Svastika or Swastika?

Given the prominence of Swastikas in Charlottesville, VA, and the reactions it elicited, the history of this symbol must be explored.

The original meaning of the Svastika (well-being in Sanskrit) was an omen of good luck. For Buddhists, it symbolizes the feet or footprints of Buddha, and for Hindus and Jains it is the most widely used auspicious symbol. Witness the availability of inexpensive jewelry incorporating this beneficial sign that I purchased in an Indian supermarket in Los Angeles.

Indian bracelet incorporating the Svastika. Photo by Mariah Chase. © Norine Dresser photo collection, 2017.

The Navajo commonly used this same motif in their jewelry and with positive meaning, as well.

Navajo ring with Svastika, turquoise, and arrowhead. © Norine Dresser photo collection, 2017.

However, Adolph Hitler subverted the symbol’s connotation during his Third Reich. For the Nazis, it meant racial purity that called for the elimination of Jews and other groups deemed inferior.

In the 1960s, our family belonged to the Wilshire Boulevard Temple in Los Angeles. During the overflow attendance at the High Holidays, we were sent to a welcoming Presbyterian Church across the street. Imagine my terror when I looked down at the floor and discovered a recurring abhorrent swastika design in the tile floor.

During that same time period, a friend of mine worked in an Indian sari shop in Beverly Hills. When an Anglo bride-to-be came in for a fitting of her Indian wedding sari, she panicked when, for the first time, she noticed a swastika motif in the border design. Her groom was Jewish, and she could not wear it.

Locally, New Mexico State University called their yearbook, the Swastika. It wasn’t until 1983, that they changed the name to the  Phoenix. And believe it or not, there were some university folks who couldn’t understand the reason for the change.

New Mexico State University Yearbook, 1947. © Norine Dresser photo collection, 2017.

In an article by Steven Brower, “Protesting Racism and Hate with Political Art (Print, August 17, 2017), he presents an assemblage of posters demonstrating the power of Political Art. Here are two that specifically deal with the Swastika.

Design by Felix Sockwell in article, “Protesting Racism and Hate with Political Art.”

Trump 24K Gold Plated Poster, Designed by Mark Fox and Angie Wang (“Design is Play”) from the new The Design of Dissent, Expanded Edition book by Milton Glaser and Mirko llic.

However, I am partial to protests that use gross humor to combat racism. This headline appeared in the August 24, 2017 edition of The Guardian: Turd Reich: San Francisco dog owners lay minefield of poo for rightwing rally.

Peace Activists planned to fight the rightwing planned Patriot Prayer rally by covering Crissy Field, site of the scheduled rally, with dog excrement. They also agreed to pick up the dog poo afterward. However, the Patriot Prayer got cancelled and so did the Turd Reich. Do you suppose that the Turd Reich planned to clean up with these?

Donald Trump dog poop bags. Photo by Mariah Chase. © Norine Dresser photo collection, 2017.


Norine Dresser is a folklorist who has a severe visceral reaction when she sees the odious Swastika symbol.

11 thoughts on “Svastika or Swastika?”

  1. Always interesting and informative. In Glendale I saw a chimney Decorated with swastikas. Israeli parents at my school called it to my Attention as they were truly afraid.

    Sent from my iPad


    1. Thanks for sending the article. It truly amplifies the entire story. One friend told me that while in living in Brazil, she noticed the symbol in the flooring and was upset until she learned of its alternative meaning.

  2. Norinne…..thanks for this wonderful blog!!!! I was aware of the history of the swastika, but STILL I felt such a jolt when I saw it in the architecture of an ancient church in Lalibela, Ethiopia. It’s so hard for me to separate its ugly symbolism from its original significance.

  3. Fascinating! One design evolving through multiple histories evoking different passions. I was blown away by the sophistication of the double imagery in the Trump poster while abhoring the inspiration for it!

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