Pentagram, Pentacle… What Does It Mean?

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Perhaps the most identifiable symbol in Western occult practice is the pentagram. Despite the wealth of knowledge available, there is still a surprising amount of stigma and misinformation when it comes to understanding this simple star. If the average pedestrian correctly identifies the symbol in the first place, the usual assumption is often either Satan worship or dark witchcraft (or both). Hopefully, through education, we may allay these fears and combat malign ignorance.

Tetragrammaton pentacle

Tetragrammaton with pentacle, as conceived by Elphias Levi.

The pentagram is always symbolized by a five-pointed, interwoven star; however, not all such stars necessarily represent a pentagram. Pentagrams have various esoteric meanings attached whereas a star is simply a geometric shape.

Whether the star is enclosed in a circle or not does not define pentagram vs pentacle. The terms seem to derive from the same concept, but different users will choose how to draw or define it depending on their tradition. Some say that the pentagram is any star that is drawn (from -graph, draw), where a pentacle is a non-written star with or without a circle (for example, a pendant).

Within the Wiccan tradition specifically, the pentacle is an altar tool (previously called a pantacle, which looked like a five-sided square; this terminology comes from Wicca’s roots in Thelema) and a pentagram is the sigil or symbol, with or without an encompassing circle. However, even Wiccans do not agree on the specific terminology or uses, resulting in online debates.

The earliest recorded use of the pentagram is thought to be from Uruk, a place in ancient Mesopotamia around 3500 BCE. It was used to symbolize heavenly bodies in general. The goddess Ishtar was very important in this region; the “morning star” – Venus – was called the Star of Ishtar and remains significant in this region’s culture as the star that accompanies the crescent moon in Islamic symbolism.

Later, around 2600BCE, when cuneiform writing was used, pentagrams suggested directions or regions, such as “heavenly quarters”.

Pythagoras and his followers would introduce the pentagram to Greece as a symbol of health, unity, and humankind.[1,2,3,4] In the time of the Pythagoreans, ca. 500 BCE to 200 CE, pentagrams appear everywhere from Greek coins to decorative carvings in synagogues.

Ancient Greek coin showing pentagram

Ancient Greek coin from Lucania approx 350 BC showing pentagram and lion.

Most recently, before the modern stigmatization, the pentagram was used in Christianity to represent the Five Wounds of Christ, ca. 200 until 1400 CE.

Modern ideas regarding the Pentagram may be traced primarily to the Renaissance era, and especially the writings of Heinrich Cornelius Agrippa. Through him, and others, the ideals promoted by the Pythagoreans were revived, expanded, and applied to ritual magick. Among these teachings are the associations of the points with the elements of earth, air, fire, water, and spirit;[1,2,3,4,5] the symbol of the human microcosm;[1,2,3] and the use of the circled pentagram, or pentacle, as a protective device.[2,3,5]

There seems to be some debate over whether the pentagram describes the apparent movement of the planet Venus [1,5]. In the latter context, the symbol is said to derive from the planet’s conjunctions with the sun, as seen from Earth.[2]

If one links the transit of Venus to the pentagram, one may also understand why Luciferians may choose to use it as their symbol. Venus has long been called “the morning star” – which is exactly what Lucifer is called in 2 Peter 1:19, clearly referring to the planet Venus, and a small handful of other Biblical references (see link). Most of the time the biblical writers are using the word Lucifer to mean “morning light” or “light bringer”, but in Revelations 22:16-22 the term “Morning Star” refers to Jesus Christ, and there you are, back again at the five wounds of Christ imagery. It is important to note that Lucifer is not usually thought to be the same guy as Satan in the Bible, although modern Christians tend to lump them together as one person.

From this understanding of the symbolism behind the pentagram, we may better understand its meaning with regard to its context. The context is everything, and without it, the symbol could mean anything, depending on the beholder.

As a symbol of the human body, the difference appears between the pentagram and the pentacle: an uncircled pentagram (ie, a star) may symbolize an individual’s freedom and openness, as opposed to the protected or restrained pentacle.[3]

In this same vein, the upright pentagram may be used to symbolize the feminine, or goddess, while an inverted pentagram may represent the masculine, the Horned God,[1,5] or any variety of goat-headed deity.

Further, as a symbol of the elements, the pentagram may represent the dominion of the spirit over material elements, point up, or the opposite.[3]

Ultimately, as with every other symbol, the significance of the device depends entirely upon the user; hence, one should not make assumptions about others based upon a single design they happen to wear.

For further reading:

[1] http://www.symboldictionary.net/?p=1893

[2] http://www.alchemygothic.com/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=161:pentagram-reference&catid=48:alchemy-encyclopedia

[3] http://www.angelfire.com/id/robpurvis/pentagram.html

[4] http://sites.lafayette.edu/rel101-sp12/2012/04/22/the-wiccan-pentagram-common-misconceptions/

http://freemasonry.bcy.ca/anti-masonry/pentagram.html

[5] Grimoire For The Apprentice Wizard by Oberon Zell-Ravenheart

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additional text and editing by Ande Spenser

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One Response to Pentagram, Pentacle… What Does It Mean?

  1. DocHobbit says:

    Information on Pythagoras and the pentacle that is very good.
    https://l.facebook.com/l.php?u=http%3A%2F%2Fweb.eecs.utk.edu%2F~mclennan%2FOM%2FBA%2FPP.html&h=SAQH0olaG

    A link from there on the Rotation of the Elements that is very good.
    http://web.eecs.utk.edu/~mclennan/OM/BA/RE.html

    How to make a Pentagram using geometry according to the Golden Dawn Flying Roll.
    https://l.facebook.com/l.php?u=http%3A%2F%2Fosogd.org%2Flibrary%2Fthe-flying-rolls-of-the-r-r-et-a-c%2Fflying-roll-no-viii%2F&h=6AQGjMMKC

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