There are magical places.
The problem is many of my readers don’t actually believe in magic. Oh, you might believe in pop magic: prestidigitation, sleight of hand, trickery. But hard magic? Where the laws of physics are getting bent or broken, where compelling coincidence is basically statistically preposterous? This is where our rational sides kick in and tell us this stuff is just not possible. I will tell you one of the stories, but you won’t believe me.
But we can get around this rationalism through stories. It has taken me over two years to get around to telling just a part of my Damanhur story. These are just the easiest to believe parts. I don’t think you are ready for the parts i am still struggling with and i am not ready to tell them in this format. Ask me at a party.
A group of young Italians shared a vision. A vision of a place where people would live in community and cooperation. A place dedicated to the idea that there is an artist inside everyone and the job of community is to get that art expressed. But it was also a place which was encouraging joint creative adventures, rather than promoting the works of single people and thus none of the tremendous artwork is signed.
This group was divinely inspired. They had all manner of signs that they were doing the right thing and they traveled the world looking for the right place. Oddly, it turned out to be just a few hundred kilometers from where they started, about 50 km from Turin.
A couple dozen people moved in back in 1978. They formed a commune. Shared income and assets. They worked straight jobs in the local area and started setting up their own cottage industries. Just like we do now when we are trying to start new communes.
Except there was the digging. Every night, for 16 years, some significant fraction of the members of the Damanhur community started digging tunnels and temples under the mountain that they lived in. They did it in secrecy. Driving down huge mounds of excavated dirt in trucks in the dead of night to be dumped far from the temples.
They were following a vision. They worked in secret and told no one outside their community about the project. But they grew. In the first 17 years, they went from a couple dozen people to over 400. It was a federation of communities, clustered in the town which was adjacent to the temples.
It is hard to keep a secret among 400 people, especially if they are as emotionally expressive as Italians tend to be. Rumor has it there was a domestic dispute. A couple of Damanhurians were splitting up and the one leaving the community demanded greater child custody and threatened to reveal the secret if they did not get what they wanted. When they did not, they went to the local police (who has been hearing stories for years, but had never been able to find their way in) and revealed the secret doors.
The Italian authorities came in and stopped construction of the temple because it was an unpermitted mining activity. But the media rushed in to cover this beautiful space and the UK tabloid the Daily Mail (and apparently the Italian government) called it the 8th Wonder of the World. And the tourists started following in to see it.
Through a somewhat inexplicable series of events, i was invited to Damanhur in 2015. My host Betsy Pool and i had met at one of the most exotic conferences i have ever attended, called Building the New World, in Roanoke, Virginia, earlier in the year.
I was enchanted by Betsy’s story about how she got to Damanhur, about her work founding the Institute for the Mythology of Humanity and the collection of people she was pulling together to try to promote the complex message of Damanhur’s origins.
I leapt at the chance to go to this most exotic place, which was made possible by a generous sponsor (communes don’t pay well, international travel is generally inaccessible). And for a week i toured the temples of Damanhur, learned their stories and chatted with Charles Eisenstein who was part of the same advisory group had been invited to as a storyteller.
I got to do a Transparency Tools workshop in the hall of mirrors (see the picture at the top) which was pretty amazing.
When we toured the temples, i learned some curious things about Damanhur. One was that there were highly realistic portraits of all 600 living Damanhurians on the temple walls. On my tour of the temples, there was a current Damanhur resident. The portrait of her was so realistic that when i saw it on the wall i could immediately identify it as her. When members of the community die, their paintings within the temples are covered and a new portrait is created on the walls of the buildings Damanhur controls around the temples.
When people ask me what the most amazing thing about Damanhur is, i often reply that it is a group of 600 non-smoking Italians. Without a doubt the largest such group in the world.
But when pressed harder, i talk about the plants. It starts with the Music of the Plants. Research has been going on in plant communication for over 4 decades at Damanhur. The accessible amazing thing is that they are able to hear plants performing the music that they all regularly make, by hooking up the plants and measuring and interpreting the very low-voltage electric currents between the roots and leaves of the plant.
An even more amazing is the story of a plant which is used inside of Damanhur as a door lock. If the plant detected that the person who had been introduced to the plant was arriving in anger, it would not let the person into the room.
I said you would not believe me. And these are the more accessible stories of Damanhur.
Sometimes we get lucky. Sometimes people find us who we are so pleased are spending time with us it not only restores our faith in humanity generally but also that it makes sense specifically to invite people we barely know into our homes as extended guests.
Zoja is from Zagreb (her name rhymes with Soya). She self describes as someone into plants, herbalism, spiritual healing, holistic medicine, photography, music, yoga, art, and mindfulness. She found Cambia online, corresponded with us for some weeks and just arrived last week. We have quickly fallen in love with her.
This is not just because she is upbeat and willing to chip in on whatever is happening around Cambia. For me at the core of it is that she brings compelling ideas to this deeply philosophical community. Specifically, she qualifies as a mystic by my definition.
A mystic is someone who asks you to think of the central question in your life at this moment and then explains to you why that is the wrong question.
Zoja is a world traveler, it will be months before she returns to her home country of Croatia. A tour which will take her through several continents and advance her experience of new cultures. We are already sad she will only be at Cambia for three weeks. But the key with shooting stars is to be in the moment with them and let them go gracefully when they head off to their next adventures.
pictures from Rejoice
Yes, it’s Thanksgiving week in the US, and while Thanksgiving is a very problematic holiday (where we give thanks for the land we stole from the native people and the prosperity we built on the backs of slaves), there is something very important about the act of giving thanks.
At Twin Oaks (and other communities) the highpoint of the Thanksgiving meal is going around the very crowded room and having each person say one thing that they are thankful for. One community I’ve been to starts every meeting with a time for appreciations.
Being grateful, thankful, appreciative is a very useful community building exercise. Just as there are vicious (destructive) circles, this is an exercise that builds upon itself. I’ve pointed out things that don’t work in community–this is something that does. Many long running communities do something like this and it makes the commune a more pleasant place to live. This attracts people and contributes to the longevity of the community.
We’ve had several posts here on what doesn’t work in community. Gratitude is something that does.
6 a.m. My alarm wakes me up and I roll out of bed, ready to start my day. The sun hasn’t quite come up yet, but there’s some soft light coming through my east-facing window. I don’t have to get up this early-we each set our own schedule-but I like being up before the hustle and bustle of the day really begins. Plus, since nine of us live in my building, I probably won’t have any competition for the shower.
6:15 a.m. I make myself breakfast (toast with homemade bread and an egg from one of our chickens) in the kitchen in the Courtyard, where I live. Lunch and dinner are served buffet-style at Zhankoye (ZK), our main dining facility and community center, but we also have a handful of smaller kitchens for breakfast, snacking, and preparing meals for small groups of people. As I eat, I read a novel I pulled from our public collection of several thousand books-no library card needed.
6:55 a.m. Since I like being up early, I signed up for a 7 o’clock tofu-making shift last week when all of our labor was being scheduled. I head to the Tofu Hut, a mere two-minute walk through the woods from my room-not a bad commute. It’s chilly out, but the Hut is warm and steamy. I put on boots, gloves, a hairnet, and an apron, and start pressing curds into big slabs of tofu.
10 a.m. My shift is over, and I head back to the Courtyard. I check my email on one of the public computers in the office. In addition to actually making tofu, I also do a lot of customer service for our soyfoods business. Someone has contacted us to find out where they can buy Twin Oaks’ tofu in their area; I respond, and also check out the orders that have come in locally from stores and restaurants in
Charlottesville and Richmond.
10:45 a.m. I see my friend Sabrina outside with one-year-old baby in a carrier on her back. She’s doing a “primary,” labor-creditable child care. We make tea and go for a walk together, the baby making cute faces at me the whole time.
12:05 p.m. It’s lunch time, so we walk up to ZK. Lunch is mostly leftovers, supplemented with a fresh salad and baked potatoes. We grow greens throughout the winter in our huge greenhouse, and we harvested enough potatoes in the summer and fall to last us through the winter.
12:50 p.m. I walk back to my room to put on work boots for my forestry shift, then ride a public bike up to Modern Times (MT), where Carrol, River, Purl and I will meet for the shift. MT is our main shop building, with space and tools to fix our cars, bikes, tractors, and vacuums.
1 p.m. We head out into the woods, where we’ll selectively cut trees and haul them in to be processed into firewood. All the wood we harvest is done so sustainably, and all of our buildings are heated with wood all winter long. It’s too hot to do forestry work in the summer, so during the off-season, I’ll switch some of my work scene indoors to do data entry and accounting work to monitor our communal
5:15 p.m. I hang out in my room a bit before dinner, finishing up a letter to my family and listening to music. I find it’s important to carve out alone time for myself–it’s very easy to get sucked into the social scene 24/7 here. There’s always something going on, someone to talk to.
6:00 p.m. Dinner is served! Tonight it’s my favorite–veggie burgers. (And, OK, hamburgers too. But I’m a vegetarian.) There are plenty of side dishes, like steamed spinach and sweet potato fries. A large percentage of the meal, both veggies and meat, is homegrown. I sit in the Lounge with about ten people and chat with McCune about his latest plumbing adventure. Sometimes at dinner there’s one main conversation but tonight several smaller discussions have sprung up. Besides copper-vs-plastic waterlines, people are talking about the new fruit orchard we’re planting, the latest news from our sister community 8 miles up the road, and trying to work out if people’s schedules will allow our belly-dance troupe to meet on the same night as the queer-theory discussion group.
7:30 p.m. Mala has invited me to her residence (named Beechside) to hang out-there’s a really cozy kitchen/living room there that’s highly conducive to fun social gatherings. A bunch of people come over, and we sit draped on the couches and on the floor. Debbie and Trout play fiddle and guitar, Casey is knitting a pair of socks and Ezra makes a large amount of popcorn. It’s a festive atmosphere, though there’s no particular occasion; we just like to enjoy each other’s company.
10:00 p.m. I head home to my room. I record the work I did today on my labor sheet and write in my journal a bit to unwind before bed. I’m very tired, but happy. It’s been a good day.