Looking for something a little bit different to fill your summer? This year’s Festival lineups just not quite doing it for you? Or do you just hate our society and all of the pricks that come with it and need to get away?
Fear not, I take great pride in introducing you to Damanhur, an alternative to being surrounded by snapbacks in Croatia.
‘The Federation of Damanhur’ (pronounced Dar-manwhore) is an eco-village and spiritual community that sits in the foothills of the Italian Alps aside the beautiful Gran Paradiso National Park, which wouldn’t sound out of place in an advert for a retirement home in Vice City. It promises enlightenment to its residents and promotes peace, calling itself a model for a sustainable future.
Damanhur was founded in 1975 by ex-insurance dude Oberto Airaudi – although apparently he is now a philosopher and a healer and goes by the name Falco.
Now, I don’t know about you but this guy has my vote, Falco rolls off the tongue and sounds infinitely more badass than the names of ‘leaders’ we’re stuck with over here in the UK – Clegg sounds like something that would fall out of Falco’s feathery vagina. As badass as it may be, Falco’s choice in name says a lot for his ego. Damanhur was an ancient Egyptian city with a temple dedicated to the Sky God Horus who just so happened to have a Falcon’s head atop his shoulders. Can anyone smell a god complex?
This God’s place of worship comes in the form ‘The Temples of Humankind’ – a massive underground structure which gained the commune some publicity in 1992 when the authorities were alerted to its construction.
This temple is awesome, like seriously awesome, it’s even been nicknamed ‘The eighth wonder of the world’. With a combination of mirror tricks, glowing spheres and a place that is actually called ‘The Labyrinth’ it could have been a rejected set for the inside of the serial killer’s mind that J-Lo jiggles her way through in the 2000 sci-fi thriller, The Cell.
Damanhur, on the surface, seems to be about as distant from murder as can be – it’s advertised as a spiritual haven and a place of learning. But this isn’t your average institute of education, no-sir-ee. The University of Damanhur does offer the opportunity to learn about ‘Ancient Civilizations Of Humankind’ but the rest of their courses sound much more interesting. For example, if you want to study ‘The Paths Of The Dream’, you will, and I quote, “explore the magical dimension of the dream” then this is the place for you. Alternatively you could jump straight in at the deep end and try your hand at ‘Communication With The Plant World’ or even take a course in ‘Transforming Memories Using Time Seeds’.
Now for those of you who don’t know (don’t be ashamed, it’s probably all of you) “Time Seeds are the most advanced magical technology coming out of Damanhurian research in the field of time.” Obviously. Oh yeah, I forgot to mention, these guys claim to be in possession of a time machine. Information on their time travel techniques is pretty limited since they removed their webpages concerning it in 2003 (after arguably serving their purposes of arousing interest and gaining new members) – as you can expect they don’t want outsiders learning their secrets or finding evidence that their claims are total bullshit.
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This is where it gets a bit ridiculous (and you thought “Communication With The Plant World” was the mad part?) – Falco claims that he has travelled from 600 years in the future in order to save humanity from impending disaster. Do you want to know where he claims to have travelled from? Atlantis. Yes, Atlantis – that mythical civilization stuck 20,000 leagues under the sea. Damanhur’s time machine of choice is the ‘Time Cabin’, and from what I can gather it’s some sort of mix between a TARDIS and a stripper cage – I think they should have called it the ‘Damanhurian DeLorean’ but alas. I’m not the time traveling reincarnation of an Egyptian God, nor do I have an underground temple built in my honour so I don’t get to make the rules.
As well as being open to the ideas of traveling through both time and astral planes, this place is open to the public. You and I can go there any time we want – a half day tour of the temples will set you back 66 Euros and you can stay within the community for an entire week if you’re willing to cough up â‚¬550.
Now this all sounds great. A small slice of spiritual solace in this mad, bad world we live in. As with most things though, all may not be as it seems. There are claims that this place holds dark secrets, as one would expect with any religious or spiritual institution. BBC Newsnight drew connections between Damanhur and the Swiss solar temple suicides as well as bombings from an underground Japanese cult. The more research you do the more similarities Damanhur seems to have with Scientology, particularly on the subject of brainwashing and mental manipulation.
Dr Charla W. Mayo, in her book ‘The Rape of the Mind’ suggests that “[the techniques used in modern brainwashing] are not like the medieval torture of the rack and thumb-screw. They are subtler, more prolonged and intended to be more terrible in their effect. They are calculated to…distort [an intelligent victim’s] sense of values, [becoming] a seemingly willing accomplice to the complete disintegration of his integrity and the production of an elaborate fiction.” Now I’m aware that this is written by someone who shares their surname with the abbreviation of an egg-based condiment and it all sounds really dramatic, but it’s also pretty accurate. There are plenty of claims that are kind of indisputable that Scientology has employed the modern techniques that Mayo refers to.
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The definition of brainwashing is “the process of causing a person to undergo a radical alteration of beliefs and attitudes…the brainwashed person is conditioned by punishment for undesirable beliefs and rewarded for expressing desirable beliefs.” and it would appear that this practice is something that the Federation of Damanhur and Scientology may have in common.
There’s not a lot of information available in English regarding the dark side of Damanhur (a potential title for a new Star Wars if you’re listening, Disney) and considering my knowledge of Italian stretches as far as a bad accent learnt from a pixelated plumber, there’s only so much I can relay to you. What I have found is a translation of an article in Italian newspaper ‘La Stampa’ from 2009, it tells of a man, whose real name has been withheld but is referred to as ‘Luciano’, filing a report to the District Attorney’s office, the Head of State and the Military Police suggesting that his daughter fell prey to Damanhurian techniques of persuasion.
Luciano says that “in three years I have seen and heard from her only once because they do not allow me to see her, I know she has been manipulated mentally, I am certain that she has been brainwashed by what I define as a mind control cult.” Roberto Sparagio (who’s adopted the Damanhurian alias “Coboldo Melo”) responds with disdain – “Here we go again – every so often someone begins to talk about cults and manipulation, but nothing of the sort has ever been demonstrated. Everyone here has a mobile phone, access to a computer, participates in social and political activities and our children to go to schools in Ivrea or Turin. If that is not freedom you tell me what is.”
Well Mr. Melo, allow me.
Freedom, by definition, is ‘exemption from external control, interference or regulation’ which in my eyes transcends merely being allowed to check your facebook or attend a PTA meeting.
Of course Damanhur may have no links at all with Scientology or brainwashing – but I’ll let you make up your own mind on how legit this place is. An official investigation has yet to be opened and these claims are obviously speculative and a case opened by a father with similar concerns 20 years ago ended nowhere. Regardless of how accurate the theories of these grieving fathers are, Damanhur is most definitely not squeaky clean. In 2010 ‘Falco’ was convicted of tax evasion to the tune of 2.2 million euros.
So what is Damanhur?
Is it a cult?
Is it the perfect holiday destination?
Or is it a really elaborate money making scheme by a time traveling bird of prey?
Put down that spliff, get off your arse and go find out for yourself. All I know is Louis Theroux would have a fvcking field day.
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Update: Since the publishing of this article, a representative of Damanhur has corrected me that Falco actually translates to Hawk, not Falcon – whoops. Nevertheless I think the link to Horus still stands.
More importantly, they assured me that they “really don’t have anything in common with Scientology or Japanese Cults.”
Looks like it’s safe for a visit amigos!