Inked AU/NZ – Authentink Article – September 2012
by Kian ‘Horisumi’ Forreal
Love it or hate it, one cannot deny the power of the swastika in its role to mystify, enlighten, intrigue, divide or unite people. As of late It is a very misunderstood symbol, the swastika is a symbol older than civilization itself that extends into the dark past beyond the ice age that broke our recorded history of life on earth. The swastika is found in nearly every single ancient culture around the world. One of the main misconceptions is in the way it is depicted, either facing forward (swastika) or spinning reverse (swavastika), cocked on one leg diagonal or flat on one side; it all means the same thing from the earliest of times, it is a symbol of the Sun first and foremost, and depending from which culture you are viewing it thru; good luck, prosperity, protection, fertility, enlightenment, power, long life, holiness, peace and the list goes on, all of it positive and much of it spiritual. It is said that it was given to the people of earth by the sky gods themselves in the before times.
The tattoo world has always embraced the swastika for either its shock value as a punk rock badge of honor, a biker patch of anti-authoritarianism or its use as an all-powerful mystical symbol that predates everything else… in this essay I will touch upon the positive aspects of the swastika and its unique history as it relates to various cultures that still use it today or recently stopped using it during world war II for sensitivity reasons. Swastikas feature prominently in Japanese art (and tattooing) in one form or another, either as patterns on the silk robes of samurai and geisha, as decoration on household items or on Buddhas and statues. Swastikas also feature heavily in pattern-based tribal like ‘dot work’ tattooing very popular in the UK and elsewhere overseas. Repeating rows of swastikas running backwards, 3D, perspective., there are many ways to create a pattern out of one of mans oldest symbols. Seeing the swastika itself reminds you on a deep level how powerful this really symbol is.
I remember as a child doodling them on my notebooks at school before I even knew what they were or what their history was, and I am not alone in this, many people express the same memory of drawing a natural symbol of the sun from some deep subconscious place within us.
Scholars scratch their heads trying to figure out how the swastika travelled in ancient times around the globe to be incorporated into nearly every culture in every corner of the earth, and always with nearly the same divine meaning. It is a mystery they cannot solve. Some scholars believe it must have been given to these cultures by a ‘mother culture’ that was emulated around the world, and some believe its more of an archetype symbol that resides inside us that we all have an innate connection to.
The Japanese refer to the swastika as Manji, named for an ancient god. It is found on major temples in Japan and on street corner shrines and everything in between. The samurai used it on their swords and armor for protection and luck, Buddha statues prominently adorn them on their breast, and they are used artistically as decoration in patterns and lattice work. Everywhere you look in modern day japan the swastika is there.
The Chinese Buddhists prefer to use the counter clockwise spinning Swavastika as it represents the inner source of everything, a return to the godlike. It is the Immaculate Heart of Buddha. When you see a Buddha statue with this symbol on the chest you are seeing the heart of the Buddha displayed.
To the Nepalese and Tibetans it is their most beloved and sacred of symbols, the swastika is the Gem of Heaven, Universal Good and Divine Law. The Dalai Lamas throne is always depicted with four swastikas, the image is put on the breasts of the their dead and it is not uncommon for the monks to have the swastika tattooed on them.
In India where the word originates from, the swastika is as ubiquitous as anything in our culture. The Indians use to mark their cows, fields, homes and shrines as a sign of good luck and protection. It is the holy power from the land of bliss – eternal creativeness. The four arms of the swastika represent birth, life, death and immortality. The symbol is marked on the forehead and breast of babies at birth by their parents. The swastika is the holiest of holy symbols for the 800 million Hindus that live in India.
In Scandinavia the swastika is called the Hammer of Thor and was depicted on runes from ancient times to bottles of Carslberg beer in more modern times. The Vikings were apparently very fond of the swastika and they carved it into the blades of their swords and spearheads for protection in battle not unlike the Japanese.
In Canada, America, Britain and Australia, up until 1938, the swastika featured commonly in society as a good luck symbol and all around lucky charm. There were a couple regional hockey teams in Canada that had a large forward facing swastika emblazoned the jerseys of their players, there was a car out of Detroit called the ‘Krit’ that had the swastika as a hood ornament, there is actually a town in Ontario, Canada called ‘Swastika’. It still exists despite numerous attempts to get the town to change names. The Bard of the British Empire, Rudyard Kipling, famous for Jungle Book and his Just So Stories, used the swastika as his personal coat of arms until the National Socialists took power in Germany in the 1930’s. Coca Cola even released a keychain fob in the shape of a swastika in the 1920’s and the Boy Scouts of America had it on their flag for a while.
This column barely scratches the surface of the vast history and important place the swastika has in mankind’s time on the planet. I personally love the swastika as a personal and holy power symbol, and I try to use it as patterns in my tattoos as much as possible, I also have patterns of it tattooed on myself. There is so much more to this symbol than the dark decade of the last century and I encourage you to do some research of your own from what I have written and see for yourself the wealth of information that exists on this subject and the immense power that this symbol holds and the way it connects us to our past and future.
All the best