How the Virtuous Swastika was Stolen and Tainted
In 1868, an archaeologist named Heinrich Schliemann embarked on a quest to discover the ancient city of Troy. Fanatically fueled by the epic poem Iliad, which was commonly believed to be no more than a myth, Schliemann traveled to Ithaca in Greece, confident that the literature was a map to the hidden locations of the ancient cities.
Within a short period of time no longer than four years, Schliemann achieved what he had set out to do. The adventurous architect found the Homeric city. But that was not the only thing he had discovered, for with his uncovering of the epic city on the Aegean coast of Turkey, he had also found 18,000 variations of a single symbol — the Spindle-Whorls, otherwise known as the Swastika.
Schliemann would then go on to discover the Swastika all across the world: Tibet, Paraguay, even the Gold Coast of Africa. His exploits garnered global attention, and as the way that history does, his archaeological discoveries soon led to several narratives of national identities.
Having found stark similarities among the German, Romantic, and Sanskrit languages, linguistic scholars birthed the theory that the aforementioned races stemmed from a single ancestry: an Indo-European language group, that with the concurrent rising interest in nationalism, eugenics, and racial hygiene, was twisted into a race of white god-like warriors called the Aryans, one that was claimed to have a clear throughline to contemporary Germany.
All this while, the Swastika was likewise garnering its own fame, appearing on American military uniforms, on the materials of Boy-scouts and Girl-clubs, and even on Coca-Cola products. But with the conceptualization of the master-race that were the Aryans, the Swastika, too, became tied to the volatile wave of nationalism spreading across Germany.
The situation got a little out of control, and in no time at all, it didn’t matter that the symbol could be found all around the world; from monuments of the Greek Goddess Artemis, to representations of Brahma and Buddha, to Native American sites; none of it mattered. The Swastika had become uniquely intertwined with German nationalism — one that would be brought to further lengths with Adolf Hitler and his Nazi party.
The Nazi party took ownership of the Swastika in 1920. By 1933, it was decreed that there was to be no unauthorized commercial use of the hooked cross. By 1945, the Swastika was to be permanently stained and hated. The Holocaust made sure of that.
In its Sanskrit wording, the Swastika speaks of something that is nowhere near the malice it is now affiliated to. The direct translation would be it is, or good existence.
Being as old a symbol as it is, the Swastika held many different forms of symbolism in many different cultures.
Jainism sees the Swastika as a symbol of the seventh tīrthaṅkar (a savior and spiritual teacher of the dharma), Suparśvanātha. The four arms of the crossed hook symbolizes the four places a soul could be reborn in in its eternal cycle of birth and death: svarga (heaven), naraka (hell), manushya (humanity), or tiryancha (as flora or fauna).
The Hindus associate the Swastika with Diwali (festival of light), where the symbol is usually drawn with colored sand or formed with lamps. A clockwise hooked cross is a solar symbol whereas a counter-clockwise one connotes the night. It is also commonly used, by not only the Hindus but the Buddhists as well, to represent karma — the sum of a person’s actions in this and previous states of existence, that also decides their fate in future existences.
To the Chinese, Koreans, and Japanese of East Asia, the Swastika is a homonym of the number 10,000, and is commonly used to represent the whole of creation such as in the myriad things by Sage Tao Te Ching.
Christians were also using the Swastika as a hooked version of the Christian Cross, symbolizing Christ’s victory over death. This, of course is no longer possible today, not solely because of the Holocaust being an act of atrocity but that part of the Nazi’s plans were to entirely annihilate Christianity. From thereafter, the Swastika is usually construed to be at war with the Cross.
In Nordic Myths, it is used to represent Odin, and was a symbol that was illustrative of the connection between heaven and earth, where the right arm is pointing to the heavens while the left shows its linkage with the earthly realm.
With more than 12,000 years of history, the Swastika had meant many different things to many different people. Today, it is more often than not seen as a hated symbol of hatred.
The Quest for Reclamation
T. Kenjitsu Nakagaki is a Buddhist priest that has been ordained in the 750-year-old Jodoshinshu tradition of Japanese Buddhism. In his book, The Buddhist Swastika and Hitler’s Cross, he argues that the central motif employed on Nazi banners has never been referred to as a Swastika by Adolf Hitler in the Mein Kampf. And that as such, the symbol should only be construed as what it is referred to: a hakenkreuz.
Nakagaki states that such nuance is essential to isolate the reviled Nazi emblem from all other swastika-like symbols that hold and maintains their original symbolism.
But it is only reasonable to assume that such linguistic accuracy is of no consequence to those that suffered because of the Nazi regime, and those that have to mourn their forefathers because of it.
As president of the National Jewish Center for Learning and Leadership aptly puts in an exchange with Nakagaki in the latter’s documentary,
“If that’s the last thing the person you loved most in the world experienced: a person wearing that symbol before blowing their brains out. It doesn’t matter — there’s no maybe!” — Rabbi Brad Hirschfield
Reclamation of the Swastika is equivalent to reclaiming part of history. And as noble a front as those words may hold, history has been overtly denied its fair share of atrocities, and in its omittance, neglected and abandoned many a society.
The Swastika may have held importance to many cultures and many a people, but the fact is undeniable — that its impact is greatest on those lost under its colors. And for that alone, it should, and shall, be stained for as long as necessary.
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