March 6, 2015

Reappropriating the Swastika: the Only Way out is Through.


The word swastika is derived from the Sanskrit word svastika, which means “well-being” or “good fortune,” an auspicious object.

According to the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum website, the motif or hooked cross appears to have first been used in Neolithic Eurasia, representing the movement of the sun through the sky.

It remains a sacred symbol in Hinduism, Buddhism, Jainism and Odinism.  It is commonly seen on temples and houses throughout India and Indonesia.

The U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum website notes that, prior to Nazi Germany, the swastika was widely used in Europe as a symbol of good luck and auspiciousness.

Eventually, unfortunately, the swastika became a symbol of “Aryan identity” and German nationalist pride. This is likely why the Nazi party formally adopted the swastika or Hakenkreuz (hooked cross) as its symbol in 1920.

The swastika became the most widely recognized symbol for Nazi propaganda, which struck fear into Jews and others deemed enemies of Nazi Germany.

According to the New York Times, Hitler’s major contribution to the swastika as a symbol of anti-semitism was to reverse the direction of the swastika so that it appears to spin clockwise.

I recently learned of the yoga pose “Swastikasana,” or sun wheel pose, which brings us back to the swastika symbol and refers to the movement of the sun through the sky. It’s a seated posture loaded with energy. Each foot is ideally put into each “knee pit” as you root down through your sit bones and sit with a tall spine. While seated, it’s great to practice meditation or pranayama (breathing techniques). Another aspect of this pose is, while breathing, squeezing your feet into your thighs and your knees together. This creates more sensation and drawing of energy in and up the spine.

When I practice pranayama in this pose, I feel connected to its original intent: I feel peaceful, well, and the auspiciousness of energy as it rises throughout my body.

There’s a word for taking back or reclaiming the meaning of a word: reappropriation. It is defined as the cultural process by which a group reclaims—reappropriates—terms or artifacts previously used to demean them. It can be a word or symbol that was once derogatively but has been brought back into acceptable usage, usually starting within the communities that experienced oppression under that word

“Spaces for counter-Narratives: the Phenomenology of Reclamation,” an essay by Farah Godrej, explains that reappopriation often consists of stories that resist and undermine an oppressive identity under domination. It ascribes a new (though, in this case, ancient) meaning to a previously marginalizing term. Counter-stories are thus tools designed to repair the damage inflicted on identities by abusive power systems.

There are some groups of people already putting this to action, like proswastika.org.

These efforts to reappropriate the term should not negate our history or the fact that in Western society the swastika does mainly remain a symbol of violence and hatred. It’s a delicate path to explore as we honor and respect those who deeply, and understandably, identify with the symbol as one of horrid violence and oppression.

I hope, however, that we can mindfully begin to shed the layers of hatred and open up to the swastika’s original intentions of peace to overthrow and ultimately replace Hitler’s power over the term.

It’s a slow process, and it begins with awareness and conversation.

I honor each person’s path to reconcile with or reject this term, but there’s a fire in my heart to ignite change. Instead of walking around it or jumping over pain and memories, I do believe the only way out is through. Through the muck, getting tangled and intertwined, lost and found, we land in a spacious field of freedom.




Author: Justine Miller

Editor: Caroline Beaton

Photo: Wikipedia 

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