Swastika – Origin Story, History & Meanings

Worldhistoryedu.com provides an interesting look into the various meanings of the swastika – a symbol which goes way beyond the bad reputation brought on it by Nazi German during WWII. Thus the article captures the origin story and meaning of an ancient symbol found in almost every major civilization of the past.

Brief History of the Swastika

Swastika

Swastika meaning and origin story | (from left to right):  left-turning swastika and the right-turning swastika

Also known as fylfot or svastika, the swastika is a general name given to any symbol with four angles or four arms crossed at right angle. The arms in the symbol are either right-facing (clockwise) or left-turning (counterclockwise) or both. The left-turning swastika is usually called sauwastika, and it is usually used in some Buddhist sects. The right-turning swastika on the other hand is generally used by Hindus, Jains and Sri Lankan Buddhists. 

The swastika symbol has featured in countless ancient civilizations either as a religious symbol or an ethnic decorative symbol. Many of those cultures were in Eurasia. Moreover, across the Atlantic Ocean, in the Americas, the swastika symbol has been constant in many Native American tribes, serving as a significant symbol of divinity, the afterlife and creation.

swastika symbol

A Native American chief donning a traditional headresss with the right-facing swastikas

Scholars and archaeologists have found symbols of the swastika in several countries such as Nepal, India, Mongolia and China. It has also appeared in Japan, Greece, Celtic communities, West African tribes (the Akan people in Ghana for example), and Native American clans (Maya and Navajo people).

In popular religions from East – i.e. Hinduism, Buddhism, and Jainism – the swastika holds significant importance and is often associated with good luck and prosperity. This meaning largely held for thousands of years until the emergence of the Nazi party in Germany post World War II.

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The Nazi Party and the horrendous actions of the blood thirsty tyrant Adolf Hitler tainted the image of the swastika symbol. Today, and particularly in the West, the symbol’s original meaning has faded away and become synonymous with genocidal crimes perpetrated by the Nazis during World War II. It is often the go-to symbols for hate and violent anti-Semitic groups across the world – a stark departure from its original meaning of peace, tranquility and prosperity.

Swastika origin story

The Hakenkreuz (hooked cross) symbol of Nazi Germany tarnished the swastika, perhaps beyond repair

As the article below will show, the swastika symbol was anything but evil. Long before Nazi Party adopted the right-facing iteration of the swastika in the 1920s, what were some of the iterations of the swastika symbol, and what were the original meanings behind those iterations? And is it possible for the swastika to be redeemed in mainland Europe?

Definition of the word

In its original form, the Swastika word comes from two Sanskrit words: Su and Asti, which mean “good” and “to be” respectively.  Together, swastika translates into good well-being.

In Vedas cultures, the swastika symbolizes “success” and “luck”. The suffix ‘ka’ in the word translates to a host of different meanings often associated with the sun.

The ancient Sanskrit grammarian and author Panini is generally considered to be the earliest users of the word swastika. Panini, the Father of Linguistic, used the word in his text Ashtadhyayi.

Different cultures and civilizations have used different names for the symbol. For example, the Greeks called it tetragammadion (cross gammadion). In Anglo-Norman cultures, the symbol was commonly known as cross cramponnée. The Italians call it croce uncinata. It is pronounced Wanzi and Manji in Chinese and Japanese respectively. In China, for example, the symbol carried a very powerful message and was often seen as an “all things” symbol.

More from ancient Greece:

Meaning of the swastika symbol

Renowned French author in mysticism, Reneé Guénon (1886 – 1951), once stated that the swastika symbolized the North Pole and the movement of the world on the axis. According to Guénon the symbol represented the cosmic life force, a force that came directly from the great Creator or Supreme Being.

ancient Greece

A Greek silver stater coin featuring the swastika (from Corinth, 6th century BCE)

Across many societies, the symbol has inspired in people the spiritual notion of how the world or universe operates. For example, the arms of the swastika, which uses the Greek letter Gamma (Γ), has long been associated with general architecture of the universe, according to some Freemasonic thoughts.

Also, the swastika symbol bears a lot of spiritual and cosmic semblance to yin and yang, i.e. night and light; femininity and masculinity.

According to some authors, the four arms of the symbol (the clockwise swastika) represent the four-horse chariot of Mithra (an angel of light, covenant and oath in Zoroastrianism).

Redeeming the Swastika

The swastika on its own is simply a symbol and does not necessarily invoke an inherent negative meaning. However, it has gotten its bad rep as a result of the few violent people that used it to perpetrate unspeakable crimes against humanity in the 1940s. This tainted image generally does not come to the fore in cultures that have used it for millennia to invoke peace and abundance.

Perhaps an open discussion between those two cultures is long overdue in order to dispel the negative connotation associated with the symbol. Surely the deranged actions of a people in a particular time of human history pales in comparison to the sheer heritage of a peaceful symbol that stretches for several millennia ago.

 

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2 Responses

  1. Good content thanks for shairing this.

  2. Good content thanks for shairing this.Good concluson of history

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