Applied Pansemiotics: The Disney Triskelion and the Image of God

In October 2006 Urbanomic received a small anonymous packet from France containing what purports to be a pamphlet published by the Association française de pansemiotique. ‘If SEMIOTICS is the general theory of signs’, one of the faded photocopies proclaims, ‘PANSEMIOTICS is the TOTAL theory of signs’.1 Annexed to this text was a copy of a letter from Gilles Deleuze in which the philosopher replies to the authors, in a conciliatory tone, ‘Charming … As you say, I feel that I am entirely pansemiotic’. At the time, uncertain of the provenance of this bizarre document and the validity of the novel ‘discipline’ it announced, our archivists filed the papers away and they were forgotten. Having recently rediscovered them, as a historical curiosity, and without any suggestion of endorsement, we present the following short text in translation as an example of the troubling material contained therein.

I had already been working on the image of Mickey—since baptised the ‘Disney Triskelion’—for some time, when Bruno Duval showed me the ‘Robot-Portrait of God’ he had made.

For me this was a revelation, as it confirmed something that I had suspected for some months: the identity of the image of God with that of Mickey was undeniable.

This strange identity led me to reflect more deeply and to seek in representations of God further confirmation of this bold hypothesis.

At this point, two lines of enquiry opened up:

– the designation of God in different languages.

– the image of God and related symbols.

If we consider—something upon which all the mysteries agree—that God is universal and homogeneous and that, like light, God has neither dimension nor direction, we must also consider that His name must reflect these peculiar characteristics. Muslim mysticism was of some help to me here, since Sufi mystics have long explored this path—that of the identity of God with His name.

Abd Ak-Karim Al Jilli (1365–1417) approaches this question in his work Al Insan al Kamil, in the chapter ‘On the Unveiling of the Divine Names’. In the paragraph ‘Al ism’ (‘The Name’), he declares: ‘The perfection of the Named is manifested by the fact that it unveils itself to he who knows nothing of it, so that the Name is to the Named what the exterior (az-zhir) is to the interior (al-bâtin) and, under this relation, the Name is the Named itself.’

In ‘The Wisdom of the Prophets’, the Sufi mystic Muhyi-d-din Ibn Arabi (1165–1240) develops the theme of the reversibility of god:

God is therefore the mirror in which you see yourself as you are his mirror in which he contemplates his Names. Now, these Names are nothing other than himself, so that reality is inverted and becomes ambiguous. (From the chapter ‘The Word of Seth’)

God can be known only via the synthesis of antinomic affirmations, for he is the first and the last, the interior and the exterior’ (From the chapter ‘The Word of Enoch’)

We can therefore posit as the basis of our reflection this twofold particularity:

– the identity of God and His name (whatever the language)

– the reversibility of God, that is to say, also, of His name.

This means that we may  discover in the name itself the hidden image of God, since His name is by its nature reversible.

And so it is that, in English, ‘God’ reverses into ‘Dog’.

In French, ‘Diev’ (there is no distinction between U and V in the original Latin alphabet), obviously reverses into ‘Vide, which, in the language of Descartes, should come as no surprise.

But beyond its quasi-anecdotal aspects, the identity of God and the Void allows us to consider from a new angle the relation between zero and the infinite, and through this, the physical phenomena brought to light by the theory of general relativity. Richard Sunder2 has arrived at the same conclusions via other paths….

In Arabic, the reversibility is evident and is manifested geometrically: ‘Allah’ = ‘Halla’ (inspiration/expiration).

In Italian and Spanish, ‘Dio’ demonstrates the origins of God without even needing to be reversed: ‘Di io’ or ‘d’Yo’ = of myself (a simple contraction illustrating the fact that one must concentrate in order to find God).

In Indonesian (Malay), the name of God (‘Tuhan’) contains both space and time, since it can be reversed into ‘Hutan’ = jungle or ‘Tahun’ = year.

But it is in Japanese that the nature of God is unveiled most clearly. For God is called ‘Kammi-Samma’, or more simply ‘Kami’, which, when reversed, becomes ‘Mika’ or ‘Mickey’.

It should also be noted that the quasi-homonym ‘Mikka’ means ‘the three’, key cipher of Christian mysticism since it is the trinity, the very image of God. Saint John of Damascus defines the trinity as follows:

…the hypostases are united not in such a way as to fuse together, but in such a way as to reciprocally contain one another […] Each contains the unity via its relation to the others no less than through its relation to itself

A definition which applies very well to the representation of Mickey, constituted by three circles which overlap not in such a way as to fuse together, but so as to contain one another reciprocally.

This is shown clearly in the following figure:

But beyond the identification of Mickey and God, we must bring to light the fact that Mickey is also the Devil. For in Christian iconography we find a good many representations of Satan in the form of three-faced characters. This should come as no surprise since the Devil is also the negative image of God; or more exactly God’s inverted image, that is to say the image itself.

It is for these reasons that the Disney triskelion simultaneously possesses the kind and appealing look of a friend to children, and the detestable look of an insidious imperialism.

This enduring quality also explains the mouse’s considerable and almost instantaneous success once Walt Disney gave him back his divine name, after the character had been vegetating under the name of ‘Mortimer’! It is certainly not by chance that his image has spread throughout the globe.

The schematic portrait of Mickey, reduced to three circles arranged in a triangle, is a very ancient figure that had known a great many avatars before finally being fixed in the image of Disney’s mouse.

It is in the triskelion that I have been able to find the original element upon whose basis was formed, via successive approximations in the course of its migration from Asia to the West, what I call the ‘Disney triskelion’, named after its discoverer.

The first known form is that of a wheel with multiple rays, no doubt symbolising both light and movement. It is frequently encountered in Asia Minor, in the Caucasus and in Armenia (where it was extant until the Middle Ages). It was subsequently simplified into the well known Basque quadriskelion emblem:

Then, via the introduction of the symbol of the trinity, the quadriskelion-wheel became a triskelion, taking slightly different forms depending upon the epoch and region, following the schema shown below:

The success of the Disney triskelion and the universality of its utilisation are incontestably linked to its ancient origins—the wheel and the triangle—which are deeply rooted in the cultural unconscious of the West and the Middle East.

We can therefore relate the cult of the triskelion observed in certain countries to the heritage of older cults. In particular, this is the case with the phallic cult. We know that the representation of the phallus on the threshold of doorways was a means of warding off ill fate in Greek and Roman cultures. Sometimes, however, the phallus took limp, soft forms, unrelated to its function but which already evoke the Disney triskelion, as seen in a mosaic from Sousse (Tunisia):

It thus seems very clear that the practice of painting Mickeys on the thresholds of doorways, below windows and on facades (still a current practice in North Africa and in the Near East) was only the perpetuation of an older cult, that of the Phallus.

This is one of the observations that leads me to maintain that the Disney triskelion is the culmination of a lengthy process of symbolic drift based on the God/Devil image.

This work begun with a reflection on the name of God—a sign in itself—then continued with a study of the image—a manifest sign that led me to the same conclusions. This constitutes a direct application of pansemiotics, whose pansemic object is to think[penser]-Mickey—or even to heal[panser]-Mickey by enveloping him in the möbius band.

For it is a problem of classical topology that may allow us to advance in our definition of a generalisable applied pansemiotics.

Everyone knows that if you cut a möbius band down a line situated in the middle of its width, you end up with a simple two-dimensional ribbon analogous to a portion of a cylinder.

On the contrary, if you cut the same möbius band down a line situated at a third (and here we rediscover the trinity) of the way across its width, you end up with two interlaced ribbons, one of which is still a möbius band, the other a surface homeomorphic to a cylinder. The whole thing constitutes a spatial representation of the Disney triskelion! This peculiarity of the möbius band has not escaped the attention of mathematicians, but to this day none of them has had the idea of connecting the figure so obtained to the Disney triskelion.

A study of the geometry of this figure allows us to reconstitute a series of triskelions deriving from three elementary forms: circle, triangle, and rectangle.

Figure 7, as will be seen, is the trefoil knot studied by J.W. Alexander. The peculiarity of the trefoil knot is that it has three generators: a, b, and c, satisfying the equations: ba = cb, cb = ac, ac = ba.

The three equations satisfy the Alexander polynomial:

(Ra) bac–1b–1 = 1

(Ra) cba–1c–1 = 1

(Ra) abc–1a–1 = 1

in matrix form:

1–t      –1          t
t          1–t       –1
–1        t           1–t

and P(t) = 1 – t + t2

If we now consider that an orientable topological surface in R3, it will be observed that it, too, can be assimilated to a triskelion:

d (+dg)=d(1)
g (+dg)=g(2)

— an equation satisfied by d=2, g=3, because for all d>= and g>=1, there exists a one-sided surface such that these two equations are satisfied.

These mathematical observations led me to propose the term TOPOLINOLOGY to designate this form of applied pansemiotics based on the study of the triskelion and its evolution.

The neologism derives via contraction from ‘topology’—the branch of mathematics that enables, in particular, the study of the trefoil knot—and ‘Topolino’, the Italian name of the Disney triskelion.

This contraction is a fine reflection of the pansemiotic synthesis operated between the mathematical figure and the symbolic figure.

Note also that Topolino was the familiar name given to the popular car manufactured by…Fiat. Which brings us back to the divine origin of Topolino: Fiat lux is inscribed in letters of fire in the triskelion, announcing the birth of the world.

Pansemiotics, which also calls itself a myotic-thought,3 rediscovers the Ariadne’s thread that connects it to the Indo-European origin of the triskelion. For the same Indo-European root MUS gave us both MYOS (muscle) in Greek and MOUSE in English. (X. Delamarre [ed.], Le vocabulaire indo-européen [Paris: Maisonneuve, 1984]). We might also remark that the ‘mouse’ is a succulent part of a lamb shank, that is to say a muscle of the lamb, the animal symbol of the son of God in the Christian religion. And also the animal which (in the virile adult form of the ram) symbolises the Ancient Egyptian god Amon. Oswald Théoforos has recently demonstrated the identity of the image of the God Amon (the hidden god) with the triskelion.

Here the thread that seems to extend out indefinitely in fact finds itself back at its starting point, as on a möbius band…. It is perhaps the thread implicitly contained in the name A-Te-Lier, the name of a gallery that is also the base of the Association française de pansémiotique, located, as if to render homage to the triskelion, on the rue des TROIS frères!



  1. [In full: ‘If SEMIOTICS is the general theory of signs, PANSEMIOTICS is the TOTAL theory of signs, PANSEMIOTICS is the theory according to which ‘everything in the cosmos is a sign’, that is to say an object loaded with a twofold, conscious and unconscious, meaning, which it manifests to the intentionality of consciousness. Pansemiotics is therefore at once the system, the theory, and the practice of relations of the real—that of which we are in part conscious—and the surreal—that of which we are in part unconscious. Pansemiotics has thus made it possible to develop research and to make synthetic work between domains that were formerly separated: – psychotherapy via the stripping bare of the unconscious workings of individual and collective consciousness; – linguistics (language being a manifestation at once conscious and unconscious) via the analysis of etymology and ‘wordplay’; – semiotics, via the systematic study of morphological and semantic driftings of forms, in particular on the basis of the hidden image of God; – fundamental physics via the extension of the notion of General Relativity to that of Absolute Relativity; – and… etc., since being by nature a total, and even pantotal, theory, pansemiotics can find applications in all domains.’—trans.]
  2. [The purported founder of pansemiotics, who extended its analyses into the domain of particle physics and cosmogenesis—trans.]
  3. [‘Pan c’est myotique’—trans.]