The Peace Sign and Nero's Cross, aka What does it all really mean?
How old was I? I was in one of Evergreen's schools at the time. I cannot get any more specific than that, but let me guess that it is either seventh or eighth grade. This would put it right at twenty years ago. I was sitting there, and someone mentioned the peace sign or some such thing and one of my classmates turned to me and said, "You know that's really a devil worshipping symbol, right? It's meant to be a broken cross..." I think my immediate reply was something like "I don't think so?" but I had nothing like proof or disproof on hand (what seventh grader carries The Field Guide to Semiotics and Dispelling Rumors of Satanic Origin in his backpocket?) and so I dropped it.
Later, this would be about the beginning of my college career, so I am thinking about 1998 (fast forward a decade, in other words) and I came across a book on reading runes for fun and profit. I had a name like Tell Your Fortune with Runes in only 10 Minutes a Day. It's validity I will leave up in the air besides to say that of both copies I had had pretty severe printing errors (but different errors, so that across both I had the whole book). It had the symbol that I will now call "Algiz" (picture a "Y" with a line up, or, a circle-less peace sign held upside down) because that's what the Wikipedia article calls it, but it seems like had the name "ergiz" or "elgiz" or "yewlgiz" or something in that book. I remember the letter "e" and some sort of "ew" sound. Anyhow, the book said it meant "Strife" or "Battle" and was representative of an elk's horns. What's the opposite of battle? That's right: weakness and disease. It's all in whom you ask. The book said the opposite was [druummmmmrollll]..."peace". There you have it, the peace sign is not the broken upside down cross but the inversion of the war rune.
Fast forward, I don't know, six or so years until about 2004. I read Stephen King's Hearts in Atlantis (very overlooked book, and the opening story from which the movie was made is kind of a shout out to the Dark Tower series, but the other short stories are some of the best college to post-war fiction out there). One of the characters defends the "Chicken Foot" as being a sign of Nuclear Disarmament. Let's go ahead and say this really clear, in it's own paragraph:
The Peace Sign is the logo for Nuclear Disarmament.
How is this? If you take a semaphore "N", which is a man standing with his flags down at about 45° angles from straight, and you have another standing in front of him doing a semaphore "D", or holding his flags straight up and down, you get a human representation of the letters "N" and "D". You wrap those in a circle and you have the Peace Sign. Despite being the creator of the symbol's own story of his making it, his name being Gerald Holtom, other's have ignored him or outright blasted him for being a liar and obscurring the real history of the sign. Before I move on from his story, though, one interesting thing I found was his admittance to choosing the symbol for another reason. He said, "I was in despair." and he chose the symbol because it was like a man whose arms are out and down. He references the painting Goya did of the peasant before the firing squad (there are two, though, one of which has the peasant's arms bound, and the other he is raising his arms in fear). There are other connotations behind it, but nothing as sinister as some would like you to believe.
Three stories about the creation of one symbol. Remember what I said about meme-sets and subjective reality. In two of those realities, there is the belief that ancient symbols have real power today and not only have a meaning, but have an original meaning that they are imbibed with. We'll go back to the second one, the runic interpretation, for a moment. You will find websites that claim things like Nazi's used it, and communists, and satanists. Just remember, the phrase "Nazi-Communist" is one of the BIG red-flags that a conspiracy nut is talking. What's more, the linked-right-there website claims that Anton Lavey used it in his altar, the peace sign I mean. That's possible, Lavey was Californian during the 60s, but if you do image searches for his altar all of the pictures you find of him have the Baphomet and possibly the planetary symbols, but I have yet to find one with the peace sign or with Algiz. Another sign that you might be dealing with conspiracy theorists is they cite facts with "tones of authority", but without actual evidence. "Trust me," they are saying, "I read about it once, honest." It's all a little disingenuous, of course, since the symbol supposedly tied to the Nazi's was the rune, and not the peace sign, and if you are going to argue that inverting a symbol means nothing to the sort of people who give a rat's ass about symbols, I have an upside-down cross for you to put up outside of your church.
As for the Cross of Nero explanation; there are still plenty of websites, and books, that claim the connection. I will link to just three of them. Some are more reasonable than others, and a Google search can keep you reading for days, and just about none of them quote or reference anything outside of each other or a handful of books that were heavily speculative (based on their quotes). Most of them offer no explanation as to where Nero's Cross has been all these years, how it disappeared two millenia ago and then resurfaced just now, or why it failed to show up in Roman ruins or writings of the time (they seem to think there is no reference of Rome, itself, outside of hearsay and frankly ignore just how literate the history of that area was). This is the biggest bit of damning evidence against the "Cross of Nero", how wholly recent it is. They also offer no explanation about how the peace sign's circle, which is tantamount to Holtom's design, would fit into the fairly pidgin logic that says an upside down cross with broken arms is especially evil. I guess if you circle it, you really mean it. One website that tries and reconcile a lot of the differing opinions references a 1955 The Book of Signs by Robert Koch. I have no idea what it says about the "Witches Foot" or even if it is the same as the peace sign or if it is actually Algiz, but I will say the first couple of pages that you can view on Amazon.com cite a vertical line, a horizontal line, a dot, and a backwards L as holy symbols based on fairly personal interpretation. I would not take Koch's book too seriously.
Or maybe you would, since the whole point of symbols is they have the meaning that you imbue them with. All symbols, words, signs, and diverse metaphors can have a semantic set into which they belong, but their ultimate meaning is chosen between the viewer and the creator (they can disagree, by the way). Is the color red about violence or love? Is a symbol of an palm-forward hand a sign to stop, a sign of greeting, or instructions to wash your hands? Does the word "tit" mean a small bird or the female breast? I have no truck in the concept that symbols have metaphysical properties. If that was so, then a pedophile with a cross tattooed to his penis would be doing a holy act (I guess it's upside down to someone).
It did not surprise me to read someone else's history of the symbol including a finger pointing at the John Birch Society. According to The Straight Dope's Cecil Adams, the Birchers were originally responsible for the "Chicken Foot" sobriquet and later came back out with the "Cross of Nero" title. The reason I said it does not surprise me is because I know there is a group of right-wing, fundamentalist Christians who are also pro-military (by which I mean, they do not merely consider it necessary or overall positive, but as an active portion of the divine soul of America). I'll call these MilChris right now. To your average MilChri, both God and the Gun are integral to their understanding of their nation. A person who protests one (the military) is also a Satan worshipping anarchist who is mocking Christ. Fact is, a couple of websites that I did not link include almost that exact same wording: "Used by anarchists to mock Christ" and et cetera.
At any rate, there are the results of my researching it. I welcome any sort of follow-up, but my final conclusion is that I see no reason to hold that any non-runic use of the symbol existed prior to the 20th century and the runic use of the symbol is highly contentious rather than with consensus. If you don't want your kids or your friend's kids to wear it, that's fine, it's not like it actually brings about peace anyhow, but there seems to be complete lack of facts to back up the claim that it's a satanic Nazi communist conspiracy to warp the mind of your children.
Si Vales, Valeo