The Symbol of the Swastika and Its 12,000-Year-Old History

December 14, 2014 Updated: December 18, 2014

The swastika is a symbol used by one of the most hated men on Earth, a symbol that represents the slaughter of millions of people and one of the most destructive wars on Earth. But Adolf Hitler was not the first to use this symbol. In fact, it was used as a powerful symbol thousands of years before him, across many cultures and continents.

For the Hindus and Buddhists in India and other Asian countries, the swastika was an important symbol for many thousands of years and, to this day, the symbol can still be seen in abundance—on temples, buses, taxis, and on the covers of books. It was also used in Ancient Greece and can be found in the remains of the ancient city of Troy, which existed 4,000 years ago. The ancient Druids and the Celts also used the symbol, reflected in many artefacts that have been discovered. It was used by Nordic tribes and even early Christians used the swastika as one of their symbols. For example, the Teutonic Knights, a German medieval military order that became a purely religious Catholic order, used it. But why is this symbol so important and why did Adolf Hitler decide to use it?

The word “swastika” is a Sanskrit word (“svastika”) meaning “It is,” well being,” “good existence,” and “good luck.” However, it is also known by different names in different countries—like “wan” in China, “manji” in Japan, “fylfot” in England, “Hakenkreuz” in Germany and “tetraskelion” or “tetragammadion” in Greece.

A swastika in a Roman mosaic dated to the 2nd century A.D. in Sousse, Tunisia. (Maciej Szczepańczyk/Wikimedia Commons)
A swastika in a Roman mosaic dated to the 2nd century A.D. in Sousse, Tunisia. (Maciej Szczepańczyk/Wikimedia Commons)

 

A swastika in a Minoan pottery piece from Crete. (Agon S. Buchholz/Wikimedia Commons)
A swastika in a Minoan pottery piece from Crete. (Agon S. Buchholz/Wikimedia Commons)

A Sanskrit scholar P.R. Sarkar in 1979 said that the deeper meaning of the word is “permanent victory.” 

The earliest swastika ever found was uncovered in Mezine, Ukraine, carved on an ivory figurine, which dates an incredible 12,000 years, and one of the earliest cultures that are known to have used the swastika was a Neolithic culture in Southern Europe, in the area that is now Serbia, Croatia, Bosnia, and Herzegovina, known as the Vinca Culture, which dates back around 8,000 years.

In Buddhism, the swastika is a symbol of good fortune, prosperity, abundance, and eternity. It is directly related to Buddha and can be found carved on statues on the soles of his feet and on his heart.  It is said that it contains Buddha’s mind.

On the walls of the Christian catacombs in Rome, the symbol of the swastika appears next to the words “zotiko zotiko,” which means “life of life.” It can also be found on the window openings of the mysterious Lalibela Rock churches of Ethiopia, and in various other churches around the world. 

Skastika symbol in the window of Lalibela rock-hewn church. (Samzhab/Wikimedia Commons)
Skastika symbol in the window of Lalibela rock-hewn church. (Samzhab/Wikimedia Commons)

In Nordic Myths, Odin is represented passing through space as a whirling disk or swastika looking down through all worlds. In North America, the swastika was used by the Navajos. In Ancient Greece, Pythagoras used the swastika under the name “tetraktys,” and it was a symbol linking heaven and Earth, with the right arm pointing to heaven and the left arm pointing to Earth. It was used by the Phoenicians as a symbol of the sun and it was a sacred symbol used by the priestesses. 

How and why did so many diverse countries and cultures, across many eras, use the same symbol and apparently with the same meaning? It is ironic, and unfortunate, that a symbol of life and eternity that was considered sacred for thousands of years has become a symbol of hatred. 

Republished with permission. Read the original at Ancient Origins.