Recently in the US, there has been a resurgence of anti-Semitism exemplified by bomb threats at Jewish Community Centers and vandalism of Jewish graves in a cemetery in the St. Louis suburb of University City.

Unfortunately, the swastika is often associated with anti-Semitism because of its earlier connection with Nazism.  However, the origins of the swastika date back at least 12,000 years and historically it has symbolized well-being, good luck, and spiritual success.

The word “swastika” is derived from Sanskrit: su (good) + asti (being) + ka (neutral object). It is considered a sacred and auspicious symbol in Hinduism, Buddhism, and Jainism, where it can be seen on many temples and religious objects. Besides being an ancient symbol of these Eastern religions, it has been found in Neolithic Europe, Asia, Africa, the Middle East, and China. It was also used by Celts, Greeks, Roman, Germanic and Slavic tribes, and by Native Americans. Archaeological evidence suggests that it served as a good luck charm or religious symbol in these various cultures.

Unlike the cross, which is another important religious symbol, that connotes earth/matter, the twisted cross or swastika has a dynamic quality to it suggesting movement about the center.

Both Carl Jung and Joseph Campbell argued that the swastika was an example of a symbol that was adopted by many cultures that had no historical contact with one another, and was universally associated with good luck and success. As such both men felt that the experience of being human is a collective experience across time, space, and culture, and that our common myths and symbols can be traced to the most primitive origins of human consciousness or “archetypes” that are communicated across different cultures by what Jung termed the “collective unconscious.”

Probably due to the swastika’s ancient Indo-Aryan origins, in the early twentieth century, German nationalists began to use the swastika as a representation of Germanic-Aryan superiority. For Hitler, the new Nazi flag with its swastika surrounded by a red background was a symbol of struggle and eventual victory. It is ironic, yet very sad, that the swastika — this ancient symbol of spiritual victory and attainment, was appropriated by a force that used it for exactly the opposite reasons — to enslave and brutalize human beings.

Today in the Western world, the swastika is often painted by people whose intention is to promote intolerance and hate. However, its power to incite disgust among us can only exist when we fall victim to associating it with hatred instead of what it truly symbolizes—achieving the very goal of human existence: spiritual growth and ultimate unity.