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VOICES | Multicultural Manners

Symbolic Interpretations

April 14, 2001|NORINE DRESSER

While watching a slide presentation of Tibetan rituals, a group of Jewish women gasped when they saw a swastika on some fabric. Although the swastika is commonly associated with the Nazis, in Sanskrit, svastika means something conducive to well-being. This equilateral cross, with arms bent at right angles, is the most widely used auspicious symbol of Hindus and Jains.

For Buddhists, it symbolizes the feet or footprints of Buddha. Tibetan Buddhists frequently use it as a clothing decoration. It also appears in Scandinavian, early Christian, Byzantine, Mayan and Navajo art.

The six-pointed Star of David is the same symbol used to represent sheriff's departments. In antiquity, five-and six-pointed stars were magical signs used for protection against evil spirits. The origin of the sheriff's star is a mystery, but according to one legend, the star badge originated in Texas in the 19th century when the governor affixed his seal, a star-shaped ring, to a sheriff's department's original papers. Star badges may have five, six or seven points.

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Norine Dresser is author of "Multicultural Celebrations" (Three Rivers Press, 1999). E-mail: norined@earthlink.net.

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