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The History of the Swastika

Updated on August 5, 2017

Mosaic Swastika in excavated church in Shavei Tzion (Israel)

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What is the Swastika?

The Swastika comes in many different forms and goes by many names such as Fylfot, Broken Sun Cross and Manji but none are as well-known as the version used by Hitler and the Nazi Party. The word ‘swastika’ comes from the Sanskrit svasti, which means good fortune, luck, and well-being.

The Swastika is part of the majority of religions and civilisations all over the world. It is used to represent peace, divinity and also often linked to particular figures within a religion. In modern day, the peaceful version of the symbol is used to represent Buddha while in the ancient world, it was used to represent major Gods such as Zeus and Thor.

If you take this symbol and mirror it, you get the variation used by Hitler and has the complete opposite meaning of the original symbol. This particular version is used as a symbol of hate, anti-Semitism, Islamophobia and white supremacism. However, this variation was also used in the ancient world so there are exceptions to this rule. A good way to tell the difference is that the Nazi version is often rotated 45 degrees. Due to this variation of the Swastika being the more well known, many people in the modern world are unable to tell the difference between the two versions. Most don’t even know that it was used for thousands of years before Hitler was even born.

Statue of Buddha with a Swastika on his chest

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The Origin of the Swastika.

Many people will tell you that the symbol was created in India by Hindus. This is common belief not only among Hindu supremacists but also many people of various faiths around the world. Mainly due to it being a key part of Indian culture and religion for thousands of years. However, this is false. Hinduism is only around 4,000 and 5,000 years old and the oldest known use for the symbol in that area dates to around the same time. The Swastika has been found on artefacts in Greece, Egypt and even England which are around 6,000 and 7,000 years old. But not even these are the earliest known uses of the symbol as the earliest known use of it was found on an ivory figurine found in the Ukraine which dates back to a staggering 12,000 years. This has many people believing that the symbol is older than civilisation itself.

Swastika in the Christian catacombs in Rome

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The Symbol of Peace and Divinity.

In Buddhism, the Swastika is a symbol of eternity, good fortune and prosperity which often represents Buddha. Along with Buddha, the symbol also represents the turning of the “Dharma wheel” which promotes goodwill and compassion. It is often displayed on statues of Buddha and Buddhist temples as it is vital to their beliefs.

In Hinduism, the right-hand (clockwise) Swastika is a symbol of Vishnu, the God of the sun, while the left-hand (counter clockwise) Swastika represents Kali, the Goddess of night and magic. The right-hand Swastika also often represents the sun (as it is the symbol of Vishnu) which is also how the Native Americans use it.

In Ancient Greece, the Swastika wasn’t used often. It was mainly used in artworks to either represent or accompany Zeus but it was often used by the mathematician Pythagoras. Pythagoras knew the symbol by the name ‘Tetraktys’ which he believed linked the heavens to the earth.

In Nordic beliefs, the symbol often represented Thor and in some artworks, Odin is shown as a swastika traveling through space looking down at all the worlds.

It was even used by early Christians. The most well-known Christian use of it can be seen in the Christian catacombs in Rome next to the words “Zotiko Zotiko” which means “Life of Life”.

Were you already aware of the Swastika's existence and meanings before Hitlers rise to power?

Were you already aware of the Swastika's existence and meanings before Hitlers rise to power?

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The most common variation of the Swastika used by Adolf Hitler

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The Distortion by Adolf Hitler

The Swastikas meaning was distorted once it was adopted as the symbol used by Adolf Hitler and the Nazi Party. Hitler had such an influence over the symbol that the masses no longer know its original meanings or purposes.

So why did Hitler use the symbol? Many believe that it’s due to scholar P.R. Sarkar claiming that it meant “Permanent Victory” but this meaning is highly unlikely as he said this in 1979 and the Nazi’s were defeated in 1945. Though it is possible that others believed that it had such a meaning during the rise of Hitler. Sarkar also claims that the symbol can be represented positively or negatively depending on the way it is drawn. It is also thought that Hitler chose the symbol as he believed that it had a strong connection to the Aryan race. Though no one knows for certain why this symbol was used.

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