The Swastika: A Symbol’s Journey

Swastika: From a Lucky Charm to Infamy

The swastika, a cross with arms bent at right angles, is a symbol steeped in millennia of history.

Origins and Early Significance

Originating from the Sanskrit word स्वस्ितक, svastika, meaning any lucky or auspicious object, and in particular a mark made on persons and things to denote good luck. It combines su- (“good”) and asti (“to be”), it literally means “little thing associated with well-being,” akin to a “lucky charm.” This geometric motif, which in its Indian form typically features a dot in each quadrant, has been a symbol of luck, the sun, divinity, and the cyclical nature of life in various cultures.


Historically, the swastika’s presence is vast and varied, appearing in the artistic and religious expressions of the Sumerians, Hittites, Celts, Greeks, and many others. Its most profound roots are in Hinduism, where it first emerged in the Vedas as a symbol of good fortune and well-being. The swastika’s auspiciousness extended to other Indic religions, including Buddhism and Jainism, illustrating its universal appeal as a positive emblem.

The Swastika’s Universal Appeal

The swastika’s adaptability and significance across cultures underscore its universal appeal. From the pre-Christian Anglo-Saxon ship burial at Sutton Hoo, adorned with swastikas, to its appearance in Asian, European, and Native American contexts, the symbol has transcended geographic and cultural boundaries, serving as a testament to human spirituality and the shared desire for prosperity and protection.

The Twentieth Century Transformation

The early twentieth century marked a dark turn in the swastika’s history. Its adoption by the National Socialist German Workers’ Party, or the Nazis, as their emblem irrevocably altered the symbol’s connotations. What was once a universally recognized sign of good luck and well-being became emblematic of fascism, hate, and the atrocities of World War II. This transformation showcases one of the most dramatic shifts in symbolic meaning in human history, leading to widespread misconceptions about its pre-Nazi associations and current significance in Eastern religions and cultures.

Misunderstandings in the Modern Era

In the West, the swastika is now almost exclusively associated with Nazi ideology, leading to ignorance and misconceptions about its millennia-old history and its continued use as a religious symbol in Hinduism, Buddhism, and Jainism. This misunderstanding underscores the powerful impact symbols can have and the ways in which their meanings can be completely transformed by historical events.

Parallels and Modern Symbolism: The Rainbow and letter “Z”

A contemporary example of symbol transformation is the rainbow. Once merely a meteorological phenomenon representing the spectrum of light, the rainbow has become a symbol of LGBTQ+ pride and diversity. This evolution demonstrates how symbols can acquire new meanings and represent significant social movements.

Then there’s the letter “Z”, once nothing but a letter, now a symbol of Russian aggression against Ukraine. It was introduced literally over night.

A Fictional Scenario: The Transformation of Symbol for Peace

Imagine a world where a simple geometric shape, such as the peace symbol, becomes the emblem of a movement advocating for global unity and peace, but is later adopted by the radicalists that have set out to forcefully achieve their own goals (because it reminds them of a sniper reticle perhaps?), and somewhere along the way they forget all about the things the emblem once stood for. Initially embraced as a symbol of peace and cooperation, this sign could eventually represent coercion and uniformity, illustrating how even the most benign symbols can acquire negative connotations through their associations.


The journey of the swastika from a sign of good fortune to a symbol of hate exemplifies the fluid nature of symbols and their meanings. It serves as a reminder of the power of context, historical events, and cultural shifts in shaping our understanding of symbols. As societies evolve and reinterpret symbols, it’s crucial to remember the complex histories that many of these symbols carry, honoring their origins while acknowledging their transformations.