People do not ‘join’ Damanhur they are recruited. They are lead to believe that they are making a spiritual ‘choice’ by entering the community when in fact they are victims of a well-organized system of mental manipulation. The recruitment process unfolds almost imperceptibly and often seduces even the most knowledgeable of skeptics. No one given the right circumstances is totally immune from Damanhur’s sphere of influence at one level or another: noted magistrates, national politicians, international artists and media celebrities have all been known to succumb to its marketing charms.
Damanhur is looking for young, well-educated, intelligent professionals from wealthy backgrounds: idealists, looking to create a better world, spiritual seekers or ‘New Age’’ sympathizers with an interest in the occult. It is important to be economically self-sufficient, to have paid work or skills that the Community needs. Italian nationals are preferred because this creates less of a communication problem but Damanhur is open to foreigners providing they speak Italian and are able to arrange their own permission to stay. Damanhur is also interested in attracting foreigners with money to buy their own houses and set up businesses in the local area, as part of its ‘ValdiChy Project’ to re-populate and conquer Valchiusella valley.
Most recruits first encounter Damanhur through one of three main channels:
1. 3-7 day Olami Damanhur visiting programs and or University courses.
2. A presentation seminar by a Damanhurian ambassador,
3. An invitation to attend the Meditation School preparatory course by a friend or family member.
The Community’s Internet site, magazines, television, radio and cinema advertizing are all used to encourage new members to approach Damanhur through these channels. Damanhur does not solicit for new members on the street; at the most it attends New Age conferences and fairs in order to promote its centers and courses.
From the outside Damanhur appears to be a wealthy, Eco-based society that studies the ancient mysteries, performs nature rituals and plays around with strange alien technologies in the name of research and experimentation. Weird but harmless, is most people’s conclusion and they give it the benefit of the doubt. It has built a thriving tourist industry based around ‘Olami Damanhur’, which runs courses and schools on a variety of ‘New-Age’ disciplines formulated from the teachings of Community founder, Oberto Airaudi. It also organizes visits to Damanhur’s underground Temple complex in the hill above Vidracco. The Temples of Humankind are a major attraction to spiritual seekers and hundreds of people visit them every year. Most visitors are curious but totally unprepared for what they will see and feel inside the mountain. The Temples are an incredibly powerful recruitment tool. A clever mixture of imagery, archetypes and sound is employed to arouse intense emotion in visitors as they explore its secret corridors and meditate in its chambers. It is a cinematic sci-fi world made real. Many people are psychologically ‘hooked, after their 2-3 hour visit and the recruitment process has begun.
Damanhurian Ambassadors travel the world presenting the Community and looking for recruits and coordinators who will establish new centers in which they can hold seminars. They make money and friends selling Damanhurian therapies, products and publications. They also give TV and radio interviews in various cities on route to encourage visits to the Community by groups and tour agents. The marketing is slick and professional and brings in a huge amount of income in terms of tourism and contacts with professionals abroad. In recent years Damanhur has successfully established three centers in Japan and groups of Japanese initiates regularly travel to Italy to attend Damanhur’s seasonal rituals. Croatia and Austria also have a growing initiate population some of whom have already moved to Italy and become ‘A’ level citizens. Damanhur is fast becoming a multinational phenomenon with international financing and support. Foreigners are dazzled by the exotic and mysterious nature of the Community and often do not see the inconsistencies as fast as native Italians do. They tend to buy the marketing image and rarely have access to ‘real’ information because of the language barriers. Damanhur is happy to take their money and keep them in the ‘dark’ for as long as they are useful. Fortunately it is very difficult for non-European Union nationals to get permanent visas to live and work in Italy and this offers some protection from the recruitment process. Nevertheless if you have the money to buy a house it can be done and of course Damanhur will help you to find one…later, when you become an ‘A’ citizen they gain not only a new recruit but also a new house!
Meditation School instructors travel all over Italy and the world to teach the Meditation groups based in Damanhurian centers. Each group has its own ‘number’ and instructors prepare would-be adepts in the esoteric teachings of Oberto Airaudi at the weekly obligatory School meetings (sometimes monthly in centers further afield). There are also international Meditation Schools, which are run on a quarterly basis in central Damanhur which foreign nationals can attend and an introductory School online with tutorials for people abroad who are unable to travel to Italy.
The Meditation School, despite what its name might suggest is not a school that teaches eastern meditation practices but an Initiate Path in Theurgic Magic. It is designed to indoctrinate its members and encourage them in a series of well-prepared steps, to give up their ‘normal’ life and become citizens of the magic Community.
The School teaches you to place the group (i.e. Damanhur) before yourself and fills your head with hours and hours of complex and esoteric teachings in a passive and rigidly disciplined atmosphere where questions can be asked but critical analysis is actively discouraged. The first three months are considered a preparatory course (to sort the sheep from the goats) and then entry into the group is closed to newcomers so that the real indoctrination process can officially begin. There are strict rules on punctuality, fasting and smoking and attendance is obligatory unless you are granted leave of absence. You are told that ‘Meditation’ is a course that begins but never ends and that it is a life-long commitment. Within a period of 12-18 months, group members who have demonstrated their ability to put the needs of Damanhur before their own become initiates and are fully welcomed into the School after a ritual rite of passage and a secret oath of allegiance to the divinity Horus.
Young initiates, if they have not already ‘chosen’ to do so, are actively encouraged to become A citizens i.e. residential members of the Federation of Communities, leave their old life, jobs and family behind and enter the new citizens program. Having successfully completed the six-month training period they are then asked to pay the Community entrance fee of I, 000 Euro and become active members of the Community. “Damanhurians are here to give and not take”, Oberto Airaudi constantly reminds everyone. Not only do new citizens pay the non-returnable entrance fee but they are also asked to donate all their worldly goods to the Community (houses, inheritance, wealth of any kind): this demonstrates their ability to ‘live the moment’ and not be attached to material things.
A citizens take a new name (that of an animal species) to create a sense of rebirth and a new identity so that links with their past are lost. The psychological and material investment made by young citizens in their new life and their eager desire to fit in and be accepted is so strong, that the outside world begins to pale into insignificance. Damanhur, with its incessant demands, magic and sci-fi fantasies takes over, encouraging psychological and economic dependence and an inability to challenge the group mind. In order to survive Damanhurians learn to quietly obey and stay in line with the directives issued by the various Damanhurian institutional bodies (The King Guides, Game of Life, School of Meditation, Tecnarcato). They find thinking for themselves, making autonomous judgments and applying their critical faculties increasingly difficult.
Most people do not realize they are being recruited and those that enter Damanhur often do so when they are going through a vulnerable period of stress in their lives. Damanhurian recruitment is always done through personal contact even though the initial encounter may be through a magazine, book or video. Damanhurian recruiters instantly make friends with you, invite you to their Nucleo for meals and introduce you to other family members. They ask you about your hopes and dreams and offer to help you realize them. At first they involve you in their activities and do small favors for you so that you begin to feel obliged to reciprocate. Later on they involve you on a deeper level by making you feel at home in their working groups and creating such a sense of emotional security that little by little it replaces your old ties of affection. The stakes slowly get higher and higher and on an emotional level you are forced to justify the commitment you are making to the Community.
When you have overcome the various entry phases to become an A citizen the situation reverses and Damanhur’s demands seriously outweigh its favors. At that point your involvement has become so absolute and your identity so firmly rooted in Damanhur, that there is no turning back. Damanhur is particularly astute in that it offers people varying levels of participation in the Community but in the end all roads lead to A citizenship and a total life commitment, no matter how long it takes you to get there.
The gate to the outside world is always open but walking away may be harder than you think.