It’s a shame that such a symbol was so perversely tainted by Nazi Germany by the end of World War II. To the western world, it was originally known as a symbol of good luck and fortune. Although the west now views it as a symbol of the most egregious evils ever committed, the swastika is still used with its original meaning in mind in many parts of India, East Asia, and Southeast Asia. There, the swastika is sacred. It is an important symbol to the religions of Hinduism, Buddhism, and Jainism.
Believe it or not, historians aren’t entirely certain about the origins of the swastika. That’s because it definitely appeared during the Neolithic period which began as early as 10,200 BC. The Neolithic period was sometimes called The New Stone Age, and ran parallel to the end of the hunting-gathering way of life and beginning of the agricultural revolution. It ended when metal tools were devised. By this time, the swastika was everywhere. It’s difficult to imagine this was only the beginning since written records and art from before this period were so scarce.
The swastika may indeed have been conceived earlier than that. There are rough swastika-like designs on mammoth ivory carved into the shape of a bird, a object that is at least 15,000 years old. Such objects are known to be of Jain origin, a religion which believes that the pattern could symbolize fertility. Others believe that this interpretation of the aforementioned bird could be wishful thinking, and may did not depict a true swastika.
There might be other reasons that this is such a popular early design. Many cultures have spiritual or religious teachings based on the four elements: wind, water, fire and earth. Some historians believe that each arm of an early swastika represents each of these respective elements, while the whole represents the sun. Other historians believe that the arms are symbolic of each of the four seasons. The swastika pops up repeatedly throughout history whenever the number “four” is important to an idea or culture.
Other uses of the swastika as a symbol occurred in early Iran, Bulgaria, and Egypt. Even earlier, the Illyrians, Celts, Greeks, Germans, and Slavs used it often. Because of its pervasiveness in so many different parts of the world, some historians believe it to be a symbol of the universe.
Civil rights have come a long way since World War II, and although the current global push toward ultra-conservative political policies seems to underpin the idea that the past can indeed come back to haunt us, perhaps it’s time to forget about the swastika’s meaning to Nazi Germany. Certainly, the association with racism and murder remains, but the symbol is so much more than that to so many people around the world who fight for peace and prosperity between all of nature’s creatures.