“Symbols can be so beautiful, sometimes”

If you all haven’t figured this out yet, you soon will learn that I’m a huge nerd of ancient history, symbolism and etymology – so much so that I would relish an opportunity to fall into the plot-line of some “Indiana Jones” or “Da Vinci Code” story and set out to save the world from evil-doers by solving ridiculously abstract and far-fetched historical puzzles. So it always riles up the archaeologist and anthropologist in me just a little bit when some fact from the past is misunderstood by modern culture.

Note: I’m the first to admit that the Da Vinci Code is horribly historically inaccurate and Indiana Jones isn’t exactly culturally accurate either, but they are fun so let’s just go with it.

Anyway, the Da Vinci Code starts off with Professor Landon giving a lecture about the origin of religious symbols, and I was reminded of this scene the other day while in my Archaeology class about Pompeii.  Our professor was showing us examples of Roman mosaics that look like this:

Yes folks, that infamous equilateral cross with 4 arms bent at right angles that is almost universally recognized nowadays and associated with Nazi Germany and all its horrors. Someone behind me asked why the Romans would use a swastika as a decorative symbol because clearly the only image that sprang to her mind was the corrupted one meant to suggest hate.

But an interesting fact about Swastikas is that they have only very recently taken on that horrible symbolism of death, racism, communism, and suffering. Centuries before Hitler, the swastika meant something very different and in some cultures today, still means what it was intended to mean: prosperity and well-being.

The word swastika comes from a Sanskrit word “svastika” meaning “being good” or “having well-being”. It has in the past implied purity, fortune, and luck to different cultures around the world.

Representations of the image are found throughout history in the art and culture of Ancient Mesopotamia, the Roman Empire, early Christianity, Byzantium, and other cultures throughout Europe. It has been found in Mayan and Incan artwork and some native North American tribes as well. It is also seen in Chinese and Japanese art and figures prominently in Buddhism, Hinduism, and Jainism. And in all cases, it is a symbol of good luck and good fortune.

The meaning of the symbol began to change when it was adopted by the Aryan people – ancient settlers of Iran and India, who believed themselves to be a pure and superior race. It was this connotation that the Nazi party admired about the symbol, as they felt it accurately represented their own ideals about a pure race. So when they were in the market for a symbol to solidly portray their party, the swastika became the candidate of choice. There is evidence that Hitler himself stressed over the perfect representation of the swastika and how it would look on flags and banners, and sadly this image is the one that most strongly comes to mind when people view swastika today.

What’s coming soon:

I promise this is a really cool one!  So look for it soon!