Seek and Ye Shall Find: Seattle’s Esoteric Book Conference, Sept. 19-20

A couple of years ago, when David and I were planning a trip to Paris and Amsterdam, I posed a question via email to William Keisel of Seattle’s Ouroboros Press.  If there was one place the occulturally-inclined tourist must go, where would it be?  Bill responded with alacrity:  Visit the J. R. Ritman Bibliotheca Philosophica Hermetica in Amsterdam.  And so we did, forsaking the city’s excellent museums (volgende tijdHieronymus!) to spend a day in a different sort of surreal wonderland: an unassuming row house filled with alchemical engravings, ecstatic medieval illuminations and mysterious inscriptions.

Rare illuminated books on display at Bibliotheca Philosophica Hermetica, Amsterdam

Rare illuminated books on display at Bibliotheca Philosophica Hermetica, Amsterdam

Founded in the 1980s by a Dutch businessman who decided to make his private library open to the public, the  Bibliotheca Philosophica Hermetica is an independent library whose holdings in the Christian-Hermetic tradition rival those of any major museum or university.

Perusing the precious stacks at the Ritman Library I was struck by that oblique, jealous nostalgia Americans often get while traveling abroad.  Compared with us, there is a certain material continuity with which Europeans are able to regard their collective histories; from the palimpsest of historic architecture embedded in city centers to the staggering accumulation of cultural artifacts which the locals seem to take for granted.

America is a horse of a different color.  Throughout our own relatively brief history, the vast majority of the objects and artifacts we have created have been mass-produced and considered to be roughly as disposable as the human beings who cherished this continent for centuries before Europeans arrived.  This goes double for the West Coast.

Which brings me back to William Keisel.  For the past decade or so, Keisel has taken upon himself the eccentric task of rescuing obscure occult manuscripts from the dust heaps of history and issuing them in achingly beautiful limited editions via his boutique publishing house Ouroboros Press.

Turba Philosophorum. Published by Ouroboros Press, 2007.

Turba Philosophorum. Published by Ouroboros Press, 2007.

That he is toiling over medieval tomes in a city barely a century old is a profound irony that cannot be lost on Keisel.  Yet he continues to forge ahead in true pioneer fashion, building connections where none previously existed.  This weekend, he will be co-hosting the first annual international Esoteric Book Conference at Seattle Center.  From the event’s press release:

The Esoteric Book Conference is an annual international event to bring together authors, artists, publishers and bookmakers working in the field of esotericism. In addition to presentations by notable authors and scholars, the conference opens it doors to publishers and booksellers showcasing new & used books as well as rare and hard-to-find esoteric texts. For two days the conference hosts the largest selection of esoteric books under one roof. Contemporary esoteric publishing, finepress book arts and antiquarian texts are offered to augment the libraries of readers, scholars and collectors alike.

The conference will consist of a series of presentations (for which advance tickets are currently available) and a book fair/art show which is free and open to the public.  More information may be found at the event’s website,

Early woodcut of a printing press, c. 1500. Via

Early woodcut of bookbinders at work, c. 1500. Via

~ by emilypothast on September 18, 2009.

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