There are many simple geometric symbols that resonate deeply with the human psyche. Examples include the circle, the sunburst, the swastika, various spirals, the cross, and other radially symmetrical designs.
Neuropsychologists have confirmed what Carl Jung intuited a century ago: these basic geometric designs are hard-wired in the human brain, interacting via the visual cortex with symbolic representations buried deep in the regions of the brain where the primal responses to stimuli are rage, awe, and fear.
This helps explains why various symbolic designs exert a fascination over the mind that transcends time and culture. Variants on the most basic symbols were scratched on ivory or painted on cave walls before the dawn of the Neolithic. As prehistoric symbologies passed into historic times, the designs were elaborated and extended, and developed complex cultural and mythological associations to accompany their instinctive fascination.
One such design is known as the solar cross or the sun wheel, and consists of a simple four-part cross overlaid on a circle. As the Indo-European tribes exploded out of Central Asia in the third millennium before Christ, they brought with them the solar cross, using it to represent a wheel on the chariot that carried the sun god across the sky.
According to the Wikipedia entry on the sun cross:
The sun cross, a cross inside a circle, is one of the oldest and most universal religious symbols, and a popular neopagan solar symbol. It is also known as the suncross, solar cross, sun wheel, sunwheel, sun disc.
In neopaganism, the terms sun cross and sun wheel are sometimes also used to refer to swastikas, fylfots and Celtic crosses, understood as cognate symbols.
The design recurs in many variants across all human cultures. A version known as the Caddo cross was used by prehistoric Indians in what is now the southeastern United States. Other variants on the solar cross can be found in India, China, Africa, and Europe. Pagan versions were merged with the Christian cross in Europe as the continent was converted to Christianity in the first millennium.
I mention all this background because the pagan version of the solar cross known as Odin’s Cross, and its Christian successor, the Celtic Cross, have been cited as evidence that the Flemish separatist party Vlaams Belang is a white supremacist organization.
There is no dispute that Odin’s Cross has been used as a white power symbol in Europe. But that usage is a recent and minor development, and is hardly the only purpose to which the solar cross has been put. The design can be found in a wide variety of contexts, both pagan and Christian, throughout Europe.
The Anti-Defamation League — which can hardly be called an apologist for White Power causes — cautions its members not to assume automatically that Odin’s Cross is a White Power symbol. Here’s the entry in the ADL’s database of extremist symbols, logos and tattoos:
|Symbol Type||General Racist Symbol|
|Also Known As||“Odin’s Cross”|
|Traditional Use/Origins||The symbol for the Celts of ancient Ireland and Scotland; also used as a Christian symbol|
|Hate Group/Extremist Organization||Neo-Nazis, White Supremacists|
|Extremist Meaning or Representation||International white pride|
|Background/History||This is one of the most popular symbols for neo-Nazis and white supremacists. First popularized by the Ku Klux Klan, the symbol was later adopted by the National Front in England and other racists such as Don Black on his Web site, Stormfront, and the racist band Skrewdriver to represent international “white pride.” It is also known as Odin’s Cross. It is important to note that the Celtic Cross is used widely today in many mainstream and cultural contexts. No one should assume that a Celtic Cross, divorced from other trappings of extremism, automatically denotes use as a hate symbol. [emphasis added]|
I asked a Flemish team headed by ProFlandria to look into the Celtic Cross as it is used by Vlaams Belang and in other contexts in Flanders and the rest of Europe. Here’s what he had to say:
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We’re going to descend into some arcana of World War One lore here, but bear with us — it’s worth it. As a quick note to any who try to follow our breadcrumbs: The text below contains multiple references to the river “Yser”. Today, the modern Dutch spelling is “Ijzer” — but the older spelling is identical to the French one (even now), and all English-language publications will use the older/French spelling. Googlers beware…
We discovered the Flemish WW1 headstone designed by Joe English [shown at right]. The design came about as an initiative from the Flemish nationalists entrenched at the Yser front lines. The intent was to provide a memorial in the soldiers’ own language, as an alternative to the French-only design which was the official Belgian government design. Several variants of the “official” design (black crosses) are visible in the attachment [seen below]; the caption on the photo reads: “ADINKERKE — Cemetery of the Brave Belgians”.
The Joe English design is in the shape of a Celtic Cross. The vertical bar is inscribed “AVV”, the horizontal bar “VVK”. The acronyms stand for “Allen Voor Vlaanderen” (All For Flanders) and “Vlaanderen Voor Kristus” (Flanders For Christ). This was the slogan of the Catholic Flemish students. The tombstone proper has the following inscription: “Hier liggen hun lijken als zaden in ‘t zand / Hoop op den oogst O Vlaanderland” (Here lie their bodies like seeds in the sand / Hope for the harvest O Flanderland). Above the verse is an outline of a seagull, symbol of the Flemish Students’ Movement. On the other hand, the “official” Belgian government designs all included the caption “Mort Pour La Patrie” (Died for the Fatherland).
For the purpose of our original puzzle, however, the important fact is that the Celtic Cross was used here as a Christian symbol. Moreover, any theory that its use by Flemish nationalists at that time implies a “white power” symbolism can be easily refuted by looking at the official government memorials: several of those are also Celtic Crosses. Indeed, it is not the design of the headstone’s Cross that determines the Flemish nationalist “content”, but the inscriptions upon it.
Therefore, we can propose the following reasonable hypothesis. Joe English may or may not have chosen the Celtic Cross specifically because of his Irish background, but the basic shape appears to have been unremarkable in its use as a burial symbol — its use by the Belgian government for one of their official war memorial designs attests to this. However, by adding the Flemish nationalism-inspired inscriptions the complete design became a symbol for the movement. When the Service for Military Gravestones crushed more than half — over 500 — to build a gravel road in 1925 their symbolic power would only have increased. This link is a general reference to the events; the government agency that destroyed some of the headstones is named on a Dutch-only page. The Yser Tower, designed as a peace monument, was also intended to protect the gravesites. The first Tower was destroyed by “unknown persons” in a bombing in 1946 (likely with Belgian state collusion), but the crypt survived and it still houses some of the headstones and the bodies they marked.
The hypothesis above explains the Celtic Cross as the symbol of Flemish nationalism during and after the First World War. It would be reasonable to suggest that the political inheritors of the original World War One movement would see the plain Celtic Cross as a simplified representative of the Joe English headstone design. The Flemish movement’s adoption of the Celtic Cross predates any later “white power” uses, and it has no relation to it.
Here’s a slightly different account, from another source:
In 1914, when World War I broke out, king Albert I appealed to the pride of the Flemish population to defend the country. ‘People of Flanders,’ he said ‘remember the Battle of the Golden Spurs’. But because he was well aware that Flanders was considered after the French speaking part, he promised Flanders ‘equality in right and fact’… after the war.
Many thousands of Flemish boys were drafted or volunteered. For four long years, they lived, like all soldiers in the misery of mud and danger. In the Westhoek more people fell in battle than there had ever lived before…
In the army, the majority of the soldiers was Flemish, while almost all officers were French speaking. On top of that, the Flemish had to face humiliation and oppression, exactly because they were Flemish.
The protest following this treatment lead to the Front Movement. Its immediate goals were the protection and the stimulation of Flemish consciousness. The movement was prohibited and had to go underground. Then, the Flemish soldiers opened their threefold plan: self-government for Flanders, no more war and peace among all people, no matter their conviction. Nowadays this is translated: freedom, peace, tolerance.
All Belgian soldiers who fell, including the numerous Flemish boys, were given an official tombstone with the French inscription ‘Mort pour la Patrie’. To give the Flemish a Flemish tombstone, in 1916, the ‘Comité voor Heldenhulde’ (committee for hero’s tribute) was founded. With the money they collected among the Flemish soldiers, they created the famous ‘Heldenhuldezerkjes’: a cross with the inscription AVV-VVK (Alles voor Vlaanderen — Vlaanderen voor Kristus: All for Flanders — Flanders for Christ).
This proved to be a thorn in the eyes of some enemies of the Flemish Movement. Even before armistice, a number of tombstones were painted over, and in 1925 more than 500 ‘Heldenhuldezerkjes = Flemish tombstones’ were smashed.
An interesting source of additional information can be found in a comment #239 by zarxos on one of yesterday’s posts at Little Green Footballs:
Also, Odin’s Cross has been used as a symbol for Breton nationalism as well (i.e. for the independence of France’s province of Brittany). Just in case enough meanings of it haven’t been brought up already.
The general conclusion to be drawn from all this is that the Celtic Cross or Odin’s Cross has been used historically as a symbol for nationalism, and not just Flemish nationalism. The design was later co-opted by a variety of white power groups with no connection to the Flemish nationalist movement.
Under the current PC regime that holds most of Western culture in thrall, nationalism is frowned upon and thought to be inherently racist. I have no argument to counter this assertion; I simply disagree with it.
In fact, instead of “nationalist”, I prefer the word “patriotic”, which indicates a love of one’s country, one’s culture, and one’s homeland. Patriotic peoples can live side-by-side peacefully in separate nations, and can support each other in their desire for autonomy in their respective countries. A patriotism for one’s homeland, be it Brittany, Flanders, Frisia, or England, is not only a normal and healthy thing; it is a positive good.
To condemn automatically as “racist” symbols that are patriotic or nationalistic is to ignore the normal and virtuous impulses that have motivated and ordered human affairs since the dawn of history.
Another unsavory aspect of many of the attacks on Vlaams Belang has been to base them on photographs, or on objects found in the background of videos. A photograph alone is evidence of nothing.
Witness the photos of Richard Nixon with Jimmy Carter, or of Winston Churchill with Josef Stalin. No serious person would take these as evidence that Jimmy Carter supports conservative Republicans, or that Winston Churchill was a communist.
The use of photos of in this manner is especially disingenuous when the subject’s publicly stated positions, policy initiatives, legislative actions, political alliances, and other public behaviors overwhelmingly contradict the tendentious conclusions drawn from such photographs.
If I happen upon a photo of Dennis Kucinich taken alongside Robert Byrd — which is not an unthinkable possibility, given that both are in the same political party — common sense would not lead me to assume that Mr. Kucinich is an enthusiastic supporter of the Ku Klux Klan.
Only an invincible ignorance of (or disinterest in) the facts on the ground can lead to arguments based solely on associations discovered in photographs.
Finally, an explanation is in order about why we have gone to all this time and trouble about such relatively trivial matters.
Many commenters and emailers have been advising us to ignore the increasingly shrill and overheated accusations directed at us, Filip Dewinter, Vlaams Belang, etc. Readers are understandably tired of all this pointless argument, and are ready to move on.
I’m just as sick of all this nonsense as any of you are. It has consumed all my spare time and energy for more than six weeks, and there is nothing I would like better than to be shut of it.
But there is a crucial task that must be completed before we can move on.
Baseless accusations and smear attacks have been launched at someone. If they are not answered fully and factually, the resulting silence can be taken as confirmation of the allegations. This is especially true in the Internet Age.
If we do nothing to answer these charges, then they effectively become the public record as far as the internet is concerned. Under these circumstances, running a Google search on “Vlaams Belang Celtic cross white power” will turn up all the accusations with no opposing point of view.
So one of our primary jobs, as custodians of a portion of the factual record, is to present these refutations as clearly and accurately as we can, including links to multiple sources so as to ensure the best possible coverage of the issue.
It’s not what I want to spend my time doing — I’d rather be blogging the Counterjihad instead — but Vlaams Belang is a party worth supporting, and deserves better than the hatchet job that has constituted the bulk of the record up until now.
So skip all this crap if you want, and go on to the more important stuff.
But five or ten years from now people searching on the internet for information on this topic will have more to draw on than the tendentious and inadequate material that has been the norm up until now.
Bear with me if you can. We’re almost done.