The 17th of February is celebrated as World Human Spirit Day. It’s also a day of remembrance about philosopher Giordano Bruno, considered a hero of the ‘free thought’ movement, which is directly connected to our own. Bruno was burned at the stake today in 1600.

17 February 2012

Giordano Bruno (1548-1600): Free Thought Leader

We in the movement for human rights of psychiatric survivors, are of course deeply connected to the free speech movement.

And that means we are connected to the free thought movement, because without free thought one cannot have free speech.

My grandfather – an immigrant Lithuanian coal miner in Illinois – had a deep respect for Giordano Bruno [1548 to 1600, see drawing on right]. Bruno was a feisty philosopher who ended up being one of the last people burnt at the the stake by the Catholic Church as a heretic, on the 17th of February 1600.

Statue of Giordano Bruno, Free Thought LeaderTo this day, 17 February is celebrated by a group at Giordano’s statue in a square Rome (right), where there is music, flowers and tributes to free thought. When the statue was installed in Campo de’ Fiori in 1889, it was turned to directly face the Vatican.

Maybe it’s a coincidence, or maybe it’s related, but someone somewhere has declared this same day, 17 February, today, World Human Spirit Day.

One advantage of my 94-year-old mother volunteering at the MindFreedom office the past few years, is that I have gotten to hear a few family stories I had never heard before! Since I heard from a friend, Darby, that she has discovered this blog, I’m passing that story on to you:

For some reason, my grandfather felt so strongly about this flawed but brilliant historic thinker, that he unsuccessfully tried to have his first born named Giordano. Grandmother won, and my uncle was named Vyto, after Vytautus the Great. But his effort has led to this story, which is how I discovered Giordano.

I’d like to think my grandfather would appreciate our movement to question and change one of the most powerful and profitable in the history of humanity, the mental health system, such as with our 5 May 2012 protest of psychiatric labels, Boycott Normal.

I mentioned Giordano to another Italian, and it turns out he celebrates Giordano, too.

Bendetto Saraceno, MD - PsychiatristMy friend Benedetto Saraceno (right), who formerly headed the World Health Organization’s mental health division, has told me he has been known to leave flowers at the ceremony in front of Giordano’s statue.

To entertain my niece who has studied Italian, Dr. Saraceno composed something in Italian on this topic, apparently calling me a little Giordano (“un piccolo Giordano Bruno”). Thanks for that, I’m humbled, and that can help my own spirit.

Here is what Benedetto sent our family, in case you read Italian. Below that is my niece’s English translation, which she considers “rough.”

So today would be a good day to sing, “Die Gedanken sind frei,” an ancient peasant anthem of free thought, and celebrate the battered, tattered and burnt but unconquerable human spirit!


Caro David,

Che gioia poterti scrivere nella mia lingua, l’Italiano!

Una lingua conosciuta e amata permette di scrivere cose piú intime e


Ecco, allora posso scriverti che ammiro il tuo lavoro in difesa dei diritti

delle persone che a causa delle loro sofferenze psicologiche o delle loro

disabilità, vengono etichettate invece che comprese, sedate invece che

aiutate, legate al letto invece che s-legate dalla loro pena, rinchiuse

invece che ri-aperte.

Il diritto  a non ricevere dosi massiccce di psicofarmaci se non lo si

desidera, il diritto a non essere trattato con elettroshock, il diritto a

non essere privato della libertà sono tutti diritti sacri e tu, insieme a

MindFreedom, difendi queti diritti.

Il monaco e pensatore italiano Giordano Bruno fu uno spirito libero, predicó la libertà della mente e del pensiero e fu bruciato come eretico perchè predicava la libertà di pensiero degli uomini liberi.

Tu sei un piccolo Giordano Bruno con il tuo lavoro militante. 

Ti auguro di avere sempre la stessa lucidità, intelligenza e coerenza di

Giordano Bruno ma ti auguro anche di non venire mai punito per le tue idee.

Con amicizia

Benedetto Saraceno


[translation by my niece]

Dear David,

What a joy it is to be able to write you in my language. Italian! A known and loved language that allows me to write this with the most intimacy and sincerity.

Here, then I can write you that I admire your job in defense of people’s rights who, on account of their psychology suffering or their disabilities, become labeled instead of understood, sedated instead of helped, tied to the bed instead of released from their pain, locked up instead of freed.

The right not to receive massive doses of pharmaceuticals, if one does not desire it, the right to not to be treated with electroshock, the right to not be deprived of freedom are the most sacred of rights and you, together with MindFreedom, defend these rights.

The Italian monk and thinker Giordano Bruno was a free spirit, he preached freedom of the mind and of thought, and was burnt like a heretic because he preached the freedom of thought for free men. You are a small Giordano Bruno with your militant job.

I hope you will always have the same clarity, intelligence and consistency of Giordano Bruno, but also that you will never be punished for your ideas.

With Friendship,

Benedetto Saraceno

About the blogger: David W. Oaks is Executive Director of MindFreedom International. For bio, as well as info about speaking engagements and workshops, click here.