Timeless wisdom in the Embassy of the Free Mind
Timeless wisdom in the Embassy of the Free Mind
Emy ten Seldam
Timeless wisdom in the Embassy of the Free Mind
Living in the eastern part of the Netherlands I don’t often go to Amsterdam, and to be honest, I’m making my way to 123, Keizersgracht through grimy streets full of sex shops and grubby pubs with some discomfort. Having got there, I go inside the House with the Heads, home of the Embassy of the Free Mind since October 2017. The Embassy of the Free Mind harbours the collection of the world-renowned Bibliotheca Philosophica Hermetica founded by Joost R. Ritman. Wisdom in images and words from around the world are collected here.
I am cordially received by Esther Ritman, director and daughter of Joost R. Ritman. She’s standing next to a bust of Marsilio Ficino (1433-1499), who was commissioned by the De Medici family to provide a translation of the Corpus Hermeticum attributed to Hermes Trismegistus. I literally enter an altogether different world, one where wisdom is almost tangible. What a relief, what beauty, what a great atmosphere. An oasis of knowledge and wisdom in a desert of ignorance.
An oasis of knowledge and wisdom in a desert of ignorance.
Bibliotheca Philosophica Hermetica1
The Bibliotheca Philosophica Hermetica, also known as The Ritman Library after its founder Joost R. Ritman, acquired international fame as a scholarly research library with its research institute, publishing house, collection of some 25,000 titles and its impressive range of activities. The library was founded 60 years ago by Joost R. Ritman. In 2016 he and his wife donated the collection to The Worldheart Foundation with the aim of making it accessible to everybody, both physically and virtually.
The library is a treasure chamber of and knowledge centre for the tradition of Christian-Hermetic gnosis in Europe and contains books in the fields of Hermetica, alchemy, mysticism, Rosicrucians, Kabbalah, gnosis and Western esotericism. The following quote, taken from this special library, is particularly significant, also in regard of the theme of this issue of BRES:
As a ‘House of Living Books’ it tells the many-sided, eventful and largely unknown story of this spiritual tradition, in which self-knowledge and knowledge of nature are the keys to achieve knowledge of God. Hermes Trismegistus, Father of the Philosophers, is the principal source of this knowledge of the connection between everything: ‘He who thinks about himself with his mind, knows himself, knows the All; the All is in man.’ Every book tells this story in a different way, but together they speak of unity in diversity.
‘He who thinks about himself with his mind, knows himself, knows the All; the All is in man.’
Before I tell you more about the Embassy of the Free Mind I will first provide (perhaps superfluously) a brief description of Hermetism and gnosis (derived from Wikipedia).
Hermes Trismegistus and Hermetism
Hermes Trismegistus is a mythical figure whose name means ‘Thrice-greatest Hermes’ (the greatest philosopher, priest and king). The name is derived from Ἑρμῆς Τρισμέγιστος (Hermes Trismegistos), the Greek name of the Egyptian god of wisdom and letters, Toth. Hermes Trismegistus was regarded as an ancient prophet who revealed occult knowledge to mankind, and he is the central figure of Hermetism. A range of Hermetic works were attributed to him in Antiquity. Practical texts on alchemy, magic and astrology, but also mystical texts that were to lead to gnosis, such as the Corpus Hermeticum and the Asclepius.2 Hermes Trismegistus was believed to be the source of all knowledge and is best known because of the motto derived from the Emerald Tablet: ‘As above, so below’, referring to the equivalence between heaven and earth, between the microcosm and the macrocosm.
Hermes Trismegistus in the Cathedral of Siena
‘Gnosis’ is about becoming aware of our origin, present condition and destination. Our origin lies in the divine world, in our earthly state we have a divine core which derives from that divine world. That core has become enmeshed in the material world. If we become aware again of that divine core within ourselves and of the possibility to return to the divine world, we have achieved gnosis.
Opening of the Embassy of the Free Mind by Dan Brown
Author Dan Brown (The Da Vinci Code) opened the Embassy of the Free Mind in the monumental House with the Heads on Amsterdam’s Keizersgracht on 21 October 2017.3 A great fan of the library, Dan Brown drew inspiration from the library for his own work. In 2016 he donated 300,000 Euro to the Bibliotheca Philosophica Hermetica to help digitize its core collection of c. 4,600 pre-1900 books.
Thanks to his donation, the core collection can be accessed online by everybody. Already 1,700 titles are accessible online by now.
f.l.t.r. deputy mayor Pieter Litjens, Esther Ritman, Dan Brown, Joost R. Ritman and his wife Rachel Ritman
Dan Brown paid several visits to the library as he was writing The Lost Symbol and Inferno. ‘I consider it a great honor to be able to play a role in this major conservation project to make these texts available to a wide audience’, says Dan Brown. In his opening speech he referred to a previous conversation with Joost R. Ritman, the founder of the library: ‘We discussed the universal nature of our individual and spiritual experiences across all cultures, socio-economic backgrounds and faiths. When we look at the sky, when we hold a baby, when we fall in love, or when we’re afraid to die, then these are universal experiences we all share. And I remember my asking you: if these experiences are so universal, why are our religions so different? And you told me that these religions are really not all that different. What happens is that, when we try to describe abstract concepts like religion and God, which we need to express in language, we end up in a semantic discussion, and language becomes an obstacle to universality. And what you’ve achieved in bringing together under a single roof works in different languages, driven by enormous knowledge and the wish to unite, is a great service to humanity, and I’m not exaggerating when I say this.’
With these words Dan Brown also alludes to the core task which the Embassy of the Free Mind has set itself, to make centuries-old knowledge and wisdom available to the public.
Director Esther Ritman: ‘It has always been our dream to connect this treasure chamber with society and make it hermetically open to all. Thanks to Dan Brown we can now digitize our core collection. I am very happy that this dream has become true.’
In centuries past, only the members of monastic communities or secret societies had access to the study of special manuscripts. Now, in the current digital age, this ancient wisdom is becoming available more and more via internet. And living in the Netherlands we can also easily travel to Amsterdam and step inside the Embassy of the Free Mind to consult these special books with care.’
‘To all of us falls one heritage: wisdom’
Director Esther Ritman
The Embassy of the Free Mind is led by Esther Ritman, Joost R. Ritman’s highly competent and enthusiastic daughter. She points to a motto by Paracelsus: ‘To all of us falls one heritage: wisdom’, adding: ‘Wisdom connects everything and everybody. Thanks to these books we have eternal wisdom within reach, at our fingertips. And by sharing that wisdom openly, anyone interested can have access to this wisdom. Everybody who comes here obtains a better understanding of Hermetic wisdom, about how everything in creation connects. By becoming familiar with this wisdom, you will learn how to consciously apply it to your life. People experience a lot of pressure nowadays. By sharing wisdom, by creating a platform where people can exchange views with each other, they will recover insight into that universal wisdom that connects us all. That’s why we called it “The Embassy of the Free Mind” .’
Robert Fludd is one of Esther Ritman’s favourite philosophers. Fludd wrote in his treatise De triplici animae: ‘He who lives in God, knows himself, as if he were God himself, and is filled with an inexpressible joy and bliss when he meditates on this theme.’
Museum, reading room, meeting place
The various rooms of the House with the Heads, which was completely refurbished for the opening of the Embassy, feature 200 framed reproductions showcasing the visual language of Hermetic wisdom. Together, they invite visitors to embark on a visual journey through time.
The Embassy of the Free Mind holds the 25,000 works from the Bibliotheca Philosophica Hermetica founded by Joost R. Ritman. These books, some of which were originally written almost 2,000 years ago, deal with western esotericism, mysticism, alchemy, Rosicrucians, Kabbala hand philosophy.
One of the oldest books in the collection was printed in 1469 and is by Cardinal Bessarion, who wrote a defence of Plato, In calumniatorem Platonis. The collection also includes a copy of the first edition of the Quran in het Latin.
There are display cases in several rooms of the museum filled with books and artworks on such themes as Hermes Trismegistus, William Blake, the Grail and other highlights from the collection. The walls are filled with beautiful images from the collection, all fascinating and worth studying.
I was struck by one image in particular, in the hall. It’s a long scroll depicting ‘A student’s synchronological chart of the religions of the world – Rivers of life or faiths of men in all lands’. As it is too long to photograph in one piece, I’ve photographed a section of it mentioning the Vedas.
A student’s synchronological chart of the religions of the world – Rivers of life or faiths of men in all lands
Visitors can consult manuscripts and printed books before 1900 in the supervised reading room or read more recent publications. Reading circles will be scheduled as part of the programme of events.
The website offers online webinars with Prof. Wouter J. Hanegraaff and his colleagues of the Chair of Hermetic Philosophy and Related Currents, part of the Humanities Faculty of the University of Amsterdam.
The Embassy of the Free Mind also regularly invites speakers. Various events are scheduled both during the day and in the evening, including talks, courses and concerts.
In this way Embassy of the Free Mind evolves into a meeting place for free thinkers, where you can have a dicussion with others in the café or among the books.
‘God is in himself, the cosmos is in God and man is in the cosmos. Man’s lack is ignorance, man’s plenitude is the knowledge of God.’
Hermetic Definitions VII, 5.
Images and photographs: © Bibliotheca Philosophica Hermetica
1 Bibliotheca Philosophica Hermetica / Ritman Library: www.ritmanlibrary.com
2 Roelof van den Broek and Gilles Quispel, ed. and transl., Hermetische geschriften, In De Pelikaan 2016
3 QR-code: Dan Brown Opens The Embassy of the Free Mind in Amsterdam
Embassy of the Free Mind
House with the Heads
1015 CJ Amsterdam
Tel. 020 6258 079
The museum is open from Wednesday to Saturday from 10:00 - 17:00.
Day ticket: € 10; day ticket + guided tour (30 minutes): € 14,-
Speculum, Daniel Mögling (1596-1635)
This image, which was also included in the 18th-century Geheime Figuren der Rosenkreuzer, shows how everything comes from the One (‘Omnia ab uno’), how everything returns to the One (‘Omnia ad unum’) and how this is a simple truth for man (‘Tibi veritas simplex’). Man is the microcosm, linked to the mineral and vegetable kingdoms and through them to the four elements, nature and God.
Geheime Figuren der Rosenkreuzer: Sophia, manuscript, before 1785
This evocative image of Sophia or Divine Wisdom describes her as ‘the heavenly and earthly Eve, the mother of all creatures in heaven and on earth’. It is a very positive description, as Eve usually had a bad press in the history of Christianity! There are many references to the Old and the New Testament, but the lower part of the image features small globes circling around a central globe, ‘Chaos’, are purely alchemical. To us, ‘chaos’ may sound alarming, but to alchemists it represented the primal form or matter created by God, with which they could work in their laboratories. The crown worn by Sophia is characteristically topped by the symbol for the Philosophers’ Stone: ‘Der Stein der Weisen’, as we read left and right to the symbol in red.