When the swastika did not mean “Nazism”

2. Pluton Strzelców Podhalańskich, Sanok, Polska, 1936, fot. Marek Silarski
Podhale Rifles regiment, Sanok, Poland, 1936, photography: Marek Silarski

Today, the swastika has an unequivocal association, its emergence in the public space arouses anxiety and the desire to immediately protest against recalling it even in its historical context.
In Asia, the shape of the cross with bent right or left arms is still both a religious symbol (that is, Buddhist temples, among others, are marked with it), as well as a sign used to traditionally evoke happiness and prosperity. In India, wreaths of flowers are woven in the shape of a swastika, which appears in a variety of forms during religious holidays and family celebrations.
Originally, the swastika was (and here and there it is still) a solar symbol; it represented the life-giving energy of the sun and was eagerly used by various religious cults, focusing their rituals and beliefs on astronomical and natural phenomena. The word comes from Sanskrit and means “bringing happiness”. Its shape is therefore treated simply as an amulet.
In the Polish territories, the swastika appeared under the name swarga as an Old Slavonic symbol of the sun, fire, and heat, which today is being revived in the rites of the neo-pagan movements wishing to restore its original meaning.
In times closer to us, in the 19th century, the symbolism of swastika was particularly favoured by the inhabitants of Podhale, mountain people dependent on the forces of nature and in awe of them, often extremely superstitiously. It is in Podhale that it can be found in various decorative elements as a consciously used sign, bringing luck or chasing away evil forces. Highlanders often placed this particular type of cross in hidden places, invisible at first glance, behind or on the bottom of the object, in the recesses of their houses, which was to protect their owners from evil. Hence the name of this Podhale variety, which also appears on our website as the mark of the Podhale Rifles: “the unexpected cross”.
Because of its Hindu origins, the swastika, as a mysterious sign of magical power, also interested the artists of Young Poland. Mieczysław Karłowicz marked his Tatra routes, by painting tiny swastikas on the rocks. Apparently, he also used them to sign his letters to friends. When he died in 1909, under an avalanche at Mały Kościelec, on a stone commemorating his tragic death, the symbol of the “unexpected cross”, so often used by him, was engraved. It is worth knowing the genesis of this form of commemorating the composer and mountaineer, before worrying about the Nazi variant of the swastika.

Elaborated by Editorial team of Małopolskas Virtual Museums,
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 This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 Poland License.

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