Rebranding the Swastika

Can a Symbol be Guilty of a Madman’s Actions

by Gordon Johnson from Pixabay

This article is about one of the oldest religious symbols we have, but I know if I name it, I’ll create a shit storm. I’m not writing this to create a controversy. I want to talk about a theft.

A theft that forever tarnished it’s reputation.

This symbol was preempted by another culture in relatively recent history and because of how it was used, it‘s associated with seriously negative events. For that reason, it’s also one of the most recognized symbols in the world.

On a recent trip to South Korea, I was shocked to see this symbol on many public and religious buildings. I didn’t understand why anyone would tolerate it in a public display. After a bit of research, I understood. It has a negative meaning for me because of it’s association with WWII.

Photo by Evgeny Nelmin Unsplash (Note that this is a representative image and is not the symbol I am writing about.)

For many people in the world, it has a completely different and ancient meaning.

This symbol, or a version of it, exists in some form in all cultures; its shape is drawn from nature, a flower opening or water flowing. In many religions this auspicious symbol represents eternal love or well being for all.

In Sanskrit it translates as: ‘well or goodness’ and ‘is or be’.

Together the words mean: well being.

Photo by Deleece Cook on Unsplash (Note that this is a representative image and is not the symbol I am writing about.)

The symbol is a four armed cross and it’s thought to be turning.

Through this movement, it represents the arc of the sun across the sky. Some of the older versions are thought to be symbols of fertility; they are often joined in a design which echoes patterns found in nature.

There are artifacts from ancient Greece which have inter-linked them in a meander pattern called a key pattern.

It is a sacred symbol in Hinduism, Jainism and Buddhism.

There are many different versions and it can be represented as right or left turning. In this context there are usually four red dots in the inner ‘squares’ of the symbol. It can often be drawn with flared wings or tails. It’s a common sight in India.

What is thought to be the earliest example of this symbol was found carved on an ivory figurine of a bird, from around 12,000–15,000 years ago. It was found in Ukraine. An early Neolithic use of this symbol was also found in Southern Europe, in the Vinca culture.

This symbol experienced a resurgence in the late 19th century when a German archaeologist, Herman Schlieman, found one on a dig in Turkey. He decided it was a significant religious symbol of the ancestors of the Germans.

Photo by Vince Russell on Unsplash (Note that this is a representative image and is not the symbol I am writing about.)

Other scholars determined that it was an ancient symbol of the Aryans.

They were a nomadic people who came to the Indus valley around 1500 BC. The Aryans were said to have attempted to keep their bloodline pure, and there is some evidence that the caste system had its beginnings at that time.

Here are examples of it’s use from before WWII, before it’s meaning changed so profoundly:

  • It was widely used by architects in North America and can still be found on buildings today. It was a symbol included in package design, architectural friezes, advertising, bank notes and textiles.
  • Karlsberg put it on the bottom of beer bottles, Coca cola used it in their advertising, and the RAF put it on their planes. Boy scouts had a medal with a one on it; the Girls club had a magazine called by the name of the symbol.
  • During World War I, the American 45th Infantry division wore an orange version of the symbol as a shoulder patch. At least one train line had the symbol on its cars.
  • Interlocking versions of this symbol are in the design of the floor of the cathedral of Amiens, France
  • There are many of these symbols found on buildings in Jerusalem, including the 2nd temple.
  • It’s still the name of a small mining town in Ontario, 580 kilometres north of Toronto.

This symbol had positive meaning for centuries before it was appropriated during the War.

It was considered the emblem of a strong warrior race and was attractive as a way to differentiate the Nazi movement from its European Christian history.

When Hitler designed the Nazi flag, he put the symbol on it.

The color red symbolized the idea of national socialism, the white disc stood for the national ideals and the symbol was included to show the struggle of the Aryan culture for racial purity.

The Nazi regime is considered one of the most evil chapters in history and unfortunately, this symbol is most associated with that time. It is still banned in Germany today.

Photo by Luis Villasmil on Unsplash (Note that this is a representative image and is not the symbol I am writing about.)

Can a symbol be guilty of the acts of a madman?

Symbols mean nothing on their own. Otherwise we would believe that the cross is evil because of its use by the KKK.

Could the affected communities can come together and talk about how this symbol has been viewed in the past? Can they talk about how important it is to preserve the history for each group?

In order to change it’s image in the world, a process of rebuilding its reputation would need to occur. The problem is, it invokes strong and visceral reactions in many people because of its association with violence and death.

Rebranding might be a way to defeat the anger and hatred of the past.

Is it possible to reframe it as a way to heal the pain? Or perhaps a renewed version could be created with input from all. This new symbol could be adopted and promoted as a vision of oneness in the future.

Could rebranding be successful? Personally, I don’t hold much hope.

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