Before the evil agenda of the Nazi Party in Germany, swastikas held many different meanings. While most people now associate the symbol with Nazi ruthlessness, the icon hasn’t always been tied to such evil acts.
Here are different meanings that swastikas have held throughout history (long before its most infamous association reared its ugly head), along with the regions and communities from which they came.
1. Eastern Europe
Early European cultures used the swastika as a spiritual symbol. It was actually linked to the most powerful Norse god, Thor. It is believed that his famous hammer left behind the mark of the swastika. Others believe that it was symbolic of the fact that the cosmos revolved around the universal axis, known as Yggdrasil.
An ancient Greek symbol that looks similar to the swastika is called the gammadion. It resembles four capital letters of their alphabet connecting in a common center.
3. Early Christian Communities
Early Christians used the swastika as a symbol for Christ. It represented the cross of Jesus Christ, and it was used regularly when Christians were being persecuted by Romans. Priests back then even had swastikas stitched into their robes.
In Finland, the swastika has been considered a symbol of good fortune for thousands of years. It’s a huge part of their history and culture. A straightened version of the swastika has been worn on clothing and jewelry for centuries.
The swastika is also believed to be an emblem of Fohat, which is the name of a form of cosmic electricity. Madame Helena Blavatsky defined it as “the active (male) potency of the Shakti (female reproductive power) in nature.” Basically, the swastika has been tied to extremely powerful life forces in certain belief systems.
6. Hindu Communities
The Hindu version of the swastika is symbolic of well wishes. The word swastika is derived from the root word swasti, which roughly translates to “let good things happen.” It’s a word that has traditionally been used to convey messages of well-being in everyday interactions. It is also a symbol of the Hindu gods Ganesha and Lakshmi.
7. Navajo Regions
Native American cultures considered the swastika a symbol of good fortune. People of the Navajo tribe used it in designs for rugs and silverware to represent the four winds.
8. British Literature
British author Rudyard Kipling used the swastika as a stamp on his books. The swastika appeared on many of his works. While he was kind of a problematic guy, he did openly hate Nazism, and he removed the stamps from subsequent publications after Nazis adopted the symbol.
9. The Raelian Movement
A UFO cult leader named Rael adopted both the swastika and the Star of David to use in rituals. Rael believers say that the Star of David represents infinity in space, while the swastika represents infinity in time. Since this is a fairly modern movement, the group has received a lot of backlash for their use of the swastika.
10. Buddhist Communities
In Buddhism, the swastika is a very important symbol meaning “the resignation of the spirit.” It is considered to be the seal of Buddha’s heart, and can be seen on his chest in various works of art.
Who knew that the swastika had such a rich history before the Nazis claimed it as their own? If you’re ever walking through a museum and see a swastika on an old work of art, don’t worry. It wasn’t always as nefarious as it is today.