While many people freely interchange the symbol of the pentacle and the symbol of the pentagram, the symbolism associated with the latter terms are quite different. It is true that the pentacle and the pentagram are symbols of magick, and sometimes the pentagram is a symbol that connotes a higher understanding of magick or it can mark a higher level of understanding acquired by a practitioner who has become an adept in the craft. Unfortunately, the pentagram has a number of negative symbolisms associated with it too, since the pentagram can and does represent Satanic principles as well. The negative connotations associated with the pentagram are then extrapolated and automatically applied to the pentacle, even when the pentacle does not have any negative symbolism associated with it.
Whenever someone is reading about magick or they see some type of media about magick, the occult, the esoteric, Wicca or witchcraft, he or she is bound to come across both the pentacle and the pentagram. So, what’s the difference between a pentacle and a pentagram? The historical use of the two symbols is quite different. A full examination of the historical use of the symbols will reveal how the pentacle and pentagram differ and it will also illustrate how the symbols have become confused over time.
The First Uses of the Pentagram
The pentagram is more rarely referred to as a pentalpha and it is a five pointed star which is created with five straight pen strokes which, in turn, creates five vertices and five edges. This type of pentagram is not enclosed in a circle, but stands alone as a star pentagon absent of a circular enclosure. The term pentagram is derived from the ancient Greek term pentagrammon meaning “five lines.” A pentacle, however, is fully enclosed in a circle, and the star always has one point directed upward, not two.
The Pentagram in Mesopotamia
The pentagram was first used by the Sumerians in Mesopotamia; the star represented the term “UB:” a term which meant pitfall, hole, nook, angle, or corner. It is also surmised that the five pointed star symbolized directions including above, backward, left, right, and forward. The symbol also came to represent “The Queen of Heaven,” Ishatar, and had astrological associations with the planets Mercury, Mars, Jupiter, Saturn, and Venus. It is further believed by some scholars that the pentagram was used by the Sumerians around 2700 B.C.E. to symbolize the four corners of the earth and the heavens. When the Sumerian term was indexed in René Labat’s index system for Sumerian pictograms, the star was positioned with two points facing upwards – this may be where some of the confusion about the symbol’s positioning begins.
The Pentagram in Pythagorean Mysticism
The five pointed pentagram was utilized by Pythagoreans as well. The symbol was called Hygieia, a term meaning “health,” and it was also a symbol associated with Hygieia, the Greek goddess of health. It was believed that the symbol represented mathematical perfection. This is also the time period when the five pointed pentagram became associated with the five classical elements, air, fire, water, idea or thought, and earth.
The five pointed pentagram was used in Pythagorean Mysticism to represent the human body: the upper point represented the head, the left and right points represented the positioning of the arms and hands, and the two bottommost points represented the legs and the positioning of the feet. Pythagoreans would often write letters to one another and their signatures would be accompanied by the five pointed pentagram.
The Pentagram in Jewish Mysticism
The pentagram was the chief symbol within the official seal for the city of Jerusalem between 300 B.C.E. and 150 B.C.E. The star has been identified in Jewish Mysticism as the Seal of Solomon and is sometimes called Solomon’s shield. The pentagram in such depictions is enclosed in a circle and is referred to as a pentacle. In the Key of Solomon it is written:
He then who shall wish to perform any operation by the means of the medals, or pentacles, and therein to render himself expert, must observe what hath been hereinbefore ordained. Let him then, O my son Roboam, know and understand that in the aforesaid pentacles he shall find those ineffable and most holy names which were written by the finger of God in the tablets of Moses; and which I, Solomon, have received through the ministry of an angel by divine revelation. These then have I collected together, arranged, consecrated, and kept, for the benefit of the human race, and the preservation of body and of soul.
It is further written that:
The medals or pentacles, which we make for the purpose of striking terror into the spirits and reducing them to obedience, have besides this wonderful and excellent virtue. If thou invokest the spirits by virtue of these pentacles, they will obey thee without repugnance, and having considered them they will be struck with astonishment, and will fear them, and thou shalt see them so surprised by fear and terror, that none of them will be sufficiently bold to wish to oppose thy will. They are also of great virtue and efficacy against all perils of earth, of air, of water, and of fire, against poison which hath been drunk, against all kinds of infirmities and necessities, against binding, sortilege, and sorcery, against all terror and fear, and wheresoever thou shalt find thyself, if armed with them, thou shalt be in safety all the days of thy life.
There are a number of different symbols in the Key of Solomon that are referred to as pentacles. The symbols that look most like the pentacles worn by practitioners today are the pentacles with a five pointed star with one point upward enclosed in a circle. The five pointed pentacles are represented in the text as the second pentacle of Venus, used for obtaining honor, grace, and all of one’s desires, and the first pentacle of Mercury which is used to invoke spirits who are under the firmament.
The Pentagram in the Middle Ages
The five pointed star during the Middle Ages was often depicted on the coat of arms worn by crusader knights. Later, the symbol would be associated with Satan and magick. When the star had two points pointing upwards, it became associated with the Devil. This association has everything to do with the fact that Christians recognized the five pointed star with one point up as representing the five wounds of Christ, and an inversion of the star would therefore represent an inversion of the symbolized principles or concepts. The upright pentagram was also viewed by Christians to represent the five human senses. When each point was marked with the letters S, A, L, V, and S, the symbol represented “health.” The demarcations are derived from the Latin term Salus, meaning safety, health, security, well-being, and salvation. The pentagram as a five pointed star absent of circumspection was further believed to be a magickal amulet that protected against demons and witches.
In the 14th century, the pentagram was written about in the poem Sir Gawain and the Green Knight and it is referred to as the pentangle. Sir Gawain wears a shield bearing a pentangle on the outermost part of the shield, and on the innermost part of the shield is an image of the Virgin Mary which Sir Gawain always keeps close to him:
Then they brought him his shield, which was of bright red, with the pentangle painted thereon in gleaming gold… It is a sign that Solomon set ere-while, as betokening truth; for it is a figure with five points and each line overlaps the other, and nowhere hath it beginning or end, so that in English it is called “the endless knot.” And therefore was it well suiting to this knight and to his arms, since Gawain was faithful in five and five-fold, for pure was he as gold, void of all villainy and endowed with all virtues. Therefore he bare the pentangle on shield and surcoat as truest of heroes and gentlest of knights.
For first he was faultless in his five senses; and his five fingers never failed him; and all his trust upon earth was in the five wounds that Christ bare on the cross, as the Creed tells. And wherever this knight found himself in stress of battle he deemed well that he drew his strength from the five joys which the Queen of Heaven had of her Child. And for this cause did he bear an image of Our Lady on the one half of his shield, that whenever he looked upon it he might not lack for aid. And the fifth five that the hero used were frankness and fellowship above all, purity and courtesy that never failed him, and compassion that surpasses all; and in these five virtues was that hero wrapped and clothed. And all these, five-fold, were linked one in the other, so that they had no end, and were fixed on five points that never failed, neither at any side were they joined or sundered, nor could ye find beginning or end. And therefore on his shield was the knot shapen, red-gold upon red, which is the pure pentangle.
Through this poem, the pentangle or five pointed pentagram absent of a circular enclosure comes to represent the five wounds of Christ, the five virtues of knighthood (fellowship, courtesy, purity, compassion, and noble generosity), the five fingers, the five senses, and the Annuciation, the Nativity, the Resurrection, the Ascension, and the Assumption which are otherwise known as the five joys that Mary had of Jesus.
The Pentagram in the De Occulta Philosophia Libre Tres
The writings of Heinrich Cornelius Agrippa, a renowned alchemist, magician, occult writer, mathematician, and astrologer make mention of the five pointed star. In De Occulta Philosophia Libre Tres, (The Three Books of Occult Philosophy), Agrippa popularizes the use of the pentagram as a symbol associated with magick. As a mathematician, Agrippa maintained the Pythagorean assertions that the pentagram represented the five classical elements. In the De Occulta, Agrippa depicts the pentagram enclosed in a circle with one point upwards and he also depicts it with two points upward. Of the pentangle Agrippa writes:
A Pentangle also, as with the vertue of the number five hath a very great command over evil spirits, so by its lineature, by which it hath within five obtuse angles, and without five acutes, five double triangles by which it is surrounded. The interior pentangle containes in it great mysteries, which also is so to be enquired after, and understood; of the other figures, viz. triangle, quadrangle, sexangle, septangle, octangle, and the rest, of which many, as they are made of many and divers insections [intersections], obtain divres significations and vertues according to the divers manner of draeing, and proportions of lines, and numbers.
Of the number five Agrippa writes:
Also this number hath great power in expiations: For in holy things it drives away Divels [devils]. In naturall things, it expels poysons [poisons]. It is also called the number of fortunateness, and favour, and it is the Seale of the Holy Ghost, and a bond that binds all things, and the number of the cross, yea eminent with the principall wounds of Christ, whereof he vouchsafed to keep the scars in his glorifyed body.
It should be duly noted that Agrippa’s writings promote positive magickal workings but that the magickal workings within the text were defined by the practitioner’s intent when such workings were wrought.
The Pentagram in the Nineteenth Century
In Transcendental Magic, its Doctrine and Ritual, Eliphas Levi, a magician and occult author, argues that when the pentagram has two points projecting upwards that it becomes a symbol representing evil and that the symbol has the power to attract evil forces because it literally overturns the “proper order of things and demonstrates the triumph of matter over spirit.” Levi further argues that the symbol becomes a representation of the “goat of lust attacking the heavens with its horns.”
In further writings offered by Levi entitled The Key of the Mysteries, the author explains that the star, when inverted, is a glyph of the goat associated with Black Magic practices. The author explains that the goat god, Baphomet’s head can be drawn upon the star with two horns pointing upwards. Levi explains that the pentagram thus becomes the symbol for fatality and antagonism.
The pentagram was often associated with good energies and protection. When the star is inverted it is a symbol that represents the inversion of goodness and comes to represent its binary opposite evil. Once a symbol associated with higher magick, goodness, and protection, the pentagram took on negative connotations. Due to the assertions made by ceremonial magicians like Levi, Christians turned away from using the symbol and strongly correlated the pentagram with Satanism, devil worship, magick, and evil. This understanding has lead to further confusion today and the symbol is heavily used by those that worship Satan today too, which further adds to the confusion about pentacle and pentagram symbolism.
The Pentagram Today
The image of a pentagram has been used on countless music albums, in the movies, on television, in books, and in the media. It is also still used by some organizations like the Masonic Order of the Eastern Star, while some practitioners wear the symbol in jewelry, in tattoos, and on clothing. The pentagram, an inverted star with two points directed upward is used by practitioners of Satanism. The symbol with two points pointing upward comes to represent Baphomet and it also represents the gates of hell and the opening of such gates to release hell on earth.
Despite the pentagram’s earlier, positive connotations, it is often linked with evil, the sinister, and Satanism, especially by those individuals that have no knowledge of the history associated with the symbol and its more positive meanings. In La migration des Symboles by Count Goblet d’Alviella, the author explains that toward the end of the nineteenth century, various symbols for “powerful mythological entities,” began to exclude one another. Thus, a concept, represented by two binary opposite symbols “did not simultaneously appear in the same political, economic, and cultural spheres”…this is referred to as “the law of graphic exclusiveness of symbols of dominating power.” With this concept in mind, it is interesting to witness the free interchanging of the pentacle and the pentagram today when the two symbols clearly have very separate and distinct connotations and meanings.
The messages conveyed by symbols are a powerful thing. One only needs to take a look at a Swastika to know immediately how powerful symbolism can be. The use of pentagrams either with or without a circular enclosure has severe, negative connotations associated with it, despite some of the symbol’s more positive historical representations and understandings. Thus, when a practitioner wears an inverted pentagram, whether or not the practitioner understands the ancient, more positive meanings of the symbol, not everyone understands the symbol’s once understood positive meanings. A symbol speaks without words and people, when they see the pentagram, commonly associate the symbol with satanic worship and evil. This can prove detrimental to pagan worshippers that are seeking to destroy the misconceptions that are so commonly applied to the craft and its practitioners.
The Meaning of the Pentacle Today
For practitioners, the pentacle has a number of different meanings. It serves as a symbol of the Wiccan faith, and it is a symbol of protection. The five points on the star represent the elements, air, fire, water, and earth as well as Akasha, the combination of all of the elements and the representation of the human spirit. The five points are also associated with the cardinal directions east, south, west, and north. The points of the pentacle also represent the seasons of the year. The circle enclosing the pentacle represents the never ending cycle of life, death, and rebirth, the Witches Wheel of the Year, and the realm of magick. What’s more, the star itself plots the movement of the planet Venus in space.
Pentacle image courtesy of: http://www.glasstemple.com.
Baphomet image, from Eliphas Levi’s “Dogme et Rituel de la Haute Magie,” 1854
Image of a human body in a pentagram from Heinrich Cornelius Agrippa’s Libri tres de occulta philosophia.
Pentagram: Wikipedia: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pentagram
Pentagram: Symbols.com http://www.symbols.com/encyclopedia/27/2721.html
Latin Dictionary: http://www.online-dictionary.biz/latin/english/meaning/salus
Sir Gawain and the Green Knight: http://www.lib.rochester.edu/Camelot/sggk.htm
The Key of Solomon” http://www.esotericarchives.com/solomon/ksol.htm