It has been a year since my first post opened this forum. Many voices have contributed to the debate, mostly former Damanhurians seeking to make sense of it all. Only a small minority of Damanhurians paid to write in forums or their warmly encouraged friends have opposed the truth that has emerged. The fact that many of the arguments by former members were backed up by extracts from Damanhur’s own internal newspaper ‘QDq’ seems to have silenced the internal propaganda brigade. It is indeed ironic that some of the Damanhurians whose job it is to write in the forums have been faced with evidence contained in articles that they themselves have written for QDq. It could be said, as we are talking of spiritual circles, that this is Karma working at its best!
Here, however, I do not want to contribute to any more verbal battles, I would prefer to share some of the inner battles that have been waging war inside of me ever since I left Damanhur. The forum contains many posts that describe the kind of life we all lived inside the community. There are also accounts of how we woke up to the reality of the abuse that is perpetrated there in the name of an Initiate Path. Very little has been said however, about our post-Damanhur process, our flight from ‘Utopia’ and how we have all struggled to come to terms with what has happened in our lives. I would like to describe my own journey towards ‘recovery’ over the past couple of years, in the hope that it will provide some further insight into the mechanisms that are used in groups of this kind. Perhaps it might even be a source of comfort to other former Damanhurians who are still battling with the psychological consequences of their involvement. I make no pretense to be a psychologist but who knows perhaps my thoughts can help others in some way.
When I first left Damanhur I was ‘hyper’, I was drunk on my new found freedom and completely out of balance. After years of intense restriction I was overwhelmed by the fact that I could now do exactly as I pleased (within the usual limits of course). No more Tecnarcato reports to write, no more long hours of ‘Terrazzatura’, no more heavy buckets of cement to carry in the Temples, no more bricks to move endlessly from one temple site to another, no more excavating the mountain, no more construction work late into the night, in fact no more ‘forced’ volunteering of any kind. No more obligatory Meditation School meetings, no more anxiety about arriving on time, no need to remember not to eat after 3 pm on Mondays, no periods of silence to observe. No Vertice to answer to in disciplinary procedures if I put a foot wrong, no need to keep my opinions to myself, no one spying on me or reporting me for not observing my ‘Legge individuale’. No more bugs listening to my private conversations, no more control of my computer or telephone, no one writing evaluations on my performance as a citizen. No one taking over my parental role as regards my children, no one to make me feel inadequate, no one to humiliate me in public and no one to tell me that the outside world is a dangerous place full of ignorant people. Then there was the fact that I had a bathroom all to myself instead of sharing it with 14 other citizens; that I could eat and wear what I chose, that I did not have to share a room, live in a freezing cold caravan or sleep in a temporary wooden hut with barely room to move. I no longer had to stay up until the early hours of the morning attending endless obligatory family meetings or perform rituals for hours on end at all times of the day and night. There would be no more control of the cleanliness of my room, invasions of my privacy and no more daily reports to make on the state of my health. And last but not least, no more requests to the School of Meditation for permission to spend time away from Damanhur or to the Security Department to stay overnight with a friend living in another Damanhurian family.
Oh yes, I was drunk and disoriented by the enormity of all my new found freedom. To say that I was manic would be putting it mildly. In fact I had terrible problems just sitting still. I felt edgy if I was not doing something productive and if I slipped into a contemplative mood, I immediately felt guilty for wasting time on thinking rather than doing. In Damanhur we had all become ‘human doings’ rather than human beings. After I left, it was months before I could give myself permission to just sit down and relax. Once I spent time letting my thoughts flow naturally again instead of brushing them aside like idle chatter belonging to someone else, the healing process began.
Perhaps at this point it is better to go back a few steps to fully understand some of the mechanisms I was struggling with.
My departure from the community had been planned with military precision and the whole procedure was executed in a matter of hours before anyone really had time to take in the news. It was a scary experience standing up to the authority figures that had ruled my life for more than a decade: confronting the people who had succeeded in reducing me to little more than an obedient slave. Institutional authority figures were never a problem for me before I became a Damanhurian but in the community I easily slipped into a state of compliance when faced with officials of any kind. I always saw myself as a rebel but in Damanhur I found it hard to challenge anyone who held a position of power. When I look back on that final day, I still do not know how I found the courage to announce that I was leaving or the strength to actually go ahead and do it.
At the beginning, Damanhur had seemed such a spiritual utopia, far removed from the evils of this world but by the end it had become a psychological prison that held me captive inside a life of fear. That’s not to say that fear does not exist outside the walls of Damanhur but I am talking of living inside an inner dread, a totalitarian darkness that consumes your very soul. It is said that “the road to hell is paved with good intentions” and certainly the road to my Damanhurian hell had been just that. It took me years to see the true reality of my situation, to stop brushing aside my doubts and accept that I had made a huge error of judgment. If I had truly listened to my warning inner voices when I was encouraged by the King Guides to give all my property to the community I would perhaps have escaped more lightly. Looking back it is now obvious how my ideals, my love of science fiction, the Grail romances and all things magical, fantastic and mysterious, were a fertile territory for the predatory Damanhurian seed. I was searching for a meaningful reality, somewhere that I could use my skills to create a better world. Damanhur seemed heaven sent: it gave me a mission, it made me feel useful, it made me feel wanted and above all, it made me feel special.
I ignored the warning signs, fired by the mistaken idea that minorities are often persecuted because they are right or because they go against accepted opinion. But that is not always the case, sometimes minority groups of this kind are opposed because people on the outside see the agenda only too clearly. Those on the inside become deaf and blind to criticism because they cannot afford to challenge the world they have so laboriously created. It would be a death wish. A Damanhurian’s sense of identity is so strongly bound up in being on a divine mission to save the planet and to feeling part of an elite representing millions of human lives, that critical questions are never asked. The world of magic, esoteric grades, animal and vegetable names, Tecnarcato status and Game of Life bracelets is so important that the idea of it all being a fantastic, fraudulent illusion is too life threatening to even contemplate.
This is one of the reasons why the process of leaving takes so long. You have to let go of it all piece by piece, all the elements that have constructed your Damanhurian personality have to be dismantled one by one until your pre-Damanhurian self can surface and challenge the illusion you have taken to be real. It took a very particular event to ‘wake up’ my old personality, an event that violated my cultural DNA and seriously rang the alarm bells. It was rather like waking up wounded in a muddy war trench to find that I had been fighting for the wrong side.
From that point on I began to question everything that I had been told by Falco and community leaders and quietly examine the reality that I was involved in. It took almost a year to put all the pieces together and finally understand the whole picture. During that year I fought an internal struggle with myself in a kind of ping-pong war of ‘yes it is all true- no it isn’t’. I was totally confused, I did not want to believe that it was all a terrible litany of lies, I did not want to believe that I had allowed myself to be manipulated and tricked into giving away everything I owned. That I had been working for years to the point of exhaustion, not to create a model society but to make a billionaire even richer. Oh yes, it was a bitter pill to swallow. At first I was amazed at the truth behind the lies, then I felt sick to the stomach, then I was outraged and in the end I was heart broken. I had invested all of myself and everything I had in Damanhur and its ‘dream’ and it had turned out to be the worst kind of nightmare: the kind that you cannot wake up from, the kind that will haunt you for the rest of your life.
The first few months on the ‘outside’ were another kind of hell. I had no home, no work, and no money. Fortunately former Damanhurians were able to offer me a place to stay. The remains of my aging family, neglected during my years in Damanhur, though politely supportive and relieved at my having left the community could do little to help me on a practical level. I was out there on my own with children to support, feeling like a refugee from another planet. It was not as if I could explain to people where I had been for over a decade, where I had been working or why I had no social security contributions or tax returns. It was as if I had ’missing time’ and even though I take full responsibility for the fact that I climbed aboard the Damanhur spaceship of my own accord I also feel, with a certain degree of irritation, that my mind was cleverly ’abducted’. So there I was a cosmic refugee with nothing to show for my adventure except a whole heap of anger, debt and despair.
The anger was mixed with such a profound sense of betrayal that I can find no words to describe it. It is a primordial anger that swells up in me every now and again and screams against the injustice of it all, an anger that screams “How could you have been SO STUPID!” An anger that is remorseless in its search to understand WHY? An anger that constantly asks “HOW could this have happened to me?”
I was a real pleasure to be around in those early months! I could talk about nothing else but Damanhur, I was obsessive in my need to make sense of it all. I would bombard people I hardly knew with the whole terrible story; I could not find a balance amidst all the pain and anger at the loss of my dream. Even now more than two years on, I still find myself with tears in my eyes, perhaps triggered by a song on the radio, as all the emotion returns and floods me with pain. “Why, Oh why”, I ask myself, couldn’t it all have been true. I so wanted to travel in time, to explore the nature of the universe, to travel across the dimensions. I so wanted to understand the great mysteries, the forces and magic that shapes our lives. And there, I believe, lies the worst aspect of Falco’s betrayal: his manipulation of people’s dreams and aspirations in his pursuit of power, sex and money. I am sorry but I find it impossible to forgive him for that.
After my initial period of emotional seesawing I began reading everything I could on cult phenomena, from how you get recruited, to how it is possible to recover from the experience. This helped me a lot on an intellectual level. I began to understand the mechanisms that were used to recruit me and how I, like so many others had ‘fallen’ for the story. Things began to slot into place and a wider picture began to emerge. I could place my experience alongside those of others who had participated in destructive groups and see the similarities, share their stories and make comparisons. The patterns were clear and Damanhur fitted neatly into every classification I read of a destructive cult. I started to feel less of a victim, less of a stupid idiot and more like a traveler with a wealth of useful experience to share. That marked the beginning of my recovery process, the fact that I could relate my personal experience to that of others and begin to see it in perspective. Every cult context is different but as I discovered, they all have many factors in common.
I was also able to measure my own psychological health against that of other former Damanhurians who had gone through the leaving process before me. All of us have approached our difficulties in different ways. Some have launched themselves into new areas of spiritual research; others have looked for a substitute guru to help them find meaning in the chaos raging inside them; some have returned to their region of origin to take up the lives they left behind as many as twenty or thirty years ago. Some have left Italy for fear of repercussions; others are silent and refuse to discuss the past, preferring to bury their anger and disappointment and look only towards the future. I have declared myself a religious and spiritual free zone. I look at any belief system with a huge dose of skepticism. I am not interested in burning any more bridges for utopias and I am intensely suspicious of anyone who claims to have found the answers. I suppose this is just an initial reaction and perhaps in the future I will be able to relocate my dreams and aspirations in something other than basic survival. But for now I feel safer believing only in myself and my own inner dialogue with the forces of truth. I no longer need anyone to help me discover my ‘divine nature’ or my ‘inner master’; I will get there on my own, or not at all, as the case may be.
Slowly I have begun to build a new life and a new identity which has nothing to do with my Damanhurian past, even though every now and again someone will say “Ah, but weren’t you part of Damanhur at one time?” And throw me off balance again. My children never cease to remind me that they saw the truth about Damanhur long before I did and ask me why I had not listened to them earlier. I have no answer for them except to say that fanaticism is notoriously deaf to the ideas of others. For as long as I was a ‘true believer’ in the Damanhurian dream it was impossible for me to see the world in any other way. I had lost the ability to think for myself or if I did entertain critical thoughts, I quickly pushed them aside because they challenged my very existence. I am pleased that my children were the wiser and I am sorry for the indignities they suffered in the name of my ‘spiritual path’. I am ashamed to say that I seriously neglected them in pursuit of what I considered were ‘higher ideals’. I am sorry that I was unable to protect them from the worst aspects of Damanhurian totalitarianism and the fact that they grew up in endlessly changing groups of people all intent on disciplining them as they saw fit. I am sorry that their schooling was hopelessly inadequate in preparing them for the outside world and that they are both now paying the price for my mistakes before they have even had chance to make any of their own. It is not a pretty picture.
The psychological aftermath of my Damanhur experience has produced some interesting phenomena. I now suffer from acute panic attacks and episodes of excruciating anxiety about things that before Damanhur I would have taken in my stride. I still find it difficult to make decisions in a supermarket because I did not do any food shopping for over a decade. Spending any money at all arouses enormous guilt feelings after years of having so little and leaves me feeling separated from the flow of everyday life. I prefer to live in a small space because it makes me feel more secure and larger spaces seem too overwhelming to conquer. Sometimes I suffer from ‘disassociation’ states and episodes of ‘floating’ where my attention dissolves into a light trance. If the right trigger comes along I am pulled back into the states of consciousness that I practiced as part of Meditation School exercises and my mind takes off on another plane. Sometimes I even time warp back into Damanhurian ways of thinking and I have to remind myself that I am no longer there. It took me more than a year before I had the courage to move out into the world again in any meaningful kind of way.
I hardly seem to have any short term memory and I have had to develop endless strategies to help remember where I have put things down or what I did only seconds beforehand. I constantly worry that I am losing my mind and my ability to cope with the everyday world. One strange aspect that I have noticed, which I also observed when living in Damanhur is my level of ‘suggestibility’. I believe this is a result of the sophisticated suggestion techniques Falco used on all of us. I find that going to the cinema or just watching a film at home has a strange effect on me. It is interesting to note that Falco always warned us against going to the cinema, saying it was a waste of time and that we were living the imaginative world of someone else instead of building our own (i.e. working to build his). On the rare occasions as a Damanhurian that I had the opportunity to go to the cinema, I noticed that films had an incredibly profound effect on me. I would live the characters and the drama for weeks on end afterward. It was as if the world ‘suggested’ by the film had become a part of me. I began to be very cautious about the kinds of films I went to see because the reality portrayed in a film so strongly influenced my approach to daily life. This still happens even now, though to a lesser extent and I have to pay attention to the kind of films I choose to watch.
It is taking me a long time to completely restore my sense of self-respect and a belief in my own abilities, to be happy with who I am rather than striving to be what someone else tells me I ought to be. Slowly, step by step I am working towards it and I guess this is the biggest challenge in the long and painful recovery process. I will never be able to return to my pre-Damanhurian self and live my life as if Damanhur never happened but I am trying to build a new sense of identity based upon what that experience has taught me. I still want to believe that a small group of dedicated people can inspire change in the world but I suspect it requires a revolutionary dedication to truth that is hard to find in our times of ‘universal deceit’: to quote a phrase by George Orwell, the prophetic author of 1984.
I often think of those I left behind in Damanhur and wonder where they are now with their ‘good intentions’. I wonder if they will ever see the contradictions and wake up to the lies and corruption. Falco, as the ‘Time Monk’ – according to his book the ‘Seven Scarlet Doors’ – is leading them along the road to the ‘Central Fires’ (a euphemism for hell perhaps?). For the most part I believe their intentions are good …I don’t think the same can be said for his.
Posted to Ce.S.A.P: 2009/01/01 19:10