The Swastika in Heraldry

From: andersa@Riga.DoCS.UU.SE(Anders Andersson)

I wasn't aware it had been used in heraldry to any greater extent, though I'm not surprised. Do you have examples of use before and after WWII? The Swedish electric machinery manufacturer ASEA (now known as ABB, ASEA Brown Boveri) formerly used the swastika as their corporate logotype, but (naturally) changed it.

From: Tiitu)

If I remember correct, swastika is an old symbol from the baltic region. Finnish army used it 1918-1945 in their tanks and airplanes. So it was much before Hitler took it as a symbol of his ideas.

Swedish baron von Rosen gave finnish army's first airplane and it had his symbols of luck -- blue swastika -- painted to both wings. Finns liked the logo and started to use it.

From: Ole Kristiansen)

The Carlsberg breweries used it as one of their logos. If you get to Copenhagen, go look at the Elephant Gate. There are swastikas on the elephants.

From: (Gerald Newton)

It's a curious fact, but a swastika can be found on a British World War I memorial in an Anglican churchyard (St. Thomas) on Chatsworth Raod, Derbyshire, England.

From: Velde)

Woodward's (first published 1892) says: Fylfot: The Gammadion, an ancient symbol composed of four Gammas united in cross.

He also mentions "the coat of von Tale in Braunschweig. Here each piece [of the quartering] takes the form of the mystic fylfot, or gammadion. This coat is blazoned by the French heralds: ecartele en equerre de gueules et d'argent; because the shape of the pieces suggest a carpenter's square."

		|    a      |   |         a: Gules
		|______     |   |         b: Argent
		|      |    |   |
		|   ---|----- b |
		| b |  |________|
		|   |           |
		\   |    a      /
		 \  |         /

From: R.)

It is worthy of note that in addition to the various sources cited above, the symbol now commonly known as a swastika was also a common native american symbol. Particularly in the southwest 'Chaco' culture and the mexican sites they are known to have traded with. Generally depicted in petroglyphs though it's 'meaning' is much debated and basically unknown.

From: Gray)

The general consensus is that the Swastika originated in India, and spread from there. (Brooke Little in Fox-Davies Guide to Heraldry, note 162)

By sheer chance the other day I browsed through a bookstore, and came across "Pleasures of Archaeology" by Karl Meyer. Meyer describes how Heinrich Schliemann, the discoverer of the ruins of Troy, came across many artifacts with swatikas on them, and publicized it.

"His [Schlieman] earliest published mention [of the swastika] in "Troy and Its Remains", has curious overtones: 'All that can be said of the first settlers [of Troy] is that they belonged to the Aryan race, as is sufficiently proved by the Aryan religious symbol met with in the strata of their ruins (among which, we find the swastika)' .... A careful reading of Schliemann's frequent use of Aryan shows that he intended the word in tis old, precise, and reputable sense - as a description of peoples, whether white or brown, who spoke and Indo - European language.(see his definition in "Troy and Its remains"."

Boutell, writing in the last century, draws a distinction between the heraldic charge the Fylfot, and the swastika, which he desribes as a charm.

Neubecker states that it was a symbol of the Sun, and was clearly used as such in old Japanese documents. (Heraldry, Styles, sources and meanings)

Cadogan-Rothery, writing early in the 20th C., said that :"the extremities bent to right or left, represent[ing] at once the "Gateways" - East, West,North and South - and the diurnal journey of the Sun" He was puzzled as to why such an obviously pagan symbol that originated in Asia was classified in Heraldry as a cross.

It is known, not only as a Cross Gammadion, but also as a Cross Cramponee, from Crampon, a bar of iron bent at right angles. (Franklin, Shield and Crest) Or as a Cross potent rebated. (Boutell)

It was also called a "Fylfot" because it was often used to "fill the foot" of a window. (Brook-Little, note 162).

Franklin gives two (I assume pre-war) examples of it being used. The crest of Angas of Fulmer Chase (what a great name, eh?): On a wreath of the colours,(don't ask, he doesn't give them) between two branches of palm erect, vert, a bee-hive with bees, proper, in front thereof three fylfots, Or.

The arms of Fatia are blazoned: Per fess argent and azure, two tridents in saltire proper from each a pennon flowing outward, gules, charged with a fess Or, overall in base the sun in his splendour proper thereon a swastika, also gules.

This blazon in interesting because it uses the term swastika (the sun charm) in association with the sun. It also described the sun as "In splendour", but there is no face.

From: Velde)

Here's what the Oxford English Dictionary has for fylfot, cramponnee and gammadion and hakenkreuz (the German name of the swastika). In French the common name is "croix gammee". The word fylfot has an interesting story, since it appears only once before the 19th c., and was resurrected by "antiquaries".

    fylfot . [The sole authority on which this word has been accepted by
modern antiquaries as the name of the mark in question is the passage from the
Lansdowne MS. quoted below.  The context in which the word there occurs seems
to favour the supposition that it is simply fill-foot, meaning a pattern or
device for `filling the foot' of a painted window.  There is nothing to show
whether the word denoted specifically this device as distinguished from others
used for the same purpose, and it is even possible that it may have been a mere
nonce-word.] A name for the figure called also a cross cramponnee (see
cramponnee), and identical with the swastika of India, the gammadion of
Byzantine ecclesiastical ornament; it has been extensively used as a decoration
(often, apparently, as a mystical symbol) in almost all known parts of the
world from prehistoric times to the present day.  Also fylfot cross.
A. 1500 _Instruct. Memorial Wind._ in _MS. Lansdowne_ 874 lf. 190 Let me stand 
in the medyll pane..a rolle abo[ve my hede] in the hyest..[pane] vpward, the
fylfot in the nedermast pane vnder ther I knele.  [The words defaced or torn
off are supplied conjecturally.  In the sketch, below the effigy of the writer,
is a `fylfot' composed of broad fillets, with tricking app. intended for
`ermine'.] 1842 J. G. _Waller Brasses_, Priest & Franklin, This device is
denominated `the fylfot' on the authority of some ancient directions for the
execution of two figures in painted glass..preserved in Lansdowne MS. 874. 1852
Planche _Pursuiv. Arms_ 135 The Fylfot is a mystic figure, called in the
Greek Church, Gammadion.  It is very early seen in Heraldry. 1861 Haines _Mon.
Brasses_ p. cix, The Fylfot, a kind of cross potent rebated, or cross
cramponee.. 1868 Baring-Gould _Curious Myths_ Ser. ii. iii. 89 Bells were
often marked with the `fylfot', or cross of Thorr. 1887 _Athenaeum_ 20 Aug. 
249/2 It comprises a fylfot cross set with studs.

 cramponnee , a. Her. [a. Fr. cramponne', cramponed: see prec.] Said of
a cross having a square hook-like bend at the end of each limb, all turned
thus, &390..
 1727 Bailey (Vol. II.) s.v., A Cross Cramponnee..has a Cramp at each end,
or a square Piece coming from it, that from the Arm in chief towards the
sinister Angle.

    gammadion . Also gammation. [a. late Gr. gammation, gammadion,
f. gamma.] A decorative pattern formed of repetitions or combinations of
the shape of the Greek letter gamma (Gamma.); by antiquaries applied chiefly
to the particular device called otherwise fylfot; also to a figure composed of
four gammas placed back to back in such a way as to form a voided Greek cross.
1848 B. Webb _Cont. Ecclesiol._ 432 Apostles with gammadoe [sic] on their robes.
1872 _Gloss. Eccl. Terms_ (ed. Shipley), Gammadion, the same as Gammadium or
Fylfot. 1876 Rock Text. Fabr. v. 36 This word Gammadion was a word applied as
often to the patterns on silks as to the figures wrought on gold and silver.
1877 Lee Gloss. _Liturg. & Eccl. Terms_, Fylfot..was also called Gammation..the
Greek term for this mystical device. 1889 Elvin _Dict. Heraldry_, Gammadion, a
Cross potent rebated.  attrib. 1869 Mrs. Palliser Lace ii. 19 Two specimens one ornamented with..shields and crosses, the other with the 
mediaeval gammadion pattern.

     Hakenkreuz, hakenkreuz . [Ger.] The Nazi swastika.  Also attrib.
 1931 _Times_ 23 Dec. 7/4 A large Nazi Hakenkreuz flag, `which can be seen for
miles', flies from the tallest chimney. 1935 C. Isherwood _Mr. Norris changes
Trains_ xi. 165 Hitler's negotiations with the Right had broken down; the
Hakenkreuz was even flirting mildly with the Hammer and Sickle. 1966 M. Albrand
_Door fell Shut_ xvi. 115 His eyes fell on a large hakenkreuz.  To come upon the
Nazi insignia so unexpectedly made Bronsky feel slightly sick. 1972 _Oxford
Times_ 28 July 9 Perhaps he [sc. Hitler] hoped the Hakenkreuz would bring bad
luck to his enemies.

Return to the Main Heraldry Page.

François R. Velde