An ancient symbol of abundance, balance and good fortune overtaken with imagery of hatred

This glass has been in my family china cabinet.  My father was in WWll and must have brought this back with him.  I would like to know anything about its history, as my father passed away before he could give us any details.

What a thought provoking glass.  While your father was in WWII it doesn’t necessarily mean that he was in Germany or that this glass was smuggled out from a Nazi sympathetic restaurant.  Indeed, I’ve seen examples of Nazi inspired bar ware and those glasses were decorated with the swastika symbol clutched in the talons of a bird.

I prefer to see your glass as having a decorative motif that goes back thousands of years and is found in dozens of cultures. 

The Swastika is a simple and ancient symbol.  The Oxford English Dictionary traces the word to the Sanskrit “svasiku” an amalgamation of words that basically translate to “good to be” or “fulfilled.”  It is considered an auspicious sign and shows up in cultures throughout Asia, Europe and North America.

The symbol is frequently seen on Buddhist bronzes.  When Buddhism was brought to China from India about 2000 years ago the symbols, too, were adopted.   In China the shape is referred to as “Wan” and the four arms represent balance and good fortune.  To other cultures the four arms depict rivers, seasons or four cardinal points on a compass.

In the Bon region of Tibet sees it as a“yungdrung” an eight-petaled lotus and a symbol of permanence and wisdom.  In Thailand it is known as “Ji” and it depicts the universal balance between the two life forces Yin and Yang:  Yin is represented by the branches and Yang by the background.  When the symbol is spinning nothing is either fully black or white.

In Nordic countries the symbol is typically called a “fylfot” and is thought to depict the whirling hammer of Thor.  In Christian Celtic and Norman countries it is called “Brigid’s Cross” and “La Croix Gammce.”  The Basque people use a stylized symbol as a main design element.


Navajo Whirling Logs

Navajo Whirling Logs

In Native American including the Navajo, Apache and Pima cultures the symbol is usually called a “whirling log.”   This image, too, is a holy one connecting man to the gods, the forces of nature, protection, peace and abundance.

The symbol was a popular one until the early 20th century.  Boy Scout troops used it, an American airborne division in the First World War used it; it was considered a good luck and protection symbol and frequently decorated postcards.  As a symbol of prosperity, it was a popular motif on California fruit crate labels.  A successful Sacramento pear grower marketed their fruit as “Swastika Brand

1920s era fruit crate label

1920s era fruit crate label


German archeologist Heinrich Schliemann (1822-1890) found the swastika symbol on pottery when excavating the ancient city of Troy.  According to the Holocaust Encyclopedia, the populist volkisch movement embraced Schliemann’s research in the early 20th century and took the symbol on as an identity of Aryan identity.

How terribly sad that an ancient and so well traveled symbol of abundance, balance and good fortune has been overtaken with such imagery of hatred. 

The monetary value of your glass is questionable.  You can’t sell it on eBay because that company has banned items that promote violence, hatred, racial or religious intolerance or memorabilia associated with organizations that promote those views.   You can toss it or you can attempt to reclaim the symbol as one of abundance, balance and good fortune.