This spring marked four hundred years since the publication of the first Rosicrucian manifesto, and as I have noted earlier, this has been an opportunity for scholars to publish new editions of primary sources and new reports on scholarship into the Rosicrucian heritage. But even the briefest review of how scholarly and cultural institutions are marking the anniversary year would be incomplete without mention of the Bibliotheca Philosophica Hermetica in Amsterdam – which still houses one of the largest and most significant collections of Rosicrucian and related material in the world. What makes BPH special is that it’s not only a repository of material, an archive, but also an institution that seeks to embody the Rosicrucian heritage today and spread its philosophical, religious, visual and material culture. This dual agenda of the scholarly, curatorial and the evangelizing, missionary, has its roots in the vision of the collection’s founder, Joost Ritman, who was taken by these traditions at a young age and has been dedicated to promoting them ever since.
As readers of Heterodoxology will know, the Bibliotheca Philosophica Hermetica in Amsterdam hosts a webinar series on aspects of Western esotericism in collaboration with lecturers at the UvA. The latest lecture was published last week: This time Peter Forshaw talks about our old favourite John Dee, focusing on his Monas Hieroglyphica. Check it out below!
Ever wondered what those enigmatic emblems in Michael Maier’s Atalanta Fugiens (1617) are all about? Well, you could do much worse than watching Peter Forshaw speak about it in the latest BPH webinar. Peter places Maier in the context of 16th and 17th century alchemy, emblematics, the Rosicrucian furore, early printing culture, and the broader political contexts of both continental Europe and England at the time. He also takes the time to go through a few of the 50 emblems in the book.
For the book itself, there is a transcription of an English translation of the original Latin available at the Levity website.
The Bibliotheca Philosophica Hermetica in Amsterdam has, as previously mentioned, gone through a transformation lately, now focusing increasingly on web-based solutions. As a part of this renewal, BPH launched a webinar series entitle “Infinite Fire”, in which scholars of esotericism will give online lectures on chosen topics, making use of unique material that is available in the library itself.
The first of these lectures is now available. It is given by my colleague Peter Forshaw, an expert of esotericism in early modern intellectual history, and particularly of alchemy. In the lecture, Peter speaks about one of his favourite authors: Heinrich Khunrath (1560-1605). The BPH website blurb has more:
“In the webinar a focus is put on Khunrath’s Amphitheatrum Sapientiae Aeternae – The Amphitheatre of Eternal Wisdom (originally published in 1595), which has traditionally been considered to be a strange mix of Christianity and magic. Peter elaborates on the alchemical symbolism of 4 circular and 5 rectangular engravings integrated in the Amphitheatrum. A famous plate is the Tabula Smaragdina or The Emerald Tablet, to be considered one of the main inspirational works for alchemists, Hermetic philosophers and Rosicrucians. Aldous Huxley even mentions the Tablet contains an in-depth summary of what he calls the ‘Perennial Philosophy’, a timeless science of soul that keeps on surviving through the ages.”
Do check it out. Then wait until November, when Peter will be back with his second webinar lecture on Michael Maier’s Atalanta Fugiens.
The Ritman library has risen from the ashes of the calamity of 2010. The new developments look very promising and should interest many international readers – particularly because of the initiative “Hermetically Opened”. With it, the Bibliotheca Philosophica Hermetica is being proactive about joining the digital and connected age. It’s the next best thing to having the unique library of hermetic, alchemical, and rosicrucian literature in your own living room. Digitization projects are underway, there are plans for a Hermetic wiki, and not least, great plans for a webinar series where scholars of esotericism and Hermeticism will speak about particular topics. All of this is available to a global public online, and you can read all about it at the library’s new website.
The webinar series, named “Infinite Fire”, was officially launched last week, with a short talk by my colleague Dr. Peter Forshaw, a specialist in the history of alchemy. Future talks are being planned, to begin with by other experts present in Amsterdam (Wouter Hanegraaff and Marco Pasi). The idea is, however, to expand with time. So if you are a scholar working in an area related to the library’s collection, and you’re planning a trip to Amsterdam, I am sure that the BPH staff would love to hear from you. Perhaps you will do a brief interview or otherwise contribute to this collaborative, evolving “global hermetic circle”?
Peter talks about / devours some of his favourite books from the BPH collection below:
Very promising developments indeed. Do check it out.
As advertised before on this blog, the European Society for the Study of Western Esotericism (ESSWE) has been organising a thesis workshop on alchemy. It took place in Amsterdam on June 24; here is a short report.