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swastika
November 17, 2002 2:33 AM   Subscribe

The Swastika, Swastika links, and a complete index.
posted by hama7 (64 comments total)

 
It matters not to me what the significance of the swastika is historically, or what it means in the East - what has been done under in the memory of me and mine it taints it utterly. I blench at the sight of it. Until something unequivocally good is accomplished under its banner, it will remain a sign of evil for everone who remembers what the Nazis did. A great evil has managed to undo whatever good it might have stood for.

When the memory of the Nazis is blotted out, and that swastika is a simple sign of sun, warmth and progess, that'll be great. But I'll be a long time dead.
posted by i_am_joe's_spleen at 2:59 AM on November 17, 2002


*wine* sytactic lapses to be forgiven please
posted by i_am_joe's_spleen at 3:01 AM on November 17, 2002


Thanks for the education, hama7.
I partly agree with you, i_am_joe's_spleen. In most contexts, the swastika turns my stomach. Spray-painted on a overpass or tattooed on someone's arm, I find it offensive, threatening, and sickening. But used for its original purposes, I think it's fine.
My family has a collection of Navajo rugs on display or in use. All of them were made before the Nazi party's existence, and many bear the swastika. From the time I could recognize the swastika from "The Sound of Music," I was taught that the Nazis had stolen the symbol of a rising sun and used it to represent evil. We recognize that that explanation can't satisfy many people, and do take the rugs up if we know Jewish guests or other people who may be very sensitive to the symbol are coming. The whole family, though, is comfortable with the rugs and enjoys them as beautiful objects of art and history.
posted by hippugeek at 3:38 AM on November 17, 2002


While entering the post office the other day I noticed the cornice overhead contained running swastika's in the theme. The post office was built in the 1910's so the symbol was 'pre-evil'. Like the posters above my initial reaction upon seeing a swastika is always shock...even in a post office. I then began to wonder about peoples reactions to swastikas in the forties in america. Were swastika motifs torn down? covered up? ignored? left alone?
posted by darkpony at 3:56 AM on November 17, 2002


It's been discussed obliquely on MetaFilter before. stavrosthewonderchicken mentioned that red Buddhist swastikas are ubiquitous in Korea, (and denote Buddhist temple sites or fortune tellers), and are common symbols for shrines in Japan.
posted by hama7 at 3:57 AM on November 17, 2002


'struth. A lot of young impressionables freak out when they first arrive in Korea, spotting the mirror-swastikas everywhere and erroneously assuming there's a massive and omnipresent neo-nazi movement here or something. Little do they realize that it's totally unrelated, and in fact many Koreans tend to be so nationalistically self-absorbed and ignorant of history that doesn't involve their own nation (not unlike young Americans, I am led to believe) that they don't even realize that Hitler was a Bad Guy.
posted by stavrosthewonderchicken at 4:39 AM on November 17, 2002


I have a shelf of old Kipling books, all so adorned, with both directions of the symbol represented between them. It doesn't seem offensive to me in that context at all, interestingly.
posted by Nothing at 4:46 AM on November 17, 2002


One of the levels in the original Legend of Zelda was shaped like a swastika. I thought it was pretty odd until I found out that it's a common symbol in Asia.
posted by Xkot at 4:47 AM on November 17, 2002


Same goes for Hong Kong.

Tons of Buddhist swastikas here. What freaks me out are the dumb-ass kids here that wear t-shirts with the Hitler version and the slogan "Helmut Lang Training Camp" underneath.

Boneheads.
posted by bwg at 6:07 AM on November 17, 2002


Until something unequivocally good is accomplished under its banner, it will remain a sign of evil for everyone who remembers what the Nazis did. A great evil has managed to undo whatever good it might have stood for.
You take liberty in speaking for others here. My mom escaped the Nazi occupation of Denmark in the hold of a ship. When she came to Japan in 1996, she flipped out the first day when we rounded a corner and she saw a swastika on a little roadside shrine (every neighborhood has these, they are no bigger than a postal drop box). "Are Japanese people Nazis?" she demanded. When I explained that the symbol is not just older than the Nazi party but thousands of years older, and an extremely positive spiritual symbol in many early religions, she wasnot only relieved but quite delighted to know it. The swastika is totally ubiquitous here, not something you occasionally see.
posted by planetkyoto at 7:02 AM on November 17, 2002


The canadian "post pop" artist ManWoman has dedicated his life to the rehabilitation of the swastika - for a start, he's almost completetly covered in swastika tattoos, has published a book called "The Gentle Swastika - Reclaiming the Innocence", and sponsored the Friends Of The Swastika Declaration of Independance "We, the undersigned, declare the swastika to be innocent of the crimes perpetrated in its name under Nazi banners. Five years of war cannot be allowed to wipe out five thousand years of sacred history. We declare that the swastika has an independant life."

Plus he's made some inspired art! Go ManWoman!
posted by dinsdale at 7:38 AM on November 17, 2002


We should also mention that the banned chinese spiritual group Falun Gong uses a swastika in their Falun Emblem: "The Falun emblem is the symbol of Falun Dafa. The character in the center is the symbol called "wan", which has been used in many cultures for thousands of years to denote good fortune. "
posted by dinsdale at 7:42 AM on November 17, 2002


gentle swastika - MY ARSE.
posted by sgt.serenity at 8:07 AM on November 17, 2002


Tsarina Alexandra collected swastikas. In fact, her wedding gown had a swastika on it if I recall correctly, as did her scrapbook. Reading Robert K. Massie's book about the doomed couple was the first indication I had that the crooked cross had ever meant anything but evil. I too find the symbol threatening, but I am glad to know a bit more about its history and meaning to various cultures.
posted by xyzzy at 8:14 AM on November 17, 2002


The apartment building where I used to live was built in 1930. The well tiled steps in its foyer were studded with faux American Indian motifs--a leaping deer, a Mayan glyph... and a small blue swastika in reverse direction to the evil Nazi one. The guy who managed the place after me found it quite offensive just the same and wanted to chip it out. I argued against the idea on the grounds it was likely an innocent symbol when the place was built--that, and the fact the result would be a butt ugly defacement of someone else's property.
posted by y2karl at 8:20 AM on November 17, 2002


"The cross makes me belch, because the inverted cross is pure evil. It doesn't matter to me that the cross is a relgious symbol for millions worldwide."

That's what most of you sound like. The Swastika used by Hitler is the mirror image of the Hindu Swastika. Just remember not all Aryans are German and not all Swastikas are Nazi symbols.
posted by riffola at 8:36 AM on November 17, 2002


I am sorry I didn't mean most of the people. I meant some of you. Sorry it just irritates me that people confuse the two Swastiks and think that all Aryans are evil.
posted by riffola at 8:38 AM on November 17, 2002


Tibetan iconography includes both directional swastikas as well.
posted by mblandi at 9:27 AM on November 17, 2002


is it possible to revive the good name of something associated with so many bad vibes? Or is that something that only time can do?
posted by angry modem at 9:37 AM on November 17, 2002


Joe's spleen, don't count on the Nazis or the use of the swastika to be forgotten. It isn't likely to happen, and would it even be good if it were forgotten? "Those who forget the past are condemned to repeat it..."
posted by whatzit at 9:39 AM on November 17, 2002


all swasticas aren't the same - the ones turned the wrong way around are the nazi evil ones.

Even Carlsberg has swasticas next to their big elephants here in dk. Turned the un-evil way, of course. [3000*2000 pixel large image]
posted by dabitch at 9:50 AM on November 17, 2002


Thanks, dinsdale, for those ManWoman links; you really can't have a conversation about swatstikas without acknowledging his/her contribution to the debate.

Until something unequivocally good is accomplished under its banner, it will remain a sign of evil for everone who remembers what the Nazis did. A great evil has managed to undo whatever good it might have stood for.

I understand that logic isn't the point here, but I still find that statement almost absurdly illogical.

When the memory of the Nazis is blotted out, and that swastika is a simple sign of sun, warmth and progess, that'll be great. But I'll be a long time dead.

I'm sorry to hear that's what it'll take for you. Just don't get angry that some of the rest of us are able to move beyond rage at an inanimate object without dying first. I hope you eventually can get past it. But I think there's a deeper issue here: Ignoring history, stamping one meaning on the past and refusing to acknowledge the diversity of cultures on the planet are hardly the kind of thing we need to continue fighting Nazi-like groups. At the very least, please think about the relief and delight of planetkyoto's mother next time you feel like venting your spleen at anyone who could possibly find something redemptive in the fact that the swatstika has *never* belonged solely to the Nazis.
posted by mediareport at 10:29 AM on November 17, 2002


Yeesh. That "swatstika" thing has dogged me since elementary school. I think that's how my Yiddish grandma used to say it. Spell Check is my friend. Spell Check is my friend. Spell Check is my friend.
posted by mediareport at 10:31 AM on November 17, 2002


is it possible to revive the good name of something associated with so many bad vibes? Or is that something that only time can do?
You mean like 'certain' religions?
posted by HTuttle at 10:59 AM on November 17, 2002


On a similar (and less politically charged) note: a brief history of the pentacle (or pentagram)
posted by cortex at 12:06 PM on November 17, 2002


i kinda wish that people would devote their energy to creating new visual symbols and glyphs, etc instead of trying to reclaim old ones (swastikas, the confederate flag, etc)...does it help people who feel fear at the sight of one (and always will), whether turned one way or another?
posted by amberglow at 12:21 PM on November 17, 2002


amberglow, the swastik has been around for ages in the Hindu culture, if the Nazis reversed it and used it on their flags, does that mean the Hindus should stop using a symbol they believe brings happiness and prosperity?
posted by riffola at 12:30 PM on November 17, 2002


nope, but i'd really like to know why are people from cultures that don't have a history of using the swastika as a symbol at all, like americans and canadians (non-native, and non-neonazi) so interested in using it?
posted by amberglow at 12:38 PM on November 17, 2002


logic isn't the point.

A fair call.

Perhaps if I lived in India, I would become desensitised. The point I was trying to make last night, a tad alcoholically and incoherently, was that it requires the emotional equivalent of doublethink - doublefeel? - for me to appreciate the untainted swastika. And I just can't manage it.
posted by i_am_joe's_spleen at 12:44 PM on November 17, 2002


why are people from cultures that don't have a history of using the swastika as a symbol at all, like americans and canadians (non-native, and non-neonazi) so interested in using it?

Were you making a reference to this, amberglow? The spread of symbols across cultures is fairly common, isn't it? Why would a pre-WWII California fruit company decide to use a swastika? *shrugs* But they did.

That said, I'm not interested in using the swastika myself. It just bothers me when folks try to deny that anyone could ever look upon it favorably after the Nazis appropriated it for a decade or two. That's a rigid, ahistorical reaction that seems out of place among those who cherish diversity and tolerance.
posted by mediareport at 1:09 PM on November 17, 2002 [1 favorite]


uhu, how closed minded and unspiritual of me to not
like this happy swastika with little smiley faces on it,
it really does show me up as such an unenlightened person,
what must you all be thinkin of me ?
perhaps we should be moving on to the 'happy hitler'

"the hitler who laughed, the hitler who danced, the hitler
with a song in his heart."

great troll.
posted by sgt.serenity at 1:12 PM on November 17, 2002


again, i wish people would invest their energy in creating new symbols...those pics made me shiver, and i always do when i see one. I understand different uses/meanings of the same symbol, and wouldn't stop anyone using any symbol....i also believe that unless you're looking to provoke, diversity and tolerance are not at all well-served by usage of that particular symbol today in America or Europe. (much like the confederate flag)
posted by amberglow at 1:19 PM on November 17, 2002


also, it's still very much in use today as a symbol of hatred...
posted by amberglow at 1:34 PM on November 17, 2002


uhu, how closed minded and unspiritual of me to not
like this happy swastika with little smiley faces on it


No one's saying you have to like it. Where did that come from? The point is that you don't have a right to demand that others stop using it, or to bitch at them if they use it in a cultural context that clearly has nothing to do with Nazism. Live and let live - the anti-Nazi ideal.

"the hitler who laughed, the hitler who danced, the hitler
with a song in his heart."


great troll.

No comment.
posted by mediareport at 1:42 PM on November 17, 2002


great troll.

Actually, this thread has turned out far more civil and informative than I could ever have predicted. You seem to be reading callous meanings into some posts that I, at least, don't see at all. Most of the mefis who support the continued use of the swastika in its pre-Nazi form and context have acknowledged the horror of what it represented under the Nazis.

on preview, mediareport has beat me to it. I bow humbly to the master of irony.
posted by hippugeek at 1:48 PM on November 17, 2002


My problem regarding its rehabilitation seem to be shared with some in Germany as a softening up exercise.

I know about its use in history and in other cultures, but it is now charged with the meaning that was given to it by the nazis. This is something that cannot be wished away.

I remember being non-plussed as i accidently horrified a German friend because I was wearing an Adam and the Ants badge. I had forgotten about the Waffen SS.
posted by lerrup at 3:01 PM on November 17, 2002


As I tap away at this comment I'm overlooked by a swastika. OK, it's only 1/8" in size & hidden away in the motif at the top of a Balinese Hindu festival calendar [and, boy, are there a lot o festivals!], but it's there. [See here for pic] I've got one on the wall by my desk @ work too.

If it was on a 'western' calendar then it wouldn't get anywhere near my house but the fact that it has a different & distinct cultural context to the Nazi version [which culturally encompasses Europe & the West due to 'western'/European history] then I don't have a problem with it & wouldn't expect any rational person to either.

And, of course, it is the right way round...

Speaking of Balinese Hinduism...

.
posted by i_cola at 3:56 PM on November 17, 2002


Why did the Nazis choose the Swastika?
posted by dash_slot- at 6:07 PM on November 17, 2002


as far as i am concerned any attempt to rehabilitate
an image such as the swastika is trolling at the highest level.

i think the (mis) use of this symbol is something to be guarded against but of course managing to paint people
who are not interested in getting the swastika back on its feet as intolerant is another tactic altogether, look at us,
arent we gentle and spiritual, look how were being persecuted by this nasty man who knows the swastika is a symbol of negativity..
coming next: the inklusive klu klux klan
posted by sgt.serenity at 6:12 PM on November 17, 2002


Which, after all, is a basic, blocky un-modern symbol. Why do these Nazis not just find a decent new symbol, instead of ripping off the art of non-Aryans?
posted by dash_slot- at 6:19 PM on November 17, 2002


the st georges cross could be a winner
posted by sgt.serenity at 6:25 PM on November 17, 2002


ps hippu , you dont have to bow sweetie.....
posted by sgt.serenity at 6:29 PM on November 17, 2002


sgt.serenity, I suggest you stay out of New Mexico and avert your eyes from its flag.
posted by raaka at 6:33 PM on November 17, 2002


seeing as were all tryin to avoid knee jerk reactions and not have this site close down ill join in.

i appreciate the idea of trying to erase any negative
connotations associated with the swastika but each positive representation of a symbol such as this that i see gives me a fear that one day far right groups will be able to ressurect it claiming that for them it is a symbol of positivity.
it would seem to me that the ideal way to do this would be to stress its value as a positive symbol for people and encourage an atmosphere of openmindedness towards it.
i believe the correct term was appeasement.
posted by sgt.serenity at 6:48 PM on November 17, 2002


they've only got one flag in new mexico?
posted by sgt.serenity at 6:54 PM on November 17, 2002


A short history of the Aryan mythos. In a word: Nietzsche was instrumental through his interest in the Aryan cult of Zoroastrianism (after Zoroaster/Zarathustra: the origin of Richard Wagner's theme Also Sprach Zarathustra, later known as 'the 2001 theme'). This was a period in European though of great interest in tribalistic themes, myths, and the occult; see The Golden Bough, T.S. Eliot, et cetera. These themes were seized on by fascist movements across the continent, from Spain to Greece.

Of course, Germans are no more ethnically Aryan than a North Dakota polecat.
posted by dhartung at 6:59 PM on November 17, 2002


Look, sarge, either you're missing the point, or I am. Might well be me, but I'll plow ahead anyway.

For literally thousands of years, most of the people on the planet have incorporated into one religion or another symbols that (in mirror image) were eventually hijacked by the Nazis. Hitler's horde was an unpleasant blight on our collective history, sure, and it redefined the meaning of a whole set of similar glyphs, but not for everyone. A number of people in this thread and the last one on this topic have made it clear that the (again, mirror image) symbol appears all over the world today, in contexts and with intended meanings completely unrelated to the Nazi horror.

I'm not sure if anyone is seriously talking about 'rehabilitating' the symbol, in Europe or anywhere else in the west. Clearly, that's not going to happen - it would be foolish to think otherwise.
posted by stavrosthewonderchicken at 7:01 PM on November 17, 2002


Powerful link there, dhartung. How true,we will find out, I guess.
posted by dash_slot- at 7:41 PM on November 17, 2002


ps hippu , you dont have to bow sweetie.....

Oh, not you, dear. I meant the master of recognizing unintentional irony, not of creating it, and was therefore genuflecting to dash_slot-.

Well said, stavros.
posted by hippugeek at 7:46 PM on November 17, 2002


the origin of Richard Wagner's theme Also Sprach Zarathustra, later known as 'the 2001 theme'

Whoops, Also Sprach Zarathustra was written by Richard Strauss.
posted by homunculus at 7:46 PM on November 17, 2002



posted by swift at 8:13 PM on November 17, 2002


hippugeek: er, thx, - I think ( did you really mean me?)
posted by dash_slot- at 8:35 PM on November 17, 2002


Funny how the swastika can inspire fear in the hearts of men, but not the christian cross, for example.

Just sayin'.
posted by elphTeq at 10:09 PM on November 17, 2002


I just read your pentacle/pentagem link, cortex. Thanks--there was quite a bit there that was new to me. I thought this was particularly interesting:

A pentagram occurs in Tycho Brahe's Calendarium Naturale Magicum Pefpetuum (1582) with a human body imposed and the Hebrew for YHSVH associated with the elements. An illustration attributed to Brae's contemporary Agrippa (Henry Cornelius Agrippa von Nettesheim) is of similar proportion and shows the five planets and the moon at the center point - the genitalia.

It might be instructive to learn more about how the pentagram, when called a star, has been used as an essentially meaningless decorative symbol.

Funny how the swastika can inspire fear in the hearts of men, but not the christian cross

Ah, but it can, elphTeq--if it's burning. Yet again, the context makes a difference.

And dash_slot-: Yes, I really did mean you. Your understatement prevented me from going on to say something considerably ruder.
posted by hippugeek at 10:27 PM on November 17, 2002


Funny how the swastika can inspire fear in the hearts of men, but not the christian cross

never really thought of fear as inspirational but there you go.
why is it that people attach themselves to symbols?
i thought i was above all that stuff but i've noticed that if
you wave a swastika in front of me on a bad day my reactions are pretty spiky, whereas others may levitate over their pc in a state of ethereal bliss.
i suppose its not a argument about good symbol bad symbol, but a discussion about attachments to symbols.
my guess is people attach themselves to symbols out of
fear, as the wise man said.
posted by sgt.serenity at 4:14 AM on November 18, 2002


My favorite use of the swastika comes courtesy of the U.S. Army, no less. (See bottom of page.)
posted by alumshubby at 6:13 AM on November 18, 2002


> sgt.serenity, I suggest you stay out of New Mexico and avert your eyes >from its flag.
>posted by raaka at 6:33 PM PST on November 17

Right. because it. . . looks nothing like a swastika.

behold the Zia
posted by blackfly at 11:28 AM on November 18, 2002


I find it a pity that such a beautiful symbol has been given such a horrifying meaning. I actually thought this before I even knew the pre-Nazi history of the swastika.

When I was in India I was initially a bit startled when I saw my first taxi with a big swastika on it, but by that time I did know of the history of the symbol.

My dad has a theory that the swastika is in fact an early depiction of a cube, thus the association with purity and goodness.

I'm all for bringing about a greater understanding of this symbol, because doing so can only decrease the power of the swastika as a symbol of hate.
posted by Emanuel at 11:41 AM on November 18, 2002


We have quite a few Indian wall-hangings/objects in our house that feature the swastika. I have had to explain the non-Nazi origins and connotations of the symbol to a couple of work-friends who were very surprised to see the swastika in my house.

I agree with stavrosthewonderchicken that the symbol is a part of life in India and Japan and other Asian countries. For them, the Nazi connection is a secondary one.
posted by mumbaiyaa at 1:53 PM on November 18, 2002


homunculus: Ouch. I knew that. Funny Germans, all their names sound alike.

Actually, somebody was standing over my shoulder at the time, I was rushed.


I have a simple reason for wanting to rehabilitate the swastika: Not only are there innocent uses which are now unjustly, mistakenly associated with a horrible period of history. I want to steal back that power.

One more thing: South African neo-nazi flags were sometimes interesting, especially the first one. There were also interesting entries in movements around the world. Sort of frustrating that these guys had (at least sometimes) winning graphic design on their side.
posted by dhartung at 1:55 PM on November 18, 2002


whereas others may levitate over their pc in a state of ethereal bliss.

And you're accusing other people of trolling? Dude. Like, Matthew 7:5.
posted by mediareport at 2:50 PM on November 18, 2002


I agree with stavrosthewonderchicken that the symbol is a part of life in India and Japan and other Asian countries.

It's also important to note that with increased South Asian immigration to North America, Hindu traditions and iconography will necessarily become more familiar to Americans. When you go to the wedding of your Indian friend and you see swastikas all over the place, it becomes a part of your life here in the good ol' USA, too.

(Quick etymological lesson: the word "swastika" originated from the Sanskrit for "well being". The etymology makes no stops in Germany.)
posted by mr_roboto at 2:55 PM on November 18, 2002


may i quote matthew 7:6 in return mediareport?
posted by sgt.serenity at 3:52 PM on November 18, 2002


No.
posted by mediareport at 3:13 PM on November 19, 2002


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