A founder’s profile: Joost R. Ritman

Joost R. Ritman (1941) is an active Amsterdam business man with a deep interest in spirituality. He began collecting rare books at a young age, after his mother had presented him with a copy of a seventeenth-century edition of the Aurora, a work by Jacob Böhme, one of the authors who are a lasting source of inspiration to him. When he conceived the plan to turn his private collection of books into a library, his vision was to bring together under one roof manuscripts and printed works in the field of the Hermetic tradition, and to show the interrelatedness between the various collecting areas and their relevance for the present day.

In addition to his passion for books, Ritman also feels greatly committed to his native city Amsterdam, in particular its cultural treasures. Museum Het Rembrandthuis, the Westerkerk and the Library of the Royal Concertgebouworchestra are some of the institutions to have benefited from his sponsorship. His merits for the world of the book were acknowledged with a number of notable awards. In 1995 Ritman was presented with the Laurens Jansz Coster award, a prize annually presented in the Coster city of Haarlem. In 2002 he was awarded the silver medal by the Royal Netherlands Academy of Arts and Sciences (KNAW); in the same year he was also knighted in the Order of the Dutch Lion.

Founder’s Letter

It is true, without a lie, certain and most true,
that which is below is as that which is above,
and that which is above is as that which is below,
to perform the miracles of the one thing.
(Hermes Trismegistus, Tabula Smaragdina)

The ‘birth’ of the Bibliotheca Philosophica Hermetica coincided with a sudden and deep experience I had at the age of sixteen that everything is one. In a single moment I realised that there is a profound connection between origin and creation, between ‘God – Cosmos – Man’, or in the words of Hermes Trismegistus: ‘He who contemplates himself with his mind, knows himself and knows the All: the All is in man.’

Throughout the ages men have experienced and testified to this inner coherence between the visible world and its origin. The earliest testimonies of man’s spiritual experiences were transmitted orally, from mouth to ear. The first written records, in characters, symbols and alphabets, date from some 3,000 years BC.

As the founder of the Bibliotheca Philosophica Hermetica, it has been my life’s work over the past fifty years to build a unique collection of manuscripts and printed books in the field of Christian-Hermetic Gnosis, an area within the spiritual life of Europe where philosophy and religion meet. The collection comprises five major collecting areas: Hermetica, Alchemy, Mysticism, Rosicrucians and Gnosis & Western Esotericism. As a collector, my guideline has always been: ad fontes, ‘to the source(s)’, to search for the sources following the principles of originality – the earliest editions – authenticity and unicity.

The collection may be described as a mirror of man’s search for the meaning of existence, as a ‘treasure house of the human spirit’.  The inner perception of man has always been autonomous, both within the major religions and within the community, but its free expression was invariably in danger of being suppressed and marginalized: people have been persecuted and their books have been destroyed. The Bibliotheca Philosophica Hermetica is in a special sense a library of rare books, which has obtained its unique character, unparalleled in the world, due to its strong thematic coherence and the fullness of the area it covers.

It has always been my goal to connect this treasure house with society and make the texts – the sources – available to a wide audience. From the moment the library opened its doors, it was not only a collection of historically important books, but primarily a living institute, and ‘hermetically open’ to all.

The ‘Source’ has to flow, and the information released by the currents of wisdom must be allowed to form an information field which is accessible to all and can offer a context and a frame of reference in this ever changing era. For me personally this means to share insight, knowledge and practice, according to the ancient triad of ‘religion, arts and sciences’, therefore to connect with contemporary spiritual currents, the world of science and society, so that every individual seeking for the source may be able to recognize himself in this source and apply it to his life, thereby performing the true ‘art of life’. 

The library as a living institute will remain focussed, firstly on keeping and preserving its collection of a body of thought which is vulnerable and exposed, secondly on expanding the collection when necessary, thirdly on making accessible the sources and fourthly on establishing connections, the latter by entering into alliances with libraries, universities, educational institutions and museums, and by directly engaging each individual in dialogue using modern means of communication. 

The Bibliotheca Philosophica Hermetica is rooted in the city of Amsterdam for a reason. The ‘freedom of the word’, the testimony of the human spirit, was first given wings in this city in the celebrated Golden Age with its freedom of religion, its freedom of expression and its freedom of printing. It is my heartfelt wish that this library will remain permanently anchored in Amsterdam.

Joost R. Ritman, founder of the Bibliotheca Philosophica Hermetica

Amsterdam, 19 November 2011

Rachel Ritman

Rachel Ritman (1940) is the wife of Joost R. Ritman, the founder of the Bibliotheca Philosophica Hermetica. From the start she embraced the growth and development of the BPH. As a result she is well acquainted with the coherence binding the various collecting areas, irrespective of the differences in expression which follow from the several religious, cultural and social and therefore temporal factors. In her own words: ‘This coherence can be explained by the circumstance that each person holds within him a piece of eternity, like a divine DNA, connecting him or her with all that exists, with all that lives. Anyone who allows his perception and his practical experience to be guided by this divine core, contributes a bit of information about the hidden logic behind things.’
She has a special affinity with symbolical representations and descriptive illustrations, as they have been used for instance in editions of texts by Jacob Böhme and Robert Fludd.
She has been producing similar pen drawings herself, some of which were published in works like De weg der Katharen. Dertien zangen van een troubadour. She also designed the library’s emblem. For well over three decades she has been presenting talks on the complex range of ideas collected in the library. Some of her presentations were published in conference volumes, including ‘Het college van het Licht’ in J.A. Comenius. Een brandend hart, een helder hoofd, een aantoonbare daad,‘De gnostieke grondslagen van het Christendom’ in Terug naar de Bron and ‘Antieke en moderne Gnosis’ in Gnosis, kennis van het hart. She finds it very rewarding to share these ideas with the public.