It is fitting that the first active group of the World Pantheist Forum was formed in Rome, by WPM vice-president Tor Myrvang.
Rome was the city of the great Stoic emperor Marcus Aurelius, whose Meditations are one of the most moving and powerful documents in the history of pantheism.
Rome was also the city of the first real post-Christian pantheist, Giordano Bruno.
Rome was the city from which Christianity was gradually imposed on the empire by emperors from Constantine to Theodosius, and from there conquered the Western world.
And who knows, Rome may be the city from which the global religion of the third millennium spreads out.
Here are Tor’s accounts of the historic first recruiting session from which the group was created, on the 398th anniversary of Bruno’s martyrdom on February 17, 1600, and of the group’s first meeting on April 23, 1998.
RECRUITING IN ROME ON THE GIORDANO BRUNO ANNIVERSARY by Tor Myrvang.
Giordano Bruno was burned alive in the marketplace Campo de’ Fiori in Rome on 17 February 1600 by order of the Roman Inquisition. His pantheistic and cosmological beliefs caused him to be condemned as a heretic. The Roman group gathered in the Campo de’ Fiori on Saturday 14, and set up a stand distributing leaflets on Bruno and on Scientific Pantheism, under a banner marked “World Pantheist Movement”.
There was an immediate interest on the part of local people and tourists, and two hundred leaflets in Italian and one hundred in English were distributed. The other end of the piazza was occupied by anarchists who unfurled two rather sinister looking black flags on the pediment of Giordano Bruno’s statue. The statue itself was erected in 1889 thanks to subscriptions from anticlerical groups and individuals from around the world, and anticlericalism lives on especially in the anarchist movement in Italy.
Many anarchists visited the Roman group’s stand out of curiosity, and to partake of the free refreshments which were offered there. Maurizio Marchetti, a local plumber, has promised to give us a talk on the Roman Inquisition, on which he has published a popular book. In general, the anarchists look pretty unconventional with the younger ones adopting punk dress and hairstyles, with nose rings and studs much in evidence. Bomb throwing is very much a thing of the past. With declining numbers, they seem keen to preserve the memory of their past achievements, and to act as an information resource, by setting up documentation centres, etc. The anarchists are upset about the cozy relationship between the Vatican and the Italian Government, particularly with regard to the arrangements for the year 2000, which is celebrated as the Jubilee Year in the Roman Catholic church. 17 February 2000 would also be an appropriate date for a Pantheist congress in Rome. It would be necessary to get permits from the Commune di Roma, for participation in wreath laying etc, and to get the maximum amount of media attention. On Tuesday 17 February I took the day off from work, and went with my twelve year old son Lars, who had a half-term holiday, to Campo de’ Fiori to see what ceremonies and events would take place on the 398th anniversary of Giordano Bruno’s martyrdom. We arrived around 11.30 when the vegetable and poultry market, which is held in the piazza six out of seven days each week, was in full swing. The slogan “Morte ai preti!” (Death to the priests!) which the anarchists had sprayed in black paint on the red granite pedestal of Giordano Bruno’s statue in the centre of the piazza three days before, had been painted over by the Comune di Roma’s anti-graffiti squad. About half a dozen bouquets of flowers had been left on the pedestal including one with a poem which equated Bruno’s sufferings with those of Christ, signed by Giulio del Rio. Lars was given the honour of placing a wreath of laurels and daffodils on the pedestal of Giordano Bruno’s statue with a note which read : “To Giordano Bruno from the World Pantheist Movement”. We set up our stand at one side of the monument and distributed our leaflets to passers by and particularly to those who showed an interest in the statue and the floral tributes. One of the first whom we conversed with was a scholarly American, who remembered that James Joyce had written about Bruno in Finnegan’s Wake. To our delight, some of the stall holders in the market came up and asked for leaflets. Many recipients stayed for a while in the square, and obviously read the leaflets from cover to cover. We talked with tourists, including two judges from Los Angeles, a couple from Freshwater, Florida who wanted to know if we had anything to do with Scientology, three school teachers from Copenhagen, students from Paris and Lisbon, and a wide range of local people. At one point, when Lars was in charge of the stand, a priest from the English Catholic seminary around the corner, whom Lars recognized as Father Abraham, asked for a leaflet, so no doubt a report will be prepared on our heretical movement, and forwarded to the Vatican. A less welcome visitor was a woman belonging to a sect called “Nonsiamosoli” (We are not alone), who tried to convert us, or at least to get us to admit that our beliefs and aims were identical with hers! She was a follower of a certain Giorgio Bongiovanni who claims to have been abducted by extra-terrestrials, and who on returning to Earth was found to have stigmata in his hands and feet, and a cross on his forehead, and is now spreading the gospel of the Cosmic Christ…an exotic mixture of X-files and Padre Pio tailored for the local market. Between one and two o’clock the stall holders packed up and left. The pigeons descended from their usual perch on Giordano Bruno’s head and picked their way through the animal and vegetable scraps scattered all over the piazza. Teams of cleaners moved in and brushed everything away, while new players arrived on the scene. An official of the Comune di Roma informed us that we had to move away from the monument as a civic ceremony was about to begin. So we moved our stand with its banner reading “World Pantheist Movement” some twenty yards to a very visible location opposite the flower sellers. Two policemen in dress uniform carried a large wreath of laurels with the initials SPQR painted on a purple and gold ribbon to the pedestal of the statue and stood to attention on either side while the Chef de Cabinet of the Mayor of Rome made a short statement over the microphone, reminding everyone that Rome is a secular city. Representatives of the Freethinkers of Rome placed a similar wreath in front of the monument and unfurled their embroidered banner (very much like those used by Trade Unionists in England). Giulio del Rio, who turned out to be a Neapolitan gentlemen who had attended the commemoration for the past twenty years, gave a spirited rendition of the poem referred to above, Diciasette Febbraio Milleseicento, and a group of children from the Scuola Media Statale “Giordano Bruno” in Nola (Giordano Bruno’s birthplace) read out an account of Giordano Bruno’s life and the importance of his writings. Later the school band filled the piazza with the strains of “O sole mio” and “Torna a Sorrento”. On his way out of the piazza the Chef de Cabinet came to our stand and asked for a leaflet. All together we must have distributed about 100 leaflets in Italian and 50 in English. As darkness fell we packed up and had the good fortune of meeting my wife, Adelina, and some friends who helped us to carry our paraphernalia back to the car. At seven o’clock we returned. Three minutes of silence were observed in the dark and then the monument was illuminated with candles, and the participants held torches while representatives of the anarchists and the Freethinkers of Rome made short speeches. After the speeches were over, I talked with a Freethinker named Andrea Ceci, who is involved in the project to publish the collected works of Giordano Bruno, and who is willing to address the Roman Group on the subject of Bruno in the near future. Apologies for the long post. However,I wanted to record how curious people were to find out about pantheism, and how surprisingly accessible they were on this occasion. The Giordano Bruno commemoration is doubtless an ideal venue, but there are probably a lot of other good venues where pantheists could set up a stand and talk to a sympathetic audience.
FIRST MEETING OF THE ROME GROUP 23rd April 1998.
by Tor Myrvang
The three Rome-based members of the E-mail list are is a former member of the list who is interested in being reinstated now that there is the option of receiving the digest as a single daily message, but always has been very much a part of the Rome pantheist group. Doug was available to give a talk to the group on the topic of sacred mountains in connection with Earth Day, and I proposed that we should hold the meeting at my home over dinner. Paul’s page on John Toland describes the procedure for a meeting of (an imagined?) pantheist society at the beginning of the eighteenth century. This starts with the ejection of the valets:
President: Make sure that vulgar laymen are far away.
Response : The doors are locked we are in safety.
In modern Rome we have adopted a completely different approach and encourage members to bring guests to our meetings. Besides the nucleus of four members of the Rome Group (Stefano Gay, Doug McGuire, Monica Garcia and myself), there were two family members, Stefano’s wife Donatella and my twelve year old son Lars, and six guests, two of whom, Gaetano and Rafael had been at the Campo dei Fiori commemoration of Giordano Bruno this year, Lisa, a friend of many of us for over ten years, Ana Rosa, a Peruvian friend of Monica’s, Raj, an Indian friend, and Andrea Ceci, a member of the Freethinkers of Rome, whom I met for the first time at the at the Giordano Bruno commemoration in February this year. Guests were greeted by the host in Hindu fashion by bowing with hands joined as if in prayer, symbolizing the recognition of God in each of us. Following cocktails on the terrace, where we smelled the jasmine, and watched the swallows swirling overhead, we sat at the dining-table and joined hands to symbolize the divine unity to which we all belong. The host invited the guests to think of the plants and animals whose lives had been cut short to provide the food we would be eating that evening. The table was decorated with flowers and candles, and two antique Chinese carvings of sacred mountains. Two pies were served with the Greek letter Pi emblazoned in the pastry. Between the main course and dessert, Doug gave his talk on sacred mountains, of which I will give an account in a later post. Raj told us about temple architecture in India, where the white-painted turrets symbolize the snow-covered peaks of the Himalayas. In the south of India, temples are often located on mountain tops. Raj had once spent over four hours in walking up the steep path to such a temple. After dessert, Andrea gave a progress report on the planned visit to Nola, to give a talk to the schoolchildren. It was decided that Andrea would arrange with the headmaster for the talk to be given one Saturday morning before the end of the summer term. We agreed to rent a minibus and make it a day trip, leaving Rome very early and returning in the evening. A discussion on the nature of pantheism was pursued over coffee and liqueurs, in which the invited guests were eager participants. Leaflets containing the pantheist credo were made available in both English and Italian. We rose from the table at close to midnight, after joining hands once more in a circle. Plans were made for some of us to meet on May 1 to climb up Monte Soratte to the north of Rome and have a picnic on the summit. The mountain is mentioned in one of Horace’s most famous Odes, and is where St. Sylvester lived as a hermit before becoming pope towards the beginning of the fourth century.