This drear, accursed masonry,
Where even the welcome daylight strains
But duskily through the painted panes.
Hemmed in by many a toppling heap
Of books worm-eaten, gray with dust,
Which to the vaulted ceiling creep.
–Goethe, Faust, Part One
Located in Amsterdam, The Ritman Library, aka the Bibliotheca Philosophica Hermetica, is a private library housing the world’s largest collection of occult books and manuscripts. This still-growing collection is comprised of 25,000 texts, including 4,500 pre-1800 books and manuscripts, on the subjects of Hermetics, Rosicrucians, Theosophy, alchemy, mysticism, Gnosis and Western Esotericism, Sufism, Kabbalah, Anthroposophy, Catharism, Freemasonry, Manichaeism, Judaica, the Grail, Esotericism, and comparative religion. (Whew) It’s also home to the first illustrated edition of Dante’s La Divina Commedia, printed in 1472.
Now, thanks to the Hermetically Open Project, the core collection of these texts has been scanned and made available to pore over at your leisure. The project was made possible thanks to a very generous donation by American author Dan Brown, who visited the library on several occasions while working on his novels The Lost Symbol and Inferno, and wanted to help preserve these precious texts and make them available to the public. Eventually they’ll be available for free download as well.
“It has always been my goal to connect this treasure house with the community at large 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 living institute, and ‘hermetically open’ to all.”
–Joost R. Ritman, founder of The Ritman Library
As I select and page through books via this extraordinary virtual collection, volumes such as the Corpus Hermeticum, published in 1503, sensory memories of libraries, old bookshops, and dusty tomes fill my head with imaginings of what it must feel like to be in the physical presence of these remarkable books. I feel like I ought to be wearing Dee or Ü by our marvelous friends at Black Phoenix Alchemy Lab in order to conjure them properly.
Actually, a thoughtful BPAL anointment feels like a lovely ritual to engage in before entering The Ritman Library’s digital collection of occult texts.
Want to learn more about The Ritman Library? A documentary entitled The Ritman Library – Amsterdam was released by Artoldo Pictures in 2017 and is available for streaming via several sources:
And if you’re looking for some occult books to add to your personal library, be sure to check out the Haute Macabre Library, full of vintage occult books (and much more) all hand-selected by Sam.
h/t: Open Culture