that this is not noticeable at Ängsbacka.
- It is obvious that there are people who come here who has these opinions, but I can not make any assumption about how big the opposition is, says Ida Freyschuss.
Throughout the pandemic, Ängsbacka has urged visitors to follow current restrictions and recommendations. However, recommending future visitors to get vaccinated is not currently relevant. This is despite pressures from infection control in the region.
- So far, we have not wanted to make a decision that imposes such a thing. We want to stand for an openness where our own choice applies.
The visitor who comes to Ängsbacka passes a large sign with the message "Welcome home to yourself" at the driveway. Several of the people we talk to in the community around the farm say that they carry these words with them all year round.
But will the center survive financially? And can this place live in harmony with its neighbors in Molkom and Värmland?
Municipal councilor Daniel Schützer thinks that the management has been too vague in its statements after the outbreak.
- I listened to the press conference they had in August. It was a strange event, where they basically asked the media for help to re-establish their relationship with the rest of society. I just thought: "No, you should have started by apologizing to the hospitality industry in Värmland", says Daniel Schützer.
At Ängsbacka, they say they are aware that communication to the Molkom residents in particular has broken down. Relations with the public have been strained at regular intervals since the business started in 1996, and have now become infected again.
- We understand that people were upset and afraid that the coronavirus would spread in society, says Ida Freyschuss. Now we were lucky that it did not, but it was a pity that all this happened.
Ängsbacka's management welcomes the fact that the police investigation into the events continues. They are not notified of suspicion of crime - but will reject all accusations if that is the case.
They are considering restarting the business in a smaller format soon. Canceling the remaining festivals this autumn meant two million SEK [230.000 USD] in lost revenue, and according to Freyschuss, they can not cope with a similar blow. However, they hope to raise some money through crowdfunding.
The tantra festival is expected to return next year - and Lin Holmquist is determined to continue working with Ängsbacka. She hopes for a time when closeness in itself does not pose a danger. Tantra is needed, she says.
- Everything becomes easy in the tantric state. My body comes alive. The world becomes clear and distinct, you behave lovingly and make good decisions, she says and smiles.