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Renaissance Zones

Experimenting with the intentional significance of the Damanhur community (Part #1)


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This is a reflection on the experiment undertaken at Damanhur. Founded in 1977, Damanhur is an internationally renowned center for spiritual research. Situated in the Alpine foothills of northern Italy, it is a Federation of Communities and Regions (currently 44) with over 800 citizens, a social and political structure, a Constitution, 40 economic activities, its own currency, schools and university, and a network of 25,000 supporters worldwide.

The focus of this reflection is on the way in which Damanhur has chosen to make very extensive use of symbolism, notably embodied in the construction of a massive underground complex: the Temple of Mankind -- 4,000 cu. metres, carved by hand out of the rock on 5 levels, with 150 metres of corridors. The complex is rich in mosaic (350 sq. metres), glass, frescoes (400 sq. metres) and sculpture, with the largest tiffany stained glass dome in the world (100 sq. metres). In a historical period in which peoples and races are disappearing and humanity is losing its history and diversity, Damanhur has created a human group with its own artistic, philosophical and social expression -- and its own language [more].

In contrast to many spiritually inspired communities, members adopt the names of endangered species -- my guide was Anemone di Mare. The developing processes of the community are explored through a Game of Life. The community engages in experiments in time travel and has constructed time machines in its Temple. These unconventional emphases have attracted much attention from the Italian government, the Catholic Church, the media, and local authorities -- a tale beautifully recounted and documented by Jeff Merrifield (Damanhur: the community they tried to brand a cult, 1999) in the best tradition of appreciative inquiry.

The following reflection is inspired by the possibility of ways of thinking that are radically different from those considered both normal and necessary (or even obligatory) by mainstream thinkers and organizations. Unfortunately the latter have proven themselves totally incompetent in their efforts to manage the resources and challenges of the planet and its vulnerable populations -- other than to the advantage of certain elites. At the time of writing, as remarked by many, the war against Iraq is an exemplification of this -- and especially of a failure of imagination.

The question here is how any group is sustained in such an extraordinary alternative endeavour. Specifically the focus is on whether there is scope for time-based thinking that might prove to be a fruitful alternative to the illusions of space-based thinking. How might any initiative towards a "timeship" contrast with the heavy investment in "spaceship" design and construction -- and the escapist fantasies of travelling "elsewhere" in the galaxy away from the problems of the planet to claim further territory for the new American empire? Where is "elsewhen"?

More particularly the concern here is whether the epistemological framework required for the coherence of such a sustained endeavour might offer valuable insights to many who have been unable to benefit from the funds misused for space-based endeavours. The reflection must necessarily highlight the nature of the discontinuity at the interface between space-based thinking/action and time-based thinking/action -- as characterized by the seeming incomprehensibility of the latter. This incomprehensibility has as a consequence that those introduced to time-based thinking/action must pass through a number of levels of interpretation in order to adjust to a reality whose coherence derives from unfamiliar ways.

interpretation in order to adjust to a reality whose coherence derives from unfamiliar ways.

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