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In de Pelikaan

Philosophia Symbolica * Cis van Heertum (2005)

A decade and a half or so ago, I was very interested in Hermetism, (Christian) Kabbalah and the like. I travelled to the Amsterdam Bibliotheca Philosophica Hermetica (or Ritman Library) every once in a while. That has been quite a while. Some time ago I wondered if the library would have publications that I do not have yet and I noticed this book about Johannes Reuchlin (1455-1522). Wondering why I never came to get it (or why I did not visit the exhibition!) I got this well-printed book for only € 10,-. Actually it is an exhibition catalogue, but at the BPH, a catalogue is never just a dry summing up of the items on display.

The book is about A4 in size and counts just over 100 pages. As with other BPH exhibition catalogues, there is a lot of information in the book. From the book you can learn how Reuchlin was in contact with people such as Marcilio Ficino, Pico della Mirandola, Johannes Trithemius and many more of the interesting people of his time. Pico acquainted Reuchlin with the Kabbalah and he had yet another branch to add to his quickly growing library. Hebrew books, and Kabbalistic books in particular, were very hard to find in these days.
There is quite a bit of focus on Reuchlin’s role in the situation of the forbidding of Jewish books. He had a standpoint that brought him quite a bit of trouble. He did not want all Jewish books destroyed.
You will also learn about Reuchlin’s library and what happened to the books after he passed (most were only destroyed during WWII!), what else he wrote about and how his works inspired people who came after him.
You will not learn too much about his Kabbalistic ideas though.

Like I said, the book is actually the catalogue of an exhibition that the BPH had on Reuchlin in 2005/6 to celebrate the 550th anniversary of his birth. The BPH has a massive collection of ancient esoteric books, many originals and first or early prints. Still they had some works come from other libraries for this exhibition. The items on display included works of Ficino, Pico, Eusebius, Pythagoras, Agrippa, Trithemius, Gikatilla, Khunrath, Böhme and Fludd. Of course many works of Reuchlin himself were displayed.
Each displayed item gets a shorter or longer explanation.

There are not a whole lot of images in the catalogue (too bad), but the catalogue makes a very nice read about an interesting person living in an interesting time.

2005 In De Pelikaan

Divine Wisdom Divine Nature * Cis van Heertum & José Bouman (2014)

The Bibliotheca Philsophica Hermetica (or Ritman Library) published a wonderfull book about “The Message of the Rosicrucian Manifestoes in the Visual Language of the Seventeenth Century”. The book has 168 pages, is beautifully put together and nicely informative. The first part is about the Rosicrucian manifestoes and their reception. The second part more lives up to the subtitle and highlights some works of the Renaissance and shows the reader (some of) the details of the images. Detailed information is given about works of Heinrich Khunrath, Daniel Mögling, Stephan Michelspacher, Robert Fludd and Michael Maier. The book is a bit larger than most books and however the images are printed in high quality, sometimes the details are too small to see what the authors write about. Fortunately this is not a problem in most cases. Also often details are taken out of the images and displayed separately.
The texts do not go into any depth I have not encountered yet, but I especially enjoyed the information about details in the images that have escaped my eye so far. Also the authors put details in larger contexts giving explanations that I would not have thought of myself.
A beautiful book to have on the shelf and a nice read if you are interested in the period of the Rosicrucian manifestoes.
2014 In De Pelikaan, isbn 9789071608339

Sleutel Tot Licht * Anne Korteweg & Helen Wüstefeld (2009)

The troubled Bibliotheca Philosophia Hermetica has a publishing house called “In de Pelikaan” (‘in the pelican’) through which a nice collection of books saw the light of day. The library contains (or by now perhaps contained) some of the earliest books of hours, 25 of which are the subject of this book. The book is magnificently printed on heavy paper with beautiful images of and from the colourfull books. Both authors are experienced investigators of books of hours and what they describe here is mostly the connection with the originally Dutch movement called “Modern Devotion” of Geert Grote (Geert Great) who died in 1384. Two major aspects of this movement were the fact that they wanted the old devotion to God back which had been lost in the church. This could for example be done by the imitatio Christi that was known from the Geman mystics. The other aspect is that Grote wanted religion closer to the common folk so he preached and wrote not in Latin, but in his native language. Korteweg and Wüstefeld made a fascinating introduction into books of hours which were originally books for laymen guiding them through religions daily life (hense: books of hours). Followers of Grote became fanatic copiers of books, making it a part of their daily duties. Therefor many books of hours came from modern devotic groups and with prayers written by Geert Grote. In short chapters the authors describe different religious movements that followed the footsteps of Grote, different kinds of spirituality and the very personal side of the books of hours with references to family, personal or regional saints, etc. as if the books were written on demand with the possibility for requests. The book reads easily, looks splendid and is highly informative.
2009 In de Pelikaan, isbn 978907608285

Hermes Trismegistus * Roelof van den Broek (transl.) (2006 in de pelikaan * isbn 9071608220/9789071608223)

After the magnificent publications of the Corpus Hermeticum in Dutch (1990 Quispel and Van den Broek) and Asclepius (1995 Quispel), Van den Broek now offers smaller Hermetic texts in Dutch translation with lengthy and informative explanations. This book even contains some Hermetic texts that I didn’t have yet. You will find the Stobaeus fragments, the two short and heavily damaged fragments of Wien/Vienna, the Oxford Hermetica (Bodleian Library, Clarkianus 11), Greek and Latin “testimonia” (other writers refer to or quote Hermes Trismegistus) of Tertullianus, Julius Romanus, Lactantius, pseudo-Cyprianus, Jamblichus, Zosimus, Marcellus of Ancyra, Julianus ‘the deserter’, Didymus the Blind, pseudo-Didymus the Blind, Cyrillus of Alexandria, Hermias of Alexandria, Johannes (John) Lydus, Johannes (John) of Damascus and Symphonia; then we also have the Hermetic Definitions and the text about the eight and ninth heavenly sphere (or about the Octoade and the Enneade) from the Nag Hammadi library. Stobaeus has shorter and longer fragments, the Vienna and Oxford fragments are rather short, but the Hermetic Definitions is almost an ongoing text in which Hermes speaks to Asclepius. “About the octoade and the enneade” is the famous text that proved that Hermetica wasn’t just dry philosophising, but that it also had magical and initiatory sides. Van den Broek has written an enormous introduction with old, but also new information. Every translation is introduced and full of notes (with a strange referring system). The close off, there is a gigantic bibliography. Also I have to note that Jean-Pierre Mahé, the famous French publisher of Hermetic texts, has helped with the Armenian texts. An essential compilation of Hermetic texts in size far exceeding both the Corpus Hermeticum and the Asclepius. Not all quotes and texts are interesting, but especially the “Hermetic Definitions” are again beautiful. Also Van den Broek has some theories about the strings of vocals, which I am going to add to some articles in which this subject is touched upon.
(17/1/07 -4-)
Read Hermetic quotes here.

De Triomf Van De Universele Gnosis * Antonin Gadal (isbn 907160814X)

Joost Ritman, founder of the Bibliotheca Philosophica Hermetica in Amsterdam, got acquainted with the Dutch Rosiciacian Society Lectorium Rosicrucianum and the “last patriarch of the old Gnostic school” at a very early age and this acquaintance is even the direct source of him starting to collect esoteric books in the first place, but so far the BPH has been the springboard for scientific investigations of the Western esoteric systems and schools. Ritman has been member of the Lectorium for many, many years, but as far as I know, this never proved in the publications that he helped to appear. Even in the library itself, there is only a fairly small Rosicrucian section of which a small part are publications of the Lectorium. Nowadays Ritman isn’t even the director of his library anymore, but obviously his voice is still of a great importance.

Ritman was only 16 when he wrote to the Frenchman Gadal (1877-1962 if my interpretation of the text is correct), “the patriarch of the Cathar brotherhood” and for only five more years Gadal had lived. Still, these five years with many letters and several meetings, haved spelled the course of the rest of Ritman’s life. This book can only be seen as Ritman’s ode to his teacher.

What is said on the cover and above this short text is actually a bit misleading. This is not really a book by Gadal, not even a compilation of texts of his hand, it is actually much more. The first article is from the hand of Joost Ritman. He clearly shows how he sees things and how he came to these ideas, Gadal has left his mark. Other articles are by J.C. Karres, someone who I hadn’t heard off before, but he was an early member of the young Lectorium Rosicrucianum, went to French to find a real Cathar, ‘accidentally’ met Gadal and brought the founders of the Lectorium and Gadal together, resulting in the most fruitfull collaboration. Gadal was from then on called the last of the ‘old brotherhood’ (stemming from the Cathars) and Jan van Rijckenborgh and Catharosa de Petri the first of the “young Gnostic brotherhood”. So quite naturally we also get articles from Van Rijckenborgh and De Petri and we can read how they met with Gadal, what they did in these early days, their visits to the Cathar caves and virtually how the philosophy of the Lectorium came into being. Not that Van Rijckenborgh and De Petri completely copied the ideas of Gadal, but to a large extent, the two parties were on the same line. This proves in articles by Gadal, which are of course the most in this book. This book is devided in two parts. The first part gives ‘the meeting’ from different views and the early days of the cooperation. The second part are ‘esoteric teachings’ by Gadal. Where the first part is very much historical or biographical, the second part is wonderfully esoteric. Gadal has some wonderfull ideas about Gnosticism, Christianity, he explains symbols and rites, speaks about the Cathar life, ideas, etc. Here and there his ideas conflict with my own, but Gadals writings are a pleasure to read.

In both ways (historical on a personal level and esoteric teachings) are quite far from the other -purely scientific- books in the series of the publisher “In De Pelikaan” of the Ritman library, but like I said, there must have been other reasons for Ritman to have this book published in the same marvelous fashion as the other books. The usual beautiful and minimal layout with a linen cover with a picture in it (excuse my scan, my scanner hates orange…), printed on thick paper and with the most extraordinary colour plates in it. Now you only have to learn Dutch!