1915 (February 16): Tommaso Palamidessi was born in Pisa, Tuscany.
1920: Palamidessi moved to Catania, Sicily, with his family.
1931: The Palamidessi family moved to Syracuse, Sicily.
1932: Palamidessi moved to Turin, Piedmont.
1938 (ca.): Palamidessi started working as a professional astrologer in Turin.
1940: Palamidessi published his first two books and moved to Castelfranco Veneto, Venetia, where he worked as a therapist in a private hospital.
1941: Palamidessi established a publishing house in Turin, Edizioni Palamidessi, and published Astrologia mondiale (World Astrology).
1943: Palamidessi studied Egyptology at the Egyptian Museum in Turin.
Mid-1940s: Palamidessi became a member of the Theosophical Society, the Martinist Order, and Freemasonry.
1947: Palamidessi married Rosa Francesca Bordino in Turin.
1948: Palamidessi founded the publishing house Grande Opera in Turin.
1948 (May 4): Palamidessi founded the Ordine Iniziatico Loto+Croce (Initiatic Order Lotus+Cross) in Turin.
1949: Palamidessi established in Turin one of the first yoga schools in Italy, Scuola Yoga.
1952: Palamidessi experienced a “turn to Christianity.”
1953: Palamidessi moved to Rome.
1957: Palamidessi traveled to Greece and visited Mount Athos.
1958: Palamidessi moved to Morlupo, near Rome.
1960: Palamidessi was received in the Franciscan Third Order Secular.
1962–1966: Palamidessi traveled though Poland, the Soviet Union, the United States, the Middle East, Ethiopia, and Tibet.
1966 (April 7): Palamidessi experienced supernatural phenomena in the Church of the Holy Sepulcher in Jerusalem.
1968: Palamidessi founded the Archeosofica School in Rome.
1971: Palamidessi founded the journal Il Messaggio archeosofico (The Archeosophical Message).
1972–1978: Palamidessi undertook further travels to Japan, Thailand, China, India, Peru, Brazil, and other countries.
1973 (July 9): The Associazione Archeosofica was legally incorporated in Rome.
1975: Palamidessi published Tecniche di risveglio iniziatico (Techniques of Initiation and Awakening).
1983 (April 29): Palamidessi died in Rome
1983: After the death of Palamidessi, Alessandro Benassai became the president of Associazione Archesofica, whose headquarters were moved to Tuscany (Florence, then Siena, and finally Pistoia).
1999 (December 27): Palamidessi’s wife, Rosa, died inRome
Archeosophy is an esoteric doctrine and movement based on the teachings of Italian spiritual master Tommaso Palamidessi (1915–1983) [Image at right]. His father was an army officer, Carlo Palamidessi (1878–1946), and his mother a Sicilian poet and novelist, Luigia Tagliata (1886–1971). Born in Pisa, Tuscany, Palamidessi moved at age five to his mother’s region, Sicily, living first in Catania and then, from 1931, in Syracuse. He also crossed the Mediterranean Sea and, as a teenager, visited Libya and Tunisia in 1928 (Baroni 2011, 2009; Lullo 2020, which are the main sources for this paragraph).
Palamidessi later described his youth as a time of intense spiritual experiences, who made him a reclusive and unhappy child. His aunt was a nun in the Sicilian Catholic monastery of Pozzallo, where, as he reported. he prayed intensely since a very young age. But he claimed he also believed in reincarnation, and as a teenager started remembering past lives, including as early Christian scholar Origen of Alexandria (ca. 184–253) and Italian Renaissance astrologer and philosopher Gerolamo Cardano (1501–1576).
In 1932, his family moved to Turin, at that time one of Italy’s capitals of esotericism and occultism. Palamidessi was fascinated by astrology and, by the end of the decade, had started working as a professional astrologer. His main interest was how astrology can contribute to healing. In 1940, he published on this subject his first two books, Il corso degli astri e le malattie dell’uomo (The Course of the Stars and Human Diseases) and La medicina e gli influssi siderali (Medicine and Astral Influences) (Palamidessi 1940a, 1940b). In 1940–1941, he worked in a private hospital in Castelfranco Veneto, Venetia, where he tested his theories on healing, and reported good results. [Image at right]
Back in Turin, he founded there in 1941 his own publishing house, Edizioni Palamidessi, which debuted in 1941 with his largest and most important book about astrology, Astrologia mondiale (World Astrology: Palamidessi 1941). In two books published in 1943, he claimed astrology can contribute to an early diagnosis of cancer (Palamidessi 1943a) and predict earthquakes, a recurring problem in Italy (Palamidessi 1943b).
Turin is home to the second largest Egyptian Museum in the world, after Cairo, which also offers courses of Egyptology. Palamidessi attended one of them in 1941, and acquired a basic knowledge of the ancient Egyptian characters. He explored different features of Turin’s esoteric scene, participating in Spiritualist seances and becoming a member of the Theosophical Society, the Martinist Order, and the wing of Italian Freemasonry more open to religion, the Grand Lodge of Italy. He also read the main works of Rudolf Steiner (1861–1925), the founder of Anthroposophy.
In 1947, he married in Turin Rosa Francesca Bordino (1916–1999), who would have an important part in the development of his esoteric orders. In 1948, both their daughter Silvestra (1948–1996) and a new publishing house founded by Palamidessi, Grande Opera (Great Work), were born. [Image at right] In the 1940s, Palamidessi had developed an interest in yoga, publishing several volumes about yoga and Tantrism (Palamidessi 1945, 1948, 1949a, 1949b). At the end of 1948, he opened in Turin what was one of the first Italian schools of yoga, Scuola Yoga.
He also studied alchemy and the Rosicrucian tradition. After having considered a project of a Scuola Italiana di Iniziazione Hermetica (Italian School of Hermetic Initiations), he founded on May 4, 1948, the Ordine Iniziatico Loto+Croce (Initiatic Order Lotus+Cross), which he led under the name of Grand Master Rajkunda until his death.
Palamidessi, however, had never abandoned Christianity. In 1952, he experienced a renewed “turn” to Christianity. He decided to withdraw some of his books on Tantrism, claiming that these techniques were “dangerous” (Palamidessi 1970:23) and should be practiced only to the extent they are compatible with Christianity (Palamidessi 2012:55). In 1957, he visited Mount Athos in Greece, and in 1960 in La Verna, Tuscany, he became a member of the Franciscan Third Secular Order. Meanwhile, he had moved to Rome in 1953 and to nearby Morlupo in 1958, where the ceremonies of the Lotus+Cross order were held (Baroni 2011:87–88).
From the 1960s, Palamidessi devoted a substantial amount of his time to traveling, visiting North and South America, the Middle East, the Far East, India, Ethiopia, as well as the Soviet Union and some of its satellite countries. He also managed to travel to China and visited Tibet twice, which was uncommon for Europeans at that time. [Image at right]
While he continued leading the Lotus+Cross order, on September 29, 1968, Palamidessi founded a new organization, the Archeosofica School, and he legally incorporated an Associazione Archeosofica in 1973. His followers regard a mystical experience he had on April 7, 1966, in the Church of the Holy Sepulcher in Jerusalem, where he witnessed extraordinary phenomena, as the final, decisive step leading to the unveiling of the school to the world. He introduced “Archeosophy” as a synthesis of his teachings, presented in fifty-one “quaderni” (notebooks) for the members, written between 1968 and 1983. From 1971 to 1982, he also published a journal, Il Messaggio archeosofico (The Archeosophical
Message). In 1975, Palamidessi published Tecniche di risveglio iniziatico (Techniques of Initiation and Awakening: Palamidessi 1975), his last main book. He died in Rome on April 29, 1983. [Image at right]
As it often happens in esoteric orders, controversies erupted about the master’s succession, involving his wife Rosa and daughter Silvestra, and his closest disciple Alessandro Benassai, born in 1940. Before Rosa’s death in 1999, the controversies were solved, and Benassai was recognized as the president of Associazione Archeosofica, whose headquarters were moved to Tuscany in 1983, initially to Florence, then to Siena and finally to Pistoia. Already during Palamidessi’s lifetime, Tuscany was an important center for Archeosophy, which gradually expanded to several Italian cities and some foreign countries as well.
The doctrine of Archeosophy is presented, in its definitive form, in the fifty-one notebooks. Members, however, also read other works by Palamidessi and, while presenting his doctrine, its development through the years and the crucial “turn to Christianity” in 1952 should be considered.
God sent his son, the eternal Avatar, to incarnate on Earth several times as Rama, Krishna, Jesus. A future Messiah may appear in the future, but in all cases, it is the same Divine Person who incarnates to lead humans to Divinity. In the lineage of the Avatars, ekklesiae (churches) develop throughout history. Ekklesiae consist of an external and an internal (esoteric) body. One of these esoteric bodies was the Rosicrucian Order, which
however ended up in decline. Hence the need of a new esoteric center, the Lotus+Cross order, whose wider external circle is the Archeosofica School (Zoccatelli 2020). [Image at right]
The lotus mentioned in the name of the order is a clear reference to the wisdom of the East, which however is accepted selectively by Palamidessi, as long as it does not contradict Christianity. The lotus in the Eastern religions is also a symbol of reincarnation. According to Palamidessi, the doctrine of reincarnation is not incompatible with Christianity, and in fact was always taught in Christian esoteric schools. Archeosophical teachings include specific techniques on how to remember the devotee’s own past lives (Palamidessi 1968).
In his early works, Palamidessi taught traditional Tantric techniques about the awakening of the kundalini. Some of these techniques are based on sexuality and on male continence (Zoccatelli 2020). Palamidessi regarded these practices as valuable but “dangerous.” He believed that all forms of external and internal alchemy should always be accompanied by, and subordinated to, Christian prayer and meditation in the shape of “cardiognosis,” the gnosis of the heart (Lullo 2020:13–14). The reference to male continence does not mean that women are less important than men in Archeosophy. On the contrary, Palamidessi believed that women will save the modern world and that we are entering, as prophesied by Joachim of Fiore (1135?–1202), in the Age of the Holy Spirit, where the female aspect of God will be revealed (Lullo 2020:16). [Image at right]
Archeosophy is presented as “the most comprehensive interpretation of Christianity” (Palamidessi 1979:8), and a revival of Alexandria’s Didaskaleion as it flourished at the time of Origen, of whom, as mentioned earlier, Palamidessi believed to be a reincarnation. This revival, however, is not a mere return to the early Christian centuries, which would be both impossible and inappropriate in an era dominated by science. Since the 1940s, Palamidessi was among the first to use the expression “Age of Aquarius,” based on his understanding of astrology. The Age of Pisces, he taught, was the age of mysticism, while the Age of Aquarius, which started in 1789 with the French Revolution, is the age of science. However, science is not opposed to spirituality, as all ages are part of a progressive revelation of God (Corradetti and Lullo 2020:35–36).
Archeosophy’s techniques are aimed at a full grasp of this “more comprehensive Christianity.” They also prepare for death. Il libro cristiano dei morti (The Christian Book of the Dead) is among Palamidessi’s works that were published after his death (Palamidessi 1985, 2012). It is a practical guide for the dying, who are also taught about what happens immediately after death. The dead will reincarnate, although the most perfected souls will eventually escape the cycle of reincarnations. Heaven, hell and purgatory are status of consciousness and, as such, temporary (Lullo 2020:22–23). However, the very evil may experience a “second death” at the end of this world, or even before: their spirit will be separated from their soul, and will “disappear” and return to God (Zoccatelli 2020).
The techniques and rituals taught by Archeosophy encompass the whole spectrum of Western esotericism, from alchemy to numerology, from breathing exercises to astrology. Italian scholars Daniele Corradetti and Gina Lullo (who are also practicing Archeosophists) have evidenced three techniques as particularly important: chakra meditation, the “eucharistia lucernaris” ritual, and cardiognosis (Corradetti and Lullo 2020). [Image at right]
The notion of chakras had been popularized by the Theosophical Society, of which Palamidessi was a member. After 1952, the theory of the chakras was reinterpreted through the lenses of Christian mysticism. Palamidessi mentioned twenty-one spiritual centers: seven physical, seven astral, and seven psychical. In the period 1945–1952, he elaborated a classification of twelve chakras, which is different from the most common Theosophical system. They should be activated in order to conquer the seven main vices and convert them into seven virtues. These virtues should be cultivated in the daily life of the devotees, but Archeosophy also offers a meditation technique. It starts with prayers written by Palamidessi, and proceeds through breathing and visualization exercises, and concludes by focusing on the divine name corresponding to the chakra to be awakened. These divine names correspond to the Sefirot of the Kabbalah.
The ritual of “eucharestia lucernaris” (eucharist of the light) is included in a daily routine of spiritual exercises, and is performed at sunset, either individually or with other devotees. Three drapes, respectively black, white and red, are placed on a table, together with a tripod holding a candle or a glass with olive oil and a wick. After a prayer to the Trinity, all lights are switched off and a woman (if present), or otherwise a man, lights on the candle with a blessing. After a sign of the cross, all will perform breathing exercises, focusing first on the external flame and then on the internal flame burning in the heart of each devotee.
The cardiognosis (prayer of the heart) is a form of hesychasm, a technique that Palamidessi learned during his visit to Mount Athos. It is a form of “continuous prayer” where a short formula is repeated in correspondence with breathing exercises (Palamidessi 1969). Palamidessi recommended different formulae as prayers to Christ and the Holy Wisdom, Sophia, and a variety of breathing techniques (Corradetti and Lullo 2020:38–50). [Image at right]
These are just three among a large variety of techniques and rituals taught by Archeosophy. It should also be mentioned that both the visual arts and music include for Palamidessi an esoteric dimension. Among Palamidessi’s works published posthumously, more than one deal with these subjects. In L’icona, i colori e l’ascesi artistica (Icon, colors, ad artistic ascesis, 1986), based on Palamidessi’s reminiscence of a past life as a monk working as iconographer, he proposes something called “iconognosia,” which is a way of reaching the Divine both by contemplating sacred images and by painting a “personal icon” (Palamidessi 1986).
Trattato di musica e melurgia archeosofica (A Treatise of Archeosophical Music and Melurgy) is among Palamidessi’s posthumous works dealing with music as a spiritual and mystical experience (Palamidessi s.d.). In 1999, guided by these teachings, Alessandro Benassai established the Choir of Sacred Music “Saint Cecilia” in Florence (Lullo 2020:23-26).
Archeosophy, according to Palamidessi, is a doctrine or a science. The Archeosofica School, as the name indicates, is a school or academy. It is not a religion, and is open to members of all religions and even to atheists (Cresti 2020:111), willing to learn certain principles and techniques.
Palamidessi always insisted that the teachings of the Archeosofica School are open and free. It is not necessary to become members of any organization or association in order to receive them. However, for those who want to cooperate in spreading the Archeosophical teachings, an Associazione Archeosofica was legally incorporated in 1973. As of May 2019, it included twenty-seven branches in Italy and three in Germany (Berlin, Cologne, and Düsseldorf), although members are also present in Portugal, France, and Brazil. At the end of May 2019, the association had some 1,000 members (Cresti 2020:114). [Image at right]
As internal ekklesia, the Lotus+Cross order offers to the initiates a priesthood, which is rooted in the Christian doctrine of the common priesthood of all believers, and a more intense and demanding spiritual experience of Archeosophy (Zoccatelli 2020). The order appears as an internal, more esoteric circle of the Archeosofica School. Some twenty percent of the school members are initiated into the Lotus+Cross order (Di Marzio 2020:58). The order is organized in twelve degrees, plus one reserved for the Grand Master, appointed for life by his predecessor. The first Grand Master was Palamidessi and the current one is Benassai, who is also president of the Archeosophical Association (Cresti 2020:115–16).
Although minuscule in size, the Italian anti-cult movement regularly manages to have its activities covered by some mainline media. In 2006, an Anti-Cult Squad (Squadra Anti-Sette) was formed within the Italian police (Ministero dell’Interno 2006), although its activities remained limited.
Italian anti-cultists have targeted Archeosophy as well, particularly through the book Nella setta (Inside the Cult), published by two journalists in 2018 (Piccinni and Gazzanni 2018). The authors have announced that, as a result of their book, the Anti-Cult Squad has opened an investigation, although Archeosophy claims to have received no news of it.
Accusations include the usual anti-cult laundry list of complaints: brainwashing, breaking families, and exorbitant financial requests. Members of the Associazione Archeosofica today pay 120 euros per year, a sum regarded as excessive, considering the services they receive, by the 2018 anti-cult book, but certainly not extravagant.
Archeosophy answered that the school’s activities are free of charge and participants are not compelled to join the association, which needs the monthly contributions for renting premises in different cities and carrying on its normal activities (Calamati 2018). A psychological analysis of how Archeosophy is joined did not evidence aggressive proselytization, nor forms of pressure higher than what is common in other religious or esoteric movements (Di Marzio 2020).
Image #1: Tommaso Palamidessi.
Image #2: Palamidessi as a yoga teacher.
Image #3: Palamidessi with wife Rosa and daughter Silvestra.
Image #4: Palamidessi and his wife Rosa with children in Shanghai (June 2, 1977).
Image #5: Palamidessi in the 1980s.
Image #6: An Archeosophy conference at the Toscanini Auditorium in Parma, Italy.
Image #7: Yearly conference of Archeosophy in St. Galgano Abbey, Tuscany.
Image #8: Archeosophy lecture about the Holy Grail in the Palace of the People’s Captains, Reggio Emilia, Italy.
Image #9: Archeosophy lecture in the Capitoline Museums, Rome.
Image #10: A meeting in the headquarters in Pistoia, Tuscany.
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21 February 2020