Category Archives: women

Snapshot of the Philosophical Library

Note that this blog is an excerpt from my published article: A Snapshot of the Philosophical Library: Florence, Italy, 1922)


Figure 4 Herron-george-1900

George Davis Herron in 1900.

While conducting research, I often become like Alice and Wonderland, chasing rabbits down the garden path. Most recently, I came across a fascinating book, written by George David Herron (1862-1925), an American clergyman, lecturer, and writer from Indiana. In his book The Revival of Italy, published in 1922, Herron has a beautiful passage describing Roberto Assagioli as the inspiration for the Biblioteca Filosofica. (Philosophical Library) in Florence.

A lively center of philosophical discussion, the Philosophical Library was started around 1903-1905 by those studying theosophy. Wanting to deepen their understanding of Oriental philosophy, library members loaned books, organized classes, conferences and published a bulletin.

Assagioli was one of its more frequent visitors.[1] The Philosophical Library’s intent was to create a “free university for philosophical and religious studies” where the public could come and learn more about the current cultural movements such as Pragmatism, Idealism, and Modernism in a non-academic setting.

Why Italian Youths Longed for a New Spirituality

In his account, Herron notes that Assagioli is “possessed of unusual discernment of mind as well as purity and power of spirit.”[2] He quotes Assagioli’s reflections on the reason why Italian youth at the time were searching for spirituality, which could still be valid today, nearly 100 years later:

“It is due to great dissatisfaction with old forms and old methods in every field: religion, philosophy, education, social and political activities. There is in them a deep yearning, a passionate impatience, for something new and better.

They are eagerly searching, looking into the past and toward the future, to the East and to the West, for somewhat to satisfy their spiritual hunger. There is still confusion and groping, but the young men and women are finding their way, and finding it through a quest that is at once spiritual and practical, mystical and constructive.”

Figure 5 021466 George Davis Herron in archives

Assagioli’s note from his archives in which he cites Herron’s book The Defeat of Victory: “Internazionale dello Spirito – Vedi Herron, The defeat in the victory, p. 179 e segg. p. 184” (Doc # 19372).

Dr. Assagioli’s Purpose

Herron went on to ask Assagioli about his own personal purpose, to which Assagioli responded:

“[I am] seeking the formation of a true ‘science of the soul’ — in which science may be included a vital synthesis of all recent discoveries and developments of scientific psychology with the intuitions and inner experiences and methods of oriental spiritual experience and Christian mystical consciousness.”

Psychosynthesis Women at the Philosophical Library

What also delighted me, after reading Herron’s brief description and interview with Assagioli, was to find Herron’s acknowledgment of Assagioli’s wife, Nella Ciapetti (1893-1973). What a nice surprise to see Roberto and Nella referenced side-by-side – by an American no less!

According to Herron, she is vibrantly alive, “a young woman of great spiritual and intellectual power.” He describes Ciapetti as the founder and inspiration of the Lamp-Bearers,[3] a women’s movement that stated in its prospectus: “There exists, under all the diversities of races, creeds or tendencies of thought, the same fundamental and sacred humanity.”[4]

B&W Rasponi

Contessa Gabriella Spalletti Rasponi, the first President of the Psychosynthesis Institute in Rome.

Herron also notes the presence of  Gabriela Spalletti Rasponi, who later became the first women president of the Psychosynthesis Institute in Rome. Herron said that she was:

…indeed a superior woman, who combines genuine religious fervour with clear intellectual insight and practical efficiency and adaptability … working vigorously for all the rights of women as citizens and for their education and preparation for public activity and position.

Italy in 1922: “The Final Utopian Hope”

Nearly 100 years later, we can wonder at this vibrant, active community of philosophers, writers, and spiritual thinkers – men and women – who gathered at the Biblioteca Filosofica in Florence. Herron had turned to Italy towards the end of his life as a final Utopian hope.

The early 1920s were born out of “The War to End All Wars”, which garnered the hope needed to catapult a period of social, cultural and spiritual transformation. Windows were metaphorically thrown wide open and anything seemed possible. As a new European republic, Italy was especially poised to assume its role and Florence, the city of Dante and the Renaissance, even more so.

Today we can only imagine the sound of the philosophers’ mingled voices, envision their nodding of heads, feel their excitement upon learning of oriental spirituality. We can only imagine … and yet we can also prosper from what we have inherited from them – the opportunity to synthesize high intellectual understanding with worldwide spiritual perceptions.

Assagiolis book published by library

Assagioli’s article “Per un nuovo umanismo ariano” (“For a new Arian humanism”) published by the Biblioteca Filosofica of Florence in 1907. Note that his use of the word “Arian” means Indo-European, or coming from India.

References

[1] Petra Guggisberg Nocelli. The Way of Psychosynthesis, Lugano, 2017. p. 12.

[2] George D. Herron, The Revival of Italy, London: George Allen and Unwin Ltd., p. 106-109. Retrieved 28 April 2017 from http://purl.dlib.indiana.edu/iudl/inauthors/VAC1018, p. 106

[3] During the early 1920s, Ciapetti become the coordinator of the woman’s movement Portatrici di lampade (Lamp-Bearers) and belonged to a special committee of women who collected memberships for the Rivista Spirituale Femminile (Women’s Spiritual Magazine; Esposito, p. 38).

[4] Herron, pp. 107-108.

In Compagnia (Part II)

DSC01270

Two of the youngest gnocchi makers.


August is here again, and as part of our summer break, I offer you a story I wrote about making gnocchi for our village festival. This is long story for a blog and comes in two parts. To read Part I, click here. I hope you enjoy it and your summer!


I had been on my feet all morning rolling strings of dough and cutting them into bite-sized gnocchi, when someone arrived with a tray of sliced prosciutto crudo on fresh bread and thimble-sized cups of strong black coffee. Both never tasted so good!

But truly, my inspiration and energy only arose from the compagnia of the women around me. At one point, I was standing next to Eleonora, a young woman who had spent seven years in Boston and New York studying music. She started singing “Close to You” by the Carpenters and we sang together for a while, with me helping her with the lyrics. Then suddenly Adelaide threw up her arms and waved them around as she sung, and the rest of the women joined in. She then recited a short poem that she had just invented:

Chi al mare e chi al monte
A fare gnocchi, ci sono tonte
.

Some are vacationing at the beach, others in the mountain sun.
Those who make gnocchi are the stupid ones.

Continue reading

A Mystic’s Gift

Evelyn-Underhill

Evelyn Underhill

Recently I wrote about Sorella Maria – “A Wild and Free Creature”, who founded a small Franciscan community in the heart of Umbria. While further exploring the life of this inspiring spiritual pioneer, I discovered that Evelyn Underhill (1875-1941) also visited the Hermitage of Campello in 1927 (a place that we too will visit on September 20 during  Journey to Places of the Higher Self). (You can read the essay Underhill wrote for The Spectator about her visit, A Franciscan Hermitage.)

According to Underhill’s biographer Dana Greene, this one-day visit was fundamental to her decision to return to active participation in the Anglican Church in which she had been baptized and confirmed. She wrote:

“Certainly nothing has ever brought me so near to the real Franciscan spirit as a few hours spent in the Vale of Spoleto with a little group of women who are trying to bring back to modern existence the homely, deeply supernatural and quite unmonastic ideal of the Primitive Rule.”

By the time Underhill paid a visit to the Hermitage, she had already published her best-selling book Mysticism: A Study in Nature and Development of Spiritual Consciousness. This book, published in 1911, reclaimed mysticism as part of the human condition. In her 500+ page book (with more than 1000 footnotes), she explored for the first time in a systematic and scholarly way mysticism throughout the ages and across cultures, nations, and religions. While she focused on mysticism in Christianity, she also examined Sufism, Hinduism, Buddhism, and other belief systems. She defined mysticism as:

“The expression of the innate tendency of the human spirit towards complete harmony with the transcendental order, whatever be the theological formula under which it is to be understood.”

Her rich work explores mysticism from the perspectives of psychology, theology, symbolism and magic (to name a few). Ultimately, she draws the conclusion that mysticism is open to everyone. Anyone can be grasped and transformed by Divine Love.

Assagioli extensively refers to Underhill’s book in his writings. While searching in his online archives, I was actually stunned by how much he appreciated her scholarship and understanding of the transcendent. Underhill saw the soul’s mystic journey as a series of five states: awakening, purification, illumination, the dark night of the soul, and union.

Assagioli’s notes that refer to Underhill mention these states, as well as many other transpersonal qualities. Here are just a few examples:

 

 

Similar notes by Assagioli in which he refers to Underhill, include these topic headings:

Illuminative Way Reality
Divine Comedy Joy
Self Being
Will Intuition
Contemplation Inspiration
Aesthetic Way Spiritual Beauty
Intellectual Way Immanence
Regeneration Mystical Dialogue
Receptivity

Besides being a writer, theologian, mystic, and spiritual director, Underhill was also a radical pacifist in the late 1930s when Europe was seeing the rise of fascism. During the same time, Assagioli was actively participating and leading international pacifist meetings. By 1935 he was under surveillance for this activity and ultimately his pacifist stance was the reason for his arrest in 1940. Ida Palombi, who would later become his secretary and collaborator, tells how government agents would frequently “wander about, stop and look inside” Assagioli’s home in Rome while he conducted meetings. By 1939, Assagioli was under even stricter surveillance and his meetings were being recorded.

015491 Quote in Italian on Illumination Underhill

Assagioli’s note referencing Underhill’s book Mysticism. “Illumination. A sudden, intense, joyous, perception of an immanent God of the Universe, of the divine beauty and of this ineffable splendor in which the individual is immersed.”

Therefore, I found it quite poignant to also find Underhill’s article “Meditation on Peace” in Assagioli’s archives, published in November 1939. He must have appreciated its message, which is timeless and remains wise today. But this message is not an easy one to swallow. Underhill insists that a true pacifist must see all of Creation as an “object of cherishing care.” All of Creation includes:

“The violent as well as the peaceful… The Government as well as the Opposition, the Sinners as well as the Saints. Some inhabitants of this crowded nursery are naughty, some stupid, some wayward, some are beginning to get good. All are immersed in the single tide of creative love which pours out from the heart of the universe and though the souls of self-abandoned men…”

Well, you might say that the “nursery” is still full of all these naughty, stupid, and wayward children, along with a few of us trying to “get good.” Thank goodness for that saving grace – the “tide of creative love” pouring out from the heart of the universe! But Underhill doesn’t let us stop and rest there. She immediately calls upon us to move higher, and the climb is not an easy one:

“We are called to renounce hostile attitudes and hostile thoughts towards even our most disconcerting fellow sinners; to feel as great a pity for those who do wrong as for their victims, to show an equal generosity to the just and to the unjust.”

These words could easily have been written by Assagioli himself. While in Regina Coeli prison and afterwards, Assagioli never renounced his captors, embodying Underhill’s call for meditative peace all his life.

Eremo delle Allodole 2

Entrance lane to the Hermitage of Campello

When Underhill met Sorella Maria, they spent time together sitting quietly in the Umbrian woods.  Underhill made the point to ask Sorella Maria, whose friendship she counted as one of her greatest privileges, about her conceptions of the spiritual life. Underhill found the response “startlingly at variance with the peaceful surroundings”:

In tormento e travaglio servire I fratelli. In torment and with great effort, to serve your brothers and sisters.”

Perhaps this is the greatest gift of any mystic – to first recognize the profound sense of pain and need of the world and acknowledge one’s passionate desire to help it. To then maintain the love and will needed to bare the tremendous tension between one’s inner peace alongside such suffering. To quietly stand as a witness. Humbly radiate Love. Silently offer heartfelt prayer. And attempt, in whatever way possible, courageous action.


Here is another article about the relationship between Underhill and Sorella Maria: “Discovering Sister Maria” by A.M. Alchin.

Click here to read a lecture Assagioli gave at the Third Summer Session of the International Centre of Spiritual Research at Ascona, Switzerland, in August 1932, in which he extensively quotes Underhill’s work.

“A Wild and Free Creature”

Eremo delle Allodole 1

The gate of the Eremo di Campello (Design by Carlotta Gentili)

One of the special Places of the Higher Self that we will visit in September is the Eremo di Campello, near the town of Trevi in Umbria, Italy. The final road up to the Hermitage is an unpaved, unmarked climb through olive groves and wooded hillsides. The feeling is desolation mixed with expectation. When we finally arrive in front of a locked wooden gate guarded by a furiously barking dog, the feeling turns to “What am I doing here?” But soon Sister Lucia appears with grand tranquility and a warm smile. She slowly walks down a long path from the Hermitage towards us and swings the gate open. “Welcome in Peace,” she says, inviting us inside. Continue reading

Psychosynthesis Granny Power

B&W Rasponi

Contessa Gabriella Spalletti Rasponi, in the early 1900s

For this International Women’s Day, l’d like to introduce you to the first President of the Institute of Psychosynthesis in Rome, which in 1926 was initially called the Istituto di Cultura e Terapia Psichica (Institute of Culture and Psychic Therapy). Yes, that’s right! She was a woman…the Contessa Gabriella Spalletti Rasponi (1853-1931), whom Assagioli greatly admired both as an international leader as well as a devoted grandmother.

To this day, Rasponi remains little known even in Italy. She was born in Ravenna into an aristocratic family (her grandmother was Napoleon’s sister Carolina) and was privately educated. Married at the age of 17 to Count Venceslao Spalletti Trivelli, she had five children, two of whom died in infancy. In 1874, the couple moved to Rome where her husband became a Senator to the Kingdom. Rasponi was widowed in 1899 when she was 46 years old. Continue reading

From Sexual Instinct to Channeled Love

Fear Less Love More

Artwork by Mary Beth Volpini. See more at drawntocolor.com

Let’s talk about sex. The sexual instinct that is… Lately, the media has been giving it a bad rap. Every day there is another report of a woman being assaulted by a Hollywood mongrel, fellow actor, news anchorman, US president, or fashion photographer. This is not new news. Nearly every woman has encountered this type of aggressive behavior (in various degrees) during her lifetime. I still do, even at the age of 62!

Come on guys, grow up! Sublimate and transmute already!

Let’s talk about sexual energy from a psychosynthesis point of view. Assagioli did more than 100 years ago in his article “The Transformation and Sublimation of Sexual Energy.” First, I want to say that this is mainly a male problem. For some mysterious reason, men have more difficulty holding sexual tension. This is a general fact. There are, of course, exceptions… Continue reading

Women’s Psycho-Spiritual Gifts

Olga Froebe Studio Assagioli

Painting by Olga Fröbe-Kapteyn, hanging in Assagioli’s studio in Florence.

In his controversial essay, “The Psychology of Woman and her Psychosynthesis,” Assagioli discusses the psychological characteristics of both women and men, and how together, “each can become, psychologically, a complete human being.” He also describes in detail “womanly functions” such as the maternal function and wifely function.

In June, 2016, Piero Ferrucci related a funny story about this essay and Assagioli’s ideas concerning feminine roles. In the 1970s, Betty Friedman, author of the Feminist Mystic, came to meet Assagioli in Florence. She had a great time and during a guided meditation, the image came to her of a rainbow uniting men and women in the world. She asked for some of Assagioli’s writings to take back with her. Despite Ferrucci asking Ida Palombi, Assagioli’s secretary and associate, not to give Freidman his controversial writings on the psychology of men and women, Palombi did. And they never saw Friedman again.

Continue reading