Cambs Uni Publications

Reviews

Mila Vucevic [writing in the Sunday Express]

Swastikas have been found on pottery and coins from ancient Troy.  The image has been used by cultures in China, Japan, India and southern Europe.  It is called wan in China, manji in Japan, fylfot in England, Hakenkreuz in Germany, tetraskelion and gammadion in Greece, and Swastika in India.

Mr. Taylor’s interest was kindled in the 1960s when cycling through the Essex countryside.  He came to the little church of St. Mary the Virgin in Great Canfield and was mystified by what appeared to be five swastikas cut into the stonework of the porch.  He discovered from the church guidebook that the symbols were linked o the catacomb of San Callisto in Rome.  Mr. Taylor, of Whittlesford in Cambridgeshire, said he used the term Fylfot in the title of his book to restore the true meaning of this geometric symbol.  ‘If I had entitled it The Swastika in the British Isles people would have easily jumped to the wrong conclusion about its content and purpose.  Calling it the Fylfot is a sideways approach to get people interested.’

Nick Smith [writing in the Bookdealer]

After defining his terms, Taylor traces the symbol’s history and variants from the dawn of civilisation, through the Anglo-Saxon, Celtic and Roman worlds.  He looks at the mathematical, heraldic and religious significance of the symbol and traces it through the occult, church bells, textile designs and ultimately its incredible transmogrification into a symbol of oppression, tyranny and dictatorship.  But he’s caught in a trap of political correctness.  How can you write a technical and academic treatise on the swastika without on the one hand appearing to be coolly indifferent to its Nazi association, or on the other hand without hand-wringing morbidity?  He settles for the sensible approach of telling it as it is, even at the expense of stating the obvious. ‘Jewish perceptions of the swastika changed dramatically with the rise of Nazism and the ensuing holocaust’.

Where The Fylfot File really works is in the detailed research relating to an everyday symbol that is surprisingly commonplace, even in the British Isles.  Until 1940 the Scout movement had a so-called ‘Thanks Badge’ that was a combination of swastika and fleur-de-lis; in Dublin the Swastika Laundry continued to trade until 1989; and Coca-Cola … has used the symbol in promotional campaigns … in the pre-Nazi era.

Somewhat bizarrely, given the swastika’s later military associations, it occurs on First World War memorials in the UK (even ones updated to include names of soldiers of the Second World War).  At Balmoral … there is now an additional plaque explaining the presence of the by now undisputed ‘enemy’ insignia.

Along with the lotus flower and [Ganesha] the elephant, the swastika was a key component of Rudyard Kipling’s registered trademark.  In what is one of the best chapters in The Fylfot File Taylor explains that Kipling was so taken with the symbol that he incorporated it into his coat of arms, had it embossed on the spine of his books and even advised a friend to name her house after it!

His governing premise is that the misappropriation of the swastika by the Nazis is an unfortunate blot on the copybook of an otherwise wholesome symbol is well meaning, but ultimately doomed.  However, Taylor is to be congratulated for adding more light than heat to a controversial subject.

The Right Reverend John Bernard Taylor, KCVO, Sometime Bishop of St. Albans writes:

The Fylfot File is a work of extraordinary erudition which will fascinate and intrigue all who enjoy rare by-paths of learning.  Stephen Taylor is to be commended for the way he leads the reader into his subject and beyond it to distant and little-trodden parts of the British Isles

Michael Vaughton [writing in Saffron Walden Reporter]

The term Swastika originates from the Sanskrit word meaning, ‘be prosperous’ and has long been thought to have derived from sun worship, owing to its lines appearing to depict the rays of the sun.

Mr. Taylor hopes his book, The Fylfot File, will go some way towards helping people to see the Fylfot-Cross in a new light.

Obviously the Swastika has very negative connotations for people in the West generally due to its adoption by Hitler in the 1930s.

It’s hard to overturn people’s emotions when they see the Swastika, but I think his research can ‘open the curtains’ and allow them to see something of the real width and breadth of history which the Fylfot Cross symbolises.   Rudyard Kipling used the Swastika [together with Ganesha and Lotus] on the covers of his books until 1933 when it was deemed prudent to remove it to prevent grave misunderstanding.

Books

Stephen