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The swastika (from Sanskrit svástika स्वस्तिक) is an equilateral cross with its arms bent at right angles, in either right-facing (卐) form or its mirrored left-facing (卍) form. Archaeological evidence of swastika-shaped ornaments dates from the Neolithic period. It occurs mainly in the modern day culture of India, sometimes as a geometrical motif and sometimes as a religious symbol. It remains widely used in Eastern religions such as Hinduism, Buddhism and Jainism. Though once commonly used all over much of the world without stigma, because of its iconic usage in Nazi Germany the symbol has become stigmatized in the Western world, notably even outlawed in Germany.
Etymology and alternative names
The word swastika is derived from the Sanskrit word 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- meaning "good, well" and asti "to be" svasti thus means "well-being." The suffix -ka either forms a diminutive or intensifies the verbal meaning, 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 in this sense is first used in the Harivamsa. As noted by Monier-Williams in his Sanskrit–English dictionary, according to Alexander Cunningham its shape represents a monogram formed by interlacing of the letters of the auspicious words su-astí (svasti) written in Ashokan characters.
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, hook cross (German: Hakenkreuz);
- cross cramponned, ~nnée, or ~nny (in heraldry), as each arm resembles a crampon or angle-iron (German: Winkelmaßkreuz)
- 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; French: croix gammée), as each arm resembles the Greek letter Γ (gamma)
- 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))
- Mundilfari an Old Norse term has been associated in modern literature with the swastika.
- Thor's hammer, from its supposed association with Thor, the 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. Also there have also been interpretations associating it with a spear (the weapon of Odin) that modern scholars have associated on runestones such as the Snoldelev Stone.
- The Tibetan swastika is known as nor bu bzhi -khyil, or quadruple body symbol, defined in Unicode at codepoint U+0FCC ࿌.
- The Buddhist sign was standardised as a Chinese character 卍 (pinyin wàn), and as such entered Japanese, where the symbol is called 卍字 (manji)
The mirror-image forms are often described as:
- clockwise and counterclockwise;
- left-facing and right-facing;
- left-hand and right-hand.
"Left-facing" and "right-facing" are used mostly consistently referring to the upper arm of an upright swastika facing either to the viewer's left (卍) or right (卐). The other two descriptions are ambiguous as it is unclear whether they refer to the arms as leading or being dragged or whether their bending is viewed outward or inward. 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. Less ambiguous terms might be "clockwise-pointing" and "counterclockwise-pointing."
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.
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.
Alexander Cunningham rejected any connection of the Indian swastika symbol with sun-worship, and suggested that the shape arose from a combination of Brahmi characters abbreviating the words su astí.
The symbol has an ancient history, appearing on artifacts from Indo-European cultures such as the Indo-Aryans, Persians, Hittites, Slavs, Celts and Greeks, among others. The earliest consistent use of swastika motifs in the archaeological record date to the Neolithic. 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. Early Indian swastika symbols were found at Lothal and Harappa, on Indus Valley seals.
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.
Historical use in the East
Historically, the swastika became a sacred symbol in Shamanism, 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.
The symbol rose to importance in Buddhism during the Mauryan Empire and in Hinduism with the decline of Buddhism in India during the Gupta Empire. 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.
In Hinduism, the two symbols represent the two forms of the creator god Brahma: facing right it represents the evolution of the universe (Devanagari: प्रवृत्ति, Pravritti), facing left it represents the involution of the universe (Devanagari: निवृत्ति, Nivritti). It is also seen as pointing in all four directions (north, east, south and west) and thus signifies grounded stability. Its use as a Sun symbol can first be seen in its representation of the god Surya (Devanagari: सूर्य, Sun). 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 (Devanagari: यंत्र) 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 deity Ganesh (Devanagari: गणेश) 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. In the Bhavishyapuran (a book describing future events and history), it is a weapon of a snake king (dragon), Takshak.
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 Hindu deity Vishnu and represents the sun's rays, upon which life depends.
Buddhism originated in India in the 5th century BC and inherited the manji or swastika. Also known as a "yung drung" in ancient Tibet, it was a graphical representation of eternity. Today the symbol is used in Buddhist art and scripture and represents dharma, universal harmony, and the balance of opposites. One can see swastika on the Pillars of Ashoka where the swastika is a symbol of the cosmic dance around a fixed center and guards against evil.
The paired swastika 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. Swastika marks the beginning of many Buddhist scriptures. The swastika (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 swastika (outside India only) after the mid-20th century are almost universally left-facing: 卍. This form of the swastika 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.
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 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 (Devanagari: श्वेताम्बर) Jain tradition, it is also one of the symbols of the ashta-mangalas (Devanagari: अष्ट मंगल). 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 (Hindi: मिठाई, 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 (Devanagari: महावीर), the 24th and last Jainist Tirthankara - the design includes a swastika.
Other Asian traditions
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".
In Chinese 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.
Historical use in the West
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.
The ancient Armenians considered the Sun to be their God that they were worshiping to. Sun has always been symbolized by the swastika. The earliest depictions of swastika found in Armenia are dating back to the Neolithic Period of human cultural evolution, around 7000-5000BC. Very often, swastika is symbolized in the form of the Solar Disk, commonly found in the stone carvings of the Armenian Plateau. Swastika can be met in traditional Armenian architecture and decorative arts.
Pre-Christian Europe and folk culture
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, Georgian Bordjgali and Slavic).This prehistoric use seems to be reflected in the appearance of the symbol in various folk cultures of Europe.
The swastika is one of the most common symbols used throughout Baltic art. The symbol is known as either Ugunskrusts, the "Fire cross" (rotating counter-clockwise), or Pērkonkrusts, the "Thunder cross" (rotating clock-wise), 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. It is most intricately developed in woven belts.
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.
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 the 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 a simple swastika. It was also, from the first years of its existence to the end of the Second World War, the roundel of the Finnish Air Force. 
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.
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.
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, (Slovenian kolovrat, Croatian kolovrat, Polish kołowrót, Belarusian колаўрат, Russian and Ukrainian коловрат or коловорот, Serbian коловрат/kolovrat) or swarzyca. In early medieval Europe, the use of swastikas for decoration of pottery and other wares was most frequent in Slavic lands. It first appears within the context of Slavic artefacts in the lower Danube region (modern Wallachia and Moldavia) where early Slavs had contacts with Sarmatian peoples. This practice was then not merely adopted, but "transformed into a new, distinct quality of the symbolic culture of the Slavs."
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 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 usually called "The wheel of Svarog." 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) both lay and divine, because it was often placed on altars in pagan temples.
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.
Medieval and Early Modern Europe
In Christianity, the swastika is 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.
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 mystic to contemplate on the cyclic nature and structure of the Universe. The letters are the initial and final characters of the Hebrew word, אוֹר, or "light".
Freemasons also gave the swastika symbol importance. In medieval Northern European Runic Script, a counter-clockwise swastika denotes the letter 'G,' and could stand for the important Freemason terms God, Great Architect of the Universe, or Geometry.
Native American traditions
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 log (tsil no'oli'), a sacred image representing a legend that was used in healing rituals (after learning of the Nazi association, the Navajo discontinued use of 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 a 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 vigorously against Panamanian suppression of their culture, and assumed 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 center of the flag to distance it from the symbol of the Nazi party.
Western use in the early 20th century
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 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 the "Aryan race", 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 National Socialist German Worker's 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 behavior of organizations and individuals they oppose.
The swastikas on the Finnish Order of the White Rose designed in 1918 by Akseli Gallen-Kallela remained in use until 1963. The Finnish Order of the Cross of Liberty and the Flag of the President of Finland still show a swastika design: the Cross of Liberty.
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.
As the symbol of Nazism
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).
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 honor 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."
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, 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.Before the Nazis, the swastika was already in use as a symbol of German völkisch nationalist 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 March 14, 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 September 15, 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 a left-facing swastika would be seen 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., Personal standard of Adolf Hitler 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.
The swastika is seen on binders of pre-Nazi era publications of works by Rudyard Kipling. Both left and right orientations were used.
Post-WWII stigmatization in Western countries
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) in most of the Western countries. As a result, all of its use, or its use as a Nazi or hate symbol is 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. Steven Heller, of the School of Visual Arts, has argued that from the moment it was "misappropriated" by the Nazis, it became a mark and weapon of hate, and could not be redeemed.
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.
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. Some modellers would prefer to stencil on the swastika, or perhaps buy separate decals if possible. It is also censored from the reprints of 1930s railway timetables published by the Reichsbahn. 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 charge, holding that the crossed-out symbols were "clearly directed against a revival of national-socialist endeavors", thereby settling the dispute for the future.
The Finnish Air Force continues to use a swastika as their emblem, originally introduced in 1918.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 decision of President Kekkonen in 1963 after Charles De Gaulle indicated he would refuse the award if it carried swastikas.Also a design by Gallen-Kallela of 1918, the Cross of Liberty has a swastika pattern in its arms. 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 decorated with swastika became available as a part of a charity campaign. The original war-time idea was that the public swap their precious metal rings for the State air defences relief ring, made of iron.
A traditional symbol that incorporates a swastika, the tursaansydän, is used by scouts in some instances and a student organization. The village of Tursa uses the 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.
In Hungary, it is a criminal misdemeanour to publicly display "totalitarian symbols", including the swastika, the SS insignia and the Arrow Cross, punishable by fine. Display for academic, educational, artistic or journalistic reasons is allowed. Note that the communist symbols of hammer and sickle and the red star are also regarded as a totalitarian symbols and have the same restriction by Hungarian criminal law.
The Podhale Rifles use the swastika symbol as part of their uniform, though this has no connection with the Nazi swastika.
Eimskip (founded in 1914), a major import/export company in Iceland once used the Swastika as their company logo. Although they have since replaced their logo, the swastika remained on their old headquarters, located in downtown Reykjavík. As tourism to the country grew, it often became a subject of misunderstanding when foreign tourists targeted the building as a place of Nazi support and antisemitism. When the Radisson SAS hotel franchise bought the building, the company was banned from destroying the symbol since the building was on the list of historical sites in Iceland. A compromise was made when the company was allowed to cover the symbol with the numbers 1919 which was the year when the building was erected.
The Swastika Laundry was a laundry founded in 1912, located on Shelbourne Road, Ballsbridge, a district of Dublin, Ireland. In the fifties Heinrich Böll came across a van belonging to the company while he was staying in Ireland, leading to some awkward moments before he could realize the company was older than Nazism and totally unrelated to it. The chimney of the boiler-house of the laundry still stands, but the laundry has been redeveloped.
The use of the swastika or any Nazi symbol, their manufacture, distribution or broadcasting, with the intent to propagate Nazism is a crime in Brazil as dictated by article 20, paragraph 1, of federal statute 7.716, passed in 1989. The penalty is a two to five years prison term and a fine.
The swastika symbol was popular as a good luck or religious/spiritual symbol in the United States prior to its association with Nazi Germany, and was the divisional insignia of the 45th Infantry Division until the late 1930s. The symbol remains visible on numerous historic buildings, including sites that are listed on the National Register of Historic Places.
A book featuring "120 Funny Swastika Cartoons" was published in 2008 by New York Cartoonist Sam Gross. The author said he created the cartoons in response to excessive news coverage given to swastika vandals, that his intent "...is to reduce the swastika to something humorous."
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.
In the Christian novel Hadassah, by Tommy Tenney, a fictional account of the Biblical story of Esther, references to a "twisted cross" appear as a symbol of the hatred of the Agagites toward the Jewish people. It is clear from the text that this is a veiled reference to a swastika. While the symbol has surfaced in archaeological digs throughout Middle Eastern countries in historical context with the Medes and the Persians, there is no evidence that it was used as a symbolism of Jewish hatred at that time in history. It appears this was placed in the book by the author for its dramatic effects.
Controversy over Asian products
In recent years, controversy has erupted when consumer goods bearing the symbol have been exported (often unintentionally) to North America.
When a ten-year-old boy in Lynbrook, New York bought a set of Pokémon cards imported from Japan in 1999, his parents complained after finding that two of the cards contained the Manji symbol which is the mirror image of the Nazi swastika. This also caused a lot of concern amongst fans from Jewish communities. Nintendo of America announced that the cards would be discontinued, explaining that what was acceptable in one culture was not necessarily so in another; their action was welcomed by the Anti-Defamation League who recognised that there was no intention to be offensive but said that international commerce meant that "isolating [the Swastika] in Asia would just create more problems."
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. In 2007, Spanish fashion chain Zara has withdrawn a handbag from its stores after a customer in Britain complained swastikas were embroidered on it. The bags were made by a supplier in India and inspired by commonly used Hindu symbols, which include the swastika.
Contemporary use in Asia
The swastika has been and still is an important symbol in Mongolian culture, meaning eternity. It may be found in many places including monasteries.
In the Indosphere (South Asia, Greater India), 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). 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 and Nepalese cities, on buses, buildings, auto-rickshaws, and clothing.
In Taiwan, maps use the swastika symbol to denote a temple.
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.”
New religious movements
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 includes the text "There is no religion higher than truth."
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.
The Tantra-based new religious movement Ananda Marga (Devanagari: आनन्द मार्ग, meaning Path of Bliss) 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 Marga:
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.
The Falun Gong 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 a chakra-like portion of the esoteric human anatomy, located in the stomach.
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|Wikimedia Commons has media related to: Swastika|
- History of the Swastika (US Holocaust Memorial Museum)
- Sun Wheel - The Ancient Swastika
- The Origins of the Swastika BBC News
- The Swastika, the Earliest Known Symbol (DjVu)
- The Real Swastika: The logo of modern evil has a benign ancient face, article by Eileen Weintraub
- Dharmic religions
- Swastikam - Symbol of Auspiciousness (chapter 7 of Vishayasuchi by Satguru Sivaya Subramuniyaswami)
- Early Western use
- Windsor's "Swastikas" Hockey Teams 1905–1916
- Finnish uses of the swastika
- (Image) US Army Air Corps (USAAC) Boeing P-12C with *55th Pursuit Squadrons swastika-insignia in 1930s. The USAAC became the United States Air Force in 1947.
- Nazi use
- The variants of the NS-swastika flag
- Documentary about the use of the swastika in the Third Reich
- From Flags of the World:
- Origins of the Swastika Flag (Third Reich, Germany) (collection of links and comments)
- Neo-Nazi flags (links to other FOTW pages)
- Reclaim the Swastika
- ManWoman, Warrior of Sacred Imagination: Canadian artist devoted to the reclamation of the swastika as a peaceful symbol