I knew very little about the Damanhur community of visionaries when I arrived though I had heard of their underground Temples of Humankind, built entirely by hand. Located in the Valchiusella Valley at the foot of the Alps in Italy’s Piedmont region, the region is also the world headquarters of the Slow Food Movement. Wine, truffles, and chocolate are the top priorities in this part of Italy. Even my taxi driver owned a boutique vineyard that produces 1,000 litres of vino per year.
I came without booking in advance, taking the chance that no room was available for me, or that I could not visit the temples. My guide Cinciallegra was calm and positive. “Fill out the forms for me. Here we like to be optimistic,” she smiled.
She quickly organised an inexpensive shared room for three nights. Then, a tall, smiling, young woman, Aquila di mare (Sting Ray), appeared, to give me a short tour. Some places are just for the community members or are used for special rituals or on certain sacred days of the year.
My first evening, I walked four of the labyrinths. Their brightly coloured stones (for optimism, digestion, the dream state, and memory) are ‘activated’ and set in energetic areas. I walked in bare feet, feeling very grounded, and enjoying the quiet environment as the sun sets.
The next morning, Cinciallegra greets me with good news. I am able to join several others for a tour of Damanhur and the temples. Wapiti (American Elk) is our guide. She is from Croatia but has lived at Damanhur for seven years and has a twelve-year-old boy who is thriving in the environment.
Before we start, standing under sheltering trees that protect us from a day fast becoming hot, Wapiti explains a little about Damanhur. The community began in 1975, founded by the spiritual teacher, Oberto Airaudi, known as Falco. It shares its name, which means ‘The City of Light’, with an ancient Egyptian city that once hosted an esoteric school.
Falco chose the Valchiusella Valley because it lies on the intersection of four synchronic lines (the 18 energetic lines that cross the earth, nine latitudinally and nine longitudinally). He remains the spiritual leader of the group and uses Damanhur as a research centre for spiritual, artistic, health, and social endeavours.
The community is very diverse; everyone is encouraged to focus on their specific passion, as well as giving voluntarily to the community while maintaining a spirit of positive thinking, kindness, and optimistic actions. For example, one member earns his salary by practising law. However, one day a week he might serve guests in the cafe, help clean, or cook a meal for his particular nuclei (a family unit of about 20 people), and another day he might paint as a contribution to the creativity of the community. Each member also commits financially to the community, thus creating an example of how future society can live. Residents make all decisions by communal debate.
Over half of the 1,000 citizens live on 500 hectares of Damanhur land in 25 communities, with others living in nearby villages and elsewhere across the globe. Damanhur is 50% self-sufficient, running organic farming, a school, and over 60 businesses. It began because Falco believed that the human race, at a critical point of time, needs to change and remember the ancient wisdom practices, the old ways and languages, and the different approaches for people to connect to the divine. The community began with just 12 of Falco’s students who wanted to live his philosophy.
I saw the grounds of the Damjl, the central meeting and administrative centre of Damanhur, which contain many statues and altars dedicated to the elements of nature – air, fire, earth, and water – as we made our way up the Path of Hope, paved with symbols from ancient, sacred languages. At the top of the hill is the Open Temple. Wapiti explains, “We like to connect to nature, as we are made out of the elements. Here you are connected to all Mother Earth because a synchronic line passes through the temple.”
Little clay statues are dotted all around the place, made by community members and guests. “We make them naked. It is easier to make than having them clothed,” Wapiti laughed, dispelling our thoughts that there was some spiritual meaning to their disrobed state.
She led us to a gate behind the open temple, iron and shaped in a decorative way, but in reality, a book written in sacred languages and symbols.
Children go to the onsite school until the age of 14 when they then attend an external school. The internal school program is the same as the state system but with home responsibilities and extracurricular activities, including art and travel. The children enjoy two to three trips a year. When they attend external schools, they tend to be more mature and independent. When old enough, children then decide whether to stay with the community or go off to other areas. There is a ‘middle way’ as well. A house has been put aside for the teenagers to live in and run on their own.
She explained the Damanhur nuclei structure. Each ‘family’ consists of 10-25 people all of different ages, and hence, different life experiences. The house outside of which we now stand has members from the ages of 11 to 93.
She showed us the “Forest of Consciousness.” Back in the 70s, the founders made a contract with the spirit of nature and left one place for it to reside. People enter it only on very rare occasions. Inside the enclosure are altars to the air and water… and the little naked, clay figures which pop up everywhere.
Later, we took a car ride to the small village of Vidracco, 2 km away, and toured the Damanhur Crea, a complex located in what was once the Olivetti factory. Many Damanhur businesses are located here, including the very yummy Tenaty organic shop, and a cafe and restaurant right next door.
Ramada, our guide for the underground temples, then drove us up the steep hill to the hidden entrance. The simple, wooden structure leads to what has been called the Eighth Wonder of the World – five levels of chambers, hidden deep inside a mountain, built by hand, and unknown for 20 years.
Each chamber shows a ‘time capsule’ of an aspect of humanity, physical and spiritual. The temperature drops markedly as we enter the first circular chamber. All the lighting in the temples is artificial, but it’s hard to tell as it streams through the Tiffany dome of the deepest chamber, the Temple of the Earth.
The designs are very modern, with the faces of the figures on the wall all based on Damanhurians. The temples act as a place of remembrance and connection to specific energies, as well as a time capsule for future generations, displaying all the different stages of life, daily activities of people, their modern dress, types of trees found on Earth, and also animals, especially those close to extinction, so those to come will know of them. Ramada explained, “Any time you see Egyptian symbols in the temples means that somewhere close is a secret door.” The four elements of earth, air, fire, and water are represented and celebrated.
The rest of the complex is magical, with secret passages and even trapdoors, messages, and lessons not always seen at first glance. It can take hours to tour the underground area, and it’s mind-boggling to think that this was carved out at all, let alone in secret at the time.
The Damanhurians are quiet achievers, with a focus on the positive aspect of life, on their passion, and bringing a better way of doing things to a world that seems distracted by self, consumerism, and fear. I found the community kind, accepting, and generous, willing to share the lessons they’ve learnt. I came away happier and more positive about what I can achieve, and knowledge that there are like-minded people willing to support my journey.
by Rebecca Ashton in association with Veritas Magazine. http://www.theveritasmagazine.com/
Rebecca Ashton is a Sydney based freelance journalist. She loves to travel the globe experiencing internal and external journeys as they make themselves known to her and aims to inspire others to do the same, learning from the experiences life offers. At all other times, Rebecca is usually found on the back of a horse. She blogs at: http://www.hedgefundstohedgerows.com/
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