The Swastika: The Earliest Known Symbol & its Migrations
The Migration Of Symbols
in Ohio cut it in its plainest normal form out of sheets of copper. So also among the modern Indians we find it employed on occasions of ceremony, as in the mountain chant by the Navajoes, and the war chant of the Kansas, on the necklace and ceremonial garters of the Sac woman, and on the war shields of the Pimas.
As we do not find it represented in America on aboriginal religious monuments, on ancient gods, idols, or other sacred or holy objects, we are justified in claiming that it was not here used as a religious symbol; while, as it is found only on trinkets, shells, copper plaques, spindle-whorls, metates, pottery bowls, jugs, bottles, or vases; as we find it sometimes square, sometimes spiral, now outside, now inside, or bowls and jars, etc.; at one time as small rectangular figure and at another of extensive convolutions covering the side of the vase; as we find it on the tools of the workmen, the objects in everyday use, whether in the house or the shop, used indiscriminately by men and women, or on gaming implements or dance rattles, the contention seems justifiable that it was used as an ornament or as a charm for good luck and not as a religious symbol. Yet we know it was used on certain ceremonial occasions which may themselves have had more or less a sacred character.
Thus, after the fullest examination, we find the Swastika was confined to the commoner uses, implements, household utensils, and objects for the toilet and personal decoration. The specimens of this kind number a hundred to one of a sacred kind. With this preponderance in favor of the common use, it would seem that, except among the Buddhists and early Christians, and the more or less sacred ceremonies of the North American Indians, all pretense of the holy or sacred character of the Swastika should be given up, and it should (still with these exceptions) be considered as a charm, amulet, token of good luck or good fortune, or as an ornament and for decoration.
VI. The Migration Of Symbols.
Migration Of the Swastika.
The question of the migration of the Swastika and of the objects on which it was marked, which furnished its only means of transportation, remains to be considered. It is proposed to examine, in a cursory manner perhaps, not only the migration of the Swastika itself, but some of these objects, spindle whorls especially, with a view to discover by similarity or peculiarity of form or decoration any relationship they may have had with each other when found in distant countries and used by different peoples. Thus, we may be able to open the way to a consideration of the question whether this similarity of Swastikas or other decorations, or of the objects on which they were placed, resulted from the migration of or contact or communication between distant peoples, or was it accidental and the result of independent discoveries and duplicate inventions --- an evidence of the parallelism of human thought?
Dr. Brinton, in a communication before the American Philosophical Society, (1) starts out with a polemical discussion upon the subject of the migration of the Swastika and its possible American migration, as follows:
My intention is to combat the opinion of those writers who, like Dr. Hamy, M. Beauvois, and many others assert that because certain well-known Oriental symbols, as the Ta Ki, the Triskeles, the Svastika, and the cross, are fond among the American aborigines, they are evidence of Mongolian, Buddhistic, Christian, or Aryan immigrations previous to the discovery by Columbus, and I shall also try to show that he position is erroneous of those who, like William H. Holmes, of the Bureau of Ethnology, maintain "that it is impossible to give a satisfactory explanation of the religious significance of the cross as a religious symbol in America."
In opposition to both these views, I propose to show that the primary significance of all these widely extended symbols is quite clear, and that they can be shown to have arisen from certain fixed relations of man to his environment, the same everywhere, and hence suggesting the same graphic representations among tribes most divergent in location and race, and, therefore, that such symbols are of little value in tracing ethnic affinities or the currents of civilization.
I am sorry to be compelled to differ with Dr. Brinton in these views. I many not attempt much argument upon this branch of the subject, but whatever argument is presented will be in opposition to this view, as not being borne out by the evidence. Of course, the largest portion of the discussion of this subject must consist of theory and argument, but such facts as are known, when subjected to an analysis of reason, seem to produce a result contrary to that announced by Dr. Brinton.
It is conceded that he duplication of the cross by different or distant peoples is no evidence of migrations of or contact between these peoples, however close their relations might have been. The sign of the cross itself was so simple, consisting of only two marks or pieces intersecting each other at a right or other angle, that we may easily suppose it to have been the result of independent invention. The same conclusion has been argued with regard to the Swastika. But this is a non sequitur.
First, I dispute the proposition of fact that the Swastika is, like the cross, a simple design --- one which would come to the mind of any person and would be easy to make. For evidence of this, I cite the fact that it is not in common use, that it is almost unknown among Christian peoples, that it is not included in any of the designs for, nor mentioned in any of the modern European or American works on, decoration, not is it known to or practiced by artists or decorators of either country. (2) For the truth of this, I appeal to the experience of artists and decora-
1. Proc. Am. Philosoph. Soc. XXVI. p. 177. [Back]
2. For general lack of knowledge of Swastika in modern times, see Preface, p. 763. Back