Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Dutch Masonic and Esoteric Archives

By Andréa Kroon

The OVN, a Dutch foundation for the advancement of academic research into the history of freemasonry in the Netherlands, has published a guide to Masonic archives and documents in public collections in the Netherlands, Archiefwijzer maçonnieke archieven. Overzicht van historische archieven van Nederlandse vrijmetselaarsorden in openbare collecties, Den Haag 2007. ISBN 978-90-807778-4-2, 114 pages, 1st edition free while stocks last (stocks now exhausted); 2nd edition available March 2008, € 10,- excl. postage fees.

The presentation of this guide took place in the National Library at The Hague on Friday 25th January 2008. The presentation was accompanied by an afternoon of lectures on the theme ‘Geheime kennis. The bijzondere archieven en bibliotheken van maconnieke en esoterische organisaties’ (‘Secret knowledge: the unique archives and libraries of Masonic and esoteric organizations’).
  • Prof. Dr Ton van de Sande spoke about the history of the most important collection for the study of freemasonry: the historical archives, library and object collection of the Orde van Vrijmetselaren onder het Grootoosten der Nederlanden (Order of Freemasons under the Grand East of the Netherlands), located in the Cultureel Maçonniek Centrum ‘Prins Frederic’ in The Hague. The archive consists of the archives of the Grand Lodge from 1756 onwards, and the added archives of c. 50 lodges under its jurisdiction. The core of the library is the famous Kloss library, formed by George Burckhardt Kloss, a physician with a passion for the history of freemasonry. The Kloss Library was bought and donated to the order by former Grand Master Prince Frederik in the 19th century. The original collection was lost during the Second World War, but reformed and expanded through the efforts of curator Beitj Croiset van Uchelen after 1945. It is now one of the most important collections for the study of freemasonry in the world.
  • Prof. Dr Wouter Hanegraaff discussed the history and contents of the Bibliotheca Philosophioca Hermetica in Amsterdam. This private collection was formed in 1957 by Joost Ritman, whose interest in Hermetic philosophy and related subjects stems from his personal beliefs as a member of a Rosicrucian organization. The collection has been open to the public since 1984. In 1993 the collection was recognized as important national heritage under the Dutch Law for the Protection of Cultural Heritage, and in 2005 the core collection was acquired by the State. It is now one of the most important collections for the study of western esotericism in the world. The library is expanding its academic and research activities, and will be relocating to the ‘Huis met the Hoofden’, a 17th century monumental building in the heart of Amsterdam.
  • Drs Elly Verzaal, academic consultant for the collection on Esoteric Sciences of the National Library in The Hague, spoke about this collection. Although it is not yet widely known, it is of importance to students of western esotericism for its diversity. It contains pamphlets, written manuscripts and printed works on topics ranging from witchcraft, divination and superstition to 19th century occultism and current academic research on western esotericism. Especially relevant for those interested in the history of spiritism or spiritualism, for instance, is the subcollection on parapsychology, which contains the Zorab archive. A small but important collection on freemasonry was acquired from the legacy of Beitj Croiset van Uchelen, former curator of the Cultureel Maçonniek Centrum. The collection on Theosophy was formed in cooperation with the Library of the Theosophical Society in Amsterdam.
  • Drs Andréa Kroon, chairwoman on the OVN Foundation, discussed the results of the archive project which resulted in the publication of the Archiefwijzer. In 2006, the OVN approached all public archives in the Netherlands with a questionnaire. Based on the data received and on additional research, the OVN counted 57 relevant collections, containing the complete archives of 22 Dutch lodges and hundreds of documents from individual freemasons (both men and women), dated from the 18th to the 20th century. The Archiefwijzer also lists contact addresses of relevant private archives, specialized libraries and academic organizations, a total of 75 organizations. Thanks to the support of several cultural funds, the whole first edition can be distributed amongst students and scholars free of charge.

Drs Kroon also made a strong plea for stocktaking of the remaining archives of esoteric organizations in private ownership on a national level. Many (small) esoteric organizations find their historical collections a burden rather than a blessing. They are frequently contacted by students and scholars, as well as their own members, with requests for access to their archives. Although most organization wish to allow such access, they are forced to refuse because they lack the means, experience and personnel to accommodate visitors. Lack of storage space, conservation issues, lack of professional heritage-management skills, a lack of manpower and funds are some of the most frequently encountered problems. Donating an archive to a municipal archive can seem an ideal solution, but archives can then remain inaccessible for several years, as they await inventorying. And as the OVN project showed, there is so little knowledge of esoteric currents in the archive sector that simply identifying documents is a problem, let alone advising scholars.

This is why the OVN aims to coordinate a new project, aimed at preservation and accessibility of esoteric archives. Two mixed Masonic orders and one spiritualist organization in the Netherlands have already agreed to actively participate. Other Dutch esoteric organizations who wish to join in are welcomed. But the problem is one of a national, if not international scale. This is why cooperation between academic, heritage and esoteric organizations is necessary, if we want to ensure the preservation of esoteric archives, libraries and object collections for future generations.

Orders and more information: OVN, PO Box 92004, 1090 AA Amsterdam, the Netherlands, info@stichtingovn.nl.

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