Friday, 2 December 2016

The Archaic Origin of the Swastika Symbol [with Photos]




Several years ago I came to learn about the fascinating origin of the swastika. I wrote an article about it which was published on Conscious Life News. It received a few interesting comments from readers, leading me to edit and review some of the information.

Time has passed until last week when I decided to take another look at the piece — there was a trigger, a new article perhaps. I was instantly reminded by how the topic is still captivating, so I dug deeper. As usual, the more you learn, the more things get interesting. The following is a revamped version with more history and photos. This time exclusively published on One Lucky Soul.


Back When Tigers Used To Smoke...

The swastika is a widely-recognised iconic symbol. The Nazis used it everywhere as they slaughtered millions of people, thus for many it became associated with evil, death, racism, and genocide. But what some of you may not know is that for millennia before the Nazis, the logo has had a long, rich history. The swastika was used by many different cultures around the world and, in fact, it had positive meanings such as benevolence, prosperity, luck, and good fortune. There is nothing original about Hitler’s use to it simply because he hijacked it as we are about to see.

From mystic rune to fascist emblem, this is the story of one of history’s most universal and often misunderstood symbols.


We know from clay pottery, coins, pendants, seals, temple walls, and architectural ornaments among other archeological finds from many locations across the globe that the swastika has been around for over several thousand years. This powerful archaic sign is one of the oldest known to mankind as it predates the legendary Ancient Egyptian Ankh, tracing back to prehistoric times. The findings reveal that the shape began to appear at least 7000 years ago.

Some of the earliest known cultures to use the swastika are the Old Europe’s Neolithic Civilisations located by The Danube River Valley: Cucuteni-Trypillian culture and Vinča culture; the latter are also known as the Turdaș or Turdaș-Vinča culture who lived in mainly what corresponds to modern-day Serbia, as well as parts of Romania, Croatia, Bulgaria, Bosnia, Montenegro, Macedonia, and Greece. 



The many variables of the hooked cross symbol, however, only became more visibly widespread across Europe a tad later during the Bronze Age (3300 BC - 2100 BC), then following into the Iron Age. It is found in excavated artifacts belonging to Greco-Roman, The Gauls, Etruscans, Illyrians, Balts, Celtics, Hittites, Germanic, and Slavs. The Georgian symbol of the Sun, the Borjgali, is another version of the swastika. It was equally used by Phoenicians priestesses as a sacred emblem of the Sun.

From vessels in the ancient city of Troy to Roman catacombs and graves, the swastika made an appearance almost everywhere.


Top left: An Iranian necklace excavated from Kalunaz, Guilan, first millennium B.C.; Center: Ancient Roman
tile design; Right: Pre-Christian Polish symbol of Slavic deity Svarog; Bottom left: Hindu Children light lamps
in the shape of a swastika on the Diwali. Center: Ancient Buddhist temple in Korea; Right: 1920 Arizona
highway marker.






During the following thousand years, the shape of the swastika spread through a multitude of the worlds civilisations. Either as a geometrical figure or as a religious insignia, it occurred in China, Japan, Tibet, Mongolia, India, Bulgaria, and across the ancient Mediterranean world. It was known to Native Americans like the Hopi clans and the Navajo; as it can be found on Aztec pottery, Mayan sculpture, Incan edifices, and paintings by the Zuni — for whom it symbolised “the cosmic frame of all things”. For the Akan civilization of southwest Africa it was a solar symbol. 

In actuality, there is a town in northern Ontario, Canada today named Swastika. 
Until the early 20th century, it also used to be the name of hockey teams in Nova Scotia, British Columbia, and Alberta (photos below).

Understandably, all these many variations of the emblem were called differently around the world. 

The word ‘swastika’ as we know it originally comes from the Sanskrit svastika, meaning well-being – ‘su’ meaning good, ‘asti’ meaning to be or being, and ‘ka’ as a suffix. It literally translates into: To be well; a state of well-being and auspiciousness. 



In Hinduism, then Buddhism, Jainism, and Odinism the swastika is a prominent sacred spiritual symbol for auspiciousness. It is used on daily basis, in festivals, ceremonies, as it occurs in art and designs in temples, altars, pictures, and iconography. A reason why it was believed by some that it has originated from India. Perhaps also because the word we use in English is of Sanskrit origin, so this is an additional link to the East. 



In China the symbol is known as Wan; England: Fylfot; Germany: Hakenkreuz; Greece: Tetraskelion and Gammadion, the Romans called it Crux Hamus (hooked cross). More names include The Fylfot Cross, the Hermetic Cross, Hammer of Thor.
 Sun Wheel, Hooked Cross
Dutch: Hakenkruis, Icelandic: Hakakross, Finnish: Hakaristi, Norwegian: Hakekors, Swedish: Hakkors, and Croce Uncinata in Italian.


Hindu child with head shaven and red Swastika painted on it as part of his
Upanayana ceremony

The oldest identified swastika pattern in the world so far predated its usage in India and was discovered in 1908 at the Palaeolithic settlement of Mezin, Ukraine near the Russian border. It was a Late Paleolithic figurine of a female water bird made from the ivory tusk of a mammoth engraved on it intricate patterns of joined-up swastikas. The discovery has been radio carbon-dated to a staggering 10 to 12,000 years ago and has changed what we know about the history and origin of that archaic symbol.

Interestingly, the bird which is exhibited at the Kiev where the National Museum of the History of Ukraine was found with a number of phallic objects, supporting the idea that, apart from the likelihood of being related to astrology, it may have been used as a fertility symbol. More about the discovery can be found on this 2014 BBC article.

 Swastikas engraved on the torso of the bird found in Mezin

Such findings, among others, show that the swastika is much older than previously thought and that it has moved from Europe towards the Indus Valley civilisation and not the other way round as it is generally assumed. However, due to the thousands of years, its true origin and meaning remain mysterious. Knowing that it was used in different contexts, we still have no clear idea how it was interpreted back then.

Based on the many ancient artifacts which have survived, one theory is that it was a solar symbol. Another is that it was related to fertility. Other instances show that it later it took more of a sacred and mystical meaning. Touching on both religion and mythology, it is similar to how the Egyptian Ankh was a logo to conception, as well as life and health. More speculations proposed that it is an archetype for the rotations of time and consciousness.

But perhaps the theory which had bewitched me the most came from the cosmologist and astrophysicist Carl Sagan in his 1985 book, Comet. He suggested that at some point in history a comet approached so close to Earth that the jets of gas streaming out of it, bent by the comet’s rotation, were visible to humans. Reproducing an ancient Chinese manuscript from 2nd century BC, The Book of Silk, Sagan includes a variety of images of comet tails; one of which shows the comet nucleus with four bent arms extending from it, forming a swastika.



Cometary jets with cross shape and with swastika shape.
(Drawing by Sagan and Druyan, 1985)

Considering how early man was fascinated and inspired by anything coming from the sky, this may very well be how it all began: A symbol of God, or Being, or of thecosmic frame of all things”. And from then on, it was picked up by the collective unconscious and that is why we find it all over, literally.

Regardless of the true origin, and as we have seen herein, until the Nazis hijacked the sign it had already been known throughout the whole world much earlier in human history. Ironically, it had always represented life, sun, power, strength, and good luck.

Even until the early twentieth century, the swastika symbol had positive connotations. It was, in fact, a common decoration which adorned cigarette cases, postcards, coins, and buildings. As recent as during World War I and up until after World War II, the swastika could be found on the shoulder patches of the American 45th Division and the Finnish Air Force, as well as an insignia for the Boy Scout of Britain and in other countries around 1911. It was also used by Coca Cola and Carlsberg, simply because it was a positive emblem.  



In ancient times, the direction of the swastika was mostly interchangeable as seen on Chinese silk drawing. Some cultures had differentiated between the clockwise swastika and the counter-clockwise sauvastika. For them, the swastika symbolised health and life, while the sauvastika took on a mystical meaning of bad-luck or misfortune. Traditionally, however, there seems to be no real difference between the directions. 

Now that the we know the old, enchanting history of the swastika, let us shed some light on what happened much later with Hitler and the Nazis.

The entry of the colours or Swastikas at the German National Socialist Party Day at Nuremberg

In the 1800s, countries around Germany were growing considerably larger and forming empires. Yet Germany was not a unified country until 1871. So to counter the feeling of vulnerability and the stigma of youth, German nationalists of the mid-nineteenth century began using the swastika. The reason being was that they believed it had ancient Aryan/Indian origins, which represented a long Germanic/Aryan history. The reality, however, is that the Sanskrit word Arya’ means supreme and pure — denoting a class of people. To suit their needs, the Nazis just twisted it to mean “supreme race” and identified themselves with it.

By the end of the 1800s, the swastika could be seen on nationalist German Volkisch periodicals and became the official emblem of the German Gymnasts’ League. With the beginning of the twentieth century, it symbolised German nationalism and was adopted by the Thule Society and the a German youth movement, Wandervogel; as well as by Joerg Lanz von Liebenfels’ antisemitic periodical Ostara in addition to various other Freikorps units.

In 1920, Adolf Hitler decided that the Nazi Party needed its own insignia and flag. For wicked Hitler who believed in the immense power of propaganda, the new flag had to be “a symbol of our own struggle” as well as “highly effective as a poster”.

As such, on August 7, 1920 at the Salzburg Congress the red flag with a white circle and black right-facing, rotated swastika became the official emblem of the Nazi Party. In order to boost a sense of ancient lineage for the Germanic people, it then came to be appropriated as an icon for “Aryan identity” and “nationalist pride”.



In Mein Kampf, Hitler described the Nazis’ new flag: “In red we see the social idea of the movement, in white the nationalistic idea, in the swastika the mission of the struggle for the victory of the Aryan man, and, by the same token, the victory of the idea of creative work, which as such always has been and always will be anti-Semitic.”

Left: Gold arched buckle from Anavyssos, Attica.Ca 800 BC.
Athens, National Archaeological Museum, Jewelry Collection; Right: Greek vase from Metropolitan
Museum Athens (both sent to me by a reader of the initial article)




Unfortunately, the Nazis were so effective at their own misuse of the swastika, that many people are not even aware of any other meaning. The Reich were also the last to adopt it, which makes it a recent memory for those who lived these gruesome days and are still alive to remember them. Naturally, these conflicting meanings are causing a certain degree of misunderstanding.

The controversial confusion is why some people today are trying to restore the ancient meaning of the swastika and change its notorious reputation by differentiating between the two variations; clockwise like the Nazis evoking hate and death, while the counter-clockwise version would hold the positive archaic astrotheological meaning. Though, again, there is no evidence to support that the left-facing symbol ever meant evil. Hindus, for instance, use both orientations for the sake of balance.


Happy postcard from 1907 America
As we have seen, what was a symbol of life, light, and good luck for thousands of years throughout countless of cultures across our pale Blue Dot became synonymous with hate, antisemitism, violence, suppression, death, and murder. Because a man and his ruthless regime vilified it for a mere two decades. A reason why modern usage of the Swastika is often met with controversy and prejudice.

The reality is that it holds so much negative connotations that it was banned in Germany, Poland, Austria, France, and Israel. Still, today’s Hindus, Buddhists, and Jains who use the symbol are often met with challenges which are based on lack of understanding of how holy this religious symbol is to them.
 

The story of the Swastika serves as a reminder that in the ever-changing world we’re living in, a single icon can indeed have two seemingly contradictory meanings. A further reminder that the true significance of man-made symbols, which what words and language essentially are, lie in how we interpret them as well as how they are used — their context. That, of course, after first learning about their origin. Hopefully, the true meaning of the symbol can be seen in a different light.




And now you know. Enjoy the rest of the photos, each tells its own story. 


Left: The remains of the Moche-Sican mud-brick pyramid in Lambayeque
Right: The swastika-adorned pottery vessel found in the pyramid

Top left: Swastika Lyon France, Ancient Gaul, roman mosaic; Top right: Roman mosaic
with swastika, Archaeological National Museum, Taranto, Apulia, Italy
Bottom Left: Villa
Romana de Tejada in village of Quintanilla de la Cueza in the province of Palencia, Spain 
Botton right: Roman Mosaic in Cyprus

Etruscan pendant with swastika symbols, Bolsena, Italy, 700-650 BC — Louvre
Swastika seals from the Indus Valley Civilization preserved at the British Museum
Carved fretwork forming a swastika in the window of a Lalibela Rock-Hewn
church in Ethiopia

Swastika on a Greek silver stater coin from Corinth, 6th century BC
Swastika on Saisen box in Sensō Buddhist Temple in Asakusa, Taitō,
Tokyo — Japan
Swastika on the doorstep of an apartment in Maharashtra, India
Swastikas inscribed at a Kshetrapala shrine at Hanumantal Bada Jain
Mandir at Jabalpur
Flag of the Finnish Air Force Academy

Flag of the Finnish Utti Jaeger Regiment
The Elephant Gate at Carlsberg in Copenhagen, Denmark
The Samarra bowl, at the Pergamon Museum, Berlin. The swastika in the center
of the design is a reconstruction.
Fernie Swastikas hockey team of British Columbia, 1922
Native American, Chilocco Indian Agricultural School basketball team of
Oklahoma, 1909. So who’s the kid?
Swastika ad, 1926 newspaper from Tucson, Arizona

Cast Iron Puller with Swastika Molded in on Top

The Windsor Swastikas men hockey team


Sources:













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