The Reclamation of the Swastika

Its origins are shrouded in the mists of pre-history. In most parts of the world it is a revered design, yet its public display is still outlawed in Germany. The purge of this cross in the United States has been so complete that most people assume it never had any involvement with this country. A half century ago millions died under the spell of a madman and as a result the mere mention of this dreaded and reviled mark incites immediate controversy. Despite this, a movement of artists have embraced the swastika in works utilizing this neglected graphic glyph.The swastika is a contender for the title of the oldest symbol with a specific and consecutive meaning. The cross of Paul of Tarsus has only been recognized as a Christian motif since it supplanted the earlier sign of the fish which was initially worshipped by believers. The star of David, (also referred to as the Magen David or Shield of David), became identified more exclusively with Judaism in the middle ages. Prior to that, the mark appeared as a magical sign or decoration, and was widely used by non-Jews. The yin-yang icon dates back to the third century BC in China. The Egyptian ankh has a long, civilized history to be sure, but the swastika has a much wider dispersal pattern. The ankh is found mainly in the Nile River Valley while the swastika over the ages has worked its way around the world. It passed from person to person, clan to clan, tribe to tribe, and subsequently, nation to nation. With meanings varying slightly over the ages, the swastika design spread around the globe appearing in many different cultures. The symbol has a recorded history of over 3500 years and that doesn't include its extensive pre-history.The Chinese called it a wan, the English a fylfot, the Finnish a haka risti, the Japanese a manji, the French a croix gammee, the Norwegians Thor's hammer the Greco-Romans anneagramma, the Italians la croce uninata and the Germans a hakenkreuz, or "hooked cross." The term "swastika" is Sanskrit in origin and means "well being."Examples of this cross, which traditionally holds the meaning of environmental balance, harmony and good fortune, can be found in artifacts from the and Hittites of Asia Minor, Greece, Rome, Persia, India, Babalonia, Egypt, Scotland, Ireland, Russia, Poland, Balinesia; and Celtic, aboriginal North American, Meso American and South American civilizations. The Jain Buddhists make the sign of the swastika. You can see the hooked cross in the wailing wall in Jerusalem. The United States army's 45th division used it as a logo from 1929-1939. Rudyard Kipling's personal author's mark featured it in combination with an elephant. Indian coins depicted the sun wheel type cross during the reign of King Kranada in the third century BC. In WWI the design was also emblazoned on the aircraft of the Layfeyette Escadrille. Historical imagery from Africa has numerous versions of this sign. Mayan temple friezes and Navajo, Kansas and Mohawk Indian art also make use of the swastika.In the early part of this century there was a proliferation of Yankee products which were adorned with the swastika. Turn of the century Americans colloquially called it a "lucky cross." Some consumer goods decorated with this design included: Carlsburg Beer, Coca Cola watch fobs, Krit motor cars, Pacific Systems Surfboards, fruit labels, greeting cards, cigars, chocolate boxes, soda cracker boxes, games, children's books, Boy Scouts of America belt buckles and Girl's Club purses which were sponsored by the Ladies Home Journal.The appropriation of this sign by Adolph Hitler and the National Socialist German Worker Party, (NSDAP), caused a wholesale abandonment in Western culture. The political climate was so emotionally charged in the United States during WWII that the Navajo people publicly promised to never use the swastika again. It is illuminating to note that this sign never fell from favor in the East or vanished from view.A number of contemporary beings seem intent on the liberation of this sacred symbol from its Nazi connotations. The logic of this stratagem is compelling since the Fuhrer and his henchmen only used the swastika for a mere 12 years. What importance is such a brief period when compared with the life-span of a symbol which can be traced back to the beginnings of time? Is it not true that avoiding this symbol in some way reinforces the validity of Hitler and the NSDAP?Variety is the one unifying element that artists using the swastika have in common. Some work with the mark precisely because of the infamy it alludes to in our contemporary society. Others employ the symbol because of its sacred historical meaning. Some of the artists who have used the icon to great effect include Ed Keinholts, Charles Krafft, Rick Griffin, Don Ed Hardy, Man Woman, Hark Heresy, Manuel Ocampo, Ron Cooper, Roger Doucette, Guru Svastika, Byron Black, Ed Varney, Trevor Mambo, Vernon Fisher, Kevin Ancell, Kenneth Baker, Mofo, Ed Roth, Von Dutch, Frank Kozik, and Peter Mitchell-Drayton. These artists are demanding that we be confronted with the hooked cross and come to our own conclusions.To shun the swastika because of Hitler's attempt to co-opt the sign somehow empowers his memory. Perhaps an enlightened populace which realizes the true history of the mark is the best way to deal with such heinous atrocities. Don't give the devil more than its due. The swastika has a proud lineage and a profound meaning which should be valued, just as Hitler's subversion and defilement of it should be condemned."The swastika for me was always an Indian sign. I first saw it in the Southwest on trips I made there with my parents. I learned about the Nazi connotations later. That duality of meaning always interested me."--Rick Griffin"I'm out to re-sanctify the swastika. Every day we let the skinheads and neo-Nazis use it is an abomination. If we let them lay claim to the swastika then it is lost for everyone, and that's a tragic crime."--Man Woman"The design aspects of the swastika are really quite good. It is a really powerful and beautiful thing. If you use it you'll get an immediate response. The swastika commands attention, that's a given. Graphically, it is instantly recognizable. It's been around for thousands of years because it works.--Ed Roth"The swastika embodies the struggle of ideology and the struggle for image. We struggle to revitalize a mandala of health, fulfillment and creative power which was only diverted from its divine significance by dark forces of this century. No more powerful image is burned in the consciousness of the West; no more honored logo comes down through time as symbolizing the central radiance of consciousness in the East."--Byron Black"The fact that an ignominious fanatic placed a swastika on his battle flag is insufficient reason for ignoring this symbol's historic significance."--Henry Dreyfuss

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