Reclaiming the Swastika

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An article about one of history’s most ancient and most controversial symbols.

History of the Swastika

Whenever the swastika is mentioned, first thing that comes to mind is a certain Adolph and his army of goose-stepping fanatics in black trenchcoats. Thanks to his efforts, this ancient Indo-European symbol now indelibly associates with the excesses of National Socialist regime, and wearing it may be considered poor taste at best, or earn the wearer jail time at worst.

However, swastika in various forms has been known since Neolithic in many cultures around the world. It was known throughout the ancient world and had a universally-positive meaning as a symbol of harmony and luck. Particularly know for using the swastika ornament are the Aryans, the Indo-European people that settled in Northern India (now Pakistan), building the maginificent civilization of Indus Valley. Swastika has also been known to the natives of the Americas, making it a somewhat universal symbol.

Medieval world saw the swastika used in heraldry and architecture. The floors of Medieval churches and cathedrals commonly featured this ornament. In pre-WWII era, swastika featured as the symbol of the air forces of several European nations. Roadsigns on state highways in Arizona featured swastikas all the way up to 1942, when they were replaced for political purposes. Only after the war did association with National Socialism stigmatize the swastika and effectively remove it from casual use.

Reclaiming the Swastika

In most Western nations, use of the swastika in contexts other than historical remains a strong taboo (interestingly, no such taboos apply on sickle and hammer). In USA and Western Europe, swastika remains a symbol generally associated with right-wing extremists. Some countries even ban the display of symbol under penalty of imprisonment. However, in other places this taboo isn’t as strong. Finland still uses the swastika as the symbol of its air force. In the Baltic States, swastika has seen some use by Neopagan groups not in any way associated with right-wing extremism. Throughout Europe, Hindus, Buddhists and Jainists use it as a religious symbol.

In the Eastern world, where no taboo is attached, swastika is still held in high esteem. The symbol is often prominently displayed over the entrance of temples in various Oriental religions. Even displaying it in the context of National Socialism is not considered a taboo – a youth subculture in Japan delights in dressing very explicitly like Nazis, which includes swastika armbands and the like as accessories. People from the Far East find it difficult to associate this familiar symbol of peace, luck and harmony with violence and war.

It is my personal belief that enough time has passed to begin reclaiming the symbol that was once commonly used throughout the Western world. Given it’s origin and contemporary use as a religious symbol, even in states where it is banned, it is banned only in the context of National Socialism.

There is no point in banning a symbol that most of the world doesn’t see as aggressive or extremist (namely, all of Asia). With the growing influence of China on global scale, Westerners may just need to begin revising their views of the symbol that is very common in Oriental cultures.