The Swastika

Heraklion Archaeological Museum, Swastika on a
Heraklion Archaeological Museum, Swastika on a ceramic bowl

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It is a great irony in World History. That a symbol of peace and well-wishes should signify hate and encapsulate the pain of WWII. The Swastika has an ancient history as a symbol of peace used around the world. To my students, this is new news. They’ve only known the slanted, perverted Swastika. They did not know its Sanskrit origins dated 5,000 years before Christ, was founded in Hinduism, and sprouted from India and Iran. Indo-Aryans migrated taking their chariots with them (1800 BCE) and spread language, artifacts, and the symbol of peace, the Swastika. Read more about it at the Holocaust Museum.

I’ve never felt its presence more than last summer when in Crete, I visited the Heraklion Museum and found the Swastika on the side of Minoan pottery (picture above). It coincided with research I’d been doing on Hopi and Navajo Indians, specifically how they crafted their beautiful rugs. I stumbled upon Gary David’s article “The Four Arms of Destiny: Swastikas in the Hopi World” and enjoyed how he explained the ubiquitous presence of the Swastika. It is fascinating and found here:  swastikas_hopi_gary_david.

swastika-symbol-navajo-woven-blanket
Navajo blanket

The Hopi and the Navajo American Indians are celebrated for their craftsmanship of making rugs and blankets. Throughout Arizona there are trading posts and gallery showrooms where their art is auctioned. Want to learn more about the weaving history or the Hopi and Navajo? I enjoyed this 2012 article by Ojibwa from Native American Netroots. When I explore antique shops, it is not surprising to find Hopi and Navajo rugs for sale, ranging from $100-2,000 dollars. I have seen rugs with the swastika woven in them. While theorists and historians speculate the global presence of the swastika, I am saving up to purchase a Hopi rug that has the peace symbol woven in it. I’d like to reclaim the swastika, set it up straight, and share well wishes to those who enter my door.

swastika_azroadsigns

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37 thoughts on “The Swastika

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    1. I know! And all around the world. When I moved to Arizona, I saw its influence in Native American culture and wondered, “What the heck is this all about?” Europe, yes, but why over here in the Western hemisphere? Fascinating.

  1. A great tribute to an ancient device that was hijacked by extremists, and is now associated by many only with hate.
    We have a similar situation with our (not-as-old) St George’s Flag in England, and then there is the (even more modern) Confederate flag, also rarely associated with history, but instead the politics of division and race.
    Articles like this can only serve to help and to educate, to make younger (and some older) people realise the origins of ‘kidnapped’ symbols, and one day hopefully return them to their original meanings.
    Good work, Cindy.
    Best wishes, Pete.

    1. Pete, kind words indeed! I’m very happy you enjoyed the post. I can’t say I know about the St. George flag and its connotations, although I gather it’s hatred of it stems from colonialism. With regard to the rebel flag, it’s a hot topic, for sure.

  2. I believe I saw one of those fact or fiction things that revealed that a couple of those symbols assigned to the Ku Klux Klan were actually derived from the silent “Birth Of A Nation”. Like the St. George’s cross. I’d be careful about displaying symbols that really are historically controversial (especially the swastika). You risk tweaking the emotions of others who might feel the need to get physical. Not worth the risk just to promote some higher intellectual venue, especially if it’s “just” an art form. Leave it indoors.
    (On the other hand… now that the prez-elect has seemed to have conjured up the emotions of the radical right, intentionally or not, the swastika might end up being in vogue again.)

    1. Welcome back, Doug. I admired the picture of the sports teams–I seem to veer toward geometric patterns and find the black and white uniform beautiful. Then I imagined myself wearing it today and people looking at me and scouring. The same for the blanket–it would be indoors hung on a wall, and make me happy to explain the real meaning behind it to those who didn’t know. The far-left and the far-right enjoy squawking. I ignore both sides.

  3. A lot of the Nazi swastikas do not have uniform width on the inner sections of the arms. Thought up by Goebbels to make it look more dynamic. It’s isn’t all of them, but it is there. How many Nazi rallies have I watched on TV and never noticed that! Originally, the swastika is supposedly a sun symbol with the arms representing the motion across the sky. Adolf got it from the Thule Society who were using it back in WW1 time.

  4. how intersting Cindy, if i ever knew that ive foroetten it. all i know is since the election that particular sign has shown up in some strange places, so i hope it takes you awhile to save up for that rug, even though you know the good history. other people might think it perculiar ..at this particular time ???i guess all goods things get highjacked eventually. thanks for all of the info,i enjoyed reading it. have a great week end

  5. The symbol is known as “manji” in Japan and it is a buddhist symbol. When we went to Tokyo, my wife ws surprised to see it at a temple! It is certainly disconcerting to see this offensive symbol at temples, and sad that the symbol has been perverted into such an offensive sign

    1. Cool story. I was shocked to see it on Asian temples, too. Pictures only. It’s great you two saw it up close and personal. That’s how I felt in Greece, inches from the Minoan pottery.

    1. I agree! I just read your article about happiness or the lack thereof. Very accurate. I especially enjoyed the reason why we are unhappy because we are an unfinished story. We live out our personal narratives and can’t help but turn a corner and create new chapters. It’s always been about the journey and not the destination, hasn’t it? 🙂

  6. Great post. The Nazis used Swastika as an Aryan symbol, a part of their philosophy, and probably had no idea that this symbol was widely used by most of cultures. Nazi Swastika is illegal in some countries. Fair enough. Any other Swastika is only a religious and cultural symbol, as it was thousands years before Hitler.

    1. Great question! There is a lot of history behind it. Whether it turns left or right depends on the religion or society. For example, Buddhists use the left-facing direction. I found this article which claims the significance of the Ethiopian swastika in part had to do with currency since it was used as a gold weight. https://selfuni.wordpress.com/2014/12/11/afrikan-swastika/

      With regards to the Israeli symbol, I’d have to go investigating. I did find this site which looked interesting.
      http://www.proswastika.org/index.php

      Thanks, Fraggle for your comment.

  7. There is a building in the town we live in now that has Swastikas within its decorative facade that pre-date the Nazi use of them. They are small and subtle but they are there. It’s such a pity that such an old symbol has been hijacked.

  8. Hi, Cindy:

    A brief history of this symbol was offered in the 1979 Peter Bagdonovich film, “St. Jack”. A Buddhist symbol for auspiciousness.

  9. Beautifully researched Cindy!! Hitler sure ruined it for the world. Buddhists even here in SL, use the swastika, but they speak of it as being a symbol of superiority of the Buddhist religion (which is definitely NOT what it is, as I’ve stated before, this country is full of Hitler mentality, someway or the other).
    Am glad you are going to buy this Hopi rug with the symbol of peace, and set the record straight. I would too someday, if I can!! 🙂

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