Things of Sacred Power

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Things of Sacred Power

Things of sacred power associated with Judeo-Christian history as recorded in the Bible and in various apocryphal texts have enraptured believers for centuries. Whether pilgrims seek the physical remains of Noah's Ark or the cup from which Jesus (c. 6 b.c.e.c. 30 c.e.) drank Passover wine at the Last Supper, great controversies over the physical existence of certain objects mentioned in the Bible have persisted for thousands of years and continue in the new millennium.

So prevalent is the belief that Noah's Ark can be located on the slope of the tallest mountain in Turkey, Agri Dagi (Mt. Ararat ), that some travel agencies include participation in expeditions to search for the ark as part of tour packages to Turkey. Several ark sightings on Mt. Ararat occurred during the twentieth century. During a thaw in the summer of 1916, a Russian Imperial Air Force lieutenant flying over Mt. Ararat reported seeing half the hull of some sort of ship poking out above surface of a lake. A photograph taken in 1972 by the Earth Research Technical Satellite (ERTS) is said to reveal an unusual feature at 14,000 feet on Mt. Ararat. It was reported to be the same size as the Ark. In the 1980s, former NASA astronaut James Irwin participated in expeditions up the mountain, but he found only the remnants of abandoned skis. With the breakup of the former Soviet Union, expeditions up the mountain intensified during the 1990s, and the search for Noah's Ark continues.

As described in the Old Testament book of Exodus, the Ark of the Covenant, a wooden chest covered with gold, is said to contain such sacred relics as the tablets of law from God that Moses (14th13th century b.c.e.) brought back from Mt. Sinai. The ark possessed super-natural powers and served as a means through which God could express his will to the Israelites. It was last known to have rested in the Temple of Solomon in Jerusalem, but ever since Babylonian forces conquered the city in 587 b.c.e. the whereabouts of the Ark of the Covenant has been a mystery. Interest in the Ark of the Covenant has inspired generations of those who would recover the sacred relic. In medieval times the Knights Templar supposedly came into possession of the ark.

A whole mythology has been built around the legendary Holy Grail, said to be the drinking vessel of Jesus at the Last Supper before his crucifixion and resurrection. The legend of the grail has been perpetuated through literature since the twelfth century, particularly in tales involving knights of Camelot who served the legendary King Arthur of Britain. Through the inspirational recounting of the various quests, Christian teachings and virtues are presented. In modern times, the Holy Grail persists as a symbol of an ultimate achievement, a higher order of being for which people search.

Another thing of sacred power that has inspired generations of Christians is the Shroud of Turin, which is discussed in an earlier chapter. The Bible mentions a "clean linen cloth" (Matthew 27:59) in which the dead body of Jesus was wrapped following his crucifixion. Several cloths purported to be the one mentioned in the Bible have been made public through the centuries. The Shroud of Turin is a linen cloth that bears the image of a bearded, crucified man. The claims that the image on the Shroud of Turin was that of Jesus were first made public in the fourteenth century. The Shroud has been controversial ever sinceembraced as authentic by believers, and written off as a forgery by skeptics. Each time evidence seems to weigh heavily against the authenticity of the Shroud, a new finding renews the controversy and inspires believers.

Perhaps a greater stretch for the skeptical mind is the belief that the lance that pierced Jesus' side has been preserved down through the centuries as a symbol that will bring vast political power to the one who possesses it. Nevertheless, when Christian crusaders discovered the lance in the Church of St. Peter in Antioch during the First Crusade in 1098, they used it as a symbol to rally their forces and defeat the Saracens. From that time onward, European monarches coveted the Holy Lance as a sign that their reigns would be far-reaching and long-lasting. Fortunately, the power of the Spear of Destiny ebbed when it fell into the possession of the Nazis and their leader, Adolf Hitler (18891945).

This section will examine these objects of sacred power and discuss why they have been deemed so precious and holy by believers down through the centuries.

Delving Deeper

Bernstein, Henrietta. The Ark of the Covenant, the Holy Grail. Marina del Ray, Calif.: DeVorss Publications, 1998

Goodrich, Norma.The Holy Grail. New York: Harper-Collins Publishers, 1992.

Hancock, Graham. The Sign and the Seal. London: Heinemann, 1992.

Weston, Jessie L. From Ritual to Romance. Mineola, N.Y.: Dover Publications, 1997.

The Ark of the Covenant

Ever since the Babylonian Captivity of Jerusalem in the sixth century b.c.e., the whereabouts of the Ark of the Covenant has been a mystery. As described in the Old Testament of the Bible, the ark served as the visible sign of God's presence to the Israelites. The Israelites would rally and vanquish their foes when the ark was brought to sites of battle, and death came to those in the presence of the ark who were enemies of God, betrayed their allegiance to God, or who simply forgot about the ark's immense power. According to the Bible, the ark was last known to have rested in the Temple of Solomon in Jerusalem. Whether it was destroyed, stolen, moved, or remained hidden after Babylonian forces conquered the city and leveled the temple in 587 b.c.e. is not known.

Another mystery concerning the ark is its contents. The ark is said to contain numerous sacred relics, including the tablets of law from God that Moses (14th13th century b.c.e.) brought back from Mt. Sinai; Aaron's rod, a kind of rounded stick that miraculously grew leaves as a sign of God's trust in Aaron, brother of Moses; and/or a specimen of manna, the mysterious food that had provided an unending source of nourishment to the Israelites as they wandered in the desert. Additionally, the ark possessed a supernatural power that awed and overwhelmed those who viewed it, and it served also as a means through which God could express his will.

The idea of the ark was expressed by God to the Israelites and was then made into a material object by skilled craftsmen in about 1462 b.c.e. They built a chest (about 2 cubits in length and 1 cubits in height or about 3 feet, 9 inches in length, 2 feet, 3 inches in height) using setim (acacia) wood overlaid with the purest gold. The outside of the ark had a gold rim and four golden rings, one on each corner of the chest. Two poles made of setim and covered with gold ran through the gold rings on either side; the poles were used to lift the ark and were never removed from the rings. The ark had a cover of gold on which two cherubim faced each other, each with wings spread. The oracle (word, or commands) of God would issue from the ark from a cloud between the two cherubim (Exodus 25:1922).

The ark originally provided safety to the Israelites in their journey to the Promised Land. The power of the ark was manifested several times and enemies were scattered. When priests carrying the ark stepped into the River Jordan, the water stopped flowing and all the Israelites were able to cross. At the battle of Jericho the ark was carried by a procession around the walls of the city for seven days, after which the walls came down and the Israelites won the battle.

After losing a series of battles with the Philistines, the Israelites brought the ark to a battle site, hoping for inspiration and wanting to strike fear into the Philistines. However, the Philistines won the battle and secured possession of the ark. The Philistines viewed their capture of the ark as a victory over the Israelites and their God. The ark was treated as a trophy, but several disasters fell upon the Philistines, including the rapid spread of a plague and an invasion of mice wherever the ark was placed. The Philistines eventually built a cart on which they placed the ark and representations of their afflictions; they yoked two cows to the cart and set it forth. The cart made its way to the territory of Israel, where the ark came into the possession of the Bethsames. A large number of Bethsames fell dead when they failed to show respect for the ark. Fearful of the ark's power, the Bethsames offered it to the inhabitants of nearby Cariathiarum, who took it in their possession with proper sacraments.

Later, when David (d. 962 b.c.e.) became king of Israel and established Jerusalem as the holy center of the nation, the ark was to be moved there. Along the way, however, a cart carrying the ark was jostled and the ark began sliding off. Forgetting about the ark's strange powers, a man who reached out to secure it was struck dead. The ark was then housed at a nearby site outside the city, where it was the object of veneration for several months before the journey to Jerusalem was completed. The ark was taken once from Jerusalem to inspire David's army in its battle against the forces of Absalom.

Eventually, the ark was placed in the new Temple of Solomon in Jerusalem. It was occasionally taken away from the temple for a battle or ceremony, but soon the ark was not allowed to leave the temple. As decades passed, the sacredness and powers of the ark were largely forgotten. When Jerusalem was invaded and taken by Babylonians led by King Nebuchad-nezzar II (c. 630562 b.c.e.; the Babylonian Captivity of Jerusalem is dated from 587 b.c.e.), the whereabouts of the ark became a mystery. It was either destroyed along with the city or, as suggested in Kings 4:25, taken to Babylon as one of the spoils of victory.

Some biblical scholars theorize that those Israelites still faithful to God were forewarned about the fall of Jerusalem and moved the ark to safety. Jeremiah is said to have moved the ark to a cave on Mt. Sinai, the mountain in Egypt where Moses first spoke with God. The Talmud, the ancient, authoritative history of the Hebrews, indicates that the ark was kept in a secret area of the Temple of Solomon and survived the destruction and pillaging of Jerusalem. The Temple of Solomon was rebuilt on its original foundation after the Babylon Captivity. Around 150 b.c.e., a successor of Alexander the Great invaded Jerusalem and took valuable items from the new temple, but the ark was not mentioned among them.

One account has the illegitimate son of Solomon and Sheba stealing the ark about 1000 b.c.e. and hiding it in Aksum, Ethiopia, where it was guarded by a monk in a church. Other stories have the ark being transported during a Hebrew migration to Abyssinia (Ethiopia) that preceded the Babylonian Captivity. There, according to that version, the ark remained on an island in Lake Tana. With the spread of Christianity throughout the Roman world by 300 c.e., Abyssinia was largely Christian. Later, during the sixteenth century, fierce battles were waged by invading Muslim armies on the Christian empire of Abyssinia, causing much destruction, including the razing of monasteries on the island Tana Kirkos, where the ark was believed to have been kept. A cathedral was built after the Muslim armies retreated, and there, according to this legend, the ark remains safe.

In December 2000, Erling Haagensen and Henry Lincoln published their thesis that the Ark of the Covenant and the Holy Grail were both hidden in sites on the Baltic Sea island of Bornholm about the year 1170.

Interest in the Ark of the Covenant has recurred through the centuries. In medieval times the Knights Templar supposedly came into possession of the ark. In contemporary times, interest in the ark was renewed with the 1981 film Raiders of the Lost Ark, where it is the object of a search just prior to World War II (193945) between Nazi forces and an American archaeologist named Indiana Jones. The ark is found and, as in the Bible, its power kills (literally melts) all of those who do not pay it proper respect. In the film, as in the Old Testament, the presence of the ark brings destruction to the wicked and to the vain. In Raiders of the Lost Ark, the relic eventually ends up in an undistinguished crate in an overstocked U.S. government warehouse waiting to be archived.

In December 2001, Rev. John McLuckie found a wooden tablet representing the Ark of the Covenant in a cupboard in St. John's Episcopal Church in Edinburgh, Scotland. Rev. McLuckie, who had lived in Ethiopia, recognized the artifact as sacred to Ethiopia's Orthodox Christians, and arranged to have the tablet returned in a special ceremony in 2002.

Delving Deeper

Bernstein, Henrietta. The Ark of the Covenant, the Holy Grail. Marina del Rey, Calif.: DeVorss Publications, 1998.

Deevey, Edward S. "Ancient Wonders Abound in Ethiopia." International Travel News 23, no. 11 (January 1999): 23.

"Ethiopian Artifact Found in Cupboard." BBC News, December 6, 2001.[Online]

Hancock, Graham. The Sign and the Seal: The Quest for the Lost Ark of the Covenant. New York: Crown, 1992.

Heverly, Lorry. "Where Is the Ark of the Covenant?" Christian Science Monitor. (March 30, 2000): 18.

Starck, Peter. "Are the Holy Grail and Ark of the Covenant Hidden on Baltic Sea Island?" [Online]


Christians wear crosses to remember the crucifixion of Jesus Christ (c. 6 b.c.e.c. 30 c.e.) and because they believe that nothing unholy can stand in the presence of the cross. The cross as a Christian amulet dates back to the fourth century, when the Roman emperor Constantine (d. 337) adopted it as his symbol instead of the traditional Roman Eagle. That act symbolized the conversion of Rome to a Christian empire.

But amulets with crosses date back to Mesopotamia and Egypt, and served as a symbol long before associations of the cross with the crucifixion of Jesus Christ. Native Americans already had amulets with crosses by the time of first contact with Europeans. European adventurers, beginning with Christopher Columbus (14511506), assumed that Christians had arrived previously when they saw the crosses on Native Americans, but they were really viewing a people who invested belief in the power of a universal symbol. Crosses and circles are among the symbols and figures worn for protection and prosperity by humans since the earliest times. Such crosses often signified the four directions, the four forces (earth, water, air, and fire), and, when enclosed in a circle, the oneness of life.

Delving Deeper

Bracken, Thomas. Good Luck Symbols and Talismans: People, Places, and Customs. Philadelphia: Chelsea House Publishers, 1997.

Gregor, Arthur S. Amulets, Talismans, and Fetishes. New York: Scribner, 1975.

Mintz, Ruth Finer. Auguries, Charms, Amulets. Middle Village, N.Y.: Jonathan David Publishers, 1983.

Nelson, Felicitas H. Talismans & Amulets of the World. New York: Sterling Publishing, 2000.

The Holy Grail

The Holy Grail is most often identified as a serving dish or a chalice that was used by Jesus (c. 6 b.c.e.c. 30 c.e.) during the Last Supper. The word "grail" may have originated from "garalis," which derives from the medieval Latin word "cratalis" (a mixing bowl). Garalis became "greal" in medieval French, "grail" in English. Another possible origin for the word is based on the writings of a Christian monk named Helinandus, who served the Cistercian order as a chronicler and died around 1230. He wrote of a hermit who around the year 717 saw a vision of a dish used by Jesus Christ at the Last Supper. The hermit supposedly wrote a book in Latin and called the dish "gradale." In French, gradale meant a wide and deep dish on which various meats are placed; it is similar to the word "greal" ("pleasant"). Greal was the word used to describe the dish in French tales, and it became "grail" in English.

In the history that developed after grail stories emerged, Joseph of Arimathea came into possession of the vessel following the crucifixion of Jesus. As the story continues, Joseph of Arimathea was imprisoned for several

years for expressing his faith that Jesus was the Messiah, the son of God. After being released, he traveled to Britain and took the grail with him. When he died, the grail passed on to his descendants. The grail had magical qualities for the righteous, providing food and assurances of the grace of God. A few generations later, because of some transgression and a general lack of humility and virtue by keepers of the grail, the powers of the vessel were lost and its existence was virtually forgotten.

The legend of the grail has been perpetuated through literature since the twelfth century, particularly in tales involving knights of Camelot who served the legendary King Arthur of Britain. Stories of their quests to find the Holy Grail blend supernatural adventures, love stories, Christian myth, and the lore of Celts, a people who occupied much of Europe until the spreading of the Roman Empire.

King Arthur, the legendary ruler of ancient Britain, was most likely based on a figure from around 500 or earlier. According to Celtic lore, Arthur helped stave off invasions by Angles and Saxons, Germanic tribes that subsequently conquered Britain in the fifth century. Arthur became more established as a historical figure during the 1100s, when a book written by Geoffrey of Monmouth (c. 11001154), History of the Kings of Britain, included details of his heroic reign. Much of Geoffrey's material was gathered from folktales and contains historical and chronological inaccuracies. However, Geoffrey's work was popular and was translated from its original Latin into French (by a poet named Wace) around 1155 and into Middle English (by a poet named Layamon) a few years later. Between 1160 and 1180, the French poet Chretien de Troyes (fl. 1170) wrote five major works about Arthur and his knights based on history and legend.

Chretien helped introduce and popularize the grail legend, but he died before completing a full account of the mysterious and powerful object kept in the Grail Castle. In his version, Arthur's knights Gauvain (Gwain in English) and Perceval (Percival in English, Parzeval and Parsifal in German) journey to the castle where the grail is kept. Chretien's unfinished manuscript was continued by others.

Around 1200, the German poet Wolfram von Eschenbach (c. 1170c. 1220) wrote a grail legend, Parzeval, about a youth who sets out to become a knight in King Arthur's court. Along the way the title character stops at the castle of the Fisher King, where Parzeval witnesses a procession bearing a glowing object (the grail) and a spear (the one that wounded Christ). In the presence of the grail, the Fisher King is struck dumb. Parzeval fails to inquire about the mysterious procession and the objects. Since Parzeval had a pure soul, he could have spoken in the presence of the grail and used its magical powers to heal the infirm Fisher King. Only much later, after many wanderings, does Parzeval learn about the true nature of the grail and his missed opportunity. He returns to the castle of the Fisher King, who is revealed to be his uncle, heals him, and restores the king's land, which had become barren when he became infirm.

Later stories concerning the Holy Grail reflect the influence of Christianity, most notably Morte d'Arthur by the fifteenth-century English writer Sir Thomas Malory (fl. 1470). In this most famous collection of Arthurian tales, the grail becomes the object of a quest among the knights of the roundtable at King Arthur's castle, Camelot. Sir Galahad, who is completely without sin, eventually realizes the grail quest. He is in the company of Sir Bors and Sir Percival (Parzeval), two other virtuous knights, but Sir Galahad, as an emblem of Christian virtue, alone achieves the grail.

Arthurian legends and the grail may be based to some extent on Celtic lore. The Holy Grail might well have been developed from references to magic cauldrons that appear in many Celtic myths and practices. In her book From Ritual to Romance (1920), Jessie Weston traced some similarities between Celtic myths and grail legends. Some Celtic fertility rituals, for example, were designed to ensure the health and vigor of a community leader: the physical welfare of the land was connected with that of the king. The silence and sterility of the Fisher King in a tale like Parzeval, then, would indicate some transgression and physical failure of the king that affected his land. Celtic legends have references to the Fisher King as the leader of a barren land, referred to as the Waste Land and "the land laid waste." Other noted studies that trace Celtic sources for grail stories include The Grail: From Celtic Myth to Christian Symbol (1963), by Roger S. Loomis, and The Evolution of the Grail Legend (1968), by D. D. R. Owen.

The legendary Holy Grail remains nearly as popular in modern culture as it was during the period from 1150 to 1250. Back then, grail stories were a hit in the courts of France, England, and Germany. Nowadays, books about grail adventures are popular, as are films ranging from Monty Python and the Holy Grail (1975), to Excalibur (1981), to Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade (1989). Whether magical or divine, the grail persists as a symbol of a higher order of being for which people are searching, a striving toward some ultimate achievement.

Delving Deeper

Bernstein, Henrietta. The Ark of the Covenant, the Holy Grail. Marina del Rey, Calif.: DeVorss Publications, 1998.

Goodrich, Norma Lorre. The Holy Grail. New York: HarperCollins Publishers, 1992.

Starck, Peter. "Are the Holy Grail and Ark of the Covenant Hidden on Baltic Sea Island?" [Online]

Weston, Jessie L. From Ritual to Romance. Mineola, N.Y.: Dover Publications, 1997.

Philosopher's Stone

At the center of the alchemist's quest was the legendary philosopher's stone, a magical piece of the perfect gold, which could immediately transform any substance it touched into gold as pure as its own nature. The Emerald Tablets of the great Hermes Trismegistus spoke of such a marvelous catalyst, and ever since that secret knowledge had been made known to certain individuals, the philosopher's stone had become the symbol of the alchemical pursuit. According to tradition, Albertus Magnus actually came to possess such a wonder of transmutation, and Helvetius was given a small piece of the philosopher's stone by a mysterious man in black.

Some alchemists believed that the stone was somehow hatched like a chick from an egg if one could only find the proper ingredients with which to create the substance of the shell and the "yolk." Others believed that the philosopher's stone, that most marvelous of all catalysts, oozed somehow out of the moon or from one of the stars and fell to Earth where it solidified into the magical stone of transformation.

As the works of more of the alchemists have come to light, it becomes clear that the philosopher's stone wasn't really a stone at alleven though it is always referred to as such. Sometimes the catalyst of transmutation is described as a divine child, an angel, a dragon, an elixir, a tincture, or an as-yet unknown chemical compound.

Many alchemists began to consider that somehow the philosopher's stone was not a thing at all, but a system of knowledge. Once the alchemist truly perceived the reality that lay behind the symbols, he would achieve an intellectual and spiritual level wherein he would become one with the power that existed within the mysterious goal for which he searched so long. Once he understood what the philosopher' stone represented, he would have found it at lastand he would have become one with it.

Many scholars have since insisted that the true alchemists sought not to turn base metals into gold, but to transform the dense material of their physical bodies into a spiritually evolved immaterial entity. In this perspective, the philosopher's stone becomes the Holy Spirit that mystically transmutes humans into true manifestations of God on Earth.

Delving Deeper

Cavendish, Richard. The Black Arts. New York: Capricorn Books, 1968.

De Saint-Didler, L. Hermetical Triumph: The Victorius Philosopher's Stone. Edmonds, Wash.: Holmes Publishing Group, 2001.

Kelly, Edward. The Stone of the Philosophers. Edmonds, Wash.: Holmes Publishing Group, 1990.

Smith, Patrick. A Light from Out of the Darkness: On the Composition of the Stone of the Philosophers. Edmonds, Wash.: Holmes Publishing Group, 2001.

The Spear of Destiny

The Spear of Destiny, also known as the Holy Lance, is in Christian tradition the spear that the Roman soldier Longinus thrust into the side of Jesus (c. 6 b.c.e.c. 30 c.e.) as he hung on the cross. ("Then came the soldiers and brake the legs of the first and of the other which was crucified with him. But when they came to Jesus and saw that he was dead already, they brake not his legs: But one of the soldiers with a spear pierced his side and forthwith came out blood and water" [John 19: 3234 KJV]). Christian knights discovered the Holy Lance at Antioch during the First Crusade in 1098. The sight of the sacred artifact in the Church of St. Peter so inspired the beleaguered Christian soldiers that they rallied and routed the Saracens from the city. From that time forth, according to legend, whoever claims the spear and solves its secret holds the destiny of the world in his hands for good or evil.

Although there are a number of relics in various European churches that claim to be the genuine Holy Lance, the spear that is on display in the Weltliches Schatzkammer Museum (the Hapsburg Treasure House Museum) in Vienna has been considered the most authentic and it has found a home there for 250 years. It is also known as Constantine's Lance, and it was employed as a symbol of the imperial power of Holy Roman emperors at the time of their coronation in much a similar manner as the orb and scepter are used in the coronation of the monarchs of Great Britain. According to Trevor Ravenscroft in The Spear of Destiny (1997), a 19-year-old Adolf Hitler (18891945) was first led to the lance in 1908 and from the moment of his first encounter with it in the museum, it became "the central pivot" in his life and the "very source of his ambitions to conquer the world." In addition to Constantine (d. 337), Hitler found that as many as 45 emperors had owned the lance before the great Charlemagne (742814) had possessed it. Frederick the Great of Germany (11941250), who founded the Teutonic Knights on which Hitler allegedly based his SS, had also been an owner of the Spear of Destiny at one time. Ravenscroft claimed in his book that Hitler would often visit the museum, stare at the Holy Lance, and enter into a trance state in which he would view his future glory as the master of the Third Reich.

Thirty years later, on March 14, 1938, Hitler arrived in Vienna to oversee the annexation of Austria. He also observed the transfer of the Hapsburg Crown Jewel collection, which included the Holy Lance, from Vienna to Nuremberg, the Nazis' favorite city. With the Spear of Destiny now safely ensconced in Germany, Hitler declared that the war could begin in earnest. The lance would be well protected in the hall of St. Katherine's Church, where it had once rested for nearly 400 years.

However, later in the war when Allied bombers damaged a portion of St. Katherine's, the many treasures looted by the Nazis and stored there were taken to another hiding place. In the chaos and confusion, the Holy Lance was inadvertently left behind.

The Spear of Destiny fell into the hands of U.S. soldiers on April 30, 1945. A few hours after the Holy Lance passed from Nazi possession on to its next claimant to world power, Adolf Hitler committed suicide in his Berlin bunker. Later, the United States officially returned the Holy Lance to Austria, along with the other treasures that the Nazis had stolen. Today, the Spear of Destiny stands again in the Hapsburg Treasure House Museum in Vienna.

Delving Deeper

Anderson, Ken. Hitler and the Occult. Amherst, N.Y.: Prometheus Books, 1995.

Angebert, Jean-Michel. The Occult and the Third Reich. New York: Macmillan Publishing, 1974.

Ravenscroft, Trevor. Spear of Destiny. New York: Red Wheel/Weiser, 1987.

Ravenscroft, Trevor, and Tim Wallace-Murphy. The Mark of the Beast: The Continuing Story of the Spear of Destiny. New York: Red Wheel/Weiser, 1997.

Sklar, Dusty. The Nazis and the Occult. New York: Dorset Press, 1989.


The swastika has an evil association in the twentieth century, but it has a long, rich positive history, for the meaning of the word svastika in Sanskrit means "good fortune" or "wellbeing." Swastikas were the symbol of the supreme God in ancient, southeast Asia and were used by Native Americans as a sign for good luck. Swastikas appear among artifacts of ancient Rome and Greece. Buddha's (c. 563c. 483 b.c.e.) footprints were said to leave impressions in the shape of swastikas. To Central Americans long before contact with Europeans, the swastika represented good luck, long life, and prosperity. The symbol appears on Navajo blankets and on ancient Chinese coins.

Helene Petrovna Blavatsky, founder of the Theosophical Society, included the swastika in the seal of the society. Rudyard Kipling (18651936) combined the symbol in a circle with his signature to form his personal logo. Coca-Cola once issued a swastika pendant for patrons of its soft drink. The Girls' Club published a magazine entitled The Swastika; and until 1940, just before the United States entered World War II, the Boy Scouts awarded a swastika badge.

The earliest known swastikas date from 2500 or 3000 b.c.e. in India and Central Asia. It was the German archaeologist Heinrich Schliemann, who, during his excavation of Homer's Troy on the shores of the Dardanelles (187175), presumed that the swastikas he found on certain artifacts were somehow linked to religious symbols of his ancestors.

By 1914, the Wandervogel, a militarist anti-Semitic German youth group, began using a curved swastika on a cross as its insignia. In 1920, a dentist named Friedrich Krohn, a member of the Nazi Party, designed the official symbol of the party, the flag with a black swastika in its center. Adolf Hitler's (18891945) contribution to the insignia was to reverse the direction of the swastika so it appeared to spin clockwise. From that time onward, a once great symbol of good fortune became the most potent icon of racial hatred and violence the world has ever known.

Delving Deeper

Boxer, Sarah. "One of the World's Great Symbols Strives for a Comeback." The New York Times on the Web, July 29, 2000.

Bracken, Thomas. Good Luck Symbols and Talismans: People, Places, and Customs. Philadelphia: Chelsea House Publishers, 1997.

Gregor, Arthur S. Amulets, Talismans, and Fetishes. New York: Scribner, 1975.