Paganistan: Notes from the Secret Commonwealth

In Which One Midwest Man-in-Black Confers, Converses & Otherwise Hob-Nobs with his Fellow Hob-Men (& -Women) Concerning the Sundry Ways of the Famed but Ill-Starred Tribe of Witches.

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Thunder Cross

Posted by on in Culture Blogs

How do you purify a desecrated symbol?

Some friends of mine who own a Baltic imports store had just come back from a buying trip to Latvia. “Come see this,” said Sean, when I walked in the door. “It's very special.”

He was right. The Thunder brooch was beautiful, bronze, big and solid enough to heft in the palm of a hand. A Sun Wheel, but this was a Sun filled with lightnings: Sun and Thunder in union. “It's a wonderful piece,” he said, “but I can't put it out on the floor.” I was on the verge of asking why not when suddenly I saw why not.

In Sanskrit, it's called swastika. 19th century English art historians, seeking an indigenous--or, at least, less exotic--name for what was, after all, an indigenous symbol, settled on fylfot. Their choice was, alas, a case of etymologically mistaken identity—the word referred originally to any design used to “fill” the “foot” of a stained glass window, not just to the swastika—but maybe it's a good name anyhow. It's at least baggage-free.


In Latvia the symbol is given to Perkons, Thunder, and called for him Perkona krusts, the Thunder Cross. Latvian folk design knows many versions of this symbol, including compound Thunder crosses which are, to my mind, the most beautiful and elegant of all. (You can see one version at the head of my post Amber Power.)


Sean is as much matchmaker as merchant. I wear the Thunder brooch as a kilt pin to this day.

In my experience, pagans don't much seem to find the Thunder cross shocking. (But then, I live in the Midwestern US where, quite frankly, we're sheltered.) Maybe it's because we can also read meanings beyond the political. Certainly the Thunder cross has been a sacred symbol for millennia, to people all over the world. The meanings given to it vary from culture to culture, but often it's associated with Fire, Sun, or Thunder. If we're looking for a basal meaning, it would seem to be “fire,” but symbols are symbols and multivalent by definition. Me, I'd read the simple fylfot as the Fire cross and compound fylfots as Thunder crosses, but that's just me.

How do you purify a desecrated symbol? Not, I think, by running from it. To do that is to relinquish. The swastika is a symbol of auspiciousness in Hindu art and liturgy—that's what the word means—and Hindus have never given it up. Among contemporary pagans in the Baltics, the symbol receives open (but judicious) use.

I think that in this case the attainted requires recontextualization: selective use among select groups who know very well what it means—and what it doesn't. I don't expect it will be a symbol to use around non-pagans for the foreseeable future.

But that's just fine. Others may have long memories, but we're the pagans, the people of longest memory. We've been around since the beginning, and we've got plenty of time.

In fact, we've got all the time there is.


Eight Thunders Brooch (bronze) 

(diameter: 3 inches)

Latvian, 1920s


Photo: Paul B. Rucker




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Poet, scholar and storyteller Steven Posch was raised in the hardwood forests of western Pennsylvania by white-tailed deer. (That's the story, anyway.) He emigrated to Paganistan in 1979 and by sheer dint of personality has become one of Lake Country's foremost men-in-black. He is current keeper of the Minnesota Ooser.


  • Piper
    Piper Tuesday, 09 September 2014

    Yeah, I wear sterling bracelets my great uncle made in the early 1900s for the Harvey house trade. Both have whirling logs all over them. They were popular so even though he was Isleta and not Diné he made them with arrows and thunderbird and everything Harvey. I use them as part of my healing practice and to reclaim that which was lost to evil. They do draw comment and that leads to education

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