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Bibliotheca Philosophica Hermetica  -  Bloemstraat 13-19  -  NL-1016 KV Amsterdam   -  Ritman Library



The aims of the Bibliotheca Philosophica Hermetica foundation are:

To manage and run the library and to raise funds to form a platform of communication in the BPH’s recognized field of specialization, the Christian Hermetic gnosis, using innovative digitization and online communication technology to offer a new frame of reference for the 21st century. To engage in strategic alliances with libraries, museums and other public and educational institutions to develop the public and dialogue functions of the BPH. Concurrently to continue to expand the collection and the accumulated expertise within the BPH – as a specialized research library with its own publishing house and research institute – and lodge it within the public domain.

The Ritman Institute

The Ritman Institute is the independent research institute of the Bibliotheca Philosophica Hermetica. The Ritman Institute aims to describe and make available the printed and manuscript sources of the Christian-Hermetic and Gnostic traditions in Western culture from the beginnings of the Common Era to today. It conducts historical, philological and bibliographical research in the collecting areas of the library. Research subjects are taken from the wider European cultural-historical context. Research results are published in descriptive thematic catalogues of the library’s holdings as well as in exhibition catalogues, bibliographies, conference proceedings and monographs. These appear in the Pimander, the Hermes and in the Asclepius series. Textual editions in the Dutch language of core texts are published in the Pimander series.
The Ritman Institute also develops research, education and exhibition projects in cooperation with other research institutes (libraries, archives, universities) in order to realize publications, conferences, seminars, and exhibitions. It facilitates and/or finances research by individual scholars (independent or affiliated) working in its areas of interest and using the library’s resources. For the library’s areas of interest see ‘collections’ or click for a free download of the guide Hermetically Open.

In de Pelikaan

The library’s publishing house is named In de Pelikaan (In the Pelican), after the symbol which has been associated with the library since its foundation. When the library began its activities as a public institute in 1984, a small publishing house was simultaneously set up to issue the catalogues accompanying the exhibitions organised by the library, as well as conference proceedings, text editions and special studies. In all, In de Pelikaan has brought out more than 30 works to date.
The library’s publications range from fairly modest productions to more ambitious projects involving renowned Dutch printing houses and book designers, such as the late Charles Jongejans, who designed the first part of the BPH’s incunable catalogue, which came out in 1990 (2 volumes, in a slipcase). The library’s attention to careful book production was awarded in 2001, when From Poimandres to Jacob Böhme (2000) was selected by the jury of the Best Dutch Book Designs as one of that year’s best-produced books. The jury report praised book designer Tessa van der Waals: ‘this classically styled book has actually been given a real contemporary twist – yet without disturbing the balance.’ Compliments also for printer Calff & Meischke in Amsterdam and bookbinder van Waarden in Zaandam: ‘Printing and binding are first-class’. Book designer Chang Chi Lan-Ying designed Valentinus de gnosticus en zijn Evangelie der Waarheid, which was one of the Best Book Designs for 2003. This time the jury observed in a glowing report that the book was ‘made according to the rules of the art’ a scholarly edition is imbued with the quality of a literary text which is what the author of this (Gilles Quispel) book deserves’.

The term ‘Hermetica’ is used to cover a heterogeneous body of works attributed to the legendary philosopher Hermes Trismegistus. The Hermetic works are mostly philosophical, theosophical, astrological, magical or alchemical in nature. The treatises we now call the Corpus Hermeticum, which is today perhaps the best-known Hermetic work, were compiled mainly in the 2nd-3rd centuries CE and have been preserved in Greek codices (although Coptic fragments have also been recovered in Nag Hammadi in 1945). In the Middle Ages, only one Hermetic work, the Latin Asclepius (its Greek original is lost) was widely known. This changed when Marsilio Ficino in 1463 translated fourteen Greek Hermetic texts into Latin at the request of his patron Cosimo de Medici. The title he gave to this work attributed to Hermes Trismegistus was: Pimander, sive De potestate et sapientia Dei. ‘Pimander’ was the protagonist of the first treatise, after whom Ficino subsequently named the entire work: he believed the Corpus Hermeticum to be a single Hermetic text instead of a body of separate treatises. The – incomplete –  codex from which Ficino translated had been brought to Florence from Macedonia by an Italian monk, Leonardo di Pistoia. This Hermetic text aroused great interest, as Hermes Trismegistus at the time was perceived to be a pagan contemporary of the law-giver Moses. Thus the wisdom and revelations Hermes Trismegistus transmitted were regarded as pre-Christian and yet seemed to announce Christianity: as a result, Hermes Trismegistus was celebrated as a pagan prophesying the coming of Christ.

Hermetic treatises

The Hermetic texts in the Corpus Hermeticum and the Asclepius are not uniform in tone: they contain demonstrably Greek, gnostic and Jewish elements (e.g. discussions on the soul, or the parallel with Genesis in Corpus Hermeticum I, the nous in Corpus Hermeticum IV corresponding with the gnostic  pneuma). In addition, the treatises are also inspired by Egyptian traditions, as witnessed by the element of the transmission of teachings by a ‘father’ to his ‘son’; as in Egyptian hymns, there is mention of a God who is ‘All and One’. It is a postulate found in most of the Hermetic texts that because of his (divine) intellect, man is capable to behold the Cosmos in his mind, to comprehend the divine essence of nature and to imprint it on his soul. By beholding the Cosmos it is possible to know God: the universe is thus often presented as a text or a book which must be read or deciphered. A very representative Hermetic saying is: ‘God is an immortal man, man is a mortal god’.

Prisca theologia

The idea of a ‘prisca theologia’ originates in the Renaissance: a tradition of spiritual wisdom running from Hermes Trismegistus via Moses to Zoroaster, Orpheus, Pythagoras and Plato. The works of these ancient sages were regarded as divinely inspired and paving the way for Christ. Although Hermes Trismegistus was the first amongst these ‘prisci theologi’, Ficino also included Zoroaster, Orpheus, Pythagoras and the Pythagorean Philolaus of Croton.

Hermetica in the Early Middle Ages

The main authors with links to the Hermetica collected in this period are Boethius (480-ca. 525) and the neo-Platonist Dionysius (second half of the 5th century). The works of Dionysius (erroneously attributed to the Dionysius Areopagita occurring in Acts 17: 34) only became fully accessible to the West in the edition of Johannes Scotus Eriugena, who translated the entire Corpus Dionysiacum around 860.

Renaissance of the Hermetica in the 12th century

The influence of texts attributed to Hermes Trismegistus in the 12th century has been established in the works of theologians and philosophers such as Peter Abelard, Alain de Lille, William of Auvergne, Albertus Magnus and Thomas of York. The main Hermetic source text to be studied in this seminal period before the Italian Renaissance was the Asclepius (which was preserved in Latin), in addition to (pseudo-) Hermetic texts such as the Liber XXIV philosophorum, a collection of definitions and commentaries on the nature of God, and the cosmological Liber de VI rerum principiis. We also find in this period the first translations (mainly from the Arabic) of astrological and magical works, such as the Picatrix and the work of Al-Kindi  (800-866). Al-Kindi wrote in one of his works that he saw a work by Hermes Trismegistus on the unity of God which no philosopher can deny.

The ‘Italian Renaissance’ of the Hermetica

In addition to the Corpus Hermeticum, the works of the ‘prisci theologi’ were enthusiastically studied in the Italian Renaissance. An important person in this context is Georgius Gemistus, who called himself Pletho to express his reverence for Plato. Pletho’s deep admiration for Plato, the Platonists and Zoroaster caused Cosimo de’ Medici to found a Platonic Academy in Florence. The idea of a ‘prisca theologia’ as expressed by Ficino in the dedication to his translation of the Corpus Hermeticum probably derives from Pletho. Ficino’s main translating interests concerned Plato and the Neoplatonists (a.o. Plotinus). His own works were also greatly inspired by Neoplatonic thought.

Hermetica 16th-18th centuries

Hermetic thought is one of the factors contributing to the reform movement of (natural) philosophy and science spreading from Italy throughout Europe. The physician Paracelsus, a follower of Hermes Trismegistus (he was known as ‘Trismegistus Germanus’) was a key figure in this context. Paracelsus strongly believed in the power of the ‘arcana’ in the healing process. According to him, these hidden macrocosmic powers could work their effect on man, the microcosm, having the power to change, renovate and restore not only the body, but also the patient’s mind. The Englishman Robert Fludd, in whose work the divine light was a central theme, was a Paracelsist and a follower of Hermes Trismegistus – he often refers to Hermetic works, for instance in his Mosaicall philosophy.

In the 17th century Amsterdam was a haven for enlightened thinkers; the works of Spinoza a.o. are printed here. This subsection also includes the works of advocates of religious tolerance (e.g. Castellio, Comenius, Coornhert).

Hermetica 19th century-present

An impressive culmination of the Hermetic tradition at the end of the 18th century is to be found in the Geheime Figuren der Rosenkreuzer. In the 19th and 20th centuries, too, the Hermetic texts remained one of the factors shaping Western thought. In the 19th century new Hermetic societies were formed claiming a Graeco-Egyptian (Hellenistic) origin. The Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn (1887), for instance, drew its inspiration from Christian-Hermetic thought as well as Freemasonry and magic. The English scholar A.E. Waite has his own sub-section within the Hermetica because  he contributed to every conceivable esoteric field during his long and successful career. New editions of classical Hermetic texts as well as fresh philosophical, esoteric and literary interpretations and studies appear to the present day. The study of the Hermetica received a new impetus in the 20th century, while 19th-century editions of source texts are still frequently reprinted. Especially the publications of A.E. Waite and G.R.S. Mead have encouraged new scholarly studies to appear in the broader field of the Hermetica. In the 2nd half of the 20th century, a number of important Hermetic texts were discovered in European libraries, including the so-called Hermetica of Oxford and the Definitions of Hermes Trismegistus.


Change perhaps comes closest to a definition of alchemical practice: the science of alchemy is the science of change and is concerned with the question of processes, in nature and in man. To understand these processes and to use them for the good of mankind was the highest objective of alchemy. The purpose of alchemical practice, therefore, was to bring about a change for the better. In 1330 Petrus Bonus from Ferrara called the alchemist’s work the search for what not yet is.

Hermes Trismegistus is already called ‘Philosophorum et Alchymistarum pater’, father of the philosophers and alchemists, in the Testamentum, the oldest and by far the most important of the alchemical works attributed to Ramón Llull, while the practitioners of alchemy were traditionally known as the sons of Hermes: ‘filii Hermetis’.

The first alchemical book to be introduced to the Latin West was De compositione alchemiae, which was translated from the Arabic into Latin by Robert of Ketton in 1144. In this work, which is presented as a compendium of alchemical practice offered by the hermit Morienus, the art of alchemy is referred to as the ‘Magisterium Hermetis’, the instruction of Hermes. In the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, alchemy was part of the scientific framework, and it flourished as a method of inquiry into the mysterious processes and substance of nature, as an exploration of the very act of creation itself: the alchemist in his laboratory re-enacted the act of creation, and God was seen as the proto-alchemist. The Great Work, the Opus Magnum in the laboratory, formed a reflection of the cosmos in which the creation was fulfilled anew.

Greek alchemy

A number of alchemical source texts (with translations) and secondary works on Greek alchemy has already been published in the series Les alchimistes grecs. The earliest alchemical manuscripts to have survived were written in Greek, the oldest alchemist whose work has been preserved is Zosimos of Panopolis.

Oriental alchemy

There is a modest offering of works on Chinese alchemy, which was traditionally divided in waidan or ‘external alchemy’ and neidan or ‘internal alchemy’.

Arabic alchemy

In the middle of the 12th century the first translations of alchemical works from Arabic appear in the Latin West, such as Secreta Secretorum, Tabula Smaragdina and Morienus’ De compositione alchemiae, translated by the Englishman Robert of Ketton in 1144. Arabic alchemy to a large extent relies on the Greek alchemical corpus. Jabir ibn Hayyan (c. 721-c. 815) is one of the most prolific and seminal Arabic alchemical authors; simply known in the West as ‘Geber’, the works by a 13th-century alchemist writing in Latin were often confused with those of Jabir ibn Hayyan; only fairly recently has it been established that the Geber who wrote Summa perfectionis and other works cannot be identified with the famous Arabic alchemical author of that name.

Medieval Western alchemy

After the introduction in the Latin West of the ‘royal or Hermetic art’, as alchemy is also known, alchemical treatises were written from the 14th century onwards containing allegories based on biblical texts. A striking example is Petrus Bonus’ Pretiosa margarita novella. At the same time alchemy belonged to the experimental scientific setting, as appears from Roger Bacon’s natural philosophical work.

Western alchemy 16th-17th centuries

There is almost no printed alchemy in the 15th century. Around 1550 compendia are published with Latin translations of by now classical alchemical texts such as the Rosarium Philosophorum and the Turba Philosophorum. Metallurgical textbooks, such as Agricola’s De Re Metallica (1556) were also brought on the market, so that the whole alchemical trajectory, from natural resources (ores and mines) to the laboratory was covered. The appearance of Paracelsus (see also Hermetica 16th-18th centuries) determined the future course of the history of alchemy in the West. Paracelsus advocated using alchemical processes to prepare medicine. At the beginning of the 17th century, in the wake of other emblem books, alchemical emblem books appear (e.g. Michael Maier’s Atalanta fugiens) enriched with allegories based on classical texts open to alchemical interpretation, such as Ovid’s Metamorphoses.

Western alchemy 18th century

In the late 17th century alchemical insights were incorporated in the new corpuscular theories which would eventually determine the atomistic-mechanistic world picture. The new type of alchemy became increasingly experimental, and depended on clear vocabulary. Traditional alchemical terminology largely became the domain of pietists, and was used more and more symbolically. The distinction between a chemist and an ‘adept’ – who knows the secret of alchemy – became ever greater. Around the middle of the 18th century, Hermann Fictuld attempted to distinguish between true and false adepts in his Probierstein.

Western alchemy 19th century-present

With the development of gas chemistry and the dissolution of the elements, the universe lost much of its mystery. The life force pervading the universe, formerly known as the Philosophers’ Stone, the Quinta Essentia, or the World Soul, was now identified as oxygen. This century marks the rise of ‘spiritual alchemy’, as characterized by Mary Ann Atwood’s anonymously published A suggestive Inquiry, in which Hermetic and alchemical principles are reconsidered and characterized as a discipline offering profound insights into mental, physical and spiritual powers. Practising alchemists continue working in laboratories to the present. In France François Jollivet-Castelot carried out transmutational experiments; Fulcanelli (a pseudonym which has not been resolved) was an alchemical celebrity who still fascinates researchers and practitioners, as does his pupil Canseliet. The psycho-analyst Carl Gustav Jung for his part was highly interested in the symbolical language of alchemy (his Psychologie und Alchemie was published in Germany in 1944). He was preceded by Hermann Silberer, whose Probleme der Mystik und ihrer Symbolik was published in 1914.


The Rosicrucian Manifestoes 17th century

The three Rosicrucian Manifestoes, Fama fraternitatis, Confessio fraternitatis and Chymische Hochzeit, published in the years 1614-1616, proposed a general reformation of society on all levels, social, spiritual, scientific and artistic. The Rosicrucian Brotherhood which addressed its reform proposals to all the learned men of Europe, triggered a considerable response not only in the German lands, but also in other European countries. The appeal for reform obviously struck a chord: many readers, like the authors of the Rosicrucian Manifestoes, were disappointed in the Lutheran and Calvinist reformations, the Catholic Counter-reformation, being deeply convinced that Christianity should be about living a true Christian life, in daily practice. The Rosicrucian Manifestoes also advocated actual practice and innovative research into nature as part of an authentic exploration of nature as the work of God – the Fama fraternitatis explicitly referred for that reason to the ‘Vocabulario’ of Theophrastus Paracelsus of Hohenheim. Physicians who valued experimental experience above the authority of Aristotle or Galen, were also among the enthusiastic readers of the Rosicrucian Manifestoes. The intense polemic following the publication of the Rosicrucian Manifestoes produced a flood of responses, pro and contra, which issued from the presses between 1615-1660.

The Ritman Library also collects a number of modern Rosicrucian movements all of which express an affiliation with the principles that inspired the legendary Brotherhood. Most of these modern movements originated in Europe and the United States at the turn of the nineteenth century.

Tübingen circle

The Tübingen circle which produced the Rosicrucian Manifestoes originally formed around Tobias Hess, their great inspiring force. Johann Valentin Andreae  recalled Hess with affection and respect in his Tobiae Hessi, Viri incomparabilis, Immortalitas. Andreae, known to have written at least one of the Manifestoes, namely the Chymische Hochzeit, is also represented in this section with other of his works.

Other authors 17th century

The Rosicrucian movement is an originally German phenomenon but soon found adherents abroad, amongst whom the Englishmen Robert Fludd (see also the section on Hermetica 16th-18th centuries) and Thomas Vaughan. The Rosicrucian  Manifestoes drew responses from all over Europe, from Paris to Prague.

Rosicrucians 18th century

In the 18th century the Rosicrucian legacy lived on in numerous spiritual movements such as the ‘Gold- und Rosenkreuzer’ and natural-philosophical groups seeking a profound spiritual dimension. One of the major works produced in this period was the Geheime Figuren der Rosenkreuzer aus dem 16ten und 17ten Jahrhundert (first printed 1785-88).

Rosicrucians 19th century-present

From the second half of the 19th century there is a veritable proliferation of movements claiming to go back to the elusive Rosicrucian movement of the early 17th century, and on both sides of the Atlantic Ocean. A distinction has therefore been made between European and American Rosicrucianism, with separate sections for the more pronounced Rosicrucian groups.


The Freemason R.W. Little founded the Societas Rosicruciana in Anglia (S.R.I.A.) around 1860. Although the S.R.I.A. is a masonic organisation, it claims affiliation with the teachings of the members of the Rosicrucian Brotherhood or Fratres Rosae Crucis, which in turn were allegedly based on the Hermetic, Platonic and kabbalistic teachings of the ‘ancient sages’. Because of the close connection with Rosicrucianism, which finds explicit expression in the very name of the organization, the Societas Rosicruciana in Anglia has been placed in the Rosicrucian section.

Rosicrucian Fellowship

The theosophist Max Heindel (pseudonym of Carl Louis Frederik von Grasshof, a Danish-born American) founded the Rosicrucian Fellowship in the United States in 1909 as an international movement for Christian mysticism. The Rosicrucian Fellowship promotes an esoteric sort of Christianity, in which the idea of transfiguration, or rebirth in a state of inner purity, plays an important role. Heindel’s best-known work is the Rosicrucian Cosmo-conception, which is available in many editions.


The Ancient Mystical Order Rosae Crucis (A.M.O.R.C.) was founded by the American parapsychologist Spencer Lewis in 1915. A.M.O.R.C. is a movement which claims to offer its members the means to take control of their own lives, develop inner peace and make a positive contribution to the world on the basis of studying and practising the Rosicrucian teachings.


The Ordo Templi Orientis (O.T.O.) was founded in Germany at the beginning of the 20th century and claims to continue the traditions of the Freemasons, Rosicrucians and Illuminati of the 18th and 19th centuries, the Knights Templar of the Middle Ages and the early Christian gnostics and mystery schools from Antiquity. Issues from the series Pansophia, published by Heinrich Tränker under his spiritual pen name Henkelkreuzmann, can be found in this section.

The Ordo Roseae Aureae (O.R.A.) was founded in Germany in 1956 by Martin Erler, an ex-functionary of A.M.O.R.C.: it is one of the more recent secessions in the history of the modern Rosicrucian movements.

Lectorium Rosicrucianum

In 1924 the brothers Zwier Willem and Jan Leene joined the Dutch branch of Max Heindel’s Rosicrucian Fellowship, which they were to lead from 1929. In 1935 the Dutch organization split off to form a new Rosicrucian movement, which after a few name changes eventually became known under the name Lectorium Rosicrucianum (1945). The library holds a great deal of material of this Dutch Rosicrucian movement, including many pamphlets and brochures and periodicals from the early years. Initially the leadership of the ‘young gnostic brotherhood’ (also called the International School of the Golden Rosycross) was in the hands of founder Jan van Rijckenborgh (the spiritual name of Jan Leene), later he and Catharose de Petri (the spiritual name of Hennie Stok-Huizer) became the twin leaders of the movement. Like G.R.S. Mead in England (see under Gnosis), the Dutch Rosicrucian Jan van Rijckenborgh studied the sources of the Christian-Hermetic gnosis and published these in a Dutch translation, with commentaries.


The BPH collects in particular medieval and later western mystics with a demonstrable affinity with Hermetic thought: these include Meister Eckhart, Suso and Tauler, but also Jacob Böhme and his followers, for whom the Dutch Republic for more than a century (1630-1735) was to become a safe haven and a centre of spiritual activities. This collecting area also holds numerous works of 16th-century spiritualists such as Sebastian Franck, Miguel Servet, Sebastian Castellio and David Joris.

Medieval mysticism: three great German mystics

The mystical current within the Roman Catholic Church in Western Europe flowered in the persons of the three great German mystics: Meister Eckhart, Suso and Tauler. Eckhart (c. 1260-1328) and his followers Heinrich Suso (c. 1295-1366) and Johannes Tauler (c. 1300-1361) were inspired by the neo-Platonic tradition which continued to exert an influence in spite of the hegemony of Aristotelian thought, and which comprises works of a Hermetic nature. A number of the propositions by the great exponent of German mysticism Meister Eckhart which incurred papal censure in 1329 can be called purely Hermetic. Suso adopted Meister Eckhart’s idea of the divine man (homo divinus), an originally Hermetic view of man (cf. Asclepius). Tauler speaks of God in terms derived from the ‘theologia negativa’ as elaborated by Dionysius Areopagita, calling him the ‘ineffable mystery’ and quoting from the pseudo-hermetic Liber XXIV philosophorum: ‘God is the darkness in the soul which remains after all light’ (definition XXI).

Modern Devotion

The Modern Devotion movement is an originally Dutch mystical movement initiated by Geert Groote which sought to encourage pious practice to arrive at an inner Christianity; the ideals of the movement found expression in Thomas a Kempis’ De imitatione Christi.

Mysticism and spiritualism 16th century

In the 16th century several philosophical and religious thinkers, (radical) reformers and spiritualists advocated religious freedom and opposed the orthodoxy of both Catholic and Protestant churches. A source of inspiration for German mystics and spiritualists in this period is the Theologia Deutsch. The section on 16th-century mysticism includes works by Johannes Hus, David Joris, Caspar Schwenckfeld, Miguel Servet, Sebastian Franck, Sebastiano Castellio (whose Contra libellum Calvini was suppressed and was only published in 1612, in the Netherlands) and Valentin Weigel.

Jacob Böhme – 17th-century mysticism

Another major focus within the mysticism collecting area is Jacob Böhme and his followers and disciples, who for over a hundred years (1630-1735) found a sure refuge and a centre of spirituality in the Dutch Republic. Only one work of the German mystic and theosopher Jacob Böhme (1575-1624) was published in his lifetime. The Amsterdam merchant Abraham Willemszoon van Beyerland managed to acquire a number of Böhme’s theosophical and mystical manuscripts in the years 1637-1638, the first of over a hundred manuscripts that would find their way to Amsterdam in the seventeenth century. Beyerland translated the works of Böhme and published them at his own expense. The greater part of Böhme’s heritage, therefore, first appeared in the Dutch Republic, both in the original German language and in Dutch translations. The first three editions of the complete works (1682, 1715, 1730) were also printed in Amsterdam. The collection of the BPH also reflects the Hermetic book collections that were brought together by Beyerland and the Behmenists, comprising works in the field of hermetism, mysticism, theosophy, Paracelsism as well as works by the Philadelphians – a mystical group of followers of John Pordage en Jane Lead in Engeland – and the disciples of Johann Georg Gichtel and the so-called ‘Engelsbrüder’ in Germany and Switzerland.

Mysticism and pietism 18th century

The pietist movement, with its stress on inner piety and a life led along Christian principles, remained an important factor into the middle of the 18th century, the Age of Enlightenment and Early Romanticism. New works in the field of religion and spirituality were produced by mystics and theosophers like Franz von Baader, Louis Claude de Saint-Martin ‘le philosophe inconnu’ (originating from the circles of mystical freemasonry himself, he was inspired by Böhme’s work), Karl von Eckartshausen, Fabre d’Olivet, William Law, Martines de Pasqually, Gerhard Tersteege and chiliasts like Joanna Southcott.

William Law and William Blake

The English mystic William Law published the collected work  of the Jacob Böhme, including three diagrams visualizing his cosmogony. The diagrams illustrating the ‘deep principles of Jacob Behmen, the Teutonic Theosopher’, as they were announced in Law’s edition of Jacob Böhme, were originally devised by Dionysius Andreas Freher (1649-1728), a follower of Böhme. Freher also provided explanations to these figures, which were likewise included in Law’s edition. The theosophical ‘pop-up’ diagrams are astonishingly complex works of art, opening up to reveal deeper layers of meaning.  The English visionary poet William Blake was an ardent admirer of the mystical work of Böhme and called him a ‘divinely inspired man’. Blake knew Law’s edition of the works of the German mystic Bohme well. Blake has a separate place in the section of mysticism as a transitory figure between the 18th and 19th century.

Mysticism 19th century-present

Classical works on Western mysticism at the turn of the 19th century were Huxley’s The perennial philosophy, Evelyn Underhill’s Mysticism and William James’s Varieties of religious experience. From a historical and religious-spiritual point of view, this subsection cannot be separated from most of the other sections within Western esotericism: Rosicrucians, Theosophy, Anthroposophy and 20th-century Gnosis. Works belonging to the late 20th-century New Age movement are, however, not collected.



The Nag Hammadi library

The Nag Hammadi library is the name given to a spectacular discovery of predominantly gnostic texts dating to the first centuries CE which were found near Nag Hammadi in Egypt in 1945. The complete Nag Hammadi library consists of 13 codices (with 52 texts in all). The text editions are followed by studies focussing on the Nag Hammadi discovery or the texts themselves.

Editions of separate Nag Hammadi texts, such as the Gospel of Truth and the Gospel of Thomas are placed after the complete text editions. The individual text editions are followed by relevant studies and commentaries.

Other gnostic source texts

Prior to the Nag Hammadi discovery, a small number of gnostic source texts was already known. In the 18th and 19th centuries three codices had already been discovered, the codex Askewianus/Askew codex, the codex Brucianus and the Berlin codex (codex Berolinensis), each giving insight into the tradition of gnosis in the first centuries CE. Texts from these codices which have been separately published are placed in this section. Other major gnostic source texts are: Apocryphal Acts of the Apostles, Mandaean literature, Hymn (Song) of the Pearl, Pistis Sophia and the Odes of Solomon.

Gnostics and testimonia

Until the publication of the texts from the Nag Hammadi library in the 20th century, our main knowledge of gnosis, gnostics and gnostic movements was derived from the works of adversaries, usually polemical works by Christian authors such as Tertullian.

Gnosis 19th century-present

This section contains works on the study of gnosis in all its aspects. As a result of the publication of the Nag Hammadi library, our understanding of gnosis has been substantially enriched and modified. Once the texts had become available, gnosis scholarship became a fruitful field of research which also shed light on the early Christian tradition. The study of gnosis as a scholarly discipline started in the 19th century and is carried on by scholars all over the world: Gilles Quispel, Kurt Rudolph, Roelof van den Broek, Elaine Pagels and many others were or are modern gnosis scholars. These same texts increasingly serve as sources of inspiration for modern religious feeling. The works of the English scholar G.R.S. have been placed separately in this section because of his pioneering work in the field of gnostic and Hermetic studies. He published various gnostic source texts in English translation, and also wrote about the tradition of gnosis in The Quest, the periodical he founded. As for the Hermetica, he was convinced, with the German scholar Richard Reitzenstein, that there were Egyptian influences in the Corpus Hermeticum; an insight recently affirmed by modern scholars like J.-P. Mahé.


For over a thousand years, Manichaeism was an important world religion which, having its roots in ancient Babylon, spread to the West and, via the Silk Road, also to the East. Primary source texts include the Mani-Codex (ca. 400; discovered in 1969) which narrates the life and spiritual growth of Mani, the founder of this religion. The Cologne Mani Codex, a Greek text found in Egypt, and the Tebessa Codex, a Latin text found in Algeria, are of major importance for the study of Mani and Manichaeism.

Manichaeism 19th century-present

The most important Manichaean source texts were discovered in the early 20th century and subsequently a beginning was made with codicological and philological descriptions. The sources have not yet been fully described, but considerable progress is now being made. Manichaean literature and art were discovered in Turfan and Dunhuang in China at the beginning of the 20th century: texts in Chinese, Middle-Iranian and Turkish. Important Coptic source texts were found in the 1920s in Medinet Madi in Egypt. Towards the end of the 20th century, Manichaean material was found in Kellis in the Dakhleh Oasis, Egypt (Coptic, Greek and Syriac texts). Scholarly studies on Mani and the Manichaean movement, including the work of Alois van Tongerloo and Johannes van Oort, are also placed here. An important series in this field is the Manichaean Studies, published in Louvain.


There is a selection of source texts and studies on Sufis, the mystical current within the Islam, with classical authors such as Al-Nuri and Rumi, but also modern ones such as Idris Shah and Hazrat Inayat Khan. The sufi mystic believes it is possible to experience God in this life and to experience his nearness, within the context of the Islam.

Non-Western philosophy and religion

This collecting area contains a small selection of philosophical, religious and mystical sources and source studies within Oriental traditions, such as the Bhagavad Gita, the Upanishads, works by Lao-Tse.


Historical periodicals such as Lucifer, later continued as the Theosophical Review by G.R.S. Mead (who started his career as the secretary of H.P. Blavatsky) are placed at the head of this collecting area, which primarily focuses on the works of the most important early theosophists. The founders of the Theosophical Society (in 1875), H.P. Blavatsky (Isis Unveiled, 1877; The Secret Doctrine, 1888) and Henry Steel Olcott, as well as notable followers and/or succesor in the theosophical movement such as Alice Bailey, Annie Besant and C.W. Leadbeater are represented with several publications in the original editions. Early translations into German authorized by the Theosophical Society are also to be found here.

Jiddu Krishnamurti was hailed by the English Theosophical Society as a Messiah and invited to England, but in 1929 he severed all ties with the`theosophical movement and for the rest of his life remained aloof from any religious, political or philosophical dogma. The printed records of his numerous speeches, talks and discussions are followed by studies on his life and spirituality, including the biographies of Mary Lutyens. The Dutch edition of the periodical of Krishnamurti’s ‘Ster’ movement is also placed in this section. The periodical was published during Krishnamurti’s Ommen years (1912-1933), where he held speeches before disbanding the movement.


Historical anthroposophical periodicals are well represented  and include Das Goetheanum and Anthroposophy. A notable acquisition is the complete run of Christus aller Erde and of the Mitteilungen der Christengemeinschaft which resumed publication in 1946 (the organisation was banned at the outbreak of the Second World War).

Rudolf Steiner, founder of the anthroposophical movement, was initially interested in theosophy but left that movement to found his own society. Steiner’s search for a universal ‘science of the spirit’ was inspired by Christianity and Rosicrucianism. In addition to original editions of his works (such as Die Philosophie der Freiheit, Theosophie and Mein Lebensgang) there are many of Steiner’s lecture cycles, which were posthumously edited and published by his wife Marie Steiner and also published in the well-known Gesamtausgabe.

The collection of anthroposophical works contains major studies on Steiner’s life and work but also early editions of the first generation of Steiner pupils and of members of the Christengemeinschaft.


Like the collecting areas Hermetica, Alchemy, Mysticism and Rosicrucians, Esotericism is preceded by a general section, which includes works such as Ernest Bosc, La doctrine ésoterique à travers les ages or Modern esoteric spirituality, eds. Antoine Faivre & Jacob Needleman.

The (Western) esoteric tradition of the 19th century departs from the ‘arcane sciences’ that were rediscovered in the Renaissance, adding components from the Eastern traditions – many authors to be found in this section were once members of the Theosophical Society founded by H.P. Blavatsky (see also under Theosophy). The Esotericism collecting area is divided into ‘geographical’ sections, which offers some insight into the networks and individuals operating within each country. For France, for instance, Éliphas Lévi is a key figure. A later occultist, Gérard Encausse, derived his own pseudonym Papus from Éliphas Lévi, whose work also inspired other major French occultists, amongst whom Stanislas de Guaita and Joséphin Péladan. In 1887 the latter two founded the ‘Ordre Kabbalistique de la Rosecroix’, which also included Papus as a member. In England the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn (see also Hermetica 19th century-present), which was founded by S.L. MacGregor Mathers, W.R. Woodman and W. Wynn Westcott in 1888, was a major movement attracting a great many occultists – although the movement also lost members, such as Dion Fortune (ps. of Violet Mary Firth), who, after having joined the Golden Dawn in 1919, left as early as 1921 to found her own ‘Society of the Inner Light’. To support the Esotericism collecting area there are a number of late 19th-century and early 20th-century French, German and English periodicals, some of which are complete.


Source texts

The Grail section contains editions of medieval chivalric romances situated around the court of King Arthur, in which the Grail Quest plays an important role, but also modern works in which the Grail (and the Quest) is interpreted in spiritual or esoteric terms. In the medieval works the Grail is described as a chalice, a cup or even a stone. At the end of the 12th century, Robert de Boron for the first time links the Grail with the Bible: he sees the Grail as the cup used at the Last Supper, used by Joseph of Arimathea to collect the blood of Christ at the Crucifixion. The Grail according to legend has supernatural healing power and is an infinite source of nourishment. Robert de Boron also recounts how the Grail is eventually brought to England, from where the Quests take their start.

Esoteric interpretations

The Grail mystery was an inspiration to many in the 19th century, first of all within artistic circles (Richard Wagner, Dante Gabriel Rossetti), subsequently in theosophical circles, where the Grail was regarded as a universal symbol with pre-Christian roots. Arthur Edward Waite tried to harmonize Christian and pre-Christian traditions by founding the ‘Hidden Church of the Holy Grail’. In 1846 Charles-Claude Fauriel, who saw a direct semantic link between the Grail Castle Montsalvaesche and the Cathar stronghold Montségur in southern France, was the first to associate the Grail with the irenic movement of the medieval Cathars.

One of the largest esoteric movements around the Grail legend is that of the ‘Gralsbotschaft’ or ‘Grail Movement’, founded by the German Abd-ru-shin (ps. of Oskar Bernhardt) in the 1920s.


Christian heresies

This section contains general works on heresies in the Middle Ages. After the year 1000 more and more anti-clerical movements that were deemed heretical in turn by the established church sprang up in Europe.

Bogomils-Cathars-Waldensians Source texts

Hardly any original material has survived of these movements, with the exception of a few works (such as the Cathar Liber de duobus principiis) and a fragment of a Cathar ritual. There are, however, a number of records of the Inquisition on the Cathars (which Emmanuel le Roy Ladurie for instance used for his Montaillou) and epic works about the persecutions (Chanson de la croisade albigeois).

Bogomils-Cathars-Waldensians Secondary works

The Cathars (or ‘pure ones’), a movement which was mainly concentrated in southern France and nothern Italy (11th-13th centuries), are closely associated with the Bogomils (or ‘beloved by God’, the Balkans, 10th century). Both movements were dualistic (creation is the work of an evil god) and rejected the ecclesiastical hierarchy. As a result the Cathars were harshly persecuted and the last Cathar strongholds fell in the middle of the 13th century (Montségur and Quéribus). The movement of the Waldensians (after Peter Waldo, the founder) dates to around 1175 and was strong especially in southern France and the Piemonte (northern Italy). The Waldensians strove for a life of simplicity in close conformity to the Bible, but they rejected the ideas of the Cathars. In the 16th century the Waldensians were absorbed into the wider Swiss protestant movement.


In France the Grail was seen by some as a symbol of the Cathar alternative for the institutionalized Church. Around 1930 interest in Catharism revived thanks to the work of Déodat Roché and Antonin Gadal. Gadal tried to reconstruct the original beliefs of the Cathars and regarded them as heirs to the early gnostics. Roché was the driving force behind the periodical Cahiers d’études cathares, an almost complete run of which is present in the BPH. In 1954 Antonin Gadal met Jan van Rijckenborgh and Catharose de Petri, the leaders of the Dutch Lectorium Rosicrucianum (see also under Rosicrucians 19th-century-present). Jan van Rijckenborgh was convinced that the Cathars were the spiritual predecessors of the Rosicrucians and saw his views confirmed in Gadal’s theories.


The library collects works belonging to the ‘Christian Kabbalah’, including Johannes Reuchlin’s De verbo mirifico (first edition 1494) and De arte cabalistica (first edition 1517), Henricus Cornelius Agrippa’s De occulta philosophia (first edition 1533), works of the Hebraist Guillaume Postel, compendia such as Johannes Pistorius’ Artis cabalisticae (1587) and Christian Knorr von Rosenroth’s Kabbala denudata (two parts, 1677 and 1684), which presented in Latin authentic Hebrew kabbalistic works (e.g.Sefer Yetzirah and parts of the Zohar) together with Christian kabbalistic works (for instance of the convert Leone Ebreo, whose Dialoghi d’Amore fused kabbalistic concepts with neoplatonism). 17th- and 18th-century interest in the Kabbalah, for instance in the works of the German theosopher Jacob Böhme, or in the works of the Dutch theosopher Franciscus Mercurius van Helmont and the English Cambridge Platonists (Ralph Cudworth c.s.) is also represented in the library.

Christian and Hebrew Kabbalists

Because the library’s collecting principle is ad fontes, to the source, the collections contain some of the Hebrew kabbalistic works which were studied by the Christian Kabbalists. There is a copy of the second edition of the Zohar, printed in 1559 – 1560; several editions, in Hebrew and in Latin, of the Sefer Yetzirah, and also kabbalistic commentaries on parts of the Bible, for instance commentaries on the Song of Songs. The majority of these works is related to the medieval Spanish Kabbalists.

Safedian Kabbalists

There are also a few works connected with the Safedian Kabbalists of the sixteenth century, notably a manuscript compendium of Chayyim Vital, the most important follower of Isaac Luria. Lurianic Kabbalah was introduced for the first time in European learned circles in the Kabbala denudata mentioned above. The library does not collect works of the later mystical movements such as the late 17th-century Sabbateans or the 18th-century Chasidim; its focus in this being on the Renaissance and its aftermath.

Kabbalah studies in the 19th century

Adolphe Franck’s important study La kabbale ou la philosophie religieuse des Hébreux (1843) is present in the collection, as is Franz Joseph Molitor’s Philosophie der Geschichte oder über die Tradition (1834-1853). The later 19th century also produced French and English occult societies interested in the Kabbalah; some of these texts are also to be found in this section, as an example of the reception of kabbalistic thought in these circles.


This section includes works on earlier manifestations of Jewish mysticism such Merkavah and hekhalot mysticism, such as Joseph Davila’s Descenders to the chariot. The people behind the Hekhalot literature (2001). Anthologies and historical studies of Jewish philosophy and mysticism in the Middle Ages and the Renaissance offer a broader context for the individual texts.

Qumran (Dead Sea scrolls)

The scrolls and fragments found in the Qumran caves in 1947 date from the 2nd century BCE until the year 68. Their discovery is the major manuscript find of the 20th century next to that of the Nag Hammadi codices. The so-called ‘Dead Sea scrolls’ offer insight into the life of a strict ascetic community in the Second Temple period. The scrolls and fragments cover a period which is important both for the rise of rabbinic Judaism and early Christianity.


The works belonging to the 18th-century ‘Gold- und Rosenkreuzer’, a movement with links to Freemasonry and the Illuminati, are placed in the collecting area of the Rosicrucians. Unlike most masonic organisations in the era of the Enlightenment, the Gold- und Rosenkreuzer remained a decidedly mystically inclined movement. The actual masonic movements and their history (the English Grand Lodge, for instance, was founded in 1717) form a small separate section, with standard historiographies such as R.F. Gould’s History of Freemasonry.


In Wolfram von Eschenbach’s Parzival the legend of the Grail is connected to that of the Knights Templar, the alleged guardians of the Grail. The library therefore has a modest section of historical works on the Templars, ranging from historical studies like Julius Gmelin’s Schuld oder Unschuld des Templerordens. Kritischer Versuch zur Lösung der Frage (1893), a historian hailed as someone who has ‘examined with searching minuteness all the voluminous evidence extant relating to the trials’ to the more recent The murdered magicians by Peter Partner (1987) which examines the history of the Knights Templars down to the modern varieties in our time.


The comparative religion collecting area offers a broad historical background to the study of the Hermetica and of Gnosis and opens with a general section including such classical studies as those of J.G.R. Forlong, Rivers of Life, James George Frazer, The Golden Bough, Godfrey Higgins, Anacalypsis, and Mircea Eliade, Geschichte der religiösen Ideen.


In addition to general works on Egyptian cultural and religious history, this section contains a number of more specific studies exploring the relationship between the Hermetica, ancient Egyptian religion and magic and the Hellenistic culture of Alexandria, the latest of which is Maarten Raven’s Egyptian magic. The quest for Thoth’s Book of Secrets (2012), a work published on the occasion of an exhibition on Egyptian magic in the Museum of Antiquities in Leiden in 2011. Other works consider the connection between the Egyptian god Thoth and Hermes Trismegistus.

Egypt: reception

This section contains works which are illustrative of the appeal which the culture of ancient Egypt exerted and still exerts on modern Western esoteric authors and currents.

Pre-Christian cults

Greek and Roman mystery religions were major components of the late-Hellenistic environment. General studies on myths and mythologies, the pre-Christian wisdom mysteries or cults (Mithras, Eleusis) are placed here.

Early Christianity

This section has many links with other collecting areas within the library: Hermetic philosophy, Gnosis, pre-Christian cults and mysticism. A number of patristic works – insofar as they have not been placed within the collecting areas Gnosis and Hermetica – can be found here, but also a private press edition of the Bergpredigt Jesu (not on the open shelf), one of 25 copies printed on vellum by the famous Insel Verlag in 1908.