Tuesday, 19 January 2016

Reclaiming the Swastika

The polar significance of the swastika is implied in this depiction since it stands as a separate symbol to sun and moon. It is clearly not a solar symbol here. 

An immediately confronting, or at least baffling, aspect of India, Hindoostan and many other parts of Asia - Japan, for instance - for those not accustomed to such lands is the ubiquitous display of the swastika in nearly all walks of life. The symbol is so completely stigmatized to Western eyes following its misappropriation by the National Socialists in Germany from the 1920s onwards, and has such odious associations, that to step into an environment where it is displayed as an auspicious omen on everything from sacred temples to taxi windscreens requires at least some mental adjustment. 

We live, of course, in an age of unwarranted misappropriations at every turn. Consider the recent history of the word “gay”, for instance; once one of the loveliest and most potent rhymes in English verse – “their eyes, their eyes, their ancient glistening eyes are gay” - the word has, regrettably, been hijacked by those who would turn sodomy into a fashionable lifestyle. In such a short time the word has been almost completely ruined. It takes a brave soul these days to attempt to reclaim it. The author notes that Bob Dylan – who has much to answer for on other counts – gave it a good try when he declared himself to be “strumming on my gay guitar…” on his Time Out of Mind long player, and this without the slightest accommodation to the word’s newly approved connotations, but otherwise “gay" is gone. Half of the best poetry in English prior to 1970 now requires mental adjustment. 

Outside of its Hindoo and Boodhist contexts, the swastika is almost beyond repair as well. Hitler (the worst military strategist in history and on the evidence of the newly republished Mein Kampf one of the worst writers too) and his cohort of thugs took one of the most noble of all symbols and dragged it into the pits of ignominy. One fears that it will never be rehabilitated in the Occidental world. This is a dreadful pity because it is one of the most ancient and also one of the most universal of symbols, and is not - or was not - by any means distinctly and exclusively Oriental. It once featured as much in ancient Western insignia as anywhere else, being known to the Celts, the Greeks, the Norse and many others besides. Hitler, with no more justification than a whim, decided it stood for some supposed "Aryan Race" and turned it to his evil ends.  It has now disappeared from Western symbology altogether, even to the point that the paternalistic do-gooders who run the European Union, in predictable fashion, have attempted to make its public display illegal throughout the entire European domain. 

In Japan, we read in recent accounts, authorities have decided to remove it from maps where it has long signified a Boodhist temple. It seems that European visitors are confused. When they see a swastika they think of goosestepping and zeig heils and imagine such locations on the map to be concentration camps. For the Japanese, quite rightly, it represents sanctity and piety. The symbol has been carried across Asia by the Boodhists; it is found throughout Japan in that context. 

Here in India, where the author resides at present, the symbol's Nazi associations are worlds away and the ancient symbology prevails. It is not subject to any post-Nazi sensitivities whatsoever. On a popular level it signifies all things auspicious and is often used for decorative purposes, but it has more precise meanings in such religious contexts as temples and shrines. It transcends the denominational divides of the sub-continent. Hindoos, Boodhists and Jains of all stamps, Vishnuites and Shaivites, all employ it such that it is a more or less general symbol for the holy and the sacred wherever one goes. No single group can claim it, although it is especially replete in Jain iconography. It appears in religious texts, in religious art and in religious ritual. It appears on walls as graffiti and it is inscribed on the foreheads of devotees. To be in India is to be immersed in a sea of swastikas. Although one can see some variations here and there, it is generally the same everywhere with remarkable consistency, namely the equal-armed 'fylfot' cross, or, more technically, the "tetraskelion", defined as a four-armed cross with perpendicular extensions, at 90° angles, radiating in the same direction, usually (but not always) clockwise.

The origins of the symbol are lost in time. Its use goes back to the neolithic era and beyond. It is pointless to speculate about when it was first devised and where. But there is some point in discussing why, and in discussing its meaning and significance. To say that it signifies "good luck" is, of course, completely unhelpful and is the sort of idiotic thing an anthropologist or sociologist or more likely a journalist might come out with. Clearly, it has deeper and more profound and exact meanings than that. But just what they are is subject to some debate and a wide range of views. Readers will discover a whole array of theories, some obviously more plausible than others. There are some outlandish and inventive proposals, along with some that seem more sensible and likely. We can be sure that the symbol had no attachment to "Aryan purity" and the like at its inception, and it certainly carried a more exact meaning than just "good luck", but what? 

On the whole the meaning of the symbol has two possible significances which are themselves not unrelated. The only question is which is earlier and more integral.The possibilities are that (a) it is a solar symbol, and refers to the cycle of the sun and therefore to the turn of the four seasons, or (b) it is a polar symbol and refers to the turn of the constellations (and especially the Great Bear, or the Big Dipper) around the north pole. For many reasons (upon which there is insufficent space to elaborate in detail here) the present author strongly favours the polar signification. Polar symbolism precedes solar symbolism. Rather than representing the sun, the equinoxes and the solstices - the fourfold nature and relevance of which is not in dispute - it represents, in its primal signification, the pole and the turn of the constellations around it. It is, that is to say, Hyperborean; in fact, the Hyperborean symbol par excellence. It becomes a solar symbol by extension and in a later phase of religious symbolism. 

The shift from polar alignments to solar alignments is one of the great movements in early human spiritual consciousness but is not widely understood. Many solar symbols were originally of polar significance. For instance, the common astrological glyph for the Sun originally (and obviously when you look at it) signified the pole and the artic circle, thus:

At a certain point, however, the polar association was lost and the newer solar meaning came to prevail. This has led to a great deal of confusion in religious symbolism and iconography, confusion that is exactly characteristic of what the Hindoos describe as the decline of the Ages or Yugas.

A recent post by the present author on the Hyperborean nature of the cult of Shiva in Benares deals with related matters and makes some relevant points about the symbolism of the swastika in relation to that of the lingam. Please find a link to it here

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The present author is an unashamed enthusiast for the swastika and actively campaigns to have it reclaimed from its Nazi associations. (He feels the same about recaiming the word 'gay' from cultural Marxism.) One fears, however, that such a reclamation might be beyond the guilt-ridden and unimaginative Europeans of our time. 

Readers can find below a collection of photographs of this noble symbol the author has taken at various locations around India during his recent travels:

The swastika is often found combined with the primordial syllable, AUM, pointing to its great antiquity and its primordiality. Such associations point to its polar significance and count against a solar meaning in the first instance.  

In this interesting example from a cafe in Benares we see the corresponding symbolism of the swastika with the magic square (Kamea).

The Jain ghat in Benares which features a huge red swastika facing out into the Ganges River. 


Harper McAlpine Black

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