Diane Cilento

Queensland-born Diane (pronounced Deearne) Cilento may best be known as an actress, but she also played many other roles in her life, including teacher, theatre director, rare tropical fruit grower, wife, mother and documentary film maker. She carried out each role with passion, energy and a charisma that was infectious.

Following a successful career as an actress with starring roles in films such as The Honorable Crichton, Tom Jones (for which she was nominated for an Academy Award), The Wicker Man, and on theatrical stages in Australia, UK and the USA, Diane’s life changed course; she became a seeker of spiritual knowledge, a quest that continued until her death in 2011.

In the late 1960’s, Diane began reading philosophers and mystics such as J.G. Bennett, P.D. Ouspensky, Muyhiddin Ibn ‘Arabi and Bulent Rauf [2]. She was particularly drawn to Sufism and the poetry of Jeladdin Rumi. During her quest, Diane set up communities with like-minded people first in England, and later, with the encouragement of Bulent Rauf and under the auspices of Beshara UK, near Cairns in Far North Queensland. “Karnak’, her school for esoteric studies located in a beautiful rural setting in tropical Australia, attracted dozens of people from around the country, many of whom went on to further study at Beshara schools in England and Scotland. After some 20 years of administration and teaching, Diane closed the school to focus her energies on her other love, theatre. Together with her playwright husband Anthony Shaffer, she built and created the Karnak Playhouse, a large, open-air theatre, on the property.

As well as ‘Karnak’, one of Diane’s lasting legacies is in the form of a film. She wrote and directed ‘Turning’ in close collaboration with Bulent Rauf, a classics scholar, translator, teacher and Consultant to the Beshara Trust, and the British archaeologist James Mellaart [3]. Filming took place in Turkey in the early 1970s.
For the world-wide Beshara community, ‘Turning’ is an important source of information, combining archaeology, history, philosophy with the mysterious magic of the Whirling Dervishes in an accessible manner that defies time.
About the making of Turning, Diane wrote [1]:

“My idea was to show how Cybele at Catal Huyuk and after her, the Queen of the Hittites at Alaja Huyuk, then Diana of the Ephesians at Ephesus, and finally the Virgin Mary at Maryameana, have turned the feminine force into the Whirling Dervish ‘brides’ of Konya, situated 48 kms from Catal Huyuk. I would call the movie Turning.” (P. 359).

“Bulent’s insights into the archaeological sites we visited were remarkable. He had an intimate knowledge of the people, rituals and religion of each site, conveying such a feel of the reality of the past that time was eradicated and we could all imagine the place busy and inhabited by these ancient ancestors of ours.” (p. 369)

From, “My Nine Lives”

Turning has been screened at Turkish embassies world-wide. It continues to be shown to students at Beshara schools in many countries including Scotland, Australia, America, Indonesia and Israel.

Diane Cliento died in Cairns on 7 October 2011 aged 78. She had three husbands – Andrea Volpe, Sean Connery and Anthony Shaffer, a daughter and a son.

References

[1] “My Nine Lives,” autobiography by Diane Cilento, published by Penguin Australia, 2006.
(2) Bulent Rauf: In his later years, Bulent devoted himself to the works of Muhyiddin Ibn ‘Arabi, the twelfth century Andalucian saint. This led to the establishment of the Beshara School of Intensive Esoteric Education. Bulent became consultant to the Beshara School, wrote many papers elucidating the unity of existence for students on the courses, and translated into English several of the works of Ibn ‘Arabi. (More about Bulent Rauf)
[3] James Mellaart: A British archaeologist who had uncovered the ground mound in central Turkey that hid Catal Huyuk, the oldest known city in the world, in the early 1960s.

Turning