Hermetic Amsterdam

Explore Hermetic Amsterdam


In the 17th and 18th centuries, the Dutch Republic, with Amsterdam as one of its foremost cities, was one of the few countries in Europe to enjoy a great amount of freedom of expression and freedom of the press. Scholars from all over Europe sent their manuscripts to the Republic because of that renowned freedom (and because of the quality of the printing). The French freethinker Jean-Baptiste d’Argens, for instance, wrote that all of Europe was indebted to the Dutch Republic because the works of great minds could be printed there. The German mystic Jacob Böhme, to give another example, a philosopher who favoured religious conciliation but was regarded as a heretic by the pastor of his town was banned from publishing for life. His works were first printed in Amsterdam – and also translated into Dutch – by the Amsterdam businessman Abraham Willemsz van Beyerland. This ‘wise merchant’ at the same time translated the Corpus Hermeticum, and not by coincidence. The great Czech reformer Jan Amos Comenius regarded Amsterdam as the ideal seat of his “College of Light”, a sort of international body of guardians of humanity and promotors of peace. It is in Amsterdam that Comenius, who enjoyed the patronage of the De Geer family, finally published his blueprint for an ideal pansophic society, Via lucis or Gate of Light. Hermetic, alchemical, mystical, kabbalistic printed works: many of them carry the name of Amsterdam in the imprint.


The proximity of a library of Hermetic philosophy, the creation of Amsterdam businessman Joost R. Ritman, who decided to make his collection available to the public in 1984, was one of the reasons why a special chair of Hermetic philosophy was established at the University of Amsterdam. The Bibliotheca Philosophica Hermetica (BPH) and the Center for the History of Hermetic Philosophy have intensified their collaboration in 2012, when their partnership was formally sealed, resulting in a number of collaborative enterprises, notably the Infinite Fire Webinar series hosted by the BPH’s website.


The presence of a Hermetic library and a Hermetic Chair make Amsterdam a unique city to pursue the study of Hermetic philosophy and related currents and makes the city stand out as the ‘Hermetic capital of the world’. When the BPH will move to its new premises on 123, Keizersgracht, to the renowned canal mansion “The House with the Heads” (www.huismetdehoofden.nl), there will be the opportunity to study the Hermetic tradition in the original home of 17th-century patrons of heretic and Hermetic thinkers.


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