Sunday, September 23, 2007

Symbols and Meaning

All symbols immediately have some meaning. Some might barley made an impact, while others immediately bring something to mind.

Take the swastika. To my Western eyes, it immediately brings images of death camps, war, and genocide. Lately I have become interested in the works of Isabel Patterson and I tracked down a first edition of one of her novels. So imagine my surprise when I opened the book and saw this:

It is the receipt of the original owner of the book. The book store used a swastika in its logo.

(Vroman's Book Store still exists, with a new logo and just down the block from the location on the receipt)

To Buddhists and some Native Americans, the swastika is a good luck symbol. Buddhist temples often incorporate the symbols. This filtered into the West -- in the late 19th and early 20th Centuries, the swastika was often used as a good luck charm. Mystical societies also used it as a symbol.

A US Army division raised during World War II, the 45th "Thunderbird" Division originally used the symbol in its division patch -- the division was raised in the Southwest and the local Indians incorporated the symbol in the artwork. The 45th Division quickly changed their patch and the Indians decided to stop incorporating the swastika into their artwork (tourists stopped buying it).

So has the swastika in Western eyes become too damaged to use? Edith Altman, a Jewish artist has decided to "reclaim" the symbol and now uses it in her artwork.


Gregg Beaman's Blog said...

It's also used at the Carlsberg brewery in Copenhagen. I think one of the early members of the family had travelled extensively in India, hence the symbolism, pre-Nazi obviously.

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