There are few symbols in history that bring out as much emotion as the swastika. Forever tied to one of the darkest times in human history the swastika for many stands as a symbol of hate. However, this symbol’s past goes back farther than the Nazi party it has more recently been attached to; since 10,000 BC, the swastika has been used in Hindu, Buddhist, Native American, ancient Iranian, Greek, Chinese, Japanese, and countless other cultures and religions throughout recorded history. In part two of the three-part series on the history of symbols we explore the origins and uses of the swastika throughout the world.
A Forgotten Meaning
Even after sixty-two years since the end of World War II the swastika is seen as a symbol of hate and racism. From the young to the old this symbol has been defined and will most likely remain defined in this manner for a long time to come. The word swastika is derived from the Sanskrit svastika meaning any lucky or auspicious object. Composed of su- meaning “good or well” and asti, a verbal abstract to the root such as “to be” the suffix –ka intensifies the verbal meaning of beneficial which can be translated to “that which is associated with well-being” what one would consider a lucky charm.
Origins of Light
Long before times of modern history, the swastika has been and still is a part of many religions and cultures throughout the world. In Hinduism the two symbols that create the swastika represent the forms of the creator god Brahma. It is considered extremely holy and auspicious by all Hindus and can be found in many places and items associated with Hindu culture including clothing, buildings and letterheads.
In Buddhism the symbol has been used in art and scripture since the 5th century BC. Known in Japanese as a manji, it represents Dharma, universal harmony and the balance of opposites. Jainism considers the swastika one of the twenty-four auspicious marks and the emblem of the seventh arhat of the present age. It is a symbol of the seventh Jina (Saint) and 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.
The symbol is also used by many other religions throughout the world, in some cases the symbol has been replaced or abandoned altogether. Many religions that are no longer practiced used the swastika as a symbol of balance or harmony and believed it brought good luck. Still today the symbol remains part of many religions despite the more mainstream views of its meaning.
Redefined in Darkness
As a symbol of Nazism the swastika or hooked cross was used on the Nazi Party’s flags, badges and armbands from as far back as 1920. Combined with the colors found on the flag of the old German Empire, Hitler believed the swastika represented the mission of the struggle for the victory of the Aryan man. The use of the swastika was associated by Nazi theorists with their conjecture of Aryan cultural descent of the German people.
The Nazis claimed that the early Aryans of India were the prototypical invaders. Following the Nordicist versions of Aryan invasion theory it was widely believed that the Indian caste system which believed in the ranking of members in a society by occupational status and degree of purity or pollution as determined by their birth, they believed was the basis concept for racial purity and cause to avoid racial mixing.
With the Nazis belief in racial superiority and their anti-Semitic views the use of the swastika became a symbol of the goal to create a world where their view of a master race would be dominant. Because of its use during world war two and being associated with the holocaust, the swastika is prohibited from being show in Germany considered illegal and punishable except for scholarly reasons.
Adaption’s and Influences
While banned in Germany except for education purposes the swastika or images of the like are still used today in various forms of media influenced by the events surrounded the symbols use by the Nazi Party during World War II. One such adaptation of the symbol can be found during the 1983 mini-series V. The story surrounded an alien race disguised as humans who planned to steal all of earth’s water and harvest human beings as food. The red and black uniforms and the swastika-like emblem was a Nazi allegory.
The symbol has also been used in animation in its traditional and redesigned shapes usually as a mark of shame or servitude or as a seal locking away a good or evil presence within a human being. Most of the western uses of the swastika are to reinforce its redefinition as a symbol of hate. Beyond that there are many hate groups active today who use the symbol in the Nazi interpretation of racial supremacy.
A Global Symbol
Darkness or light, oppression or well-being, saints or sinners the swastika is a symbol known throughout the world in many different ways. Revered in many cultures by millions, despised by millions in others, it is one of the most widely know symbols on earth. Another symbol shares a sometimes reverse reception in the modern world. While it is wildly accepted that most in the western world look upon the swastika in a negative light, the cross is looked upon mostly in the positive. This however can also be debated with some segments of the global population.