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Old 31st July 2009, 05:15 PM   #1
Jim McDougall
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Default Chinese sabre blade believed of late Ming dynasty with svastika markings

For some time I have been intrigued by the antiquity of the symbol of the svastika, and its appearance on weapons long before the obvious negative connotations from its purloined use before and during WWII.

It appears that the symbol likely derives from solar oriented symbolism that may be as early as the Neolithic period. It is known that the symbol was used in ancient Greece as seen in the image here from c.300 BC. In about this time in India, the Mauryan ruler Ashoka adopted Buddhism, and began construction of various temples and stupas as well as his well known pillars.
It is important to note the appearance of architectural elements as well as symbolism in the decoration on weaponry that often occurs. In the case of these monuments as well as other material culture associated with Buddhism, the svastika often appears as one of the first of the 64 auspicious symbols on Buddhas footprint.

The Sanskrit term svastika (sv=good, asti=to be) indicates the typical interpretation of the symbol, meaning good luck, success, good fortune.The Japanese 'manji' of the middle ages was the same symbol, which carried the Buddhist meaning protecting from evil forces.

In Greece, this symbol was the 'gammodian' , incorporating four 'gamma' letters into a wheel type arrangement.
The solar application as well as representation of the four cardinal directions seem universal in viewing the symbol.

In China, this symbol, termed the 'pinya wan' if I understand correctly, of course carried the auspicious Buddhist symbolism, and if memory serves, there was Buddhist motif on the mounts of this sword blade, which had a distinct yelman and as noted was believed of probably latter Ming dynasty.
I cannot recall more as this is a photo taken many years ago of a sword in private collection, with later mounts carrying Buddhist motif.

I would like to hear thoughts on the use of the svastika on Asian weapons, and hopefully see other examples. More on the use of the svastika would be interesting, but I beg to defer on attention to WWII
Another example , aside from the Asian use would be the American Indian use of these symbols, and how and when did they arrive in America?

All best regards,
Jim
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Old 31st July 2009, 05:25 PM   #2
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Apparantly file was too large so here is the blade:
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Old 31st July 2009, 06:18 PM   #3
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I agree with you Jim. Buddhist influence in China was strong and I believe also that this is a Buddhist derived talisman.
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Old 31st July 2009, 09:40 PM   #4
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From what I've understood, the swastika is still commonly used on maps in Japan today to mark the location of Buddhist temples, so the connection seems to be very much there in our time at least.

I've also noticed how the swastika also appears in key-fret designs, and not just on Asian objects. There's a viking sword in the historical Museum in Stockholm which has the pommel decorated in such a fashion. Might be one of those symbols which are basic enough in their geometrical shape that they an pop up every here and there independently.
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Old 31st July 2009, 09:52 PM   #5
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Jim, you mention the americas....

I don't know if this'll be any help, but I'll give input and I hope it'll spark more discussion

A symbol for Hunab-Ku (pseudo-Mayan god) can be found and it seems like almost a svastika/ying-yang. The reason I say it is a pseudo-Mayan-god is because it does not seem to appear in the classic Mayan pantheon. It's origin may be from the efforts of Catholic missionaries in converting native people. Itzamna was similar to the descriptions of Hunab-Ku and it is believed that the missionaries sought to make conversion easier by taking an already revered and powerful god and morphing it into the all-mighty universal god for the Mayan converts. Of course I don't know much about Mayan religion...

However I used to be a voracious reader on anything Mayan. I am still very intrigued by their culture. My memory on them isn't the best right now since my main ethno-martial-historical interest is in S. China and the SE Asian archipegalo, I do remember a few things.... It seems Itzamna was known back in the Classic era when Yaxchilan, Tikal, Palenque, etc. were powerful and locked in deadly and highly organized political wars for dominance (prestige, trade routes, resources, sacrifices, manpower, etc.etc.)
However the Itza as a people seemed to have been invaders of some sort. The Itza came in with their vicious warfare, their bows and arrows, and their great skill with the atlatl and carved out their own kingdoms. This was a time when "Mexican" invaders were plunging into the Mayan heartland and setting up their own countries. It was during this time that Mayan cities began to exhibit more and more defensive earthworks and walls and their classic "killing alleys" (double wall areas). Warfare shifted from the seasonal campaigns and night-raids by spear, knife, club, and atlatl (hul'che) armed warriors and levies to proffessional and fierce warriors also armed with bow and arrow. Trade shifted from overland routes to the coast, and the lowlands ceased to be the major center of civilization. Rather, the north had powerful cities like Chichen Itza and Mayapan, and the far south in the mountains were Mexicanized kingdoms in constant rivalry. The populations of the lowlands in the middle died or dispersed and returned to the simple village life they had led before the first step-pyramid was made.
Perhaps Itzamna grew more powerful due to more intense worship by the Itza? Perhaps this is why he was a good candidate for the missionaries to morph into a Mayan Catholic God?

Don't take my word for it, like I said, I've forgotten a lot... or maybe it's just stored in my head somewhere
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Old 31st July 2009, 10:55 PM   #6
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Thank you so much guys! I really appreciate the positive responses, and well placed notes. As most here know I have always been pretty much obsessed with the symbolism found on weapons, and admit that I often will stretch things a bit in theories and trying to find connections between cultures.

It would seem that in many cases, very simple designs have indeed developed divergently in various cultures, with the most amazing result being the evidence of man's inherent search for meaning in most everything.
It seems the design for the swastika derives quite likely from simple geometrics seen in crossing of material as in basket weaving. This may well explain the appearance of the design in American Indian cultures such as the Navajo and Hopi, where these materials were well known. As well stated in one article, this imagery would easily apply in most native cultures worldwide.

As I had noted earlier, the symbol was known in the ancient Greek world as the gammodion, and derives from certainly much earlier forms. The German archaeologist Heinrich Schliemann found these symbols in Troy and Mycenae in the 1870's, and suggested that it was an Aryan religious symbol. This perception of course took on its rather distorted course to the misperceptions of Aryan themed cults and into its unfortunate incarnation symbolically.

My interest in the symbol, as a Buddhist symbol, and in its application in the motif on weapons, would be why are these sequenced in the numeric five?
The three is of course well known symbolically in religions, and we have determined that the symbol itself is generally held as a symbol of good fortune, success and positive force.
This blade is early, and seems to date into the Ming era, and as is typically the case, refurbished at a later time with preponderance of Buddhist symbols in the mounts, which suggests it remained in its original orientation with its subsequent owners.
I wish I had images of the fully mounted sabre, or could show the entire blade, which as noted did have a yelman, as recorded in notes.
I never know what I'll find in these heaps of old files!!

All best regards, and thank you again guys!
Jim
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Old 2nd August 2009, 06:23 PM   #7
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hi all,
here is an picture from an japanese armor from the 17.th.ct.
i saw these armour for some years by an german antique seller from japanese arms. it is an phantastic item from an very good iron work and the silver "koftgari" was also very magnificence! these armour shows also these budhistic svastica symbols and it is very pitty that the most people in the western world think by these symbol at first at nazi german symbol. the root from these svastica is sooo old and you cane find it not only in the bhudistic world also the in the german ore celtic mythologie can you find these symbol. i saw some very old celtic things decorated with the svastica.
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Old 2nd August 2009, 10:03 PM   #8
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There is some evidence that the Greeks got this symbol from contact with India, perhaps even before Alexander the Great.
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Old 3rd August 2009, 09:29 PM   #9
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Another Japanese example: svastika theme on the 'habaki'
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Old 3rd August 2009, 09:46 PM   #10
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Tatyana, your pictures are, as always, very good.
Like Battara writes - the svastica is ancient, very ancient, and it is likely that he is right about from where it origins.
Like always we have many questions, but very few answers.
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Old 3rd August 2009, 10:00 PM   #11
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Detail of Plate LXI from Behmer’s “Das zweischneidige Schwert der germanischen Völkerwanderungszeit”
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Old 3rd August 2009, 11:34 PM   #12
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Thanks again everybody for the ongoing and great responses!
It is truly interesting that the Greeks likely acquired this symbolism from India, and of course probably from thier incursions.
Great illustrations of the Japanese use of the symbol, which I had not been too familiar with, and these are really awe inspiring.....that habaki is unbelievable Tatyana! As Jens notes, your photos really are magnificent.

Jeff, the Behmer photo really is interesting. Does it note what period this element is from, and more about it? Thank you for posting that. As I had found earlier, these symbols seem to have early origins into the Neolithic period.

All best regards,
Jim
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Old 4th August 2009, 08:52 AM   #13
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Thank you all for paying me compliments. Really it is the sword and its craftsmen who deserve the praise, and I have only taken a quick shot yesterday using camera flash
My example is pretty late (I believe it is from 19th century) and pretty traditional. Jeff's sword is much older, from the times of the Great Migration, as seen by its caption ("Two-edged sword from the times of Germanic migration"). But I agree that svastika should be much older - to see neolitic examples would be really nice...
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Old 4th August 2009, 02:31 PM   #14
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That would be a 7th century sword, Behmer’s Type VIII; and since it was found in Sweden it is probably the previously mentioned one from the museum in Stockholm.
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Old 4th August 2009, 02:37 PM   #15
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Definitely looks like the one I mentioned from the Historical Museum.
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Old 4th August 2009, 02:45 PM   #16
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Very nice Jim,

I have details of a similar sabre somewhere amongst the files, I'll have a rat around and see what comes to light.
From memory Philip Tom had written about a similar piece elsewhere, I'll see if I can put my fingers on that too.

I also have this Tibetan sword here tucked away for a raining day. it too has these markings to the side of the hilt.

Gav
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Old 5th August 2009, 09:59 AM   #17
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Jim McDougal
I would like to hear thoughts on the use of the svastika on Asian weapons, and hopefully see other examples. More on the use of the svastika would be interesting, but I beg to defer on attention to WWII


Interesting thread Jim. Great sword!

Heres an old kothimara kukri {middle & bottom.} sent back by a young British officer to his parents in 1939 from Assam.The covering letter suggested they display it in the drawing room.

Swastikas are still comonly seen painted on doorways of both Hindu & Buddhist houses in Nepal.

Spiral



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Old 19th August 2009, 10:52 AM   #18
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Hello everybody, my first post on this fascinating forum. I'm very new to collecting so everything I read here is a learning experience. Anyways, saw this thread and thought I should add something to the discussion:

Swastikas painted on the walls and roof of a home in Bhutan - notice similarity with the design on the Japanese sword. I asked the house-lady and she told me the design, like many things in Bhutan, is Tibetan in origin. I know this thread is about swastikas on swords, but am posting these images below because of their similarity with the Japanese sword design.





Now, to keep the post fully relevant, check out this gubor (pommel) of an old Bhutanese patang that has been in my wife's family for several generations. This is the backside of the gubor, the front-side has pierced work more usually seen. In the background you can see more swastikas painted on the edges of the house's door area.



You will find swastikas in various designs all over the Himalayas, Tibet and South Asia as ancient Hindu and Buddhist religious symbols. Hope you find this interesting.
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Old 19th August 2009, 09:45 PM   #19
Jim McDougall
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Thanks everybody for the great responses and excellent illustrations you have added to this thread!
This subject has been on my mind a long time, but never got around to addressing it, and you guys have really added outstanding perspective.

Sta94, welcome to the forums, and very impressive entrance contribution. Thank you, and really look forward to your participation here!!

All best regards,
Jim
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Old 27th November 2020, 04:56 AM   #20
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Default Svastika or Wan Character on Chinese and Korean fittings

The twin dragon Chinese Ming dynasty HuShou (guard) has been imported/exported to Japan and modified with Kogai-hitsu-Ana (by-knife hole) to accomodate the custom of carrying a by-knife with the katana. The dragons are on the handle side, while the blade side shows the swastika/Wan (ten thousand character). If it weren't for the seppa/washer of the sword, all the swastika false-damascening would be rubbed off. (this is from my own collection)

The Korean Hwando has Chinese and Japanese elements. Close inspection of the pommel shows the swastika/Wan character pattern, also applied by false-damascening technique. (this was found on the internet)
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Old 30th November 2020, 03:12 PM   #21
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Article.....

https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/magazine-29644591

A quote

"Single swastikas began to appear in the Neolithic Vinca culture across south-eastern Europe around 7,000 years ago. But it's in the Bronze Age that they became more widespread across the whole of Europe."
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Old 30th November 2020, 06:22 PM   #22
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Battara
I agree with you Jim. Buddhist influence in China was strong and I believe also that this is a Buddhist derived talisman.

Yes this is a Buddhist Talisman.
The giant Buddha on Lantau Island Hong Kong has a "reversed" version on his chest.
Stu
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Old 1st December 2020, 04:15 AM   #23
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Interesting...
The right-sided version ( clockwise) in Hinduism is a symbol of Surya( sun) and of good luck, prosperity etc. In short , all the good stuff.
In contrast, left-sided ( counter clockwise) is associated with night, darkness and Kali.

Never thought deeply about this subject, but what is this left-sided one doing on Buddha’s chest? Unless, of course, the pic was reversed:-) This is impossible, because his right arm is raised.

On the other hand, Nazi swastika was right-sided. Much good did it do.....
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Old 1st December 2020, 05:44 AM   #24
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https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Swastika
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sauwastika
Origins and history can be found here. In Buddhism it is regarded as a GOOD Talisman, hence the appearance on the Lantau Buddha.
Stu
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Old 1st December 2020, 07:06 AM   #25
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Quote:
Originally Posted by ariel
Interesting...
The right-sided version ( clockwise) in Hinduism is a symbol of Surya( sun) and of good luck, prosperity etc. In short , all the good stuff.
In contrast, left-sided ( counter clockwise) is associated with night, darkness and Kali.

Never thought deeply about this subject, but what is this left-sided one doing on Buddha’s chest? Unless, of course, the pic was reversed:-) This is impossible, because his right arm is raised.



It appears both ways in Buddhist iconography, and both are counted among the 64 sacred emblems on Buddha's foot, as depicted in talismanic representations.
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Old 1st December 2020, 08:11 AM   #26
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I visited many Roman temples with swastika.

A bit older than Buddhism, Jainism has swastika for symbol.
I don't know if the Greeks or Romans brought it back in their "suitcases"...

As mentioned by David, Swastika is a very old symbol and a very simple geometric design, related to wheel, sun, life... and used by many cultures.
From America to Japan...
So I won't venture in explanations or influences...
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Old 1st December 2020, 02:24 PM   #27
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Quote:
Originally Posted by kahnjar1
In Buddhism it is regarded as a GOOD Talisman, hence the appearance on the Lantau Buddha.
Stu

And when something bad happens to a Buddhist, the Hinduist just chuckles : “ I told you so, but you did not believe me” :-)

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Old 1st December 2020, 04:22 PM   #28
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Default Swastica = Sanscrit for well being ...

Quote:
Originally Posted by ariel
Interesting...
The right-sided version ( clockwise) in Hinduism is a symbol of Surya( sun) and of good luck, prosperity etc. In short , all the good stuff.
In contrast, left-sided ( counter clockwise) is associated with night, darkness and Kali.

Never thought deeply about this subject, but what is this left-sided one doing on Buddha’s chest? Unless, of course, the pic was reversed:-) This is impossible, because his right arm is raised...

Countless interpretations seem to appear, one more in favor of Lord Buddha, on what the Swastica version (counter clockwie) concerns.
... As also variants in form, found all over the world, in rock art, church doors, ceilings, etc. We find them often here, in Archeologic sites.


.
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Old 11th December 2020, 03:49 PM   #29
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I remember for Celts it was a symbol of death and rebirth. Related to the sun and possibly fortunes wheel. A legacy of an Indo-European culture that produced both Celtic and Sanskrit. Sorry I can't site sources, but university was a good bit ago
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Old 14th December 2020, 05:33 PM   #30
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I would like to respond to Jim's earlier question.

"My interest in the symbol, as a Buddhist symbol, and in its application in the motif on weapons, would be why are these sequenced in the numeric five?
The three is of course well known symbolically in religions, and we have determined that the symbol itself is generally held as a symbol of good fortune, success and positive force."

Several posts have mentioned the swastika as a sun symbol, but the four quadrants represent thus sun in relation to the four seasons of the earth. The angled arms represent the sun going around the earth (it looked like that anyway). So it is a symbol of the sun and the earth, much like the Celtic cross (cross in a circle).

So why have five of them? In Chinese numerology, the number four is associated with the earth, but is considered unlucky because it is the earth without humans. The number five specifically represents our five pointed shape, and is considered the human number. There are of course many important "fives" in Chinese mythology, such as the five elements, but in my opinion, the maker of this sword wanted to avoid an unlucky association with the number four. Four is the number of death, and that is a bit intense on the side of a blade.
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