What is a Pentagram and why is it important to Witches? 

​I mixed up the original order of this series moving the tool post of What is a Pentacle to follow on from this post about the symbol; the pentagram.

Usually, when people blog, the two subjects are covered together and in some cases interchangeably and I was keen to pick the two things apart as much as possible because it can be a little confusing. So first,  a general rule of thumb

Pentagram

Penta– a combining form occurring in loanwords from Greek, meaning “five” ( Pentateuch ); on this model, used in the formation of compound words ( pentavalent ). Also, especially before a vowel, pent-.

Gram– a combining form occurring in loanwords from Greek, where it meant “something written,” “drawing” (epigram; diagram ); on this model, used in the formation of compound words ( oscillogram ).

Pentagram– [pen-tuh-gram] noun a five-pointed, star-shaped figure made by extending the sides of a regular pentagon until they meet, usedas an occult symbol by the Pythagoreans and later philosophers, by magicians, etc. Also called pentacle, pentangle, pentalpha.

Pentacle

Penta– a combining form occurring in loanwords from Greek, meaning “five” ( Pentateuch ); on this model, used in the formation of compound words ( pentavalent ). Also, especially before a vowel, pent-.

Cle– a suffix found in French loanwords of Latin origin, originally diminutive nouns, and later in adaptations of words borrowed directly from Latin or in Neo-Latin coinages: article; conventicle; corpuscle; particle. Origin: < French, Old French < Latin -culus, -cula, -culum, variant of -ulus -ule with nouns of the 3rd, 4th and 5thdeclensions, usually with the same gender as the base noun — suffix forming nouns indicating smallness: cubicle ; particle

Pentacle– [pen-tuh-kuh l] noun 1. pentagram. 2. a similar figure, as a hexagram. Origin: 1585–95; < Italian pentacolo five-cornered object. See penta-, -c

Otherwise put;

Pentagram – five pointed star *no circle*

Pentacle – five pointed star *in a circle*

Simples.

History of the Pentagram 

The pentagram is an ancient symbol but it was not always a religious symbol by any means. The ancient Sumerians used it to represent concepts such as corner or angle whilst other cultures have used it to represent cosmology as they understood it. The most recognisable cosmological interpretation is the Greek Pythagorean interpretation.

Pythagorean Pentagram

The pentagram is used in part because its shape lends itself to represent the body of man, arms and legs extended with the head representing the fifth point but also because it can map the five components of all creation as understood by the Greeks; that being Earth (matter), Air (breath), Fire (energy), Water (fluids) and Aether (the psyche or soul; referred to as Spirit in modern equivalents). This concept was so important to the Pythagoreans that it became their secret sign when they were eventually forced underground.

Video – Donald Duck and Pythagoras

The pentagram isn’t just limited to polytheistic or non-Abrahamic cultures ad it makes its appearance in Judaism and Early Christianity. In Judaism the five pointed start representations the upper section of the Tree of Life as well as the five books of the Torah (also referred to as the Pentateuch) and the seal bearing the secret name of God. Early Christians, even into the early medieval times, saw the pentagram as representing the five wounds of Christ and was often used as a protective symbol until it was eventually taken up in Arthurian legend as a symbol representing the five knightly virtues of friendship, generosity, chastity, courtesy and peity.

As we move into the 14th and 15th century there is a rise in the interest of Judeo-Christian mysticism and occultism amongst the upper echelons of society, particularly those with knowledge of Latin and Greek. This led the Ceremonial Magician to ‘pagan’ writings as well as those associated with the heretical Gnostics. So it is no surprise that they were viewed as heritics.  Given that heresy is the bedfellow of Satanic Worship and Witchcraft at this time everything associated with Ceremonial Magic was tarred with the same brush. It wasn’t until the Victorians began their revival of mysticism and occultism that people looked back to when the pentagram was a popular Christian symbol and began to recognise it as am ancient symbol with many positive and non religious contexts.

The fortunes of the pentagram changed further with Pagan Revival and creation of modern paganism and Witchcraft practices. Even as the ancient connotations of the pentagram revitalised and weaved into the modern reconstruction of the so – called “Old Ways” the negative connotations remained, sonetimes with a (literal) twist.

Hollywood has well and truly adopted the Pentagram as a symbol for Witchcraft and magic and like the Ouija board (link) they represent it in the worst way possible to improve shock value and ratings. Pentagrams daubed in blood or carved into trees speak to the common fear of evil incarnate, of Satanic rituals and death but it has little to do with most modern Witchcraft taditions. The exception to this statement would be Satanism and some God-centric practices.

Inverted Pentagram

The inverted pentagram (point down) is often used to represent the Goat Headed God, sometimes called the Witchfather, (link) because in it’s inverted form the image of a horned goat can be mapped over the points. More often it is a symbol associated with Satanism but the movement has far less connection with “evil practices” and  anti-Christian opinion and more to do with a focus on the self as a manifestation of deity and acceptance of the shadow aspects of human nature. This group rejects God and, more importantly, the Biblical Satan as myths and is focused on the self and ego in spiritual practice. These are points missed by many, including many modern Pagans and there are as many hangups about the inverted pentagram as there are about the upwards pointing pentagram when one simple, even rational, interpretation could be the representation of the descent of spirit into matter or primacy of the material/ego over the spirit.

Just as the pentagram has a long history, covering many cultures and religions both monotheistic and polytheistic  it is an evolving symbol without a single meaning. It doesn’t belong to a single group and can be altered in particlar ways to influence it’s meaning without showing disrespect to one group or another (although this is dependent on context). It represents spiritual and religious concepts as well as mathematical and materials ones, whilst at the same time being simple in design and versatile in its meaning.

Focusing on the umbrella of Paganism, there are numerous concepts depicted in the Pentagram which Pagans identify with depending on their Path or Tradition.

Levi’s Pentagram

SymbolismThe most recognisable use of the pentagram in pagan circles is when it is used to represent the four classical elements and the quintessence, or fifth element. As mentioned above this is a Pythagorean concept of five elements which make up man and all creation is a classical concept which remains central to many modern Pagan streams. Also mapped onto this concept are the Five Pagan Virtues which relies on the ancient belief that when all four of the material elements are in balance the fifth can be achieved. The symbol is also used to represent the five senses with the sixth sense represent in the centre of the star.

Other concepts that are projected onto the image of the pentagram include those associated with deities. One particularly popular version, using the pentagram alone, is the representation of the three fold Goddess and Her Consorts the Holly King and Oak King. In this the upper most points represent the Goddess as Maid Mother and Crone  (usually from left to right) with the bottom two representing the Oak and Holly Kings respectively. The pentagram is also used to represent the God in His 5 traditional Manifestations of Man, Goat, Stag, Bull and Ram.

Invoking and Banishing Pentagrams

The Pentagram isn’t just a symbol but it is a function with some traditions of Witchcraft, uses in working with elemental energies as well as spiritual energies in general. Banishing and Invoking Pentagrams are often used in the processed or summoning and banishing the four Quarters during the establishment of the ritual circles. In this instance the pentagram appropriate to the element being called or banished is drawn and visualised in the air on the compass.

Invoking and Banishing Pentagrams

Banishing Pentagrams, particularly the Banishing Pentagram of Earth, are used to remove unwanted or negative from a given environment. The process is similar to when a Christian crosses themselves in order to protect themselves from bad luck or negative influences or to draw blessings towards them. This action is by no means universal to all Pagans and without visualisation the gesture is without great effect.

The most recognisable use of the pentagram in witchcraft is in the Golden Dawns Rituals of the Lesser Pentagram. These two rituals for banishing and invoking the elemental powers allow the practitioner to work in balance with these energies.

The Lesser Banishing Ritual of the Pentagram allows the practitioner to centre and prepare themselves for a coming ritual by banishing from themselves and immediate, personal environment anything negative. In comparison the Lesser Invoking Ritual of the Pentagram draws the power of the element to the practitioner, energising them for magical workings.

Of the two the Invoking Pentagram is far less used by the genera community. It is, in comparison to the banishing ritual, quite complicated in its execution. Whilst the effect of the ritual is something eminently useful to a magical practitioner who is not submerged in the Golden Dawn it may appear a trifle excessive considering other energising techniques avalible. Still, that’s not reason not to try something if your drawn to it, I suspect it would be a bit of an eye opener.

So Why is the Pentagram Important to Witches? 

The Pentagram is a symbol with a variety of meanings making it a versatile symbol for Paganism. It can be used to represent concepts such as the cycle of Life and Death and important virtues or even Gods and Goddesses. This means that it is versatile teaching tool on which to map important practices as well as being a discreet expression of belief.

Image Credits

Pythagorean Pentagram 

Levi’s Pentagram 

Invoking and Banishing Pentagrams 

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About knotmagick

Weaving Magick and Crochet in the madhouse I call home. I am a devotee of Hekate and a follower of Pan.
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