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Pentagrams and Pentacles
I had often wondered why magicians nearly always had stars painted on their capes, props and equipment. For a long time, I put it down to it being just one of those things that went with magic in people's minds. On a whim, I started to delve deeper and to find out if there was a more substantial reason for the star design. As soon as I started to look it hit me that there is a reason and a very ancient reason why stars are synonymous with magic. The stars are pentagrams which are the ultimate symbol of magic and mysticism and are considered to possess magic in their design. It should have been obvious but until then I never made the connection. I knew a pentagram when I saw one and knew that they were mystical objects but I did not realise how they had influenced history, religion, belief and even day to day living.
Pentagram with Man
The pentagram, this five pointed star, is perceived by many cultures as one of the most powerful symbols in matters relating to belief and ritual magic. This concept carries through today just as strongly as it did in ancient times. From the ancient Egyptians as well as the ancient Greeks and before them, the Mayans and throughout India and China, it has been there with all of its potency. Even Neolithic man put pentagrams on cave walls although their significance is lost in time. But what gives this symbol and shape such awe that it comes to us today with belief undiminished.
Most of you reading this will already know exactly what a pentagram looks like but anyway, a description. By the way, it is also known as a pentalpha, a pentangle or as a star pentagon. It is simply the shape of a five-pointed star drawn with five straight lines. The word pentagram is originally from the Greek word pentagrammon, meaning an object that is five lined or has five lines.
The words pentagram and pentacle are now used to describe the shape and symbol but technically their meanings do differ. If you want to be really technical, the pentagram is the star shape and the pentacle is the star within a circle. In this write-up, the pentagram is really the subject.
The pentagram has long been associated with the planet Venus and with the worship of the goddess of the same name. In Babylonian culture this goddess was known as Ishtar. The Roman word "Lucifer" described Venus as the Morning Star, associated with the bringer of light and knowledge. These associations probably originated from the observations of ancient, even prehistoric, astronomers who found that successive inferior conjunctions of the planet Venus plot an almost perfect pentagram shape around the zodiac through an eight year cycle.
The first known uses of the pentagram symbol are found in Mesopotamian writings dating back to about 3000 BC.
In the Sumerian culture, pentagrams served as pictograms for the word "UB," meaning "corner, angle, nook; a small room, cavity, hole; pitfall," very similar in meaning to the ancient Greek pentemychos (see below). The five points of the Sumerian pentagram also represented the five visible planets and possibly directions. In René Labat's index system of Sumerian hieroglyphs/pictograms it is shown with two points up (inverted).
In Babylonian culture, like the Sumerians, the pentagram probably represented orientations: forward, backward, left, right, and "above" and again, these directions also had an astrological meaning, portraying the five visible planets Jupiter, Mercury, Mars and Saturn, with Venus as the "Queen of Heaven" (Ishtar).
In ancient Greece, Pythagoras claimed that the number five was also the number of a man. He put forward a five way division of the body and division of the soul. The Pythagoreans called the pentagram Hygieia, an anagram of the Greek (ύγιεια) for the elements water, earth, spirit, fire and air. As mathematics was a profound and serious subject to be studied they identified the pentagram with mathematical perfection.
The five points were used by the later medieval neo-pythagoreans to signify the five classical elements and the conceptual extensions of these:
ύδωρ, hydor, water, fluid, liquid
γαια, gaia, earth, matter, solid
ίδέα, idea or ίερόν, Hieron "a divine thing", mind, aethyr
έιλή, heile, fire, energy, plasma
άήρ, aer, air, breath, air
The points were labelled with the letters "υ-γ-ι-ει-α". Dependant on which school of thought was using this motif, the ordering could run clockwise or anti-clockwise and the starting point could also vary.
Ancient Pythagorean pentagrams were constructed with two points up (inverted) and they represented the doctrine of Pentemychos. Pentemychos means "five recesses" or "five chambers". The pentagram was also called the pentagonas - "the five-angle" and this was the title of a work written by Pythagoras's teacher and friend Pherecydes of Syros. It depicted the "place" where the first pre-cosmic offspring had to be placed so that the ordered cosmos could come into being. The pentemychos is in Tartaros, also known as "The Gates of Hell".
In very early Greek belief and philosophy Tartaros (or "Chaos") was the primordial darkness out of which the cosmos appeared. Although Tartaros was sealed off after the emergence of the ordered cosmos, it still maintained a hold. So much so that Homer called it, "the subduer of both gods and men". According to the ancient Greeks it was this situation which led to the world getting its "psyche" (soul) and its "daimon" as this underworld was the source of true wisdom. Later, it became a true Hell as Tartaros was also seen as the "chthonic realm". A place where all enemies of cosmic order were imprisoned. Pentagrams were sorely needed to keep all this in balance and for much needed insight and protection.
All through the passage of time to the present day, this symbolic nature of the pentagram has persisted with profound influences for other theologies in various cultural traditions. By no means first to do so, the ancient Greeks used this symbol in ritual magic and this practice has also survived the passage of time.
Agrippa Pentagram with Man
Agrippa Pentagram with Pythagorian Letters
Heinrich Cornelius Agrippa among many perpetuated the standing of the pentagram as a potent magic symbol in the Pythagorean tradition. Even so, during the 19th century, ideas were developing within occult circles on the relevance of a pentagram's orientation.
The pentagram was to receive its perceived duality of meaning where with a single point upwards, it was a power for good as it depicted the spirit presiding over the four matter elements. Two points upward (inverted) was seen as evil. The spirit no longer took precedence. "A reversed pentagram, with two points projecting upwards, is a symbol of evil and attracts sinister forces because it overturns the proper order of things and demonstrates the triumph of matter over spirit. It is the goat of lust attacking the heavens with its horns, a sign execrated by initiates."
"Let us keep the figure of the Five-pointed Star always upright, with the topmost triangle pointing to heaven, for it is the seat of wisdom, and if the figure is reversed, perversion and evil will be the result."
Alternative Christian Pentagram
In the very early church, Christianity, too, adopted the Pentagram. Before the cross became the traditional symbol, the pentagram was the used to display a Christian's belief. The pentagram was said to depict the five wounds of Christ, both hands, both feet and the wound in his side. The symbol also depicted God as it could be drawn in one continuous movement, signifying the beginning (Alpha) and the end (Omega) as one entity.
In the Renaissance period, Christians also revered the pentagram, believing that it was sent by God and proved Christ's divinity. It was the mystic symbol of the holy spirit of Christ become man. It provided them many proofs of their faith by their interpretation and use of the geometry of the pentagram. It underlined the righteousness of their belief. Like their early Christian predecessors, they believed it symbolised the five wounds of Christ and as such it could protect against witches, demons and all other metaphysical evils within creation.
In literature, the pentagram is used widely, a good example being in Arthurian romance. In the 14th century poem, "Sir Gawain and the Green Knight", it appears on the shield of the hero. In the poem the five points of the star each have five meanings: they represent the five senses, the five fingers, the five wounds of Christ, the five joys that Mary had of Jesus (the Annunciation, the Nativity, the Resurrection, the Ascension, and the Assumption) and the five virtues of knighthood which Gawain hopes to embody: noble generosity, fellowship, purity, courtesy, and compassion.
As an historical note, Arthurian romance, in the poem's sense is thought to be based on Gnostic belief. Gnostics were considered heretics by the bulk of Christians as they worshipped the goddess Venus (Isis) who stood for the femininity of Mary, the mother of Christ. Though a hidden and secret sect, their influence percolated main stream Christianity in various ways, one of which we still see today - the carvings of roses with five petals in and on churches and cathedrals of that period, the feminine pentagram.
Inverted Goats Head Pentagram
Perhaps due to its use by ceremonial magicians, the pentagram later began to be associated with Satanism and subsequently rejected by most of Christianity sometime in the twentieth century. This does not mean that it has entirely lost its Christian associations as The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints has traditionally used pentagrams and five-pointed stars in Temple architecture.
The Jewish kabbalists incorporated many Pythagorean ideas in their tradition including the pentagram. In this tradition the pentagram represents the topmost five sephiroth on the Tree of Life. Five prime numbers representing the purity of the concepts of wisdom, justice, mercy, understanding, and transcendent splendour. In Judaism, the pentagram was the official seal of the city of Jerusalem for a time. It should be noted that due to the similarity of the star shapes, it is occasionally confused with the Star of David by those unfamiliar with the symbols.
Satanists, in their beliefs, inverted and often as a double circled pentacle with the head of a goat inside the pentagram. This is referred to as the "Sigil of Baphomet". The occultist and magician Giordano Bruno was making it known that he had serious reservations on the ways in which the pentagrams and pentacles were being incorporated into Satanic rites. Today, LaVeyan Satanists use it to signify their belief, as the three downward points symbolise rejection of the holy Trinity. It is used in a very similar fashion to the Pythagoreans concept involving Tartaros. Christian belief has it that Tartaros is the place where the fallen angels are fettered and therefore the place where the Satanist wishes to contact. In the Satanic context, the Greek letters are replaced by the Hebrew letters לויתן forming the name Leviathan.
Many Neopagans, especially Wiccans, use the pentagram as a symbol of faith similar to the Christian cross or the Jewish Star of David. It is not, however, a universal symbol for Neopaganism. Its symbolism references the neo-Pythagorean concept of the five vertices. At the beginning of a Wiccan ritual, the pentagram is used to summon the spirits of the four directions.
When in pentacle form, the circle round the pentagram is often seen as tying the four elements together and with the spirit thus creating harmony within all. The Neopagan pentagram is usually one point up but in some Wiccan traditions a pentagram with two points up reflects Second Degree Initiation and has no Satanic overtones.
Goat Head Pentagram
The Goat Head Pentagram depiction is often confused with the Templar's Baphomet or the Greek God Pan, who is also depicted as a goat. An interesting point this as the goat itself is closely entwined with medieval ideas of witchcraft. Witches were often shown consorting with goats and the goat was frequently shown as Satan incarnate. It was not lost on those chroniclers that the goat had sexual connotations and this, in turn is not lost on modern Satanists.
Eliphas Levi Pentagram
Other faiths have adopted the pentagram, for example, the pentagram is the official symbol of the Bahá'í Faith. In the Bahá'í Faith, the pentagram is known as the Haykal (Arabic: "temple"), and it was initiated and established by the Báb. Both Báb and Bahá'u'lláh wrote various works in the form of a pentagram.
Others have used the pentagram for various purposes. On the one hand, Aleister Crowley made use of it in his Thelemic system of magick, He used an inverted pentagram that depicted the falling of spiritual supremacy into matter and material values. But Samael Aun Weor used the pentagram as a symbol for Atman, the spirituality of man. Arms outstretched, feet firmly planted on the ground and head topmost. With this pentagram in mind or displayed and by chanting the mantra "Klim, Krishna, Govindaya, Gopijana, Vallebayah, Swahah" the chanter's inner spiritual strength is summoned to aid the chanter against evil.
Freemasonry dates back to the medieval Christian traditions and so it comes as no surprise to see that this tradition utilises the inverted pentagram. In Freemasonry it is called the "Blazing Star". It calls on this form of symbolism as Masonic tradition uses Pythagorean geometry in its system of representational symbolism. This particular symbol has not helped the Freemasons to fight off accusations of Satanism although the Satanic use of the inverted pentagram is only of recent origin, the Star has been used for centuries. As the Masonic pentagram is also known as the "Star of Bethlehem", due to their early Christian beginnings, the link with Satanism becomes even less tenable.
In the public eye, the inverted Satanic form of the pentagram is the best known and gains the most attention. Although the general belief is that the evil context of this pentagram dates back centuries, it is of fairly recent origin, from 1950 onwards. To the modern Satanist, it symbolizes the self and self gain over spiritual ideals as modern Satanism places man into a god-like position. The pentagram most often aligned with Satanic belief is the "Goat of Mendes Pentacle", otherwise known as the "Sabbatic Goat". Eliphas Levi, the 19th century occultist is usually acknowledged as the first to associate the inverted pentagram/pentacle with a sense of evil although Bruno had laid the groundwork for this concept. As stated, above, Levi's 'Mendes' pentacle is a recent addition to symbols within Satanism.
It is not surprising, therefore that the pentagram sits right at the heart of national symbols in numerous countries. Many flags show it. The United States could not help but be influenced by it and wield influence with it. Several of the Founding Fathers were Freemasons and used this device as they knew its meaning well. The U.S. flag, the Great Seal of the U.S.A. and the dollar bill still use the symbol. Even the White House sits atop a giant pentagram. We are all well aware that conspiracy theorists have found rich pickings with this.
Many of you will be well versed in the beliefs and meanings of the pentagram, perhaps the foregoing might have provided a titbit or two that added to your understanding. In any event, apart from magicians' stars, look around and see how the design still springs eternal in the world of today. The pentagram has stood the test of time. Whether it has power within itself or is a symbol that evokes power in the mind of man, it is a power to be reckoned with.
Thanks to several sources but mainly to wikipedia.org
Perception9 Paranormal Contributor - mistereee