Threesology Research Journal
Dumézilian Trifunctionalism
A 1- 2- 3 + (...) Ideology

(The Study of Threes)

Georges Dumézil
  • Some people don't agree with the view that there exists a distinct three-part (tripartite) organization to a multitude of Indo-European cultures both past and present.

  • (Such people have difficulty in perceiving any representative scholarship even if it were to slap them in the face.)

  • There are a few who do agree but hold the additional view that Georges Dumézil overlooked the presence of inherent Bipartite (two-patterned) conventions in such given social structures.

  • (While they are astute enough to recognize what may initially be identified as an auxiliary social component of stratification, they fail to consider the possible existence of a 1- 2- 3 maturational development sequence taking place. In other words, the existence of a "two" model is not a refutation of the "three," but a supportive adjunct. A culture that reaches a "three" organization necessarily has to pass through a "two" model. The transition may be smooth, murky, or bumpy, with residual effects still in place and overlapping in one way or another. And this does not include those instancdes of hybridization.)

  • Others consider that Dumézil wrongly set aside the Indian group of slaves/prisoners (etc.) so that there would indeed be just three social groups to conform to his tripartite ideology formula and not four groups.

  • While this point is thought to be a valid argument, it overlooks the realization that the so-called "four" instance is part of a three-to-one ratio consistent with an identifiable environmental influence: The Sun's three "moments" known as Dawn- Noon- Dusk are "fusing" into a singularity as the Sun expands towards its eventual burnout.)

    Another instance of a "fourth" entity can be cited with regard to scholars who view a culture as if they stand on the outskirts while addressing internally functioning events that are compartmentalized into singularities, dualities and triplicities with or without a personally used mathematics computation such as describing an inter-related instance of a 1 + 1, 1 + 2, 2 + 2, 1 + 3, 2 + 3 (or inverse thereof), 3 + 3, 1 + 4, 2 + 4, 3 + 4, (or inverse thereof), etc... Scholars frequently overlook their usage of ideas are elaborate (symbolically alphabetized) excercises of arithmetical computations. In other words, instead of using numbers to practice an excercise of mental computational gymnastics, they use words compiled in sentences, compiled into paragraphs, compiled into "papers," "monographs," "articles," books, etc., like a mathmatician using a words to describe a particular thought equation.

    Take a look at the following as an elaboration of the foregoing theme:

    --- Words and Numbers: Mathematical Dimensions of Rhetoric ---
    Dr. Allen H. Merriam

  • It has also been mentioned that the existence of a tripartite social structure occurring with the Buryat Mongols is a refutation that the tripartite formula is distinctly Indo-European.

  • To this last example, while using an expanded tripartite model that encompasses a distinct cultural usage of a three-patterned perspective, we could include the presence of a "threes" usage amongst Asians such as the Japanese and Koreans. The latter group being exemplified by the Yin- Unity- Yang example, in contrast to the older Yin/Yang dichotomy found amongst the Chinese. The Japanese may well have their own tripartite examples, but it appears that many of the present day ones are due to the presence of the American presence via a Military Occupation; a situation thus repeated with the American presence in terms of a Military presence as well. For those not following this line of thought, let me be more clear: The American cultural usage of three-patterned ideas, expressions, etc., has been, to some extent, adopted by those cultures in which the American presence is prominent.

What is not being considered is that the Tripartite ideology of Dumézil is but one example of many types of a three-patterned usage that have developed along a 1- 2- 3 sequence. A stark example is the development of increasing point values being assigned to different types of basket-goals made in the game of Basketball:

  1. At the inception of Basketball's development was the instance of describing a basket-goal being made as having the value of one point, irrespective if the "basket" itself was a metal cow bucket, cardboard box, vegetable crate, fruit basket, or whatever was handy at the moment such as the broken-out window of a derelic farm truck or a hole in the ground. If you've ever know some measure of poverty, you make due with whatever you have.

  2. As the game developed/progressed, a single basket was given the value of two points and the one-point value was relegated to that accompanying a free-throw shot given to a player after they've been fouled.

  3. A three-point shot was initiated by North Carolina's Bennie Bolton who rifled his way to history with a three-pointer 2:59 into a game against Navy on Nov. 22, 1986. He was the first player in NCAA history to shoot from beyond 19 feet, 9 inches and have it mean something.

--- The Post: Three Point Shots in Basketball by Eric Knudstrup ©1995---

In regards to those instances of a single point shot, there also exists the occasional 1 + 1 for a given offense.

But let another example be provided though it is not typically perceived nor discussed in the followng manner: If we look at Germ layer (Endoderm - Mesoderm - Ectoderm) development, the more biologically simple the organisim, the fewer the Germ layers. We human have three that are fused together. Hence, if you would prefer, the compartmentalization of the three into a singularity might be viewed as a forth function. However, this is not to say that in centuries to come, there will not be the development of a distinct "other" Germ layer representing a new type of organism.

As a third example, let us look at DNA, RNA and Proteins:

DNA's triplet codon system is actually a 3 to 1 ratio which perhaps is best understood if it is considered along with RNA (Ribose Nucleic Acid):

~ Item ~ ~ Three the same ~ ~ One is different ~
DNA = Adenosine- Cytosine- Guanine Thymine
RNA = Uracil

Yet, the "three the same, one is different" notion is not readily appreciated if we were to look separately at either DNA or RNA. Such an apparent distinction requires both to be placed side-by-side in order for us to make the comparison and highlight the existence of such a pattern. However, once the generalized idea of a "3 to 1" ratio is consciously affixed to our considerations, a list of other examples starts to gain application to various ideas that would otherwise suggest a pattern-of-four to an unsuspecting collector of diverse information, whether or not their research intent is to describe a recurrence that another prefers to use a numerical label in order to record the instance. The 3 to 1 ratio has thus become another cataloguing tool that is differentiated from and complementary to a strict "threes" formula.

And let us now add a simplified perspective of Protein structure (though there are others):

Item --- Three the same --- --- One is different ---
Protein = Primary- Secondary- Tertiary conformations Quaternary as a composite of the first three

This link provides the beginning of several pages involving examples of the 3 to 1 ratio:

--- Three "to" One ---

Hence, the presence of one or two-patterned structural elements within or near three-patterned elements are not necessarily examples that are in opposition, but can refer to an ongoing cognitive development sequence. It is not difficult to understand that in order to get to a "three" count, there has to have been a previous two preceded by a one. The transition may be fast, slow, or intermediary with or without clearly defined examples of the former steps. Like individuals, cultures might well exhibit "Eureka!" moments of realization that make former incremental steps almost invisible to the common person's visibility. In other words, so-called "everyday common sense" lacks a measure of the very common sense it attempts to persuade the common sensibilities of most people to an existence thereof. There may be identifiable common sensibilities but such "agreed upon sensitivities" may manifest prevailing culturual superstitions advocating the perceptabilities of those who influence beliefs based on ideosyncacies to sub-serve their own values for personal survivability.

The presence of a distinct Dumézilian form of tripartite ideology occurring amongst the Buryat Mongols as well as the presence of a broader spectrum of three-patterned views occurring amongst Koreans and Japanese suggests a developmental overlap of sorts has occurred amongst these groups and Indo-Europeans (Unless you are one who prefers to view an inverse model of this idea). Be it due to trade, occupation by an Indo-European force after a war, or whatever. A larger appreciation of the "threes" phenomena needs to be exercised, such that for example, we might want to conclude that the concept of the Christian Trinity is due to a Dumézilian type of tripartite worldview; but this conclusion doesn't answer the question(s) of why- when- where (who, what, etc...) such a worldview developed as a distinction with respect to Indo-European groups and not Negroids or Mongoloids. Is there an as yet unrecognized "threes" gene or some other genetic/physiological "three" structure (or function) inherent with Indo-Europeans that does not exist with other groups?

If we claim that older Indo-European cultures exhibit a Bipartite structure and not a Tripartite structure, such a realization does not refute the existence of a distinct Indo-European Tripartite ideology, it merely provides credence to the suggestion that the "three" was preceded by a "two" and that this may have been preceded by a "one" social/cultural formula. The view that the presence of multiple gods in the past followed by the concept of a single god is not a refutation, it is a realization that a type of fusion (from the Many to One) has taken place. The "Many" is, in terms of number concept development, a reference to the value "three."

In the development of words to represent numerical values, in their own language equivalent way, ancient peoples had the word "one" for the quantity 1, the word "two" for the quantity 2, and for any quantity beyond two, they used the word "Many." Hence, the usage of three number words was a "trifunctional ideology," whether or not it was thought of as such by the users themselves. In order for them to reach the three/many reference, they had to pass through a two and one cognitive "gathering" stages. The one and two values were not thrown away, but used as supportive references to the three. As time went on and other number words were utilized for larger quantities, this one- two- three sequencing was used and is exhibited by the presence of a comma after the hundreds place. The separation of three places 1,000 by a comma is representative of the old cognitive limitations humanity used in the past. It remains with us today. It also is represented in the sizing expressions of small- medium- large. The "large" is followed not by a new category, but a re-usage of the last, the third "large" category in the sense of X-large, XX-large, XXX-large. It represents another "one- two- many" cognitive limit. We are repeating ourselves, like cellular development in a womb where various overlappings take place.

Thus, if we find a "two"-patterned structure with earlier appearing groups, this same 1- 2- 3 developmental formula can be expanded to include the notion of hominid development in terms of an Out-Of-Africa hypothesis which, from some perspectives, provides us with the perception that Negroid peoples came first, Mongoloid peoples came second, and Indo-European peoples came third. We can extend this notion even further by recognizing that America, as part of the Indo-European "clan" of peoples, is a later-born addition to the expansion of earlier-born Indo-European cultures. This later-born status may help to account for a prevailing usage of "threes" concepts that is more abundant than the "threes" usage in earlier-born Indo-European cultures.

Not only does the American culture exhibit a usage of threes developed by earlier-born Indo-European cultures, but it has expanded this usage in a variety of ways that did not exist until the development of various industries occurred.

In addition to the "threes" example of Georges Dumézil's tripartite ideology, and the multitude of "threes" found in medicine, biology, advertising, etc..., the existence of a 3 to 1 ratio formula appears to be present. The exclusion of slaves/prisoners as a bonafide group having existed in the Indian culture is a dismissal of the ability to recognize that its presence is the "one" in relation to a "three" that marks a type of 3 to 1 ratio. However, this form of a 3 to 1 ratio may lead some readers to overlook that the Christian concept of 3 persons in 1 god is also a type of 3 to 1 ratio, as well as the common usage of holding one pen or pencil with three fingers. In other words, variations of the 3 to 1 (relationship) ratio occur, which may or many not have an inherent developmental structure of its own but will not be fully recognized until more examples of the 3 to 1 ratio variety are collected over extended periods of time.

Here are two examples of ideas concerning Dumézil's theory that acknowledge an organizational formula other than a tripartite one:

Max Deeg, »Dumézil ›in practice‹: der »Fall« Varuna und Odin«, in: ZfR 6, 1998, 137-162.

The theory of Dumézil was mainly derived from historical written sources, both mythological and epic. The main focus for the building-up of the tripartite ideology in the early stages was on Vedic India and not least on Germanic-Scandinavian mythology. The assumed tripartite structure of the Indo-European society and religion was specified by Dumézil through a distinction of two aspects of the first function, which should represent the binding, punishing, disquieting and the reliable, inimical, benevolent implication of rulership and sovereignty. This position is held in the Vedic pantheon by Varuna and in the Eddic mythology by Odin. A consequent application of Dumé:zil's characteristics of this aspect on these two gods and a comparison between both on this fundament shows that the claimed identity in the framework of the system does not confirm with the evidence of the oldest texts.

Nick Allen, »Varnas, colours, and functions. Expanding Dumézil's schema«, in: ZfR 6, 1998, 163-177.

The standard Dumézilian position has been that the three functions of Indo-European ideology were correlated with the colours white, red and »dark« (green, blue or black, occasionally replaced by yellow). Having previously argued that the ideology was essentially pentadic rather than triadic, the author here explores the relationship between functions and colours. Starting from the four Hindu social estates (the varnas - the very word varna means »colour«), he concentrates on two passages involving sets of four colours. One, a passage in Revelations that has already been linked with the hypothesis of a fourth function, tells of the four Horsemen of the Apocalypse, while the other tells of the four differently coloured disguises adopted by Cligés, the hero of an Arthurian romance. The conclusion is that, at least sometimes, especially in »horsy« contexts, the basic ideology used sets of four symbolic colours linked with the four functions. The well-known triads often represent contractions or partial realizations of a larger structure.

--- Zeitschrift für Religionswissenschaft ---
(Magazine for religion science)

The first abstract makes reference to a two-patterned structure and the next one identifies a four-patterned occurrence. However, the example of the so-called four horsemen can be viewed as a 3 to 1 ratio:

1 of 3. White Horse
2 of 3. Red Horse
3 of 3. Black Horse
1 of 1. Pale Horse

Here is another reference which acknowledges a 3 to 1 ratio (relationship) from another perspective that is described as an "inferior forth added to a prior triad":

...The tripartite ideology appears in the Rig-Veda, the oldest literature of the civilization. Mitra presides over rational and legal aspects of sovereignty, and is in effect contract personified. Varuna is magico-religious, awesome and terrible, presiding over the numinous. Indra presides over the second function gods, e. g., the Maruts. He fights monsters and so represents power and prowess. The third function in India as elsewhere is represented by several gods, here the Asvins and Sarasvati. Fertility, harvests, comfort, health, well-being, are all bestowed by the third-function deities. Brian K. Smith has recently pointed out a close parallel of the tripartite caste system to the tripartite character of the Vedas, with the later addition of the Atharva, the fourth Veda, becoming another "example of adding an inferior fourth to a prior triad."...

--- The Trinity and the Indo-European Tripartite worldview ---

Some observers might want to include the idea of Polytheism (belief in many gods) as an example of a non-tripartite (more than three) formula that existed in the cultures of many early Indo-European (and non- Indo-European) groups that would later come to adopt a tripartite formula. This, they would argue, is evidence that the idea of a 1- 2- 3 sequence is not a relevant topic of discussion and should be dismissed. However, what many people do not take into consideration is that a belief in Polytheism is an activity of individualized singularity with respect to worship. In other words, individual gods were often-times singularly attended to (worshiped/ prayed to) during various circumstances such as for love, war, guidance, strength, fertility, crops, etc...

Another instance of introducing an example of a "more than three" formula is represented in the following:

...The Uto-Aztecan family of Amerindian languages has a common religious mythology and it appears to partition the universe into four parts, for the four directions of the compass, or sometimes four directions and the center. It is obvious that Christian theology does not think in such a four or five-membered partition-system. It is not yet obvious from the anthropological literature what are the animating principles of the four or five functions in the Uto-Aztecan system. We are able to find analyses at the level of comparative symbol sets, and comparative narrative, but not of abstract thinking. (If indeed abstract thinking is even a fair question to bring to this problem.) The question could be phrased in this way: given the five functions of the points of the compass and the center, how would the God of monotheism, the God who brings good even in disappointments of life, manifest itself in these five functions? What would it be to experience the transformation of disappointment into blessing, at each of the cardinal points of the compass, and at the center? To answer that question, some sort of principles of the Uto-Aztecan functions would have to be discerned. In such principles, we might not see any interest in the contrast of transcendent and immanent, nor the focus on temporality that is so prominent in IE thinking. Such examples, by their contrasts, would tell us what the Trinity is not.

--- The Trinity and the Indo-European Tripartite Worldview ---

In most analyses, the so-called four (or five) worldview is interpreted merely as a contrast to the three worldview formula and its Dumézilian properties, but is not interpreted from the perspective of being an extension of a primitive ego-centric realization just as was the early concept that the Sun was thought to revolve around the Earth. It is also presently expressed in the notion that humanity is of singularly prime importance to a Universal God's energies. Another early representation of this ego-centricity was expressed by early map makers who would place their king (and his/their kingdom) at the center of the page with all other regions as types of inferior planetary satellites bordering the fringes of the "real" world as interpreted from an ego-centric perspective.

The ego-centricity of a four (or five, or seven) worldview is easily seen when we acknowledge that a four-position compass is the result of distinguishing two 2 by 2 points of opposition called the front (forward), back (backward), left side, right side. By adding oneself to the central point of observation, we develop a five worldview and by adding the points of up and down we get a seven worldview. By eliminating ourselves from the central position, we can derive a six worldview pattern instead of a seven.

four directions five directions seven directions

While some may want to argue that a "one," "two," "four," "five," etc., worldview could just as well represent a naturally occurring phenomena such as a single head, two eyes, four limbs, five fingers, etc., they may also be those who overlook that such examples are references to the "self," which in other words is another form of ego (self) centricity (oriented towards/from/because of the self).

For more examples of the 3 to 1 ratio:

--- Three to (two) One ratios A ---

The list of these pages can be found at:

--- Contents page 5---

Dumézil picture source:

--- Georges Dumézil ---ézil.htm

Your Questions, Comments or Additional Information are welcomed:
Herb O. Buckland