The Pentagram

The pentagram (sometimes known as a pentalpha or pentangle or, more formally, as a star pentagon) is the shape of a five-pointed star drawn with five straight strokes. The word pentagram comes from the Greek word (pentagrammon), a noun form of (pentagrammos) or (pentegrammos), a word meaning roughly "five-lined" or "five lines".

Pentagrams were used symbolically in ancient Greece and Babylonia. The pentagram has magical associations, and many people who practice Neopagan faiths wear jewelry incorporating the symbol. Christians at one point in history used the pentagram to represent the five wounds of Jesus, and it also has associations within Freemasonry.

The pentagram has long been associated with the planet Venus, and the worship of the goddess Venus, or her equivalent. It is also associated with the Roman word Lucifer, which was a term used for Venus as the Morning Star, associated with the bringer of light and knowledge. It is most likely to have originated from the observations of prehistoric astronomers. When viewed from Earth, successive inferior conjunctions of Venus plot a nearly perfect pentagram shape around the zodiac every eight years.

The word "pentacle" is sometimes used synonymously with "pentagram", although their technical usages are different, and their etymologies may be unrelated.

The first known uses of the pentagram are found in Mesopotamian writings dating to about 3000 BC. The Sumerian pentagrams served as pictograms for the word "UB," meaning "corner, angle, nook; a small room, cavity, hole; pitfall," suggesting something very similar to the pentemychos. In Rene Labat's index system of Sumerian hieroglyphs/pictograms it is shown with two points up. In the Babylonian context, the edges of the pentagram were probably orientations: forward, backward, left, right, and "above". These directions also had an astrological meaning, representing the five planets Jupiter, Mercury, Mars and Saturn, and Venus as the "Queen of Heaven"(Ishtar)

The Pythagoreans called the pentagram Hygieia ("health"; also the Greek goddess of health, Hygieia), and saw in the pentagram a mathematical perfection.

The five vertices were also used by the medieval neo-pythagoreans (whom sone could argue were not pythagoreans at all) to represent the five classical elements: EARTH, AIR, FIRE, WATER.

The ancient Pythagorean pentagram was drawn with two points up and represented the doctrine of Pentemychos. Pentemychos means "five recesses" or "five chambers", also known as the pentagonas � the five-angle, and was the title of a work written by Pythagoras's teacher and friend Pherecydes of Syros. It was also the "place" where the first pre-cosmic offspring had to be put in order for the ordered cosmos to appear. The pentemychos is in Tartaros, also known as "The Gates of Hell".

In very early Greek thought, Tartaros (or Chaos, according to Hesiod) was the primordial Darkness from which the cosmos is born. While it was locked away after the emergence and ordering of the cosmos, it still continued to have an influence. In fact, it was known as "the subduer of both gods and men" (Homer), and it was from this that the world got its "psyche" (soul) and its "daimon". The Boundless Darkness held influence through Mychos or Krater. Apart from being the gateway from "there" to "here" it was also a way in the opposite direction, from "here" to "there", as is evident in the many tales about how Greek heroes, philosophers and mystics descended through Krater to Tartaros/Hades (the distinction between the two was very optional back then) in quest for Wisdom. The Underworld as the source of wisdom was the rule.

Tartaros was also later seen as the "chthonic realm" where all the enemies of the cosmic order were locked away, also called the "prison-house" of Zeus. It was said to lay outside of the aither over which Zeus had lordship; what we today would call space, back then called "Zeus' defense-wall," yet it was also beneath the earth. Plato (in Cratylus) said that the aither had a penetrating power that permeates the whole world, and he found it both inside and outside of our bodies. The pentemychos is outside, or in-side, of the aither.

In the play Medea by Euripides, the sorceress Medea calls upon Hecate with the words, "By that dread queen whom I revere before all others and have chosen to share my task, by Hecate who dwells within my inmost chamber, not one of them shall wound my heart and rue it not." Note that she speaks of the Heart. The inmost chamber is the Mychos. Normally, Hecate and Persephone are portrayed solely as the rulers of the Underworld. In Medea, however, Hecate is called the Lady of Tartaros, Phulada (Guardian), Propulaia (Before the Gates), Kleidophoros (Key-bearer) and Kleidoukhos (Key-holder, Priestess). This Underworld of the Greeks and Pythagoreans is also the "inmost chamber" and the Core of Inner Being.

Heinrich Cornelius Agrippa and others perpetuated the popularity of the pentagram as a magic symbol, keeping the Pythagorean attributions of elements to the five points. By the mid-19th century a further distinction had developed amongst occultists regarding the pentagram's orientation. With a single point upwards it depicted spirit presiding over the four elements of matter, and was essentially "good". However the other way up was considered evil by those who have not properly done all their homework regarding inverted pentagrams.

"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."

These are common beliefs held by white light mystics who cling to Christian symbolism. The inverted pentagram is just another way of interpreting the order of things around us. GOOD and EVIL are subjective concepts not objective ones.

The pentagram is used as a Christian symbol for the five senses, and if the letters S, A, L, V, and S are inscribed in the points, it can be taken as a symbol of health (from Latin salus).

Medieval Christians believed it to symbolize the five wounds of Christ. The pentagram was believed to protect against witches and demons.

The pentagram figured in a heavily symbolic Arthurian romance it appears on the shield of Sir Gawain in the 14th century poem Sir Gawain and the Green Knight. As the poet explains, 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.

Probably due to misinterpretation of symbols used by ceremonial magicians, it later became associated with Satanism and subsequently rejected by most of Christianity sometime in the twentieth century.

Satanists use a pentagram with two points up, often inscribed in a double circle, with the head of a goat inside the pentagram. This is referred to as the Sigil of Baphomet. They use it much the same way as the Pythagoreans, as Tartaros literally translates from Greek as a "Pit" or "Void" in Christian terminology (the word is used as such in the Bible, referring to the place where the fallen angels are fettered). The Pythagorean Greek letters are most often replaced by the Hebrew letters forming the word Leviathan. Less esoteric LaVeyan Satanists use it as a sign of rebellion or religious identification, the three downward points symbolizing rejection of the holy Trinity.

Many Neopagans, especially Witches, 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, and is rarely used by Reconstructionists. Its religious symbolism is commonly explained by reference to the neo-Pythagorean understanding that the five vertices's of the pentagram represent the four elements with the addition of Spirit as the uppermost point. As a representation of the elements, the pentagram is used by Witches who practice the art of summoning the elemental spirits of the four directions at the beginning of a ritual.

The outer circle of the circumscribed pentagram is sometimes interpreted as binding the elements together or bringing them into harmony with each other. The Neopagan pentagram is generally displayed with one point up. Within Traditional forms of Witchcraft the pentagram with two points up is associated with the Second Degree Initiation.

Because of a perceived association with Satanism and also because of negative societal attitudes towards Neopagan religions and the "occult", many United States schools have sought to prevent students from displaying the pentagram on clothing or jewelry. In public schools, such actions by administrators have been determined to be in violation of students' First Amendment right to free exercise of religion.

Aleister Crowley also made use of the pentagram and in his Thelemic system of magick: an adverse or inverted pentagram represents the descent of spirit into matter, not the triumph over matter which was considered evil as taught by the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn.

While a solid five-pointed star is found on many flags, the pentagram is relatively rare. It appears on two national flags, those of Ethiopia and Morocco and in some coats of arms.

According to Ivan Sache, on the Moroccan flags, the pentagram represents the link between God and the nation. It is also possible that both flags use the pentagram as a symbol of King Solomon, the archetypal wise king of Jewish, Christian and Muslim lore.

The Order of the Eastern Star, a fraternal organization associated with Freemasonry, has employed a point-down pentagram as its symbol, with the five isosceles triangles of the points colored red, blue, yellow, white and green. This is an older form of the order's emblem and it is now more commonly depicted with the central pentagon rotated 36� so that it is no longer strictly a pentagram.

In Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, the pentagram on Gawain's shield is given a Christian interpretation.

In Goethe's Faust, the pentagram prevents Mephistopheles from leaving a room.

Mephistopheles: I must confess, my stepping o'er Thy threshold a slight hindrance doth impede; The wizard-foot doth me retain.

Faust: The pentagram thy peace doth mar? To me, thou son of hell, explain, How earnest thou in, if this thine exit bar? Could such a spirit aught ensnare?

In H. P. Lovecraft's Cthulhu Mythos stories, the version of The Elder Sign devised by August Derleth is a warped pentagram with a flaming eye or pillar of flame in the center. It was first described in Derleth's novel, The Lurker at the Threshold. (This was, however, different from the symbol that Lovecraft himself had envisaged.)

In Dan Brown's novel The Da Vinci Code, the pentagram represents Venus, based on the successive inferior conjunctions of Venus against the Zodiac.

In Japanese culture, the pentagram (gobosei) is a symbol of magical power, associated with the onmyoji Abe no Seimei; it is a diagram of the "overcoming cycle" of the five Chinese elements. As a predominantly non-Christian country, with a different set of associations attached to the symbol, there is no social stigma associated with it.


* Gr�nbaum, B. and G. C. Shephard; Tilings and Patterns, New York: W. H. Freeman & Co., (1987), ISBN 0-7167-1193-1.

* Gr�nbaum, B.; Polyhedra with Hollow Faces, Proc of NATO-ASI Conference on Polytopes ... etc. (Toronto 1993), ed T. Bisztriczky et al, Kluwer Academic (1994) pp. 43-70.

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