Tag Archives: psychology

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.


[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)


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

Confessions of a Smartphone Virgin


My neighbor Giselda’s (92) telephone. When asked about it, she said: “The phone company came years ago to give me a new one and I sent them away. ‘Why do I need a new one?’ I asked them. ‘This one works fine.’ (photo by Catherine Ann Lombard)

Okay. I know this sounds half-crazy… But I have never owned a smartphone. People keep wanting me to go on WhatsApp and I keep thinking… What’s Up with this WhatsApp? I’m already spending too much time writing and researching on my desk computer, not to mention answering 800 emails just to meet someone for a coffee.

Granted, I don’t have an extended family with whom I need to keep in touch with. My husband is usually right down the hallway. We actually share the one dumbphone we own. Like in the good ol’ days when the phone sat in the corridor and everybody had the same phone number. People call me and are surprised when he answers. People call him and are surprised when I say ‘Hello’.

I’m probably the only Western woman to drive off to the supermarket without a phone. I never seem to remember to take it with me. It’s a nuisance most of the time. When I lived in Germany, 2 km from the Dutch border, it would constantly beep to tell me that I was now in Germany, now in the Netherlands, now in Germany, now in the Netherlands. This dumbphone thought I was the dummy. Continue reading

A Florentine Well-Spring

Photo of Assagioli in glass caseAnother scorching afternoon in Florence, Italy. Thirty pilgrims have gathered at Casa Assagioli, the home where the founder of Psychosynthesis Roberto Assagioli lived, worked, taught, and wrote. It is 2012 and the first International Meeting at Casa Assagioli. The guests hail from all over the world — Canada, Australia, Sweden, Germany, Brazil, Portugal, France, Haiti, Spain, Poland, Ireland, the USA and, of course, Italy.

Upon arrival, we are warmly greeted by the members of Gruppo Alle Fonti (roughly translated as the “Group at the Well Spring”, the dedicated curators of Assagioli’s materials.  After introductions, we divide ourselves into two groups for the house tour. Soon English, Italian, and French fly up and down the two-story villa. Hung on walls throughout the house, white boards display Assagioli’s handwritten words and diagrams, beckoning all to reflect, know, love. 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 Pencils to Cosmic Love


What better day than St. Valentines to explore Assagioli’s thoughts on Love from a psychosynthetic point of view? But first we have to start with pencils…

In his dialogs with Bruno Caldironi, Assagioli described the process of reflective mediation. This type of meditation is a synthesis of many elements, most notably attention and concentration. The idea is to consciously direct your thoughts to an idea, problem, or concept and note how your thoughts connect, interpenetrate, and link themselves together into a new understanding.

In Assagioli’s careful didactic way, he first gave the simple example of how you might meditate on a pencil.  You might begin like this:

“What’s a pencil? It’s for writing. It’s of wood. It has lead inside…”

Continue reading

Infinity of the Heart

Frances Brundage New YearNew Year’s Eve is often symbolically imagined as the polarity of death and life, perhaps best pictured as an old man with a sickle accompanying a joyful babe. It is a time of great darkness as we enter winter, and yet, paradoxically, it is also a time of more and more light emerging each day. New Year’s holds the possibility of the numinous, as we clearly mark one year to the next, sweeping aside that which we have lost for all that we have to gain.

It is important to celebrate this time of year with ritual and reflection, remembrances and hope. When we consciously enter this period of great polar energy, we enable ourselves to realize that death and life, dark and light, and the numinous are always available to us – every day and in every breath. Just like the outgoing and incoming years, the old breath goes out and the new comes in. Every moment. All the time. And  nestled inside the old and new lies the eternal now. Continue reading