The swastika is an archetypal, universal human religious symbol. It appears on every continent and is as old as humankind. A marker of the sun’s travels, it can be seen on Pictish rock carvings, adorning ancient Greek pottery, and on ancient Norse weapons and implements.
Swastikas were scratched onto cave walls in France seven thousand years ago. A swastika marks the beginning of many Buddhist scriptures, and is often incised on the soles of the feet of the Buddha in statuary. In the Jain religion, the swastika is a symbol of the seventh Jina (Saint), the Tirthankara Suparsva. To Native Americans, the swastika is a symbol of the sun, the four directions, and the four seasons.
Geometrically, the swastika is a type of solar cross, with arms bent at right angles, suggesting a whirling or turning motion. Long before the symbol was co-opted as an emblem of Hitler’s Nazi party, it was a sacred symbol to Hindu, Jain, and Buddhist religions, as well as in Norse, Basque, Baltic, and Celtic Paganism.
The name Swastika is derived from the Sanskrit language, from “su,” meaning “good,” and “vasti”,” meaning “being” (together: well being) In India, it is used as a fertility and good luck charm. The right turning Indian swastika symbolizes the sun and positive energy, and is most commonly associated with the deity Ganesh, a God of prosperity and wealth. Some Indians regard an anti-clockwise swastika as an opposing, dark force- a symbol of the godess Kali. Together, the two can be regarded as symbolically similar to the Yin Yang symbol of Taoism, or the two Pillars of Kabbalah. The swastika is also known for its uses in heraldry as the tetraskelion, or the the fylfot cross (fylfot meaning ‘four feet’), the cross gammadion (because it resembles four greek letter ‘gammas.’), and the hakenkreutz (German, hooked cross).
The swastika used in Buddhist art and scripture is known as a Manji, and represents Dharma, universal harmony, and the balance of opposites. When facing left, it is the Omote (front) Manji, representing love and mercy. Facing right, it represents strength and intelligence, and is called the Ura (rear facing) Omoje. Balanced Manji are often found at the beginning and end of buddhist scriptures. You can read more about Manji here.
In pre-Christian Pagan Europe, the swastika was generally a solar symbol, but in many cases, its use dates so far back in history that its original meaning is obscured. It is most often associated with the god Thor.
In Baltic regions, the swastika is sometimes called the “thunder cross,” and is associated with the Thunder God Perkons (Perkunas):
|A variation of the Thunder Cross, or Cross of Perkons|
A decorative swastika