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The swastika (卐) (Sanskrit: स्वस्तिक) is an equilateral cross with four arms bent at 90 degrees. The earliest archaeological evidence of swastika-shaped ornaments dates back to the Indus Valley Civilization as well as the Mediterranean Classical Antiquity. Swastikas have also been used in various other ancient civilizations around the world including China, Japan, India, and Southern Europe. It remains widely used in Indian religions, specifically in Hinduism, Buddhism, and Jainism, primarily as a tantric symbol to evoke shakti or the sacred symbol of auspiciousness. The word "swastika" comes from the Sanskrit svastika - "su" meaning "good" or "auspicious," "asti" meaning "to be," and "ka" as a suffix. The swastika literally means "to be good". Or another translation can be made: "swa" is "higher self", "asti" meaning "being", and "ka" as a suffix, so the translation can be interpreted as "being with higher self".
The swastika is a Chinese character, defined by Kangxi Dictionary, published in 1716, as "synonym of myriad. It is used mostly in Buddhist classic texts", by extension, the word later evolved to represent eternity and Buddhism.
The symbol has a long history in Europe reaching back to antiquity. In modern times, following a brief surge of popularity as a good luck symbol in Western culture, a swastika was adopted as a symbol of the Nazi Party of Germany in 1920, who used the swastika as a symbol of the Aryan race. After Adolf Hitler came to power in 1933, a right-facing 45° rotated swastika was incorporated into the Nazi party flag, which was made the state flag of Germany during Nazism. Hence, the swastika has become strongly associated with Nazism and related ideologies such as antisemitism, hate, violence, death, and murder in many countries, and is now largely stigmatized there due to the changed connotations of the symbol. Notably, it has been outlawed in Germany and other countries if used as a symbol of Nazism in certain instances . Many modern political extremists and Neo-Nazi groups such as the Russian National Unity use stylized swastikas or similar symbols.
The word swastika came from the Sanskrit word, meaning any lucky or auspicious object, and in particular a mark made on persons and things to denote auspiciousness, or any piece of luck or well-being.
It is composed of su- meaning "good, well" and asti "to be". Suasti thus means "well-being." The suffix -ka either forms a diminutive or intensifies the verbal meaning, and suastika 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. The Ramayana does have the word, but in an unrelated sense of "one who utters words of eulogy".
The most traditional form of the swastika's symbolization in Jainism is that the four arms of the swastika remind us that during the cycles of birth and death we may be born into any one of the four destinies: heavenly beings, human beings, animal beings, (including birds, bugs, and plants) and hellish beings. Our aim should be the liberation and not the rebirth. To show how we can do this, the swastika reminds us that we should become the pillars of the four fold Jain Sangh, then only can we achieve liberation. The four pillars of the Jain Sangh are sädhus, sädhvis, shrävaks, and shrävikäs. This means that first, we should strive to be a true shrävaks or shrävikäs, and when we can overcome our social attachments, we should renounce the worldly life and follow the path of a sädhu or sädhvi to be liberated.
The most traditional form of the swastika's symbolization in Hinduism is that the symbol represents the purusharthas: dharma (that which makes a human a human), artha (wealth), kama (desire), and moksha (liberation). All four are needed for a full life. However, two (artha and kama) are limited and can give only limited joy. They are the two closed arms of the swastika. The other two are unlimited and are the open arms of the swastika.
The Mahabharata has the word in the sense of "the crossing of the arms or hands on the breast". Both the Mahabharata and the Ramayana also use the word in the sense of "a dish of a particular form" and "a kind of cake". The word does not occur in Vedic Sanskrit. 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.
Hindu child with head shaven and red Svastika painted on it. Upanayana is a very popular Hindu-tradition, a Samskara or Sanskar (consecration).
The Sanskrit term has been in use in English since 1871, replacing gammadion (from Greek γαμμάδιον). Alternative historical English spellings of the Sanskrit phonological words with different meanings to include suastika, swastica, and svastica.
Other names for the shape are:
crooked cross, hook cross or angled cross (Hebrew: צלב קרס, German: Hakenkreuz).
cross cramponned, ~nnée, or ~nny, in heraldry, as each arm resembles a Crampon or angle-iron (German: Winkelmaßkreuz).
fylfot, chiefly in heraldry and architecture. The term is coined in the 19th century based on a misunderstanding of a Renaissance manuscript.
gammadion, tetragammadion (Greek: τετραγαμμάδιον), or cross gammadion (Latin: crux gammata; French: croix gammée), as each arm resembles the Greek letter Γ (gamma).
tetraskelion (Greek: τετρασκέλιον), literally meaning "four legged", especially when composed of four conjoined legs (compare triskelion (Greek: τρισκέλιον)).
The Tibetan swastika (࿖) is known as g.yung drung
The Buddhist sign has been standardized as a Chinese character 卍 (pinyin: wàn) and as such entered various other East Asian languages such as Japanese where the symbol is called 卍字 (manji). The swastika is included as part of the Chinese script in the form of the character "萬" (pinyin: wàn) and has Unicode encodings U+534D 卍 (left-facing) and U+5350 卐 (right-facing); the latter has a mapping in the original Big5 character set, but the former does not (although it's in Big5+ ). In Unicode 5.2, four swastika symbols were added to the Tibetan block: U+0FD5 ࿕ (right-facing), U+0FD6 ࿖ (left-facing), U+0FD7 ࿗ (right-facing with dots) and U+0FD8 ࿘ (left-facing with dots).
Geometrically, the swastika can be regarded as an irregular icosagon or 20-sided polygon. The proportions of the Nazi swastika were fixed based on a 5 × 5 diagonal grid.
Characteristic is the 90° rotational symmetry and chirality, hence the absence of reflectional symmetry, and the existence of two versions of swastikas that are each other's mirror image.
A right-facing swastika might be described as "clockwise" or "counter-clockwise".
The mirror-image forms are often described as:
clockwise and anti-clockwise;
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 in modern times, which is confusing and may obfuscate an important point, that the rotation of the swastika may have symbolic relevance, although ancient vedic scripts describe the symbolic relevance of clock motion and counter clock motion. Less ambiguous terms might be "clockwise-pointing" and "counterclockwise-pointing."
Nazi ensigns had a through and through image, so both versions were present, one on each side, but the Nazi flag on land was right-facing on both sides and at a 45° and 90° angle.
The name "sauwastika" is sometimes given to the left-facing form of the swastika (卍).
Among the earliest cultures utilizing swastika is the neolithic Vinča culture of South-East Europe (see Vinča symbols). More extensive use of the Swastika can be traced to Ancient India, during the Indus Valley Civilization.
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 genesis of the swastika symbol is often treated in conjunction with cross symbols in general, such as the sun cross of pagan Bronze Age religion. Beyond its certain presence in the "proto-writing" symbol systems emerging in the Neolithic, nothing certain is known about the symbol's origin. There are nevertheless a number of speculative hypotheses. One hypothesis is that the cross symbols and the swastika share a common origin in simply symbolizing the sun. Another hypothesis is that the 4 arms of the cross represent 4 aspects of nature - the sun, wind, water, soil. Some have said the 4 arms of cross are four seasons, where the division for 90-degree sections correspond to the solstices and equinoxes. The Hindus represent it as the Universe in our own spiral galaxy in the fore finger of Lord Vishnu. This carries most significance in establishing the creation of the Universe and the arms as 'kal' or time, a calendar that is seen to be more advanced than the lunar calendar (symbolized by the lunar crescent common to Islam) where the seasons drift from calendar year to calendar year.
The luni-solar solution for correcting season drift was to intercalate an extra month in certain years to restore the lunar cycle to the solar-season cycle. The Star of David is thought to originate as a symbol of that calendar system, where the two overlapping triangles are seen to form a partition of 12 sections around the perimeter with a 13th section in the middle, representing the 12 and sometimes 13 months to a year. As such, the Christian cross, Jewish hexagram star and the Muslim crescent moon are seen to have their origins in different views regarding which calendar system is preferred for marking holy days. Groups in higher latitudes experience the seasons more strongly, offering more advantage to the calendar represented by the swastika/cross. (Note relation to the sun cross.)
Carl Sagan in his book Comet (1985) reproduces Han period Chinese manuscript (the Book of Silk, 2nd century BC) 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. Bob Kobres in Comets and the Bronze Age Collapse (1992) contends that the swastika like comet on the Han Dynasty silk comet atlas was labeled a "long tailed pheasant star" (Di-Xing) because of its resemblance to a bird's foot or track. Kobres goes on to suggest an association of mythological birds and comets also outside China.
In Life's Other Secret (1999), 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.
The Samarra bowl, at the Pergamonmuseum, Berlin. The swastika in the center of the design is a reconstruction.
The earliest swastika known has been found from Mezine, Ukraine. It is carved on late paleolithic figurine of mammoth ivory, being dated as early as about 10,000 BC. It has been suggested this swastika is a stylized picture of a stork in flight.
In India, Bronze Age swastika symbols were found at Lothal and Harappa, Pakistan on Indus Valley seals. In England, neolithic or Bronze Age stone carvings of the symbol have been found on Ilkley Moor.
Swastikas have also been found on pottery in archaeological digs in Africa, in the area of Kush and on pottery at the Jebel Barkal temples, in Iron Age designs of the northern Caucasus (Koban culture), and in Neolithic China in the Majiabang, Dawenkou and Xiaoheyan cultures. Other Iron Age attestations of the swastika can be associated with Indo-European cultures such as the Indo-Iranians, Celts, Greeks, Germanics and Slavs.
The swastika is also seen in Egypt during the Coptic period. Textile number T.231-1923 held at the V&A Museum in London includes small swastikas in its design. This piece was found at Qau-el-Kebir, near Asyut, and is dated between AD300-600.
The Tierwirbel (the German for "animal whorl" or "whirl of animals" ) is a characteristic motive in Bronze Age Central Asia, the Eurasian Steppe, and later also in Iron Age Scythian and European (Baltic and Germanic) culture, showing rotational symmetric arrangement of an animal motive, often four birds' heads. Even wider diffusion of this "Asiatic" theme has been proposed, to the Pacific and even North America (especially Moundville).
The swastika is also a motif used by certain African groups. One of the oldest recorded uses of the swastika is in the adinkra artwork of the Akan people in Ghana. Referred to as nkotimsefuopua The swastika was used in akan goldweights as early as 1400. In 1927, Scottish anthropologist Robert Sutherland Rattray noted servants in Ashanti Empire wearing the image on their dresses.
The swastika is a historical sacred symbol both to evoke 'Shakti' in tantric rituals and evoke the gods for blessings in Indian religions. It first appears in the archaeological record here around 2500 BC in the Indus Valley Civilization. It also appears in the Bronze and Iron Age cultures around the Black Sea and the Caspian Sea. 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. In the Zoroastrian religion of Persia, the swastika was a symbol of the revolving sun, infinity, or continuing creation. It 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 symbol was also introduced to Balinese Hinduism by Hindu kings. The use of the swastika by the Bön faith of Tibet, as well as later syncretic religions, such as Cao Dai of Vietnam and Falun Gong of China, can also be traced to Buddhist influence.
Jainism gives even more prominence to the swastika as a tantra than Hinduism does. It is a symbol of the seventh Tirthankara, Suparshvanath. In the Svetambara tradition, it is also one of the symbols of the ashtamangala. All derasars 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 in front of statues in a temple. Jains then put an offering on this swastika, usually a ripe or dried fruit, a sweet (Hindi: मिठाई, Miṭhāī), or a coin or currency note.
The swastika is recognized as a Hindu symbol in most parts of the world. In Hinduism, the swastika is at times in certain sects considered a symbolic representation of Ganesha. In Hindu rites, Ganesha is offered first offerings in every pooja. The swastika is made with Sindoor during Hindu religious rites.
Among the Hindus of Bengal, it is common to see the name "swastika" (Bengali: স্বস্তিক shostik) 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. Right-facing swastika in the decorative Hindu form is used to evoke "shakti".
Buddhism originated in the 5th century BC and spread throughout the Indian subcontinent in the 3rd century BC (Maurya Empire). Known as a "yungdrung" in ancient Tibet, it was a graphical representation of eternity.
East Asian traditions
The paired swastika symbols are included, at least since the Liao Dynasty, as part of the Chinese writing system (卍 and 卐) and are variant characters for 萬 or 万 (wàn in Mandarin, man in Korean, Cantonese and Japanese, vạn in Vietnamese) meaning "all" or "eternity" (lit. myriad). The swastika marks the beginning of many Buddhist scriptures. In East Asian countries, the left-facing character is often used as symbol for Buddhism and marks the site of a Buddhist temple on maps.
In Chinese and Japanese the swastika is also a homonym of the number 10,000, and is commonly used to represent the whole of Creation, e.g. 'the myriad things' in the Dao De Jing. During the Chinese Tang Dynasty, Empress Wu Zetian (684-704) decreed that the swastika would also be used as an alternative symbol of the Sun.
Hachisuka family crest is called Hachisuka Manji (蜂須賀卍?).
In Japan, the swastika is called manji. Since the Middle Ages, it has been used as a coat of arms by various Japanese families such as Tsugaru clan, Hachisuka clan or around 60 clans that belong to Tokugawa clan. 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 to as the gyaku manji (逆卍, lit. "reverse manji") or migi manji (右卍, lit. "right 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.
As a pottery graph of unknown provision and meaning the swastka-like sign is known in Chinese Neolithic culture (2400-2000 BCE, Liu wan 柳湾, Qinghai province).
In Armenia swastika is called "vardan", "arevakhach" and "ker khach" and is the ancient symbol of eternal light (i.e. God). Swastikas in Armenia were founded on petroglyphs. Among the oldest petroglyphs is the seventh letter of the Armenian alphabet - "E" (which means "is" or "to be") - depicted as half-swastika.
The swastika mark on the tower of Armenian fortress Ani (10th century AD)
Swastikas can also be seen on early Medieval churches and fortresses, including the principal tower in Armenia's historical capital city of Ani. The same symbol can be found on Armenian carpets, cross-stones (khachkar) and in medieval manuscripts.
In Iran, a golden necklace of three swastikas found in Marlik, Gilan province Iran, dates back to first millennium BC. There is a Swastika on the hip of a lion in the Golden cup of Hasanlu (1200 BC) and the Golden Cup of Kelardasht
In the South Ural Mountains the swastika motif is found in archaeological barrows associated with an early Metal Age culture known as Bashkir.
In Bronze Age Europe, the "Sun cross" (a three- or four-armed hooked cross in a circle) appears frequently, often interpreted as a solar symbol. Swastika shapes have been found on numerous artifacts from Iron Age Europe (Armenian Arevakhach), Greco-Roman, Illyrian, Etruscan, Baltic, Celtic, Germanic, Slavic and Georgian Borjgali). This prehistoric use seems to be reflected in the appearance of the symbol in various folk cultures of Europe.
Bronze Age Mycenaean "doll" with human, solar and tetragammadion (swastika) symbols. Louvre Museum
Greek helmet with swastika marks on the top part (circled), 350-325 BC from Taranto, found at Herculanum. Cabinet des Médailles, Paris.
Two sauwastikas (opposite-facing swastikas) on an ancient Greek Kantharos, Attica, ca. 780 BC.
Etruscan pendant with swastika symbols, Bolsena, Italy, 700-650 BC. Louvre Museum
Ancient Greek architectural, clothing and coin designs are replete with single or interlinking swastika motifs. There are also found gold plate fibulae from the 8th century BC decorated with an engraved swastika. 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, or rather the tetra-gammadion. The name gammadion comes from the fact that it can be seen as being made up of four Greek gamma (Γ) letters. Ancient Greek priestesses would tattoo the symbol, along with the tetraskelion, on their bodies. Ancient Greek architectural designs are replete with the interlinking symbol.
In alchemy, the gammadion was used to symbolise the four cardinal corners of the world and the guardianship of this world.
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. There have also been swastikas found on the floors of Pompeii.
The bronze frontspiece of a ritual pre-Christian (c. 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, Ireland (CIIC 141) was modified into an early Christian gravestone, and was decorated with a cross pattée and two swastikas. The Book of Kells (ca. 800) contains swastika-shaped ornamentation. 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. The figure in the foreground of the picture is a 20th century replica; the original carving can be seen a little farther away, at left of center.
Germanic Iron Age
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, today in Belarus, the 9th century Snoldelev Stone from Ramsø, Denmark, and numerous Migration Period bracteates drawn left-facing or right-facing.
A comb with a swastika found in Nydam Mose, Denmark.
Swastika symbols on the Church of Christ Pantocrator (13th-14th century) in Nesebar.
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 6th 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 cross. 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. The runic inscription on the 8th-century Sæbø sword has been taken as evidence of the swastika as a symbol of Thor in Norse paganism.
Swastika was wide spread among the Illyrians, symbolizing the Sun. The Sun cult was the main Illyrian cult, and the Sun was represented by a swastika in clockwise motion, and it stood for the movement of the Sun.
The swastika is one of the most common symbols used throughout Baltic art. In Latvian 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 and justice. It was also occasionally related to the Sun, as well as Dievs (the god of creation), Laima (the goddess of destiny and fate). It was believed that the god of Thunder (Pērkons) was the only god which was feared by the devil. The swastika is featured on many distaffs, dowry chests, cloths and other artisanal items.
Currently, Slavic neo-pagans and neo-Nazis frequently use the standard and eight-pointed ("kolovrat") swastika. They believe that swastika and kolovrat are ancient Slavic pagan symbols.
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 Sami 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.
Medieval and early modern Europe
A ceiling painted with small swastikas in Grenoble Archaeological Museum
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 ceiling painted in 1910 in the church of St Laurent in Grenoble has many swastikas. It can be visited today because the church became the archaeological museum of the city. 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 13th century, 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.
A swastika composed of Hebrew letters as a mystical symbol from the Jewish Kabbalistic work "Parashat Eliezer."
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. 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.
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 medieval European Jewish 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.
Early 20th century Europe
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, whose proto-language was not incidentally termed "Proto-Germanisch" by German language historians. 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 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.
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 Danish brewery company Carlsberg Group used the swastika as a logo from the 19th Century until the middle of the 1930s when it was discontinued because of association with the Nazi Party in neighbouring Germany. However, the swastika carved on elephants at the entrance gates of the company's headquarters in Copenhagen in 1901 can still be seen today.
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.
In Finland the swastika was often used in traditional folk art products, as a decoration or magical symbol on textiles and wood. The swastika was also used by the Finnish Air Force until 1945, but is still used in air force flags.
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 authenticity on products made there. Traditional textiles are still being made with swastikas as parts of traditional ornaments.
The insignia of the Finnish Air force 1918–1945
Swedish-origin swastika in military
The Finnish Air Force uses the swastika as an emblem, introduced in 1918. The type of swastika adopted by the air-force was the symbol of luck for the Swedish count Eric von Rosen, who later became a prominent figure in the Swedish nazi-movement.
Present-day flag (from 1958) and its pole of the Training Air Wing with three swastikas
The swastika was also used by the women's paramilitary organization Lotta Svärd, which was banned in 1944 in accordance with the Moscow Armistice between Finland and the allied Soviet Union and Britain.
The President of Finland is the grand master of the Order of the White Rose. According to the protocol, the president shall wear the Grand Cross of the White Rose with collar on formal occasions. The original design of the collar, decorated with 9 swastikas, dates from 1918, and was designed by the artist Akseli Gallen-Kallela. The Grand Cross with the swastika collar has been awarded 41 times to foreign heads of state. To avoid misunderstandings, the swastika decorations were replaced by fir crosses at the decision of president Urho Kekkonen in 1963 after it became known that the President of France Charles De Gaulle was uncomfortable with the swastika collar.
Also a design by Gallen-Kallela from 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 standard of the President of Finland.
In December 2007, a silver replica of the WWII period Finnish air defence's relief ring decorated with a 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 defence's relief ring, made of iron.
Latvia adopted the swastika, called the Ugunskrusts ("fire cross"), for its air force in 1918/1919 and continued its use until 1940. The cross itself was maroon on a white background, mirroring the colors of the Latvian flag. Earlier versions pointed counter-clockwise, while later versions pointed clock-wise and eliminated the white background.
The swastika motif was used by some Native American groups. It has been found in excavations of Mississippian-era sites in the Ohio and Mississippi River valleys. It is frequently used as a motif on objects associated with the Southeastern Ceremonial Complex (S.E.C.C.). It was also 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. 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 in 1930 they assumed autonomy. 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.
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.
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.
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 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, effecting life" (das Symbol des schaffenden, wirkenden Lebens) and as "race emblem of Germanism" (Rasseabzeichen des Germanentums).
The use of the swastika was incorporated 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. The concept of racial purity was an ideology central to Nazism, though it is now considered unscientific. For Alfred 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, and usually using a design based on a 25-small-square subdivided square template (width of "strokes" in each of its arms, equalling the width of the space between the strokes);
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.
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).
Post-WW II stigmatization
Because of its use by Nazi Germany, the swastika since the 1930s has been largely associated with Nazism and white supremacy in most 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.
The German and Austrian postwar criminal code makes the public showing of the Hakenkreuz (the swastika), the SS-Rune (also called Sigrune), the Celtic cross (the variations used by the White-Power-Activists), the wolfsrune, the odalrune and the SS-Skull (which was used by the so-called SS-Totenkopfdivision) illegal, except for scholarly reasons (and - in the case of the odalrune - as the insignia of the rank of sergeant major, Hauptfeldwebel, in the modern German Bundeswehr). 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, Buddhist, 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) holding that the crossed-out symbols were "clearly directed against a revival of national-socialist endeavors", thereby settling the dispute for the future.
Legislation in other European countries
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. 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.
In Lithuania public display of Nazi and Soviet symbols, including swastika, is an administrative offence, punishable by fine from 500 to 1000 Lithuanian litas.
In Poland, public display of Nazi symbols, including the Nazi swastika, is a criminal offence punishable by up to eight years of imprisonment.
Attempt to ban in the 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.
The manufacture, distribution or broadcasting of the swastika, 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 flag of the Kuna Yala autonomous territory of Panama is based on a swastika design. In 1942 a ring was added to the centre of the flag to differentiate it from the symbol of the Nazi party (this version subsequently fell into disuse).
In 2010, Microsoft officially spoke out against the use of the swastika in the first-person shooter Call of Duty: Black Ops. In Black Ops, players are allowed to customize their name tags to represent, essentially, whatever they want. The swastika can be created and used, but Stephen Toulouse, director of Xbox Live policy and enforcement, stated that players with the symbol on their name tag will be banned (if someone reports as inappropriate) from Xbox Live.
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 Constantin 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.
Controversies over Asian products
In recent years, controversy has occurred when consumer goods bearing the symbol have been exported 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 Buddhist Manji symbol which resembles a mirror reversed Nazi swastika. It 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 red 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 withdrew 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
In South Asia, the swastika is 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. Swastika continues to be prominently used in Hindus religious ceremonies and temples, and is recognised as a Hindu religious symbol.In Hindu auspicious rituals that were used to evoke the 'Shakti' in tantric rituals.
In India Swastik (Swasthik) is a commonly used name for persons, especially among Jain communities.
In East Asian countries such as Taiwan, Japan, Hong Kong, Korea and China itself, the symbol is most commonly associated with Buddhism. They could be commonly found in Buddhist temples, religious artifacts, texts related to Buddhism and schools founded by Buddhist religious groups.
The Red Swastika Society, a syncretic religious group that aspires to unify Taoism, Confucianism, and Buddhism, currently runs two schools in Hong Kong (Hong Kong Red Swastika Society Tai Po Secondary School and Hong Kong Red Swastika Society Tuen Mun Primary School) and one in Singapore (Red Swastika School). All of them incorporated the Swastika in their school logo to signify the society's aspiration with philanthropy and moral education.
The swastika is also used in maps to denote a temple. For example, the symbol is designated by the Survey Act and related Japanese governmental rules to denote a Buddhist temple on Japanese maps.
Hirosaki City in Aomori Prefecture designates this symbol as its official flag, which stemmed from its use in the emblem of Tsugaru clan, the lord of Hirosaki Domain in Edo era. See also the section East Asian traditions in this article.
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
Besides the use as a religious symbol in Buddhism, Hinduism and Jainism, which can be traced to pre-modern traditions, the swastika is also used by a number of new religious movements established in the modern period.
The Theosophical Society uses a swastika as part of its seal, along with an Om, a hexagram or 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.
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.
The Odinic Rite claims the fylfot as a holy symbol of Odinism, citing the pre-Christian Germanic use of the symbol.