A Look into this Iconic Esoteric Symbol. From a presentation given at a meeting of the Rhode Island and Providence Plantations College of the Societas Rosicruciana in Civitabus Foederatis in 2018.
By: Brother John B. Paliotta
The Pentagram is one of the most curious emblems of esotericism. While researching this topic, my first mission was to find out where and when this symbol came about. It led me to an article that stated the Pentagram appears on a jar dated to 3100 BCE, found north of Thebes in Egypt. The carving appears to have been done in one continuous motion, and the fact that such a carving can be easily achieved for the five-pointed star may have been one of the initial sources of attraction of this figure. In fact, the Pentagram or perfectly drawn five-pointed star represents the perfect mathematical order, which, is the Fibonacci sequence also known as the Golden Ratio. A Pentagram (sometimes known as a pent-alpha or star pentagon) is the shape of a five-pointed star drawn with five straight strokes.
This particular symbol is all around us and has many meanings depending on what message one is trying to relay. I briefly explain the history and origin of this symbol and give some examples of how it is used. Upright pentacles and Pentagrams are among the most widely used religious symbols. They have been used in many eras and by many cultures and religions of the world; ancient pagans, ancient Israelites, Christians, magicians, wiccan and others. The first known uses of the Pentagram (the simplest regular star polygon) are found in Mesopotamian writings dating to about 3000 BC. The five points represented the five astrological directions associated with Jupiter, Mercury, Mars, Saturn, and Venus (the Goddess). The top or "above" point of the star symbolized Venus, as she was revered as the "Queen of Heaven."
In fact, the Pentagram (the simplest regular star polygon) has long been associated with the planet Venus, and the worship of the Goddess Venus, or her equivalent. When viewed from Earth, successive inferior conjunctions of Venus plot a nearly perfect Pentagram shape around the zodiac every eight years.
Pentagram Meanings in a Religious Setting
The Pentagram has been used as a religious symbol world-wide from the beginning of history. The Pentagram is simply a five-point star drawn with one continuous line broken into five-line segments, and with one point of the star facing up. Today however, when we say "Pentagram" we usually mean a "five-pointed star." An inverted Pentagram displays the star "upside down," i.e., with one point facing down and two facing up. Whichever form is used, the Pentagram has always been assigned a five-part symbolism. The ancient Greeks and Romans, among others, considered the Pentagram a symbol of balance and health. The Pentagram can be seen to resemble or symbolize the human body, the five-points representing the head and the four limbs. The Pentagram was used in ancient Chinese and Japanese religions to symbolize the five elements of life. Pythagoras’ study went beyond mathematics, as he assigned the five elements to the five points of the star. Those elements being FIRE, WATER, AIR, EARTH, and SPIRIT. In Japanese culture the symbol was also considered magical. Ancient Babylonian culture also used the Pentagram to represent various gods and religious beliefs of their own. In Christian symbolism, the basic Pentagram was originally used to represent the five wounds of Jesus Christ. It was soon replaced by the symbol of the cross, but the Pentagram was still recognizable as a Christian symbol for a few hundred years after Jesus’ resurrection. In ancient roman times, the Pentagram was painted or carved on the door of Churches to ward off evil spirits. Some say that the continuous line was also considered symbolic of the Alpha and Omega. The Esoteric Pentagram, in various religions, more especially its Hebrew meaning is called the Tetragrammaton and is nor-mally the four-letter word of God written in Hebrew - YHWH. The Tetragrammaton is the star of omnipotence, meaning the ability of having unlimited or great power. You can find this symbol on churches, temples, etc. In the early days of faith, it was the preferred emblem worn on jewelry, amulets, talismans, etc. Two to three hundred years after Jesus’ resurrection, the Pentagram was replaced by the cross. The symbol was said to have been associated with the five wounds of Jesus Christ, number one being the scourging at the pillar, number two being the crowning of the thorns, number three being the wounds in Christ’s hands, number four being the wounds in Christ's feet, and the fifth is the side wound of Christ being the pierce to the side of Jesus by the holy lance also called the ‘Spear of Destiny.’ As mentioned, many Catholic scholars believe that the drawing of the Pentagram be one continuous line with five points symbolizing the Alpha and Omega (the beginning and the end).
On a personal note, I attend church every week on a Saturday evening. As I started to do my research on this particular topic I began to wonder if there were any five-pointed stars in or on the church I belong to. Now keep in mind, I’ve been a member of my parish for over 40 years. Like the saying goes, "it’s right there in plain sight." I enter through the same side door every week. A few weeks back I decided to look up at the beautiful ornate stained- glass window above the door as I entered, and there it was, centered perfectly - A star with five-points!
Some authors/scholars will tell you the number five is important because in Judaism the Torah contains five books, which are collectively called the five books. "The Pentateuch" of the first 24 books of the Tanakh being in Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy. In Christianity, Christ suffered five wounds on the Cross, as I explained, there are five pillars of Islam (faith, prayer, alms, pilgrimage, and fast) and in the Muslim faith, they pray five times a day.
We see this five-pointed star all around us in nature. The starfish, the core of an apple, the sand dollar, certain flowers and much more. For this discussion, we’ll just stick with the "sacred apple." The Pentagram can be found inside the apple by cutting it across its width. Because of its Geometrical properties, Christian artists from way back associated the apple as the fruit of the tree of life
Heinrich Cornelius Agrippa, a 15th century theologian and scholar, and others helped to fuel the fire of popularity so to speak of the Pentagram as a magic symbol, attributing the five Platonic elements to the five points, in typical Renaissance fashion. By the mid-19th century a further distinction had developed amongst occultists regarding the Pentagram's orientation. With a single point upwards, it depicted the spirit presiding over the four elements of matter, and was essentially "good."
Brother Eliphas Levi born Alphonse Louis Constant was a 19th century French occult writer and a ceremonial magician called it evil whenever the Pentagram appeared upside down so to speak, two points up, one point down. He goes on to say: "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. The flaming star, which when turned upside down, is the hieroglyphic sign of the goat of black magic, whose head may be drawn in the star, the two horns at the top, the ears to the right and left, the beard at the bottom. It is the sign of antagonism and fatality. Let us keep the figure of the five-pointed star always upright, with the top most triangle pointing to heaven, for it is the seat of wisdom, and if the figure is reversed, perversion and evil will be the result."
Perhaps one of the most evocative descriptions of the occult powers of this symbol comes from Brother Levi, who writes of the Pentagram in his book Transcendental Magic. The description reads: "the Pentagram expresses the mind’s domination over the elements and it is by this sign that we bind the demons of the air, the spirits of fire, the specters of water, and the ghosts of earth. It is the Star of the Magi, the burning star of the Gnostic schools, the sign of intellectual omnipotence and autocracy. Its complete comprehension is the key of two worlds, it is absolute natural philosophy and natural science. Its use however, is most dangerous to operators who do not completely and perfectly understand it. All mysteries of magic, all symbols of the Gnosis, all figures of occultism, all Qabalistic keys of prophecy, are resumed in the sign of the Pentagram."
The Pentagram in a Wicca Setting
For years pop culture, media hysteria and other religions have drilled the idea into our heads that pagan symbols are bad, and the Pentagram is evil. As far as Wicca symbols go, the Pentagram isn't a representation of good vs. evil. It’s a symbol of their faith, a symbol of the five elements (one for each point), and the circle encased around it. The universe contains and connects them all. No matter which way it’s facing, there’s nothing ‘bad’ about it. Another misconception about the Pentagram in Wicca is which way it points. Again, you will find common misinformation that says the Pentagram is "evil" if pointed down and "good" if pointed up. The point down is most commonly associated with Satanism, because the largest branch of Satanism (church of Satan, est. 1966) adopted the inverted Pentagram with a goat head inside of it as their symbol. It’s traditionally used both point up and point down. Point up Pentagrams are more common; but point down Pentagrams are not considered evil at all.
The number five has always been regarded as mystical and magical, yet essentially human. We have five fingers/toes on each limb/extremity. We commonly note five senses - sight, hearing, smell, touch and taste. We perceive five stages or initiations in our lives: birth, adolescence, coitus, parenthood, and death. The number five is associated with Mars. It signifies severity, conflict, and harmony through conflict. Five were the virtues of the Medieval Knight: generosity, courtesy, chastity, chivalry, and piety as symbolized in the Pentagram device of Sir Gawain who was the nephew of King Arthur and a knight of the Round Table. Also, the Wiccan Kiss is five-fold: feet, knees, womb, breasts, and lips. The number five is prime. The simplest star, the Pentagram, requires five lines to draw and it is colinear, it is one continuous loop.
I believe that anything in this world can be used for good or bad. The Pentagram/Pentacle is not a symbol for evil, it all depends on the intention of the person/practitioner. I chose this particular esoteric symbol because of its multiple uses in everything from religion, science, to corporate logos and everything in between. I hope I’ve adequately presented the history and relevance of this important symbol.
To conclude, the allure of the heavens has combined with mathematics and historical mythology to produce one of the most common symbols of modern times. Pentagrams, aka five-pointed stars, appear today on the flags of no fewer than 60 nations, and on innumerable commercial logos. They represent authority (as in "five-star" generals) and excellence (as in "five-star" hotels). Our understanding of the processes that make real stars shine has not taken anything away from the attraction of the five-pointed star. The Pentagram star can have many meanings, especially in logo design. The first to come to your mind when thinking of stars might be creativity, dream, success, night time, famous, etc. With a strong global meaning, a symbol like this can be very powerful if used correctly.
Symbols are everywhere! With that being said, I would like to end this research by sharing a great quote by a famous psychiatrist we have all heard of.
"There is a thinking in primordial images, in symbols which are older than historical man, which are inborn in him from the earliest times, eternal living, outlasting all generations, still make up the groundwork of the human psyche. It is only possible to live the fullest life when we are in harmony with these symbols; wisdom is a return to them." Carl Gustav Jung