Swastikas and the power of symbolism

Swastikas make for bad decorum these days in the West. Ever since the last world war, sporting a swastika is right up there with wearing white at a wedding in terms of bad taste. It’s an understandable stigma, but is unfair.

When asked what a swastika means, most people will mention Nazis, Hitler, World War II, the holocaust, fascism, racism, anti-semitism, ism after ism. A popular prison tattoo among neo-nazi skinheads, the symbol has an enduring allure of totalitarian hate amongst our most ignorant degenerates. An unjust tragedy, if you ask me.

In the East the swastika symbol means much more than what the German politicians of decades past intended. Perhaps you’ve heard the icon once belonged to the practice of Hinduism, and that it was stolen by Hitler’s political movement, molded into something much more sinister.

Indeed, the swastika is a holy symbol not only in Hinduism, but Buddhism, Jainism and other cultural practices in Southern Asia. It has retained spiritual meaning to millions of people since classical antiquity, dating back to the Indus Valley civilization. In other words, it’s older than the Christian cross, Star of David, ying-yang and the Jack Daniel’s label.

The word swastika comes from the language the Buddha would’ve spoken, Sanskrit.

Literally translated it means ‘to be good’ (Su- good, asti- to be, ka- suffix). It embodies the sacred virtues of auspiciousness, and is a beacon of luck, happiness and adjustment in the world.

It’s such an injustice that a symbol so wholesome and meaningful should be cast down and dismissed, no matter the reputation that haunts it. You can’t watch the history channel for five minutes without seeing it stamped on a red and white background, flapping morbidly behind columns of goose-stepping maniacs. What business does the wheel of luck have flying above the most misguided attempt at enforcing order ever concocted?

The culprit was perhaps Joseph Goebbles, Hitler’s propaganda specialist and PR man.

Wanting to liken him to Gandhi and capitalize on India’s growing anti-British sentiment, Goebbles attempted to portray Hitler as a pacifist, a vegetarian even. The swastika was another convoluted attempt at misleading the public, and when facing right and on its axis it takes on a whole new meaning, which we still haven’t forgotten.

Perhaps we never will, and that isn’t a bad thing. We would be remiss to ever let the atrocities of the second world war fall into obscurity, but should there not be at least an attempt to heal the wounds? I can’t help but think of Harry Potter, and how everyone in his world seems terrified at uttering the name of Voldemort, opting instead to call him ‘You-Know-Who.’

Everyone except for Harry and Dumbledore of course, and anyone standing with them. Fear of the name, they believe, empowers fear of the man. The only way to rob Voldemort of this psychological advantage is by facing up to reality and taking back the power his name has.

I apologize if the metaphor is lost on you. My point is that we tend to give way too much power to symbols. It’s a typical and timeless human tendency. At one time, they were the apex of our attempts at procuring meaning from the world. Religious insignias like Ra’s halo orTiamat’s celestial bastion had more than just spiritual implications for ancient peoples; they were icons of existence.

The evidence of divinity was obvious, and symbols were man’s ultimate tool for harnessing vast, complicated, cosmological understandings of things; refining them into two-dimensional pictures.

Nazis, both today and bygone, have shat all over this most beautiful symbol, tainting it with their misdeeds. Do they really deserve to hang onto it as a legitimate emblem of hate? No.

As intelligent and responsible citizens of the present, I advocate for its retaking. Perhaps in my lifetime the scars of genocide will never fade, but it seems a mistake to let such a rich symbol fall into the hands of pure scum.

The swastika’s meaning may have been perverted, but we can’t simply ignore the thousands of years of history preceding the 1940s in Europe. Nor can we ignore the millions of people still using it as part of their culture today.

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