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
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
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.