“Reclaiming” the swastika — on flesh?

ManWoman as pictured in his obituary, after his death exactly one year ago today.

As the Independent reported late last week, “five tattoo parlours in Scotland will be offering free swastika tattoos [today] as part of a global event to ‘reclaim’ the symbol.” But this movement isn’t limited to Scotland — rather, it’s part of a “worldwide initiative” called “Learn to Love the Swastika,” and is being done in part to honor late Canadian artist ManWoman, who had swastika tattoos and had written a book called Gentle Swastika: Reclaiming the Innocence. (Click here to read an interview with ManWoman as conducted by VICE, and to see some of his many swastika tattoos.)

Of course, while the swastika goes back far before its appropriation by Hitler and the Nazis, and was a peace symbol among various peoples including practitioners of Buddhism, Hinduism, and Jainism, not everyone is pleased by this effort; the symbol is forever tainted as a symbol of the Aryan Race, they argue.

You can read the Independent’s full story here. Or, for more information about Learn to Love the Swastika, visit the movement’s Facebook page. And for lots more of our ongoing looks at Buddhist practice and tattooing, click here.


  1. says

    Reader Matthew D-H comments, via Facebook:
    This is wonderful, I have worked in the body modification field for almost 13 years and I recall back when I was an apprentice reading about Manwoman and his reasoning for covering himself in swastikas… it was beautiful although I did and still do believe that to a certain extent that the Third Reich kinda tainted it, as a Buddhist and a history buff and a body modification artist, I have kind of a strange relationship with the swastika, studios that I have worked in refuse to tattoo them, my mediums are scarification and piercing, I am a part of some groups that want to reclaim it, it just goes to show that cultural appropriation can be bad

    • Louis G. says

      "The Third Reich kinda tainted it?" KINDA? Ya think? If these folks had any compassion, dignity or common sense the least they would do is wait for all the living holocaust survivors to die off before "reclaiming" what has become a universal symbol of genocide. Yuck.

  2. says

    More, via Facebook:

    Sean D:
    great…just be ready to explain yourself if you go to any punk/hardcore shows….provided you are given the chance.

    Pat H:
    No way…

    Susan P.K.
    Thanks for the article and clarification of the Swastika. Was in a Buddhism class recently and was surprised to see a large swastika armband on a 15 foot tall Buddha.

    Edward R:
    The swastika carries such an enormous amount of toxic baggage as a symbol of the worst sort of human evil, and is still in use as such today by neo Nazis around the world that I don't think any number of free tattoos will or even should change that. "Learn to Love the Swastika"? No thanks…

    Miz Nomer:
    the effort to reclaim the swastika is a deeply worthy one and long overdue. this design (either left-to-right or vice versa) dates to earliest man and is/was found in many, many cultures and spiritual traditions. it's a beautiful, balanced shape and has, until relatively recently, always carried a positive and auspicious connotation. inked or otherwise, the swastika should not be forced to bear the negative weight of a particular political ideology.

  3. John says

    I'm Jewish by heritage and Buddhist by practice. I have always been repulsed by the sight of swastikas because I knew what it represented to MY people from the time I was a child. More recently, while reading some very authentic Buddhist texts, I've come across it on book covers or adornments in a spiritual & scholarly context. I wasn't offended in that context because I realized this was a symbol from a different culture and from a different age in time. It is a strange feeling to realize that our identification with symbols can have such a visceral effect on us. We should probably all take a look at that. Even though the Nazi's bastardized what may have been a sacred symbol to some people, it is still offensive to many other people. I feel it is a bit too soon for the swastika to proliferate for nonsensical reasons. There are so many other options if you are going to get a tattoo! Please choose another or none at all.