I was a member of Damanhur for many years and I left recently because I woke up to the fact that I was helping to sustain a system of subtle psychological abuse. It is heart breaking to see how much damage Damanhur is causing to the people who have wholeheartedly pledged their lives to its ideals and social aspirations: people who sincerely believe that they are creating a new Atlantis, a new social model and a self-sustaining way of life.
The Damanhur ‘machine’ is very sophisticated, it presents a glossy image of life inside the community that for outsiders is hard to refute. Journalists and film- makers are constantly taken in by its glamor and naively perpetuate its myths and lies. The Internet is populated by glowing reports of its cultural events in an endless stream of propaganda. Green Party politicians are frequent visitors, endorsing its ecological projects and giving it an air of establishment approval. Anyone could be forgiven for believing it really is what it says it is and giving their support to its efforts. Unfortunately this perfect public image hides a reality that is anything but spiritual.
This seemingly democratic eco-village community with its own constitution, schools and daily paper is in fact structured as a hierarchical pyramid headed by its charismatic leader, ‘Falco’ – Oberto Airaudi who, as in all totalitarian regimes, decides everything behind the scenes. The ‘elected’ Guides of the Federation are just puppets nominated by him and voted in unanimously by Damanhurian citizens. The Guides do Falco’s bidding or they are removed, voters follow his indications or lose their privileges.
Damanhurian adepts are drawn in to the community through the ‘School of Meditation’, which operates through centers in Italy and abroad. It promotes itself as a Spiritual Initiate Path that will help you discover the nature of the universe; a mystery school that will teach you to awaken your divine nature and discover the hidden secrets of ancient esoteric tradition. The School teaches that you will never reach enlightenment on your own because you need a group context to act as a mirror; group interaction to help you through the changes necessary to improve your less than perfect character. The School constantly emphasizes the importance of the group rather than the individual and subtly encourages newcomers, in a series of well-calculated steps, to give up their present way of life and join the community. Many young people persuaded by the acceptance and instant friendship they encounter in the community and Meditation School, do just that, they abandon their family and friends to join Damanhur and build what they believe will be a new civilization.
Damanhur boasts its own underground Temple, which was built in secret by its initiates for 17 years. The construction adds a fascinating note to the community’s image and attracts many thousands of visitors a year. Damanhur has developed its tourist industry into a fine art. Inside the underground complex, secret doors and winding corridors lead to highly decorated chambers with marble mosaics, wall paintings and glass domes. Time travel cabins add to the air of science fiction fantasy and glass spheres for contacting other parts of the planet provoke a sense of esoteric mystery. It is difficult not to be taken in by the enormity of the work and not to believe in all the attendant tales of Damanhurian time travel, rebuilding Atlantis, alien collaboration and contact with the cosmos.
But despite the Temple and its highly promoted artistic profile you only need to dig a little beneath the Damanhurian surface to find irrefutable evidence that this new model society has all the workings of a classic cult, albeit a very sophisticated and complex one. I believe it to be one of the most insidious of its kind because of its marketing sophistication and its incredible ability to deceive.
Damanhur conceals many agendas on magic and energetic levels that are only now coming to light. Research groups are beginning to examine the real effects on human health of the ‘Selfic’ technology that has been developed by Falco within the community. Each Damanhurian initiate is required to have a ‘Personal Self’: a piece of alien ‘Selfic’ technology that is worn on the body and made personally by Falco. A basic Personal Self has 9 levels and costs 4,500 Euro; yearly updates cost 500 Euro. Visitors pay around a thousand Euro for ‘Passages’ in the rejuvenation cabins, which supposedly realign the age of internal organs and stave off the aging process. Other cabins are used for curing pathological diseases under the supervision of qualified doctors on the basis that it is all ‘experimental’ so that legal claims cannot be made if the cabins do not produce results. No scientific evidence has yet been produced to support claims that this so-called ‘alien technology’ can cure. Damanhurians, however, fervently believe that it works and pay to use it, what better recommendation do guests need?
There are many aspects of Damanhur that are reserved to an elite group of Initiates within the community, in particular those involving the Theurgic Magic that is practiced by the Meditation School. Damanhur was founded not only as a ‘social experiment’ – experimenting on whom I now ask myself – but also as a cover for magic and esoteric operations. Rituals are performed 24 hours a day to control energetic entities and divine forces in certain reserved and highly guarded areas. Damanhurian initiates believe that these forces are under control and working for the evolution of humankind; very few know that behind the scenes this energy is actually being directed to other, undeclared destinations. What it is being used for and by whom is not yet clear but for sure Falco is not excluded.
Initiates are subject to a subtle system of ‘thought reform’, which is exercised by the School of Meditation and the ‘Tecnarcato’, both designed to control, maintain discipline and suppress criticism within community. Public humiliation is used to create fear and obedience and a system of rewards for good behavior and status within the ranks ensures everyone tows the line. Those who do not follow the rules and disciplines are ostracized by their fellow Damanhurians and excluded from group activities. They are required to write letters explaining their actions to the ‘Vertice’ and are often subject to humiliating sessions of public apology in front of the whole School. I often saw grown men breakdown and cry when faced with this ordeal. All disciplinary procedures are made public during obligatory Meditation School meetings on Monday evenings. Initiates live in constant fear of the disapproval of Falco and the heads of the Meditation School: they are desperately careful to carry out all that is requested of them.
This system of control is imposed subtly and over a long period of time, at first it is barely noticeable. People do not realize how they are being manipulated and if they do criticize the system, they are told that it is they who are the problem. They are told they are lacking in some way, not sufficiently integrated, that they need to be less rigid and more open to change. Newcomers are told that it is early days yet and as they go on to become initiated they will understand better and realize that their doubts were unfounded. Even the most intelligent spiritual seeker, once challenged on an inner level, fails to see what is happening. People firmly deposit their dreams and aspirations in Damanhur and easily fall prey to its manipulation. Over the years they slowly become slaves to the system, giving all their economic resources, family inheritance, energy and life force to what they believe will save the world: i.e. Damanhur and its magic.
The Damanhurian week is filled with endless meetings, ritual tasks, reports to write, esoteric studies, domestic duties, community hours and devotional work in addition to earning a living. Most initiates live in a constant state of exhaustion; they eat very late in the evening in the family Nucleos, often combining supper with meetings that go on into the early hours. Children are mostly neglected as their parents work long hours for low pay and try to juggle all the time consuming needs of the School of Meditation, their ‘Spiritual Way’, the needs of the Nucleo, and their voluntary community work with the demands of a regular job. Internal taxation is high and initiates have very little disposable income. This reduces their mobility and ability to interact with the world: they rarely see family and friends outside and if they do, they often find themselves asking for monetary help.
The level of stress is high: initiates run from one obligatory activity to another with hardly time to breathe, let alone realize that they have become automatons of a psychologically abusive regime. Some resort to pharmaceutical drugs (prescribed by Damanhurian doctors) to relieve the depression that results from their failure to cope with the economic pressures and demands made upon them. The fear of failing to be the perfect initiate and the lack of time for personal needs eventually takes its toll on their health. Several initiates have made suicide attempts, one, a highly respected and long standing member of the community, recently succeeded. He was found dead in Vidracco Lake.
And still everyone keeps smiling, because that is what is required. Positive thinking, in spite of all evidence to the contrary, is the rule. “Damanhur is a spiritual path that requires absolute commitment”; “hardship is part of the path towards spiritual growth”; “no one said it would be easy”; if you cannot keep up with the pace, then you are the problem”; “Damanhur is never at fault”. In the end you accept everything because you no longer have the ability to think for yourself. The physical fatigue of meeting all the demands made on your time and your increasing low self-esteem makes dealing with the never ending contradictions of a Damanhurian life almost impossible. The constant sense of bewilderment finds refuge in fanaticism, which is then fed by censored information in the Damanhurian daily paper QDq. Many initiates become insular and increasingly afraid of the outside world. Always feeling inadequate and under constant examination by Damanhurian authorities, they learn to hide their real feelings even though they are obliged to write twice monthly ‘Tecnarcato’ reports on every aspect of their intimate lives. Initiates are reduced to obedient and compliant followers, completely in awe of Falco and desperately eager to please.
Once fully integrated into the social system and initiated into the Meditation School, Damanhurians will not accept any argument that challenges the world that they have become an integral part of. They are so psychologically and emotionally dependent upon it that any criticism is perceived as a personal attack, a threat to their very existence. Criticism arouses incredible emotion and anger, which is then directed, by the heads of the Meditation School, towards any former citizens who publicly criticize the community. Ex-Damanhurians who speak out are labeled as the ‘Enemy’ and are attacked energetically, legally and financially by the community and its members.
Fortunately some initiates eventually wake up to the reality of what they are involved in, though this can take many years. On average the actual process of preparing to leave seems to take about a year. There are many pieces of the puzzle that need to be put into place before you can really understand what you are part of. It takes time to leave and it is advisable to keep your decision to yourself. If you publicly express your doubts or intentions you are likely to be subjected to inquisition type interviews with the heads of the School and the Federation Guides. They will either do their best to convince you to stay and try to pull you back with displays of affection and support or, if you are creating too much of a disturbance, ask you to leave immediately. Wise initiates ask to change citizenship level and make a slow exit over a period of time, the more courageous make a surprise announcement and leave the same day.
It is very hard to just walk out of the gate even though it is always open. A Damanhurian’s sense of identity is firmly established within the community walls and outside the gate it ceases to exist, along with all that has been invested in it. Falco often reiterates that if you choose to leave, it is as if you had never arrived in Damanhur, all that you have contributed is wiped out. Imagine how this feels to someone who arrived at 18 and has spent over 20–30 years in the community! Leaving requires an enormous amount of courage. You are even told you will lose your soul. Until recently only a few Damanhurians involved in the innermost circles had ever managed to leave. In the past those who did escape remained isolated and without support. Fortunately the situation is now changing and in the last three years, over thirty citizens have left, including a founder member and initiates of over twenty years standing. Some of them have created a support network so that those in crisis inside have someone to turn to if they should seek help.
In the months since I left Damanhur I have struggled with the long and painful process of rebuilding my life, my sense of self, and faith in my ability to perceive the truth. I feel like a refugee in the outside world and yet this is the world to which I really belong. The damage goes very deep and also involves my children who grew up in the Damanhurian system. They have their own confusion and anger to deal with and their sense of insecurity. They no longer believe in my capacity to keep them safe and see what is real. We are a complex and sad psychological mess.
I cry with despair sometimes when I think of the damage that following my dream to Damanhur has caused us all. I am not only talking of the family’s economic ruin but of my deep sense of personal failure. How could I have allowed myself to be taken in by so many stupid and ridiculous lies?
I hope that this forum will help others not to get caught up in Damanhur as I did. Perhaps it will provide a space for sharing experiences so that other initiates can confirm their doubts, find their strength and also begin to take back their lives.
Posted 02/01/2008 to the Damanhur forum of www.cesap.net under the title ‘La vita damanhuriana’