Would you support that business?
Most of you would probably say no. There’s no symbol in Western culture that embodies hatred and division more so than the swastika. Yet for thousands of years, it represented everything but prejudice.
There have been dozens of variations of the swastika; each one symbolizing things like nature, astronomy, astrology, positivity, or comradery. It was the one unifying symbol for nearly all of humanity, until it became forever correlated with Nazism. Instead of being the universal symbol for understanding like it was originally intended to be, the Nazis chose to both literally and metaphorically twist it to fit their own designs.
While the impact of the swastika in the last hundred years cannot be understated nor forgotten, it also shouldn’t trump the thousands of years that preceded it.
History of the Swastika
The oldest known swastika ever found was in Mezine, Ukraine which dated back 15,000 years. Although it’s debatable whether or not is was actually a true swastika. Some suggest that it may have been a fertility symbol, while others claim that it might’ve just been a stylized depiction of a stork in flight.
It doesn’t stop there, there have been numerous hypotheses as to the origin behind its meaning throughout several cultures. European theories suggest that it may have had a nature motif behind it, in which it could’ve represented the sun or the four aspects of nature (the sun, wind, water, soil). Another interesting theory is that it may have symbolized the four seasons, with the 90-degree sections correlating with the solstices and equinoxes.
According to archaeoastronomer Reza Assasi, the swastika represented the centre of Ecliptic on the star map in ancient Iranian culture, which was referred to as the four-horse chariot of Mithra. In Iranian mythology, the universe was believed to be pulled by four horses revolving around a fixed centre in a clockwise direction which may have been due to an understanding of axial precession. It’s also entirely possible that this notion was later adopted by Western culture in which it was very prevalent in Roman Mithraism.
The one predominant theory that many experts seem to agree upon is that the swastika is most likely one of the oldest forms of cultural diffusion. There have been references and evidence of it appearing all throughout Western and Eastern Europe, Asia, the Indus Valley Civilization, both the Aztec and Mayan civilizations, and even West Africa. Not to mention that it’s also a very important symbol in Buddhism, Hinduism, and Jainism.
However, it was during the early 20 th century when the meaning behind the symbol would forever be altered. It was widely used in Europe at the start of the 20 th century, especially in post-WWI Germany. In 1920, Adolf Hitler formally adopted the swastika as the official symbol of the newly established Nazi Party. Shortly after Hitler was appointed as Chancellor of Germany in 1933, the emblem of the Nazi Party became the sole national flag of Germany.
Both during and after the reign of the Third Reich, the swastika to many people (predominantly in western culture) symbolized three things: nationalism, fascism, and racism. It became the pride of the “Aryan master race”, a concept that was heavily indoctrinated into the mindset of nearly every German citizen. “Scientific racism” was a core belief in Nazism, so much so that even towards the end of WWII, when it was clear that tide of the war was shifting towards the Allies favor, Hitler and his regime still believed it was more important to continue exterminating as many Jews as possible instead of focusing more on the war effort.
While history is often filled with grey areas in terms of moral ambiguity, Nazi Germany is perhaps the closest thing to black and white evil ever seen. Because of this, the swastika has been associated with mankind at its absolute worst ever since.
The Swastika in the Modern Era
In today’s culture, the swastika has essentially become the rallying cry for white supremacists around the world. Thanks to the stigma attached to it, it has been banned in several countries, including Germany, and was even almost banned from the entire European Union altogether. In the United States, the Supreme Court ruled in the Virginia v. Black 2003 case that local governments can prohibit swastikas along with any other hate symbols meant to intimidate others. Not to mention that it has become one of the epicenters for the debate over free speech in Western culture.
While it’s more than evident how much of a sensitive subject this is, there’s one question that I can’t help but wonder: why do we as a society just simply allow Nazis and white supremacists to claim ownership over this symbol?
It’s almost cowardly to forfeit a symbol that may very well be the one thing that’s indirectly united humanity throughout its thousands of years of existence, and allow hate mongers to dictate its “true meaning”. We as a whole have the power to choose, and we have chosen to dissociate ourselves from something that originally brought us together. By allowing the swastika to be the face of Nazism, we have both consciously and subconsciously agreed that hate trumps unity.
But I believe there’s a solution to this dilemma, instead of trying to censor it out of our collective memory, let’s choose to celebrate it. The voice of the swastika is not that of hate speech, but of a deeper spiritual understanding of the similarities we share. If we truly wish to someday live in a world without division, then let’s start by taking our rallying symbol back.