Big Dipper and the Swastika

ladle with swastika decoration

The two photos were taken by myself at the Anasazi Heritage Center, Dolores, Colorado. The items are from the Anasazi culture and are at least 800 years old.

The following excerpt is from "The Journal of American Folk-Lore", Volume XIV, Houghton, Mifflin and Company: London, Leipzig; 1901. Pages 217-218. It concerns a review of "The Fundamental Principles of New and Old World Civilizations" by Zelia Nuttall (Archaeological and Ethnological Papers of the Peabody Museum of Harvard University. Vol. ii.) Cambridge, Mass. 1901.

"We may accept the author's explanation of the analogies which she points out, or we may explain them ourselves in another manner, but we can seldom, if ever, deny that they exist and are worthy of careful consideration. The work opens with an interesting study of the varieties and distribution of the svastika. The form of this symbol is believed to have originated in the revolution of the stars of Ursa Major about Polaris. This theory is both novel and plausible. In so far as it associates the svastika with celestial motion, it is in accord with the generally received opinion, and if there has been a tendency to connect that motion with the solar journey along the ecliptic, it must at least be admitted that a derivation from stellar rather than solar motion is more consistent with primitive conditions. There can be no doubt but that the svastika presents to the eye a faithful summary of the revolution of the stars of what we call the Dipper, nor is it doubtful that primitive peoples watched the movements of the stars with great care, and gained a surprisingly accurate knowledge of the apparent revolution of the heavens. The pole is a natural focus to which all celestial motion points. It must therefore have attracted the attention of the earliest star-gazers, who would soon learn the importance of knowing the only immovable point in their sky. Various tribes of North America, for example, who name but few constellations, seem to have been acquainted with the pole-star from pre-European times, and they relate an elaborate myth of the revolution of Ursa Major around it. Mrs. Nuttall describes numerous instances in which these stars play a conspicuous part in the Mexican ritual. She regards the god Tezcatlipoca as the personification of this asterism, and thinks that there existed in Peru a marked reverence for the north due to the memory of Polaris worship amongst emigrants from that direction. This reverence was, to some extent, transferred to the Southern Cross, which, as the writer has shown in his (sic) studies of the Salcamayhua chart, was distinctly associated with the south pole by the Peruvians.

basket with swastika decoration But to return to the northern hemisphere, the curve of the stars of the Dipper is also connected with the symbols of the scorpion's tail, while Cassiopeia becomes the serpent and the sacred bird with outspread wings, which figures in the contest with the ocelot, yet another symbol of Ursa Major. While we may not follow Mrs. Nuttall in all these identifications, those who deny them must possess no mediocre knowledge of the Nahuatl and Mayan glyphs to meet the arguments which she bases on a system of rebus reading that, to the writer at least, seems too consistent with the genius of the American peoples to be other than correct in principle. The svastika has been called by some writers the trademark of the Phoenicians. Placed in this light, its unquestionable appearance in America takes on additional interest. The late Dr. Brinton stated that the ignorance of the wheel on this continent is a fatal objection to the view of those who derive the svastika from this source. He seems not to have considered the possibility of such a simple derivation as is proposed by Mrs. Nuttall. The Anglo-Saxon fylfot or falling foot, a form of the svastika, clearly suggests the motion of revolution symbolized by a man running around a fixed object, and is a good companion for the Mexican gladiator tied to the sacrificial stone around which he moves, according to Mrs. Nuttall, in imitation of Ursa Major."

Here is a representation of the Big Dipper circling the North Star (top L), Little Dipper circling the North Star (top R), both dippers circling the North Star (bottom L), and lines added (bottom R). The Big Dipper forms a swastika and the Little Dipper forms a sauvastika.

big dipper at four cardinal points lines connecting big dipper's stars at the four points

big dipper at four cardinal points lines connecting big dipper's stars at the four points

You can research Nuttall's The Fundamental Principles Of Old and New World Civilizations at Project Gutenberg.