Blog by Han Bakker
Dear Readers Worldwide
Today is a wonderful day for me as I’m starting a weblog at the invitation of the Embassy of the Free Mind (EFM), which I consider a great honour! It’ll be a blog in which I will regularly share with you the EFM’s plans.
I will look back occasionally on past events, or tell you a little bit about what’s happening at present. For current news and updates, please visit the website.
First, let me introduce myself. My name is Han Bakker, I was born in 1955 and I’ve been fortunate to have been able to play a role in international culture life in many ways, in such fields as the theatre and music, festivals and cultural programmes of numerous European cities.
Early on, while still at University, I became fascinated by the subject of creativity, by the question how something new or new knowledge and insights emerge and how we may acquire the ability to achieve insight. My search initially led me away from the academic world after completing university, to the world of creative arts and of spirituality.
Source of inspiration
It must have been around the beginning of the new millennium when someone pointed out to me there was a very special library in the heart of 17th-century Amsterdam. A collection, hidden in a few historical buildings, of thousands of rare books and manuscripts by so-called freethinkers. People who, independent of church dogmas or ideology, reflected on who we are, and on the origin of all that is. Manuscripts and rare printed books containing views and visions which were said to be capable of uniting the world religions into a coherent whole. Eminent literary men like Umberto Eco and Harry Mulisch were to have consulted the library as a source of inspiration. I became immensely curious.
Florence in Amsterdam
My first visit was decisive for my by now long-standing relationship with the library. The founder of the library, Joost Ritman, happened to be there himself and handed me a hefty volume in a case, with the words: ‘Han, this is where the Renaissance starts.’ He invited me to take the book out of the case without having to wear gloves. With my bare hands I put the book on the wooden reading desk and found myself leafing through a 15th-century Plato translation. It was the famous translation by Marsilio Ficino, who had received the commission from Cosimo de Medici, ruler of Florence. As pristine as if it had been printed yesterday, with marginal notes – by the translator himself?
A historical sensation
The renowned Dutch historian Johan Huizinga once referred to ‘the historical sensation’. What he meant was the emotion we experience when we find ourselves in direct contact with the past. It was what happened to me when I held this book that seemed to bridge five centuries in a single instant. For a moment I felt I was in 15th-century Florence.
The literary writer and later Culture Minister of the Netherlands, Aad Nuis, once described the Bibliotheca Philosophica Hermetica as the ‘House of Living Books’. Anyone lucky enough to have experienced what I have, will appreciate why.
In the years that followed I regularly returned to the library, bringing artist friends along to share my fascination with. More about that in future blogs.
Blog 1, HB/EFM/170921
Dear readers worldwide (2)
We humans are passionate and truth-seeking beings. We have also always felt the urge to pass on wisdom, whether in the form of stories, insights or visions. Sometimes they were laid down in manuscripts, and, since the 15th century, in printed books and printed images. Such messages from the sometimes distant past can reach us through the Bibliotheca Philosophica Hermetica. This famous library is now at the heart of the Embassy of the Free Mind, a museum housed in a magnificent monument on Amsterdam’s Keizersgracht. The 17th-century mansion not only boasts a wonderful library but also offers an attractive programme of exhibitions, presentations and lectures, concerts and master classes.
In my first blog I already mentioned the name of the Greek philosopher Plato. Possibly less known to you is that of the legendary sage Hermes Trismegistus, who was sometimes assumed to have been the wisdom teacher of the Old Testament Moses and the Greek philosopher Plato. Writings attributed to him were rediscovered in the Renaissance. This ‘Corpus Hermeticum’ plays a central role in our Bibliotheca Philosophica Hermetica (BPH) and was of great influence on thinkers and visionaries from the 16th and 17th centuries such as Paracelsus, Giordano Bruno, Jacob Böhme and other champions of a free spirituality. By this I mean that they formulated insights based on research of their own, and held views that were free from dogmatism. In the past, such independent spirits regularly came into conflict with the establishment, and sometimes paid with their lives (see below). Sometimes, however, their thoughts and views survived in their writings. You are now free to study them here at the Embassy of the Free Mind.
Undercurrents in culture
The texts of the ‘Corpus Hermeticum’ are held to date from the first centuries of our era, but they may go back to much older Egyptian sources, which unfortunately can no longer be traced. The rediscovery and translation of the ‘Corpus Hermeticum’ in 15th-century Florence provided a great impetus to the arts and sciences of the Renaissance.
Once when I was in the library on Bloemstraat, I was able to hold an early copy of the translated ‘Corpus Hermeticum’ in my hands. The work is part of the BPH’s core collection of books, manuscripts and images from the 15th to the late 18th centuries. Together with younger publications, the Bibliotheca Philosophica Hermetica collection holds more than 28,000 titles. This intellectual and spiritual heritage is available to you and to everyone else. There is also a scholarly research institute attached to the library, the Ritman Research Institute (RRI), about which more in coming blogs.
The exhibitions in the Embassy change regularly. They show books from the library as well as loans, and focus on themes and personalities based on our research. Recently, for example, the EFM presented the young Amsterdam philosopher, lawyer and physician Adriaan Koerbagh, a contemporary and friend of the much better known Amsterdam philosopher Spinoza. ‘Young' because he died prematurely in an Amsterdam prison. Only 36 years of age, he was severely punished for his radical views. He did not survive the deprivations of prison life, and died within a year. Koerbagh wanted to show the Dutch people the way to a reasonable and tolerant religion. This was too much for the Amsterdam authorities. His sad story also qualifies the idea of Amsterdam as a spiritual haven in the 17th and 18th centuries.
In my next blog, I will focus on the upcoming exhibition ‘The Rosicrucian Revolution’, which will open on 8 April 2022 and reveal to you a hidden history of Europe.
Blog 2, HB/EFM/100122
Learn how you, too, can contribute to the development of the Embassy of the Free Mind in your own way: https://embassyofthefreemind.com/en/ambassade/support-us