A key to the underlying meaning of the swastika is to be found in Ganesha, the elephant-headed, child-god of Hinduism, whose primary symbol is that of the swastika. He is also called Ganapati, which - along with the name Ganesha - means 'Lord of the Tribe'.

Hinduism is the world's oldest religion with one out of six people in the world today being immersed in its time-honoured traditions. The roots of modern Hinduism stretch back to the ancient Aryans who invaded northern India about four thousand years ago and established a religious tradition based on a racially-based caste system and the worship of a variety of gods and goddesses.

This bronze statue of a dancing Ganesha evokes the outlines of his swastika symbol.

For millions of Indians, Ganesha is the most important god in the Hindu pantheon, because it is through him that devotees offer their prayers to the other deities of their spiritual universe. Ganesha is considered to be nothing less than the doorway to the divine and he is the god that is prayed to at the start of any religious ritual or ceremony, or for that matter at the start of any new enterprise, such as marriage or the beginning of a journey. Being Ganesha's primary symbol, the swastika is thus regarded as the interconnecting point between two realms of being: the outer, mundane world of daily reality, and the inner, timeless realm of soul, myth and magic.

Wherever you go in India, you'll find the swastika being displayed. It's used by housewives to symbolically guard thresholds and doors, by priests to sanctify ceremonies and offerings, and by businessmen to bless the opening pages of their account books. No ceremony or sacrifice is considered complete without Ganesha's swastika, a symbol which is believed to ward off all types of misfortune.

Ganesha's role of mediator between man and the gods is not unlike the role played by Jesus Christ in Christianity. In fact, there are a great deal of parallels between the two. Both are associated with a cross - the swastika being a 'hooked' cross; and both are sacrificial gods in the sense that they both suffer a physical trauma in the process of becoming the connecting points between man and the gods (or God).

Ganesha gives a gesture of blessing with his swastika-adorned hand in this modern Indian print.
In the mythology surrounding Ganesha, he is decapitated and has his head replaced with that of an elephant, as well as having half his tusk cut off, and his belly accidentally torn open. Similarly, Christ is nailed to a cross and is stabbed in his side with a spear.

Further parallels are that both offer their body fluids to their devotees: the blood of Christ on the one hand, and the musth that exudes from the head glands of Ganesha (a phenomenon observed in bull elephants on heat).

Just as there can be no Christianity without Christ, so there can be no Hinduism without Ganesha. He is nothing less than the axis around which this religion revolves, and the swastika - with its rotating symbolism - is a perfect expression of his essential being. Ganesha and his swastika represent a doorway through which the devotees can enter the realm of the gods, or through which the gods can enter the world of man.

The essence of the swastika - in terms of Ganesha - is that it is essentially a feminine symbol. In the Tantric traditions of India, Ganesha and his swastika are regarded as being symbolic of the yoni (vulva) of the Great Goddess. The elephant ears of Ganesha are likened to the lips of the vulva, his trunk is seen as symbolic of the passageway up to the uterus, and the discharge of musth from the headglands of his elephant head is synonomous with the intoxicating love-juice exuded by the Goddess. The association of the elephant with the vulva is also found in the Kama Sutra, in which a woman with large vulval lips is called a hastini (elephant woman).

An ancient, ornate stone-carving of Hinduism's elephant god.

A rosewood carving of Ganesha.
His accompanying animal, the rat, can be seen below him.
The association of the female vulva with Ganesha is underlined by the central myth of this boy-god, namely his role of guardian of the door to his mother's bathroom in which she bathes. The bathroom is of course symbolic of the hidden watery essence of the goddess, with the doorway being the symbolic vaginal entrance into this domain.

In Indian religious thought, the vulva of the Goddess is seen as the doorway into her cosmic body and veneration of her yoni (vulva) is an integral part of Indian religion. The association of the swastika with the vulva is found not only in India, but in many other ancient polytheistic cultures. One of the earliest images of the swastika is one carved over the vulva of an ivory figurine dating back several millenia.

As well as representing the yoni, the swastika is also identified with the Muladhara chakra, the root chakra at the base of the spine which is ruled by Ganesha and which houses the female Kundalini serpent energy. Meditation on the swastika is a means of awakening the Kundalini energy, enabling it to rise up through the other chakras to finally culminate in a state of ecstatic bliss when it enters the highest chakra.
An image of the Kundalini, the serpent energy that is found in the Muladhara chakra with which Ganesha is identified. The swastika itself can be viewed as two overlaid serpents.

Considering the fact that every day, for thousands of years, hundreds of millions of Indians having been focussing their mental and spiritual energies on the swastika, it is hardly surprising that this symbol exerts such a powerful force-field around itself.


(Picture: Exotic India)

Panaeolus cyanescens
(Picture: Paul Stamets)
The drug Soma - which Gordon Wasson has convincingly argued was a hallucinogenic mushroom - was a major formative influence in the early development of Hinduism. Mushroom-like images (known as 'chattra' in India) often appear in association with Ganesha, who is appropriately the deity who connects mankind with the divine. Above, Ganesha is holding what most people would take to be an umbrella, but which is also identical to the thin-stemmed psilocybin mushroom, Panaeolus cyanescens, a highly psychoactive fungus found extensively in India.

Below Ganesha is seen sitting under a mushroom-shaped lamp that serves to 'illuminate' him. (Compare this mushroom-lamp image with the psychoactive Psilocybe cubensis mushrooms illustrated here and which are also widespread in India.)

As with so much religious art, there is an exoteric level of understanding for the masses (ie seeing a mundane umbrella or a lamp) and an an esoteric level of understanding for the initiated (seeing the archetypal form of the sacred mushroom). See also the arc of button mushrooms inscribed on the crown of the Ganesha rosewood carving seen further above.

Both mushroom species shown here are commonly found growing from the dung of ruminants. In India, the plentiful deposits of dung from working elephants provides ideal growing conditions for these fungi. It's one of life's poetic little gestures that Ganesha can provide the keys to the Kingdom from out of his sunbaked dung.

Psilocybe cubensis
(Picture: Bill Walters)