ARTICLES
Three origins of religious
symbolism
SEMIOTICS OF CULTURE, ARATORINC, Helsinki, Finland, 1988
Electronic text
Original publication
I would like to make a preliminary remark. My representation does not belong to any semiotic theory about metaphors or symbolism, it is a purely factual representation with no reference to any possible theory.

Now I am going to draw a few houses. I should like you to be very attentive, because there are some things which I would not like to say to you right at the beginning. I will draw a conclusion at the end, so please be attentive not only to the content of my presentation but also to the manner of explaining.

So now I begin:

I am going to lecture on two very limited symbolic situations. Let me draw you a small house. The house is divided in three parts, it is divided vertically. This is the foundation. This here is the house struc- ture, the place to live and this is, well, shall we call it the attic. Now the house is in the process of being built. Who is working there? The bricklayers are working on the foundation, the construc- tion workers are in the central part, and their supervisors are probab- ly sitting in their offices in the attic. The simple workers, or bricklayers, do what they are told. What is required of them is hard work, and obeisance. The experienced workers use their skills. They are supposed to know not only what they are doing now, but also what is going on. The work of these two groups is not possible without a designer or a super- visor.

He sits in the attic and knows something, not only of what is going on, but also about the skill, art, and theory of building - that is, he knows something about how buildings in general are built, and we are given to understand that he sits somewhere above, and he is, well, an architect or a brain. His being there gives to all a superstructure, a hierarchy; he sits in the attic and supervises all his people who are work- ing and building. Likewise we can imagine a larger building, only that larger build- ing is far broader, broader than the first one, it includes in itself all other buildings, and it also consists of three vertically placed parts: base, structure, and superstructure - that is unskilled workmanship, skilled workmanship and architecture. This larger building is the build- ing of art on the whole as it exists on earth, because in each and every art there are those who execute, those who execute skillfully, and then somebody who knows everything, not only of this or that work or this or that art, but who knows about art en general. Now, let me pass to the third image, we have here the third build- ing.

Again base, structure, and superstructure. The third building in which the second is contained, in which the first is contained, is the gigantic building of the universe. This building is also hierarchically and vertically structured. We are skillful workers in that third building, in the fundamental universe with all our houses, our skills and preoccupations, and with our seven sciences. Then we have skillful artisans who know what to do in this world and in this universe. And then, in the attic we have the great supervisor of the whole building craft of the universe, the great geometrician. Therefore, you must realize that everything in this world fmds its place in the general structural outline of the image of three- partite buildings.

There is the building in the process of being built, there is the art of building en general, and then there is the vast build- ing already built by our Celestial Father who supervises and looks after us. What I have hitherto uttered is only one aspect. The whole picture would remain very incomplete if I did not add the other aspect and dimension. This other dimension is the concept of symbolism. If in the first image we have workers-skilled workers and ar- chitects - in the third image of that bigger building which embodies the noble art of architecture, the situation is different: because in the art of architecture we have those who do not only work, but who also speculate. Those people are able to speculate without doing a "job." That is why they are called Speculative Masters. They speculate over all that is going on in the cosmic building of the universe. Our Celes- tial Father looks over all of us, skilled and unskilled workers, and speculates over our thoughts, speech, and doings. This lecture of mine is a repetition of a standard Irish lecture on Masonic rites written in 1801 and published in London and Dublin in 1821.

That is why- now I am commenting on my own words - I was saying en general and not in general, they used a lot of French words at that time. Also, at that time, onlymen were subjects of the lecture- for the Masonic order was for men only. Let us consider the main points of our possible interpretation. Of course, the chief and general idea of the interpretation is the dual con- struction of the work of the universe; that is, work and speculation. Speculation isshown in this lecture not as a part of a binary organism- forget about that word binary! The image of speculation gives us another work within the general institution of the first work. I am here speculating, not to add to mywork for mywork is already contained in my speculation. Iam going to speculate on the symbolism ofthings. The word symbolism was introduced into Masonic manuals in 1729.

What we have at the very basis of this symbolism is the fact of speculation which becomes a universal image of building. We may say that speculation becomes an analogue of building. We can also say it the other wayround - that building isthe universal analogue ofspecula- tion. One of the great masters of Irish masonry, Lawrence Mac- Dermott, said in 1763 that nobody can speculate over the whole universe but its Creator. Also man can speculate without being a real builder. So, who speculates? The Speculative Master, who is now speculating, the lecturer - your humble servant. I am speculating, though, in a very elementary way, I am just reproducing another lec- ture. I am commenting on it without any real imagination or theorizing. Whether or not I agree on the masons' calling of all this symbolism is uncertain.

This all is symbolism. But to say, for instance, that the attic symbolizesthought or speculation is deadly banal. This is not real sym- bolic thought. The real symbolism starts with our third and last house because only that house establishes the absolute equivalency in the universe, the principle ofsymbolismitself. Within the framework of this concept of absolute symbolism existing in the universe, you cannot ex- clude anything of this symbolism, all acts are symbolic.The third house acts as a primary symbol of the whole. A primary symbol should sym- bolize everything and only such a primary symbol can establish sym- bolic relations in the end. That is why, for instance, V. N. Toporov says that the World Tree is a primary symbol.He means only one thing, that the World Tree sym- bolizes everything, it symbolizes the whole universe. So, what we have here called symbol is the whole situation, the whole state of affairs- not only this or that symbol, but also the sphere of symbolic repre- sentation as such. In my presentation I am going to discuss the symbolism of symbols, the symbolic situation. Who am I? I can be a well-educated man, a lawyer, or a doctor; but, I can also be a brick-layer. In the company where I am sitting the one and only subject discussed is symbolism.

Everybody is supposed to understand what a house means, a house means a lodge. Everyone is also supposed to understand what the universe means, everybody is supposed to understand what God means. God is the supreme architect, the great designer, and our Father. Everybody is also supposed to understand what isthe meaning of history; it is the history of building craft, there is no history without building craft. The Masonic history begins surprisingly, not with Adam and Eve, but with Cain because his older son wasthe first builder and craftsman. What is also interesting here is the importance of speculation, in Masonic circles speculation is asimportant as building.

We can saythat philosophic speculation is a universal analogue of building. We also can say it the other way round - that building is the universal analogue of philosophic speculation. That is why the great theorist of free- masonry, Lawrence MacDermott, said in 1763that nobody can specu- late about the whole universe except its Creator. So, according to this tradition, I ask again, who isspeculating? The speculative master; who else is speculating? The teacher, who is speculating right here - your humble servant. The following is all about speculation of the universal concept of the great architect. Each and every Buddhist Tantrist ritual has three elements and no more: sometimes these three elements are called The Three M's.

So, Ladies and Gentlemen, we are talking about the Three M's. The first of these Three M's is Mandala. The second M is Mantra. The third M is Mudra. I am going to present to you,in a very schematic and empirical way, the meaning of these three concepts, without any reference to their metaphysical meaning. This I am going to do within the framework of Tantric and Buddhist tradition; these explanations are based on hundreds, if not thousands, of texts. To get all this infor-mation you do not need to be initiated into the Buddhist tradition. In the same way you can buy initiation into a Masonic lodge. Mandala is, very generally speaking, an organized place of meditation. In Mandala are based visual objects which are organized so that they correspond to the meditators' inner or outer visual world; it acts like a place where one can meditate according to tradition.

The second M, the Mantra, does the same as Mandala, it organizes the vocal and audial environment of the meditating person. And final- ly the third element, Mudra, means, in Vedic and post-Vedic tradition, a certain fixation of gestures and microgestures or movements of the human body, especially the hands. Later, Mudra acquired a much more universal meaning and became that which is not a symbolitself but also that which meant or referred to a symbol. It meant symbolsim as such, the sphere of symbolic representation; it meant symbolism, or the idea of symbolism. A part of its meaning became a general term. We could ask what is Mudra, and answer: all is Mudra, the world equals Mudra. Likewise you could say that all texts are Mantra, but Mudra assumed the role, above all as a general and generic meaning of symbolism as such.

These three terms constitute the sphere ofsymbolic representation. Mantra does not represent any specific God, deity, or heavenly body. Rather, Mantra is a universal concept or symbol of the upper tier house. In our consideration of the three M's we ended up with the same result as earlier when talking about Masonic symbolism. The same is true of Russian semiotics. In Russian semiotics there is a tendency to regard symbols as things that symbolize everything. Such is the case when Toporov saysthat the World Tree is a primary symbol; he means that it symbolizes everything, the whole universe.