The Swastika and the Suavastika Crosses
This is a religious symbol, also used in a secular context.
Being a cross, one of the religions using this symbol was Christianity in the Middle Ages and referred to as a Gammadion, a group of four Greek letter gamma (Γ), the capitalised third letter of the Greek alphabet. In a Christian context, 'three' is a reminder of the Trinity, and each gamma represents one of the four Evangelists, who radiate from the central Greek Cross, which represents Christ.
Today it is perhaps best recognised as the 1930's emblem of Adolf Hitler's extreme-right Nationalsozialistische deutsche Arbeiter-Partei1, commonly known as Nazi. During the Second World War the Swastika was often derisively called the Bent Cross or Crooked Cross2; a slur intended to show that Hitler, an outlaw, was using a Christian cross in a malevolent, non-Christian manner.3
More than enough has already been written about the swastika's use by the Nazis and we have no interest in writing much more; except to say that it is often confused by the Suavastika (or Sauvastika). The difference is the direction of rotation, for that is what this cross represents. It is a spinning or rotating cross, with the angled ends appearing like the sparks one sees from a spinning fire-cracker. (In heraldry this would be classed a Cross Gurgity; from the Latin gurges, meaning 'spiral' or 'whirlpool'.)
The reason the cross spins, and its direction, depends on the various interpretations by the various users of this symbol (reincarnation, rotation of the stars, etc.) A suavastika shows its arms bent to the left (indicating clockwise rotation) and the swastika's arms bent right (anticlockwise).
In fact, both symbols appear in either orientation; sometimes the suavastika's arms are bent right, and sometimes the swastika's arms are bent left.
Generally though, the arms are as shown above and we'll stay with that convention in these web pages. One marked difference is that the Nazis usually displayed their emblem at 45 degrees. It was then called the German Cross or Nazi Cross, and sometimes by its German name Hakenkreuz, from the Dutch Hakenkruis, meaning Hooked Cross4.
Yes, the swastika was a symbol of the Nazis, but its history goes much further back. The emblem had been in use for thousands of years before Hitler decided it was a cute little symbol he could use to terrorise the world, especially Gypsies and Jews. It seems ironic that it was used by the Jews long before Hitler was born.
Secular groups include the Red Swastika Society, founded in China in 1922 on similar philanthropic principles to the Red Cross, with a large dose of Buddhism. Not restricted to China, the charity has conducted relief work in Japan and the former Soviet Union. Today the Society has branches in mainland China, Taiwan, Hong Kong, Singapore and Japan.
Much earlier, it was used by the Ashanti in Africa, far removed from the Adolf's 'master' white race. The symbols are found in remains from the European Bronze Age, especially at Hissarlik (Troy). It has been found in ancient Jewish synagogues, used by the Basques, French, Greeks, Swiss and Irish, the Tlingit of Alaska and the Cuna in Panama.
It is found in China, Mongolia5, Tibet, Japan, ancient Persia, Pakistan, and in India, where both Jains and Buddhists still use it as a religious symbol.
The Mexicans, Aztecs and Indian tribes of Central and South America have used it (for example the Kuna; the indigenous people of Panama and Colombia), as have the Navajo and the Hopi tribes of the north.
In fact just about everywhere except Germany! Maybe Hitler adopted it out of jealousy.
A related symbol is the Triskele and as with all symbols, any adoration or abhorrence is because of what the swastika represents rather than the mere ornamental arrangement of a few lines. In the west, the sign still enrages people, as England's Prince Harry found out. Nobody knows for certain why he wore it - a curious choice for a former British Army commander who is third in the line of succession to the throne - just as nobody knows for certain why Hitler adopted it6.
Some people might wear the symbol as decoration, in the form of a tattoo or lapel pin badge. Their intentions are probably as varied as the number of people who wear them; as a superstitious charm or amulet against evil, a 'good luck' charm7 or just a desire to look tough.
But in religion, its meanings are quite clear:
Resignation, the Wheel Of The Law and also a Heart Seal symbol stamped on Buddha's heart. Monks often have this symbol placed on their chest when they die.
The Suavastika Cross, also known as a Buddhist Cross, is frequently seen on temple gates and entrances, and used as a general-purpose identifier on maps and so on.
In Japan, the symbol is called Manji. There are several websites about Buddhism in Japan, but sadly most are in Japanese. However, we've been alerted to a very clear and well-informed site called www.japanese-buddhism.com, which includes more about the swastika in Japan.
During World War II, Japan was an ally of Hitler but Japan never used the symbol in the same way. It is a Buddhist symbol and if there was any religious fervour behind the Japanese military power, it was Shintoism rather than Buddhism. See www.japanese-buddhism.com/swastika.html
Hindus use both the swastika and the suavastika to represent night, magic, and the destructive goddess Kali. It also represents Brahma. The swastika represents Nirvritti, introspection and the involution of the universe, and the bliss, delight and peace of Nirvana. It is also a symbol of good fortune and blessing (Sanskrit: su = auspicious, astika = to be). The suavastika represents Paravritti - the expansion of the universe (Sanskrit: para = beyond, vritti = vortex).
The Jains' seventh saint, the Jaina four-footed cross croix cramponnée and the four levels of existence.
In Scandinavia, it was the symbol of the hammer of the god Thor. In Latvia and Lithuania, the name of this cross is Pērkonkrusts, which means 'Cross of Thunder', Pērkon being their equivalent of Thor.
Project Runeberg8 shows this also to be a symbol in Finland, called Hakaristi, and based on an ancient mythological sea god named Tursas. The swastika shape is central to the symbol representing the heart of Tursas and called Tursaansydän.
As a pre-Christian, Roman pagan symbol, it represented the four classical elements, four directions, and the recycling of life and death. By extension this meant life, regeneration, resurrection and everlasting life. The symbol appeared on Roman coins and also on tombs. Early Christians carved it on their tombs as a symbol of everlasting life. It wasn't until the 4th century, when Christianity became the state religion of the Roman Empire, that Christians started to use the Latin Cross as a tomb sign for everlasting life. Today, fylfots are sometimes seen as decoration in medieval church architecture such as stained-glass windows.
As mentioned above, it represents a group of four Greek letter gamma (Γ), the capitalised third letter of the Greek alphabet. In a Christian context, 'three' is a reminder of the Trinity, and each gamma represents one of the four Evangelists, who radiate from the central Greek Cross, which represents Christ.
The Mystic Cross founded by Fohi 3,000 years ago, the first King of China, who some say is the same person as Noah. But as with the origin of many ancient symbols, textual evidence is sparse and scholars must conjecture what they can from the surviving artifacts.
A sacred symbol. One theory goes that Karl Haushofer, the university professor of Rudolf Hess, was an occultist and introduced the symbol to Hitler.6
The Wheel of the Dharma.
A mystical and ancient symbol. (See Kabbalah Cross)
The Raelians are a group that thrives on controversy and is a relatively new user of the symbol
The above describes the oriental and ornamental uses of the cross. Finally, we introduce the
In some countries (such as Germany and Austria), the symbol is illegal because of its links to fascism. In other countries (such as China), current users (Falun Gong) are themselves illegal. The symbol means love or hate, life or death (or both), suspicion and benign acceptance, black magic and God.
Has there ever been a more diversely used symbol than this?