Famous Hermetic Library Endangered

Jason Pitzl-Waters —  November 26, 2010 — 5 Comments

Word has been spreading among blogs and local newspapers in the Netherlands that the J.R. Ritman Library (aka The Bibliotheca Philosophica Hermetica) in Amsterdam is endangered, and currently closed to the public as Ritman and Friesland Bank negotiate behind closed doors. The current conflict began when Ritman attempted to sell The Grail of Rochefoucauld, which contains the oldest surviving account of the legends of King Arthur, through the auction house Sotheby’s. The problem is that the bank claims Ritman used the 14th century manuscript, and other library works, as collateral on a 15 million euro loan.

“An extremely valuable medieval manuscript owned by the BPH (The Grail of Rochefoucauld) was put on sale at Sotheby’s, and this triggered a reaction from the Friesland Bank, which took possession of the library, that had apparently been brought in as collateral, in order to get back a 15 million euro loan from mr Ritman. At present the BPH is closed, and intense negotiations are going on behind closed doors. It is impossible at this moment to predict the outcome, but there is no doubt that the situation is extremely serious. There is a very real possibility that the Friesland bank will try to sell at least the ca. 60% of the library that is still owned by mr Ritman, and nobody knows what implications this will have for the rest of the collection and the BPH as a whole, including its staff. The brand-new government of the Netherlands has announced a program of radical financial cuts in the culture section and elsewhere, which makes a renewed intervention from that side highly unlikely.”

While 40% of the collection is now owned by the government, and the library itself protected as a Dutch heritage site, no one knows what will happen should the bank try to liquidate the 60% of the collection owned by Ritman. As University of Amsterdam doctoral researcher Egil Asprem points out, the government plan to slowly buy up the rest of the collection has been hampered by new austerity plans that make a last-minute governmental rescue unlikely. While negotiations happen, a petition is being circulated to help save the collection from liquidation.

Additionally, you can express your concern by means of a signed letter. The initiative for this petition comes from the Center for History of Hermetic Philosophy and related currents at the University of Amsterdam (organizationally independent of the BPH, and not in any danger itself), so please send your letter to its director: Prof. Wouter J. Hanegraaff, Oude Turfmarkt 141-147, 1012 GC Amsterdam, The Netherlands. Email: w.j.hanegraaff [ at ] uva.nl

The library is an essential resource in the areas of Hermeticism, mysticism, Western esoteric works, alchemy, Rosicrucian studies, and comparative religions. Its works have been cited by numerous scholars, and have been utilized by famous personages like author Umberto Eco, who lobbied to save the library when it was threatened in the 1990s. To see its dissolution would be a huge blow to scholarship that directly relates to modern Pagan and esoteric traditions. I’ll be keeping track of this story, and providing updates as they come to me.

Thanks to T. Thorn Coyle and Suus Oudbier for providing essential information and resources for this story.

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Jason Pitzl-Waters


  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=511407690 Star Foster

    I signed the petition. I hope they can save it! Not surprised Umberto Eco is a patron!

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=649965363 Lamyka L.

    Signed and done. I hope the library can be saved.

  • http://www.facebook.com/ailaes Meagan McMichael

    Signed. Very much hoping the library and collection held within can be saved.

  • Cigfran7

    Er, I meant 15 million euro loan, not 15 euros. A bit of a difference ;)

  • Diana B. Hurlburt

    Signed. As a librarian, this hurts my heart to read about. What an invaluable resource this collection is.