The swastika is a
very old ideogram. The first such signs preserved to our days were
found in the Euphrates-Tigris valley, and in some areas of the Indus
valley. They seem to be more than 3,000 years old. Yet it was not
until around the year 1000 B.C. that the swastika became a commonly
used sign, first maybe in ancient Troy in the north west of today's
The Sumerians seem to have used the swastika, but neither their successors the Babylonians and Assyrians, nor the Egyptians seem to have used it. Most other ancient cultures in Eurasia, however, did use it. Count Goblet d'Alviella (see the bibliography), who at the end of the last century conducted research in the distribution and migration of sacred symbols, put forth the theory that certain symbols were mutually exclusive, i.e. they could not appear in the same country or cultural sphere. This seems to have been the case with for instance the signs and as symbols for Jerusalem in Europe during the Middle Ages. According to this theory the swastika and the round disc with horizontally spread-out wings, , the circle with the four-pointed star, , and the four-armed cross in a circle, , are all symbols for the sun, the highest god, and the supreme power and lifeforce.
On the other hand both and were common in Greece in the antiquity. If d'Alviella's theory is correct, this means that none of these signs was the symbol of a dominating power or god. There probably was no all-dominating god worshipped there.
The swastika was used well before the birth of Christ in Iran, China, India, Japan, and Southern Europe. Whether it was also used that early in the Americas, however, is not known. There are no swastika-like signs on the oldest rock carvings there. Neither did the Mayans, the Incas, and the Aztecs use it. However, many of the Indian tribes in the southern parts of North America seem to have begun using the sign after the arrival of the first Spanish colonists.
The swastika is mostly associated with Buddha in India, China, and Japan. In early Chinese symbolism was known as wan, and was a general superlative. In Japan it may have been a sign for the magnificent number 10,000.
In India according to d'Alviella, the word swastika is composed by the Sanskrit su = good, and asti = to be, with the suffix ka. The arms of the Indian swastika were angled in a clockwise direction (from the center).
The sign was common among the Hittites (in what is now Turkey), and in Greece from around 700 B.C., where it was freely used in decorations on ceramic pots, vases, coins, and buildings in the antiquity.
In the rest of Europe swastikas and swastika-like structures were used by the Celts. They did, however, not appear in the Nordic countries until well after the birth of Christ, and then they do not seem to have been common. They can be seen on. few runic stones (from around 1000 A.D.), often combined with another cross structure, as in .
After the birth of Christ, maybe related to the disappearance of the Celtic culture from the European continent, seems to have lost its popularity in most of Europe, with the exception of the Nordic countries. Maybe it became known as a sign representing Buddha and therefore was considered anti-Christian. This disappearance might also have been due to its widespread use in ancient Greece, a pagan society.
Although not commonly used in Europe during the Middle Ages, it was wellknown and had many different names: Hakenkreuz in Germanic princedoms, fylfot in England, crux gammata in Latin countries, and tetraskelion or gammadion in Greece.
This sign is also Brigit's cross for the Celtic goddess Brigit (Brig, Briga), nowadays also worshipped by the Wiccans.
The swastika's spectrum of meaning is centered around power, energy, and migration. It is closely associated with and , thus with tribal migrations.
The sign was used in the nineteenth and twentieth century cartography to indicate electric power plants. It was part of the logotype used by the Swedish manufacturer of electrical machinery, ASEA, now the multinational ABB, until Hitler monopolized as a national symbol. The Danish brewery group Carlsberg used the swastika too, but also stopped using it to avoid association with the Nazis. In the section "The ideographic Struggle in Europe during the 1930s" in the Appendices you can read more about the way the swastika was introduced and used in Germany. See also in Group 34.
The swastika is still a common sign in Finland. The victory of the "Whites" during the civil war of 1918 was the victory of the farm-owners, the middle class, and the squires over the communist workers and crofters, the "Reds". can be seen on the Finnish Cross of Freedom, an order decoration created by the winning side in 1918; as a sign for Finnish women's voluntary defense; and on army unit standards. It was also the sign for the Finnish air force from 1918 up to the 1950s.
There is some confusion as to whether the clockwise (from the centre) angled swastika, , or the countercockwise angled variation, , is the sign with the most positive meaning. Both types have appeared in many different contexts, except when the sign is used as an official or national symbol, in which case is always preferred. The instances of use of are by far more numerous than those of .