Saturday, March 4, 2017

The Ancient History of the Swastika by R. Sewell 1881

Notes on the Ancient Swastika by R. Sewell M.R.A.S. 1881

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The attention of readers of the Indian Antiquary bas lately been drawn to the question of the origin of that mysterious Aryan symbol, the Swastika, in a paper last year by the celebrated Orientalist, Mr. Edward Thomas; in another article on the subject written by the Rev. S. Beal; and by Mr. Thomas's enlarged essay on the subject in the Numismatic Chronicle (N.S. Vol. XX. pp, 18-48).

Whether Mr. Thomas's sun-theory be really the right one or not, I leave to each student of auch matters to decide for himself. But while any doubt whatever remains among the learned, I think no harm can be caused by gathering together a few notes on the heterogeneous theories that have been put forward to account for the symbol and explain its meaning. I only pretend to have collected
a very few of these extremely diverse elucidations. Others may be able to furnish us with further examples of the ingenuity displayed by writers in presence of the swastika; and the exhibition may be amusing if it does not prove instructive.

In 1854 General Cunningham, writing in his Bhilsa Topes, goes into the question of this symbol very early in the work. After remarking on the religion of the Aryans he takes up the doctrine of the Swastikas as opposed to that of the Brahmans, and states that "the Swastikas derived their name from their peculiar symbol tho swastika, or mystic cross, which was a symbol of their belief in Swasti. This term is a compound of _su_ 'well,' and _asti_, 'it is'; meaning 'it is well', or, as Wilson expresses it, 'so be it'; and implying complete reignation under all circumstances." In a note he says:- "The Swasti of Sanskrit is the suti of Pali; and the mystic cross or swastika is only a monogrammatic symbol formed by the combination of the two syllables su + ti = suti." Without entering on a lengthy discussion on the theory that the symbol had its origin in a combination of letters of an alphabet dating from perhaps not very long before the third century B.C., it will be quite sufficient to point to the Hissarlik discoveries of Schliemann for a proof that the symbol existed, perfect and complete, ages before the alphabet of Asoka was in use in India, so far as we know. The earliest of the settlers on that historical spot, whose remains are found in strata of debris 40 to 46 feet below the ruins of the Hellenic inhabitants of the seventh century B.C., used the Swastika in its most modern form as their favourite sacred symbol. Further comment on he monogrammatic theory would seem to be

In the sixth chapter of his _Troy and its Remains_ Schliemann devotes considerable space to the subject of the Swastika, showing how apparently universal was its use amongst several of the
earliest races of Asia and Europe "at a time when Germans, Indians, Pelasgians, Celts, Persians, Slavonians and Iranians still formed one nation and spoke one laugnage," (p. 102), and he quotes at length from the work of M. Emile Burnouf, _La Science des Religions_, on the question of its origin. "The swastika represents the two pieces of wood which were laid crosswise upon one another before the sacrificial altars, in order to produce the holy fire agni, and whose ends were bent round at right angles and fastened by means of four nails, so that this wooden scaffolding might not be moved. At the point where the two pieces of wood were joined, there was a small hole, in which a third piece of wood, in the form of a lance (called Pramantha), was rotated by means of a cord made of cow's hair and hemp, till the fire wa s generated by friction."..."The pramantha was afterwards transformed by the Greeks into 'Prometheus,' who, they imagined, stole fire from heaven, so as to instil into earth-born man the bright spark of the soul." Dr. Schliemann further states that M. E. Burnouf "adds that the Greeks for a long time generated fire by friction, and that the two lower pieces of wood that lay at right angles across one another were called stauros, which word is either derived from the root stri, which signifies 'lying upon the earth,' and is then identical with the Latin sternere, or is derived from the Sanskrit word stavara, which means 'firm, solid, immoveable.' Since the Greeks had other means of producing fire, the word stauros passed into simply in the sense of 'cross.'" He concludes with the remark that from the remotest times the different forms of the swastika "were the most sacred symbols of our Aryan forefathers."

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In January 1870 there appeared an interesting article in the Edinburgh Review summarising some of the opinions which had found favour regarding this "Pre-Christian Cross," and giving the writer's own view in the matter very strongly expressed. After pointing out the universality of the cruciform emblem amongst the earliest known races of the world, and stating, somewhat boldly, that "the marvellous rook-hewn caves of Elephanta and Elura, and the stately temples of Mathura and Tirupati in the East, may be cited as characteristical examples of one laborious method of exhibiting it; and the megalithic structures of Callernish and New-grange in the West, of another," -(rather a confusion here, surely!)-the reviewer goes on to give his very decided opinion as to the origin of the symbol: "The aureole or disc encircling the heads of gods and saints, and signifying perfection, was primarily intended to represent the solar orb; but in the course of time, as Sabean worship travelled beyond the region of its source, and extraneous influences were brought to bear upon it, the same symbol reappears with an infinitude of scarcely distinguishable additions internally and externally. . . . When divided into four equal segments. . . it was the symbol of the primeval abode of man, the traditional Paradise of Eden."

The Rev. W. Haslam (The Cross and the Serpent, 1849) held that the cross symbol was, from the beginning of things, given directly from Heaven to man as a perpetual type or prophecy of the death of Christ. "The cross was conceived when the redemption of man was designed or ever the tempter was changed into the form of the gliding serpent . . . . It was revealed with the prophecies and transmitted with them as a part of the prediction, in its more material form, from generation to generation. . . . The Cross was known to Noah before the Dispersion, and even before the Flood; and I will venture yet further, and say, the cross was known to Adam; and that the knowledge of it as a sacred sign, was imparted to him by the Almighty."

How pale seems the sun-theory o£ Mr. Ed. Thomas, and how absolutely contemptible the practical and mundane Greek-coin-punch-marks origin suggested by Mr. Westropp, before the magnificence of such a notion as this!

Mr. Brinton (Myths of the New World) holds that "the arms of the cross were designed to point to the cardinal points, and represent the four winds, the rain-bringers. . . . As the emblem of the winds who dispense the fertilising showers, it is emphatically the tree of our life, our subsistence, and our health. It never had any other meaning in America., and if, as has been said, the tombs of the Mexicans were cruciform, it was perhaps with reference to a resurrection and a future life as portrayed under this symbol, indicating that the buried body would rise by the action of the four spirits of the world, as the buried seed takes on a new existence when watered by the vernal showers."

Many writers have ascribed the origin of the Swastika symbol to a modification of the crux ansata of the Egyptians, or the mystic and ubiquitous tau; while Mr. Haslam's prophetic hypothesis has received support from its being imagined that the crux ansata itself typified the victory of the cross over the world.

Dr. Inman, as with everything else, supposes that the Egyptian tau is a phallic symbol, and that the Swastika is simply a conjunction of four such symbols pointing to one centre. Every varied form of the cross, and every junction of cross and circle, however diversified, is explained by him to have a mystical signification implying union of the two great powers of Nature!

Dr. J. G. Muller (Geschichte der Amerikanischen Urreligionen, p. 497), speaking of the cross venerated amongst the Indians of America as a god of rain, writes:-"It is just the simpleness of its form which renders an interpretation difficult, because it admits of too many possibilities. All attempts thus far made....unite in the conception of the fructifying energy of Nature. Hence it appears in connection with sun-gods and the Ephesian goddess, and it is also the fitting symbol of the rain-god of tropical lands, whom it represents, as stated by the natives." He appears to lean towards the phallic origin of the pre-Christian cross as the theory most reasonable to be accepted. And to this view also Professor Max Miiller seems to incline.

Mr. Baldwin, in his Ancient America (New York, 1879, p. 186), alludes to the symbol as a proof of a former union between the old world and the new. "Religious symbols are found in American ruins which remind us of those of the Phoenicians, such as figures of the serpent, which appear constantly, and the cross, supposed by some to represent the mounting of the magnetic needle, which was among the emblems peculiar to the goddess Astarte.

Mr. Hodder M. Westropp gives in the Indian Antiquary, vol. VII, 18'78, p. 119, his views on the origin of the Greek archaic cross, stating that it appears to him "to be evidently derived from the punch-marks on early Greek coins," and that it is different from the swastika in the fact that the arms are turned to the left instead of to the right. The swastika, he thinks, cannot possibly be older than the sixth century B.C., "as Buddha died about 540 B.C." But Schliemann's description of the finding the whorls, and the illustrations appended to his _Troy and its Remains_, show that many of these whorls were found more than 40 feet below the earliest Greek remains, and that both forms, turning left and turning right, were in common use.

The above are only a few of the theories on the origin of this symbol which appear to have been entertained amongst recent writers. It would be interesting to collect others. For the present, let students of Archmology choose for themselves. By and by, no doubt, further light will be thrown on the origin of archaic Indian Symbolism till much that is now dark enough becomes plain. For myself, I boldly range myself under Mr. Thomas's sun-standard; and I cherish the conviction that many of the signs and symbols venerated amongst the Indian races, both Buddhistic and Brahmanical, will hereafter be traced to an origin in a (so-called) "primeval" sun-worship, existent in Central or Western Asia prior to the migration of the Aryans, and possibly drawing much of its ceremonial from Chaldea, Assyria, and even Egypt.

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