The swastika is an extremely powerful symbol. The Nazis used it to murder millions of people, but for centuries it had positive meanings. What is the history of the swastika? Does it now represent good or evil?
The Oldest Known Symbol
The swastika is an ancient symbol that has been used for over 3,000 years. (That even predates the ancient Egyptian symbol, the Ankh!) Artifacts such as pottery and coins from ancient Troy show that the swastika was a commonly used symbol as far back as 1000 BCE.
During the following thousand years, the image of the swastika was used by many cultures around the world, including in China, Japan, India, and southern Europe. By the Middle Ages, the swastika was a well known, if not commonly used, symbol but was called by many different names:
- China - wan
- England - fylfot
- Germany - Hakenkreuz
- Greece - tetraskelion and gammadion
- India - swastika
Though it is not known for exactly how long, Native Americans also have long used the symbol of the swastika.
The Original Meaning
The word “swastika” comes from the Sanskrit svastika - “su” meaning “good,” “asti” meaning “to be,” and “ka” as a suffix.
Until the Nazis used this symbol, the swastika was used by many cultures throughout the past 3,000 years to represent life, sun, power, strength, and good luck.
Even in the early twentieth century, the swastika was still a symbol with positive connotations. For instance, the swastika was a common decoration that often adorned cigarette cases, postcards, coins, and buildings. During World War I, the swastika could even be found on the shoulder patches of the American 45th Division and on the Finnish air force until after World War II.