The International Folk-Lore Congress of the World's Columbian Exposition, Chicago, July, 1893/History of the Swastika

From Wikisource
Jump to navigation Jump to search



Ladies and Gentlemen: I have prepared a diagram, destined for the Columbian Exposition. On this diagram I have gathered 1360 objects, all bearing a certain symbolic sign belonging to the oldest form of worship.

What was that worship? and according to what rules have I made choice of the objects represented on the diagram?

The first teacher of mankind was death and the grave. The first and greatest impressions that man was forced to feel were caused by death and by the sudden destruction of beings which live or increase. What must he have remarked in such cases? He perceived that by death the warmth of the body vanishes, and also that plants grow better in warmth and in the light of the sun, than without it, or in the cold. The present conclusion was that all life on earth depends on warmth and light. He also perceived that warmth, and subsequently fire and flame with light—let us say artificial light in opposition to the natural light of the sun—can everywhere be produced by friction.

On the other hand, I am of the conviction that at first existed the conception of simply Deity, of the one and highest Being, which afterwards degenerated into polytheism. Let us put together all of those primitive conceptions and we shall conclude by the synthesis: that God-Creator of the world, maintains all of his creatures by warmth and light. It is, I think, a simple religious philosophy which was comprehensible to the most primitive human mind.

The most natural necessity of all religious thought is everywhere to form a corresponding symbolism. What thought could be nearer to those men, than to take as a symbol of their supreme Being—of their Creator—the two instruments of fire: the heavenly instrument in the hand of God—the sun; and


the instrument for churn-fire in the hand and for the use of men—the swastika. But the chief characteristic of the sun is its round form and rotation conformably to the belief of all half-civilized peoples; consequently, the symbol of the sun should have the same characteristic. Fig. 1.

By rubbing one object on another, the latter must be fixed, because its symbol must also express the fixedness. Figs. 2, 3, 4. It must also be acknowledged that the warmth and fire of the siin are the same as those on earth, because there can be formed a synthetic symbol, in which both these characteristics are expressed together. Fig. 5.

The symbols as for life and increase, as for death and decline have presented themselves in the nature surrounding us, and also our great-grandfathers. The leaves and branches growing upwards, and forming between themselves the angles, apex down, were taken as symbols of the divine life-giving principle. It is the symbol of the Hindu god Vishnu. Fig. 6. The faded leaves hanging down and forming the angles, apex up, became the symbols of destruction, and that is the symbol of the god Shiva. Fig. 7. But both together make one, the almighty God, because there may be made a synthetic symbol by joining both the angles. Fig. 8.

A symbol much expressive of light was presented in the moon, the crescent moon being the symbol of life, decrescent of death, and both together the symbol of God's All-might — the synthesis. Figs. 9, 10, 11, 12.

In the graphic development of every symbol there are always two opposite directions—one, by adding one part to the other towards the formation of an ornament—and the other by taking off one part from another, forming an unclear sign, which, when it loses its intermediate forms, only with risk can be taken for a symbol. Figs. 13, 14, 15, 16, 17.

If we retain all that is preserved above, and consequently make the review of our chart, we will see that this symbol, although in appearance very multiform, may be reduced to some half-dozen original forms. Fig. 18 Swastika, and Sanvastika Fig. 19. It is very difficult to enumerate on my chart all of the objects marked with this symbol— the contrary would be easier. The same is the case with all representations of the sun. Figs. 20, 21, 22.

Of different cross forms—it is of two trees crosswise posed and spiked with four nails for expressing the fixedness—we have almost an hundred. Figs. 23, 24.

In the ornamentative direction of our symbol occurs for the most part, the doubling or the trebling of the same form. Figs. 25, 26, 27.

If we apply the doubling to other principal forms, and put a swastika on a sanvastika we will receive a form very wellknown and named Maltese cross. Fig. 28.

The same doubling of primitive form is presented by the form of a cross that is named Jerusalem cross. Fig. 29.

It is possible that this doubling is not only for ornamental purpose (letter of Max Müller in Schlieman's "Ilios"); that the swastika represents the sun of spring, and the sanvastika, the sun of autumn, because Fig. 30 and Fig. 31 would be the symbols of synthetic signification, as we have seen it above.

The symbols of life and growing, apex downwards, and the contrary symbol, the angle apex upwards, placed together form the Fig. 32, a little ornamented form the Fig, 33 or 34, and redoubled give the form Fig. 35.

If we take it, one up, another down, we have Fig. 36, which, symmetrically re-joined make the well known Fig. 37. It may be re-Joined otherwise. Fig. 38. All of these forms are the same symbols synthetic of God's All-might. I may be permitted to prove that the doubtful triçula of India is only a combination of the same two symbols, but it is altered in such degree with ornamentation that it is very easy to be mistaken. Its origin is shown in Fig. 39.

If we would make the combination in this manner, Fig. 40, and afterwards to ornament the single lines and to round the angles, we will have the Fig. 41. If we make this figure otherwise. Fig. 42, and afterwards divide it through the middle, we have Fig. 43. Take the half of this figure and we have a symbol named lily-flower, and known in Middle Ages as a symbol of the king's power. Such a symbol we observe on altars in the Greek-Roman epoch. If we would round off the lines and angles in opposite directions, we receive Fig. 44.

Let us take one-half of this figure and we have the hilts of


our ancient swords, and the swords of another form are made with the ornamental swastika, as Figs. 45-46. The first quarter of the moon is the symbol of life, the last quarter, or the waning moon, the symbol of death, together it is a synthesis.

It may be of other forms. Fig. 47. If we join the corners we have Fig. 48, a symbol well known in the Middle Ages. It may be also formed otherwise. Fig. 49. The sun in its course of the day ascends, reaches its zenith, and descends. It was symbolized with three points, forming a triangle, apex upwards, Figs. 50-51.

These three points were sometimes designed with three objects forming with their extreme ends the triangles, and such a figure was named trignetrum.

The one most used was formed of three human legs. Fig. 53. Consequently it is to be noted that the triangle, apex upwards, symbolizes the principle of destruction only when it is placed in opposition with another, apex downwards.

The three branches that we usually see on the tops of trees mark also the angle of the sun. If we would make these branches upright we would have the cross named Patriarchal. Fig. 52. Very similar to the cross of Jerusalem, but solely different in their origin. If we exclude from our chart all of the objects that have been mentioned to the present moment, we have only some dozens that are designed also because they are a transition from one form to another—or they present a distinguishable specialty. If we will review our chart in the chronological direction it is necessary to note, that the objects from India, Persia and Asia Minor are most important, because they date back to the highest antiquity; especially those from the excavations of Schliemann.

The objects that are found in the buried city, reaching from twenty-one feet to thirty in depth, date at least 1,500 to 2,000 years B. C. The symbols that we find on those objects prove to us that the population of this city has believed in a Supreme Being, good, humane, giving life to all on the earth and immortality to the human soul. The same is true of Asia Minor. I wish to call your attention to the figures on two vases of lamiros, where you can see very clearly the symbolic signification of angles, apex upwards or downwards. The warrior who is mortally wounded, or is about to be so, has for his symbol the angle apex upwards, while his adversary is symbolized with the angle apex downward. The same symbolism we find in the prehistoric epoch of Europe. We have the vases of graves signed with this symbol, proving that the people of those times believed also in immortality of the soul. The north of Europe gives the richest material for our symbolism, and especially for the combination of angles, apex upwards and downward, also for two moons posed together, and for the thunder, clearly the angles, apex down and apex up. We have a very important custom in Ukraine—the day of Palm Sunday—that is named by us the Sunday of Willow. This tree is the first to be green. When the people go out of the church, friends meeting together strike one another with a willow branch and repeat a religious formula.

"Not I, that strike thou, but the willow—in a week went the great day—the red egg is not far." The red egg mentioned here is the Easter egg. They are painted in many colors and ornamented with different symbols. Swastikas and suns symbols prevailing. The same Easter egg we find in Moravia and in France, but painted only in red. Those eggs habitually are given as a mark of distinction to the parents or to the older relatives or distinguished persons in the village.

When giving this present they say, "Christ is resurrected," and the one accepting answers, "In truth He is resurrected." Afterwards they divide and eat the eggs. In more civilized society the host and hostess prepare a plate of sliced eggs, with which they meet each guest at the door, and as they exchange greetings they each eat of the egg. Easter with us is a day for renewing acquaintance and friendship. The Sunday after Easter the widow brings the painted eggs to place on the grave of her husband and bemoans her misfortune. We have also many other sun festivals. In the country of Cracow we see the village boys run with flaming torches along the limits of their fields to protect it from calamity. In Ukraine the girls and boys dance round a great fire, sometimes jumping over the flame. In Servia the boys stay around the burning wheel and repeat a religious formula. On the shore of the river Rhine a wheel is tied round with straw, set on fire and rolled into the river. It comes on the 24th of June in summer equinoxes—in winter equinoxes we have in Poland the boys carrying round a star formed of paper, singing religious songs. We have in Germany and Poland many houses decorated with swastikas and other sun symbols. But the most remarkable fact is the common ceremony in the country of Cracow where we find all the symbols that we have seen in the form of the letter Z. The two moons placed back to back and forming a synthetic symbol, are nowhere to be found outside of India, France and Scotland.

"We begin the historic epoch with numismatic of Asia Minor, where we found a great many of our symbols. Later on the Greek vases we see some very interesting examples. We see there a cross very regular in form, worn by the Goddesses Diana, Athené, and other deities. It is not possible to be mistaken in the symbolic meaning of this sign.

If we will place together all the figurations belonging to the altar and to the column of the Ionic style we will be forced to the conclusion that the chapter of Ionic style is the same as the angle of Vishnu: it is apex downward applied to architecture flattened with the might of architraves. I regard the group labelled Christianity as of very great significance, because here can be seen clearly that in the symbolism of the swastika, there is no meaning of fetichism. They had adored the sun and the fire, not as the Deity, but as the implement in the hand of God, single and omnipotent. Against the phallic interpretation witness can be given by the idol of Venus found in Hissarlik in juxtaposition with Hermaphrodite of Dr. Berthaud's collection in St. Germain. They assume that in early centuries of Christianity swastika was much in use because it is very similar to the cross, and has represented a heathen cross. But I pray every one to analyze the inscription that I have placed under No. 1.[1] We see there the well-known Christian symbols. I do question what could the swastika mean to the heathen here. Now this inscription must be read otherwise—namely, the man, the martyr, who rests here is martyrized for Jesus Christ's sake, whose monogram we see here; but he regards his death as the victory (the palm) which merits eternity. Then Christ is Alpha and Omega (Α-Ω.) is the same God, whom we have adored from the earliest times under the symbol of swastika, so we place the monogram of Jesus Christ—our new religious symbol, in the same rank with the swastika, our old symbol. I have gathered also a great iconographic series that proves evidently the application of suns to God and Trinity—and nobody, even God's Mother, who was, according to Church-fathers, Dei para, has not the right to bear this symbol. Since the supremacy of the Christian religion over the old religions of the classic epoch: the swastika and the other sun's symbols commence to disappear, or rather to become Christian symbols.

On my chart, I have tried to show, century by century, in what manner the numismatic of Byram was already in the VIII century overfilled with swastikas and suns symbols.

The same process we mark also in the development of numismatics of Charles the Great and his successors. When Pope Gregory the Great sent missionaries into England he gave them the following injunction: "Don't destroy the heathen temples, but only the idols, and the temples take for divine service of God. The people accustomed to come in, will come also afterward to adore a veritable God." This was the same idea largely practised in the Catacombs. This idea afterwards became the prescription for the Church and its ministers. We can see it in the numismatics of the IX century. Ludwig's pious coins present us the application of this rule. We see there the perfect heathen temple on Koman coins, but the idol on the door is destroyed and replaced by the Maltese cross, which, though a heathen symbol, was easy to transform into a Christian symbol. On the top of the temple was placed the cross, and the inscription surrounding the coin proclaimed the Christian religion; on the reverse was: Ludovicus Rex. It was by his order that the temples became the Christian churches. It was a king's medal-diploma which was going into each of the humblest homes, proclaiming the order of Regent. When the temples had disappeared there still remained the heathen symbols that it was necessary to christianize.

We see in the X. and XI. centuries, in the German numismatic, that the cross well known to us since the earliest time is surrounded with inscription. Crux Christi.

What would this inscription signify if there was not any other Crux that was not Christi, though it was adored by the people. The same process we see in Polish numismatics till the end of the XII century, and in Scandinavia it existed still in the XIII century. Then this symbol vanished, bat only officially, while by common people in many countries it remains still in the present century.

I cannot omit a very curious point. The earliest Anglo-Saxon coinage is in many types identical with the Gallic coinage that had not at that time existed for many centuries. Lelevel Joachim, our celebrated numismatist, named it the reappearance of the Gallic type. I cannot agree with him in this expression—reappearance. I think that the numismatic is due to the fact that the Anglo-Saxon even as Gallic people had had the same symbolism. I have said that this symbolism had disappeared in numismatic since the XIII century, but it remains among the common people as a superstition or custom of a religious character until the present time. In the embroideries of the Ukraine people we find very distinctly the different forms of swastika. We find similar embroideries in Brittany, also in the excavations of Sehliemann Hissarlick.

We are at the end of our study, and we see that 2000 before Christ, and almost 2000 years after Christ, existed the same religion certified to by the same symbolism. So, for conclusion, this chart informs us that back, of all the worship that wename,or have named, heathen, the principle of every religion is and was the belief in a Supreme Being, Creator and Preserver of the world, but from time to time this primitive religion was observed with more or less rough superstition.

Finally, I ask the question: Is this religion the especial property of the Aryan race? Now, we have swastikas and suns wheel in China and in America also, and the primitive religion of fire gives a very large ethnologic and geographic perspection. I conclude with the hope that some one will make a study of the swastika in America.

  1. On Chart in Collection of International Folk-Lore Association.