|The huge glass dome of the Hall of Mirrors. Image courtesy of|
the Daily Mail.
Looking for a religious community where your depth of involvement is up to you? Do you like art? Do you like Italy? There's a place for you...
|The Hall of the Earth. Image courtesy of the Daily Mail.|
Damanhur is in the Piedmont area of Italy, about 30 miles north of Turin in the foothills of the Alps. It has no spiritual leader, but it has a constitution and its own currency, called the Credito. It was founded in 1975 by Oberto Airaudi (who now goes by the name Falco) with a total of 24 followers, and now has about 1,000 followers. It was a secret organization until 1992, when its existence was made known.
|A column in the Hall of Mirrors.|
Image courtesy of the Daily Mail.
They have an underground temple complex that was begun in absolute secrecy in 1978. Since it was secret, it had no official approval, so once the government stumbled onto it, all work was ceased, except the art work. Eventually, retroactive permission was given. It has been called the 8th wonder of the world by the Italian government.
There are nine ornate temples on five levels which narrate the history of humanity. They are linked by decorated tunnels. When Airaudi was a boy he claimed to have had visions of a past life with awesome temples which were inhabited by a highly evolved community that worked for a common good. He decided to recreate his visions. He learned excavation techniques by digging on his parents' property. While working successfully as an insurance broker, he searched for the ideal site. When he found it he enlisted the help of like-minded people and the temples were dug. Volunteers came from all over, working without formal plans, and setting up small businesses to pay for the work. Thus began the society of Damanhur.
It was named after an ancient Egyptian city, known in ancient Egyptian scripts as "Di Men Hor", a center for the worship of the Egyptian god Horus. Located 99 miles NW of Cairo in the Nile delta, it was also called in Greek and Roman times "Hermopolis Mikra" or "Hermopolis Parva", which associated it with Hermes. It attracted many ancient geographers, including Strabo. Today it is a Roman Catholic titular see, and is in a richly cultivated area of agricultural production.
|Modern Damanhur, Egypt. Image courtesy of Wikipedia.|
Although named for the ancient Egyptian place, the Italian Damanhur is neopagan and "New Age". They call themselves a "collective dream" and a laboratory for the future. Their commitment is to create an eco-village that weaves sociality, spirituality, and respect for the environment using both ancient traditions and advanced technology into a culture of peace.
|There are miles of decorated tunnels. Image|
courtesy of the Daily Mail.
The citizens of Damanhur are active in many different voluntary activities - the Italian Red Cross, forest fire watchkeepers, Civil Defense, and assisting the elderly. The site is in an economically depressed area and they are bringing a much needed infrastructure with schools, libraries, and other services. So rather than keeping themselves to their inner community, their goal is to outreach and become a part of the wider world while maintaining their connection to their spiritual base.
|Hall of Mirrors. Image courtesy of the Daily Mail.|
Some of the businesses and services they have created are a result of the community and its needs. The majority of their enterprises are cooperatives, which are further joined into a consortium. These include: artistic workshops, such as glasswork, mosaics, painting, sculpture, and restoration; computer and IT consulting; publishing; eco-architecture; therapeutic services; and agricultural tourism. Not all citizens work within the Damanhur structure, but instead outside of the system. But all contribute economically to the Federation.
|Egyptian-style wall paintings. Image courtesy of the Daily Mail.|
They have their own school, opened in 1985, which caters to children from nursery to middle school. There are roughly 140 parents involved, including some who live in the valley who are not citizens of Damanhur. Their stated goal is to create an environment where children can learn how to learn. An important part of their educational program is travel - getting out of the classroom and learning through new experiences. Learning foreign languages begins in nursery school. The children are very involved in ecology and environmental awareness.
|In 2006, some children stayed onboard Greenpeace's |
Rainbow Warrior during its Genoa stopover.
In terms of being self-sustaining, Damanhur currently supplies 50% of its food needs. Besides farms for cattle, fish, pigs, and vegetables, they produce cheese, wine, baked goods, and honey. They have their own laboratory to check food for GMOs. Thanks to solar panel installations they can produce 70% of their hot water needs. They have photo-voltaic installations and hydro-electric turbines with provides 35% of their electricity. 90% of the wood used for heating is locally sourced, albeit through a program developed to rehabilitate the woodlands, recreating the undergrowth which provides shelter for animals, and returning the area to its natural state.
There are many possibilities for citizenship within the community, from full-time to living outside but linked to projects. Those living within the community share large houses of about twenty people. These include young and old, couples, singles, and families with children. Everyone has their own personal space but share communal areas such as the kitchen and meeting rooms. Some citizens choose to live in apartments in the villages or in houses or farms in the woodland or rural areas. Everyone chooses their own living space and companions, and though children live with their parents, every citizen looks after their well-being and supports them. What is not allowed is smoking, narcotics, excessive alcohol, or overuse of pharmaceuticals.
If one chooses to live in Damanhur, there is the New Damanhurians project. It is for people who are very familiar with Damanhur and believe in committing to live there. The project lasts six months and consists of learning the philosophy, history and traditions. Upon completion, one can formalize their commitment, either fully or at a different level of commitment. Another level is known as the Spiritual People, which allows one to live a separate life with direct involvement in the activities of the Federation. This level is dedicated to spiritual researchers, ecologists, and people who believe in Damanhur values. Considered a seed to promote groups of enlightened people and spread knowledge, it is a spiritual link to the Federation. There are thousands of such members worldwide in different cultures, who all come together at least one time a year, usually in August, in a communal celebration.
So will this utopian federation succeed in time? It's hard to say, but they seem to have accomplished a lot and grown at a steady and productive rate. With all the problems in the world, perhaps a community like this is the answer. It is now on my bucket list, and I will be watching with keen interest as it progresses.
Unless otherwise noted, images courtesy of their website.