Swastika

2008/9 Schools Wikipedia Selection. Related subjects: Religious disputes

The swastika in a decorative Hindu form. The swastika in a decorative Hindu form.
The swastika in a decorative Hindu form.
The Hindu swastika was copied and used as an official emblem of the Nazi Party, a use sometimes continued by modern Neo-Nazis.

The swastika (from Sanskrit: svástika स्वस्तिक ) is an equilateral cross with its arms bent at right angles, in either right-facing () form or its mirrored left-facing () form. The swastika can also be drawn as a traditional swastika, but with a second 90° bend in each arm.

Archaeological evidence of swastika-shaped ornaments dates from the Neolithic period. An ancient symbol, it occurs mainly in the cultures that are in modern day India and the surrounding area, sometimes as a geometrical motif (as in the Roman Republic and Empire) and sometimes as a religious symbol. It was long widely used in major world religions such as shamanism

Though once commonly used all over much of the world without stigma, because of its iconic usage in Germany">Nazi Germany, the symbol has become controversial in the Western world.

Etymology and alternative names

Seals from the Indus Valley Civilization (from around 3000–1500 BC). The first one appears to show a swastika.
Seals from the Indus Valley Civilization (from around 3000–1500 BC). The first one appears to show a swastika.

The word swastika is derived from the Sanskrit svastika (in Devanagari, स्वस्तिक), meaning any lucky or auspicious object, and in particular a mark made on persons and things to denote good luck. It is composed of su- ( cognate with Greek ευ-, eu-), meaning "good, well" and asti, a verbal abstract to the root as "to be" (cognate with the Romance copula, coming ultimately from the Proto-Indo-European root *h1es-); svasti thus means "well-being." The suffix -ka intensifies the verbal meaning or confers the sense of 'beneficial', and svastika might thus be translated literally as "that which is associated with well-being," corresponding to "lucky charm" or "thing that is auspicious." The word first appears in the Classical Sanskrit (in the Ramayana and Mahabharata epics).

The Hindu Sanskrit term has been in use in English since 1871, replacing gammadion (from Greek γαμμάδιον).

Alternative historical English spellings of the Sanskrit word include suastika, swastica and svastica. Alternative names for the shape are:

  • crooked cross
  • cross cramponned, ~nnée, or ~nny (in heraldry), as each arm resembles a crampon or angle-iron (German: Winkelmaßkreuz)
  • ugunskrusts (fire cross), also pērkonkrusts (thundercross), kāškrusts (hook-cross), Laimas krusts ( Laima's cross), fylfot, is a central element in jewelry, national clothes in Latvian, Lithuanian, Old-Prussian culture, symbolizing as a element of life. It is used in a Latvian Seven-Day Ring. The ring is with 7 symbols, each representing a day of the week, where fire-cross being as a symbol for Thursday, and it's motto being: "Domā un rīkojies krietni" (Think and do honorable actions.)
  • double cross, by Bishop Fulton J. Sheen, on the April 6, 1941 edition of his radio program The Catholic Hour, not only comparing the Cross of Christ with the swastika, but also implying that siding with fascism was a " double-crossing" of Christianity
  • fylfot, possibly meaning "four feet", chiefly in heraldry and architecture (See fylfot for a discussion of the etymology)
  • gammadion, tetragammadion (Greek: τέτραγαμμάδιον), or cross gammadion (Latin: crux gammata; Old French: croix gammée), as each arm resembles the Greek letter Γ ( gamma)
  • hook cross (German: Hakenkreuz);
  • sun wheel, a name also used as a synonym for the sun cross
  • tetraskelion (Greek: τετρασκέλιον), "four legged", especially when composed of four conjoined legs (compare triskelion (Greek: τρισκέλιον))
  • Thor's hammer, from its supposed association with Thor, the mythology">Norse god of the weather, but this may be a misappropriation of a name that properly belongs to a Y-shaped or T-shaped symbol. The swastika shape appears in Icelandic grimoires wherein it is named Þórshamar.
  • The Tibetan swastika is known as nor bu bzhi -khyil, or quadruple body symbol, defined in Unicode at codepoint U+0FCC .

History

Greek helmet with swastika marks on the top part (details), 350-325 BC from Taranto, found at Herculanum. Cabinet des Médailles, Paris.
Greek helmet with swastika marks on the top part (details), 350-325 BC from Taranto, found at Herculanum. Cabinet des Médailles, Paris.

The motif seems to have first been used in Neolithic India. The symbol has an ancient history in Europe, appearing on artifacts from pre-Christian European cultures. In antiquity, the swastika was used extensively by the Indo-Aryans, Persians, Hittites, Celts and Greeks, among others. In particular, the swastika is a sacred symbol in Hinduism, Buddhism, Jainism and Mithraism, religions with a total of more than a billion adherents worldwide, making the swastika ubiquitous in both historical and contemporary society. The symbol was introduced to Southeast Asia by Hindu kings and remains an integral part of Balinese Hinduism to this day, and it is a common sight in Indonesia. It is also used by several Native American cultures.

In the Western world, the symbol experienced a resurgence following the archaeological work in the late 19th century of Heinrich Schliemann, who discovered the symbol in the site of ancient Troy and associated it with the ancient migrations of Proto-Indo-Europeans. He connected it with similar shapes found on ancient pots in Germany, and theorized that the swastika was a "significant religious symbol of our remote ancestors", linking Germanic, Greek and Indo-Iranian cultures. By the early 20th century, it was widely used worldwide and was regarded as a symbol of good luck and success.

The work of Schliemann soon became intertwined with the völkisch movements, for which the swastika was a symbol of "Aryan" identity, a concept that came to be equated by theorists such as Alfred Rosenberg with a Nordic master race originating in northern Europe. Since its adoption by the Nazi Party of Adolf Hitler, the swastika has been associated with Nazism, fascism, racism ( white supremacy), the Axis powers in World War II, and the Holocaust in much of the West. The swastika remains a core symbol of Neo-Nazi groups, and is used regularly by activist groups to signify their opinion of supposed Nazi-like behaviour of organizations and individuals they oppose.

Origin hypotheses

Although the Swastika seems to have first been used in Neolithic India, the ubiquity of the swastika symbol is easily explained by its being a very simple shape that will arise independently in any basket-weaving society. The swastika is a repeating design, created by the edges of the reeds in a square basket-weave. Other theories attempt to establish a connection via cultural diffusion or an explanation along the lines of Carl Jung's collective unconscious.

The swastika may have been transferred to North America by an early seafaring civilization in Eurasia, but it is considered more likely that its use in the Americas arose independently.

The genesis of the swastika symbol is often treated in conjunction with cross symbols in general, such as the " sun wheel" of Bronze Age religion.

Another explanation is suggested by Carl Sagan in his book Comet. Sagan reproduces an ancient Chinese manuscript (the Book of Silk) that shows comet tail varieties: most are variations on simple comet tails, but the last shows the comet nucleus with four bent arms extending from it, recalling a swastika. Sagan suggests that in antiquity a comet could have approached so close to Earth that the jets of gas streaming from it, bent by the comet's rotation, became visible, leading to the adoption of the swastika as a symbol across the world.

In Life's other secret, Ian Stewart suggests the ubiquitous swastika pattern arises when parallel waves of neural activity sweep across the visual cortex during states of altered consciousness, producing a swirling swastika-like image, due to the way quadrants in the field of vision are mapped to opposite areas in the brain.

Still another explanation may be visiable spiral gallaxies before industrial light pollution.

Archaeological record

This Iranian necklace was excavated from Kaluraz, Guilan, first millennium BC, National Museum of Iran.
This Iranian necklace was excavated from Kaluraz, Guilan, first millennium BC, National Museum of Iran.

The earliest consistent use of swastika motifs in the archaeological record date to the Neolithic, though an isolated late Paleolithic artifact containing the shape exists. The symbol was found on a number of shards in the Khuzestan province of Iran and as part of the " Vinca script" of Neolithic Europe of the 5th millennium BC. In the Early Bronze Age, it appears on pottery found in Sintashta, Russia.

Swastika-like symbols also appear in Bronze and Iron Age designs of the northern Caucasus ( Koban culture), and Azerbaijan, as well as of Scythians and Sarmatians . 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. While this sign has been found in many cultures it is referred to as Swastika only in Sanskrit and related languages.

Historical use

The symbol rose to importance in Buddhism in the Mauryan Empire and in Hinduism with the Decline of Buddhism in India in the Gupta period India.

With the spread of Buddhism, the Buddhist swastika reached Tibet and China. The use of the swastika by the indigenous Bön faith of Tibet, as well as syncretic religions, such as Cao Dai of Vietnam and Falun Gong of China, is thought to be borrowed from Buddhism as well.

Reintroduction of the swastika in the West

The aviator Matilde Moisant (1878–1964) wearing a swastika medallion in 1912. The symbol was popular as a good luck charm with early aviators.
The aviator Matilde Moisant (1878–1964) wearing a swastika medallion in 1912. The symbol was popular as a good luck charm with early aviators.

The discovery of the Indo-European language group in the 1790s led to a great effort by archaeologists to link the pre-history of European people to the ancient " Aryans" (variously referring to the Indo-Iranians or the Proto-Indo-Europeans). Following his discovery of objects bearing the swastika in the ruins of Troy, Heinrich Schliemann consulted two leading Sanskrit scholars of the day, Emile Burnouf and Max Müller. Schliemann concluded that the Swastika was a specifically Indo-European symbol. Later discoveries of the motif among the remains of the Hittites and of ancient Iran seemed to confirm this theory. This idea was taken up by many other writers, and the swastika quickly became popular in the West, appearing in many designs from the 1880s to the 1920s.

These discoveries, and the new popularity of the swastika symbol, led to a widespread desire to ascribe symbolic significance to every example of the motif. In many European countries, examples of identical shapes in ancient European artifacts and in folk art were interpreted as emblems of good-luck linked to the Indo-Iranian meaning.

Western use of the motif, along with the religious and cultural meanings attached to it, was subverted in the early 20th century after it was adopted as the emblem of the Nazi Party (German: Nationalsozialistische Deutsche Arbeiterpartei). This association occurred because Nazism stated that the historical Aryans were the forefathers of modern Germans and then proposed that, because of this, the subjugation of the world by Germany was desirable, and even predestined. The swastika was used as a conveniently-geometrical and eye-catching symbol to emphasize the so-called Aryan-German correspondence and instill racial pride. It was also adopted by some German militants in the March 1920 Kapp Putsch.

The swastikas on the Order of the White Rose designed in 1918 by Akseli Gallen-Kallela remained in use until 1963.

Geometry and symbolism

A right-facing swastika may be described as "clockwise"... A right-facing swastika may be described as "clockwise"...
A right-facing swastika may be described as "clockwise"...
...or "counter-clockwise".

Geometrically, the swastika can be regarded as an irregular icosagon or 20-sided polygon. The arms are of varying width and are often rectilinear (but need not be). However, the proportions of the Nazi swastika were fixed: they were based on a 5x5 grid.

Characteristic is the 90° rotational symmetry (that is, the symmetry of the cyclic group C4h) and chirality, hence the absence of reflectional symmetry, and the existence of two versions that are each other's mirror image.

The mirror-image forms are often described as:

  • left-facing and, as depicted across, right-facing;
  • left-hand and right-hand;
  • clockwise and counterclockwise.

"Left-facing" and "right-facing" are used mostly consistently. In an upright swastika, the upper arm faces either the viewer's left (卍) or right (卐). The other two descriptions are ambiguous as it is unclear whether they refer to the direction of the bend in each arm or to the implied rotation of the symbol. If the latter, whether the arms lead or trail remains unclear. However, "clockwise" usually refers to the "right-facing" swastika. The terms are used inconsistently (sometimes even by the same writer), which is confusing and may obfuscate an important point, that the rotation of the swastika may have symbolic relevance, although little is known about this symbolic relevance.

Nazi ensigns had a through and through image, so each version was present on one side, but the Nazi flag on land was right-facing on both sides and at a 45° rotation.

Seen as a cross, the four lines emanate from the centre to the four cardinal directions. The most common association is with the Sun. Other proposed correspondences are to the visible rotation of the night sky in the Northern Hemisphere around the pole star.

The name " sauwastika" is sometimes given to the left-facing form of the swastika (卍), based on D'Alviella (1894), though the term is merely an alternate spelling of swastika. Indians of all faiths sometimes use the symbol in both orientations, mostly for symmetry. Buddhists outside India generally use the left-facing swastika rather than the right-facing swastika, although both can be used. Claims to the effect that the left-facing swastika has inauspicious or "evil" connotations are without substance, most likely based on the stigma of left handedness. In particular, the left-facing swastika is often carved in a see-through lattice in entrance doors of Buddhist temples in China. When exiting the temple, one sees the reverse side of this lattice on the same door, which looks like a right-facing swastika.

Art and architecture

Swastika-type designs on the peplos of an Archaic kore, Acropolis Museum. The intersections of lines defining a solid repeated motif on the edge of a depicted piece of cloth resemble a swastika.
Swastika-type designs on the peplos of an Archaic kore, Acropolis Museum. The intersections of lines defining a solid repeated motif on the edge of a depicted piece of cloth resemble a swastika.

The swastika is common as a design motif in current Hindu architecture and Indian artwork as well as in ancient Western architecture, frequently appearing in mosaics, friezes, and other works across the ancient world. Ancient Greek architectural, clothing and coin designs are replete with single or interlinking swastika motifs. Related symbols in classical Western architecture include the cross, the three-legged triskele or triskelion and the rounded lauburu. The swastika symbol is also known in these contexts by a number of names, especially gammadion.

In Chinese, Korean, and Japanese art, the swastika is often found as part of a repeating pattern. One common pattern, called sayagata in Japanese, comprises left and right facing swastikas joined by lines. As the negative space between the lines has a distinctive shape, the sayagata pattern is sometimes called the "key fret" motif in English.

The swastika symbol was found extensively in the ruins of the ancient city of Troy and can also be found in some of the mosaics in the ruins of Pompeii.

In Greco-Roman art and architecture, and in Romanesque and Gothic art in the West, isolated swastikas are relatively rare, and the swastika is more commonly found as a repeated element in a border or tessellation. The swastika often represented perpetual motion, reflecting the design of a rotating windmill or watermill. A meander of connected swastikas makes up the large band that surrounds the Augustan Ara Pacis. A design of interlocking swastikas is one of several tessellations on the floor of the cathedral of Amiens, France. A border of linked swastikas was a common Roman architectural motif, and can be seen in more recent buildings as a neoclassical element. A swastika border is one form of meander, and the individual swastikas in such a border are sometimes called Greek keys.

Swastika on geometric pottery, National Archaeological Museum of Athens.
Swastika on geometric pottery, National Archaeological Museum of Athens.

Swastikas have also been found on pottery in archaeological digs in the area of ancient Kush. Swastikas were found on pottery at the Gebel Barkal temples as well as in digs corresponding to the later X-Group peoples.

A mola showing a swastika, based on the Kuna flag.
A mola showing a swastika, based on the Kuna flag.

Ceramic tiles with a swastika design have appeared in many parts of the world including the United States in the early 20th century. The tiles typically are, however, a minor decorative element. Some of the pre-World War II swastikas have become controversial after Jewish groups demanded they be removed. A number of the buildings are listed on the National Register of Historic Places or as Unesco World Heritage sites, and are considered worthy of historical preservation. See Western use of the Swastika in the early 20th century for specific examples.

The Primate's Palace in Bratislava has security grills on the ground floor that incorporate swastikas in their design. (See Image of the Primate's Palace)

Religion and mythology

Swastika on the doorstep of an apartment in Maharashtra, India.
Swastika on the doorstep of an apartment in Maharashtra, India.

Hinduism

In Hinduism, the two symbols represent the two forms of the creator god Brahma: facing right it represents the evolution of the universe (Pravritti), facing left it represents the involution of the universe (Nivritti). It is also seen as pointing in all four directions (north, east, south and west) and thus signifies stability and groundedness. Its use as a sun symbol can first be seen in its representation of the god Surya. The swastika is considered extremely holy and auspicious by all Hindus, and is regularly used to decorate items related to Hindu culture. It is used in all Hindu yantras and religious designs. Throughout the subcontinent of India, it can be seen on the sides of temples, religious scriptures, gift items, and letterheads. The Hindu god Ganesh is often shown sitting on a lotus flower on a bed of swastikas.

The swastika is found all over Hindu temples, signs, altars, pictures and iconography where it is sacred. It is used in Hindu weddings, festivals, ceremonies, houses and doorways, clothing and jewelry, motor transport and even decorations on food items such as cakes and pastries. Among the Hindus of Bengal, it is common to see the name "swastika" (Bengali: স্বস্তিক sbastik) applied to a slightly different symbol, which has the same significance as the common swastika, and both symbols are used as auspicious signs. This symbol looks something like a stick figure of a human being. "Swastika" (স্বস্তিক Sbastik) is a common given name amongst Bengalis and a prominent literary magazine in Kolkata (Calcutta) is called the Swastika.

The Aum symbol is also sacred in Hinduism. While Aum is representative of a single primordial tone of creation, the Swastika is a pure geometrical mark and has no syllabic tone associated with it. The Swastika is one of the 108 symbols of Lord Vishnu and represents the sun's rays, without which there would be no life.

Buddhism

The symbol as it is used in Buddhist art and scripture is known in Japanese as a manji (literally, "the character for eternality" 萬字), and represents Dharma, universal harmony, and the balance of opposites. When facing left, it is the omote (front) manji, representing love and mercy. Facing right, it represents strength and intelligence, and is called the ura (rear) manji. Balanced manji are often found at the beginning and end of Buddhist scriptures (outside India).

Buddhism originated in the Indian subcontinent in the 5th century BC and inherited the manji. These two symbols are included, at least since the Liao Dynasty, as part of the Chinese language, the symbolic sign for the character 萬 or 万 (wàn in Mandarin, man in Korean, Cantonese and Japanese, vạn in Vietnamese) meaning "all" or "eternality" (lit. myriad) and as 卐, which is seldom used. A manji marks the beginning of many Buddhist scriptures. The manji (in either orientation) appears on the chest of some statues of Gautama Buddha and is often incised on the soles of the feet of the Buddha in statuary. Because of the association of the right-facing swastika with Nazism, Buddhist manji (outside India only) after the mid-20th century are almost universally left-facing: 卍. This form of the manji is often found on Chinese food packaging to signify that the product is vegetarian and can be consumed by strict Buddhists. It is often sewn into the collars of Chinese children's clothing to protect them from evil spirits.

The swastika is a holy symbol in Jainism.
The swastika is a holy symbol in Jainism.

In 1922, the Chinese Syncretist movement Daoyuan founded the philanthropic association Red Swastika Society in imitation of the Red Cross. The association was very active in China during the 1920s and the 1930s.

Jainism

Jainism gives even more prominence to the swastika than does Hinduism. It is a symbol of the seventh Jina (Saint), the Tirthankara Suparsva. In the Svetambar Jain tradition, it is also one of the symbols of the ashta-mangalas. It is considered to be one of the 24 auspicious marks and the emblem of the seventh arhat of the present age. All Jain temples and holy books must contain the swastika and ceremonies typically begin and end with creating a swastika mark several times with rice around the altar.

Jains use rice to make a swastika (also known as "Sathiyo" in the state of Gujarat, India) in front of idols in a temple. Jains then put an offering on this swastika, usually a ripe or dried fruit, a sweet (mithai), or a coin or currency note. In 2001, India issued a 100-rupee coin to commemorate the 2600th anniversary of the birth of Mahavir, the 24th and last Jainist Tirthankara; the design includes a swastika.

Abrahamic religions

The swastika was not widely utilized by followers of the Abrahamic religions. Where it does exist, it is not always portrayed as an explicitly religious symbol, and is often purely decorative or, at most, a symbol of good luck. One example of scattered use is the floor of the synagogue at Ein Gedi, built during the Roman occupation of Judea, which was decorated with a swastika.

A mandala-like meditative image from the Kabbalistic work "Parashat Eliezer"
A mandala-like meditative image from the Kabbalistic work "Parashat Eliezer"

An unusual swastika, composed of the Hebrew letters Aleph and Resh, appears in the 18th century Kabbalistic work "Parashat Eliezer" by Rabbi Eliezer Fischl of Strizhov, a commentary on the obscure ancient eschatological book "Karnayim", ascribed to Rabbi Aharon of Kardina. The symbol is enclosed by a circle and surrounded by a cyclic hymn in Aramaic. The hymn, which refers explicitly to the power of the Sun, as well as the shape of the symbol, shows strong solar symbolism. According to the book, this mandala-like symbol is meant to help a mystical adept to contemplate on the cyclic nature and structure of the Universe.

In Christianity, the swastika is sometimes used as a hooked version of the Christian Cross, the symbol of Christ's victory over death. Some Christian churches built in the Romanesque and Gothic eras are decorated with swastikas, carrying over earlier Roman designs. Swastikas are prominently displayed in a mosaic in the St. Sophia church of Kiev, Ukraine dating from the 12th century. They also appear as a repeating ornamental motif on a tomb in the Basilica of St. Ambrose in Milan. A proposed direct link between it and a swastika floor mosaic in the Cathedral of Our Lady of Amiens, which was built on top of a pagan site at Amiens, France in the 1200s, is considered unlikely. The stole worn by a priest in the 1445 painting of the Seven Sacraments by Roger van der Weyden presents the swastika form simply as one way of depicting the cross. Swastikas also appear on the vestments on the effigy of Bishop William Edington (d.1366) in Winchester Cathedral.

The Benedictine choir school at Lambach Abbey, Upper Austria, which Hitler attended for several months as a boy, had a swastika chiseled into the monastery portal and also the wall above the spring grotto in the courtyard by 1868. Their origin was the personal coat of arms of Abbot Theoderich Hagn of the monastery in Lambach, which bore a golden swastika with slanted points on a blue field. The Lambach swastika is probably of Medieval origin. The Lambach depiction, in the Hindu style, did not inspire Hitler to use the symbol, as the Nazi Party's use of it stems from the Thule Society and previous occult societies.

The Muslim "Friday" mosque of Isfahan, Iran and the Taynal Mosque in Tripoli, Lebanon both have swastika motifs.

Other Asian traditions

A swastika crossed by two arrows, within a shield and surmounted by a royal crown on an orange background was used as the coat of arms of the samurai Hasekura Tsunenaga in the early 17th century.
A swastika crossed by two arrows, within a shield and surmounted by a royal crown on an orange background was used as the coat of arms of the samurai Hasekura Tsunenaga in the early 17th century.

Some sources indicate that the Chinese Empress Wu (武則天) (684–704) of the Tang Dynasty decreed that the swastika would be used as an alternative symbol of the sun. As part of the Chinese script, the swastika has Unicode encodings U+534D 卍 (pronunciation following the Chinese character "萬": pinyin:wàn); (left-facing) and U+5350 卐 (right-facing).

The Mandarin "Wan" is a homophone for "10,000" and is commonly used to represent the whole of creation, e.g. 'the myriad things' in the Dao De Jing.

In Japan, the swastika is called manji. Since the Middle Ages, it has been used as a family coat of arms. On Japanese maps, a swastika (left-facing and horizontal) is used to mark the location of a Buddhist temple. The right-facing manji is often referred as the gyaku manji (逆卍, lit. "reverse manji"), and can also be called kagi jūji, literally "hook cross".

Native American traditions

Native American basketball team in 1909.
Native American basketball team in 1909.

The swastika shape was used by some Native Americans. It has been found in excavations of Mississippian-era sites in the Ohio valley. It was widely used by many southwestern tribes, most notably the Navajo. Among various tribes, the swastika carried different meanings. To the Hopi it represented the wandering Hopi clan; to the Navajo it was one symbol for a whirling winds (tsil no'oli'), a sacred image representing a legend that was used in healing rituals (after learning of the Nazi mimic "whirling winds" the Navajo rejected the symbol). A brightly colored First Nations saddle featuring swastika designs is on display at the Royal Saskatchewan Museum in Canada.

A swastika shape is an ancient symbol in the culture of the Kuna people of Kuna Yala, Panama. In Kuna tradition, it symbolizes the octopus that created the world; its tentacles, pointing to the four cardinal points.

In February, 1925, the Kuna revolted against Panamanian suppression of their culture, and were granted autonomy in 1930; the flag they adopted at that time is based on the swastika shape, and remains the official flag of Kuna Yala. A number of variations on the flag have been used over the years: red top and bottom bands instead of orange were previously used, and in 1942 a ring (representing the traditional Kuna nose-ring) was added to the centre of the flag to distance it from the symbol of the Nazi party.

Pre-Christian Europe

In Bronze Age Europe, the " Sun cross" (a cross in a circle) appears frequently, often interpreted as a solar symbol. Swastika shapes have been found on numerous artifacts from Iron Age Europe ( Greco-Roman, Illyrian, Etruscan, Baltic, Celtic, Germanic, and Slavic).

Baltic

The swastika is one of the most common symbols used throughout Baltic art. The symbol was known as the Pērkonkrusts, or the "Thunder cross" and was mainly associated with Pērkons, the god of Thunder. It was also occasionally related to the Sun, as well as Dievs (the god of creation), Laima (the goddess of destiny and fate). The swastika is featured on many distaffs, dowry chests, cloths and other items.

Celtic

Variation of tursaansydän
Variation of tursaansydän

The bronze frontspiece of a ritual pre-Christian (ca 350-50 BC) shield found in the River Thames near Battersea Bridge (hence " Battersea Shield") is embossed with 27 swastikas in bronze and red enamel. An Ogham stone found in Anglish, Co Kerry ( CIIC 141) was modified into an early Christian gravestone, and was decorated with a cross pattée and two swastikas. At the Northern edge of Ilkley Moor in West Yorkshire, there is a swastika-shaped pattern engraved in a stone known as the Swastika Stone.

Finnic

In Finland the swastika was often used in traditional folk art products, as a decoration or magical symbol on textiles and wood. Certain types of symbols which incorporated swastika were used to decorate wood; such symbols are called tursaansydän and mursunsydän in Finnish. Tursaansydän was often used until 18th century, when it was mostly replaced by simple swastika.

Germanic

Alemannic or Bavarian brooches (Zierscheiben) incorporating a swastika symbol at the center with a varying number of rays.
Alemannic or Bavarian brooches ( Zierscheiben) incorporating a swastika symbol at the centre with a varying number of rays.

The swastika shape (also called a fylfot) appears on various Germanic Migration Period and Viking Age artifacts, such as the 3rd century Værløse Fibula from Zealand, Denmark, the Gothic spearhead from Brest-Litovsk, Russia, the 9th century Snoldelev Stone from Ramsø, Denmark, and numerous Migration Period bracteates drawn left-facing or right-facing.

The pagan Anglo-Saxon ship burial at Sutton Hoo, England, contained numerous items bearing the swastika, now housed in the collection of the Cambridge Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology. The Swastika is clearly marked on a hilt and sword belt found at Bifrons in Kent, in a grave of about the sixth century.

Hilda Ellis Davidson theorized that the swastika symbol was associated with Thor, possibly representing his hammer Mjolnir - symbolic of thunder - and possibly being connected to the Bronze Age sun wheel. Davidson cites "many examples" of the swastika symbol from Anglo-Saxon graves of the pagan period, with particular prominence on cremation urns from the cemeteries of East Anglia. Some of the swastikas on the items, on display at the Cambridge Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology, are depicted with such care and art that, according to Davidson, it must have possessed special significance as a funerary symbol.

Sami

An object very much like a hammer or a double axe is depicted among the magical symbols on the drums of Sami shamans, used in their religious ceremonies before Christianity was established. The name of the Lappish thunder god was Horagalles, thought to be derived from old man thor (Þórr karl'). Sometimes on the drums, a male figure with a hammer-like object in either hand is shown, and sometimes it is more like a cross with crooked ends, or a swastika.

Slavic

The Boreyko Coat of Arms.
The Boreyko Coat of Arms.

The swastika shape was also present in pre-Christian Slavic mythology. It was dedicated to the sun god Svarog ( Belarusian, Russian and Ukrainian Сварог) and called kolovrat, ( Polish kołowrót, Belarusian, Russian and Ukrainian коловрат or коловорот) or swarzyca. In the Polish first Republic the symbol of the swastika was also popular with the nobility. According to chronicles, the Rus' prince Oleg, who in the 9th century attacked Constantinople, nailed his shield (which had a large red swastika painted on it) to the city's gates. Several Polish noble houses, e.g. Boreyko, Borzym, and Radziechowski from Ruthenia, also had Swastikas as their coat of arms. The family reached its greatness in the 14th and 15th centuries and its crest can be seen in many heraldry books produced at that time.

For the Slavs the swastika is a magic sign manifesting the power and majesty of the sun and fire. It was often used as an ornament decorating ritualistic utensils of a cult cinerary urns with ashes of the dead. It was the symbol of power (the swastika seen on the coins of Mieszko I). The power both lay and divine, because it was often placed on altars in pagan temples. After Christianization and the destruction of pagan holy places, pieces of sculptures of pagan gods with swastikas were built into walls of churches. Examples can find found on the Kruszwica cathedral and in churches in Inowroclaw, Strzelno and Lowicz.

At the start of the Renaissance, swastika ornaments disappeared from utensils but swastika continued being used by Slavs. It became a popular ornament on Easter eggs and in wayside shrines in folk culture. This ornament still existed in 1940-50. The Swastika was also a heraldic symbol, for example on the Boreyko coat of arms, used by noblemen in Poland and Ukraine. In the 19th century the swastika was one of the Russian empire's symbols; it was even placed in coins as a background to the Russian eagle. The swastika was used by the nationalistic and neopagan "Zadruga".

In the Czech Republic the swastika was a cognizance of the Czech National-Socialist Workers' and Peasants' Party of M.Mlococh (so called Green swastikas). The was also a symbol of the Tatra Highlands' Riflemen (to the year 1940), and of 1st Mot. Art. Regiment of the Polish Armed Force (to the year 1947).

As the symbol of Nazism

Since World War II, the swastika is often associated with the flag of Nazi Germany and the Nazi Party in the Western world. Prior to this association, swastikas were used throughout the western world.
Since World War II, the swastika is often associated with the flag of Nazi Germany and the Nazi Party in the Western world. Prior to this association, swastikas were used throughout the western world.

In the wake of widespread popular usage, the Nazi Party (Nationalsozialistische Deutsche Arbeiterpartei or NSDAP) formally adopted the swastika (in German: Hakenkreuz (hook-cross)) in 1920. This was used on the party's flag (right), badge, and armband. It had also been used unofficially by its predecessor, the German Workers Party, Deutsche Arbeiterpartei (DAP).

In his 1925 work Mein Kampf, Adolf Hitler wrote that:

I myself, meanwhile, after innumerable attempts, had laid down a final form; a flag with a red background, a white disk, and a black swastika in the middle. After long trials I also found a definite proportion between the size of the flag and the size of the white disk, as well as the shape and thickness of the swastika.

When Hitler created a flag for the Nazi Party, he sought to incorporate both the swastika and "those revered colors expressive of our homage to the glorious past and which once brought so much honour to the German nation." (Red, white, and black were the colors of the flag of the old German Empire.) He also stated: "As National Socialists, we see our program in our 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, and, by the same token, the victory of the idea of creative work, which as such always has been and always will be anti-Semitic." (Mein Kampf).

The swastika was also understood as "the symbol of the creating, acting life" (das Symbol des schaffenden, wirkenden Lebens) and as "race emblem of Germanism" (Rasseabzeichen des Germanentums) .

The use of the swastika was associated by Nazi theorists with their conjecture of Aryan cultural descent of the German people. Following the Nordicist version of the Aryan invasion theory, the Nazis claimed that the early Aryans of India, from whose Vedic tradition the swastika sprang, were the prototypical white invaders. It was also widely believed that the Indian caste system had originated as a means to avoid racial mixing. The concept of Racial purity was an ideology central to Nazism, even though it is now considered unscientific. For Rosenberg, the Aryans of India were both a model to be imitated and a warning of the dangers of the spiritual and racial "confusion" that, he believed, arose from the close proximity of races. Thus, they saw fit to co-opt the sign as a symbol of the Aryan master race. The use of the swastika as a symbol of the Aryan race dates back to writings of Emile Burnouf. Following many other writers, the German nationalist poet Guido von List believed it to be a uniquely Aryan symbol.

A Thule Society emblem featuring a Swastika.
A Thule Society emblem featuring a Swastika.

Before the Nazis, the swastika was already in use as a symbol of German völkisch nationalists movements ( Völkische Bewegung). In Deutschland Erwache ( ISBN 0-912138-69-6), Ulric of England (sic) says:

[…] what inspired Hitler to use the swastika as a symbol for the NSDAP was its use by the Thule Society (German: Thule-Gesellschaft) since there were many connections between them and the DAP … from 1919 until the summer of 1921 Hitler used the special Nationalsozialistische library of Dr. Friedrich Krohn, a very active member of the Thule-Gesellschaft … Dr. Krohn was also the dentist from Sternberg who was named by Hitler in Mein Kampf as the designer of a flag very similar to one that Hitler designed in 1920 … during the summer of 1920, the first party flag was shown at Lake Tegernsee … these home-made … early flags were not preserved, the Ortsgruppe München (Munich Local Group) flag was generally regarded as the first flag of the Party.

José Manuel Erbez says:

The first time the swastika was used with an "Aryan" meaning was on December 25, 1907, when the self-named Order of the New Templars, a secret society founded by [Adolf Joseph] Lanz von Liebenfels, hoisted at Werfenstein Castle (Austria) a yellow flag with a swastika and four fleurs-de-lys.

However, Liebenfels was drawing on an already established use of the symbol.

On 14 March 1933, shortly after Hitler's appointment as Chancellor of Germany, the NSDAP flag was hoisted alongside Germany's national colors. It was adopted as the sole national flag on 15 September 1935 (see Nazi Germany).

The swastika was used for badges and flags throughout Nazi Germany, particularly for government and military organizations, but also for "popular" organizations such as the Reichsbund Deutsche Jägerschaft (German Hunting Society).

While the DAP and the NSDAP had used both right-facing and left-facing swastikas, the right-facing swastika was used consistently from 1920 onwards. However, Ralf Stelter notes that the swastika flag used on land had a right-facing swastika on both sides, while the ensign (naval flag) had it printed through so that you would see a left-facing swastika when looking at the ensign with the flagpole to the right.

Several variants are found:

  • a 45° black swastika on a white disc as in the NSDAP and national flags;
  • a 45° black swastika on a white lozenge (e.g., Hitler Youth);
  • a 45° black swastika with a white outline was painted on the tail of aircraft of the Luftwaffe;
  • a 45° black swastika outlined by thin white and black lines on a white disc (e.g., the German War Ensign);
  • an upright black swastika outlined by thin white and black lines on a white disc (e.g., Adolf Hitler's personal standard in which a gold wreath encircles the swastika; the Schutzstaffel; and the Reichsdienstflagge, in which a black circle encircles the swastika);
  • small gold, silver, black, or white 45° swastikas, often lying on or being held by an eagle, on many badges and flags.
  • a swastika with curved outer arms forming a broken circle, as worn by the SS Nordland Division.

There were attempts to amalgamate Nazi and Hindu use of the swastika, notably by the French writer Savitri Devi who declared Hitler an avatar of Vishnu (see Nazi mysticism).

Use in Western countries

The Soviet War Memorial in Treptower Park in Berlin. The statue depicts a Soviet soldier cradling a German child, while standing on a broken Swastika.
The Soviet War Memorial in Treptower Park in Berlin. The statue depicts a Soviet soldier cradling a German child, while standing on a broken Swastika.

Because of its use by Hitler and the Nazis and, in modern times, by neo-Nazis and other hate groups, the swastika is largely associated with Nazism and white supremacy (see Western use of the Swastika in the early 20th century). As a result, its use as a Nazi or hate symbol is legally prohibited in some jurisdictions. Because of the stigma attached to the symbol, many buildings that have contained the symbol as decoration have had the symbol removed. Westerners whose family originates from India, including religions such as Jain, Hindu and other Indian religions, still use the swastika as a religious symbol, with no connection to Nazism.

Brazil

The use of the swastika in conjunction with any other Nazi allusion, and also its manufacture, distribution or broadcasting, is a crime as dictated by law 7.716/89 from 1989. The penalty is a fine and two to five years in prison.

Belgium

A controversy arose in Maasmechelen, Belgium, when Google Earth users found that a 27 year old fountain at the city council office looks like a swastika from the air. As a result the mayor said he would replace it.

European Union

The European Union's executive Commission proposed a European Union wide anti-racism law in 2001, but European Union states failed to agree on the balance between prohibiting racism and freedom of expression. An attempt to ban the swastika across the EU in early 2005 failed after objections from the British Government and others. In early 2007, while Germany held the European Union presidency, Berlin proposed that the European Union should follow German Criminal Law and criminalize the denial of the Holocaust and the display of Nazi symbols including the swastika, which is based on the Ban on the Symbols of unconstitutional Organisations Act. This led to an opposition campaign by Hindu groups across Europe against a ban on the swastika. They pointed out that the swastika has been around for 5,000 years as a symbol of peace. The proposal to ban the swastika was dropped by Berlin from the proposed European Union wide anti-racism laws on January 29 2007.

Germany

Plane of Ernst Udet used for acrobatic shows held during the 1936 Summer Olympics on display in the Polish Aviation Museum.
Plane of Ernst Udet used for acrobatic shows held during the 1936 Summer Olympics on display in the Polish Aviation Museum.

The German (and Austrian) postwar criminal code makes the public showing of the Hakenkreuz (the swastika) and other Nazi symbols illegal and punishable, except for scholarly reasons. It is even censored from the lithographs on boxes of model kits, and the decals that come in the box. It is also censored from the reprints of 1930s railway timetable published by Bundesbahn. The eagle remains, but appears to be holding a solid black circle between its talons. The swastikas on Hindu and Jain temples are exempt, as religious symbols cannot be banned in Germany.

A German fashion company was investigated for using traditional British-made folded leather buttons after complaints that they resembled swastikas. In response, Esprit destroyed two hundred thousand catalogues.

A controversy was stirred by the decision of several police departments to begin inquiries against anti-fascists. In late 2005 police raided the offices of the punk rock label and mail order store "Nix Gut Records" and confiscated merchandise depicting crossed-out swastikas and fists smashing swastikas. In 2006 the Stade police department started an inquiry against anti-fascist youths using a placard depicting a person dumping a swastika into a trashcan. The placard was displayed in opposition to the campaign of right-wing nationalist parties for local elections.

On Friday, March 17, 2006, a member of the Bundestag Claudia Roth reported herself to the German police for displaying a crossed-out swastika in multiple demonstrations against Neo-Nazis, and subsequently got the Bundestag to suspend her immunity from prosecution. She intended to show the absurdity of charging anti-fascists with using fascist symbols: "We don't need prosecution of non-violent young people engaging against right-wing extremism."

On March 15, 2007, the Federal Court of Justice of Germany (Bundesgerichtshof) reversed the above-mentioned verdicts, since the crossed-out symbols were "clearly directed against a revival of national-socialist endeavors", hereby settling the dispute for the future.

The relevant excerpt of the German criminal code reads:

§ 86 StGB Dissemination of Means of Propaganda of Unconstitutional Organizations (1) Whoever domestically disseminates or produces, stocks, imports or exports or makes publicly accessible through data storage media for dissemination domestically or abroad, means of propaganda: 1. of a party which has been declared to be unconstitutional by the Federal Constitutional Court or a party or organization, as to which it has been determined, no longer subject to appeal, that it is a substitute organization of such a party; […] 4. means of propaganda, the contents of which are intended to further the aims of a former National Socialist organization, shall be punished with imprisonment for not more than three years or a fine. […] (3) Subsection (1) shall not be applicable if the means of propaganda or the act serves to further civil enlightenment, to avert unconstitutional aims, to promote art or science, research or teaching, reporting about current historical events or similar purposes. […] § 86a StGB Use of Symbols of Unconstitutional Organizations (1) Whoever: 1. domestically distributes or publicly uses, in a meeting or in writings (§ 11 subsection (3)) disseminated by him, symbols of one of the parties or organizations indicated in § 86 subsection (1), nos. 1, 2 and 4; or 2. produces, stocks, imports or exports objects which depict or contain such symbols for distribution or use domestically or abroad, in the manner indicated in number 1, shall be punished with imprisonment for not more than three years or a fine. (2) Symbols, within the meaning of subsection (1), shall be, in particular, flags, insignia, uniforms, slogans and forms of greeting. Symbols which are so similar as to be mistaken for those named in sentence 1 shall be deemed to be equivalent thereto. […]

United States

The swastika symbol was popular as a good luck or religious/spiritual symbol in the United States, prior to its association with Nazi Germany. The symbol remains visible on numerous historic buildings, including sites that are listed on the National Register of Historic Places. It also appeared on tiles, lampposts, metal valves, tools, surfboards, stock certificates, brand names, place names, medals, commercial tokens, postcards, souvenirs, rugs and clothing; see Western use of the Swastika in the early 20th century.

The shoulder patch of the 45th Infantry Division, a National Guard unit from the Southwestern US, was originally a yellow swastika on a red diamond, in the context of a religious/mystical symbol of the Native American tribes of that region. As war with Nazi Germany became imminent in the late 1930s, the swastika was replaced by a yellow thunderbird emblem; this may have been done as a simple tactical move to avoid confusion and friendly fire incidents as much as due to the political stigma of the symbol and its association with Nazism.

Members of the LaRouche movement in Stockholm protest the Treaty of Lisbon with pictures rearranging the stars of the Flag of Europe into a swastika.
Members of the LaRouche movement in Stockholm protest the Treaty of Lisbon with pictures rearranging the stars of the Flag of Europe into a swastika.

On November 8, 2004 Microsoft released a "critical update" to remove "unacceptable symbols" from the Bookshelf Symbol 7 font. An analysis of the unpatched and patched fonts shows the symbol deemed unacceptable to be a swastika, and possibly a six-point star.

In September of 2007 the United States Navy announced it would spend $600,000 to "camouflage" a barrack at the Naval Amphibious Base Coronado near San Diego, so that it would no longer resemble a swastika from the air.

Satirical use

The powerful symbolism acquired by the swastika has often been used in graphic design and propaganda as a means of drawing Nazi comparisons; examples include the cover of Stuart Eizenstat's 2003 book Imperfect Justice, publicity materials for Costa-Gavras's 2002 film Amen, and a billboard that was erected opposite the U.S. Interests Section in Havana, Cuba, in 2004, which juxtaposed images of the Abu Ghraib torture and prisoner abuse pictures with a swastika.

Controversy over Asian products

In recent years, controversy has erupted when consumer goods bearing the symbol have been exported (often unintentionally) to North America. In 2002, Christmas crackers containing plastic toy pandas sporting swastikas were pulled from shelves after complaints from consumers in Canada. The manufacturer, based in China, explained the symbol was presented in a traditional sense and not as a reference to the Nazis, and apologized to the customers for the cross-cultural mixup.

Contemporary usage

The Unit Colour of the Finnish Air Force Academy features the swastika as a central element.
The Unit Colour of the Finnish Air Force Academy features the swastika as a central element.

Finland

The swastika was adopted by the Finnish Air Force after 6 March 1918, when Eric von Rosen donated an aeroplane adorned with swastikas which was his personal good luck symbol from Sweden to the Finnish white army. The swastika was officially adopted as the nationality marking on the Finnish Air Force planes on 18 March 1918.

The roundel was used until late 1944 when a substitution for a blue on white roundel was made. Existing decorations and unit flags of the Finnish Air Force were not altered, and they still feature the traditional blue swastika within a white circle.

The president of Finland is the grand master of the Order of the White Rose. According to the protocol, the president shall wear the Cross of Liberty with Chains on formal occasions. The original design of the chains, decorated with swastikas, dates from 1918 by the artist Akseli Gallen-Kallela. The Grand Cross with Chains has been awarded 11 times to foreign heads of state. To avoid misunderstandings, the swastika decorations were replaced by fir-crosses at the request of President Kekkonen in 1963.

Colour of Finnish Utti Jaeger Regiment has a swastika on it, symbolizing its airborne transport by helicopters
Colour of Finnish Utti Jaeger Regiment has a swastika on it, symbolizing its airborne transport by helicopters

Also a design by Gallen-Kallela of 1918, the Cross of Liberty has a swastika pattern in the arms of the cross. The Cross of Liberty is depicted in the upper left corner of the flag of the President of Finland.

In December 2007, a silver replica of the WWII Finnish air defences relief ring became available through Rautasormus.fi. The original war-time idea was that the public swap their precious metal rings for the State air defences relief ring, made of iron.

Traditional symbol that incorporates a swastika, tursaansydän, is used by scouts in some instances and a certain student organization. Village of Tursa uses tursaansydän as a kind of a certificate of genuineness of products made there. Traditional textiles are still being made with swastikas as a part of traditional ornaments.

India, Nepal and Sri Lanka

The logo of the Indian State of Bihar incorporates a swastika.
The logo of the Indian State of Bihar incorporates a swastika.

In South Asia, the swastika remains ubiquitous as a symbol of wealth and good fortune. In India and Nepal, electoral ballot papers are stamped with a round swastika-like pattern (to ensure that the accidental ink imprint on the other side of a folded ballot paper can be correctly identified as such), so that this variant of the symbol is connected with political elections. Many businesses and other organisations, such as the Ahmedabad Stock Exchange and the Nepal Chamber of Commerce, use the swastika in their logos. The red swastika was suggested as an emblem of International Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement in India and Sri Lanka, but the idea was not implemented . Swastikas can be found practically everywhere in Indian cities, on buses, buildings, auto-rickshaws, and clothing.

Tajikistan

In 2005, authorities in Tajikistan called for the widespread adoption of the swastika as a national symbol. President Emomali Rahmonov declared the swastika an " Aryan" symbol and 2006 to be "the year of Aryan culture," which would be a time to “study and popularize Aryan contributions to the history of the world civilization, raise a new generation (of Tajiks) with the spirit of national self-determination, and develop deeper ties with other ethnicities and cultures.”

Canada

The town of Swastika, Ontario, founded in 1908, got its name from a former mine of the same name, and inhabitants refused to have it changed during and after the Second World War.

The seal of the Theosophical Society.
The seal of the Theosophical Society.

New religious movements

Theosophical Society

The Theosophical Society uses a swastika as part of its seal, along with an Aum, a hexagram, a Star of David, an Ankh and an Ouroboros. Unlike the much more recent Raëlian movement (see below), the Theosophical Society symbol has been free from controversy, and the seal is still used. The current seal also has English .

Raëlian Movement

The Raëlian Movement, who believe that Extra-Terrestrials originally created all life on earth, use a symbol that is often the source of considerable controversy: an interlaced Star of David and a Swastika. The Raelians state that the Star of David represents infinity in space whereas the swastika represents infinity in time i.e. there being no beginning and no end in time, and everything being cyclic . In 1991, the symbol was changed to remove the Swastika, out of respect to the victims of the holocaust, but as of 2007 has been restored to its original form .

Ananda Marga

The emblem of Ananda Marga.
The emblem of Ananda Marga.

The Tantra-based religious movement Ananda Marga uses a motif similar to the Raëlians, but in their case the apparent star of David is defined as intersecting triangles with no specific reference to Jewish culture.

According to Ananda Marge:

External or physical service acted out through the motor organs is symbolised by the triangle pointing upwards. Internal or spiritual service done through channelizing of mental energy to the mantra is symbolized by the triangle pointing downwards...Attaining that state of oneness with the Generator, Operator and Destroyer of this universe is symbolised by the swastika which means victory.

Falungong

The Falungong qigong movement uses a symbol that features a large swastika surrounded by four smaller (and rounded) ones, interspersed with yin-and-yang symbols. The usage is taken from traditional Chinese symbolism, and here alludes to chakra-like portion of the esoteric human anatomy, located in the stomach (see Dantien).

Neopaganism

The Odinic Rite claims the " fylfot" as a "holy symbol of Odinism", citing the pre-Christian Germanic use of the symbol.

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