Photo by Erin Bosetti
Volunteer and workshop leader, Kathy Eckert.

Explore the unknown at Seattle's Metaphysical Library in Ballard

By Erin Bosetti

Tucked down a non-descript stairwell, in between Bop Street Records and Great Harvest Bread Co. and below the bakeries, burger joints and tchotchke filled boutiques that dot Market Street lies a library.

Not a Seattle Public Library but an alternative collection curated by a crew of information deviants that has been servicing our city for over 50 years. It’s called the Seattle Metaphysical Library (2220 N.W. Market St L-05), and for about thirty dollars a year one can enjoy full access to it’s overflowing shelves, checking out up to three books at a time.

“We have a wide variety of material here. We specialize in things that the public library doesn’t carry” explains library president Margaret Bartley. “There’s an incredible world of alternative research, media, politics and medicine that is totally considered heresy, and if you acknowledge it exists in academia your career is ruined. That whole area of what we’re not allowed to look at, to me is really important.”

The library is stocked with tomes on alchemy, ancient Egypt, philosophy, consciousness expansion, mythology, mysticism, UFOs, tarot cards, government cover ups, cryptozoology (the study of mythical animals) and numerology, to name a few.

This non-profit’s existence relies on the fees paid by its patrons and the work of a small group of volunteers who work whenever they can. Some volunteers, like Ron Ginther, who has been working on and off since the late sixties, have been there for years. Others pop in and out depending on circumstances.

The library was founded in 1961 by three school teachers with a collection of astrology and consciousness expansion books. Susie Swanson, Carrie Fisher and an unnamed partner paid only $25 dollars a month to rent a space at Pike Place Market, which they opened every weekend. As Seattle’s economy became more receptive to tourism rents were raised, and the library moved to Capitol Hill, where it gained a cult following of regulars during the 70s as metaphysical topics rose into the greater American consciousness. The address moved around the Hill depending on finances, and was even supported for a period by a millionaire benefactor.

Unfortunately, history repeated itself eight years ago as rents climbed on the Hill, “so we found a little hole in the wall, here in Ballard, hidden away in the basement. It’s the best we can afford” says Bartley. It’s a familiar story in the ever changing landscape of Seattle urbanization, as businesses ebb and flow across the city.

“We moved here 8 years ago and pretty much lost everyone we had on Capitol Hill,” said Bartley. “They pretty much are unwilling to make the trip over here to Ballard.” Our distance from the freeway is especially tiresome for those who live outside the city limits.

The library only sees about 10-20 customers a week but still fosters a community in their new neighborhood. They host workshops for $5, which include Tarot discussions, speakers and other events. Starting this month, volunteer and therapist Kathy Eckert will be holding a Tarot card and personal development class for beginners. Bartley hopes that in the future the space can become a platform for those at the forefront of metaphysical research, a place for alternative Ted Talk-esque presentations they may be deemed “pseudo-science” by other organizations.

One of the more interesting services the library offers is a contraption called a Dream Machine, which gives the user an a borderline hallucinogenic experience through the use of stroboscopes for a cool $10. The user stares at the machine’s lights with their eyes closed in a dark room and will see different shapes behind their eyelids depending on the music that is playing --a full on trip without an altered state of consciousness.

The Seattle Metaphysical Library board is committed to keeping the things small and sustainable and have no real intention to expand anytime soon, though they are outgrowing their space and may do away with books that one could find at a public library in order to focus on more alternative information. The library runs on retro systems: books still have a date stamp card inside their covers, there’s no online database and they like it that way.

“It’s better to have it simple and working than complex and screwed up”. That simplicity is a big factor in this little library’s charm," said Margaret.

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