Tuesday, September 20, 2016
The Story of the Swastika, article in the Popular Educator 1898
The Story of the Swastika, article in the Popular Educator 1898
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"Su, well; asti, being, - welfare;" so Whitney etymologizes the swastika.
The word swastika is a symbol about which much has been written. It is called by many names, such as the fylfot, Thor's hammer, crux gamme. Its literature has just been increased by a work by Thomas Wilson of the Smithsonian Institute.
The larger part of the work is descriptive of swastikas found in many parts of the world; the closing portion deals with the question of the migration of the symbol.
The swastika is a Greek cross with the ends of the arms bent. It is a Buddhist symbol, past and present. It is used now in America as a part of the emblem of Theosophical Societies. It is certainly very old. Its origin is no doubt prehistoric. It has been supposed that the swastika at first represented the sun, the sun in motion, the winds, the fire-drill, tire, the reciprocal powers in nature. Whatever its original symbolism it has come to be a symbol of good fortune and prosperity.
The swastika can be traced over a wide area. In the Old World it appears to have been almost, if not exclusively, used by Aryan people. When found elsewhere than in an Aryan district, — as in Egypt, — it can usually be shown to be on imported objects or to have come in with Buddhism. As to the first home of the symbol there is uncertainty. It is believed to be upon the chest of Buddha; it was placed upon the disk of the sun in symbols introduced in the seventh century; it was woven in silk, used as a decoration in bronze censors, and as an ornaihental motive in lattice-work; on one day of the year — the seventh day of the seventh month — spiders are believed to weave a swastika in the center of their webs and it is great good fortune to find such a web woven over fruit or melons. The similarity in shape between the swastika and the fruit of a certain tree has been observed and emphasized.
There are two simple swastika forms — one with the end bars turned to the right, the other with them turned to the left. The latter is sometimes called the suavatika. When the whole of the four arms are curved the device is no longer a true swastika and is best called by a new name—tetraskelion. The arms of the swastika may be developed into meanders, Greek keys, or spirals, thus making it complex.
In his main description Mr. Wilson is properly careful to insist upon exactness in the use of the term swastika, objecting to its being applied to crosses without bent ends or to spiral lines radiating from a center.
The symbols found by Mr. Moorehead in an Ohio mound, cut from copper, are perfect and beautiful swastikas. A true swastika with curved or hooked ends is found among the Kansas. In one of the curious sandpaintlngs of a Navajo ceremonial there are several finely formed swastikas. The symbol, usually with hooked ends, occurs in Pueblo rattles. The same form is represented on certain Pima shields. If Miss Owens is correct, a most Interesting and curious use of the swastika is found among the Sacs and Foxes. The women of this tribe weave handsome beadgarters, in which they work pretty swastikas; they call the symbol the "luck," or "good luck." Miss Owens states that they have long made it and she believes that it goes with sunworship.— Frederick Star in New Unity.
The conclusion is evident that the fylfot was a symbol before the swarming-off of the Aryan hordes. There seems little doubt that it was originally an emblem of the sun. It may in certain combinations, have come to symbolize the apparent daily movement of the sun, and perhaps also the annual change of seasons. Some see in it the symbol of a sun-god, others believe it to be the god of the sky, or air, who in the course of time was variously known as Indra, Zeus, Jupiter, Thor, etc.
Lastly, it has been promoted to signify "the emblem of the divinity who comprehended all the gods, or again of the Omnipotent God of the universe."
This latter is certainly not a primitive conception, and we have no evidence that this meaning was ever read into the symbol.
"In brief, the ancient world may be divided into two zones, characterized, one by the presence of the gammadion, the other by that of the Winged Globe as well as of the crux ansata; and these two provinces barely penetrate one another at a few points of their frontier, in Cyprus at Rhodes, in Asia Minor, and in Lybia. The former belongs to Greek civilization, the latter to Egypto-Babylonian culture."
In the Greek cross the traversed branch divides the upright shaft into equal parts, and the two arms of the cross are together equal to the upright.
If a circle be divided by two right lines, passing through the center, those two lines will give a perfect Greek cross; this it is which divides the nimbus worn by divine persons.
The Greek cross was favored by the Greek Christians, they departed from the shape of the Crux Ansata, which had evoluted into the Latin form, and unconsciously returned to the proportions of the fylfot or swastika; by equalizing its limbs, they idealized it, and rendered it more suitable for ornamental purposes. We find it as the foliated cross in Byzantine and Mediaeval ornament.
Nearly all the crosses used as heraldic charges are of the Greek type; and the same remark holds good with regard to decorative art.
This is another form of the cross called St. Andrew's Cross. This is the one often called Plato's "Man in Space," because he said that God in forming the universe divided the compound into two parts and joined them together at the center. This shape was used as a symbol by Hindoos, Brahmins, and Buddhists and secret orders, from which fact it is called the Hermetic cross.
St. Andrew is said to have been crucified upon this style of cross, in the year 70 A. D., being bound to it with cords instead of being nailed thereto he was killed because he had converted to Christianty the wife of the chief officer of one of the cities of Achaia in Greece. When he was led to the cross to be crucified he saluted, and adored it upon his knees, glad to die as had his Savior. St. Andrew is the patron saint of Scotland and of several secret orders. The Scottish cross is represented as white on a blue ground.