1 The Power of Symbolism
Below is a brief outline of the swastika’s use throughout history
separated into areas of the world. This is by no means the symbol’s
complete story but a guide to understanding its innocent beginnings.
Perhaps if we all look long enough we can start to see why this balanced
design, this whirling log, this spinning sun, was once the perfect
depiction of eternity, fertility and truth.
One of the oldest recorded uses of the swastika in Africa is found in
artwork by the Akan people of Ghana.
It is also found on servants’
dresses in the Ashanti Empire as well as carved into one of the Rock
Hewn Churches of Lalibela, dating back to the 12th or 13th century.
In Asia, the swastika symbol first appears an archaeological record
around 2500 BC in the Indus Valley Civilization.
Throughout history the
swastika spread through many religions throughout Asia such as Jainism,
Hinduism and Buddhism. With the spread of Buddhism, the Buddhist version
of the swastika migrated to Tibet and China.
Further influence found
the symbol used by Balinese Hinduism and Chinese Taoism. In Thailand the
word “Swasdee” is normally used for greeting, indicating a combination
of prosperity, security, glory and good.
Each adoption of this simple
and balanced symbol would often come with specific meaning. Jainism used
the swastika heavily throughout scripture and ceremonies, attributing
the four arms as the four places where a person could be reborn in the
cycle of birth.
In Hinduism, the swastika is well-recognized and
represents God and his energy(Shakti) as well as the four directions of
the world. Buddhism most often used the symbol as a graphical
representation of eternity and even used it to mark the site of Buddhist
temples on maps.
The paired swastika symbols appear in the Chinese writing system
around 900AD and variant characters are used in Madarin, Korean,
Cantonese, Japanese and Vietnamese meaning “all” or “eternity”.
symbol once carried a positive and beautiful meaning its no surprise
that it was eventually used in works of art. Often found as a repeating
pattern in Japanese works, both left and right facing swastikas would be
joined by connecting lines creating unique patterns in positive and
The Swastika motif used in North America is most commonly found in
Native American art. Adopted by tribes such as the Navajo, Hopi and
Dakota, the symbol can be found in their beautiful beadwork and silver
For the Hopi clan it represented its own tradition of
wandering the land.
For the Navajo it was known as a whirling log and
was used in healing rituals. The swastika also made an important
appearance in the early 1930’s as a symbol of the people of Kuna Yala,
after they revolted against cultural suppression from Panama.
Kuna people, the symbol represents the octopus that created the world,
its tentacles pointing to the four cardinal points.
In the Iron Age of Europe, Swastika shapes were used by many cultures
including Armenian, Greco-Roman, Etruscan, Baltic, Celtic, Germanic,
Slavic and more.
This prehistoric use seems to reflect a rise in folk
culture, expanding its meanings to perpetual motion, thunder, the sun
and justice. It was even used as an early Christian symbol representing
Christ’s victory over death.
Polish nobility have used it within their
coat of arms, Russians and Greeks have worked it into their coins and
armor and it is found in art and jewelry making all throughout
pre-twentieth century Europe.