A "right-facing" Swastika in decorative Hindu form
For the town in Ontario, see Swastika, Ontario.

The swastika (from Sanskrit स्वस्तिक svastika) is an equilateral cross with its arms bent at right angles in either left-facing () or right-facing () direction. It is traditionally oriented so that a main line is horizontal, though it is occasionally rotated at forty-five degrees, and the Hindu version is often decorated with a dot in each quadrant.



The swastika is a holy symbol in Hinduism, Jainism, Heathenry and Buddhism. In the West, it is more widely known as a symbol of Nazism.

The motif seems to have first been used in Neolithic Eurasia. However, it was also adopted in Native American cultures, seemingly independently. The swastika is used universally in religious and civil ceremonies in India. Most Indian temples, weddings, festivals and celebrations are decorated with swastikas. The symbol was introduced to Southeast Asia by Hindu kings and remains an integral part of Balinese Hinduism to this day, and it is a common sight in Indonesia. The symbol also has an ancient history in Europe, appearing on artifacts from pre-Christian European cultures. By the early 20th century it was widely used worldwide and was regarded as a symbol of good luck and auspiciousness.

Since its adoption by the National Socialist German Workers Party and Adolf Hitler, the swastika has been associated with fascism, racism (white supremacy), World War II, and the Holocaust in much of the Western world. Before this it had seen a resurgence in recognition from the archaeological work of Heinrich Schliemann, who discovered the symbol in the site of ancient Troy and associated it with the ancient migrations of Indo-European ("Aryan") peoples. He connected it with similar shapes found on ancient pots in Germany, and theorised that the swastika was a "significant religious symbol of our remote ancestors", linking ancient German, Greek and Vedic culture.[1] [2]

Nazi use arose from this idea, developing from earlier völkisch movements, for which the swastika was a symbol of "Aryan" identity, a concept that came to be equated by theorists like Alfred Rosenberg with a Nordic master race originating in northern Europe. The swastika remains a core symbol of Neo-Nazi groups, and is also regularly used by activist groups to signify the supposed Nazi-like behaviour of organizations and individuals they oppose.

Etymology and alternative names

The word swastika is derived from the Sanskrit svastika (in Devanagari, स्वस्तिक), meaning any lucky or auspicious object, and in particular a mark made on persons and things to denote good luck. It is composed of su- (cognate with Greek ευ-), meaning "good, well" and asti a verbal abstract to the root as "to be"; svasti thus means "well-being". The suffix -ka forms a diminutive, and svastika might thus be translated literally as "little thing associated with well-being", corresponding roughly to "lucky charm", or "thing that is auspicious".[3] The suffix -tika also literally means mark; therefore a sometimes alternate name for swastika in India is shubhtika (literally good mark). The word first appears in the Classical Sanskrit (in the Ramayana and Mahabharata epics).

Alternative historical English spellings of the Sanskrit word include suastika and svastica. Alternative names for the shape are:

  • Black Spider, to various peoples in middle and western Europe.
  • crooked cross,
  • cross cramponned, ~nnée, or ~nny (in heraldry), as each arm resembles a crampon or angle-iron. (Compare Winkelmaßkreuz in German.)
  • cross gammadion, tetragammadion or just gammadion, as each arm resembles the Greek letter Γ (gamma). (Compare croiz gammée in Old French and croix gammée in French; cruz gamada or esvástica in Spanish.)
  • fylfot (meaning "four feet", chiefly in heraldry and architecture). (See Fylfot for a discussion of the etymology.)
  • hooked cross (Dutch: hakenkruis, Serbian: kukasti krst, Icelandic: hakakross German: Hakenkreuz, Finnish: hakaristi, Norwegian: hakekors Italian: croce uncinata Romanian: Cruce încârligată and Swedish: hakkors, Danish: hagekors, Hungarian: horogkereszt),
  • sun wheel (German Sonnenrad), a name also used as a synonym for the sun cross.
  • tetraskelion, Greek "four legged", especially when composed of four conjoined legs (compare triskelion).
  • Thor's hammer, from its supposed association with Thor, the Norse god of thunder, but this may be a misappropriation of a name that properly belongs to a Y-shaped or T-shaped symbol. (See Thomas Wilson, below.) The Swastika shape appears in Icelandic grimoires where in it is named Þórshamar.
  • thunder cross (Latvian: perkonkrusts),
  • twisted cross,
  • cross surprise (Polish krzyżyk niespodziany) or highlander cross (Polish goralski krzyż).


A Right facing Swastika from the Indus Valley Civilization. Circa 3000 BCE
A Right facing Swastika from the Indus Valley Civilization. Circa 3000 BCE

The earliest swastika-like symbols preserved appear on pottery dated from around 4000 BC, as part of the "Vinca script". The Swastika symbol was also used as part of the Indus script from around 3000 BC, from which the later Hindu/Jain/Buddhist use of the symbol probably evolved. Pottery dating to ca. 2000 BC found at Sintashta is also decorated with the swastika symbol [4]. Swastika-like symbols also appear in Bronze and Iron Age designs of the northern Caucasus (Koban culture), and Azerbayjan, as well as of Scythians and Sarmatians [5]. In all these cultures, with the exception of South Asia, the swastika symbol does not appear to occupy any marked position or significance, but appears as just one form of a series of similar symbols of varying complexity.

In antiquity, the swastika was used extensively by Hittites[6], Celts and Greeks, among others. It occurs in other Asian, European, African and Native American cultures – sometimes as a geometrical motif, sometimes as a religious symbol. The swastika is the sacred symbol in Hinduism, Buddhism and Jainism.

The ubiquity of the swastika symbol is easily explained by it being a very simple symbol that will arise independently in any basketweaving society. The swastika is a repeating design, created by the edges of the reeds in a square basket-weave. Other theories attempt to establish a connection via cultural diffusion or an explanation along the lines of Carl Jung's collective unconscious.

While the existence of the swastika symbol in the Americas may be explained by the basket-weave theory, its American presence weakens the cultural diffusion theory. While some have proposed that the swastika was secretly transferred to North America by an early seafaring civilization on Eurasia, a separate but parallel development is considered the most likely explanation.

Comet/bird hypothesis

Main article: Han Dynasty silk comet atlas
Two owl like vases from Ilios

Yet another explanation is suggested by Carl Sagan in his book Comet. Sagan reproduces an ancient Chinese manuscript that shows comet tail varieties: most are variations on simple comet tails, but the last shows the comet nucleus with four bent arms extending from it, recalling a swastika. Sagan suggests that in antiquity a comet could have approached so close to Earth that the jets of gas streaming from it, bent by the comet's rotation, became visible, leading to the adoption of the swastika as a symbol across the world. Bob Kobres in Comets and the Bronze Age Collapse (1992) contends that the swastika-like comet on the Han Dynasty silk comet atlas was labeled a "long tailed pheasant star" due to its resemblance to a bird's foot., and further suggests that many swastika and swastika-like motifs may have been representations of bird tracks, including many of those found by Schliemann.

Early Hinduism

The swastika symbol is sacred in Hinduism, Buddhism and Jainism, both dating from about the sixth century BC. In Hinduism, the swastika symbolizes, in various contexts: luck, the sun, Brahma, or the concept of samsara. Buddhism in particular enjoyed great success, spreading eastward and taking hold in southeast Asia, China, Korea and Japan by the end of the first millennium. The use of the swastika by the indigenous Bön faith of Tibet, as well as syncretic religions, such as Cao Dai of Vietnam and Falun Gong of China, is thought to be borrowed from Buddhism as well. Similarly, the existence of the swastika as a solar symbol among the Akan civilization of southwest Africa may have been the result of cultural transfer along the African slave routes around AD 1500.

Adoption of the swastika in the West

This Iranian necklace was excavated from Kaluraz, Guilan, first millennium BCE, National Museum of Iran.
This Iranian necklace was excavated from Kaluraz, Guilan, first millennium BCE, National Museum of Iran.

The discovery of the Indo-European language group in the 1790s led to a great effort by archaeologists to link the pre-history of European peoples to the ancient Aryans (Indo-Iranians). Following his discovery of objects bearing the swastika in the ruins of Troy, Heinrich Schliemann consulted two leading Sanskrit scholars of the day, Emile Burnouf and Max Müller. Schliemann concluded that the Swastika was a specifically Indo-European symbol. Later discoveries of the motif among the remains of the Hittites and of ancient Iran seemed to confirm this theory. This idea was taken up by many other writers, and the swastika quickly became popular in the West, appearing in many designs from the 1880s to the 1920s.

These discoveries, and the new popularity of the swastika symbol, led to a widespread desire to ascribe symbolic significance to every example of the motif. In Scandinavian and Germanic countries examples of similar shapes in ancient European artifacts and in folk art were interpreted as emblems of good-luck linked to the Indo-Iranian meaning.

Western use of the motif, along with the religious and cultural meanings attached to it, was subverted in the early twentieth century after it was adopted as the emblem of the National Socialist German Workers Party. This association occurred because Nazism stated that the historical Aryans were the forefathers of modern Germans and then proposed that, because of this, the subjugation of the world by Germany was desirable, and even predestined. The swastika was used as a conveniently geometrical and eye-catching symbol to emphasize this mythical Aryan-German correspondence and instil racial pride. Since World War II, most Westerners know the swastika as solely a Nazi symbol, leading to incorrect assumptions about its pre-Nazi use in the West and confusion about its sacred religious and historical status in other cultures.

Geometry and symbolism

A right-facing swastika may be described as "clockwise"...
... or "counter-clockwise"
A swastika composed of 17 squares in a 5x5 grid

Geometrically, the swastika can be regarded as an irregular icosagon or 20-sided polygon. The arms are of varying width and are often rectilinear (but need not be). However, the proportions of the Nazi swastika were fixed: they were based on a 5x5 grid.[7]

Characteristic is the 90° rotational symmetry (that is, the symmetry of the cyclic group C4h) and chirality, hence the absence of reflectional symmetry, and the existence of two versions which are each other's mirror image.

The mirror-image forms are often described as:

"Left-facing" and "right-facing" are used mostly consistently. Looking at an upright swastika, the upper arm clearly faces towards the viewer's left (卍) or right (卐). The other two descriptions are ambiguous as it is unclear if they refer to the direction of the bend in each arm or to the implied rotation of the symbol. If the latter, whether the arms lead or trail remains unclear. The terms are used inconsistently (sometimes even by the same writer) which is confusing and may obfuscate an important point, that the rotation of the swastika may have symbolic relevance.

Nazi ensigns had a through and through image, so each version was present on one side, but the Nazi flag on land was right-facing on both sides ([8], at the bottom).

The swastika is, after the simple equilateral cross (the "Greek cross"), the next most commonly found version of the cross.

Seen as a cross, the four lines emanating from the center point to the four cardinal directions. The most common association is with the Sun. Other proposed correspondences are to the visible rotation of the night sky in the Northern Hemisphere around Polaris.


See main article: Sauwastika

The name sauwastika is sometimes given for the supposedly "evil", left-facing, form of the swastika (卍). A common myth is that the left-facing swastika is generally regarded as evil in Hindu tradition. This is because the much more common form in India is the right-facing swastika. Indians of all faiths sometimes use the symbol in both orientations - mostly for symmetry. Buddhists (outside India) generally use the left-facing swastika over the right-facing swastika although, again, both can be used. Despite this, the misconception that the left-facing swastika is evil is widespread, even among some contemporary Indian communities.

Some contemporary writers — Servando González, for example — confuse matters even further by asserting that the right-facing swastika, used by the Nazis is in fact the "evil" sauwastika.[9] (González "proves" that the left-facing swastika is the sunwise one with reference to a 1930's box of Standard fireworks from Sivakasi, India.) This inversion – whether intentional or not – might derive from a desire to prove that the Nazi's use of the right-handed swastika was expressive of their "evil" intent. (See also Taboo in Western countries.) But the notion that Adolf Hitler deliberately inverted the "good left-facing" swastika is wholly unsupported by any historical evidence.[10]

Art and architecture

swastika on the roman mosaic
swastika on the roman mosaic
Interlocking swastika design in pavement of Amiens Cathedral.

The swastika is common as a design motif in current Hindu architecture and Indian artwork as well as in ancient Western architecture, frequently appearing in mosaics, friezes, and other works across the ancient world. Ancient Greek architectural designs are replete with interlinking swastika motifs. Related symbols in classical Western architecture include the cross, the three-legged triskele or triskelion and the rounded lauburu. The swastika symbol is also known in these contexts by a number of names, especially gammadion.

In Chinese, Korean, and Japanese art, the swastika is often found as part of a repeating pattern. One common pattern, called sayagata in Japanese, comprises left and right facing swastikas joined by lines.[11] As the negative space between the lines has a distinctive shape, the sayagata pattern is sometimes called the "key fret" motif in English.

The swastika symbol was found extensively in the ruins of the ancient city of Troy.

In Greco-Roman art and architecture, and in Romanesque and Gothic art in the West, isolated swastikas are relatively rare, and the swastika is more commonly found as a repeated element in a border or tessellation. A design of interlocking swastikas is one of several tessellations on the floor of the cathedral of Amiens, France.[12] A border of linked swastikas was a common Roman architectural motif,[13] and can be seen in more recent buildings as a neoclassical element. A swastika border is one form of meander, and the individual swastikas in such border are sometimes called Greek keys.

The Laguna Bridge in Yuma, Arizona was built in 1905 by the U.S. Reclamation Department and is decorated with a row of swastikas.

The Canadian artist ManWoman has attempted to rehabilitate the "gentle swastika".

Religion and mythology


 Children light lamps in the shape of Swastika, on the eve of Diwali (the eve of Hindu new year), a major Hindu festival.
Children light lamps in the shape of Swastika, on the eve of Diwali (the eve of Hindu new year), a major Hindu festival.

The swastika is found all over Hindu temples, signs, altars, pictures and iconography where it is sacred. It is used in all Hindu weddings, festivals, ceremonies, houses and doorways, clothing and jewelry, motor transport and even decorations on food items like cakes and pastries.

It is one of the 108 symbols of Vishnu and represents the sun's rays without which there would be no life.

The Aum symbol is also sacred in Hinduism. Whereas Aum is representative of a single primordial tone of creation, the swastika is a pure geometrical mark and has no syllabic tone associated with it.

In Hinduism, the two symbols represent the two forms of the creator god Brahma: facing right it represents the evolution of the universe (Pravritti), facing left it represents the involution of the universe (Nivritti). It is also seen as pointing in all four directions (North, East, South and West) and thus signifies stability and groundedness. Its use as a sun symbol can first be seen in its representation of Surya, the Hindu lord of the Sun. The swastika is considered extremely holy and auspicious by all Hindus, and is regularly used to decorate all sorts of items to do with Hindu culture. It is used in all Hindu yantras and religious designs. Throughout the subcontinent of India it can be seen on the sides of temples, written on religious scriptures, on gift items, and on letterhead. The Hindu God Ganesh is often shown as sitting on a lotus flower on a bed of swastikas.

Amongst the Hindus of Bengal, it is common to see the name "swastika" applied to a slightly different symbol, which has the same significance as the common swastika, and both symbols are used as auspicious signs. This symbol looks something like a stick figure of a human being.[14] "Swastika" is a common given name amongst Bengalis and a prominent literary magazine in Calcutta is called the Swastika. The stick figure, however, is not mainstream usage in India.


Swastika on a Buddhist temple in Korea.
Swastika on a Buddhist temple in Korea.

Buddhism was founded by a Hindu Prince and has thus inherited the swastika. These two symbols are included, at least since the Liao Dynasty, as part of the Chinese language, the symbolic sign for the character 萬 or 万 (wàn in Chinese, man in Japanese, vạn in Vietnamese) meaning "all", and "eternality" (lit. myriad) and as 卐 which is seldom used. A swastika marks the beginning of many Buddhist scriptures. The swastikas (in either orientation) appear on the chest of some statues of Gautama Buddha and is often incised on the soles of the feet of the Buddha in statuary. Because of the association with the right facing swastika with Nazism, Buddhist swastikas (outside India only) after the mid-20th century are almost universally left-facing: 卍. This form of the swastika is often found on Chinese food packaging to signify that the product is vegetarian and can be consumed by strict Buddhists. It is often sewn into the collars of Chinese children's clothing to protect them from evil spirits.

In 1922, the chinese syncretist movement Daoyuan founded the philanthropic association Red Swastika Society in imitation of the Red Cross. The association was very active in China the 1920's and the 1930's.

On maps in the Taipei subway system a swastika symbol is employed to indicate a temple, parallel to a cross indicating a Christian church.
On maps in the Taipei subway system a swastika symbol is employed to indicate a temple, parallel to a cross indicating a Christian church.

The swastika used in Buddhist art and scripture is known in Japanese as a manji (which literally just means "the Chinese character for eternality" 万字), 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) manji. Balanced manji are often found at the beginning and end of Buddhist scriptures (outside India).


Jainism gives even more prominence to the swastika than Hinduism. It is a symbol of the seventh Jina (Saint), the Tirthankara Suparsva. It is considered to be one of the 24 auspicious marks and the emblem of the seventh arhat of the present age. All Jain temples and holy books must contain the swastika and ceremonies typically begin and end with creating a swastika mark several times with rice around the altar. Jains use rice to make a swastika (also known as "Sathiyo" in the state of Gujarat, India) in front of idols in temple. Jains then put an offering on top of this swastika - this offering is usually a fruit, a sweet (mithai), a dry-fruit or sometimes coin/currency note.

The Abrahamic religions

The swastika was not widely utilized by followers of the Abrahamic religions. Where it does exist, it is not portrayed as an explicitly religious symbol and is often purely decorative or, at most, a symbol of good luck. One example of scattered use is the floor of the synagogue at Ein Gedi, built during the Roman occupation of Judea, which was decorated with a swastika.[15]

Some Christian churches built in the Romanesque and Gothic eras are decorated with swastikas, carrying over earlier Roman designs. Swastikas are prominently displayed in a mosaic in the St. Sophia church of Kiev, Ukraine dating to the 12th century. They also appear as a repeating ornamental motif on a tomb in the Basilica of St. Ambrose in Milan. However, a proposed direct link between it and a swastika floor mosaic in the Cathedral of Our Lady of Amiens, which was built on top of a pagan site at Amiens, France in the 1200s, is considered unlikely.

The Muslim "Friday" mosque of Isfahan, Iran and the Taynal Mosque in Tripoli, Lebanon both have swastika motifs.

Other Asian traditions

Some sources indicate that the Chinese Empress Wu (684-704) of the Tang Dynasty decreed that the swastika would be used as an alternative symbol of the sun. As part of the Chinese script, the swastika has Unicode encodings U+534D 卍 (pronunciation following the Chinese character "萬": Cantonese: "man"; Mandarin: wan); (left-facing) and U+5350 卐 (right-facing).[16]

Falun Gong emblem, also depicting yin and yang.
Falun Gong emblem, also depicting yin and yang.

The Mandarin "Wan" is a homophone for "10,000" and is commonly used to represent the whole of creation eg 'the myriad things' in the Dao De Jing.

In Japan, the swastika is called manji (卍). On Japanese maps, a swastika (left-facing and horizontal) is used to mark the location of a Buddhist temple. The right-facing manji is often referred as the gyaku manji (逆卍, lit. "reverse manji"), and can also be called kagi jūji, literally "hook cross."

The left-facing Buddhist swastika also appears on the emblem of Falun Gong. This has generated considerable controversy, particularly in Germany, where the police have reportedly confiscated several banners featuring the emblem. A court ruling subsequently allowed Falun Gong followers in Germany to continue the use of the emblem.

Native American traditions

The swastika shape was used by some Native Americans. It has been found in excavations of Mississippian-era sites in the Ohio valley. It was widely used by many southwestern tribes, most notably the Navajo. Among different tribes the swastika carried various meanings. To the Hopi it represented the wandering Hopi clans; to the Navajo it was one symbol for a whirling log (tsil no'oli'), a sacred image representing a legend that was used in healing rituals.[17]

The Flag of Kuna Yala.

A swastika shape is an ancient symbol in the culture of the Kuna people of Kuna Yala, Panama. In Kuna tradition it symbolises the octupus, which created the world; its tentacles pointing to the four cardinal points gave rise to the rainbow, the sun, the moon and the stars.[18]

In February, 1925, the Kuna revolted against Panamanian suppression of their culture, and were granted autonomy in 1930; the flag which they adopted at this time is based on the swastika shape, and remains the official flag of Kuna Yala. A number of variations on the flag have been used over the years; red top and bottom bands instead of orange were previously used, and in 1942 a ring (representing the traditional Kuna nose-ring) was added to the centre of the flag to distance it from the symbol of the Nazi party.[19]

Pre-Christian European traditions

The swastika (also called a fylfot, a term coined in the 19th century from a 1500 reference to a figure used to fill empty space at the foot of stained-glass windows in medieval churches) appears as an ornament on many pre-Christian artefacts, drawn both left-facing and right-facing. Similar motifs, within a circle or in a swirling form have also been interpreted as "swastikas".

The Greek goddess Athena was sometimes portrayed as wearing robes covered with swastikas.

An Ogham stone found in Anglish, Co Kerry (CIIC 141) was modified into an early Christian gravestone, and was decorated with a cross pattée and two swastikas at this time. The pre-Christian Anglo-Saxon ship burial at Sutton Hoo, England, contains gold cups and shields adorned with swastika-like shapes.

The ancient Norse Sun cross.

The pre-Christian Norse regularly used the so-called Sun cross or Sun wheel one form of which is often interpreted as a variant of the swastika, and it appears regularly in Scandinavian folk art. Swastika shapes are found, among similar ornaments, on Germanic Migration period artifacts, such as the Gothic spearhead found at Brest-Litovsk, Russia, or the Younger Futhark Snoldelev Stone, in Ramsø, Denmark.

In the neopagan religions Asatru and Heathenry these swastika-like shapes are often used as religious symbols. Adherents of these faiths argue that their use is not connected to the political implications that the symbol gained under Nazism, claiming pre-Christian Germanic origins of the symbol.

The "Hands of Gods" (ręce boga), allegedly an old (pre-Christian) Polish symbol of Svarog.

The swastika shape was also present in pre-Christian Slavic mythology. It was dedicated to the sun god named Svarog and called kolovrat, (pol. kolowrót). In the Polish first Republic the symbol of swastika was also popular with the nobility. According to chronicles, Varangians prince Oleg who in the 9th century with his Rus Vikings had captured Constantinople, had nailed his shield to the city's gates, which had a large red swastika painted on it. The several polish noble houses f.e. Boreyko, Borzym, Radziechowski from Ruthenia also had Swastikas as their coat of arms. The family had reached its greatness in the 14-15th centuries and their crest can be seen in many heraldry books produced at that time.

The Vatican Museums contain examples of Etruscan pottery bearing the swastika.

Early 20th century


Logo from a 1911 edition of Rudyard Kipling.
Logo from a 1911 edition of Rudyard Kipling.

The British author Rudyard Kipling, who was strongly influenced by Indian culture, had a swastika as his personal moniker on the dust jackets of all his books until the rise of Nazism made this inappropriate. One of Kipling's Just So Stories, "The Crab That Played With The Sea", had an elaborate full-page illustration by Kipling including a stone bearing what was called "a magic mark" (a swastika); some later editions of the stories blotted out the mark, but not its captioned reference, making the readers wonder what the "mark" was.

During World War I, the swastika was used as the emblem of the British National War Savings Committee.[20]

The swastika was also used as a symbol by the Boy Scouts in Britain, and worldwide. According to "Johnny" Walker,[21] the earliest Scouting use was on the first Thanks Badge introduced in 1911. Robert Baden-Powell's 1922 Medal of Merit design adds a swastika to the Scout fleur-de-lis as good luck to the person receiving the medal. Like Kipling, he would have come across this symbol in India. During 1934 many Scouters requested a change of design because of the use of the swastika by the Nazis. A new British Medal of Merit was issued in 1935.

The Lotta Svärd emblem was designed by Eric Wasström in 1921. It includes the swastika and heraldic roses.
The Lotta Svärd emblem was designed by Eric Wasström in 1921. It includes the swastika and heraldic roses.


In Finland the swastika was used as the official national marking of the Finnish Air Force and Army between 1918 and 1944. The swastika was also used by the Lotta Svärd organisation. The blue swastika was the good luck symbol used by the Swedish Count Eric von Rosen, who donated the first plane to the Finnish White Army during the Finnish Civil War. It has no official connection to the Nazi use of the swastika but represents the Cross of Freedom, the oldest order in Finland. This howewer remains highly controversial, because Rosen was one of the founding members of Nationalsocialistiska Blocket, a swedish national socialist political party. Later Rosen also gained more closer connection to Germany when Hermann Göring got married with Karin Kantzow whose sister was married to Rosen. The swastika also still appears in many Finnish medals and decorations and also on the flag of the president of Finland who is Grand Master of the Cross of Freedom. In the much respected wartime medals of honor it was a visible element, first drafted by Axel Gallen-Kallela 1918–19. Mannerheim cross with a swastika is the Finnish equivalent of Victoria Cross, Croix de guerre and Medal of Honor. Due to Finland's alliance with Nazi Germany in World War II, the symbol was abandoned as a national marking, to be replaced by a roundel.


The Icelandic Steamship Company, Eimskip (founded in 1914) used a swastika in its logo.


In Dublin, Ireland, a laundry company known as the Swastika Laundry existed for many years in Ballsbridge on the south side of the city. The company's fleet of electric delivery vans were red, and featured a black swastika on a white background. The business started in the early 20th century and continued up until recent times. The Laundry's tall chimneystack was emblazoned with a large white Swastika, which was clearly visible from the surrounding streets. The name and logo eventually disappeared when the laundry was absorbed into the Spring Grove company.


In Latvia, too, the swastika (known as Thunder Cross and Fire Cross) was used as the marking of the Latvian Air Force between 1918 and 1934, as well as in insignias of some military units.[22] It was also used by the Latvian fascist movement Perkonkrusts (Thunder Cross in Latvian), as well as by other non-political organizations.

North America

The Theosophical Society, founded in New York in 1875, incorporated the Swastika into its seal because of the Hindu and Buddhist associations of the symbol.

The swastika's use by the Navajo and other tribes made it a popular symbol for the Southwestern United States. Until the 1930s, blankets, metalwork, and other Southwestern souvenirs were often made with swastikas.

Arizona state highway markers up until 1940 featured a right-facing swastika superimposed on an arrowhead (Arizona Roads)

Arizona state highway marker from late 1920's.
Arizona state highway marker from late 1920's.

In Rapid City, South Dakota, there were swastikas in the lobby of the Alex-Johnson Hotel. They were decorations honoring the Native-America culture of Western South Dakota. When the lobby was remodeled, they all disappeared.

  • Swastika is the name of a small community in northern Ontario, Canada, approximately 580 kilometres north of Toronto, and 5 kilometres west of Kirkland Lake, the town of which it is now part. The town of Swastika was founded in 1906. Gold was discovered nearby and the Swastika Mining Company was formed in 1908. The government of Ontario attempted to change the town's name during World War II, but the town resisted.
  • In Windsor, Nova Scotia, there was an ice hockey team from 1905 to 1916 named the Swastikas, and their uniforms featured swastika symbols. There were also hockey teams named the Swastikas in Edmonton, Alberta (circa 1916), and Fernie, British Columbia (circa 1922).
Original insignia of the 45th Infantry Division (from the American Indian symbol).
Original insignia of the 45th Infantry Division (from the American Indian symbol).
  • The 45th Infantry Division of the United States Army used a yellow swastika on a red background as a unit symbol until the 1930s, when it was switched to a thunderbird.[23]~[24]
  • In 1925, Coca-Cola made a lucky watch fob in the shape of a swastika with the slogan, "Drink Coca Cola five cents in bottles".
  • The Health, Physical Education and Recreation Building (HPER) at Indiana University contains decorative Native American-inspired reverse swastika tilework on the walls of the foyer and stairwells on the southeast side of the building. HPER was built as the university fieldhouse in the 1920s, before the Nazi party came to power in Germany. In recent years, the HPER swastika motif, along with the Thomas Hart Benton murals in nearby Woodburn Hall have been the cause of much controversy on campus.
  • The U.S. Navy base at Coronado, California has a swastika-shaped building. [25] This building predates World War II.
  • Shortly after the beginning of World War II, several Native American tribes (the Navajo, Apache, Tohono O'odham, and Hopi) published a decree stating that they would no longer use the swastika in their artwork. This was because the swastika had come to symbolize evil to them. This decree was signed by representatives of these tribes. The decree states:
Because the above ornament which has been a symbol of friendship among our forefathers for many centuries has been desecrated recently by another nation of peoples.
Therefore it is resolved that henceforth from this date on and forever more our tribes renounce the use of the emblem commonly known today as the swastika or fylfot on our blankets, baskets, art objects, sandpainting, and clothing.


A military parade held in 1936 to commemorate the regimental feast of the 2nd Podhale Rifles Regiment; Sanok, Poland
A military parade held in 1936 to commemorate the regimental feast of the 2nd Podhale Rifles Regiment; Sanok, Poland
The  highlander cross was the sign of Polish 21st and 22nd Mountain Infantry Divisions
The highlander cross was the sign of Polish 21st and 22nd Mountain Infantry Divisions

Since early Middle Ages the sign of swastika was well-established among all Slavic lands. Known as swarzyca, it was primarily associated with one of Slavic gods named Swarog. With time the significance of the symbol faded, but it was preserved in numerous cases as a personal symbol of various personalities, as was the case of the Boreyko Coat of Arms. It was also preserved in the folk culture of the region of Podhale, where it was used as a talisman well into 20th century. As a solar symbol, it was painted or carved on various parts of houses in the Tatra Mountains and was thought to save the household from the evil.

The ancient symbol used by the Góral societies was adopted by the Polish mountain infantry units in the 1920's. It was adopted as a regimental insignia by the artillery units of the 21st and 22nd Infantry Divisions, as well as by the soldiers of the 4th Legions' Infantry, the 2nd and 4th Podhale Rifles. A distinctive blue swastika was a background emblem of The Airborne and Antigas Defence League (1928-1939, LOPP), which had circa 1,5 million members in 1937.

Outside of the military traditions, the mountaneer's swastika also influenced a number of other symbols and logos used on Polish soil. Among such was the logo of the IGNIS publishing company (est. 1822), and the personal symbol of Mieczysław Karłowicz, a notable composer an admirer of the Tatras. After his tragic death in the mountains in 1909, the place of his death was marked by a memorial stone and a swastika. Finally, it was also used as a personal logo and ex libris by Walery Eliasz-Radzikowski of Boreyko Coat of Arms, a Polish author who was also strongly influenced by the Polish mountaneers and had a swastika on the dust jackets of all his books and letters.

ASEA logo used from the late nineteenth century until 1933
ASEA logo used from the late nineteenth century until 1933


The Russian Provisional Government of 1917 printed a number of new bank notes with right-facing, diagonally rotated swastikas in their centres. Some have suggested that this may have been the inspiration behind the Nazis adoption of this symbol as Alfred Rosenberg was in Russia at this time.


The Swedish company ASEA, now a part of Asea Brown Boveri, used the swastika in its logo from the 1890s to 1933, when it was removed from the logo.

Nazi Germany

The flag of Nazi Germany and the NSDAP

Flag Ratio: 3:5
Flag Dimensions: 60 x 100
Disc Diameter: 45
Arm Width: 6

The National Socialist German Workers Party (Nationalsozialistische Deutsche Arbeiterpartei or NSDAP) formally adopted the swastika or Hakenkreuz (hooked cross) in 1920. This was used on the party's flag (right), badge, and armband. (It had been used unofficially by the NSDAP and its predecessor, the German Workers Party, Deutsche Arbeiterpartei (DAP), however.)

In Mein Kampf, Adolf Hitler wrote:

I myself, meanwhile, after innumerable attempts, had laid down a final form; a flag with a red background, a white disk, and a black swastika in the middle. After long trials I also found a definite proportion between the size of the flag and the size of the white disk, as well as the shape and thickness of the swastika.

(Red, white, and black were the colors of the flag of the old German Empire.)

The use of the swastika was associated by Nazi theorists with their conjecture of Aryan cultural descent of the German people. Following the Nordicist version of the Aryan invasion theory, the Nazis claimed that the early Aryans of India, from whose Vedic tradition the swastika sprang, were the prototypical white invaders. It was also widely believed that the Indian caste system had originated as a means to avoid racial mixing. The concept of Racial purity was an ideology central to Nazism though it is now considered unscientific. For Rosenberg, the Aryans of India were both a model to be imitated and a warning of the dangers of the spiritual and racial "confusion" that, he believed, arose from the close proximity of races.

Thus, they saw fit to co-opt the sign as a symbol of the Aryan master race. The use of swastika as a symbol of the Aryan race dates back to writings of Emile Burnouf. Following many other writers, the German nationalist poet Guido von List believed it to be a uniquely Aryan symbol. Hitler referred to the Nazi flag as a combination of Nationalist, Socialist and Aryanist motifs. The red (from the socialist Red Flag) stood for the "social idea"; the white stood for German Nationalism, and the swastika was the symbol of "the fight for the victory of Aryan man", which "always has been and always will be anti-Semitic." (Mein Kampf).

In fact, the swastika was already in use as a symbol of German volkisch nationalist movements. In Deutschland Erwache (ISBN 0912138696), Ulric of England (sic) says —

Thule Society Swastika
… what inspired Hitler to use the swastika as a symbol for the NSDAP was its use by the Thule Society (Gr. Thule-Gesellschaft) since there were many connections between them and the DAP … from 1919 until the summer of 1921 Hitler used the special Nationalsozialistische library of Dr. Friedich Krohn, a very active member of the Thule-Gesellschaft, … Dr. Krohn was also the dentist from Sternberg who was named by Hitler in Mein Kampf as the designer of a flag very similar to one that Hitler designed in 1920 … during the summer of 1920, the first party flag was shown at Lake Tegernsee … these home-made … early flags were not preserved, the Ortsgruppe München flag was generally regarded as the first flag of the Party.

José Manuel Erbez says —

The first time the swastika was used with an "Aryan" meaning was on December 25, 1907, when the self-named Order of the New Templars, a secret society founded by [Adolf Joseph] Lanz von Liebenfels, hoisted at Werfenstein Castle (Austria) a yellow flag with a swastika and four fleurs-de-lys.[26]

However, Liebenfels was drawing on an already established use of the symbol.

NSDAP flags at the 1936 Nazi Party rally in Nuremberg

On 14 March 1933, shortly after Hitler's appointment as Chancellor of Germany, the NSDAP flag was hoisted alongside Germany's national colors. It was adopted as the sole national flag on 15 September 1935.

The swastika was used for badges and flags throughout Nazi Germany, particularly for government and military organizations, but also for "popular" organizations such as the Reichsbund Deutsche Jägerschaft.[27]

While the DAP and the NSDAP had used both right-facing and left-facing swastikas, the right-facing swastika is used consistently from 1920 onwards. However, Ralf Stelter notes that the swastika flag used on land had a right-facing swastika on both sides, while the ensign (naval flag) had it printed through so that you would see a left-facing swastika when looking at the ensign with the flagpole to the right.[28]

Several variants are found:

  • a 45° black swastika on a white disc as in the NSDAP and national flags;
  • a 45° black swastika on a white lozenge (e.g., Hitler Youth[29]);
  • a 45° black swastika with a white outline was painted on the tail of aircraft of the Luftwaffe;
  • a 45° black swastika outlined by thin white and black lines on a white disc (e.g., the German War Ensign[30]);
  • an upright black swastika outlined by thin white and black lines on a white disc (e.g., Hitler's personal flag, in which a gold wreath encircles the swastika; the Schutzstaffel; and the Reichsdienstflagge, in which a black circle encircles the swastika);
  • small gold, silver, black, or white 45° swastikas, often lying on or being held by an eagle, on many badges and flags.[31]
  • a swastika with curved outer arms forming a broken circle, as worn by the SS Nordland Division. (See photo at "Nordland Reenactors".)

There were attempts to amalgamate Nazi and Hindu use of the swastika. Notably by Savitri Devi Mukherji who declared Hitler an avatar of Vishnu (see Nazi mysticism).

Taboo in Western countries

Neo-Nazi defacement of a Jewish cemetery in France. Although the most well-known version of the Nazi emblem featured a diagonal swastika, the orthogonal swastika, depicted here, has also been used as a symbol of Nazi ideology. (The markings on the gravestone at front left use the SS logo rather than a swastika.)
Neo-Nazi defacement of a Jewish cemetery in France. Although the most well-known version of the Nazi emblem featured a diagonal swastika, the orthogonal swastika, depicted here, has also been used as a symbol of Nazi ideology. (The markings on the gravestone at front left use the SS logo rather than a swastika.)

Because of its use by Hitler and the Nazis and, in modern times, by neo-Nazis and other hate groups, for many people in the West, the swastika is associated primarily with Nazism, and white supremacy in general. Hence, outside historical contexts, it has become taboo in Western countries. For example, the German postwar criminal code makes the public showing of the Hakenkreuz (the swastika) and other Nazi symbols illegal and punishable, except for scholarly reasons. It is not clear whether the German postwar code actually bans the construction of Hindu and Jain temples in Germany (Jain temples always have the swastika on their entrance and Jain ritual typically involves creating seven swastikas from grains of rice around the altar during prayer).

In Finland some military units still use swastika ([32],[33], [34]). In 1944 the Air Force changed its national emblem to a roundel but continued to use the swastika elsewhere. In 1963 the chain of the Grand Cross of the Order of the White Rose was changed. More recently, in 25 October 2005 an official swastika emblem was adopted for use by the Air Force [35]. The powerful symbolism acquired by the swastika has often been used in graphic design and propaganda as a means of drawing Nazi comparisons; examples include the cover of Stuart Eizenstat's 2003 book Imperfect Justice,[36] publicity materials for Costa-Gavras's 2002 film Amen,[37] and a billboard that was erected opposite the U.S. Interests Section in Havana, Cuba, in 2004, which juxtaposed images of the Abu Ghraib torture and prisoner abuse pictures with a swastika. It is even censored from the lithographs on boxes of model kits sold in Germany, and the decals that come in the box.

In the leadup and aftermath of the invasion of Iraq some anti-Bush activists have used the swastika in association with George W. Bush. Nazi symbolism has also been used by musicians to express their disagreement with Bush's policies. This has caused some controversy for some outspoken artists.

Founded in the 1970s, the Raëlian Movement, a religious sect believing in the possibility of immortality by scientific progress, used a symbol that was the source of considerable controversy: an interlaced Star of David and swastika. In 1991, the symbol was changed to remove the swastika and deflect public criticism. The Society for Creative Anachronism, which aims to study and recreate Medieval and Renaissance history, imposes restrictions on its members' use of the swastika on their arms,[38] although some arms dating to the early days of the group have the symbol.

The Raëlian symbol, before 1991 and after
The Raëlian symbol, before 1991 and after
In recent years, controversy has erupted when consumer goods bearing the symbol have been exported (often unintentionally) to North America. In 2002, Christmas crackers containing plastic toy pandas sporting swastikas were pulled from shelves after complaints from consumers in Canada, although the China-based manufacturer claimed the symbol was presented in a traditional sense and not as a reference to the Nazis.[39] In 1995, the City of Glendale, California scrambled to cover up over 900 cast iron lampposts decorated with swastikas throughout the downtown portion of the city; the lampposts had been manufactured by an American company in the early 1920s, and had nothing to do with Nazism.[40]

Popular culture and modern media

Main article: Swastikas in popular culture

Swastikas or swastika-like shapes sometimes appear in modern popular culture, although in the Western world (where the symbol is still usually considered associated with National Socialist Germany) considerably less so than in the East (where the symbol is used under a variety of cultural conditions and not considered offensive).

See also

See also: Fascist symbolism, Karl Haushofer.


  • Aigner, Dennis J. (2000). The Swastika Symbol in Navajo Textiles. Laguna Beach, California: DAI Press. ISBN 097018980X.
  • Clube, V. and Napier, B. The Cosmic Serpent. Universe Books, 1982
  • Lonsdale, Steven. Animals and the Origin of Dance, Thames and Hudson Inc., NY, 1982 (pp. 169-181).
  • MacCulloch, C.J.A. Canon, John A. (Ed.) Mythology of all Races. vol. 8 ("Chinese Mythology" Ferguson, John C.) Marshall Jones Co. Boston, MA 1928 (p. 31).
  • Morphy, Howard (Ed.). Animals into Art (ONE WORLD ARCHAEOLOGY; vol. 7) Unwin Gyman Ltd., London, 1989 (chapt. 11 Schaafsma, Polly).
  • Roy, Pratap Chandra. The Mahabharata, Munshiram Manoharlal, New Delhi, 1973 (vol. 1 section 13-58, vol. 5 section 2-3)
  • Sagan, Carl, and Ann Druyan (1985). Comet. New York: Random House. ISBN 0394549082. London: Joseph. ISBN 0718126319.
  • Schliemann, Henry. Ilios Harper & Brothers, Franklin Square, NY, 1881 (pp. 334-353).
  • Tan Huay Peng. (1980-1983). Fun with Chinese Characters. Singapore: Federal Publications. ISBN 9810130058.
  • Whipple, Fred L. The Mystery of Comets Smithsonian Inst. Press, Washington, DC 1985, (pp. 163-167).
  • Wilson, Thomas (Curator, Department of Prehistoric Anthropology, U.S. National Museum) (1896). The Swastika: The Earliest Known Symbol, and Its Migrations; with Observations on the Migration of Certain Industries in Prehistoric Times. In Annual report of the Board of Regents of the Smithsonian Institution. Washington DC: Smithsonian Institution


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  4. ^  "The Swastika". Crystalinks: Ellie Crystal's Metaphysical and Science Website.
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  7. ^  J. R. "Debunking the Nazi 'Backwards Swastika' Myth". JR's Rare Books and Commentary. August 2001.
  8. ^  "Sayagata 紗綾形". Japanese Architecture and Art Net Users System.
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  15. ^  Chants and Myths about Creation, from Rainforest Art. Retrieved February 25, 2006.
  16. ^  Panama - Native Peoples, from Flags of the World. Retrieved February 20, 2006.
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  18. ^  House of Commons Hansard Debates for 12 Jun 1996 (pt 41).
  19. ^  Dov Gutterman, Latvia: Aircraft Marking, June 20, 2004.
  20. ^  "From Swastika to Thunderbird". 45th Infantry Division Museum.
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  22. ^  José Manuel Erbez. "Order of the New Templars 1907". Flags of the World. January 21, 2001.
  23. ^  Santiago Dotor, and Norman Martin. "German Hunting Society 1934-1945 (Third Reich, Germany)" Flags of the World. March 15, 2003. The flag of the Reichsbund Deutsche Jägerschaft
  24. ^  Mark Sensen, António Martins, Norman Martin, and Ralf Stelter. "Centred vs. Offset Disc and Swastika 1933-1945 (Germany)". Flags of the World. December 29, 2004.
  25. ^  Marcus Wendel et al. "Hitler Youth (NSDAP, Germany)". Flags of the World. January 17, 2004.
  26. ^  Norman Martin et al. "War Ensign 1938-1945 (Germany)". Flags of the World. The "Reichskriegsflagge"
  27. ^  Flags at Flags of the World:
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  30. ^  "Glossary of Terms" of the Society for Creative Anachronism. December 23, 2003.
  31. ^  "Toy pandas bearing swastikas a cultural mix-up". CBC News. December 30, 2002.
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  34. ^  "Clarence House issues apology for Prince Harry's Nazi costume". BBC News. January 13, 2005.

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