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A Much Maligned Symbol

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A 1926 photo of a family in Chimayo, N.M. A Native American blanket in the background depicts an image of the swastika.

The symbol of the swastika is as old as its meaning. In the ancient language of Sanskrit the definition for swastika means well-being. It was only with the Third Reich in Nazi Germany that the swastika acquired a negative connotation. The Hindus and Buddhists have revered the symbol for thousands of years. Throughout the ages, the swastika has played an important role in many different cultures. According to the Bureau of Ethnology, “The swastika is an ancient universal symbol that appears on all continents except Australia.”

Indigenous people around the world have long embraced the symbolism of the swastika. The Native Americans include the symbol in their spiritual practices. For them the center of the swastika represents the world divided by regions: east, west, north and south. Each point can move in a clockwise or counterclockwise pattern. The stems represent the zenith, or high point of the sky. The nadir is at the opposite direction and the center represents the earth.

Depictions of the Swastika in different cultures. Image by Mennas Dosbin

New Mexico & the Swastika

Some of the prehistoric pottery of North America features images of swastikas. The spiritual being of Hopi Kachinas often depict a swastika on each side of its head. For the Hopi the center was the heart of the symbol. The Zuni Pueblo Indians use a six stem swastika that includes the zenith, nadir and the cardinal points.

A Town by any Other Name

Located five miles west of Raton, N.M., there once was a town named Swastika. The St. Louis, Rocky Mountain and Pacific Companies owned the little hamlet. The railroad conglomerate named the town because of its Sanskrit meaning for of good fortune. Indeed, Swastika proved to be a profitable enterprise for its owners. Unfortunately, the atrocities of Adolf Hitler and his Nazi regime forced the owners to change the town’s name to Brilliant in 1940.

The Swastika Found in Christianity

You can find Swastika symbols engraved on the railing of the old church in Trampas, N.M. The symbols are located on the altar railing. There’s evidence of the role that Native Americans had during the building of the church. As the Pueblo Indians were being indoctrinated into Christianity, they made sure to include their symbolism on the church railings. That was one of the many ways indigenous people were able to meld their spiritual practices into Christianity.