1950 (May 29): Oberto Airaudi was born in Balangero, which is located in the province of Turin, Italy.
1967: Airaudi published his first book and produced his first painting
1969: Airaudi was married.
1970s: Airaudi participated in the artistic avant-garde milieu in Turin. He was particularly influenced by the Concrete Art Movement and by painter Filippo Scroppo.
1974-1975: With a group of friends/supporters Oberto Airaudi founded the Centro di Ricerche e Informazioni Parapsicologiche Horus (Horus Research and Information Center), in order to study and experiment with the paranormal.
1975: The first meditation group, often considered the official foundation of Damanhur, was set up.
1976: With the inauguration of the Meditation School, Airaudi laid the foundation of Damanhurian cosmogony and introduced the term Nemico (Enemy), the principle of absolute Evil, Damanhur’s magical opponent.
1977: The first land was purchased in Baldissero Canavese (Piedmont), where the community would spring up. Construction of Damjl, the future capital, began.
1977: An alliance was formed with the “Spirits of Nature,” intelligent beings lording over their territory of residence. The Solstice rite was celebrated for the first time.
1978: Construction began in secret of the underground Temple of Humankind in Porta del Sole.
1979-1980: The inauguration of the Damanhur Community and the settlement of earliest citizens took place. There was full common ownership and the creation of a “Military” Government under Airaudi’s strict command.
1980-1982: There was a transition from a society of individuals and small families to the building of an outright community with shared services and common spaces.
1980: The future constitution, Leggi e Regolamenti, was promulgated.
1982: The community adopted its own currency, the Credito, and the first artisanal activities took root.
1983: The Game of Life began. Members dropped their original names to adopt names from the animal and vegetable kingdoms.
1984: The Artistic-Renaissance phase began: artisanal activities took off and painting became central. In addition, work began on the Open Temple.
1985: A Damanhur representative was elected to the Baldissero Canavese communal council as a Green candidate.
1985: The Community’s first self-sufficiency experiment, Olio Caldo, was carried out in the woods.
1986: The age of economic liberalization and free enterprise began.
1987: Voluntary collective devotional work (known as Terrazzatura) was initiated. The maximum number of citizens (220) allowed by the Constitution was exceeded. Consequently, the creation of a second administrative pole nearby was considered.
1989-1990: One community became three (Damjl, Tentyris and Etulte), and Federation was discussed.
1989-1990: In this period, there was an abundance of legal action against the movement on the part of its first apostates. An internal daily newspaper, Qui Damanhur Quotidiano, was printed. Damanhur’s spiritual itineraries (Le Vie: Art and Work, Knights, Monks, Esoteric Couples, Word, Oracle, Olio Caldo) were marked out.
1991: Damjl capital was increased by the Casa Verde fund. External attacks by the Catholic Church were launched. Auditing of the community’s finances was stepped up by the State.
1992: The Carabinieri (military police) occupied and searched the Community’s property in an intimidatory blitz.
1992: The existence of the Temple of Humankind was disclosed to the whole world by a disgruntled apostate.
1993: The Damanhur Renaissance began with increased media exposure. Article Twenty-Two of the Constitution, assigning ubiquitous power to the founder, was abrogated.
1995: The Con Te per il Paese (With You for the Country) political party was instituted, winning thirteen seats in the Valle del Canavese Council.
1996: Airaudi and other Damanhur citizens began to travel to Holland, France and Germany, establishing relationship with other groups and communities working on behalf of the planet with similar objectives. Esoteric physics, elaborated over time by the Damanhurians, was compared with traditional physics.
1996: The Damanhurians presented their magic health technologies (selfic cabins) to the world, encouraging synergy between traditional and alternative medicines. The Federation’s economic system changed in the direction of greater individual responsibility and autonomy.
1997: Damanhur joined RIVE (the Italian network of ecological villages).
1998-2000: CONACREIS (National Committee of Ethical Interior Spiritual Communities and Associations) was founded with 200 groups and Damanhur as a founder member.
1998-2000: The Federation also joined GEN Europe Global Ecovillage Network and submitted to UNESCO its Earth Charter identifying in joint action among governments, enterprises and society the formula for safeguarding the planet in peace, respecting the rights of every living being and of the environment.
2001: A new spiritual Way, the Tecnarcato, opened.
2002-2004: The ex-Olivetti plant in Vidracco was bought and Damanhur Crea set up as a multifunctional centre where many companies (supermarket, catering, wellness, creative laboratories, cultural/artistic meeting spaces) converged.
2004-2005: Communities became Nuclear Communities.
2007: The International Communal Studies Association (ICSA) World Congress was held in Damanhur.
2008: Damanhur was designated by the United Nations as exemplary in its practical application of Earth Charter principles.
2010: The New Life project launched, encouraging people from every continent to become Damanhur citizens for three months, not as guests but as participants in community life.
2013: Oberto Airaudi died. A new phase began, aimed at collaboration and more intense integration with the local social fabric.
2016: A new programme (Aminè) was set up so that visitors could approach the community more closely: non-initiates could live within a family nucleus for ten days, each day meeting an expert on a different aspect of the Federation’s life (spirituality, magic, economics, social life, health).
Oberto Airaudi [Image at right] was born in Balangero, in the province of Turin, Italy, on May 29, 1950. His autobiography (Airaudi 2011) recounts a spiritual bent from childhood, including visions and healings. As a teenager, he published a book of poetry, produced what is believed to be his first painting, and married at age nineteen. He worked for a time as an insurance broker while maintaining his interest in spirituality (Zoccatelli 2017). In 1975, Airaudi founded the Centro Ricerche e Informazioni Horus (Horus Research and Information Center) in Turin, which was devoted to esotericism, pranotherapy, and parapsychology. He also became a popular lecturer on esotericism. Beginning around this time he also developed the idea of establishing an esoteric community for which he began purchasing land.
His teachings formed the spiritual philosophy that, since the early 1970s, has become the foundation for Damanhur’s existence and development. His enlightened and pragmatic vision of life has created a fertile community based on solidarity, sharing, reciprocal love and respect for the environment. Among many other things, he launched Damanhur’s schools of Meditation, Spiritual Healing, Alchemy, Rituality and Hypnosis, and initiated a tradition of Selfic painting that still lives on among his disciples.
The system of belief which motivates Damanhurians (Horusian philosophy) is made up of a heterogeneous set of doctrinal elements informed by the Western esoteric tradition and New Age, and creatively re-elaborated over the years. What is special about this doctrine is that it fuses traditions and thinking from various cultures, superimposing beliefs and practices typical of esoteric discourses upon the scientific world’s principles and languages (Cardano, 1997; Berzano 1998; Introvigne 1999; Del Re e Macioti, 2013).
In Damanhur’s spiritual proposal (where concepts and modes of expression have been modified over the years) there are some basic principles called “Quesiti” that indicate the guidelines for individual and collective itineraries: life as an evolutionary itinerary; action as continuous choice, the quest for new logics in order to understand reality; female-male integration; creativity and non-stop transformation; expansion of sensibility (which is to say the senses of mankind’s multiple bodies); the ability to doubt and to deal with uncertainty; opening out to others; and discovering one’s own divine nature.
In this philosophical vision, the field of the Existent includes different universes. The one where we live is characterized by various forms of life and material that, and, by their interaction with time, their flow does not move in a linear way from the past to the present to the future. Rather, it foresees the contemporaneousness of parallel times and universes, as is also hypothesized by quantum physics. The basic hypothesis is that life in this universe, in all its manifestations, derives from a single divine matrix. This force is greater than the universe itself which, in order to enter the world of forms, has had to split in turn into many minor forces. Only some of these have a physical form. This force is called Divinità Primeva Uomo, and all manifestations of its essence on subtle (i.e. immaterial) levels, forming what is commonly called a “spiritual ecosystem.” Smaller fragments of this primeval origin are natural spirits present in the legends and traditions of different peoples and cultures in the form of inhabitants of forests, springs and plains.
Plants and animals are also manifestations of the same divine nature. Some creatures, among them human beings, are “bridging forms” between the material and spiritual planes because they carry a fragment of the divine spark. Once this spark has been awakened, it is capable of uniting the various planes of existence. The relationship between human beings and gods is therefore seen as an alliance rather than subjection in virtue of their shared divine nature.
The basic idea is that it is not necessary to delegate one’s spiritual evolution to anyone. Therefore, one’s individual itinerary is followed through periodic meditation aimed at exploring one’s spirituality and leading it towards psycho-physical improvement. Indeed, Damanhurians are called to be spiritual researchers. Their objective is to discover and valorize individual talents, detaching oneself from pragmatism and moving towards the quest for new logic in order to understand reality. Positive thought, valorisation of diversity and creativity as strategies to break habits are fundamental. Furthermore, individual perfection may be sought through interaction with others who are considered precious, companions in the intimate transformation itinerary. The objective is to educate humankind to investigate within oneself, seeking the answers to existential questions in one’s intimate dimension. This philosophy is the subject of meditation and research, an authentic work-in-progress, which does not exclude subsequent elaboration in the future.
All of Damanhur’s collective and individual life is accompanied by symbols and ritual celebrations. Among the most important rituals, deriving from Horusian gnosis, are the four solar celebrations (two Solstices, two Equinoxes), commemoration of the dead and the foundation of the community (August 31, their New Year’s Eve). Since in these rituals humans renew their treaty of alliance with, and respect for, the Spirit of Nature, they have a similar internal symbolic structure.
One of the most evocative is the Summer Solstice ritual, which Damanhurians say is carried out at a particular cosmic time when it is possible to communicate more easily with the subtle forces and energies inhabiting nature. The ritual means renewal and purification from the individual point of view. It is used not only to boost the original 1978 agreement with the Spirit of Nature but also to express gratitude towards nature and propitiate it in view of future harvest. The liturgy is divided into eight parts. It starts the previous night at the Solstice with Damanhurians dressed in vari-coloured tunics according to their esoteric degrees, wormwood crowns on their heads, lighting a ritual fire near the ferns, where there are nets for gathering the seeds that fall from the plants. This part of the ceremony is private. The public, central part begins towards the middle of the following day when guests and non-initiates may participate. The Damnhurians line up within an enormous spiral traced on the ground, while guests take up position outside the spiral. The ceremony begins with the reading of prayers in the sacred language developed by Airaudi; then there is an offertory of medicinal herbs from the previous season, burned as a sign of gratitude for all that nature has given; and it ends with a dance. The sound of a gong closes this part of the ceremony and marks the beginning of the procession in which first initiates and then guests leave the ritual circle. This collective ceremony is followed by two individual purification rites, where both initiates and non-initiates can (symbolically) be freed from the parts of themselves they do not like, initiating a process of interior renewal. Late in the evening the Solstice ritual ends with the distribution of wormwood to all participants. Thus ends the old year, and the new one begins.
Then, once a month, when the moon is full, another important ritual (that of the Oracle) is celebrated. Anyone who desires advice or hints about the future asks a question of the oracle, which is visited by the priestesses through a complex magical operation thanks to which divine and human beings establish contact. The oracle’s answers are delivered at every full moon by means of a ceremony open to Damanhurians and guests (especially those who have asked a question). [Image at right] The answer is expressed concisely, furnishing clues about the future which each person is to interpret individually.
In addition, there are many daily-life and normal time-and-work rhythm rituals: for house-purification, for greeting spirits, bell rites and those for a good death. In the food-purification rite Damanhurians, with heads bowed, pray over the food before eating it. The main reason for this is that they believe every food contains within itself the marks of all the experience that has contributed to its creation. For example, the anxieties and worries of those who have ploughed the earth, sewn the seed and kneaded the dough survive in the bread. In the purification rite, harmful elements are eliminated and the positive ones preserved so that, entering the body, they reinvigorate it.
However, the Temples of Humankind [Image at right] are the places richest in symbols and rites. It is a huge subterranean construction made up of halls, laboratories and corridors, defined by the media as an “underground city.” It expresses Damanhur’s desire to represent its “mystical pole” in one place to which people can refer with their thoughts and their symbolic presence. Every room making up the complex (the Water Room, the Halls of Mirrors, of Metals, of the Spheres and of the Earth) seems to be a chapter in a symbolic Book of Knowledge capable of communicating the history of Humanity through art, ceremonies and performances. They serve a double function: on one hand they are a symbol of humanity’s evolutionary voyage and, on the other, they are used as a magic tool, a huge antenna by means of which it is possible to communicate with the whole universe. [Image at right]
The community has gradually evolved its political and organizational structure in an experimental key: in fact, the particular characteristic of Airaudi’s leadership was continual innovation.
In its first years of life, Damanhur was an austere, strict community, inaugurating what will be remembered as a downright military regime where every detail of social life was overseen.
In the 1980s, with the birth of the Federation, a more complex political and organizational structure became necessary. A hierarchy was established: every community, made up of several nuclei, acquired its own government consisting of a Reggente (elected by community members). The Reggente was accompanied by a Consiglio direttivo (equivalent to a board of directors) with representatives of the individual nuclei controlling the operation of single reggenti and also acting as a bridge with the Governo federale overseeing the all community. This Government was made up of three Guide (Guides) elected in the iniziatic School of Meditation headed by Oberto Airaudi.
When Airaudi realized that Damanhurians were ready to be delegated tasks and to assume individual responsibility in managing the res publica, he shifted from imposing solutions for a working social management to making suggestions. The process marking emancipation from the Master was made official by the abrogation of the following Article 22 of their Constitution:
“The people recognize that Oberto Airaudi, in his capacity as Founder and inspirer, has the right to attend the meetings of any bodies which he retains opportune in the interest of Damanhurians themselves and to be informed by individuals and competent organs about the development of community life; to express his opinions and advice, to encourage or to forbid any initiative when he considers it necessary”.
By the abolition of this article, the figure of the leader was consigned to the background, excluded from day-to-day decision-making. From 1996 onwards, Airaudi was exclusively the guarantor of observation of the constitutional charter, which meant that he could no longer intervene in decisions regarding the community’s management.
According to many observers, it was to Airaudi’s great credit that he moved aside quickly, delegating management of social life to his disciples and thereby enabling the community to learn how to survive without him. This preparation helped Damanhur to overcome the critical moment of the Founder’s death in 2013. Following this event, the community gained abundant legitimation, detaching themselves in the perception of the valley dwellers from their reputation as a closed, sectarian community and putting themselves forward, in Italy and abroad, as an economic resource specialized in the field of eco-spirituality.
Today Damanhur is ruled by six Sages who “represent Damanhur’s consistency with its aims and Airaudi’s teachings, when necessary turning to both the King Guide with regard to general comportment and directly to the citizens concerning specific situations” (Damanhur 40th Anniversary webpage. n.d.)
From the legal-administrative point of view, Damanhur has demonstrated its capacity to gain its own space, in Italian territory, where it has essentially created a state within a state. Nevertheless, there have been many episodes where the Damanhur juridical system has had to interact with the Italian. Many of Damanhur’s problems are in fact due to the various legal battles which have seen the community directly and repeatedly involved throughout its history. The main bones of contention between them and the state concerned specific legal cases relative to environmental issues, labour litigation and the case of the Temple of Humankind.
This last-mentioned, tormented, long-lasting legal battle which, however, ended well for Damanhur, involved the community from October 1992 to December 1995. Because the temple had been secretly constructed underground [Image at right] without any attempt of obtaining planning permission, they were charged with the crime of illegal building, and the Temple was placed out of bounds. Furthermore, both the Mountain Community and the Catholic Church were applying pressure to have the edifice demolished. Thus Damanhur started its legal war to save their temple, inviting the media to come and see for themselves the wonders created in the heart of the mountain. With the public, the media, politicians and academics testifying to the extraordinary beauty of the work, the judicial system finally withdrew its ban in December 1995, and once again the community took charge of its property (Palmisano and Pannofino 2014).
In recent years, while its spiritual message has increasingly acquired international attention, Damanhur has undergone intense development of its social life, inducing Damanhurians to reflect upon how they can recount their narrative in order to be better understood. At the same time, Damanhur needs to install new participant, collaborative mechanisms with the Italian state in order to attenuate differences with its environment.
Image #1: Photograph of Oberto Airaudi (Falco).
Image #2: Photograph of Open Temple in Damanhur.
Image #3: Photograph of the interior of the Temple of Humankind.
Image #4: Photograph of the interior of the Temple of Humankind.
Image #5: Photograph of the interior of the Temple of Humankind.
A.a. V.v. La Via Horusiana. 1987. Principi e concetti fondamentali della scuola di pensiero di Damanhur. Vidracco: Horus (pubblicazione interna).
Airaudi, Oberto. 2011. Stories of an Alchemist: The Extraordinary Childhood Years of the Founder of Damanhur in 33 Tales. Vidracco, Italy: Niatel.
Berzano, Luigi. 1998. Damanhur. Popolo e comunità. Torino: ElleDiCi.
Cardano, Mario. 1997. Lo specchio, la rosa e il loto. Uno studio sulla sacralizzazione della natura. Roma: SEAM.
Damanhur 40th Anniversary webpage. n.d. Accessed from http://www.damanhur.org/en/40th-anniversary on 10 March 2018.
Del Re, Michele and Maria Immacolata Macioti. 2013. Comunità spirituali del XXI secolo. Memorie, esistente, futuro. Il caso Damanhur. Roma: Aracne.
Introvigne, Massimo. 1999. “A Magical Community in Italy”. Pp. 183-94 in New Religious Movements: Challenge and Response, edited by Bryan Wilson and Jamie Cresswell. London: Routledge.
Palmisano, Stefania and Nicola Pannofino. 2014. “Damanhur, An Exemplary Utopia. An Analysis of the Public Identity of a New Religious Movement Online.” International Journal for the Study of New Religions 5:27-50.
Zoccatelli, PierLuigi. 2017. “Oberto Airaudi.” Accessed from https://wrldrels.org/2017/03/19/oberto-airaudi/ on 10 March 2018.
28 April 2018