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Hermetic Adventures: A Student’s Travels into Worlds Unknown

Posted on by BPH

Hermetic Adventures:
A Student’s Travels into Worlds Unknown

A quiet Bloemstraat, at ten o’clock on a Tuesday morning. Underneath a beautifully engraved gold-plated plaque reading Bibliotheca Philosophica Hermetica, the doorbell stares at me, willing me to ring it and break the silence. I look down the street, to the left, to the right. Do I dare?

The first time entering The Ritman Library felt a little daunting due to the large door that only opens after you first announce yourself. Hermetic Library indeed… But as a fresh student of Western esotericism at the University of Amsterdam, I had heard this was a treasure house of primary sources and not to be missed. So I broke the Tuesday morning silence and rang.

Once inside, all secrecy fell away and a wealth of esoteric books enclosed me like a warm bath, instantly making me feel at home. Since then I have been a regular visitor. Here, between the large number of volumes, wooden cabinets display early printed books and manuscripts. These are part of regularly changing exhibitions featuring key figures in hermetic history. Up the winding stairs in the back of the library lies a peaceful study room where I spent many hours composing essays. A perfect place to write: wall-to-wall bookcases discreetly lining the walls, the smell of ancient wisdom in the air.

Occasionally I have to remind myself how lucky I am to live in this amazing city that houses both this library and the chair of Hermetic Philosophy at the University of Amsterdam. While many international students travel long distances for the opportunity to study esotericism on an academic level, for me classes were a mere five minute bicycle ride away from home.
Under the skilful guidance of professors Marco Pasi, Wouter Hanegraaff and Peter Forshaw, all of whom took part in the Infinite Webinar Series on this website, I studied unorthodox currents that developed separately from the religious mainstream. The research into these mystical and esoteric movements gave me a deepening awareness of the existence of certain modes of belief and what they entailed. The alternate movements I studied are usually poorly represented in religious and philosophical studies but form the undercurrent of religion, culture and philosophy. For me, they provided the spiritual element that I so often missed during my Bachelor studies in Philosophy.

My fellow students and I were relatively free to choose the subjects for our writing assignments, so they could match our personal interests. One of my very first courses on hermetic philosophy was Peter Forshaw’s class Hermetica III, a BA minor course. It focused on Western esotericism in the Early Modern period. For my final paper I focused on Jewish mysticism and examined the role of the Shekhinah, the feminine aspect of the divine Godhead. As one of the ten sefirot (emanations of the Godhead) of the Kabbalistic Tree of Life, the Shekinah is seen as the portal between mankind and the divine. As such, she plays a central role in the philosophy, myths and rituals of Kabbalah.
The Ritman family helped me find a treasure of relevant sources on the subject, for example the work of the eminent Jewish scholar Gershom Scholem.

In the Master Mysticism and Western Esotericism I focused increasingly on Carl Gustav Jung. This psychiatrist and psychologist combined his expertise with the fields of mythology and symbolism, making him a fascinating subject for esoteric research. I often found myself entranced by this man and his splendidly unorthodox ideas. Apart from a personal unconscious, Jung uncovered an additional collective unconscious, housing the universal archetypes. For hours I was lost in the account of his own journey into the daunting world of his unconscious, described and depicted in his magnificent work The Red Book.

Red Book snake

Under the guidance of Wouter Hanegraaff I eventually wrote my thesis on the nature and role of evil in Jung’s work. For months I immersed myself in his many publications, trying to shed light on his ideas on darkness and evil. Eventually I gave an extensive overview of the subject, from his concept of the shadow as a relative kind of evil to his more absolute definition of evil as intrinsically a part of the Godhead.

It has been a challenging journey. This summer I was proud to receive my Master’s degree. I look back on an incredible time and encourage everyone to follow in my tracks (or rather, make their own) in their travels into these worlds unknown.

About Mascha Boeser

maschaAlways interested in language and its creative aspects, Mascha first studied Sign language and is currently working as a Sign language interpreter.
Wanting to further educate herself, in 2012 Mascha got her BA in philosophy. Her interest in Eastern philosophy made her choose a Chinese text, the Book of Lüshi Chunqiu, for her BA thesis which focused on syncretism and correlation thinking in ancient China.
During her courses in hermetic philosophy she became increasingly fascinated by Carl Gustav Jung and his work on individuation and the personal and collective unconscious.
After finishing her MA Mysticism and Western Esotericism course at the University of Amsterdam she is now taking her first steps in creative writing on a range of philosophical, esoteric and psychological subjects and will soon start her own blog.
You can contact Mascha at mascha.boeser@live.nl.

Study-related articles are:

– ‘Darkness Unveiled – On the Nature and Role of Evil in the Work of Carl Gustav Jung’, MA thesis, 2015.
– ‘Wotan’s Awakening – Carl Jung’s view on the rise of National Socialism in Germany’, 2014.
– ‘Carl Jung’s The Red Book: a Journey into the Imagination’, 2013.
– ‘Shekhinah: Feminine Force of Kabbalah’ in Hermet, summer 2012, year 3, no.5.
– ‘Het Chinese Eenheidsideaal: Syncretisme en correlatiedenken in de Lüshi Chunqiu’, BA thesis, 2012.

The contents of this blog expresses the author’s own ideas and opinions. If you would also like to post a blog with content relevant to the BPH please contact us at bph@ritmanlibrary.nl. The Ritman Library reserves the right not to post blogs that have no bearing on any of the library’s collecting areas.

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