the Story of the Extraordinary Italian Artistic and Spiritual Community
by Jeff Merrifield

Synopsis for the new American 2006 Hanford Mead edition of the book
( first published in 1998 by Harper Collins)

DAMANHUR: the Story of the Extraordinary Italian Artistic and Spiritual Community

Available in the UK from Playback Arts online shop - click on the picture above.

ISBN: 1-59275-010-9, 350 pp
152 B/W illustrations
8 pp color plates

Synopsis - a place of greatly astonishing things

Damanhur is a settlement with a burgeoning population of around seven hundred, to be found in the Italian Alps. It bears the same name, which means 'City of Light', as a modern day Egyptian city with a population of some quarter million people, but by legend the birthplace of Horus in an underground temple. The Damanhur in the Alpine valley of Valchiusella is no ordinary settlement. The people here have embarked on a unique experiment in social, economic and spiritual living, based around the construction of an elaborate temple, built deep into the heart of a mountain. One of the most astounding things is that, for over fifteen years, this building was carried on in secret, with some two million buckets of earth and rock being dug out and secreted around the valley or used in the building and restoration of other Damanhurian properties.

The book describes the epic nature of the journey undertaken by the inhabitants of Damanhur, in constructing the Temples of Humankind and into the development of an innovative sustainable community.

The construction of the temple in the mountain alone ranks alongside the recognised 'wonders of the world', but is only one aspect of the truly remarkable achievement that has taken place in this valley, some thirty miles north of Turin. The digging into the temple is an elaborate metaphor for the intensive digging into their personal and community psyche. The people of Damanhur have drawn on ancient knowledge and esoteric traditions, as well as sychronistic ideas of philosophical writers, such as Carl Gustav Jung, Ruldoph Steiner and Albert Einstein; and scientific experiments in energy transference by people such as Wilhelm Reich and Nikola Tesla. Damanhur is a place of astonishing things:


The first astonishing thing: THE TEMPLEs of HUMANKIND - SACRED AESTHETICS

The book will firstly describe the temple - il Tempio dell'Uomo - the Temple of Humankind - its construction and its supreme artworks. Entry to the temple - a plain wooden door leading down a labyrinth of passages into seven enormous chambers, totalling some 4,000 cubic meters on five levels; 150 meters of corridors, 400 sq.m. of frescoes, 350 sq.m. of floor and wall mosaics, the largest tiffany stained glass dome in the world at 100 sq.m., and another 120 sq.m. of stained glass domes and windows.

The Earth Hall - dedicated to the male principle, to the earth and to the memory of past reincarnations. A chamber of beautiful frescoes and the most exquisite ceramics. A huge painted ceiling has a pattern of some thirty-three different shapes repeated sixty-six times. The wall paintings tell the story of Damanhur, both literally and allegorically. The mosaics and china ceramic columns balance the ambience and give the room a sense of supreme dignity.

The Water Hall - dedicated to the female principle and to water, it is in the form of a chalice. On the walls, hundreds of sacred texts, in some sixteen different languages, interact with each other, aesthetically and spiritually intertwined. Golden serpents make the place of the synchronic knot, the site of the most potential energy. A copula of blue stained glass pours light into the chamber and the sound of the room is that of tinkling chimes.

The Hall of Mirrors - a space of 1,200 cubic meters, dedicated to the sky, to air and to light. This fabulous room is covered on all four walls with copper-coloured plate glass, reflecting anything in the room an infinite number of times. Above is the most astonishing of all the astonishing discoveries in the temple, the largest stained glass dome existing on earth. It is a copula of enormous size, supported on an intricate metal framework, iridescent with a blaze of illuminated colour. At the base of the dome are representations of the four seasons, a reflection of the equinoxes and solstice periods. This is a room of exceptional quality, where most of the temple concerts are performed.

The Hall of Metals - the most recent of the large chambers, not yet complete, but already showing signs of the artistic genius that is characteristic of the rest of the temple. Reflecting the life struggle between mind and body, the mosaic floor plays creatively against the ceramic relief ceiling. Beaten copper figures and superb metallic ceramic columns give weight to the metal theme of the chamber, whilst tiffany glass arched windows provide the ever-present spirituality of light.

The Hall of the Spheres - a space of 4 by 7 meters, the ceiling and top part of walls covered with 24 carat gold leaf. This is the nerve centre of the temple, the connection point for its numerous selfic structures. This is the place of alchemical experiment, the site of the time cabins and the place where the spheres radiate a subtle energy for higher level experiments.

The book will further explore the Sacred Language used extensively in the construction of the Temple of Humankind and in the aesthetic rituals performed there. A language that belongs to the esoteric tradition, an ancestral language existing since the time before languages began to specialise. The Sacred Language is a matrix for many different ancient languages. It is called "sacred" because it is a bridge, meant to translate human matters into divine concepts. This language has some eight levels of comprehension, each level increasingly arcane and esoteric, but capable of interpretation through dance, music and songs, through visual images and architectural structures.

Fundamental to the development of the Temple of Humankind has been a process of ongoing research into the 'Selfica'. These are intricate constructions of brass and copper, or even sometimes gold and silver, based on the concept of the spiral. The Selfica is like a vital energy source. There are individual Selficas for specific human attributes, to quell negative energy, or to ease aching joints, for example. But the Temple of Mankind itself has buried within it some three hundred tons of Selfic structure, constantly monitoring the energy and revitalising the many chambers.

Just as in the Renaissance, the building of the Temple gave impulse to the development of many artistic workshops and craft-based activities, to the study of ancient techniques, to the creation of a place as supreme collective artistic expression. Damanhur's society grew and refined itself, founded on the basis of its culture and tradition. The book will explore how the development of such artistic skills not only serve the purposes of the temple, but also support it financially and developmentally. The highest quality work in glass, mosaic, ironwork, clay and china, fabrics, mural work and architecture, emanated from its workshops and found a market in the many cash-rich emporia of high class merchandising. Elaborately packaged pastas, herbs and olive oils, to the likes of Harrods, Fortnum and Masons and Macys in New York; hand-woven natural-dyed silks and cashmeres to the most exclusive fashion houses; ceramics, mosaics and Tiffany glasswork to a wide range of cash-rich markets. These energetic and creative commercial enterprises provide Damanhur with a securely established financial base, allowing work on the temple to proceed unabashed.


The second astonishing thing: THE NATION of DAMANHUR

Almost as impressive and improbable as the temple itself is the community that had the courage, the insight, the technical and artistic skills, and the undoubted bottle, to build it.

The book explores the social issues surrounding the establishment of this community in Valchiusella, the 'closed valley'. Those who had brought the Temple of Humankind and Damanhur into existence were convinced that it was a sacred place. As it grew from a few persons to a few hundred, the awe that the community inspired left no doubt that Damanhur would survive, that the last thing it would ever do is vanish into flat uniformity. The community keeps itself in a dynamic state of readiness to take on board unique challenges and extraordinary feats.

The interaction between spiritual research and everyday life has given birth to a complex and effective social system. The changing social structures - flexible to the needs of a newly developing nation - have established a prime guiding philosophy, a set of 'principi', to create and implement these chosen principles into an agreed constitution. These are not dictats passed down from an autocratic hierarchy, but have evolved from intense struggle and reflection by the many individuals who make up the communities of Damanhur and its School of Meditation, the spiritual assembly of the people.

Damanhur is currently a federation of communities, as it was considered society should be organised in small integrated groups of people, so that every one can know other members of that group personally. The communities are differentiated by the nature and level of purposeful involvement their members have in the daily life of Damanhur.

Two 'Guides' are elected by the School of Meditation. They have a tenure of six months only, re-electable, and are charged with long-term planning and co-ordination of the various sectors of the community. The School of Meditation has 600 members and is the first point of entry for new community members. Only when an individual is a member of the School of Meditation can progress be made. Each Damanhurian chooses one of the eight particular paths for their spiritual and social development. Many of these interconnect. Citizens are free to leave one path for another, but are encouraged to persevere with their chosen one and work through any difficulties.

The Senate comprises representatives of the Eight Ways, and is elected every eight months by the citizens of Damanhur who are the most intimately involved in the community. This body implements the guides' decisions, liaising with the presidents of the three communities, who are themselves elected according to the internal norms of each community. Every citizen lives in communion with the natural environment and with the subtle forces that inhabit it. "Spirituality and global ecology are the inspiring principles by which we relate to the land and the animals, avoiding all forms of pollution and waste..."

As well as exploring the intricate social and spiritual nature of Damanhur, the book reflects extensive interviews with those who have been associated with the Temple since its inception, particularly its founding father, Oberto Airaudi. It was Oberto's clear vision that largely brought the Temple and the Nation of Damanhur into being. It has been his inspiration that has kept it going through sixteen years. Other members of Damanhur have been there since the initial inspiration and have remarkable tails to tell about their own personal adventures. That some of these touch on such surprising reports involving actual time travel, healing, alchemical experiments and newly acquired arcane knowledge, is only as unbelievable as is the Temple of Humankind itself.

Also, some of the media reportage, positive and critical, is examined. For the first fourteen years of temple building, the digging into the mountain was done in secret. The supreme nature of the artwork and the full facts of the enormity of the undertaking were known to only a few. However, threats were made by someone who had previously been associated with the project and, despite the fact that he had remained a "freind" of the Damanhurians over the ten years since he left, now felt they owed him money he had put into the original property. An offer was made to repay such money to him, but then it was increased four-fold by his lawyer. In the face of such blackmail, the Damanhurians themselves decided to go public. All hell broke loose. In July 1992 the city council of Vidracco, caught in the most embarrassing situation of knowing nothing about the extensive developments carried out in their midst, ordered the Temple of Humankind to be destroyed. Later, it decided to acquire it and the land around it to exploit as a tourist attraction. The Damanhurian response was typical of their mild-mannered positivism. They let it be known to the world that they considered Damanhur a spiritual movement and a cultural minority and, as such, its citizen asked nothing more than respect for their ideas, community rituals and creative works. Their low key defence paid dividends. Special legislation has recently been passed in the Italian Parliament to effectively save the temple from destruction. The Beaux Arts declared it a significant work of art, though its relatively recent age prevented it having a preservation order on its artistic merit alone. A judge declared a seizure order of the local council invalid and the legislation of the Italian Parliament was ratified. Since that time, things have moved on a pace - for example, Vidracco now has its first Damanhurian Mayor.

Also, the court case involving the previous member who had threatened to blackmail the Damanhurians was eventually settled, with him receiving less in settlement than he had been offered some three years previous. The temple now has legal status and is held in high regard, locally, regionally, nationally and internationally.


The third astonishing thing: THE GAME OF LIFE

The first 'principi' of the Damanhurian spiritual way, 'Via Horusiana', is the principle of constant Action. Complacency and unmotivated habitual living is avoided by challenge, by imaginative active projects. These are collectively known as 'The Game of Life'. Such projects also evolve out of spiritual deliberations amongst the community, often of small groups of people coming up with a specific idea, but when they are taken on board, they are entered into wholeheartedly by the entire population.

The first Game of Life project took the form of a mock battle between older members of Damanhur, who had settled in Valchiusella some five years previous, and a new group of Damanhurians, who had recently come to the valley after an extensive journey around Italy with Oberto Airaudi. It was during this mock battle that the seeds were sown for the creation and establishment of the Nation of Damanhur and for the continuing process of development that would include constant Action and the Game of Life.

Another Game of Life projects was based on an extended period in the woods above the temple, with teams of people going into the forest with no resources and not only surviving but doing something imaginative, original and exciting enough for them to be granted the privilege of lighting their fire, and consequently coming back from the woods. This project resulted in nine superb dwellings, made from rough hewn wood, fully equipped as living quarters and imaginatively decorated. This has now taken on the significance of a sacred site, because of the intensity of the feelings attributed to this project by those taking part in it.

Other projects have included offers to NASA and other space exploration agencies of a community of people, the Damanhurians, who had learned to live together in a harmonious and productive way, and an offer to people troubled with poltergeist problems of a ghostbusting team. Both of these projects were carried out in order to attract some positive press at a time when the media coverage was particularly antagonistic. On both occasions it worked.

This community has become remarkably resilient and found productive ways of turning negatives into positives. At the time it was most under unfair and misguided attack, the people of Damanhur managed to turn negative energies into positive actions.


The fourth astonishing thing: THE PHILOSOPHY

One of the most amazing of all the amazing things at Damanhur is to see hundreds of people trogging up the road to a community hall every Thursday, in many a community they might have been off to play 'bingo', here they are off to talk about 'esoteric physics' and other spiritual matters.

Fundamental to Damanhur, the purpose of the Temple of Humankind, the establishment of the Nation of Damanhur, the School of Meditation, the Sacred Language and the various ritual ceremonies, all are towards the reunification of divine spiritual forces. The many processes by which this is brought about are themselves embodied in the principles of esoteric physics.

One of the creation stories allegorically told at Damanhur concerns the Divinity of Mankind. In original incarnation Man is divine. But the divine essence that was originally Man has shattered, like a broken mirror, into billions of pieces. However, each of has some of these shattered fragments, these divine sparks, inside of us. The work of Damanhur is to unify as many of the sparks of divinity as possible. The work, the rituals, the spiritual study, and particularly the esoteric physics, are all means by which this might be brought about.

The world of Form is where our bodies exist, complete with a collection of 'personalities', those personal characteristics that make up a human being. The sparks of divinity are the essential nature of these 'personalities', attracted to the being in the process of formation. The ultimate resting place of all such divine essence is termed the Real and it is the purpose of Damanhurian esoteric physics to explore ways in which the world of Form and the Real are brought into close relationship with each other. Such studies have resulted in experiments in time travel, transference of characteristics, alchemical investigations and the wider uses of Selfic energies.

Damanhur is a nation of initiates, who have at the centre of their existence a passionate desire to know, to explore and to put into practice the arcane physics brought to them through esoteric traditions. The strength of Damanhur is that such initiates have a common bond that permeates all aspects of their lives, that they can identify action and purpose in a positive, rational way. However, such initiation has not been imposed on them, in fact many obstacles were placed in the path of individual members before they took on board such onerous responsibilities. Also, there is a larger community of Damanhurian associates, known as 'the People', who have not taken on board the responsibilities of initiation, but who are sympathetic to the work of Damanhur. These might live in the valley of Valchiusella or hundreds of miles away. There are no hard and fast rules as to how an individual participates in Damanhur, but there as many ways as there are individuals.



Damanhur is a collective of individuals who have found a unique and remarkable way of combining social, economic and spiritual matters into a unified whole, where each aspect both feeds and draws sustenance from another. The successful integration of these aspects of human life is what gives Damanhur its stability. It has resulted in a socio-philosophical structure where individuals are able to be themselves within a social collective, but without the usual problems of ego and incompatibility. The proof of such stability lies in the achievements of the Damanhurians, the Temple of Humankind, the nation they have created over thirty years, the enthusiasm they have for the Game of Life and the way they have so effectively embraced a tradition of esoteric investigation.

This new edition of the book brings up to date many of the recent developments at Damanhur, the building of Damanhur Crea from an old disused Olivetti factory, the changes in community living, the world-wide acceptance of Damanhur as a sustainable community, the ecological developments and initiatives.

Damanhur is an important sociological, artistic and spiritual phenomenon. It could well prove to be the 'Sign of our Times'

Jeff Merrifield
November 2006

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