It’s OK we’re taking it back: The Swastika

Article by Rebecca
Image by Will Hobbs (

Yes, it is true; the swastika is going to be forever etched in most people’s minds as a symbol of the Nazi movement. It is a true tragedy considering how much this symbol has to offer humanity. Before the swastika was hijacked by Hitler to become the Hakenkreuz (hooked cross) it was living a peaceful life providing luck and good fortune to millions of people. This may seem awkward to say, but join me in opening your hearts to the swastika.

The swastika is a simple shape. It’s an equilateral cross, with the arms bent at right angles in either a left-facing or right-facing direction. Some people espouse the belief that a left-facing swastika is a sign of evil. Perhaps that’s true, the power a symbol has is only what is given to it by its viewer, but as far as I’ve uncovered, there is no historical precedent to confirm such a belief. Traditionally the swastika is oriented so that the main line is horizontal, but you will sometimes see it rotated slightly.

The swastika has a long history, and as any long lived thing, it has amassed a significant number of names associated with it. As mentioned before, the swastika lived a part of its life as the hooked cross of the Nazi movement. It is also known as the gammadion due to it being created out of four of the Greek characters gamma. In medieval times it was referred to as the fylfot, which was due to its use in stained glass windows where the swastika was used to fill the “foot” or bottom of the decorative pieces. When discussing heraldry, the swastika is known as the cross cramponne because each arm resembles a crampon or angle-iron. There are dozens more names that the swastika is known by, but must important is when we’re talking about the original….the swastika.

The swastika is a sacred symbol in Buddhism and Hinduism. For the Hindu the swastika represents the two forms of the god Brahma. Brahma is a creation deity, so the left-facing form represents the evolution of the universe and the right-facing signifies the involution of the universe. As if that wasn’t enough, on its own the swastika is a holy symbol and you will find it as decoration on all kinds of things throughout the Hindu world and culture. For Buddhists, the swastika represents eternality. As such you will find it on the chests and feet of some Buddhist statuary. Right-facing represents the balance of opposites, Dharma, and universal harmony. Left-facing represents intelligence and strength. Of course, thanks to good ole’ hooked cross swastika you will be hard pressed to find a right facing swastika at a Buddhist temple outside of India. In China you will find a swastika on maps to denote the location of temples and frequently on Chinese food packaging to signify that the product is vegetarian.

The swastika has a place in Native American traditions as well. To the Navajo it was (and perhaps still is) a sacred image used in rituals. Due to its frequent associations with the sun, the swastika has a place in Germanic and Slavic history, folklore, and art.

At one point or another, the swastika has been associated with or believed to symbolize good luck, well-being, the sun, the pole and the stars, the four seasons, the wheel of life, the four quarters of the moon, the creative forces, cyclic regeneration, the solstices and equinoxes, four elements, and I’m sure much, much more.

Some people claim that the swastika is such a simple geometric design that all these different cultures were bound to use it at one point or another. Others think that the prevalence of the swastika is due to something more along the lines of Carl Jung’s collective unconscious. To me, why it’s everywhere is irrelevant. What matters to me is that there is so much more to the swastika than Nazism. Like your mom would tell you, “You should never judge a book by its cover.” But in this particular instance, I’m more inclined to Chuck D of the rap group Public Enemy, “Don’t believe the hype!”

Want to learn more? You should, because there is a WHOLE LOT out there on this topic! Try to start!

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