Considering that I have recently posted two blogs about the swastika, more or less directly, I think it would be appropriate to post something about the symbol itself. Origins, meanings and so forth. As a symbol nerd, I have something of an obsession with this dangerous and alluring piece of graphic.
As mentioned in the blog about Thule the national socialists operated on the assumption of cultural dissemination. That is to say, in this context, the swastika had a singular origin, and was spread to the rest of the world via contact or colonisation. They saw this is parallelling the spread of architectural features like pyramids.
And, yes, you can find pyramids (or similar shapes) as well as swastikas around the world, but the assumption that this a result of contact is ungrounded. You can find pyramid, or similar, shapes in cultures as distinct as the Aztec, Greek, ancient Egyptian, Babylonian and even during the Japanese Kofun period. The fact is you can find burial mounds in every part of the world, and the evolution of smaller mounds into larger more elaborate mounds is well documented. This form of burial is also linked to cultures with a high level of centralized religion and strong state authority. So the pyramids don't tell us about ancient contact, but about social structures.
Likewise with the swastika. If you study the graphics of the swastika with an evolutionary mind you can see that it's a very simple symbol. Imagine yourself in the bronze age - with a creative mind and no written language to express yourself with. You need to develop a set of pictograms detailing the world around you. There is a natural progression of expression. The simplest form of graphic is a dot. The next level would be a line. In order to progress from there, and make the line more complex, you can either bend it into an angle, or make two of them. If you really want to get advanced you can combine them into a cross shape.
The swastika is a natural progression from there, and you can choose to intpret it as either four angles put together, or a cross with angles on it. You could even say it's a prototype for the more advanced cross enlosed by a circle. Either way it's a very natural early pictogram. It is both remarkably complex and incredibly simple. But still not simple enough that low brow skinheads manage to get it right all the time. How many times have I seen a swastika sprayed on a wall, where one of the angles point the wrong way or with similarily inane failures? Too many to count... And you wonder why neo nazism seems to attrack drop outs?
If you would want to play the devil's advocate for the idea that these cultures must've been in contact with each other you would say something like "Yeah, sure, simple, but all the cultures used the swastika as a symbol of the sun. How can that be?" And yes, this might be true. We can only make guesses about the meaning of early symbols, but let us work under the assumption that they are all in fact sun symbols (while sometimes this meaning has certainly been further evolved into different levels). This certainly seems to be the general consensus.
It is generally assumed that language evolved beyond the level of grunts and ughs as humans gained access to abundant sources of food. The reasoning is that when humans had time to relax and think about other things than running around trying to stab animals to death or wonder where there was some good fruit, they started thinking about abstract things. What are the stars and the moon, and the sun? How are the heavenly bodies linked to my life? What is the meaning of all this? And so forth. This led to cave paintings and early symbols as a form of cultic expression. Later when the agricultural revolution paved the way for urbanization and more complex socities with organized religion and trade the need for more complex pictograms also arose. And in fact the oldest occurences of swastikas we know of were found in the Mohenjo Daro region, where the oldest city culture also arose.
While spoken language is about direct communication written language is in fact primarily a storage medium. Even long before the portable USB stick humans found that they needed to convey and store communication across distance and time. Numerous theories highlight the link between trade and math or the alphabet, but this is supposed to be about the swastika and the sun. The agricultural revolution brought about two very important changes that are relevant to this topic: sun worship and pictographic writing. It is easy to surmise that one of the earliest symbols one would need to express would be the sun itself. And in all the various early cultures we see the sun symbolised by very "primitive" symbols. The swastika, a cross in a circle, a circle with a dot in the center, and so forth. Written language was created to convey abstract ideas rather than everyday gossip, and the most important abstract ideas around would be numbers (lines and dots) and the sun (evidently one step higher in terms of complexity). The fact that the swastikas arms seem to depict a form of motion could also be seen as symbolizing the sun's link to the four seasons of the year.
So at the same time people around the world started to get the idea that there was a link between the sun and the growth cycles of their crops, they also started developing pictograms. This does not mean that they were in touch with each other from the get go, even though cities also came with trade routes and cultural contact. Still, at times you do come across theories of dissemination in modern publications and with differing levels of credibility or evidence. I have heard that some archaelogists claim that early northern religion was inspired by phoenician traders, based on the fact that the earliest stone carvings in sweden depict a type of ship that was common in the mediterranean, but has never existed in Scandinavia, and the motif of twin gods - also common in that particular area. On the othern end of the scale you have Thor Heyerdahl with his ideas that polynesia was settled from south america - based on similar observations. He has of course been proven wrong by genetics, but maintained his ideas as long as he lived. If you go even further out you find Von Dänicken and his chariots of the gods. Wildly ammusing to read, and so very very preposterous. Still, modern theories of contact have long since abandoned the idea that culture arose in a single area, and the spread. For some reason however many linguists seem to be lagging behind and are still working under outdated assumptions about a first language, on which all later languages are based.
With time the swastika became a common symbol in some parts of the world, primarily asia, while it was replaced by other symbols in other parts of the world. Specifically the christian cross became the primary symbol of divinity in the western hemisphere, and the swastika disappeared from use (even though a tenuous link exists in the so called celtic cross or sun cross, whish is also a pre christian solar symbol similar to the swastika in many ways, with the angles replaced by a circle). When the swastika resurfaced centuries later, it was under the sanskrit name and in some cases links to european paganism and a strong political content. In other cases it was used simply because of its qualities as a good luck charm in asia or in architecture, and as such it was quite popular until this meaning was overtaken by the more well known polical use.
And we all know the end of the story, in the western hemisphere. The swastika has been so strongly linked to genocide that it is nearly impossible to use it in any other context. Despite groups like "reclaim the swastika" and numerous organizations using it because of its pre-christian meaning. Even non western religious groups find that symbol's controversial links are hard to swallow for Europeans. You can imagine what happened when the Raëlians tried to establish themselves in Israel. Their logo is none other than a star of david intertwined with a swastika - as pictured. Things are slowly improving however, and once again it is becoming possible to have an interest in pagan symbolism and myth, without being accused of nazi sympathies. This is a development I personally welcome. I do however disagree with the rhetorics that claim that the Swastika was stolen by Hitler. You can't steal a symbol, it's there for everyone, and we all have equal rights to use them. No single entity can claim ownership of the swastika, not nazis, not paganists, and not hindus - not even Coca Cola. Use it to your own advantage, and as you see fit. It's not a corporate logo, and it's not copyrighted. With this in mind I leave you with this picture I took at bronseplassen in Lillesand, Norway a couple of years ago. They seem to have the idea.