Advanced Ancient CivilizationsAnimal GuidesAstrologyAurasCryptidsDreamsFortune Telling & DivinationHealingMagicPaganismThe ParanormalUFOs & AliensWicca & Witchcraft

The Swastika - The Future for a Symbol of Great Good and Ultimate Evil

Updated on October 20, 2016
Greensleeves Hubs profile image

Alun is a freethinking moderate on political and philosophical issues of general interest; some of his views can be found on these web pages


Joined: 6 years agoFollowers: 739Articles: 155
The Nazi Swastika - a one time symbol of good debased beyond redemption?
The Nazi Swastika - a one time symbol of good debased beyond redemption? | Source
Swastikas have a very different symbolism on this 2600 year old Greek vase depicting the Goddess Artemis
Swastikas have a very different symbolism on this 2600 year old Greek vase depicting the Goddess Artemis | Source

Introduction

N.B: Please note, all my articles are best read on desktops and laptops

It is a symbol of hope. It is a symbol of good luck. It is a symbol of strength. It is a symbol of protection and eternal life. It is a symbol of great faith today for at least one billion Buddhists and Hindus across the Eastern world.

What is this wondrous symbol? It is perhaps the most vilified and most controversial symbol in history, the emblem of hatred and genocide, and the greatest scar on human decency in recent times. The very name and the image of the symbol still evoke feelings of distress or anger among many in the Western world. It is the swastika.

This article looks at the 5000 year history of the swastika, its meaning, and the reverence in which it has been held by cultures the world over. And we will also look at how the symbol was adopted by the Nazi Party and its subsequent descent into evil, and we consider the hopes for its possible salvation and redemption in the years ahead.

What is the future for the swastika?

What Is A Swastika?

First, we should define a swastika. The swastika is best described as a cross in which the arms have been bent at right angles - a 'hooked cross'. As a geometric shape, it is an irregular icosagon (a polygon with 20 sides of differing length) [1][2][3].

'Swastika' is derived from the Sanskrit word 'svastika', and it has been a familiar term in the English speaking world since the late 19th century when in popular usage it supplanted the Greek 'gammadion' for the name of this type of cross. (The word 'Gammadion' derives from the Greek uppercase letter gamma Γ - when four of these are combined emanating from a central point, the well-known shape is created). The break down of the word 'swastika' has several explanations which slightly conflict, but the general consensus is that 'sv''su' or 'sw' is an affirmation of good luck or well being, whilst 'asti' means 'to be', and 'ka' is a causative word which effectively turns the whole phrase into an object or noun. Thus 'sw' + 'asti' + 'ka' means 'something which causes goodness or good luck to be'. In other words, a swastika always should have been a symbol of auspicious well-being and good values. [1][2][4][5]

The design can vary. The cross may be different colours, and it may have additional adornments such as a circle around the cross, or spots within the cross. The arms may be wavy, and they may be bent to the right or to the left. Or the whole symbol may be turned through 45° so that the arms are slanted . Why does it take so many forms? The reason can only be that the swastika is a symbol which has been employed by many different cultures across the world, and each has put its own stamp on the basic design. Just one of those cultures was the Nazi Party in early 20th century Germany.

Just a few of the many designs of swastika-like crosses from various cultures. From left to right, these 6 crosses have been found in Lapland, on Islamic architecture, in Japan and Tibet, and in the culture of the Hopi and Aztec tribes of America
Just a few of the many designs of swastika-like crosses from various cultures. From left to right, these 6 crosses have been found in Lapland, on Islamic architecture, in Japan and Tibet, and in the culture of the Hopi and Aztec tribes of America | Source

Right And Left Swastikas

Swastikas may be seen with the upper arm bent to the right (卐) or to the left (卍). If the upper arm is bent to the right, it may be considered as having the arms bent in a clockwise direction. If the upper arm is bent to the left, then the arms are counterclockwise (these are sometimes interpreted differently, depending upon how one visualises the implied rotation of the cross, but this is the convention we employ here) [1][2].

The term 'sauwastika' has sometimes been used to distinguish the left pointing swastika from the right. [2][4][5][6]

Both forms have been used historically, sometimes interchangeably, but in other cultures, right and left pointing symbols may have quite different meanings. Three major religions embrace the swastika design today. Buddhists most often use the left pointing symbol, whilst typically the right handed swastika is more common within Hinduism and Jainism. Some, but by no means all, Hindus consider the left pointing symbol as the antithesis of the right - a symbol of misfortune to set against the right sided symbol of good luck.[2][4][5]

The Distinction Between The Nazi-Style Swastika And The Traditional Symbol

A general belief is that the Nazi form of the swastika always has the upper arm bent towards the right, in a clockwise direction. Whilst this was the standard way in which it was displayed, some Nazi flags were see-through so the reversed image was visible on the other side. Of course, many non-Nazi swastikas also bend to the right. [1][2]

Some will say that the distinguishing characteristic of a Nazi Swastika is that the arms are turned through 45° giving a more dynamic slant to the symbol, whereas the swastikas of traditional religions are presented with the base arm lying flat. There is some truth in this as a broad generalisation, but any look at old Nazi newsreels will show flat based swastikas as well as the more typical slanted ones. [6][7]

Unfortunately there is no absolute clear-cut distinction between the 'bad' and the 'good' swastikas other than the distinctively negative combination of a black cross on a white circle and a red background used exclusively by the Nazis in their flag and illustrated in the first photo on this page.


A left pointing swastika which can be seen on a temple in South Korea - this swastika symbol is revered by hundreds of millions of Buddhists throughout the world
A left pointing swastika which can be seen on a temple in South Korea - this swastika symbol is revered by hundreds of millions of Buddhists throughout the world | Source

The Meaning Of The Swastika And How It Came To Be

To understand how this curious design came to evoke the potent symbolism which exists today, it is necessary first to consider the history of the swastika. And it is an extraordinarily long and diverse history. In fact, as we shall shortly see, this is one of the oldest of all designs created by man - certainly older than the celebrated Egyptian ankh and the Christian cross - and it has played a prominent cultural role on all continents. But why? Why has this symbol occupied a special place in so many civilisations? Nothing is known for certain, but there are various hypotheses. [4][8]

The Ancient Meaning of the Cross, and the 'Hooked Cross' or Swastika

A widespread belief is that in many pre-Christian cultures, the cross symbol in all its forms may have represented the Sun. But the existence of four arms to the cross may well be significant, possibly representing the four seasons, or the 'four forces of nature' - sun, wind, water and earth. In Norse mythology some have taken the cross symbol as representing Thor's hammer, whilst in Panama, the hooked, swastika cross is a symbol of the Kuna tribe, the arms symbolising the tentacles of an octopus which in ancient mythology created the world. In the Christian religion, the meaning of the cross as a symbol of Christ's crucifixion is well known, but even in this religion, swastika designs also occur, perhaps adopted from 'pagan' customs as merely a pre-existing hooked version of a cross, but possibly also used at the time of Roman Christian persecution as a disguised crucifix. A great many other symbolisms have existed across the world, including fertility, strength and eternity, but a more prosaic explanation specifically for the swastika shape is that it merely represents a combination of ancient Brahmi characters for 'su' and 'asti' - 'good luck'. [1][8][9]

The obvious difference between the swastika and other crosses is of course that the swastika is bent or hooked. This gives the impression of rotation, and it is reasonable to assume that this is relevant. Some have suggested that in the symbolism of many ancient cultures, the bent arms represent the rotation of the sun through the sky. In ancient Indo-Iranian mythology, the heavens were said to be depicted as revolving on spokes around a central point, pulled by a chariot of four horses - a legend which would be adequately stylised in the shape of a swastika. And in American Navajo Indian culture, the 'whirling log' myth tells of an outcast who left his village on a river voyage in a hollowed out log. Whirled around by violent currents, but helped by the Gods, he found great knowledge and wisdom with which he returned to his tribe. A swastika symbol symbolises the whirling log. [1][10]

Theory of Independent Origins

It has been theorised that the simplicity of any cross symbol has made it a natural design for any civilisation to develop, in the same way that circles and pyramid shapes also occur throughout the world's ancient cultures. Each civilisation may therefore have independently adopted the swastika symbol. Certainly the presence of the design in cultures separated by deserts and mountains and even by oceans, supports this idea. Equally, the great variations in design and the varied meanings attributed to the designs by different cultures also adds weight to the theory that many were independently developed. [2][10]

Theory of a Common Origin

But although there is great diversity of swastikas across the world, undoubtedly some have a common origin. The symbol is notably absent from two of the most ancient civilisations - the Sumerians of Mesopotamia and the Old Kingdom of Egypt - a fact which suggests that these cultures may have preceeded a common origin in Asia and Europe. What that common origin may be is debatable, but one remarkable theory has it that the close approach of a comet with long trailing tails bent by the rotation of the comet nucleus, led to the symbol being adopted across this part of the world. Such a swastika-shaped comet was depicted in a Chinese manuscript of the 2nd century BCE (Before the Common Era or BC). More obviously, migration of cultures could well have spread the symbol. Many (including the Nazis) have theorised a direct association between the symbol in the Middle East and India and in Europe. Finally, swastikas in Hinduism, Jainism and Buddhism undoubtedly have a common origin, although each have since developed their own interpretations and symbolisms. [1][2][10]

A right pointing swastika seen here with other decorative religious imagery - this swastika symbol is revered by hundreds of millions of Hindus throughout the world
A right pointing swastika seen here with other decorative religious imagery - this swastika symbol is revered by hundreds of millions of Hindus throughout the world | Source
A Persian gold necklace decorated with swastikas, dated to c1000 BCE
A Persian gold necklace decorated with swastikas, dated to c1000 BCE | Source
The two faces of a 6th century BCE Corinthian coin from Greece
The two faces of a 6th century BCE Corinthian coin from Greece | Source

The History Of The Swastika - Prehistoric Representations

It is believed the most ancient known 'swastika' may be one carved on a piece of Palaeolithic (Old Stone Age) mammoth ivory found in the Ukraine and dating back 12,000 years, though some have doubted whether this is a true swastika, or merely a stylised stork in flight. Very similar symbols in which the four arms are replaced by animal figures, such as birds' heads, are also known in later Central Asian and Germanic art. [1][11]

Both clockwise and anticlockwise swastika designs have been found in the cultures of Neolithic (New Stone Age) Southeast Europe, specifically on ceramic pottery designs in a cave in Bulgaria, dated to 6000 BCE. Clearly defined ancient swastikas have also been found in the Indus Valley of Pakistan and Northern India, dating to more than 2000 years BCE. In Neolithic Armenia, swastikas occur as rock carvings, and similar designs on pottery of the same age are also known from Neolithic China. In all these cultures the swastika symbol does not appear to occupy any marked position or significance, but appears as just one form of a series of similar symbols of varying complexity. [1][11]

Iron Age swastika designs have been found in Celtic, Baltic, Germanic, Etruscan and Slavic cultures. Further east, Pre-Christian swastikas have been found throughout the Middle East and far east and even in the ruins of ancient Jewish synagogues. [1]

And the great cultures of Greece and Rome also featured this symbol. Swastikas were a Greek architectural design, used on articles of clothing, and on coins and brooches. The Greek Goddess Athena was depicted wearing robes adorned with swastikas, and it has been suggested that Greek priestesses tattooed the symbol on their bodies. In ancient Rome, isolated swastikas occur in architectural decoration. Some have been found on the floors of the ruined city of Pompeii [1][2]

Detail of a swastika on Minoan pottery. The Minoan civilisation on Crete is one of the most ancient of all European cultures and this symbol dates to about 2,000 BC
Detail of a swastika on Minoan pottery. The Minoan civilisation on Crete is one of the most ancient of all European cultures and this symbol dates to about 2,000 BC | Source

Some Early Representations of Swastikas from Around the World

Click thumbnail to view full-size
This comb with a swastika is dated to 200-400 AD. It was found in the Nydam Bog in DenmarkPart of a decorative mosaic which can be found on the floor of a 4th century AD Roman villa at La Olmeda in SpainA swastika with double bent arms forms part of a mosaic to be found in a Byzantine church in IsraelA swastika window frame in an 12th-13th century rock-cut chuirch in the town of Lalibela, EthiopiaSwastikas can also be found on the floor of Amiens Cathedral in France, dating to the 13th century
This comb with a swastika is dated to 200-400 AD. It was found in the Nydam Bog in Denmark
This comb with a swastika is dated to 200-400 AD. It was found in the Nydam Bog in Denmark | Source
Part of a decorative mosaic which can be found on the floor of a 4th century AD Roman villa at La Olmeda in Spain
Part of a decorative mosaic which can be found on the floor of a 4th century AD Roman villa at La Olmeda in Spain | Source
A swastika with double bent arms forms part of a mosaic to be found in a Byzantine church in Israel
A swastika with double bent arms forms part of a mosaic to be found in a Byzantine church in Israel | Source
A swastika window frame in an 12th-13th century rock-cut chuirch in the town of Lalibela, Ethiopia
A swastika window frame in an 12th-13th century rock-cut chuirch in the town of Lalibela, Ethiopia | Source
Swastikas can also be found on the floor of Amiens Cathedral in France, dating to the 13th century
Swastikas can also be found on the floor of Amiens Cathedral in France, dating to the 13th century | Source

The History Of The Swastika Before The 19th Century

We have looked at the period 'Before the Common Era' (BCE or BC), but since then, and even following the rise of Christianity and the later Islamic faith, the diversity of representations of the swastika continued worldwide. By the Middle Ages this was a well known symbol, under various different names.

In Europe, swastikas abounded in many cultures. In Great Britain, they have been uncovered in all sorts of places, notably in burial sites from the first few centuries AD. The Ogham Stone in Ireland - believed to have been a Druid altar stone, is inscribed with swastikas believed to date to the 5th century AD. A Celtic shield from this period has been found in the River Thames with 27 swastikas on it, and there is one on the hilt of a sword which was found in a 6th century Kentish grave. And the famous Anglo-Saxon ship burial at Sutton Hoo in England includes several representations of the swastika on gold cups and shields dating from the 7th century AD. In a later era the design was printed on the garments of Bishop William Edington, the 14th century Bishop of Winchester Cathedral. [1]

In Northern Europe, an early 9th century Viking sword found at Saebo in Norway has a runic inscription which includes a swastika design, probably as a symbol of the god Thor. The swastika is also widely seen throughout Eastern Europe. In St Sophia Church in Kiev, Ukraine, a 12th century mosaic includes prominent swastika designs. Further south in Bulgaria, the symbol can be found on a church in Nesebar dating to the 13th or 14th century, and is a motif on many Slavic buildings. [1][2][12]

In Southern Europe, swastikas have been found in the catacombs of Rome. Later Romanesque and Gothic art rarely depicts single swastikas, but they are often used in interlocked sequence. The Cathedral of Cordoba, built in the 10th century AD, has many stylised swastikas on its facade. A tomb in the Basilica of St Ambrose in Rome includes a swastika, and in the 'Seven Sacraments' - a famous 15th century painting by Rogier van der Weyden - a swastika is just one of several versions of Christian cross depicted on a priest's ceremonial robes. [1][2][8][13]

In the Middle East, the swastika was present in Egypt during the Coptic Christian period. A similar symbol also exists in Islam, for example in the Muslim "Friday" mosque of Isfahan, Iran, and the Taynal Mosque in Tripoli, Lebanon. And ironically, it has also been found in the ancient Jewish synagogue at Ein Gedi, built during the time of the Roman occupation. And medieval churches in Armenia, as well as many Armenian artifacts such as pottery, coins and manuscripts, also feature the swastika. [1][2][8]

In Asia during the Tang Dynasty of China, c700 AD, Empress Wu Zetian decreed that the swastika should be used as an alternative symbol for the sun. And both left and right facing swastika symbols (卍 and 卐) have existed as characters in the written language since the 10th Century Liao Dynasty, and have been interpreted as meaning 'eternity' or to represent 'all of creation'. The symbol was also introduced to Japan and has been used as a 'mon' - similar to a family crest. [1][2]

In Africa, the swastika shape occurs sporadically across the continent including on a 12th/13th century Ethiopian church, and on 15th century Ghanan goldweights. In the Americas, swastika-like symbols existed in the cultures of the Mayans, the Aztecs and the Incas. And in North America, similar designs occur in tribal art, notably in the Mississippi and Ohio river valleys, in the Southeast, and in the culture of the Navajo, Hopi and Dakota tribes, albeit with different symbolisms for each tribe. [1][2][8]

So in Europe, Asia, Africa and the Americas, a multitude of hooked cross designs had existed from prehistoric times to the Middle Ages. Most of course, owed their existence to ancient beliefs now long since lost, and consequently in most parts of the world, the swastika now began a gradual decline in importance which lasted for many centuries. But in one part of the world, it was a very different story. In the cultures of the Indian subcontinent and south eastern Asia, the swastika had been - and has remained - a vibrant and important symbol throughout history, right through World War Two, and right up until the present day, and the key to this is the significance of the symbol to the religions of Hinduism, Jainism and Buddhism. These will be discussed later, but first we must look at what happened to the symbol in Europe after the aforementioned decline in its popularity. Because in Europe there was another revival of interest, albeit brief, in the swastika design in the late 19th century - a revival which would eventually and most unfortunately bring it to the attention of extreme nationalists and fascists in Germany.

Two yachts sailing in Sydney Harbour Australia, c1926. One carries a conventional cross as a decorative motif, but look at the one on the left
Two yachts sailing in Sydney Harbour Australia, c1926. One carries a conventional cross as a decorative motif, but look at the one on the left | Source

The Swastika In Western Culture In The Early 20th Century

Click thumbnail to view full-size
The 'Fernie Swastikas' played women's ice hockey in British Columbia from 1922 to 1926. They were one of several teams who used the swastika as their logoA 1907 advertisement for brooches and other items with the swastika design. Unthinkable today, but in the early 20th century, this was an acceptable and innocent symbolThe Swastika Laundry Company set up in business in Dublin, Ireland in 1912, and it continued in operation through the war years before finally closing down in 1987In 1925, one of the world's most famous companies employed the swastika in a piece of good luck merchandise. Coca-Cola made this little 'fob' for a watch chainThe silent screen star Clara Bow modelled this curious fashion statement in the 1920s, sporting the swastika not as a Nazi symbol, but as a 'good luck' symbol
The 'Fernie Swastikas' played women's ice hockey in British Columbia from 1922 to 1926. They were one of several teams who used the swastika as their logo
The 'Fernie Swastikas' played women's ice hockey in British Columbia from 1922 to 1926. They were one of several teams who used the swastika as their logo | Source
A 1907 advertisement for brooches and other items with the swastika design. Unthinkable today, but in the early 20th century, this was an acceptable and innocent symbol
A 1907 advertisement for brooches and other items with the swastika design. Unthinkable today, but in the early 20th century, this was an acceptable and innocent symbol | Source
The Swastika Laundry Company set up in business in Dublin, Ireland in 1912, and it continued in operation through the war years before finally closing down in 1987
The Swastika Laundry Company set up in business in Dublin, Ireland in 1912, and it continued in operation through the war years before finally closing down in 1987 | Source
In 1925, one of the world's most famous companies employed the swastika in a piece of good luck merchandise. Coca-Cola made this little 'fob' for a watch chain
In 1925, one of the world's most famous companies employed the swastika in a piece of good luck merchandise. Coca-Cola made this little 'fob' for a watch chain | Source
The silent screen star Clara Bow modelled this curious fashion statement in the 1920s, sporting the swastika not as a Nazi symbol, but as a 'good luck' symbol
The silent screen star Clara Bow modelled this curious fashion statement in the 1920s, sporting the swastika not as a Nazi symbol, but as a 'good luck' symbol | Source

The Swastika In The Late 19th And Early 20th Centuries

We have seen how from the Stone Age to the Middle Ages, the swastika was a very important religious symbol across the world. But by the early 19th century, these old significances had very largely declined at least in western culture.

However, towards the end of the 19th century, there was a revival of interest in ancient cultures and belief systems, and in the swastika. One of the key causes of this was the archaeological work of Heinrich Schliemann, who discovered the swastika in the ruins of ancient Troy and associated it with the similar symbols found on ancient artifacts in Europe. He speculated that such a widely used symbol must have had significant religious connotations for all our ancestors. This, together with its continued reverence in several Asian religions as a good luck symbol, led to its re-acceptance by Western culture in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. But where once it had graced Neolithic monuments, Iron Age implements and Medieval churches, now the swastika would be adopted by all kinds of ordinary people with a new, and remarkably, rather friendly and light-hearted symbolism associated with good luck and auspiciousness. [1][2][12][14]

It's hard to imagine today in the light of its subseqent notoriety, just how the swastika was regarded at this time, and the wide variety of causes it served.

In Ireland the 'Swastika Laundry' opened in Dublin in 1912. An Icelandic Steamship Company, 'Eimskip' used a swastika in its logo from 1914. In World War One, Latvia used two separate designs with different symbolisms which they called the 'thunder cross' (right facing) and the 'fire cross' (left facing); the maroon fire cross version was adopted for its airforce. And Finland also used the swastika as an airforce symbol in WW1. Russia printed banknotes in 1917 which featured a right-facing, angled swastika (a form of the symbol which may have influenced Nazi designs shortly afterwards). And even churches began to use the symbol once more. A ceiling painted in 1910 in a church in Grenoble has many swastikas. [1][2][3]

In Britain the boy scout movement used the symbol on a Medal of Merit issued in 1922. And the great author Rudyard Kipling, who was strongly influenced by Indian Hindu culture, put the motif of a swastika on his books. One of Kipling's Just So Stories, "The Crab That Played With The Sea", had a full-page illustration which depicted a stone bearing a 'magic mark' - the magic mark was a swastika. [2][3]

It wasn't only in Europe that the swastika experienced a revival. The importance of the symbol to Native Americans made it a popular 'ethnic' symbol in the United States, with the design appearing on souvenir rugs, baskets and pottery sold to tourists. And many buildings constructed around this time incorporated the swastika in their facades or as internal decorations. In Canada 'Swastika' is the name of a small town, founded in 1908 in northern Ontario. Gold was discovered nearby and the Swastika Mining Company was formed in 1909. Several ice hockey teams adopted the swastika as a name and symbol for good luck between the turn of the century and the 1920s. [2][3][9][10]

And in Oceania, many buildings featured the symbol. There are swastika designs in Christchurch Cathedral in New Zealand. Brisbane City Hall has stylised swastikas in a floor design laid between 1920 and 1930, and so does the Customs Building in Sydney. The Dymock's building in Sydney also has swastikas, including slanted 45 designs, on one of its floor patterns. [13]

Indeed, all over the world swastikas began appearing in decorative motifs or as symbols of good luck. But at the same time as the swastika was once more gaining favour amongst reasonable people in Europe and America, it was also attracting the attention of unreasonable people - in another country, institutions and organisations also adopted the swastika, with very different connotations.

 In February 1925 the Kuna tribe in Panama rebelled against an oppressive government to establish a degree of autonomy. They chose this flag for themselves in 1930
In February 1925 the Kuna tribe in Panama rebelled against an oppressive government to establish a degree of autonomy. They chose this flag for themselves in 1930 | Source
The Krit Motor Company of Detroit carried this emblem from 1909 to 1915. There is a body of opinion that the combination of colours on this emblem influenced the design of the Nazi flag
The Krit Motor Company of Detroit carried this emblem from 1909 to 1915. There is a body of opinion that the combination of colours on this emblem influenced the design of the Nazi flag | Source
A Nuremburg rally. By 1930 when this photo was taken, the swastika flag was everywhere in Nazi news reels - it had became a symbol for everything they stood for. The notoriety could only grow
A Nuremburg rally. By 1930 when this photo was taken, the swastika flag was everywhere in Nazi news reels - it had became a symbol for everything they stood for. The notoriety could only grow | Source

Adoption Of The Swastika By The Nazi Party In Germany

Germany in the late 19th century was in a state of flux. This had been a loose confederation of sovereign states, and it was only in 1871 that these states finally united under one banner to form a Germanic Empire. But a new nation requires a shared national identity and a cultural history to unify the people - a new pride in themselves as a nation in their own right was required. [4]

We have already referred to the work of Heinrich Schliemann in Troy. The artifacts he found there adorned with swastika-like symbols seemed to have parallels with artifacts from German history. A theory emerged at this time that a light skinned Indo-Iranian race and culture existed long in the past, and that this race was ancestral to the people, not only of Troy but also those of northern and western Europe. The race were called the 'Aryans', and the commonality of the swastika symbol helped to provide good circumstantial evidence for the theory that Aryans had spread across Europe bringing with them their culture and this symbol - and of course their racial characteristics. [6][14][15]

Although the theory was sincere, it was interpreted in unfortunate ways in Germany. The idea of fair skinned Aryan ancestors establishing an advanced social culture in Europe led to the notion of racial superiority, epitomised most strongly by the fair skinned Nordic and Germanic peoples - in the opinion of some, they were the purest descendents of the Aryan race, and seen as the superior antithesis of the darker skinned people of Africa, the non-Aryan Asians and most pointedly, the Semites or Jews. Such a notion would give pride to the new nation of Germany, and symbolism - whether it be songs, or whether it be flags and emblems - could be important in cementing that sense of pride. The swastika - seen as purely Aryan - became such an emblem. [1][2][6][15]

Just as happened elsewhere in Europe, the swastika in Germany began to appear as a familiar emblem associated with many organisations, both cultural and political, including the Gymnasts' League, and several youth movements. But more significantly, the concept of the swastika as a symbol of Aryan racial superiority, had also taken hold among extreme nationalists by the end of the 19th century. And this nationalism, coupled with white supremacism, was now becoming a potent force in Germany. Several years later, the German poet Guido von List called for the swastika to be a unifying symbol for all Aryan, anti-Semitic organisations. [1][4][6][7]

After the humiliating defeat of World War One, the cause of nationalism and proud Aryanism only grew stronger, and several far right groups in Germany adopted the swastika to associate themselves with racial purity. In their eyes, superiority and dominance by German Aryans was desirable, and even predestined. Out of one of these groups was formed the National Socialist Party - also known as the Nazi Party - and on 7th August 1920, the Nazis adopted the swastika, or 'Hakenkreuz' (hooked cross), at the Salzburg Congress. [1][2][3][4]

And then a flag was designed, reputedly by the new leader of the Nazi party, Adolf Hitler himself. In 'Mein Kampf', Hitler described the symbolism of the new flag:

'In red we see the social idea of the movement, in white the nationalistic idea, in the swastika the mission of the struggle for the victory of the Aryan man.'

Extremism won the day, and eventually the Nazi Party formed the government of Germany. In 1935, the distinctive form of the black swastika, white circle and crimson surround, became not merely the party flag, but the national flag. [2][6][7]

The theory of Aryan origins was later largely discredited. Indeed it has been suggested that the original Sanskrit term 'arya' which means 'noble' or 'distinguished', never actually referred to a biological race of people, but rather to a sophisticated social and linguistic culture. Unfortunately, the concept of white supremacy and pure Aryan blood had already taken hold in the minds of fascists. And the enthusiasm with which the swastika symbol was displayed on drapes hung from buildings, on posters and medallions and on Nazi arm bands, and above all on the Nazi flag, meant that the symbol became associated throughout the free Western world with what was rapidly becoming the most despised and ruthless nation in memory, and a nation responsible for extreme racism and genocide. [14][15]

And so it was that after many thousands of years, the Nazis totally turned the image of the swastika in Western iconography from one of good to one of evil. The hooked cross became a symbol to strike terror into the hearts of all who opposed Nazism or who were unfortunate enough to be caught up in its tyranny. [2][14]

Nazi swastika banners in the backgraound add to the Hitler propaganda image
Nazi swastika banners in the backgraound add to the Hitler propaganda image | Source
The entrance to the Carlsberg Brewery in Copenhagen, designed in 1901
The entrance to the Carlsberg Brewery in Copenhagen, designed in 1901 | Source
The 45th Infantry Division of the U.S Army used a yellow swastika on a red background as a shoulder patch in World War One, (depicted here on a postcard). The logo was changed in the 1930s
The 45th Infantry Division of the U.S Army used a yellow swastika on a red background as a shoulder patch in World War One, (depicted here on a postcard). The logo was changed in the 1930s | Source

The Conseqences of The Nazi Adoption Of The Swastika

The rise of the Nazi party in Germany had obvious repercussions for the swastika in other Western cultures, as right-minded people had to decide how to react. And different approaches were taken by different individuals and organisations. Some who became embarrassed by the new association with Nazis decided to dissociate themselves entirely from the symbol.

Rudyard Kipling took the swastika design off his books, and the 'magic mark' was erased from some editions of his 'Just-so' story. Protests in the 1930s led to the Boy Scouts removing the symbol from their Medal of Merit. Both Latvia and Finland continued to use the swastika for their airforces until after the start of World War Two, but then abandoned it, though it still exists on some Finnish medals. [1][2][3]

There have been other problematic uses of the swastika. The ceremonial clothing of the President of Finland to be worn on formal occasions, includes a Grand Cross of the White Rose with Collar. But the original design of the collar from 1918, carried 9 swastikas. For the visit of the French President Charles De Gaulle in 1963, these were finally replaced by fir crosses to avoid diplomatic embarrassment. [1]

And in 1942, the Panamanian Kuna tribe, whose use of the swastika in their flag was described earlier, added a ring (representing a traditional nose-ring) to the center of the flag to make clear that the symbolism was very different to that of the Nazis. [1]

However, 'Swastika' remains the name of the mining town in Ontario after attempts to change it during the war were rejected by the town's resident community. [2][3]

And of course in those places where the swastika was quite literally set in stone, the symbol remains today, still visible for all to see. The Danish Carlsberg Brewery used a swastika logo from the late 19th century. Unsurprisingly that was abandoned in the mid 1930s, but elephant gate statues adorned with the symbol still survive at the brewery's Copenhagen headquarters. The New York University College of Arts and Sciences has a swastika floor design, dating from 1892, and so does the 1907 Brooklyn Academy of Music. A building at Indiana University has swastika motifs in the foyer, and there are residential buildings in Chicago with very prominent swastika decorations on their facades. A stained glass window in a 1929 chapel at the University of Michigan, still features a Christian cross, a Jewish Star of David and a Hindu or Buddhist swastika. Finally the swastikas on the floor of the Dymock's building in Sydney, Australia, are now accompanied by a plaque which describes its floor motif as a good luck 'fylfot' (an ancient name for the design). The added plaque is clearly intended to dissociate the design from the Nazi 'swastika' noting that the arms of their symbols are pointing left, rather than right. [1][9][12][13]

Even if old representations did still survive, it seemed that the all pervasive effect of the Nazi era could have spelled the demise of the swastika at least in new works. The ancient European religious symbol dating back several thousands of years belonged to the past - very few now worshipped it. And the brief revival of interest in the late 19th and early 20th centuries as a good luck symbol - though fun - was scarcely a vital addition to society. Since the rise of Christianity, the swastika had never been idolised in the west in the way that the crucifix is. It could be safely sacrificed to obliterate all lingering vestiges of Nazi symbolism.

Except of course that there are three belief systems in which the reverence for the swastika has remained strong throughout the centuries, and there is no reason on Earth why hundreds of millions of people who adhere to these beliefs should feel the need to sacrifice their sacred symbol. These are the people who follow the faiths of Hinduism, Jainism and Buddhism. [1][5]

The Laguna Bridge in Yuma, Arizona, was built in 1905, and decorated with a row of swastikas - one of many such structures which still exist today
The Laguna Bridge in Yuma, Arizona, was built in 1905, and decorated with a row of swastikas - one of many such structures which still exist today | Source
Father and sleepy child; a symbol of good luck is daubed on the child's head
Father and sleepy child; a symbol of good luck is daubed on the child's head | Source

The Swastika In Hinduism

Hinduism is regarded as the oldest of the world's major religions today, its origins dating back many thousands of years. It is also the third largest religion in the world, with more than one billion devotees, most notably in India.

Most commonly Hindus use the right pointing swastika, and its symbolism is very extensive, having been taken to represent Brahma the Creator and Surya the Sun God. And it is also the emblem of Ganesha, the God of Good Luck, and one of the 108 symbols of the God Vishnu. [11][12][16]

The four arms of the swastika and the four boxes (often containing four dots) which they partially enclose, have been taken to denote four goals of life, the four stages of life, or the four cardinal points. Perhaps most often they have been interpreted as embracing four symbolic aims and essential qualities, called the purusharthas, and together they constitute an ideal life. The four purusharthas are dharma (humanity and receptivity to noble and sacred influences) in the first box opened upwards, and then clockwise artha and daana (wealth, not for personal greed, but for good purposes such as generous gift-giving), kama (desire, and cultured self-control over human urges), and moksha (liberation - the gift which comes from the first three). [1][2][5][17]

The left pointing symbol is also employed, though is much less popular than the right swastika. There are mixed attitudes to the left handed 'sauwastika'. One web site consulted for this article dismisses it as inauspicious and to be avoided in all Hindu ceremonies. Others suggest that the sauwastika represents night, magic and the Hindu goddess Kali. Kali is the Goddess of destruction, but supporters are at pains to point out that Hindus do not consider this to be 'evil'. as this includes the destruction of evil, and of course destruction is necessary for the Hundu cycle of death and rebirth. [2][5][6][18]

Today in India, the swastika may be found in all areas of human life. As a symbol of health, prosperity and good luck it may be seen on the facade of temples and on altars, and features in religious texts and ceremonies. More prosaically, it may be seen painted on personal possessions such as clothing or cars, and as a decoration on gift items. It features on the logos of Indian businesses and business ledgers, and may also be invoked to bring good luck when a new business enterprise opens, or on the entrance door when a new home is built or occupied. The State of Bihar includes two swastikas in its emblem. And it may be daubed on the heads of children as a good luck symbol. 'Swastika' is even a girl's name in parts of India. [1][2][18][19]

The swastika and the aum (om). The aum, which looks like the number 30, is the most sacred symbol in Hinduism. But the second most revered symbol is the swastika
The swastika and the aum (om). The aum, which looks like the number 30, is the most sacred symbol in Hinduism. But the second most revered symbol is the swastika | Source
The Jain emblem. All aspects of this emblem are symbolic and are revealed at the web page linked here
The Jain emblem. All aspects of this emblem are symbolic and are revealed at the web page linked here | Source

The Swastika In Jainism

Jainism is an ancient faith developed from Hinduism around the 6th century BC, and at one time this was the predominant religion among many kingdoms in the Indian subcontinent. Although in decline for many centuries as a result of the growth of Hinduism and Islam, Jains still number more than 4 million adherents.

Specifically in Jainism, the swastika is the sign of Suparshva (known as 'the good-sided') the 7th of 24 revered Tirthankaras or 'saints'. [2][12][6][16]

As in Hinduism, the four arms of the swastika have a symbolism, but in this faith, the symbolism reflects the four possible destinies of life and rebirth. These are svarga (rebirth as heavenly spirits), manushya (human beings), tiryancha (animal beings) and naraka (hellish beings). Above the swastika, three dots are often displayed, and these represent right knowledge, right faith, and right conduct - these three concepts help a soul to eventually escape from the cycle of reincarnation allowing salvation to be achieved. Other symbols on the Jain emblem include a hand with an inscription in a wheel (pausing for reflection and non-violence) and a crescent or arc at the top (the Siddhashila - the final resting place of those who have escaped the cycle of death and rebirth to become liberated souls. [1][6][20]

All Jain temples and holy books include the swastika, and ceremonies often begin and end at the altar with the creation of a swastika mark with rice, and an offering of fruits, sweets or coins. As in Hinduism, the swastika may also be displayed at the entrance to dwellings and as an auspicious sign on all kinds of domestic possessions. [1][2][6]

In Jainism, the Hindu aum (illustrated above) is not used as a holy symbol, and so the swastika is the most sacred of all symbols. And if the importance of the swastika in the Jain religion was in any doubt at all, one only has to note its prominence on the emblem of Jainism and on the official flag of Jainism, both shown on this page. [2]

The flag of the Jain religion
The flag of the Jain religion | Source
Statues of Buddha often show him adorned with a swastika on the chest
Statues of Buddha often show him adorned with a swastika on the chest | Source

The Swastika In Buddhism

Buddhism today is considered the fourth largest religion in the world with about 500 million adherents. (The actual number may be rather higher, because in communist nations like China, official hostility to all religion may have led to under-reporting or to covert religious practice.)

Buddha was a Hindu (not so strange to Western comprehension when one considers that Christ was a Jew), and during the 3rd Century BC, Buddha's teachings began to spread across southeast Asia to Burma, Thailand, Laos, Cambodia and Vietnam, and then northeast to China, Korea and Japan. Here the faith and the Hindu swastika symbol also influenced local religions such as Taoism and Shintoism. [1][2]

Many of the symbolisms in Buddhism are the same as in Hinduism, though in the different cultures across East Asia, they may vary. They include purity, good fortune, prosperity and long life and eternity. And also resignation, in the sense of passive acquiescence. But one obvious visible difference between the two faiths is that Buddhists have always tended to favour a left facing swastika. [2][6][7][11]

The swastika is said to have originally symbolised the footsteps of Buddha, and today, it is perhaps most associated with statues and images of Buddha himself. It may be found imprinted on his chest (symbolising Buddha's heart), his palms, or the soles of his feet. But of course many other religious artifacts and scriptures also display the swastika. In Tibet the throne of the Dalai Lama is decorated with four Swastikas, and monks may get swastika tattoos to show their spirituality. [7][9][2][16]

In Chinese Buddhism and in Taoism, swastikas perform many roles. The swastika's presence in the Chinese alphabet has been mentioned above, and it may also be used to represent the number 10,000. It has appeared on Chinese vegetarian food products to signify their suitability for strict Buddhist vegetarians, and it may be displayed on ornaments and on clothing to protect against evil spirits. The Red Swastika Society, a philanthropic group which fuses Taoism, Confucianism, and Buddhism, runs schools in Hong Kong and Singapore, each of which proudly bears the swastika logo. [1][2][9][8]

In Japan, the swastika is known as a 'manji', and it can face left or right, and is used to mark the beginning and end of scriptures. The right facing symbol 'ura' represents strength and intelligence, and the left facing version 'omote' represents love and mercy. The entire design is said to symbolise the connection between Heaven and Earth (the vertical axis) and the balance of opposites (the horizontal axis). The left facing version is also used on maps to denote Buddhist temples. [2][17]

Throughout the entire region of East Asia, the swastika is associated with Buddhism.

A swastika decoration in the Sensoji Temple, Tokyo, Japan
A swastika decoration in the Sensoji Temple, Tokyo, Japan | Source

The Swastika, The Cross And Other Symbols In History

Some who have presented the case for the rehabilitation of the swastika have drawn comparison to other symbols, most notably the Christian Cross. The very concept of the cross or crucifix may seem a little strange. Here is a symbol which represents a method of torturous execution. Of course the Christian use of the cross doesn't celebrate crucifixion, but rather the death of Jesus to save mankind. But what about the symbolism of the cross since then? In the Moslem world, the cross of the Crusaders who battled in the Holy Land was one to be despised. And right through the world, unspeakable evil has on occasion been done under the banner of the cross, notably in the Americas during the time of Spanish conquest. And hate-filled groups such as the Ku Klux Klan have raised the cross as their banner too. Yet none of these have truly tarnished the good name of the Christian Cross.

And what about symbols of communism in the Soviet Union and China, under which many tens of millions have died? The hammer and sickle is not regarded with quite the same personification of evil as is the swastika. [5][7]

This house caused lots of complaints in New Zealand when the owner - a devout Hindu - innocently painted a swastika as a symbol of protection for his family - at the time he was unaware of the Nazi connotation
This house caused lots of complaints in New Zealand when the owner - a devout Hindu - innocently painted a swastika as a symbol of protection for his family - at the time he was unaware of the Nazi connotation | Source
The short-lived Manchester United logo. Very superficial the resemblence may be, but the colours and right-angled slant, were enough to bring to mind a hated symbol
The short-lived Manchester United logo. Very superficial the resemblence may be, but the colours and right-angled slant, were enough to bring to mind a hated symbol | Source

Cultural Misunderstandings And Misinterpretations

We have seen how the swastika has had at least four broad significances in history. It was for thousands of years a symbol revered by ancient civilisations who each saw in it a special meaning. Then for a brief half century it became a symbol of good luck and a link to our cultural past throughout Europe and in America. Then it became a symbol to be hated and despised more than any other which has ever existed after it was adopted and paraded by the Nazi Party. And yet throughout all of these times the swastika has continued to be revered by three of the world's major faiths as a holy symbol. This is the confused and ambiguous world of the swastika today. A symbol vilified in the west, yet revered by many in Asia.

Inevitably this great divide in the way the swastika is seen, has led to some awkward misunderstandings which might even be considered humorous, were it not for the fact that such strong emotions are involved. One Hindu priest relates the story of a wedding he presided over between a Hindu girl and a Jewish man. Unsurprisingly, half of the congregation were Jewish, but at one point the mother of the Hindu girl presented a good luck cloth to be held between the happy couple. A traditional and warm hearted custom - except that the cloth in question had a huge red swastika in the middle! [19]

On another occasion a Hindu family in America wanted to build a new house, but first they had a large swastika drawn on the ground as an auspicious symbol. Cue a neighbour's phone call to the local police thinking a neo-Nazi cult was moving in. [19]

And Chirag Badlani shares a story about the time when he went to make some photocopies of some Hindu Gods for his temple. While standing in line to pay for the photocopies, some people behind him in line noticed that one picture showed a swastika. They called him a Nazi. [6]

More serious problems have occurred. Hindu devotee Devinder Paul Kaushal was working at a hotel in Chicago, when he used some window cleaner fluid to spray a swastika on a mirror as a good luck symbol. His employment was terminated despite protestations that no offence was intended. And a retirement home in Alabama designed as four 'L' shaped buildings, was forced to spend a fortune on disguising its shape when a Google Earth image revealed it looked like a swastika. [12]

There is hypersensitivity to anything remotely swastika-like. The world famous Manchester United Football Club had to apologise unreservedly when they published in their magazine a logo made of the letters M, U, F and C. The logo in red and black, contained angled lines which brought to mind the swastika. The analogy was compounded by the accompanying use of the words 'New Order' which referred to the club's young players, but which unintentionally also mirrored a phrase once used by the Nazis. Even though the swastika resemblence was very superficial, it was enough to stir a deluge of complaints and the swift withdrawal of the logo. [21]

Western society clearly remains immensely sensitive to the shape of this symbol, not at all helped by the fact that even long after the war, far-right groups, nationalists and white supremacists have used the symbol as a sign of their admiration for Nazism. These include 'Russian National Unity' who display stylized swastikas. [1]

Meanwhile in the East, there have been attempts to assuage Western sensitivities. The majority of Buddhist swastikas have always been left facing, but post-Nazism they have almost universally faced this way in order to disassociate them as much as possible from the Nazi symbol. Many Asian artists, mindful of the Nazi connotation, now avoid depiction of the swastika. And when the card craze Pokémon fell foul of the east-west cultural divide due to a card sold in Japan which had a swastika graphic, protests led to it being altered for Western translations. Eventually it was also withdrawn in Japan. When Hindu and Buddhist citizens have used the symbol in Western nations, it has been innocent and without any desire to provoke controversy. Indeed, the impression gained rightly or wrongly by the author of this article is that those of the Hindu and Buddhist faiths have been considerably more understanding of Western sensitivities, than we have of theirs. [2][7]

How good people may be tainted by Western misconception. This man, photographed in 1937, was a member of the Red Swastika Society, a philanthropic Chinese organisation which was similar to the Red Cross
How good people may be tainted by Western misconception. This man, photographed in 1937, was a member of the Red Swastika Society, a philanthropic Chinese organisation which was similar to the Red Cross | Source

Attitudes To The Swastika Today And In The Future

So what is the official position in the West today?

Governments have shown some understanding of culture differences between nations, and yet also try to reflect public sensitivities in their own country. But the over-riding concern has had little to do with the swastika itself, and more to do with their own concepts of freedoms of expression.

In America, the right to display the swastika, or indeed the Nazi flag, is protected by the First Amendment. Of course this has not helped protect individuals from unofficial persecution as we saw in the previous section.

In Israel too, the swastika is a legal symbol, remarkably and to their credit.

In the European Union, proposals for a Community-wide ban on the symbol were abandoned as a result of Hindu protests and political differences between the individual nations. In some nations the swastika is illegal, and in others it is legal. And in Germany itself - the country where it fell from grace - display of the symbol in its Nazi form is illegal, but Hindu, Jainist and Buddhist swastikas are exempt. [1][2][12]

Whatever the official position, which hopefully will remain tolerant of these ancient yet vibrant religions, there is no doubt as to the immediate image evoked in the West, whenever a swastika of any rotation, direction, design or colour is seen. But very different opinions exist as to its future. One Buddhist site, whilst strongly defending the swastika in Eastern culture, takes a resigned view of its image in the West:

'This once auspicious symbol now, and perhaps forever, will represent racism and white supremacy. To think that it could ever be restored as a benevolent charm here in the West is a pipe dream.' [7]

Indeed some see such attempts as not merely futile, but repellent:

''Post-1945, the swastika symbol will never be looked at the same way again. It’s forever tainted by Hitler --- Wearing a swastika in Western society and saying it’s not an offensive or aggressive act is ignorant at best.' [22]

On the other hand many who revere the swastika today for reasons of faith, and even those who simply respect the cultural history of the swastika, feel at best saddened by its current image, and at worst dismayed and offended by the view many in the West have of this symbol. One advocate for the symbol states:

'By associating (it) with the Nazis, we only give credit to the monstrosities of this horrible regime. It's time to rehabilitate the swastika' [13]

What Is Your View?

It would be interesting to know the thoughts of others on this question. What do you honestly think should be the future of the swastika?

See results

A Personal Opinion

Can the Swastika be a Symbol for the Triumph of Good over Evil?

I have my own thoughts about the swastika, so these are my views. I am not Jewish, nor am I Hindu, Buddhist, or of any other faith. I was not born during the war years, and needless to say I have absolutely no sympathy with Nazism. I can look at the symbol in a slightly detached manner.

There are - as we have seen - a great many representations of the swastika in virtually every culture in every period of history. And in almost all, it has been a symbol of hope and of good, and it remains so today for many Hindus, Jains and Buddhists. But in the West it has become a symbol of evil, and that is due to the influence of just one culture over a period of just 25 years.

No doubt among those who revere the swastika (but not the Nazi philosophy) it will remain a symbol of good. That is not an issue.

But what about Western opinion? The revered symbol of ancient culture is no longer worshipped, and surely the swastika will never be seen again in the innocent way it was in the early years of the 20th century. Today, despite the fact that the Nazi Party of Germany has long since gone, public perception associates the swastika with their evil. As such, it may be seen as representing the triumph of 25 years of evil over thousands of years of good. Should that remain the case?

Perhaps one should separate the Nazi emblem as a whole from the shape at its centre. Of course the combination of black hooked cross facing right and slanted at 45°, surrounded by a white circle on a crimson background, is irredeemable. That was the Nazi emblem. But what about the basic shape at the centre? A shape never killed and never hurt anyone. The swastika is an abstract shape. Nothing more.

Perhaps the shape can take on a new symbolism in the 21st century. If we could allow the swastika to be reclaimed to the extent that the first thought on seeing it is not one of Nazism, but rather something benign, then the swastika will truly have achieved a uniquely worthwhile distinction - not as an emblem of evil, but as an emblem of rehabilitation and a symbol of the triumph of good over evil.

The small town of Swastika in Ontario which had adopted the name in 1908, faced a proposed name change during World War Two because of its negative connotations. But the residents protested and erected a sign which read:

'To hell with Hitler, we came up with our name first.' (Mysteries of Canada)

The town kept its name, and that defiant spirit exemplifies the opinion of this author. Why should the evil representation of the swastika be allowed to triumph over the good? Why shouldn't the good name of the swastika triumph over the evil?

Source

What Does The Future Hold For The Swastika?

For more than 5000 years in cultures all around the world in almost every continent and religion, the swastika has existed, and in virtually every instance, the connotation has been benign and auspicious. In just one culture for a period of 25 years, this symbol took on an aura of fascist extremism and came to represent racist genocide. The Nazis certainly did an efficient job in sullying its name - because of those 25 years, the great majority in the West know nothing of the swastika's long history.

As far as international relationships are concerned, our attitude to the nation which once waved the Nazi flag has changed to one of friendship and respect as Germany has developed a civilised, peaceful democracy. And now that the living human beings who actually committed the atrocities are largely gone, it seems the swastika is almost the only surviving relic of the war still regarded with contempt. [5]

Nazi Germany did not invent this very enigmatic symbol, but only borrowed it and distorted it. So one thing should be perfectly clear; the swastika is not - first and foremost - a Nazi symbol.The contrast between its present day negative image in Western nations and its long and generally favourable history and reverence within many of the world's religions, could not be more marked. [6][9]

Today the people of the Eastern and Western worlds more or less benignly agree to differ on the symbolism of this curious bent cross. But will it always remain a symbol of evil in the West? In recent years there have been several attempts to rehabilitate the swastika and to educate people about its real meaning. Those attempts have largely failed, but perhaps in the era of modern telecommunications, web articles which have the capacity to reach thousands or even millions can have better success. This article is my attempt to contribute to that campaign to ideally salvage the reputation of this ancient symbol in the West, or at the very least to promote understanding of its good name and significance in other parts of the world.

A warm-hearted post-card featuring swastikas in 1907. Just 38 years later such a card would have been unthinkable in the west as the symbol of the swastika had been wrecked. How quickly can good be turned to evil? Can it ever be turned back?
A warm-hearted post-card featuring swastikas in 1907. Just 38 years later such a card would have been unthinkable in the west as the symbol of the swastika had been wrecked. How quickly can good be turned to evil? Can it ever be turned back? | Source

A Note About References

This is a page about the rehabilitation of the swastika, but of course I have had to include information about its symbolism in different faith systems of which I am not a member. I have tried to use a range of sources as references for this page including several general history articles and articles by Hindus and Buddhists. Unfortunately Internet articles conflict in their information, and even those who belong to a single faith system often differ in their interpretations of ancient symbolic meanings. Some of these web references do have different viewpoints regarding the symbolism of the swastika. I aim to be factually accurate, so if there are factual errors (rather than simple differences of interpretation), send me an email and I'll try to correct them.


Copyright

Please feel free to quote limited text from this article, on condition that an active link back to this page is included

All My Other Pages ...

I have written articles on many subjects including science and history, politics and philosophy, film reviews and travel guides, as well as poems and stories. All can be accessed by clicking on my name at the top of this page

© 2014 Greensleeves Hubs

Comments

    0 of 8192 characters used
    Post Comment

    • Greensleeves Hubs profile image
      Author

      Greensleeves Hubs 6 months ago from Essex, UK

      Sanjay Sharma (SANJAY LAKHANPAL); Thanks Sanjay. I appreciate very much what you say about the presentation and also about the content, particularly as you are someone living in India, where the swastika remains an important and positive symbol today. Alun

    • Greensleeves Hubs profile image
      Author

      Greensleeves Hubs 6 months ago from Essex, UK

      Alexis Cogwell; Thanks very much Alexis (Ashley), and my apologies for not replying to your comment earlier. Very much appreciate your kind words. Alun

    • Greensleeves Hubs profile image
      Author

      Greensleeves Hubs 6 months ago from Essex, UK

      Ann Kingsley; Thank you for your thoughtful comment. It is very difficult to ascertain the precise origin of all cross shapes and other symbols in history, and I'm not sure all contrary theories can be dismissed as being 'buried'- or promulgated - by 'those with an agenda'. Your theory about Christian use of the swastika may be correct, but it is not a 'sad betrayal' of Jesus Christ to try to ascertain the truth behind the swastika's origins - this is about factual research. Interesting to read your views however.

    • Sanjay Sharma (SANJAY LAKHANPAL) 6 months ago

      Thanks for sharing the detailed information. I have bookmarked the page for further references and hub design. Your style of presentation is very impressive.

    • Alexis Cogwell profile image

      Ashley Cogdill 11 months ago from Indiana/Chicagoland

      Thank you for the information. I enjoy delving into the history of WW2, but didn't know this much about the famous Nazi symbol. Enjoyed reading on the background before the 19th century. This is a great topic for discussion, and a very well put-together hub. :)

    • Ann Kingsley 12 months ago

      This is what my research into the innate symbolism of the straight –sided cross and the swastika yielded. Bear in mind that in the past few years some of the information on the internet has been buried by those with an agenda. However, when I originally did my research on the internet (about 10 years ago) regarding the innate symbolism for the straight-sided cross, the symbolic meaning is “life”. Likewise, when I did my research on the swastika with a key work search of Vedas + swastika, the meaning is “wholeness”, the most predominant feature of which is “eternal Life”. Ten years ago the swastika was mentioned by several web page listings as the symbol predominantly found in the Christian catacombs of Rome. The reason that it was the most predominantly found symbol is that Jesus Christ’s teachings were above all about “eternal life”. When you look at the swastika, you see that it can actually be turned – rolled – rolled on forever and ever, which is why the straight-sided cross becomes the swastika when one desires to depict “eternal life” as opposed to “life”. Jesus Christ used what was universally known as the symbol for “eternal life” and passed it on to his followers, who then etched it into the walls of the catacombs and on the tombs. Some of today’s Christians are trying to explain away the swastikas in the catacombs as an attempt to disguise the cross due to Roman persecution of the Christians. I find this to be a very sad betrayal of Jesus Christ’s teachings, since Jesus Christ’s mission was that of a path to “eternal life.”

      As an example of the vibration of innate symbolism, I found myself very attracted to the Celtic cross, of which the top part of the cross is encircled. It turned out from my research that the innate symbolism of the Celtic cross is “love”. Then one day, while looking at pictures of Jesus Christ and some of the Saints, I observed the outline of the Celtic cross in their outstretched arms and halos, legs tightly together. This means that the Celtic cross is the depiction of Our Heavenly Father’s presence with us – the extension of his “divine love” in the form of his Blessed Son and the Saints. The Celtic cross doesn’t just symbolize “love”; it symbolizes “divine love”.

    • gerimcclym profile image

      Geri McClymont 12 months ago from Colorado

      It is very interesting to see the history behind the swastika, as most of us associate it strictly with the Nazi party. Very interesting indeed.

    • Greensleeves Hubs profile image
      Author

      Greensleeves Hubs 20 months ago from Essex, UK

      KawikaChann; Thanks Kawi. The history of the swastika is indeed fascinating for the wide range of different religions and societies which have adopted it, and the different symbolisms they have applied to it. One wonders what the future holds for this very ancient design? Best wishes, Alun

    • KawikaChann profile image

      KawikaChann 20 months ago from Northwest, Hawaii, Anykine place

      Nicely done Alun. Great subject for discussion. I knew that the symbol was used long before Hitler, but I never knew where - thanks for the information. As always, a great hub filled with great facts and interesting information. Peace. Kawi.

    • Greensleeves Hubs profile image
      Author

      Greensleeves Hubs 20 months ago from Essex, UK

      NOTICE ABOUT COMMENTS

      I like to allow all comments on my pages, including those contary to my point of view. However, I do believe that comments should be relevent to the subject of the article, and I certainly believe that my articles should not be used by others to peddle their own hate-filled prejudices. In view of a recent exchange, please could all respect that? Cheers, Alun

    • Greensleeves Hubs profile image
      Author

      Greensleeves Hubs 20 months ago from Essex, UK

      Odinia (Seana Fenner); OK, here are a few points:

      1) You start your comment with: ‘In response to your cowardly non response which avoids the questions raised entirely’ Eh?? I answered ALL the points you raised in your previous post!! And what’s more in your latest post you haven’t disputed any of the answers I gave! So presumably you now accept that I am not a communist, nor a sympathiser for communist atrocities, and you accept that I did cover in my article the early European history of the swastika? I'll thank you for your unspoken apology.

      2) You also call me a 'Junior Orwellian'. I assume you are comparing my writing skills to those of the great author, in which case I thank you for that too. But if you are talking about Orwellian visions of a world in which facts are distorted, I think you need to look closer to your own home for your analogy.

      3) Regarding 'pure race', Article 9 in your Odinist's Creed states 'The concept of diluting our blood by race mixing is unthinkable to us'. That was my source for that suggestion. In another comment on another forum you describe yourself as an ’Odinist Priestess’ and a ‘pro-white’ woman. And on that forum you describe the subject of your attack as a ‘cowardly underachieving Jew worshiper’. ‘Cowardly’ seems to be one of your favourite hate words for anyone of any religion or race or philosophy who disputes your world view.

      3) As for your assertion that the holocaust was an ‘obvious lie, which can easily be seen by anyone of normal intelligence who spends any time at all looking at the scientific facts and evidence‘. Well, maybe your idea of normal intelligence and scientific fact is not the same as mine, but the physical evidence found by liberating troops, film evidence, documentation evidence, evidence of eyewitness testimony (including persecuted non-Jews), even evidence provided by Nazis and German soldiers present at the camps, all adds up to evidence that you are a denier of holocaust fact. (Mind you, I will grant you there's as much 'scientific fact and evidence' for your views on that as there is for the existence of a fairytale God called Odin.)

      So much of what you write about the holocaust and your other anti-Jew theories is such bizarre nonsense I scarcely know where to begin. In fact, there’s no point in beginning - if you don’t believe all the genuine evidence about the holocaust, I’m hardly going to be able to convince you, and it would take a long essay just to point out some of the distortions in your evidence. Others who read these exchanges can decide for themselves what to make of the beliefs you hold.

      You know something? I actually hope that people do find their way to your Odinist websites (particularly the Odinia - What are Values? page) - they will be able to judge your character for good or bad far more effectively by reading your own words than they ever could by reading comments here.

      Now Seana, I’m not prepared for my page to become a vehicle for a vile hate campaign by you against anyone different to yourself, so let's stop it here. This page is about the history and future of the swastika - not Jews, not Communists, not Christians, not blacks, all of whom you seem to have a big problem with. If you wish to discuss the swastika, feel free write again. If you wish to write about your anti-semitic theories or anything else, please do not. I suggest you join this site and write your own articles in which you can present all your 'evidence'.

    • Odinia (Seana Fenner) 20 months ago

      In response to your cowardly non response which avoids the questions raised entirely, have you actually read the "What are Values" page at Odinia.org and the facts therein? If it is so ridiculous and I and others who tell the truth are just crazed Jew hating "antisemites" why the cover up and the arrests of authors who state facts about it? People are being arrested for writing verifiable facts about history in 17 countries. This is reality. Have you actually read the proven facts in this article or are you too busy kneeling down to the Jews who made these anti-free speech laws for the specific purpose of covering up their crimes? (Search for "What are values at Odinia.org to see these facts since Mr. Junior Orwellian here does not want me to include a link to the provable facts mentioned)

      1) I am not just an Odinist but an Oxford educated scholar and the leader of an Odinist organization. Odinism is the native religion of Northern European folk. As for the idea of believing in "pure race" I do not believe I mentioned it but yes, I do believe that there is such a thing as race and that my people exist and have interests of their own. Sorry if that "offends" any of the truly hateful anti-Europeans here.

      2. Yes I absolutely deny the Jewish version of the "Holocaust" for the simple and overwhelming reason that it is an obvious lie,which can easily be seen by anyone of normal intelligence who spends any time at all looking at the scientific facts and evidence. Pushing the Jewish version of something at the expense of the truth in the 97% Jewish owned media and even jailing authors who write the truth does not actually make it real. When one is not allowed to mention facts for fear of being arrested something clearly is wrong.

      3. I regard as Communist those who created Communism, such as Marx (real name Moses Mordecai Levy) and those who were entirely in charge of it, for instance the leadership of the Red Army which was, with the exception of Stalin, who was only part Jewish, was entirely Jewish and which exterminated tens of millions of Europeans, then went on to Palestine to do the same. (Search for Bloody Valentine of the Jews Odinia to see who the "communists" really were)

    • Greensleeves Hubs profile image
      Author

      Greensleeves Hubs 20 months ago from Essex, UK

      Kiss andTales; Thanks. Given such a wide distribution of both hooked and conventional cross symbols throughout history, and among various religions and political groups, it is I guess scarcely surprising that both have at times been abused. That is sad. Fortunately the Christian cross has not suffered the same ill-reputation that the swastika has.

    • Kiss andTales profile image

      Kiss andTales 20 months ago

      Sad of the evil conned to it notice it is also a cross. It would be a great thing to look up the background of the cross associated

      With pagan worship. Also shaped in different forms it has other bad meanings.

    • Greensleeves Hubs profile image
      Author

      Greensleeves Hubs 20 months ago from Essex, UK

      Odinia (Seana Fenner); First, I should for the benefit of others, give a brief preface to my reply to Seana. 'Odinia' as she calls herself, has previously commented to me on Google+. As I understand it from the various websites she is involved with, Seana is a believer in 'Odinism', variously described as the original religion of Northern Europe, or as Germanic neopaganism. She is also a believer in racial purity, and she is a holocaust denier. (If any of this is a misunderstanding of her beliefs, she can correct me). In return, she has made strange allegations about me both on Google+ and here, based solely upon this article. Seana, I will now address the allegations you make here:

      1) The suggestion that I have 'plenty of sympathy for Communism' actually made me smile because it is so silly. For the record I am a strong believer in capitalism with no sympathy whatever for communism. I only make two references in this article to communism. The first refers to Chinese hostility to religion. The second refers to the hammer and sickle. I quote from my article:

      'what about the symbols of communism in the Soviet Union and China, under which many tens of millions have died?'

      I can only assume Seana that you regard as a communist, anyone who is anti-Nazi or who believes in the holocaust?

      2) The idea that I have no sympathy for the victims of Europeans killed by communists has no basis in anything written here, and is just plain offensive. But your real agenda is betrayed by your use of the term 'Marxist Jews' as opposed to merely 'Marxists'.

      3) You also suggest that I have 'completely ignored the fact that this was originally a European symbol'. Have you even read the article? There's a long section detailing the ancient history of the swastika in Europe including Neolithic swastikas!! And I go to great lengths to discuss various possibile origins in Europe and the rest of the world. But your statement of 'fact' that Asians adopted it from Europe has no basis.

      Seana, your agenda seems to be that of a rabid anti-semite. Please feel free to reply (no longer than my response here!) and do not include active links. Quite apart from the fact that HubPages/Google frowns upon links, I have no wish to host a promotion of your views.

    • Odinia (Seana Fenner) 20 months ago

      It would seem you have plenty of sympathy for Communism... and no sympathy at all for the victims of genocides of European people made by Marxist Jews, for example the 15 million Europeans Jews killed at Holodomor. You also seem to have completely ignored the fact that this is originally a European symbol still honored in our native European religion, Odinism, to honor specific Gods. Asians adopted it from us not the other way around since it is present in our culture at a far earlier date.. https://www.google.com/webhp?sourceid=chrome-insta...

    • Greensleeves Hubs profile image
      Author

      Greensleeves Hubs 23 months ago from Essex, UK

      Kosmo; Cheers for that. I'd love for any of my articles - particularly an impassioned one like this one - to get taken up by a prestigious magazine. One day maybe I'll try to push it, but it takes a lot of self-confidence and drive to freelance successfully in that way!

      A symbol is just a shape, and certainly an evil representation of a shape should not be allowed to obliterate all the well intentioned expressions of it, as has happened in Western culture with the swastika.

    • Kosmo profile image

      Kelley 23 months ago from California

      Hey, you did a really good job on this. Perhaps you could condense it somewhat and sell the story to "Smithsonian" magazine. Anyhow, any symbol can be used to represent good or bad. Does Isis have such a symbol? I'd just like to add that the Hopi Indians also used a swastika-like symbol. Who hasn't used it? That would be a shorter list. Later!

    • Greensleeves Hubs profile image
      Author

      Greensleeves Hubs 2 years ago from Essex, UK

      Yeshuas Friend; Thank you for your very interesting and considered contribution. I have indeed heard that the swastika is the most common symbol left by adherents of Christianity in the catacombs. I understand the point you make about that. Whether it was a 'disguised cross' to protect Christians from persecution, or a forerunner of the Christian cross symbol, or as you suggest it had an entirely different symbolism altogether, I leave to you and others to discuss. I'm not sufficiently expert.

      I can however totally agree through my research for this article, that symbols are frequently misused or abused by those who have their own agenda - in this case the Nazi appropriation of the swastika. That should not be allowed to disguise or destroy the original meaning of the symbol.

    • Yeshuas Friend 2 years ago

      The basic symbology for the Christian cross is "Life". The basic symbology for the swastika is "Eternal Life". The Celtic cross has as its inherent symbology "Love". One can further extrapolate "Divine Love" as the symbology of the Celtic cross when we look at a painting of the risen savior, arms outstretched and with halo. The Celtic cross is a graphic representation of that painting and "Divine Love" holds true when applied in a Christian context.

      A few years ago one could find the following fact on the internet: The swastika is the most prevalent symbol found in the Roman Catacombs used by the early Christians. Today, I can no longer find this information on the internet. Now in its place, Christians are calling the swastika a disguised cross. Christians are not being kind to themselves when they misrepresent the intentions of early Christian symbolic representations. Symbols have universal meaning, but may be used or misused by pagans, Nazis, or Jack who lives next door. Jesus Christ (Yeshua) taught his followers the path to eternal life. Why must this be disguised?

    • Greensleeves Hubs profile image
      Author

      Greensleeves Hubs 2 years ago from Essex, UK

      Kawi; My thanks for a very nice comment. I did as much research as I could, but even so, for the sake of brevity I had to exclude mention of several other countries where the swastika has been used as a symbol without any Nazi connotation, either in the very distant past or in the more recent past.

      N.B: If anyone contributed a 'vote' to the opinion poll included, I wonder please could you do so again? Only a few had been cast, but these were deleted when I slightly amended one of the options. My thanks. Alun

    • KawikaChann profile image

      KawikaChann 2 years ago from Northwest, Hawaii, Anykine place

      Alun, as usual, another informative hub that you've put together. I love your researching skills! A full and well rounded report on a symbol that has - through the years - stood for both love and hate. Peace. Kawi.

    • Greensleeves Hubs profile image
      Author

      Greensleeves Hubs 2 years ago from Essex, UK

      Joshua; thanks very much for commenting. I'm grateful, especially as I see you've only just signed on to HubPages. If you intend writing articles on this site in the future, then I wish you all the very best. Alun

    • Greensleeves Hubs profile image
      Author

      Greensleeves Hubs 2 years ago from Essex, UK

      annart; Thanks so much Ann. It did take a very long time to research and write; too long perhaps - it's the only page I've completed this month! But if people find it interesting and if it leads to some better understanding of how this symbol is viewed by different communities, then it will be worthwhile.

      Always a great pleasure to hear from you Ann.

    • Greensleeves Hubs profile image
      Author

      Greensleeves Hubs 2 years ago from Essex, UK

      Cheeky Kid; that's interesting as I see you are in the Philippines. I believe that Buddhism and Hinduism are very uncommon faiths in the Philippines, so I wonder about the significance of swastikas doodled there? Hopefully they are not drawn by Neo-Nazis, but if not, I wonder if they are drawn by people who understand the good or bad influences of this symbol in the past? An unfortunate aspect of this today is having to decide if those who display the swastika are acting out of good faith, or bad faith, or whether thay simply do not know its historical significance, but like the shape. Cheers, Alun

    • Joshua Crowder profile image

      Joshua Crowder 2 years ago from Akron, Ohio

      Thanks for the good reading material. Now that I know some background information about the Swastika I can appreciate it more.

    • annart profile image

      Ann Carr 2 years ago from SW England

      You've done an amazing amount of research on this; brilliant! I knew the Nazis had adopted the swastika from somewhere else but had no idea of all these different origins. It's fascinating.

      Well done! Ann

    • Cheeky Kid profile image

      Cheeky Kid 2 years ago from Milky Way

      I actually never have thought that that symbol "Swastika", had that deep of a meaning and history. It kinda explains why it was so popular. I always see that symbol doodled everywhere.

    • Greensleeves Hubs profile image
      Author

      Greensleeves Hubs 2 years ago from Essex, UK

      Jodah; Thanks. It was an interesting subject to research. Although I did know the swastika had significance for Hindus and Buddhists, it certainly surprised me just how widespread and ancient, swastika symbols or swastika-like crosses really are, and how important they are to some cultures in the world. Your comment and votes are very much appreciated John. Alun

    • Greensleeves Hubs profile image
      Author

      Greensleeves Hubs 2 years ago from Essex, UK

      Chinaimport; Thank you Kamal. It is good to hear from you on this subject, as you clearly know the importance of the swastika in India. Appreciated. Alun

    • Jodah profile image

      John Hansen 2 years ago from Queensland Australia

      Wow greensleeves, what a comprehensive history lesson on the swastika. I knew that the symbol had been around a long time before the Nazi Party adopted it, but I did not know that it was a famous Buddhist symbol or that different forms of it were part of so many different cultures. Very informative and interesting. Voted up.

    • Chinaimport profile image

      Kamal Mohta 2 years ago from Guangzhou

      Swastic is a symbol for well being and good luck for close to one billion Indians (Hindus, Jains and Buddhists living in India and abroad). You can find this ancient symbol at doors of many Indian households. Almost all religious ceremony begins with drawing Swastic.

      I hope this well research article will educate people and remove the negative connotation attached to this symbol.

    • Greensleeves Hubs profile image
      Author

      Greensleeves Hubs 2 years ago from Essex, UK

      Thank you Eric. I do agree. As I understand it, the Aryan theory doesn't have support these days among archaeologists or anthropologists - it was, I think, just a theory to explain certain similarities in language and culture (including the swastika) in different parts of Europe and Asia. Sadly, it took root among racists and others who used it for their own agenda.

      Appreciate your comment. Alun

    • Ericdierker profile image

      Eric Dierker 2 years ago from Spring Valley, CA. U.S.A.

      Excellent and well done, you answered many questions I had and then many more. I am inclined to not give the Aryan use any credence, it seems that that only perpetuates the notions. It is very prevalent in SW Native American art and should be.

      Thank you

    Click to Rate This Article