A new/old symbol of protection and peace
Most people will recognise the symbol above as an ‘upside down’ CND/Peace symbol. The CND symbol was originally designed by Gerald Holtom in 1958 for the British nuclear disarmament movement. Two shapes within the symbol correspond with the semaphore signals for N and D, and some have put this forward as a design influence.
However, writing to Hugh Brock, editor of Peace News, Holtom later explained, “I was in despair. Deep despair. I drew myself: the representative of an individual in despair, with hands palm outstretched outwards and downwards in the manner of Goya’s peasant before the firing squad. I formalised the drawing into a line and put a circle round it.” Correspondents of Holtom’s say that the designer came to regret the symbolism of despair, as he felt that peace was something to be celebrated and wanted the symbol to be inverted.
Looked at another way, the symbol consists of a rune stave, Algiz, in a circle. Runes are alphabets of Indo-European, Germanic, and Scandinavian origin. The chart below shows how they have influenced the shape of at least some of the modern English alphabet.
The Futhark rune alphabet
In addition to practical phonetics, runes had a symbolic, esoteric aspect used in divination. The meaning given to each was seen to be altered if it was reversed. Whilst not necessarily a complete opposite of its basic meaning, reversed would indicate meanings with negative connotations.
The shape of Algiz, also known as Yr and Eolh, is variously thought to be based on a tree, the antlers of the elk, a person stretching up to the Divine, and the spread fingers of a hand raised in a protective gesture. Understandably then, it symbolises protection, defense, the protective urge to shelter oneself and/or others, and an awakening to something higher or spiritual. Algiz also represents success through endeavour in a search, quest, or other enterprise.
I’m not the only one who finds it strange that an organisation concerned with protecting the world from nuclear power and weapons should choose a logo that features a protective symbol reversed. I’m also not alone in thinking that, like some other things, it needs to be consciously reclaimed. Those who have studied and/or work with symbols will know how important this point is.
It was a buzz then to see the sign used in the new way at the recent DSEi demonstrations. (The Defence & Security Equipment International (DSEi) is the world’s largest arms fair. It takes place every two years in the second week in September at ExCeL – the huge exhibition centre in London Docklands. Disarm DSEi undertake direct action against the arms fair and are a member of the Stop the Arms Fair coalition. This leaflet explains the wide-ranging issue in more detail. This article is an image-rich report of the action.)
The New Peace Sign lends itself to two prevailing images that represent the promotion of and struggle for peace, combined in the image below.
Palestine - a symbol of the struggle for peace
Knowledge is power. During this time of our reclaiming and developing our power, using knowledge from some historically influential cultures might well prove to be a good idea. As would being flexible enough to reassess, change, reinvent and reorientate as often as is necessary on the way to achieving our goal.