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Celtic Swastika
By Tim Lazaro

The word swastika is derived from the Sanskrit svastika. Its design is made up of an equilateral cross with its arms bent at right angles facing either to the right or to the left. Archaeological evidence points to the swastika's origins dating back to Neolithic era and was first found on the Indian subcontinent where it is still used as a religious symbol.

The swastika however has become taboo in much of the Western world because of its Nazi connections. In many areas it is outlawed yet many other political extremists use it as their symbol including neo-Nazi groups and the Afrikaner Weestandbeweging in South Africa. Stylized versions are also used by the Syrian Social Nationalist Party as well as the Russian National Unity.

The Celtic Connection

A bronze front piece used by the ancient druids in their religious ceremonies was found near the River Thames. Named the "Battersea Shield" and comprising 27 embossed swastikas wrought in bronze and red enamel it dates back to 350-50 BCE

As well as this an Ogham stone found in Co-Kerry which was modified as an early Christian gravestone and was found decorated with two swastikas in West Yorkshire a swastika shaped pattern can be found engraved into a stone called the Swastika Stone. Its design is made up of a double outline with 5 curved arms and no other symbol like this has ever been found since.

All these finds are traced back to Celtic heritage and is said that the swastika meaning is related to the sun in ancient Celtic civilization, yet this has never been confirmed. What is confirmed however is that the swastika symbol has been dated back as far as the Bronze Age and it is a symbol that is unquestionably related to the ancient Celts.

The swastika on Scottish gravestones

The ancient Celts had no written word and left us evidence of their culture in the form of Celtic symbols. As a result not much is known about the swastikas to be found in Scotland. There is however some folklore that may explain their existence.

The story encompasses a collection of Celtic warrior tribes, known as the Picts. The Picts were heralded for their artworks which can be seen today on many carved stones around the country as well as in many parts of England and in some parts of Europe.

Among these designs is a simple swastika as well as others that are more complex but which give the appearance of a swastika. An example of this is one that was found engraved on a grave slab and which now stands in the Meigle Museum in Australia. It consists of four figures arranged in a swastika type pattern. A similar one can be found on the Kells Market Cross in Ireland.

These swastikas are evidently from the pagan period of the Celts yet others have a clear leaning toward Christianity. In this case the swastika is known as a Gammadion. The name is greek in origin and is derived from the quadruple capital Greek "gamma".

An example of a Gammadion is to be found on grave slabs, one in particular stands out. Called the Barhobble cross slab it was discovered in Wigtownshire during excavation works towards the late 1800's. It has been dated back to around the 10th Century and was closely related to christian worship.

Was the swastika pagan or christian?

Many people have long accorded the swastika with the ancient pagan Celts or druids. Yet it has recently been suggested that the swastika came about as a result of the Vikings forays, bringing with them their sacred symbol the Gammadion. If this is in fact the truth then neither paganism nor Christianity can lay claim to it.

There is certainly a relation between the Celts and Viking traditions which shows in their art. Christian sculptors have been more than eager to incorporate these ancient symbols into their artwork, give them new meaning and take full credit for them.

The christian influence on the swastika may have then come about as a result of sculptors having a free hand in representing the Christian Cross with more ancient designs.

What seems to be more factual is the Celtic influence on the swastika. It is said and can perhaps be confirmed that the swastika came about as a result of the evolution of the three legged Spiral design. When it later became a four legged design the spiral essentially became a swastika.


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