Journey to Casa Assagioli

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So I’d like to tell you a little about my recent trip to Italy. I was very lucky to be invited to take part in and run some workshops in the 10th International Meeting at Casa Assagioli, the Istituto di Psicosintesi, the Psychosynthesis Institute in Florence, through a group called The Gruppo Alle Fonti, the group that returns to the source, as it sort of literally translates. The Gruppo Alle Fonti are a very dedicated group of volunteers who look after the archive of Roberto Assagioli in Casa Assagioli – his house which he left in his will to the Institute of Psychosynthesis in Florence in which they both use for teachings and trainings, but also it’s where they host his archive.

At the Instituto di Psicosintesi with Mark Jones
At the Instituto di Psicosintesi with Mark Jones

So that’s where I was for four or five days, the end of September and beginning of October. And I was also lucky enough to be able to make that trip out there with my great friend and colleague, Mark Jones, who some of you will know as the astrologer. Mark and I trained together in Psychosynthesis 20 something years ago, so it was great for us to be back in the Casa Assagioli, basically 11 years on from our first visit there, which had made a great impact on both of us in 2012, seeing Assagioli’s papers and archive for the first time. So that’s what we were doing. Of course, Italy in the autumn is absolutely stunning and beautiful, warm with blue skies, and a very, very lovely place to be with everything you’d associate with Italy – great food, great architecture, art, and so forth. So very, very lucky to be there.

The archive and The Gruppo Alle Fonti were celebrating their 10th International Meeting which had been interrupted for three years during the COVID pandemic. This was the first post COVID meeting, and it represented the 10th time that this had been done. So that felt like a great opportunity to be present to celebrate that and to mark that opening up of the archive to people with an interest in Psychosynthesis from around the world.

Inside Assagioli’s personal notes

Some of the highlights of being there, involved getting reacquainted both with the building and the space, but also the papers and the files and folders and library that exists there. So for me, I spent some time going through books in Assagioli’s library, being very interested to read his marginal notes. And he would often construct his own kind of indexes or places within the book where he could find the quotes he was looking for. So he’d generate his own indexes and sellotape them or glue them into the back of books, so that he could quickly reference things from them.

And in particular, I was interested to read through his copies of the works of Hermann von Keyserling, who was a German philosopher, particularly well known during the inter war years, who was greatly influential on certain parts of Assagioli’s thinking. He admired him greatly, and really interesting to be up close and personal to his own note taking, seeing the things that he found compelling or interesting or something to revisit, and making his marks and notes all over these texts. It’s very revealing, to kind of watch the workings out and the revisiting of these things through time. So that was a bit of a highlight for me.

 

Meeting Psychosynthesis students in person

Also worthy of note, we were as a group about 20 of us all together from lots of different countries from the States, from different places within Europe. Really interesting group of people, as you might imagine. It was great to meet with four people who had been students of Mark and I, the course that we’d run in Psychosynthesis Coaching during the pandemic. We started it during the COVID pandemic and finished it in the early part of the summer of 2023 so it was a two year course. All conducted online, which we will be running again.

So if anyone has an interest or know someone who might be interested in studying the form, content and context of Psychosynthesis as a distinct method in the therapeutic, coaching and spiritual development field, and also the applications of that to different ways of working with people, then please do keep in touch, watch this space. We will be rerunning that course, with some new evolutions of certain parts of it. But it was absolutely wonderful to meet four people who had completed that course, in person, having only met them online on a Zoom screen. It was absolutely tremendous to be able to have dinner, to talk, to go for walks, to connect in all the ways that one would do, and now can again. So that was a particular highlight for me and indeed for Mark.

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An audience with Piero Ferrucci

Another highlight that I would want to pick up on was the opportunity that we all had to have lunch and indeed then a kind of question and answer session, almost a sort of “audience with” format with Piero Ferrucci, who is, I think it’s fair to say the most eminent, still active Psychosynthesis related practitioner and figure in the Psychosynthesis world. So Piero now in his older years is still functioning as the president of the Sipt as it’s called, the training arm of the Psychosynthesis Institute in Florence, where people complete their training to be a Psychosynthesis psychotherapist, but also well known for his books on spirituality. He’s written about Dante. He’s written books on the use of imagery in therapeutic work. He’s spent time looking at sort of interfaith issues, hanging out with the Dalai Lama and so forth.

So a very varied and interesting career, but a man who, in his younger years knew Roberto Assagioli directly, and is clearly one of the living links to the man and the place. So to be able to speak with him and to hear him tell stories and share memories in that building, in the very building where he knew Assagioli, was really special. And in particular, the fact that some of his answers led him back to memories that he found to be in the moment very moving. So tears were shared, and emotions were high. And the tangible feeling, that quality of connection was really present, and something to behold. So that was a particular highlight and a great treat I think for for all of us who were there certainly was for me.

Psychosynthesis in Context workshop

There was also the occasion of me giving a talk, which kind of followed on after the meeting with Piero Ferrucci. So this talk had gone through a number of different forms in my preparations for it; what I thought I might talk about sort of evolved and changed and moved around. But the core of the talk was really about trying to set Psychosynthesis in context, as a particular moment in time and space and history where this came to be described and written about and identified, and that that obviously involved the person of Roberto Assagioli. 

So I was kind of exploring his life, a little bit biographically putting it in context, but also separating it from Psychosynthesis as the thing that continues in the world. So that talk was recorded, and at some point, we will be making that available as the initial context setting of a short course in Psychosynthesis that we’ll be developing and releasing over the coming months. But that one will be a kind of live recording of that talk given in Assagioli’s house about him and about his life, and about the big themes for anyone who lived the kind of period that he lived so 1888 to 1974 (Assagioli’s dates), including, as I already mentioned, things like the influences upon him from other thinkers and writers, such as Keyserling, such as people like Rabindranath Tagore, the Nobel prize winning poet. Also things of course, like the historical context, the rise of fascism, and the kind of polarity point of that to Psychosynthesis as an internationalist and pacifist principle in the world, but having to hold that position against a tide of extreme nationalism and indeed, fascism. So that’s what that talks about and if it’s of interest to you is something you can check out soon as that becomes available.

Assagioli’s unseen document

One of the things to observe about this trip to the archives is the sharing with me of a document that previously had been unseen. So the story goes that there’s a cabinet in Assagioli’s study that had been unopened since his death. And certainly, in previous visits to the archive, that was the case, and that’s what had been shared with us. On this occasion, the cabinet was nowhere to be seen. And it turns out, it had been moved from the room, the study where Assagioli’s desk, and chair, and artworks, and books are kept pretty much as he had them in his life. This cabinet had been moved, at some point during the pandemic, and had also been opened.

So this was a bit of a revelation to me, and I believe some of the things that were in it included some new sets, or indeed old set, of the evocative words and the printing blocks associated with them that Assagioli was keen on using. And also some diaries, which I believe are being sort of read through and archived and decisions made about what’s private, and what’s kind of relevant to Psychosynthesis and able to be shared.

But also in there was a document which I was extremely fortunate enough to be given a chance to spend some time with to read through in its entirety, to make notes upon to study. And this document was in fact an astrological reading – a natal horoscope chart reading done for Roberto Assagioli, although done under his birth name, so done under the name of Marco Roberto Grego. And this had been prepared and delivered to Assagioli in 1913. So it’s a 110 year old document, bound in green leather, single-space typed pages, probably around about 120 pages, I would say, with hand drawn and completed astrological wheels, natal charts and theosophical array analysis of Assagioli’s character, personality and soul.

So quite a document, and important for a number of reasons. One being that it survives at all. Secondly, it’s an example of the work of the Victorian and then Edwardian English astrologer Alan Leo. He’s the person who prepared it and indeed written the text, done the calculations, and he turns out to be a very interesting figure in his own right. Someone that I’m currently doing some research upon, and may well go on to write something about. But Alan Leo’s take on the character of Roberto Assagioli, you could sum it up as saying, “You need to study this yourself. Here I am doing a reading for you, but actually, I’m sending you my correspondence course and I’m encouraging you to learn and study astrology for yourself and apply it yourself to your work,” which we know he went on to do.

So it’s interesting to have a document that gives very clear indication of when this process perhaps began, but certainly was consolidated. And that date 1913 is much earlier than we might previously have imagined. So that’s interesting in its own right. Lots of the content of that are very interesting as well and I’ll again go on to explore those in some detail and then feed the things into future kind of talks and certainly future writings of mine.

Who is Alan Leo?

Just to say a little bit about Alan Leo, who is a name I knew but knew nothing much about. So he’s basically a Victorian but lived into the early Edwardian and early part of the 20th century. One could regard him as one of the forefathers, you might say, founding fathers of modern astrology as it exists in the world today; a very lucrative and much engaged upon field of inquiry and study. I read a newspaper article recently that claimed that the astrology industry is worth something like $10 billion dollars globally. And, at least in part, some of that can be traced through Alan Leo’s work, as his big project was to move it away from any disreputable predictive kind of forms and to root it in the emerging science of psychology and to have it be a respected profession, which had a contribution to make to character analysis and the study of latencies in the personality, and the way that people might unfold the psychological self, and indeed, their spiritual path, using this as a supportive and very precise tool.

So that’s Alan Leo, who also suffered a couple of prosecutions at the latter part of his life. He won one law case and he lost the second; both occasions, he was being prosecuted for “fortune telling”. Committing fraud via the Royal Mail was the charge, and this was common practice. The state, certainly in Britain, and also it would seem in North America, very much wanting to take down people who seem to be exploiting and fraudulently charging money for things that couldn’t possibly be true. That was the kind of format for it, and so a great deal of resources and effort was put into prosecuting people under this kind of slightly obscure piece of law to do with the Vagrancy Act in Britain, and in indeed to do with the committing of fraud by mail. So it was the use of the Postal Service that made astrologers, and indeed, people like palm readers, phrenologists and people like this vulnerable to prosecution. And Alan Leo was unfortunate enough to be well known, and to be singled out for this kind of treatment.

And it would appear that, certainly with this final law case that he lost in 1917, pushed him to a frenzy of writing, to try and address that issue, to double down on his mission to make astrology respectable, and have it be regarded as a useful contribution to psychological inquiry and to the well being and healing of people in that realm. And, of course, this burst of writing and also the consequences of losing the case and being fined, put him under enormous stress and he died from an enormous cerebral haemorrhage very shortly after within within 100 days of the verdict of the court court case. So a kind of tragic story unfolds there as well. And that happening only four years after this reading that he’d completed for Roberto Assagioli.

So that’s just a little taster of some of the things that one can discover when being in archives and immersing oneself in the the world of the subject, in this case, Roberto Assagioli. It was very interesting to read this document, this horoscope reading, as he might have read it for the first time. Opening it in the mail and sitting down with it, and poring over it and taking in some of the commentaries and the observations that were being made, and no doubt from his own notes upon it, which are copious and inserted into the document and scribbled in the margins in his usual way. Something that he would appear to have lived with for the rest of his life and kept revisiting and finding a resource to bring him back to himself, one might say.

The circular walls of Lucca & the future of Psychosynthesis

So that’s my Italy trip – there was a brief Coda which is also very worthy of mention. So after the archive part of the visit concluded, and people separated and made their ways back to their own countries, their own places of origin to think about and work on whatever they found in their time in the archive, Mark and I went on from Florence to Lucca. The walled town, Tuscan town not very far away from Pisa, on the edge of the Lucchese plane, surrounded by hills and mountains – really beautiful place, which I heartily commend to you if you’re ever in that part of Italy, do check out Lucca. It’s thoroughly wonderful, very agreeable place to be.






So we spent a lot of time walking around the circular walls – there’s a complete wall, a sort of Elizabethan wall that runs all the way around the town. It’s a tremendous place to stroll, and to talk, and to sit from time to time, and to take in the views, and to wander, to think, to be moved by the depths of history with the medieval and Renaissance layers, the classical layers, the Roman town underneath. There’s a piazza in the middle of Lucca that remembers the shape of the Roman amphitheatre that had previously sat there and whose foundations are underneath the medieval buildings that are standing today. So it’s a place that sort of echoes layers of history, as so much of Italy does; I believe there are Etruscan layers underneath that.

Such a wonderful place to kind of round off our trip and just have a day or two to digest our experiences in the archive and to begin conversations about the next phase of engaging with Psychosynthesis in the world. That theme, the future of Psychosynthesis, had certainly appeared and arisen in many of the aspects of the meetings and the conversations that have happened, both in the archive and afterwards. So, as I’ve already said, watch this space for future developments and thank you for listening.

 

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