Of Runes and Men
Updated: Apr 7
Hello hello hello! Welcome back, friends of Speakeasy Tattoo. Its another gloomy day in Los Angeles and I cannot convey how happy that makes me. A rare and welcome cold front has visited us this week. Lets face it, anything under 72 in Los Angeles is an excuse to break out the over the top faux-fur coats. But maybe that's just me.....and I wonder why people are always lookin at me.
If there is one constant in my life, it is that people have always seemed to have comments. Be it my hair, my appearance, my height, my dog, odds are within 30 minutes of leaving the house, I will have to give someone a polite chuckle to something they think is clever. A good rule to live by; if something unique about somebody or something pops into your head that compels you to think "I'll ask or comment on this thing I noticed," odds are you are definitely NOT the first to notice that same thing....nor the second....not the hundred-thousandth.
This goes for tattoo artists as well. Any given tattoo artist has to answer the same questions at least once a week if not more. "What's the weirdest tattoo you've ever done?" "Do you tattoo yourself?" and so on and so on. One thing that is frequently asked is "is there any tattoo that you won't do?" And while the answer can range in anything from style differences to drunk people, one thing that any tattoo artist will absolutely draw the line at is symbols of hate. Luckily, there isn't a huge market for things such as this, but this does open an interesting question regarding symbols and appropriation of certain symbols by hate groups.
Naturally, the most obvious example is the swastika. Today, in the eyes of nearly the entire world, the swastika evokes an almost physical feeling of revulsion. And while nearly everyone knows that the symbol's origin does not lie with the Nazis, the association is almost impossible to divorse. I myself use the image of a wolf smashing a Nazi swastika with 3-arrow symbol of the anti-fascist Iron Front organization as my own "symbol" if you wanna call it that.
With that said, the symbol of the swastika is not uncommon in tattooing. It is, in fact, the oldest known symbol in history. The swastika is an ancient symbol that has been used for over 3,000 years (predating even the ancient Egyptian symbol, the ankh). Artifacts such as pottery and coins from ancient Troy show that the swastika was a commonly used symbol as far back as 1000 BCE. The Nazis didn't even call it a "swastika" but referred to it as a "hakenkreuz" or "crooked cross." The word "swastika" comes from the Sanskrit svastika: "su" meaning "good," "asti" meaning "to be," and "ka" as a suffix. Until the Nazis adopted it, the swastika was used by many cultures throughout the past 3,000 years to represent life, sun, power, strength, and good luck. Swastika signifies good luck, peace, prosperity, auspiciousness, and universal brotherhood. Any Hindu ritual, whether it is a wedding, Satya Narayan Katha, Nav Graha Poojan, Grah Pravesh, or any other Pooja ceremony is not complete without using this symbol. (source: thought.co)
To Buddhists, he Swastika represented all forms of positivity, good fortune, prosperity, and abundance often representing Buddha himself.
As late as the early 20th century it was a popular good luck symbol. A common motif in architecture, products such as Coca-Cola, poker chips. Even in the context of war, both the US and Finnish army have historically used the swastika from WWI and (in the case of the Finns) even beyond the end of WWII.
Today there have been attempts to reclaim the symbol from the nazis. There is an erroneous train of thought that the nazis changed the direction and tilted the symbol to make it their own. This somewhat true, but there are countless examples of a swastika with the arms going clockwise throughout history and cultures beyond the Nazis as well as various examples of it being on a tilt. A right-handed Swastika stands for Lord Vishnu and the Sun, while the left-handed Swastika is a symbol of Kali and Magic. But, it is this idea that has led to some to make a point of orientating the symbol with arms facing counterclockwise and without the tilt in order to make a clear differentiation from the nazis.
Unfortunately, the appropriation of ancient iconography of the Nazis extends well beyond the swastika. The runes of ancient Nordic cultures was completely pillaged by the Nazis, taking almost every sacred symbol of the Viking era and twisting them to represent on of the most regimes in history. This actually extends to modern-day hate groups all over the world. Now, it is almost impossible to see someone with a tattoo that could very honestly be honoring ones nordic heritage or pagan beliefs without wondering ".....hmmm....is this guy a white supremacist?" Its truly tragic that to this day these things have been tarnished.
Fortunately, with the ease of information access and a greater awareness of hate groups, many are making an effort to take back these symbols from the Nazis. With that said, it is important to be aware both of the true meaning of certain symbols as well as the perceived meaning of these symbols to the greater public. These are things not entered to lightly. Talk to your artist. Know the history and know the baggage that such a tattoo may carry, even if unfounded.
Hope that wasn't too heavy this week.
Enjoy your weekend.