I had never heard of Damanhur until several years ago, when a friend told me of her brief visit there. She explained that it’s a diverse community in northern Italy, at the foot of the Alps. About a thousand people from all over the world live there in harmony with the earth, promoting peace and incorporating love, humanity, art and spiritual technology into every facet of their lives. In this powerful place where earth’s ley lines meet, they have restored a large section of ravaged woodland and built the "Temple of Humankind," a breathtaking labyrinth of circular rooms inside one of the mountains. Led by Falco, its founder, the community continues to expand its knowledge of ways that higher energies can benefit physical reality.

Fascinated, I pressed my normally articulate friend for details about Damanhur. She struggled for words, then smiled mysteriously. "It’s hard to describe," she said. "You have to experience it for yourself."

Last July, my partner Tom and I did just that. A flight to Milan and an easy commute north of Turin brought us to Damanhur, where flags from many nations fly above the gate. Above the Welcome Center we settled into the guesthouse, in a comfortable sleeping room next to the communal kitchen.

It is the curse of the writer to try and express what words cannot. And so, with this journal, I hope to share with you some of what Damanhur was for me.

Day One
I fall asleep to the sound of a mountain stream. Jet lag wakes me just before daybreak; I stare out our huge window transfixed by the Alps, green in the foothills, soaring and mystical in the distance. These great, constant grandmothers of the earth cradle and reassure me as dramas in Iraq, Israel and Lebanon continue to unfold.

In the morning we are given an overview of Damanhur. Our guide is a physicist whose Damanhurian name is Platypus. (Citizens adopt two names, one animal and one plant, to link them with earth’s kingdoms.) We visit the nearby grounds and see an outdoor temple with statues commemorating diverse myths and religions. A nearby labyrinth is available; community members and guests can use it anytime for centering. Residents, young and old, live together in communal housing, where each family unit also has a private space. On their buildings I notice paintings of individuals, active and uncommonly joyous. These people lived here, our guide explains, but have passed beyond the physical realm. When viewed, the portrait murals strengthen the current joy and expansion of their subjects, and reinforce their continuing connection with Damanhur.

Damanhur has two electric cars, and wants more. Car-pooling is a way of life; non-drivers stand by the gate, and are invariably offered transport. We are driven to Crea, Damanhur’s hub of education, art and commerce. Its children attend the "traveling school," marked by small classes of 6-10 students, integrated arts, and hands-on travel experiences to enhance learning. This holistic approach to education has helped Damanhur’s children do well on Italy’s standardized achievement tests. Down the hall, fabulous stained glass, arts and crafts, clothing and selfic healing tools are created and sold here.

A small gallery exhibits astounding selfic paintings. Our guide explains that "selfic" refers to a tool or device designed to bring in energy from higher realms. I am amazed to learn that all the paintings were created by Falco. After the gallery we visit a supermarket with locally-grown, organic meats, dairy and produce, and a large lecture hall.

Wandering around the community of Damanhur, we see art and nature united everywhere. Damanhurians are spiritual, and also very active in the physical. We have not yet seen the temples, but are preparing to be astonished. These people understand energy in a very sophisticated way and are definitely onto something big. In the evening, Falco and others lecture on Esoteric Physics, which they manage to relate to ordinary people in a way that’s fascinating. We meet Rabbi Leia, a Californian who has just returned from a brave visit to war-torn Israel. Like us, she is a first-time visitor to Damanhur.

Day Two
Wow! This place certainly does not disappoint. There are spectacular views wherever we look. Though our drivers are expert, each trip up the tumultuous mountain road is a bit like riding the Mad Mouse at Camp Snoopy. We choose to be distracted by the bewitching scenery.

With two guides and Rabbi Leia, we enter the sacred wood in preparation for tomorrow’s temple visit. Even my partner Tom, who is not especially sensitive to vibrations, notices a strong difference once we cross the threshold into the wood: the change in energy is palpable. We walk a labyrinth around a sacred tree. Damanhurians do not define what your experience will be; they just let you have it. Just past the midpoint of the labyrinth, I gain a sense of my essence, unlimited by my body. The experience is profound, hard to describe. Guides explain that the labyrinth is powerful because along the spiral is a wall of energy.

Our wise and gentle guides speak about making music with plants. They explain that some older plants are teachers that guide and communicate with surrounding plants. I tell them of a study done in the U.S., where children talked positively to some plants and negatively to others, to see if it affected their growth. Some children secretly slipped notes to the negative plants, saying things like, "I didn’t really mean it!" The guides laugh with delight. I have a sense that these guides intuit more than they can ever explain about the plant kingdom, a bit like an artist who can talk about craft but has no words for what happens during the mysterious process of creation.

Still, I have transformed my view of the flowers and shrubs in our St. Paul courtyard.

In the evening, there is another lecture at Crea. Falco and others talk about healthy communities and the need to be inclusive. Lying in bed at the guesthouse, I close my eyes and feel the energy of the Alps encircle this place like big, wise grandmother arms. It is wonderful to be in a community that validates what is felt but unseen, where the guiding principles are peace, love, and respect for all life on this planet. In my best dreams, this is where we are all going.

And tomorrow, we visit the Temple.

Day Three
In the communal kitchen we savor an omelet made from local tomatoes, eggs and cheese.

Our phone rings mid-morning. We hurry downstairs; through a miscommunication, we have missed the sacred dance preparation for our temple visit. Our temple guide introduces herself as Pineapple (her Damanhurian plant name). I think the name Pineapple fits perfectly, as she exudes the refreshing buoyancy of my favorite fruit.

Interaction with the selfic paintings is the next step in preparing for the temple. With Rabbi Leia and a married couple from Denmark, we go to the gallery of selfic paintings at Crea. Since our initial tour, I have found myself yearning to revisit this gallery. I am about to find out why.

In the darkened gallery, Pineapple leads us through chants and breathing exercises to clear our chakras. Music enhances our awareness. The lighting varies, dramatically changing each painting. Pineapple explains that the paintings interact with the viewer, and instructs us to silently walk around and find one that draws us. These paintings, in varied lights, are the most evocative I have ever seen. Viewing them is definitely not an intellectual process. I find myself rooted to a painting that first looks like an abstract design; in the changing light, it morphs into a large bird floating in a ship. I close my eyes, and sense it is telling me my dreams will come true and that, for all kingdoms of this world, there is hope. Later, I look up the painting in a book, which explains how the paintings convey energy from higher realms. Astoundingly, this painting is said to help materialize dreams and bring hope to the world!

After lunch we drive to the Temple of Humankind. To prepare, we do solo walks through a series of labyrinths, each leading to the next. The process takes about half an hour. The temple entrance is unassuming; we leave purses and backpacks behind, and find ourselves in a large, spherical space. Overhead a circle of twinkling lights, like stars, depicts major constellations. A musky scent reminds us we are inside the earth. Pineapple explains that within each temple wall are many selfic devices designed to bring in specific kinds of higher energy.

The temple is a labyrinth of circular rooms, corridors, secret doors and entrances. There is always something more to discover, like a journey through the human mind. Each room profoundly affects occupants with evocative paintings, crystals, and stained-glass mandalas on the ceiling. I recall a comment by my cryptic friend, "You can’t believe what you’re seeing!"

Every part of the room has meaning, and each room has a purpose. In the Hall of Water, Rabbi Leia leads a meditation for peace in Israel, Iraq and throughout the world.

In the Hall of Metals, the veil between living and dead becomes very thin. We sit there in a long period of silence. The air becomes thick with an unseen presence. This will become significant later, in a way I cannot foresee. The temple is vast, and our visit takes all afternoon.

The last room is the Hall of Mirrors, crowned by a stunning stained glass mandala, where mirrors reflect intriguing architecture in a seemingly infinite space. While Rabbit Leia moves around the room, the others take cushions and lie down to stare at the mandala. Mesmerized, I sit on my cushion and look around. This space tantalizes, connects me with distant yearnings, like a half-remembered dream. I feel I have been here before, or someplace like it, but certainly not in the body. I do not want to leave.

That night, my deceased mother visits me in a lucid dream. Our conversation deals with karma I didn’t even know we had. I awake feeling lighter. I examine the small pictures on our bedroom wall and notice each is an original, selfic painting. I remember the Hall of Metals, and its connection with the departed.

Strolling the grounds, it occurs to me that local trees and plants need no selfic instruments, for they are naturally connected to other realms. The temple is within the earth, and without.

The Temple of Humankind has definitely entered my third eye.

Day Four
Falco, the founder of Damanhur, is also named Oberto. We see him with his small daughter in the organic supermarket, and Rabbi Leia asks him when he thinks there will be peace in Israel. He says peace in that region will not come from politicians; it must come from the people themselves deciding to live in harmony with their neighbors. This reminds me of some channeled information I read: "A generation that hates war will not create peace. A generation that loves peace will create peace." I wonder where the U.S., Israel and Lebanon are putting their focus.

In the evening, a couple of dozen people gather for Falco’s weekly question-and-answer session with visitors. Damanhur’s founder appears balanced and unassuming. He explains that he is stepping back to ensure that Damanhur can function without him; the community has multiple leaders, elected every six months. A young German asks if he can "join in on" any experiments exploring the boundaries of physical reality. Falco smiles and patiently explains that this question is a bit like asking a surgeon if you can "join in on" an operation. I recall reading on Damanhur’s website that such experiments involve much study and preparation.

Weeks since my visit, I am still processing this rich experience. I believe Damanhur embodies where our earth is going if we move forward, focus on creating the highest possibilities, and work to sustain that hope. And if your hope is flagging, a visit to this powerful, earthy, humane and mystical place just might be the ticket. I wish I could convey more of Damanhur’s profound impact, but to quote my friend, "You have to experience it for yourself."

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Eve Johnson Blackwell is a writer, performer and teacher as well as Artistic Director of St. Paul’s Wild Yam Cabaret. Damanhur can be reached at www.damanhur.org. The Welcome Center gives specifics about inexpensive accommodations, available programs, and easy, affordable transport from the United States. Pineapple’s forthcoming book about the Temple of Humankind will soon be offered on Amazon.com. Damanhur’s comprehensive guidebook and video documentary are also available. Their catalog offers highly effective selfic energy tools to ease physical ailments. Copyright © 2007 Eve Johnson Blackwell. All rights reserved.

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