The collection can be described as a reflection of man’s search for the meaning of his existence, a ‘treasure chamber of the human mind’.
Joost R. Ritman (1941) is an Amsterdam businessman with a deep interest in spirituality. He began collecting books at the age of sixteen. The foundation for his collection of rare books was laid when his mother presented him with a 17th-century copy of Jacob Böhme’s Aurora as a birthday gift in 1964. The German mystic Böhme is one of the authors who has remained a lasting source of inspiration for Ritman.
In 1984 Joost Ritman decided to transform his private collection into a library open to the public. His vision was to bring manuscripts and printed books in the field of the Hermetic tradition under one roof and show the interrelationship between the several collecting areas and their relevance today.
In addition to his passion for books and art, Joost Ritman is strongly committed to his native city Amsterdam, specifically its cultural treasures. In the past 30 years he has supported such institutions as the Jewish Historical Museum, De Nieuwe Kerk, the Hortus Botanicus, the Westerkerk, the library of the Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra and Ets Haim-Livraria Montezinos. His merits for the world of the book were acknowledged with a number of awards; in 1995 Joost Ritman received the Laurens Jansz. Costerprijs, a literary award for persons or institutions who exerted themselves for the world of the book in the Netherlands; in 2002 he received the silver medial of the Royal Academy of Sciences and the Order of the Dutch Lion; in 2003 he received the Comenius medal, in 2017 he received the Frans Banninck Cocq medal when the Embassy of the Free Mind was officially opened. Moving the Bibliotheca Philosophica Hermetica to the House with the Heads is an important step towards embedding the library in the public domain. This is where the BPH must eventually find its place, in the interest of cultural history and research.
In his Founder’s Letter dated 19 November 2011, which has been added to the articles of association of the BPH Foundation, Joost R. Ritman describes how he envisages the future of his life’s work: “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 sixty 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 livinginstitute, 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.”