What does this cross mean?

(Puzzle 013)

Mystery cross

3 o'clock / 12:15?
North & East?
Up & Right?

Here's another puzzling symbol, for which we had no idea of the meaning. Well, that's not entirely true. We had lots of ideas, until somebody pointed us in the right direction.

Mystery cross
Ukrainian National Committee logo
Ukrainian National Committee logo

This symbol was sent to us by a member of the Ukrainian National Committee. It is incorporated in their logo, shown on the right. The embedded letters Y H K stand for Український Національний Комітет (Ukrainian National Committee) and the logo also incorporates the Ukrainian Tryzub symbol.

The Ukrainian National Committee was formed near the end of World War II to take control of the Ukrainian military away from Germany's command. It is now an association of patriotic NGOs, but the origin and meaning of the cross within their symbol was too cryptic for outsiders, such as ourselves, to guess.

Here are a few things we realised it wasn't:

  • It might have represented points of the compass, and the symbol seems to have originated from northeastern Europe.


    But northeast is usually represented by one diagonal line. So two lines would imply north and east. On its own, that has little meaning.

  • If the upper arrowhead was omitted, the line traces the hand movement when making the Sign of the Cross.

    Mystery cross
    Mystery symbol

    Sign of the cross
    Hand movement when making Sign of the Cross

    But in this symbol, the upper arrowhead does exist.

  • We have nothing to suggest this symbol is excessively cryptic. For example, if the arrows were to represent the hands of a clock, then the time is either 3 o'clock or 12:15.

    • 3 o'clock - Did something very special happen at 3 o'clock one day? Quite possibly, but special events are usually marked with a date rather than a time.

      The Bible mentions that Jesus was crucified in the third hour (Mark 15:25) but the Jewish day began at daybreak so the third hour could have been something like 9 a.m. The actual time Jesus was crucified is unknown, and debate about it is diversion away from the more profound reason for his Crucifixion.

    • 12:15 - If this 'time' represents a date; a memorable event in the year 1215 was the signing of the Magna Carta by King John (see Marriot Edgar's rather irreverent poem: The Magna Carta.) But this seems to have little relevance to the symbol's use in Ukraine.

So here were our initial best guesses:

There are two arrows, joined together by a diagonal line. One of the arrows points upwards, and the other points to the right. With a bit of lexical manipulation, one could join the two words together (as the arrows are joined) to conjure the term 'upright'.

It has been suggested that the symbol has Germanic roots. The same words 'up' and 'right' combined in German also produce 'upright' (aufrecht), with a similar righteous nuance. 

Odal cross
Odal (rune)

The symbol is similar to the Odal Cross, rotated 3/8 (135°) to the left, which is based on a Nordic rune and beloved for many years by Nazi groups. (This in turn is similar to the Christian Fish symbol.)

Barbee Cross

Alternatively, it could be based on another symbol used by Nazis, the Crosstar.

Eventually, somebody with both a Ukrainian background and a strong knowledge of symbols and their historical meaning, Dr Roman, explained that the symbol is a combination of the Greek Cross and the St. Andrew's Cross. He also pointed out that the triangular arrow heads are actually Trinitarian symbols, and that there are two of them refers to the two Natures of Christ. The Ukrainian Tryzub symbol confirms this is very much a Christian symbol.

Puzzling symbols index

Oriental languages, such as Chinese and Korean, and Slavic languages, such as Ukrainian, do not have this same result from combining 'up' and 'right'. (Northern England has its own term. See Marriot Edgar's version of Longfellow's "Excelsior", in Up'ards)


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