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The Migration of Symbols, by Goblet d'Alviella, [1894], at

II. Different Interpretations of the Gammadion.

That a great number of gammadions have been mere ornaments, monetary signs, or trade-marks, is a fact which it would be idle to dispute. But the uses which have been made of this figure in all the countries which I have just instanced, the nature of the symbols with which it is found associated, its constant presence on altars, tombstones, sepulchral urns, idols, and priestly vestments, besides the testimony of written documents and popular superstitions, afford more than sufficient proof that in Europe as in Asia it partook everywhere of the nature of the amulet, the talisman, and the phylactery. 3 Moreover, for the gammadion to have thus become a charm, it must first of all have been brought into contact with a being, or a phenomenon, more or less concrete and distinct, invested, rightly or wrongly, with some sort of influence on the destiny of mankind. Might it not be possible to rind out this original meaning of the gammadion by laying stress on the indications provided by the monuments themselves?

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Many archæologists have thought so, whilst however arriving at different solutions. There is hardly a symbol which has given rise to more varied interpretations—not even the trisula of the Buddhists, which is saying a great deal.

I will confine myself to mentioning the opinion of those who have confounded the gammadion with the crux ansata of the Egyptians, the tau of the Phœnicians, the vajra of India, the Hammer of Thor, or the Arrow of Perkun—all of which are signs having a form and meaning too clearly defined for this identification to be maintained without corroborative evidence. If even the gammadion ever replaced one of them—as in the Catacombs it sometimes takes the place of the Cross of Christ—it only did so as a substitute, as the symbol of a symbol.

Several writers have ascribed a phallic import to the gammadion, some, like M. J. Hoffman, seeing therein the union of the male with the female principle; 1 others, as Sir George Birdwood, believing that they recognize in it especially the symbol of the female sex. 2 The latter supposition would seem to be sufficiently justified by the position assigned to the gammadion on some female idols from the Troad, as also by its association with the image of certain goddesses, the Persian Artemis, Here, Demeter, Astarte. But the gammadion may very well have furnished a symbol of fecundity, as elsewhere a common symbol of prosperity and of salvation, without therefore being necessarily a phallic sign. In the one case, as in the other, the point in question is to ascertain if this is not a secondary meaning, connected with a less abstract conception.

General Cunningham believes that he found in

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the swastika a Pali monogram formed of four characters corresponding to our letters S. U. T. I. 1 But Professor Max Müller maintains that the likeness is hardly striking, and seems to be purely accidental. 2 In any case, the explanation would apply only to the Indian gammadion; an objection which may likewise be urged against Mr. Frederic Pincott's hypothesis, that the swastika is the emblem of the four castes united in the same symbolical combination. 3

Waring held that the gammadion was a figurative representation of water, on account of its resemblance to the meander, and also of its frequent occurrence in combination with the wavy line, a well-known symbol for water in motion. 4 However, as we shall see further on, this combination is far from being invariable, and certainly the form of the gammadion has, in itself, nothing which conjures up the idea of running water, or of rain.

Others have discerned in it a symbol of the storm, or lightning, because it can be separated into two zigzags or interlaced Z's. W. Schwartz, who, with his usual ability, has upheld this theory,—which conforms with his general views on the meteorological origin of myths and symbols,—draws attention to the numerous points of contact existing between the lightning and the different forms of the Cross not only in the symbolism of many religions, but also in popular language. 5 This agrees with the practice, so common in Catholic countries, of making the sign of the Cross, on the appearance of lightning, to prevent being

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struck, as also with the custom spread amongst our peasantry, especially in Flemish Brabant, of tracing a Cross in whitewash on their houses to preserve them from the same calamity. But it may be questioned if these customs are not owing to the general talismanic value which the Christian symbol receives in the popular beliefs: the sign of the Cross, in fact, is reputed to drive away evil spirits and to call in divine protection. As for Crosses painted on the outer walls, they seem to be held of use not only against lightning, but also against fires, epidemics amongst cattle, and, generally, against all the unforeseen accidents which threaten the dwelling-place.

In any case there is here no question of the gammadion, and the popular talk about the flashes of lightning "which cross" is not sufficient to account for the derivation of the form of the fylfot. I am well aware that amongst the ancient Germans, and even amongst the Celts, the gammadion is sometimes met side by side with the symbols of thunder on weapons, amulets, ornaments, and even on altars. But these objects present also to our view the image of the Disk, the Crescent, the triscèle, and many other symbolical figures. 1 It would seem as if the engraver had simply wished to bring together all the symbols possessing, to his knowledge, a phylacteric, or talismanic character; by a process of reasoning analogous to that which, in the latter period of Greek paganism, prompted the manufacture of pantheian figures.

M. Emile Burnouf makes the gammadion the symbol of fire, or rather of the mystical twofold arani, that is to say of the fire-drill, which was used to produce fire amongst the early Aryans. "This sign," he writes, "represents the two pieces of wood forming the arani, whose extremities were

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curved, or else enlarged, so that they could be firmly kept in place by four nails. At the point where they joined there was a small hole in which was placed the piece of wood, shaped like a spear, whose violent rotation, produced by whipping, made Agni to appear." 1

Up till now it has been by no means proved that the lower part of the arani ever had the form of the swastika or even of the Cross. On the contrary there are reasons for supposing that it was usually a mere log of wood in which the point of the pramantha was made to turn. 2 Perhaps, in some cases, it had a circular form; the fire was then produced by making it revolve round a nave. If, as has been maintained, it really assumed, in some Indian temples, the appearance of the gammadion, it had doubtlessly been given this form to imitate the swastika3 As for the four points which are placed between the arms of certain gammadions, there is nothing to prove that they represent nails (see our plate II., litt. B, Nos. 19, 20, 21, 22, and 23), and in most cases they do not even touch the branches of the cross which, according to M. Burnouf, they are intended to fasten. Schliemann, who seems not unwilling to subscribe to M. Emile Burnouf's theory, observes that in Troas the gammadion accompanies the linear drawings of burning altars, 4 but—admitting that these are altars—can they not blaze in the honour of some other god than the fire itself? Further, nothing prevents us from supposing that the sun itself has been represented as a blazing altar.

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In support of M. Burnouf's theory, attention might further be called to the fact that the swastika with branches turned towards the right is, amongst the Hindus, accounted of the feminine gender, which would make it agree with the symbolism of the arani. But it must be remarked that the swastika turned in the other direction passes as masculine. Moreover, according to Sir George Birdwood, it is a common custom in modern India to divide into the two sexes all objects occurring in interdependent pairs.

Mr. R.-P. Greg has written, in the Memoirs published by the Society of Antiquaries, London, a very interesting study on the gammadion, in which, whilst striving to deal impartially with the other explanations of this sign, he contends it is especially a symbol of the air, or rather of the god who rules the phenomena of the atmosphere, Indra with the Hindus, Thor with the ancient Germans and the Scandinavians, Perkun with the Slays, Zeus with the Pelasgians and Greeks, Jupiter tonans and pluvius with the Latin race. 1 Unfortunately, the proofs which he adduces are neither numerous nor conclusive. The fact that in India the bull is sacred to Indra, and that on certain monetary ingots the gammadion surmounts an image of this animal, is hardly sufficient to prove that the swastika is a symbol of Indra. 2 It is likewise difficult to admit that the gammadion represents the god of the atmosphere amongst the Greeks because on some pottery from Cyprus there are gammadions which recall the image of birds flying in the air.

The above-named writer makes much of the fact that on many incised monuments the gammadion is placed above images representing the earth,

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or terrestrial creatures, and below other images symbolizing the sky, or the sun. But this arrangement is far from being invariable or even predominant. Frequently the gammadion is found on the same level with astronomical symbols; sometimes even it occupies the upper place. Mr. Greg, it is true, gets over the difficulty by asserting that in this case it must represent the god of the ether in the capacity of supreme God. 1

The only example I am acquainted with of a gammadion consecrated to Zeus, or to Jupiter, is on a votive altar, where it is incised above the letters I. O. M. 2 But this is a Celto-Roman altar, erected, to all appearance, by Dacians garrisoned in Ambloganna, a town in Great Britain; that is to say, that here again we may be in the presence of a strange god, assimilated to the supreme divinity of the empire, the Jupiter Optimus Maximus of the Romans. Moreover, the gammadion is here flanked by two four-rayed Wheels, symbols which M. Gaidoz has clearly proved to have been, amongst the Gauls, of a solar character. 3

Lastly, Ludvig Müller, Percy Gardner, S. Beal, Edward B. Thomas, Max Müller, H. Gaidoz, and others, have succeeded, by their studies of Hindu, Greek, Celtic, and ancient German monuments, in establishing the fact that the gammadion has been, among all these nations a symbolical representation of the sun, or of a solar god. I should like here to sum up the respective conclusions of these authors, setting forth, at the same time, the other reasons which have led me, not only to accept, but also to develop their interpretation. This attempt may perhaps be the less superfluous since, judging by the comparatively recent works of M. M. Greg

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and Schwartz, the solar, or even the astronomical character of the gammadion is not yet beyond dispute.


44:1 Schliemann. Ilios, figs. 248, 249, and 250.

44:2 T. Lamy. Le svastika et la roue solaire en Amérique, in the Revue d’Ethnographie. Paris, 1885, p. 15.

44:3 M. Michel de Smigrodzki, who in his recent essay, Zur Geschichte der Svastika (Braunschwig, 1890, extracted from the Archiv für Anthropologie), has classified chronologically a considerable number of gammadions belonging to monuments of the most different periods and nations, has made it his special study to show that this cross has everywhere had a symbolical, and not merely an ornamental value.

45:1 Das Buddha Pantheon von Nippon, quoted by M. Ludvig Müller, Op. cit., p. 103.

45:2 Jour. R. As. Soc., v. xviii. (n. s.), p. 408.

46:1 The Bhilsa Topes. London, 1884, p. 386.

46:2 Letter to Schliemann in Ilios, p. 520.

46:3 Journal of the Royal Asiatic Society, vol. xix. (n.s.), p. 245.

46:4 Ceramic Art in Remote Ages. London, 1875, p. 13, et seq.

46:5 Der Blitz als geometrisches Gebild, in the Jubiläumschrift der Posener Naturwissenchaft. Verein, 1887, pp. 221–234.

47:1 R. P. Greg, in Archæologia, 1885, pl. xix. fig. 31, 32, 23; pl. xx., fig. 2.

48:1 Emile Burnouf. La science des Religions. Paris, 1876, p. 240.

48:2 J. C. Nesfield. Mythology of Fire in the Calcutta Review of April, 1884, p. 375.

48:3 It is thus the Buddhists have even erected stoupas in the form of the gammadion. (Cf. Schliemann. Ilios, p. 520.)

48:4 Schliemann. Ilios, figs. 1872, 1911, 1914, 1916.

49:1 R.-P. Greg. The Fylfot and Swastika, in Archæologia, 1885, p. 293 et seq.

49:2 Id., ibid., p. 302.

50:1 R.-P. Greg. Loc. cit., pp. 307 and 309.

50:2 Ludvig Müller. Op. cit., fig. 29.

50:3 H. Gaidoz. Le dieu gaulois du Soleil et le symbolisme de la roue. Paris, 1886.

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