Symbols in the Church of Universal Soul
by PierLuigi Zoccatelli. A paper presented at CESNURs 14th international conference, Riga, Latvia, August 29-31, 2000. Preliminary version. Please do not reproduce without the consent of the author
All photographs by Valter Maccantelli ©2000
The official seal of the Church of the Universal Soul is a pentagon including several symbols. The symbol of spirituality in Universal Soul is the pentagon, regarded as a symbol of knowledge. The well-known eye in the triangle is a symbol of Gods perfection and his constant presence within the flow of lifes energy. The tree is a symbol of all living beings, humans included. Its top part -- with the Earths colour -- represents the experiences needed before reincarnation, whilst a golden part is a symbol of the spirit rediscovering its own eternity. To quote the Churchs own words:
The (official) seal includes: a triangle with an all-seeing eye; a tree; the ground where the tree has its roots; and a pentagon, including all of the above and in turn placed between two top bands of different colours.
The tree is a symbol of the human being, whose roots are in the earth. From the earth he or she receives its experiences, all needed in order to reach the elective status of Godhood. Like a tree, the human being should bear fruits. The latter will ultimately fall from the tree: this means that no human work, no matter how important and saint, may be considered as an end in itself. All works should be regarded with detachment.
The eye in the triangle is a symbol of how God is consistently present within the flow of lifes energy. Every day we shall commend ourselves to God in order to receive our vital nourishment from his Love and bear fruits. Without the Life, no evolution is possible.
We can thus understand our true condition: we are as Gods, yet limited. We may regard ourselves even as fallen Gods. Certainly we should not think that we are as perfect and holy as God is: such arrogant pride would be our worst enemy and would lead us to bear bad fruits. This may always happen, since Our Father leaves us free.
Hence the importance of the tree as a symbol. Just as the tree converts into fruits the elements of Life (Fire, Earth, Air, Water), so we are free through our evolution and conscience to convert our negative elements (bad) into positive (good), or vice versa. This also means that every man and woman is responsible for how he or she uses the God-given gift of Life.
The pentagon is a symbol of the "house" of God. This is the portion of Gods space inhabited by us through the Life, where God is always present. It is the infinite dimension where we experience Life in its many different facets. The two top bands in different colours are the human dimensions experienced after death. The internal earth-coloured band represents a dimension where we are still connected to the infinite material space. We feel safe there because this is a dimension empirically testable and easy to understand rationally. This dimension binds us to the wheel of reincarnations and the law of karma, as we are not yet perfect.
The higher golden-coloured band is the invisible safety which prepares to Eternity. It is a symbol of Miriam, the Universal Soul, and of a transit towards a purely spiritual essence. It is the dimension where we discover ourselves as divine beings.
What is peculiar in the style of the Church of the Universal Soul is the eclectic use of icons and symbols. This is, on the other hand, in accordance with its theology. Temples, chapels and other premises of the movement all reveal the same eclectic style. Some symbols are typical of a very traditional Roman Catholicism: statues of the Virgin (some connected to the rose -- Mary as the Mystical Rose), of the Sacred Heart of Jesus, rosaries, relics, angels. The latter, as it happens in other new religious movements (for instance, the Ramthas School of Illumination), are occasionally reproduced from Michelangelos fresco of the Final Judgement in the Sistine Chapel. We find Michelangelos angels in the Universal Soul Temple of Poggiana di Riese Pio X, a village in the Venetian province of Treviso. But alongside Madonnas and rosaries there are also icons from other traditions, apparently with a preference for Buddhism or the East in general. The architecture of the Temples appears as prima facie Christian, but they may include an inner Temple of Light with a statue of the Buddha (both in Poggiana and in the central Temple of Leinì, where the Buddha is encircled by the symbols of the seven chakras). There is also, again both in Poggiana and Leinì, a Temple of the Four Elements, and domes inscribed with ideograms in a scared language unique to the movement and called "ramiric". In Turin the Temple of Light reproduces the seal with the tree within the pentagon, and there is also a Buddha meditating in a garden (in Leinì). Thanks to the plaster columns, ceilings and decorations -- courtesy of some of the priests or "ramia" (as priests are called in the movement) -- the final effect is not unpleasant.
We now invite you to a tour of Universal Souls facilities in Leinì and Torino (please click on each picture to see enlarged version).
The first picture shows the Churchs headquarters in Leinì. We find there three relevant buildings: the Temple, the Open Space for prayer, and a tent. The latter is needed for larger meetings, when the Temple becomes too small. Starting from the Temple, the first picture depicts the entrance and the door, where visitors are greeted by two angels.
We now enter the Temple and see a general view converging on the main altar, dominated by a statue the Sacred Heart of Jesus. Notice the triangle symbol on the ceiling with inscriptions in sacred ramiric language.
On the main altar, under the traditional Sacred Heart statue and an equally catholic-style tabernacle, we see a photograph of a church meeting where miraculous presences reportedly appeared and were captured by the camera.
From a lateral view we discover two side altars.
On the left hand side, a traditional altar of the Virgin Mary. This is the statue reported to have moved and cried during Casarins first meetings in Sassi during the 1980s. Notice the candle holder, found in many Italian Catholic churches, and under Virgin Marys statue the relics of the blessed Father Pio, a saintly capuchin who is extremely popular in Italy.
Least we mistake the Temple for a Catholic church, on the right hand side we see an altar of Buddha, surrounded by chakra symbols.
Within the Temple, a small room is devoted to personal counseling offered by the Ramias.
Outside the Temple, the Open Space for prayer is mostly used for private prayers. The circular structure and columns are curiously similar to nearby Damanhur, the large Italian magical community, which also has an open Temple (in addition to its famous underground Temple). Here, however, the Open Space converges on a statue of Jesus Christ, with Sacred Heart in evidence and surrounded by candles. The second dominant Italian religion, soccer, is not forgotten, and next to the prayer space there is a soccer field (as well as a volleyball one).
The permanent Tent is used for larger meetings (usually on Sunday). Notice again the angels welcoming visitors at the door, and the small bookstore outside of the entrance.
The large interior has a capacity of 3,000.
On the main podium eclecticism triumphs. The Virgin Mary is surrounded by Mother Teresa and Father Pio, but also the Mahatma Gandhi and the Indian guru Sathya Sai Baba.
In front of the main podium a balcony includes photographs of a whirling dervish, Martin Luther King Jr., the current Dalai Lama, and Paramahansa Yogananda.
We move now from Leinì to Torino, where two floors of a condo have been adapted. The upper floor chapel replicates the official seal of the Church: the pentagon with the tree of life. A candle burns at the centre of the tree. Notice a statue of the Buddha on the right, whose base has an inscription in ramiric language. On the back of the chapel, there is another print of the "miraculous" photograph we have seen in Leinì.
Going down to the lower floor a small mezzanine hosts a room for private counseling. Notice the photograph of Roberto Casarin.
The lower floor has a larger capacity, of one hundred, and is used for larger meetings. Notice the stained glass cross window, and the chakra symbols (we see three of them in particular). The cross and the chakras are a fit conclusion for our journey into Universal Souls eclectic spirituality.
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