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The Optimist - 2022

Read the article about the EFM in 'The Optimist'

"You could call the Embassy of the Free Mind a jewel on the waterfront of Mokum."


A stately building on Amsterdam's Keizersgracht 123 houses a source of knowledge and imagination. We asked Jasha van der Wel, spokesperson for this 'embassy', to lift a corner of the veil on this free-thinking place.

What prompted the establishment of the Embassy of the Free Mind almost five years ago?

More than sixty years ago, Joost R. Ritman started the Bibliotheca Philosophica Hermetica, a unique book collection for and about freethinkers with rare books and manuscripts, as many as 28 thousand items. The library had been open to the public since 1984, but was mainly visited by professors, students, writers and artists. Mr Ritman decided to make the collection accessible to everyone in Embassy of the Free Mind, located in the monumental building Het Huis met de Hoofden in Amsterdam. In this special building, we also became a museum and created more space to receive people, organise lectures and other activities'.

Freedom has been a hot topic in recent years, and still is. How did the Embassy of the Free Mind get through the period of the corona?

Before the corona period, we had many visitors from abroad; the international free thinkers knew where to find us. They flew to the Netherlands especially for our collection. We then started livestreaming our lectures. This way, we could still reach our worldwide community. We also used this period to renew our webshop and to offer online exhibitions. Meanwhile, in between lockdowns, we noticed that we could be a real "embassy" for people in Amsterdam and its surroundings. Our café and garden were especially busy with students who preferred to be with us rather than in their small student houses. It was and is a warm place for everyone concerned with freethinking. We had an exhibition about Adriaan Koerbagh, a friend of Spinoza, who states: "Think for yourself, don't let anyone tell you what to think or how to think, no church, no state, investigate everything and keep the good." We also worked with For the Love of Amsterdam, a foundation that organised city walks where people could meet and, in our case, philosophise together about freedom.'

What role did the Embassy originally want to play in society? And has it changed over time?

With the opening of the Embassy, we mainly wanted to share the universal wisdom from the books. By sharing this, we want to stimulate free thinking and create more freedom and equality in the world. The Hermetic principle of All is Connected, All is One, is the core message of our collection. Free thinking is the ability to independently formulate and apply one's own thoughts and ideas, unrestricted, unforced and regardless of religion, culture or age. It is of all times and connects our history with the present. You can have as many beautiful books as you like, but if they just sit in the cupboard they are of no use to anyone. Books come to life through the people who read them and if these people then come into contact with each other, magic can happen. Our building (Het Huis met de Hoofden) has always been a bastion of freedom in Amsterdam over the past four hundred years. We are still a meeting and connection place. This is the place to be to meet other freethinkers and inspire each other.

Who is behind the Embassy?

'In 2016, Joost R. Ritman and his wife Rachel Ritman donated the collection and the House with the Heads to the culturalANBI Foundation Het Wereldhart, established for that purpose. Until now, we have been largely dependent on donations from private individuals. We have many ambassadors from the cultural, scientific and political world. We cooperate with various groups, universities and cultural institutions. We are also enormously grateful to our large group of volunteers. Many students who study Hermetic Philosophy volunteer with us. We also try to involve the residents of Amsterdam by inviting them to become volunteers or to organise activities for the neighbourhood with us. But we are there for everyone.

What is typical of your character as a museum?

The 17th-century building is in itself very special. Because we are renovating the House of Heads floor by floor, we are unlocking the collection step by step. We work according to the principle of 'teaching by images'. We have printed the most extraordinary prints from our books and hung them on the walls in the various rooms. In this way, people can explore for themselves which prints resonate with them and if they want to know more, they can request the corresponding books from the curators. In our reading room you will find bookcases with our modern collection; books from after 1900 with the subjects Alchemy, Hermeticism, Mysticism, Rosicrucians, Freemasonry, Astrology, Egyptians, Kabbalah and so on. In our reading room there are always people reading or studying, both young students and older researchers. And in our café and in the garden there are always good conversations where you can join them. What is also typical of our museum is that every day you meet new interesting people, who are as different from you as they are similar. For people concerned with meaning, there is a "coming home" feeling. We also have a number of regular visitors, a community, for whom we really have become their "home". It is very special to see how each visitor feels a point of recognition, special conversations often arise and people walk out with the feeling that they have discovered something very special.

What activities are planned?

Our museum has a dynamic programme. In May, our next exhibition will open, entitled Rosenkruiser's Revolution. We will be doing research, together with the Kloss Library of the Freemasons. We livestream lectures every month and develop courses in our Ritman Research Institute. Our second floor will be remodelled. There will be an Alchemy experience room, a Hermetics room and a separate room for courses and workshops. On 5 May we participate in the Freedom Meal. We hand out free soup and meanwhile we philosophise with the visitors about freedom. Because what makes a person free? We also focus on children. In June, we take part in the Art School Days and during all school holidays, we organise creative workshops for primary school children in which they learn to philosophise in a playful way, to think freely. In the autumn, an exhibition is planned about four hundred years of the House of Heads, because our building was built in 1622, so that should be celebrated!

How can people become acquainted with the Embassy?

Everyone is welcome. With a Museum Card or City Pass, you can enter every Wednesday to Sunday, from ten in the morning until five in the afternoon. If you do not have one, admission is €12.50. We have special arrangements for people on a tight budget. And we offer tours every day for people who want to know more. Through our website, people can subscribe to the monthly newsletter with all our activities. Through our web shop, people who want to learn more can order books and materials. Once again: everyone is welcome, please visit us at Keizersgracht 123 in Amsterdam! -

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Published in The Optimist (in Dutch)