3,500 Occult Manuscripts Will Be Digitized & Made Freely Available Online, Thanks to Da Vinci Code Author Dan Brown

If there’s one thing The Da Vin­ci Code’s Dan Brown and “The Library of Babel”’s Jorge Luis Borges have in com­mon it is a love for obscure reli­gious and occult books and arti­facts. But why do I com­pare Borges—one of the most high­ly-regard­ed, but dif­fi­cult, of Latin Amer­i­can poets and writers—to a famous Amer­i­can writer of enter­tain­ing paper­back thrillers? One rea­son only: despite the vast dif­fer­ences in their styles and reg­is­ters, Borges would be deeply moved by Brown’s recent act of phil­an­thropy, a dona­tion of €300,000 to Amsterdam’s Rit­man Library, also known as the Bib­lio­the­ca Philo­soph­i­ca Her­met­i­ca House of Liv­ing Books.

The gen­er­ous gift will enable the Rit­man to dig­i­tize thou­sands of “pre-1900 texts on alche­my, astrol­o­gy, mag­ic, and theos­o­phy,” reports Thu-Huong Ha at Quartz, includ­ing the Cor­pus Her­meticum (1472), “the source work on Her­met­ic wis­dom”; Gior­dano Bruno’s Spac­cio de la bes­tia tri­on­fante (1584); and “the first print­ed ver­sion of the tree of life (1516): A graph­ic rep­re­sen­ta­tion of the sefirot, the 10 virtues of God accord­ing to the Kab­bal­ah.”

Brown, the Rit­man notes, “is a great admir­er of the library and vis­it­ed on sev­er­al occa­sions while writ­ing his nov­els The Lost Sym­bol and Infer­no.” Now he’s giv­ing back. Some of the rev­enue gen­er­at­ed by his best­selling nov­els, along with a €15,000 con­tri­bu­tion from the Dutch Prins Bern­hard Cul­tu­ur­fonds, will allow the library’s core col­lec­tion, “some 3,500 ancient books,” to come online soon in an archive called “Her­met­i­cal­ly Open.”

For now, the curi­ous can down­load the 44-page guide to the col­lec­tion as a free ebook, and watch the ani­mat­ed video at the top, a breezy explain­er of how the books will be trans­port­ed, dig­i­tized, and uploaded. Just above, see a trail­er for a doc­u­men­tary about the Rit­man, found­ed by busi­ness­man Joost R. Rit­man in 1984. The library holds over 20,000 vol­umes on mys­ti­cism, spir­i­tu­al­i­ty, reli­gion, alche­my, Gnos­ti­cism, and more.

Many a writer, like Brown, has found inspi­ra­tion among the Rit­man’s more acces­si­ble works (though, sad­ly, Borges, who was blind in 1984 and died two years lat­er, could not have appre­ci­at­ed it). Now, thanks to the Da Vin­ci Code author’s mag­na­nim­i­ty, a new gen­er­a­tion of schol­ars will be able to vir­tu­al­ly access, for exam­ple, the first Eng­lish trans­la­tion of the works of 17-cen­tu­ry Ger­man mys­tic Jakob Böhme, which librar­i­an and direc­tor Esther Rit­man describes as “trav­el­ling in an entire new world.”

In an intro­duc­to­ry essay, the Rit­man notes that aca­d­e­m­ic inter­est in occult and her­met­ic writ­ing has increased late­ly among schol­ars like W.J. Hane­graaff, who tells “the ‘neglect­ed’ sto­ry of how the intel­lec­tu­al com­mu­ni­ty since the Renais­sance has tried to come to terms with ‘eso­teric’ and ‘occult’ cur­rents present in West­ern cul­ture.” That those cur­rents are as much a part of the cul­ture as the sci­en­tif­ic or indus­tri­al rev­o­lu­tions need not be in doubt. The Her­met­i­cal­ly Open project opens up that his­to­ry with “an invi­ta­tion to any­one wish­ing to con­sult or study sources belong­ing to the field of Chris­t­ian-Her­met­ic Gno­sis for per­son­al, aca­d­e­m­ic or oth­er pur­pos­es.” Look for the dig­i­ti­za­tion project to hit the web in the com­ing months.

Note: You can now see the first texts online. See our fol­low up post here:

1,600 Occult Books Now Dig­i­tized & Put Online, Thanks to the Rit­man Library and Da Vin­ci Code Author Dan Brown

Relat­ed Con­tent:

1,000-Year-Old Illus­trat­ed Guide to the Med­i­c­i­nal Use of Plants Now Dig­i­tized & Put Online

The British Library Puts 1,000,000 Images into the Pub­lic Domain, Mak­ing Them Free to Reuse & Remix

Aleis­ter Crow­ley Reads Occult Poet­ry in the Only Known Record­ings of His Voice (1920)

Josh Jones is a writer and musi­cian based in Durham, NC. Fol­low him at @jdmagness

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