The swastika is now a notorious sign of hatred, extremism and genocide.
But it has a long history and has been used by cultures around the world to signify good luck and fortune.
Carlsberg and Finnish Air used it in their branding before the Nazis hijacked it.
Last week, historians in Denmark announced they had discovered the oldest evidence of people worshiping the Norse god of war and death, Odin.
Next to Odin’s portrait was a small swastika-like sign, once a symbol of peace, wealth and good fortune.
Today the swastika is seen by many as a symbol of hatred, extremism and danger. But it has a long and diverse history that goes far beyond its cruel co-option by Adolf Hitler and the German Nazi Party a century ago.
The origins of the swastika
The word swastika comes from the Sanskrit word svastika, which translates to “good luck” or “well-being.”
The earliest known use of the swastika is seen on a 15,000-year-old mammoth ivory bird statue discovered in 1908 by Ukrainian scientist Federik Volkov.
On the chest of the bird, kept in the National Museum of the History of Ukraine, in Kyiv, is an engraving of joined swastikas, according to the BBC. The statue was discovered next to a number of “phallic objects,” suggesting that the swastika was used as a good luck symbol to invite fertility.
The swastika in Asia
Today the swastika is still used extensively in a number of Indian religions.
In Jainism, the swastika represents the four states of existence: demigods, human beings, hell beings, and subhuman life.
In the Zoroastrian faith, one of the oldest religions in the world, the four prongs of the swastika represent water, fire, air and earth.
And in Buddhism, the sign is used to represent the footsteps of the Buddha, known as manji.
Across India, the symbol can be seen on shop doors, vehicles, food packaging and at festivals, according to the AP.
It has also been adopted in other parts of Asia. In China, the symbol is known as a wàn and was declared the “source of all good fortune” by Empress Wu in 693. Using the swastika next to a wish multiplies that wish 10,000 times, according to the Pacific Asia Museum.
Swastika in Europe
Worshipers of the Norse religion used the swastika symbol as early as 401 AD
Most commonly, the symbol is seen alongside depictions of Thor, the Norse god of thunder, sky, and agriculture. She is also seen next to his father, Odin.
But it wasn’t just the northerners who used the swastika. The symbol is known to have been used by Celts, Druids and Vikings.
US art director Steven Heller, author of “Swastika: Symbol Beyond Redemption?” he told the BBC that the swastika was used in Europe for good luck until the early 20th century. “The sign was used in many ways before Hitler adapted it. A sign of good luck, fertility, happiness, Sun, and was given spiritual importance and commercial value when used with or as a brand or logo,” he said. said. Heller.
Less than 100 years ago, many companies used the symbol in their branding. The Carlsberg beer company had it on its logo, as did the Finnish Air Force and even the British Boy Scouts.
However, that all began to change in the 1920s.
Co-opted by the Nazis
Some researchers believe that people of Aryan culture used the symbol as a sign of luck and prosperity.
Aryanism is often linked to a belief in racial purity, but “Aryans” were originally Indo-European or Indo-Germanic people who settled in India, Iran (then known as Persia), and Europe, according to the U.S. Holocaust Museum .
The classification of Arianism was often used to refer to the shared languages used within the culture, but later moved to be used as a racial categorization.
The BBC reports that these languages’ similarity to German is thought to have influenced Hitler’s belief that Aryans – especially those from India – and Germans had a “pure” ancestry.
Another theory is that Hitler simply saw the symbol grow repeatedly.
After Hitler’s Nazi Party chose the swastika as their official symbol in 1920, it slowly came to be identified with racial purity, extremism and totalitarian terror, far from its roots as an emblem of good luck.
When the Nazi Party seized power over Germany in 1933, Hitler decreed that the German state flag should be flown alongside the now infamous red flag which boasts a huge black swastika.
Today, the once innocent swastika is now considered an embodiment of evil representing genocide, the gas chambers, and the millions murdered in the Holocaust.
But some are trying to change that. They don’t want people to forget the atrocities of Hitler’s Third Reich, but they do want to revive the broad cultural significance of the swastika.
In 2022, Sheetal Deo, of New York — which has a population of 1.6 million Jews — told the AP she had been asked to remove her Diwali decor, the Hindu festival of lights, displayed in her Queens condo. , which had a swastika on it.
He told AP he doesn’t believe he should apologize for a holy symbol simply because it’s often confused with its tainted version, saying doing so is “intolerable.”
But Steven Heller told AP, “A rose by any other name is a rose. Ultimately, it’s like a symbol that affects you visually and emotionally. For many, it creates a visceral impact, and that’s a given.”
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