Kristian Villegas Villegas 1
Professor Kaleb Heinemann
9 September 2014
Throughout the history of human language, we as people have often needed to rely on symbols to understand concepts and meaning. Symbols can appear in things such as a nation’s flag, the logo for corporations, and even in math equations. As we continue to look and understand symbols, however, their meanings can constantly change, often having to reflect the current social situation. This could not be farther from the truth when it comes to a symbol that, in today’s day and age, reflects hatred toward minorities and the ideal of one people: the Swastika. Portrayed on the flags of neo-Nazis and of cult leaders, the swastika has created an image of mass genocide of races and ignorance of equality in the minds of many, thanks to the actions of Adolf Hitler and the Nazi Party. Yet, this was not the first time the swastika has made its appearance to world culture. If anything, the symbol has become the emblem for many cultures, with a meaning that is far different than that of the Third Reich. Thus, in having to examine the details laid within this symbol, we will rediscover the tragic history of its mark.
The swastika is, like any other symbol, unique in its design. The mark is similar to that of the cross, but with the added bonus of the “hooks” at the end of each tip, giving the impression that “like a propeller, its hooked edges cut through any surface on which it appears” (Heller, 2008). Of course, many have known of this symbol from viewing images from World War II Germany, thus giving the idea that this symbol is Nazism, rather than being the representation of it. This of course stemmed from a quote found in Hitler’s Mien Kampf, or My Struggle, defining the symbol as “the mission of the struggle for the victory of the Aryan man, and, by the same token …the idea of creative work, which as such always has been and always will be anti-Semitic” (Quinn, 4). Now because of statements like this and propaganda that stained Germany for decades, such as in political posters and literature, the symbol had developed the reputation of hatred, murder, and anti-Semitism, which in turn defused students from studying about the symbol and its origins.
However, hatred for this symbol has lead researchers to find out the truth to this symbol, as Henry Dreyfuss wrote, “The fact that an ignoramus fanatic placed a swastika on his battle flag is insufficient reason for ignoring this symbol’s historical significance” (Heller, 2008). As studies began to pile up, it was discovered, or rediscovered, that the swastika was “a symbol of good fortune thousands of years before the Nazis even existed” (Badlani, “Nazi Swastika or Ancient Symbol? Time to Learn the Difference”). The original meaning to the term Swastika signified “happiness, pleasure, and good luck” (Wilson, 768), and with the hundreds of theories as to the true origins of the mark still in play, there is actual documentation of the swastika first appearing in early Indian culture and in Buddhism, yet it is not concentrated on just those areas. “It appears in the footsteps of Buddha, engraved upon the solid rock of the mountains of India… on monuments of the goddesses Artemis, Hera, Demeter, Astarte, and the Chaldean Nana… as a sign of fertility” (Heller, 2008) and even in the decorations found in the excavation site of ancient Troy on the hill of Hissarlik.
The swastika also had become a symbol for many Gods in the ancient civilizations. To some theorists, the swastika was actually meant to represent Zeus of ancient Greece, while others believed it to “symbolize light or God of light, of the forked lightning, and of water” (Wilson, 770). “It stood for Jupiter Tonans and Pluvius of the Latins, and Thor of the Scandinavians… had a relationship with the Lotus sign of Egypt and Persia” and is “similar to the ancient Hebrew letter tau, the sign of life” (Heller, 2008).
With all of these factors that went into the significance of the swastika, how is it that the insignia had become the brand of Nazism and racism? The answer is very simple: it was found in Aryan culture. To many, the swastika was actually the oldest symbol for the Aryans, people who “believed themselves to be a pure race, superior to the other surrounding cultures” (Badlani, “Nazi Swastika or Ancient Symbol? Time to Learn the Difference”). At the time, however, the symbol was seldom used and its meanings were not strongly advocated into the culture. It wasn’t until the creation of the National Socialist Party, a.k.a. Nazi Party, that the meaning of the swastika was nitpicked to mean “purity”, a meaning made famous by Adolf Hitler and the persecution of the Jewish culture.
From that point, the swastika continued to carry on this false message. Through propaganda in the Nazi Germany, to the images of concentration camps, and even “carved into the murderer Charles Manson’s forehead” (Quinn, 7), the swastika had also been carved into the heads of millions of individuals whenever the thought of racism, hate, and even genocide appears.
There is a quote that once read, “Beauty is in the eye of the beholder”, which I believe can be well connected to the unfortunate fate of the swastika. A victim of cluster criticism, the swastika had become, within two decades, the symbol for world domination, death, and of a “one, true” race, thanks to the help of racists and murders, such as Adolf Hitler and Charles Manson. Through these actions, people like you and me have been blinded by our own emotions to really look at the structured and complex history of how the swastika become known. For hundreds of years, the swastika had always expressed ideals of life, good fortune, and light, even for ancient Gods and civilizations. Despite the information presented, however, I find it hard to believe that anyone today would actually ignore the horrendous events of the mid-1900s and see the swastika as a device of peace, instead of its ill-gotten reputation as the imprint of death and destruction.
Quinn, Malcolm. The Swastika: Constructing the Symbol. New York: Routledge, 2005. Print.
Heller, Steven. The Swastika: Symbol Beyond Redemption? . New York: Skyhorse Publishing, 2013. Print.
Wilson, Thomas. The Swastika: The Earliest Known Symbol & Migrations; with Observations on the Migrations of Certain Industries in Prehistoric Times. Harvard University: U.S. Government Printing Office, 1896. Print.
Badlani, Chirag. Nazi Swastika or Ancient Symbol? Time to Lean the Difference. An End to Intolerance Magazine, 2005. Web. 8 September 2014.