Unpeaceful symbol: a look at the history of the so-called peace symbol reveals that it originated in ancient pagan rituals, and that its use has been primarily as a token not of peace, but of evil. (Peace Symbol).
While the "peace symbol" has once again become pervasive, it is unlikely that most of those marching under its banner know very much about its origins. What they know, if anything, is the symbol's modem history, which can be traced to late-1950s Britain. There, artist Gerald Holtom, working for the Direct Action Committee Against Nuclear War, designed the symbol as an emblem for a 1958 protest march on the British nuclear weapons facility at Aldermaston. Recalling his design of the symbol, in 1973 Holtom wrote, "I drew myself: the representative of an individual in despair, with hands palm out stretched outwards and downwards in the manner of Goya's peasant before the firing squad. I formalised the drawing into a line and put a circle round it. It was ridiculous at first and such a puny thing...."
Holtom's "puny thing" has subsequently been described as representing the semaphore signals for the letters 'N' and 'D' standing for Nuclear Disarmament. This interpretation conformed well with the British Committee for Nuclear Disarmament (CND), which, under the leadership of Fabian socialist and Soviet sympathizer Bertrand Russell, adopted the new ND symbol in 1958. Popularized by Russell's group, the symbol quickly made its way to America where, as the "peace symbol' it became a common sight at Vietnam War protest rallies and among counterculture's leftist radicals.
Contrary to conventional wisdom, however, the "peace symbol" actually dates back well into the past. In fact, its origins can be traced back thousands of years, to classical antiquity and the dimly remembered myths and rituals of the Nordic and Teutonic barbarians. As an investigation of this history reveals, the primary symbolic component of the "peace symbol" has, more often than not, been used not as an instrument of peace, but of evil.
Of Myth and Magic
The Fabian socialists have long been enamored of cryptic symbolism. In keeping with their mission to deceive people into accepting socialism piecemeal rather than all at once as the Communists propose, the Fabians adopted for themselves the symbol of the wolf in sheep's clothing. This, though, was only a small part of their symbolic repertoire. Fabian leader Bertrand Russell, a respected scholar in his own right, likely knew the history of the symbol his Committee for Nuclear Disarmament had adopted. Indeed, at least one early member of the CND was aware of the symbol's ancient origins. In 1958, Eric Austin, a London artist, began incorporating the symbol into designs for pins.
According to University of Bradford (UK) lecturer Andrew Rigby, writing in Peace Review for September 1998, Austin at the time "was reading a book on the runes, the ancient signs of the Norse world. He discovered that: in past ages the central motif of the current nuclear disarmament symbol, the 'bent cross,' had symbolized the death of man." Believing that the other element of the "peace symbol"--the circle--represented the unborn child, Austin wrote, in a pamphlet entitled The Campaign Emblem: "combining the two signs suggests the aim of the Campaign; to overcome the threat of atomic death and disaster to the living and the unborn."
Austin's deft spin on the "peace symbol's" meaning notwithstanding, its runic lineage is significant. The symbol's central image is an inverse cross, the transverse arms of which angle downward. This is an inverted "Algiz" rune from the ancient runic language of northern Europe. Known as "Futhark" from its first six letters, inscriptions in this language can be found throughout Scandinavia. During the first millennium AD, variants of Futhark were also used throughout much of the rest of northern Europe, especially in Germany. Often etched in stone, many runic inscriptions have survived down to the present. One very well preserved inscription can be found on the 11th century "Sigurd Runestone" from Sweden (see pictures on page 21). The stone's inscription, incised ribbon-like around pictorial representations of significant characters, tells the story of the hero Sigurd and how he killed the dragon Fafnir and discovered the plot of Regin, his treacherous companion.
Like letters in the English alphabet, each rune corresponds to a sound or sound combination. In addition, each rune carries with it its own meaning. The Tyr rune, for instance, which looks like an arrow pointing upwards, symbolizes the god Tyr or Tiwaz. The late R.B. Anderson, who served as professor of Scandinavian languages at the University of Wisconsin at Madison, notes that the English word "Tuesday" is derived from Tyr. In addition, the rune represents the concept of valor since, again according to Anderson, "Tyr is the most daring and intrepid of all the gods. It is he who dispenses valor in war...."
Similarly, the inverse Algiz rune from the "peace symbol" conveys its own information. According to the Dictionary of Symbols by Carl D. Liung-man, the sign "appears in the earliest known rune alphabets and is possibly associated with moose.... In the family system [the rune] stands for man." According to the same dictionary of symbols, when inverted, as in the peace symbol, the Algiz rune "is supposed to have been used by Germanic tribes as Todesrune, the rune of death. In the family system it means man dies."
For the Norse and Teutonic pagans, though, runes were much more than the component parts of language. As symbols for words, they conveyed an occult power to those who knew how to employ them. According to legend, the first to gain the power of the runes was Odin, the chief deity of the northern pantheon. In the Norse poem Havamal, the High Song of Odin, the god recounts how he acquired knowledge of the runes while hanging upside down from Yggdrasil, the world tree:
I know that I hung On a wind-rocked tree Nine whole nights, With a spear wounded And to Odin offered, Myself to myself; On that tree Of which no one knows From what root it springs. Bread no one gave me Nor a horn of drink, Downward I peered, To runes applied myself Wailing learnt them, Then fell down thence. Then I began to bear fruit And to know many things, To grow and well thrive; Word by word I sought out words, Fact by fact I sought out facts. Rune thou wilt find And explained characters, Very large characters, Very potent characters, Which the great speaker depicted And the high powers formed And the powers' prince graved....
Another Norse work, the Ynglingasaga, describes the power Odin could wield through words after learning the secrets of the runes. As part of the list of Odin's magical powers, the saga relates that he "was also able with mere words to extinguish fires, to calm the sea, and to turn the winds any way he pleased." Furthermore, he taught this power's secret to a select few, as the saga relates: "And all these skills he taught with those runes and songs which are called magic songs."
Because of this belief in the divine power of runes, the northern tribes put great stock in their use for occult ends. In his Germania, for instance, the Roman historian Tacitus described one such practice:
Augury and divination by lot no people practise more diligently. The use of the lots is simple. A little bough is lopped off a fruit-bearing tree, and cut into small pieces; these are distinguished by certain marks, and thrown carelessly and at random over a white garment. In public questions the priest of the particular state, in private the father of the family, invokes the gods, and, with his eyes toward heaven, takes up each piece three times, and finds in them a meaning according to the mark previously impressed on them. If they prove unfavourable, there is no further consultation that day about the matter; if they sanction it, the confirmation of augury is still required.
The Romans often consulted with occult seers and fortune tellers, and would n consider such practices and superstitions unusual. According to the Ynglingasag though, practicing divination was considered evil. The saga relates that the power of divination "is called seith [sorcery and by means of it he [Odin] could know the fate of men and predict events that had not yet come to pass; and by it he could also inflict death or misfortunes or sic] ness, or also deprive people of their wits and strength, and give them to others. But this sorcery is attended by such wicked ness that manly men considered it shameful to practice it, and so it was taught to priestesses."
An Anti-Christian Past
Apart from its pagan history, the inverted Algiz rune or bent cross has long had a specifically anti-Christian connotation as well. In the years after Jesus' death, the apostle Peter had journeyed to Rome. The great city and the Empire were at the time ruled by the famously debauched Emperor Nero. According to the Church History of Eusebius,
When the government of Nero was firmly established, he began to plunge into unholy pursuits, and armed himself even against the religion of the God of the universe.... As there are many indeed that have recorded his history in most accurate narratives, every one may at his pleasure learn from them the coarseness of the man's extraordinary madness, under the influence of which ... he ran into such blood-guiltiness that he did not spare even his nearest relatives and dearest friends, but destroyed his mother and his brothers and his wife, with very many others of his own family as he would private and public enemies, with various kinds of deaths.
Eusebius is being quite modest in his description. For a clear picture of Nero it is necessary to turn to a modern historian, like Norman Davies, who does not mince words. In his vast survey, Europe, A History, Davies notes that Nero "disposed of his mother by having her stabbed (after an attempted drowning miscarried). He murdered his aunt by administering a laxative of fatal strength, executed his first wife on a false charge of adultery, and kicked his pregnant second wife to death."
Not satisfied with these brutalities, however, Nero famously turned on Rome's Christian population, among which were the apostles Peter and Paul. Eusebius notes that Paul was beheaded, meanwhile Peter "was crucified head--downwards; for he had requested that he might suffer in this way."
In humbly requesting that his executioners crucify him upside down, Peter has inspired Christians throughout modem history. The inverted "Nero Cross," though, has been interpreted for centuries as an anti-Christian symbol, even down to the 20th century. In 1968, for example, the notorious Satanist Anton LeVay stressed the importance of inverting Christian symbolism in Satanic ritual. "A Black Mass," he noted, "consists of such things as saying the Lord's Prayer backwards, - interspersed with obscenities, trampling the cross under foot or hanging it up-side down, desecration of the wafer or host, and similar other forms of defilement...."
Isn't it fitting then that one of the most vile anti-Christian groups of the 20th century adopted the Algiz rune or Nero's cross to help symbolize its malevolent cause? In 1970, the Republican Congressional Committee published an image of a Nazi propaganda poster prominently featuring the notorious symbol. According to the GOP newsletter Political Potpourri, the poster "was issued in March, 1942, by the Nazi propaganda machine and bears Hitler's name. The text (of the poster] reads: 'In the giving up of one's own life for the common good lies the crowning of every sense of sacrifice.'" Noting the resemblance of the rune used by the Nazis to the peace symbol, the GOP newsletter notes that "Hitler, not exactly a peacenik, ordered weekly publication of similar posters...." The Hitler regime also employed the Algiz rune on badges, gravestones, and as markings on tanks. Nazis continue to use variations of the Algiz rune to this day. The white supremacist neo-Nazi National Alliance, founded by the late National So cialist radical William Pierce, prominently features he symbol.
The Nazis are not alone, however, in heir dark use of this symbol. A variety of increasingly popular neo-pagan groups continue to use runes for occult practices - though they often distance themselves from the Nazis. Internet sites giving instructions in the casting of runes abound.
Though such practices might seem like harmless diversions to some or like worthwhile attempts to recover a primal religion to others, seen in context from a Christian perspective they amount to a pernicious blasphemy. The casting of runes in rituals of divination, the casting of spells, and other pagan practices are attempts by man to gain control over the transcendent and divine and wield the power gained thereby in the temporal world. In other words, these pagan practices blasphemously seek to make gods of men.
Perhaps this is why the "anti-war" Left is so enamored of the "peace symbol." After all, leftist ideologies - whether Fabian Socialist like Bertrand Russell's, Nazi like Adolf Hitler's, or Communist like Stalin's - are totalitarian in nature. In the political sphere they too seek to make gods of men. In that case, perhaps there is no better symbol for the Left than the so-called peace symbol.
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|Publication:||The New American|
|Date:||May 5, 2003|
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