Author Dan Brown and Possibly the Strangest Library on Earth

The Ritman Library in Amsterdam houses a world-famous collection of original writings on mysticism, Hermetica and the occult, and author Dan Brown loves it.
Marcia Wendorf

Who doesn't love a good Dan Brown thriller? You might be surprised to know that the author of The DaVinci Code himself has a love, and it is possibly the strangest library on Earth.

The Bibliotheca Philosophica Hermetica in Amsterdam is also known as The Ritman Library. It is named after its founder Joost Ritman, who created it 1957 and opened it to the public in 1984.


The Ritman Library
The Ritman Library building Source: Sander Petrus/Wikimedia Commons

The library is home to more than 25,000 books on ancient mysticism, Hermetica, Alchemy, Mysticism, Rosicrucians, Gnosis and Western Esotericism.

Ritman was born in 1941, and made a fortune through his family business, De Ster, which sells the plastic tableware used by airlines. On the library's website, Ritman says that the library arose out of "... a sudden and deep experience I had at the age of sixteen that everything is one. In a single moment I realized that there is a profound connection between origin and creation, between 'God – Cosmos – Man,' or in the words of Hermes Trismegistus: 'He who contemplates himself with his mind, knows himself and knows the All: the All is in man.'"

What is Hermeticism?

Hermeticism is best described by Sir Thomas Browne in his 1643 work Religio Medici. In it he wrote: "Now besides these particular and divided Spirits, there may be (for ought I know) a universal and common Spirit to the whole world. It was the opinion of Plato, and is yet of the Hermetical Philosophers."

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Hermeticism is named for Hermes Trismegistus ("thrice-greatest Hermes") who lived in Hellenistic Egypt during the 2nd century A.D., and wrote on the subjects of Greco-Babylonian astrology and alchemy.

Hermes Trismegistus
Hermes Trismegistus Source: Tomisti/Wikimedia Commons

Strangely, the number 42 shows up repeatedly in Hermetical writings, with the Egyptians having 42 sacred writings by Hermes, and writer Siegfried Morenz states in his book Egyptian Religion that "The reference to Thoth's authorship... is based on ancient tradition; the figure forty-two probably stems from the number of Egyptian nomes, and thus conveys the notion of completeness."

Sections of the Hermetica were found in the 4th-century Gnostic library at Nag Hammadi. While most Hermetic texts disappeared during the Middle Ages, Byzantine copies were rediscovered during the Renaissance.

Among the Ritman Library's most famous works are the Corpus Hermeticum published in 1471, the very first illustrated version of Dante’s La Divina Commedia published in 1481, and Cicero’s De Officiis published in 1465.

Corpus Hermeticum
Corpus Hermeticum Source: Marsilio Ficino/Wikimedia Commons

These works had a profound impact on Renaissance thought and culture, and on the rise of alchemy. They also influenced the works of philosophers Giordano Bruno and Pico della Mirandola.

Dan Brown and the Ritman Library

Dan Brown used the Ritman Library extensively while researching his works, The Lost Symbol and Inferno. In 2017, Brown participated in the library's move to its current location.

When the library wanted to digitize its collection to make it available online, Brown donated  £300,000 to the effort.

In a Youtube video, Joost Ritman says that the library is an attempt to answer the questions: "Where do I come from? Why am I here, and what's my future?" Ritman goes on to say, "I know where I come from, I know, why I am here, and I know my destiny."