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The svastica
by Mrs. J. C. Murray-Aynsley
[It is generally admitted that the Svastika is in some form emblematic of the sun or fire, but that it is of purely Buddhist origin can scarcely be deemed proved. Assuming that a primitive people have to construct by means of straight lines a device to represent a circle or wheel in movement, it would be difficult to design it more effectually than as represented in the Svastika. The crossing of the two arms gives the centre of its circle, their equality shows that a circular figure is struck from that centre, while its flanges indicate as far as straight lines can the circumference. The reversed direction of the opposite flanges on the arms has always been typical of motion. Whatever, however, may be the signification of this sign it is at once bold, simple, and expressive in character. As a combination of a few straight lines it is impossible to avoid seeing similarities to it in many geometrical tracings, but it appears hardly safe to deduce therefrom that these figures contain or are derived from it. Although signs presumedly typifying the sun or fire may somewhat resemble the Svastika, it does not necessarily follow that they are lineally descended from it. In this as in the other few standard signs it is safest not to wander from the original type without the strongest reasons or assume that similarity arises from relationship. I beg to forward a most interesting manuscript on the subject from Mrs. Murray-Aynsley, a well-known traveller and student, which may interest many of our Circle. A most striking point brought out by the writer is that the direction of its flanges is of little moment, and that Svastikas have been found in the same place with flanges facing in different directions.— S. C. Pratt, P.M.
SOME have held the Svastika to be an emblem of the Sun, and others again hold that the arms of the Cross represent two pieces of wood and are typical of Fire, showing us the way in which fire was first produced by primitive peoples ; two crooked sticks being laid one across the other and a hole drilled through both, in which a pointed stick was inserted and rapidly twirled by the bands until all were ignited at the points of contact. In the present day the sacred fire in certain Hindû temples is said to be kindled in this manner. It seems, however, not improbable that the Svastika may have been originally an emblem of the sua (as a wheel) and of fire also, both serving to convey light and warmth.
The Vedas prescribe the asvattha (pipal or ficus religiosa) and the Samî (Acacia Suma) as the kinds of wood to be used in kindling the sacred fire.1 In Southern India especially, it is very common to see these two trees planted together when young, so that when grown older their branches and foliage become entwined. The Hindûs style this "marrying" the trees.2 In this manner Tree-worship became in a way connected with Fire-worship. Both the Greeks and the Romans, down to a late period in their primitive history, used the above-described method of procuring fire. They found that the Pyrkaia, or lower part, was best made of certain softer kinds of wood, such as ivy (vitus sylvestris), whilst the laurel, thorn or other hard wood was to be preferred for the trypanon or drilling stick.
Tylor, in his "Early History of Mankind," mentions that the Eskimo kindle a new fire by a very similar process. They most probably see nothing sacred in the performance, whereas by the Hindûs it is regarded with feelings of great awe, feelings extended to the element itself by the ancient Persian Magi, who denoted fire—which they considered the Father and first principle of all things as Zardusht (Zoroaster) had taught them,—by the word Bab or Bap, signifying Father.3 Their modern representatives, the Parsì priests of a famous fire temple in Gujarât, boast that they have cherished unextinguished for 800 or 900 years the sacred flame of the ancient Persians, i.e. ever since their expulsion from Persia by the Mahometans. The Parsis, however, say that they do not worship fire, they much object to be called fire-worshippers, but they admit that from their youth up they are taught to face some luminous object whilst praying. They maintain that they look upon fire, as upon other natural phenomena, viz: as an emblem. of Divine power, but they never ask assistance or blessings from it. Pure fire-worship also exists among the modern Hindûs. Thus it was formerly prohibited to all Hindûs to go beyond the Indus river, or rather, properly speaking, the Kâlâ Pâni, or Black Water, as they call the Indian (or indeed any) ocean into which the Indus empties itself; but I was solemnly told by a Marâthâ Brahmin that this rule is now relaxed, and that Hindûs may do so if on their return to Hindastan they worship Agni or fire, saying certain prayers to it, and giving alms and a feast to the Brâhmins. The man who gave this information was in Government employ at a salary of £20 per month, he added that if he went to Europe it would cost him about £100 to be readmitted into his caste on his return, since this sum varies according to the income a man is known to possess.
Hindûs belonging to certain sects are in the habit of tracing one or more figures of the Svastika on the outer walls of their houses, but I cannot recall ever having seen this symbol in the interior of any modern Hindû temple or shrine, nor have I observed its present use by the Buddhists of western Tibet, of Kunâwar, Spiti, or Ceylon. This was not the case in ancient times: e.g., the Svastika exists as a so-called Mason’s mark on some of the stones of the famous Buddhist tope at Sarnath near Benares, and it is twice repeated on stones in the interior of some cells surrounding the court-yard of the Lal Darwâsa or Red Gate Mosque at Jaunpûr: these have evidently originally formed part of old Buddhist buildings.4
It would appear that within the last few years only, the Svastika bas been found on ancient Egyptian articles of common use. In the South Kensington Museum are sundry embroideries on stuffs of various qualities purporting to come from upper Egypt. On one such specimen, the material of which resembles our rough bath towelling, is a large Svastika of the Hindû type5 worked in brown wool.
Together with other Hindû symbols and customs, Spain adopted the Svastika. On the occasion of a Hindû marriage it is customary to send presents of sweetmeats, etc., to the friends and relations of the contracting parties. These are placed on brass trays and covered with embroidered cloths, these latter articles are returned to the donor after the gift has been removed by the person to whom it has been sent, who places a small piece of money on the tray for the servant who brought the prosent. A similar custom prevails in Spain (or did so until very recently), and on the occasions of a fête or naming day presents of sweetmeats, etc., are sent to friends arranged in this same manner.
The writer possesses three of the embroidered cloths used in Spain for this purpose; they are of hand-spun linen, bordered with old lace; conventional flower designs and various wonderful looking animals are worked upon them in coloured silks, and like the Indian embroideries of the same nature, the work is precisely alike on both sides. One of tbese cloths has the Svastika many times repeated upon it, the same symbol was present also on an ordinary well-worn cotton pocket handkerchief at Granada; it formed its only ornamentation. Enquiries failed to procure such a one or to ascertain where they were manufactured.
This kind of embroidery was evidently known in early Jewish times, for in the Song of Deborah (Judges v., 30), mention is made " of needlework of divers colours, of divers colours of needlework on both sides, meet for the necks of them that take the spoil."
Svastika has been found in almost every country in Europe. In a letter written a few years ago by Professor Max Mûller to Dr. Schliemann and quoted in the latter’s work entitled "Ilium, or the cities of Troy " (where this and also other sun symbols have been found in great numbers), the Professor says:—"It (the Svastika) has been found on Bishop’s Island, near Kônigswalde, on the right bank of the Oder: on a vase discovered at Reichersdorf, near Gruben; a whole row of this emblem surrounds the pulpit of Saint Ambrose at Milan; in the catacombs at Rome it occurs a 1,000 times; it is seen also on wall paintings at Pompeii; on a Celtic urn found at Shropham, in Norfolk, and now in the British Museum; also on ancient Athenian and Corinthian vases; on the coins of Leucus of Syracuse, and in the large mosaic in the Royal Garden at Athens. It is found in Hungary and in China,6 as well as amongst the Ashantees and in Yucatan." It will be observed that Professor Max Mûller here speaks of the Svastika as having been only once found in England, but since he wrote the above, numerous examples of it have been unearthed during the excavation of a Roman Villa at Brading, in the Isle of Wight; the form of this symbol, , known as the double sun snake of Scandinavia, exists on an Agham stone at Pen Arthur in South Wales.7
Another form of the Svastika known as the Fylfot and resembling two serpents entwined, was apparently in use in England in the so-called cinque-cento period. A Svastika with a Latin inscription upon it was found in 1779 by Armelini in the new catacomb of SS. Agnese at Rome, and Rossi, the great Christian archaeologist says of it "That this inscription belongs to the second century of our era," he adds, "Perhaps this is the most ancient crux gammata that has ever been found on Christian monuments."
In the Treasury of the Cathedral of Valencia in Spain are two splendidly embroidered altar frontals, said to have formerly belonged to the old Church of St. Paul in London, and to have been sold into Spain by King Henry viii. On one of them, which depicts our Blessed Lord going to his crucifixion, a soldier of the Roman army, or of one of their auxiliaries, is holding a standard on which is this symbol. It has been supposed by some that the Trinacria or arms of Sicily and the three-legged Manx-man are but forms of the Svastika or fire symbol, which, in process of time, has lost one of its arms; this same type becoming in Scandinavia what is there styled the Triskele.
On comparing the results of the grave and bog-finds of Norway, Denmark, and Sweden, it would seem that the Svastika is the most rare in the last named, and most common in Norway, and that sun and fire symbols became disused in the two latter countries about the twelfth century, that is to say about the time that Christianity was introduced there, whereas in Norway they still continue in use down to our own times, though their signification is probably unknown to the present generation.
The so-called "Mangling stick" is still in common use in Norway. It is made of a single piece of hard and highly-polished wood about eighteen inches long by eight or ten in width. At one end is sometimes carved in complete relief a small wooden horse which serves as a grip for the hand, or else the wood is hollowed out so as to leave a raised portion for the same purpose. Its use gives collars and cuffs a much better appearance than the ordinary flat or box iron. A mangling stick, bearing date 1809 (now in the Norwegian Museum at Stockholm), is covered with Svastikas of the double sun-snake type—an apparent proof that in Scandinavia this was deemed a fire symbol. In course of time the Svastika radually changed its form in those countries, from the simple (Hak-kors or booked cross) it became the double snake, and finally the Triskèle—after it had lost one of its arms. A tolerably convincing proof that the ancients associated the snake with fire is seen in a bronze brooch (see plate, fig. 43) found a few years ago on excavating the site of a Roman camp on the Saalburg, not far from Frankfort-on-the-Main, it is now in the Karsaal Museum at Homburg. Another brooch in the same collection (fig. 4-5) consists of a plain circle of bronze, enclosing a Svastika of the type of fig. 36. The Svastika has been very generally allowed to be a symbol of the god Thor, who, to the Scandinavians, was the god of thunder and lightning, and of the domestic hearth, and therefore of fire also. The arrows in the hand of Jove, the thunderer of Roman mythology, resemble somewhat a compressed Svastika.
During the Bronze Age, the commencement and duration of which the late Dr. Worsaee (as regards Scandinavia) fixed at from about 500 B.C. to 100 A.D., the form of the Svastika received several modifications, amongst others it became what he styled the simple S—the double —also the three-armed figure or the Triskèle.8
Nos. 1 to 31 inclusive on the accompanying plate, are illustrations of some of the various forms which the Svastika assumed in Scandinavia. Fig 1 has been styled the Ring Cross, and is the earliest known form of sun symbol ; it has been found on objects belonging to the Neolithic Age. Fig. 17 is a design consisting of a wheel (the wheel of the Sun? The wheel was also an emblem of Buddha, whose preaching was called "turning the wheel of the law,") and of a mythical animal which we may take to represent the sun-snake. This object is on a vase of coarse pottery in the Museum at Copenhagen. Figs. 32 and 33 are the so-called Buddhist and Hindû forms of the Svastika. Fig. 34 is on a fragment of a Persian carpet now in the Museum at Gothenburg, Sweden. Fig. 35 is a mark on Japanese pottery ; Fig. 36 is the Chinese form of the Svastika. Nos. 37, 38, 41, and 42, are taken from Dr. Schliemann’s work: "Ilium, or the cities of Troy;" Fig. 45 is another brooch found during the excavations at the Roman Camp on the Saalburg. Fig. 44 is copied from a silver brooch in the Historical Museum at Stockholm. It is highly interesting, as showing the Svastika in connection with the generally received emblems of the sun and moon. Nos. 46, 47, 48, 49, 50, 51 are some of the symbols with which Epirote women in Albania tattoo themselves. Fig. 49 exists upon a bronze group in the collection of Roman antiquities in the Museum at Grenoble, Isère, France, and it has also been found engraved on a stone at New Grange, Drogheda, Ireland: Fig. 51 is precisely the same as No. 23 of the Scandinavian symbols; Figs. 4, 8, and 47 are similar in type, the two latter are reversed, with the addition of a dot. These three examples resemble one of the caste marks of India.
There is even now in our very midst a phase of fire and sun symbolism which seems hitherto to have received but little attention, viz., the presence of such symbols in the crests or in the coats of arms of many of the oldest of the noble families or landed gentry in the British Isles. These appear in the greatest numbers in the armorial bearings of Seottish families, and of those belonging to the most northern counties of England, probably for the the reason that they are more numerous on objects which have been found in the more northern portions of Scandinavia, i.e., that the light and warmth of the sun were naturally prized in such districts, and they may also have survived there longer, since the isolated position of their inhabitants deprived them of much intercourse with the outer world. We find at least three distinct forms of sun and fire symbolism in the crests and armorial bearings of many of our families:
(1). The sun in splendour.
(2). Fire, represented sometimes by a mountain in flames.
(3). The sun as a ring, or as a simple circle, the heraldic term for this latter type being amulets,9 and annulets.10
The following, examples are some of the most typical ones of each kind—
Blount, Bart. This family is of French extraction, and they were formerly lords of Guisnes in France. Their crest—an armed foot in the sun, and their motto—Lux tua, via mea.
Blunt, Bt. Probably originally the same family. These latter have as their crest the sun in glory, charged in the centre with an eye issuing tears.
In the Earl of Clancarty’s arms (the Trenches came from Poitou in 1575) on the first and third quarter is the sun in splendour, and in the centre an escutcheon with the coronet of a Marquis of the Netherlands charged with a wheel with six spokes.11
Musgrave Bt., of Hayton, has for his crest two arms in armour embossed, and sustaining the sun, so has also
Musgrave, Bt., of Tourin, co. Waterford, Ireland—their arms are the same.
The rising sun and the sun in splendour are also borne by the Marquis of Lothian the Earl of Stamford and Warrington, and by Lords Polwarth and Hammond.
Lord Polwarth’s crest is a lady, richly attired, holding a sun in her right hand, and a half-moon in her left. The sun also forms the crest of the Earls of Antrim, and of Tyrwhitt, Fairburn, and Nicholson, Bts., where it is placed between two stars of eight points—and of many other families.
In the arms of Macleod of Lewis, fire symbols exist in connection with those of the sun. Their crest is the sun in splendour; in the first quarter of their arms is a mountain in flames, and in the second quarter the three-legged Manx-man-the motto belonging to this latter is " Quocunque jeceris stabit."12 The Earl of Cromartie bears this same symbol in the first and third quarters of his arms for Macleod, so also do the Dukes of Athole.
The Isle of Man was at one time owned by the Macleods—when, is apparently not known, but in 1405 it came into the possession of the Stanleys (afterwards Earls of Derby), and eventually devolved upon the ducal house of Athole through the marriage of Amelia Anna Sophia, youngest daughter of the 7th Earl of Derby, by his wife, Charlotte de la Tremouille (the Lady of Lathom), daughter of the Duc de Thouars in France, with John, 2nd Earl and lst Marquis of Athole.
The motto, Luceo non uro (I give light but I do not burn), is on a seal in the possession of a member of that family: beneath the motto is a baron’s coronet for the Barony of Strange, which came to the Dukes of Athole through the female line, and below this again, the sun in glory; it is believed to have belonged formerly to Marjory, eldest daughter of James, 16th Lord Forbes, and widow of John, Lord Macleod (he died in 1789), and she afterwards married the 4th Duke, of Athole.
The Manx emblem, correctly described is "the three legs of a man, armed ppr. conjoined in the centre at the upper part of the thighs, placed in a triangle, garnished and spurred—Or." We may add yet another variety of the Triskèle, which forms the crest of the Tremaynes, a Cornish family. It consists of three arms with clenched fists, placed in the same position conjoined at the shoulders, and flexed in triangles—or, fists proper." It is possible that this family may have adopted this symbol as a play upon their name; or, what seems perhaps more likely, that the name was derived from the crest.
We have thus endeavoured to trace the outcome of the Trinacria of Sicily, and of the three-legged Manx-man, from the Scandinavian Triskèle belonging to the Bronze Age there, and the Roman type of this same symbol with the serpents' heads.
It may possibly interest some of our readers if we relate a singular superstition which still exists in some parts of England. In Gloucestershire and in Herefordshire it is not uncommon to see on the external walls of some of the older houses, one or two pieces of hoop iron of these forms, and sometimes thus, . It would seem, evident that they cannot render much support to the building, since they are bolted to it at one point only. An interesting explanation regarding the virtue which the common people attach to these irons was given a few years ago by an old servant of the writer’s family—a Gloucestershire man, who died five or six years ago—(his age went with the century). Being asked the reason of this S form, he replied "that these irons were made thus in order to protect the bouse from fire, as well as from falling down."
On being told this, a friend who in her childhood resided in Camberwell, when it was not the populous suburb it has since become, said that she well remembered one of their women servants giving the same reason for their presence on the house.
Professor Sir Charles Newton, in a lecture delivered in December, 1883, on the monuments of Lycian art, alludes to an interesting series of Lycian silver coins, which he refers to the period between the conquest of Lycia under Cyrus, and the overthrow of the Persian dynasty by Alexander. He says "that these coins were struck by a number of autonomous cities, and are inscribed with their names in Lycian characters, and that they have on one side the curious symbol called the Triquetra, resembling the Manx three-legs." He is of opinion that the coins belonged to a people whose original name was Tremilae, a race belonging to the Aryan family, and who were afterwards called Lycians. Another race called the Solymi were a Semitie people, and inhabited Lycia contemporaneously with the Tremilae, but were driven back into the mountains on the north and east frontiers, and in the east the Tremilae became mixed with the Greek settlers along the coast.
In 1876, when at Leh (the capital of Ladakh or Western Tibet), a caravan laden with carpets arrived there from Yarkimd, and we were fortunate enough to secure some specimens, in which the Svastika was introduced into the border. The border seems to give us a hint as to the origin of the well-known Greek key pattern. The centre medallion of one of them is also very interesting, it being the only instance I have hitherto met with in Asiatic work in which the Svastika has assumed the form of the double sun-snake of Scandinavia.
by Capt. H. M. Temple, B.S.C.
A good deal has been made by the English mythological school of writers of the fact that the Christian Svastikas point to the left, or westwards, whereas the Indian, including Buddhist and Jain Svastikas, point to the right, or eastwards. Letting alone that the right in India is southwards, and never eastwards, the following observations on undoubted Buddhist Svastikas will probably go far to settle the theories built upon the pointing of the Cross fylfot. In the "Inscriptions from the Cave Temples of Western India," Bombay, 1881, are given a quantity of clearly Buddhist Square Pâli inscriptions from Kudâ, Karlî, Sailâwûdi, Junnar, etc.: Many of these contain Svastikas at the beginning and end. Kudâ No. 27 has at the end ; but at the end of No. 29 is , which occurs. again at the beginning and end of Junnar 30, and at the beginning of Junnar 5, 20, 28, 32, and 34, and at the end of Juninar 32, whilst occurs at the beginning of Kudâ 30, and of Junnar 6, and 27, and at the end of 33. The form is found at the end of the Sailâwûdi inscriptions, and at the end of Karlî No. 2. In this last example the thickening of the ends of the cross is probably due to the method of engraving. It will be seen, therefore, that the pointing of the Svastika was not due in Pâli inscriptions to its position, nor was it in any way constant.
1.Punjab Notes and Queries, vol. ii., note 77.
2.Ibid, vol. ii., note 861.
3.The same doctrine was afterwards inculcated by Anaxagoras, the Greek philosopher.
It is perhaps wortby of note that this same word for father enters into the Romanch language spoken in the Engadine and some of the adjacent valleys.
4.See also Capt. Temple’s note at the end of this paper.
5.In which the upper arm. of the cross points to the left, in the Buddhist form it points to the right.
6.Where it is used as a mark on pottery made specially for the magistrates. It is also a potter’s mark in Japan.
7.It has also been found on pottery in the Island of Cyprus, a specimen is in the Museum at St. Germain in France.
8.A design bearing a strong resemblance to the Triskèle is on the shield of Eryx, the legendary King of Sicily, as depicted on a vase in the Museum at Naples. Experts have put its date at before 400 B.C.
9.Collins' Peerage of England, London, 1779.
10.Sir Bernard Burke’s Peerage, Baronetage, and Knightage, London, 1880.
11.The wheel is still used in Denmark, Holland, and in parts of Gormany as a preservative against flre.
12."However you throw me I stand." This is true of the Svastika likewise.

Reprinted, with permission from Ars Quatuor Coronatorum, vol. iv. pp. 26-32.


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