We all know that heraldry started sometime during the Middle Ages, possibly around the 12th century and thus it predates all of the modern sensitivities. Sensitivities developed because of events that occurred over the centuries or because our society has changed and what was normal and accepted before, today is considered wrong, deplorable and even criminal.
Much of the heraldry of the world was created before any of these norms developed and therefore many would be considered controversial today and very few, if any, prospective armigers of today would adopt such arms.
Perhaps one of the most controversial images in the world today is that of the swastika, the hated symbol of the Nazi regime. A symbol used by the Nazi 3rd Reich responsible for the destruction of Europe during World War 2, the death of millions, countless atrocities and the Holocaust. A truly dark and disgraceful period of human history that should never again be repeated.
However, what may surprise many westerners, is that the symbol of the swastika has a more benign manifestation as well. In the historical record, we find it in areas such as Greece, Iran and the Indus valley. It appears to have been a very common pattern, due to its simplicity. Moreover, the symbol used to be called by it’s Greek name of gammadion or tetragammadion (named thus due to the similarity to the Greek letter “gamma” Γ) until the 19th century.
In eastern religions, the swastika is a symbol of the creator god Brahma (in Hinduism) and of Dharma or universal harmony (in Buddhism). Most surprising to today’s society is the use of the swastika pattern in Judaism! It has appeared in Kabbalistic work by Rabbi Eliezer Fischl and even on the floor of the synagogue at Ein Gedi in present day Israel, built 3rd century AD.
Even in the Americas, the symbol was widely used among the native tribes and displayed it with pride on their clothing and elsewhere.
Coming back to Europe, we find the swastika shape in various ornaments in Germany (pre-Nazism), Slavic countries, Finland and the Basque country of the Iberian peninsula. Other names given to the swastika or similar patterns in Europe is the “fylfot”, “kolovrat”, “swarzyca” and “labauro”.
Knowing this history of the symbol, tarnished by Nazism, we can then understand how it ended up on the coats of arms of various families, towns and regions. However, when blazoning a coat of arms, the term for this symbol is usually “fylfot” or even “cross cramponned” or “cramponnée” or “cramponny”; in other words, a cross potent with one arm of each “T” ending being broken off.
Finland has a special history with this symbol as it is evidenced by its continued use by official organizations of the government and military.