Pentagram

A pentagram is the shape of a five-pointed star. Pentagrams were used symbolically in ancient Greece and Babylonia, and are used today as a symbol of faith by many Wiccans, akin to the use of the cross by Christians and the Star of David by the Jews. The pentagram has magical associations. Many people who practice Neopagan faiths wear jewelry incorporating the symbol. Christians once commonly used the pentagram to represent the five wounds of Jesus. The pentagram has associations with Freemasonry and is also used as a symbol by other belief systems. A pentagram (sometimes known as a pentalphapentangle or star pentagon) is the shape of a five-pointed star.

The word pentagram comes from the Greek word πεντάγραμμον (pentagrammon), from πέντε (pente), “five” + γραμμή (grammē), “line”. The word “pentacle” is sometimes used synonymously with “pentagram”. The word pentalpha is a learned modern (17th-century) revival of a post-classical Greek name of the shape.

Pentagram

Pentagrams

History

Early history

In early (Ur I) monumental Sumerian script, or cuneiform, a pentagram glyph served as a logogram for the word ub, meaning “corner, angle, nook; a small room, cavity, hole; pitfall” (this later gave rise to the cuneiform sign UB 𒌒, composed of five wedges, further reduced to four in Assyrian cuneiform).

A Pythagorean "Hugieia Pentagram"

A Pythagorean “Hugieia Pentagram”

The word Pentemychos (πεντέμυχος lit. “five corners” or “five recesses”) was the title of the cosmogony of Pherecydes of Syros. Here, the “five corners” are where the seeds of Chronos are placed within the Earth in order for the cosmos to appear.

In Neoplatonism, the pentagram was said to have been used as a symbol or sign of recognition by the Pythagoreans, who called the pentagram ὑγιεία hugieia “health”

Western symbolism

The pentagram was used in ancient times as a Christian symbol for the five senses, or of the five wounds of Christ. The pentagram plays an important symbolic role in the 14th-century English poem Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, in which the symbol decorates the shield of the hero, Gawain. The unnamed poet credits the symbol’s origin to King Solomon, and explains that each of the five interconnected points represents a virtue tied to a group of five: Gawain is perfect in his five senses and five fingers, faithful to the Five Wounds of Christ, takes courage from the five joys that Mary had of Jesus, and exemplifies the five virtues of knighthood.

The occultist and magician Éliphas Lévi's pentagram, which he considered to be a symbol of the microcosm, or human.

The occultist and magician Éliphas Lévi’s pentagram, which he considered to be a symbol of the microcosm, or human.

Heinrich Cornelius Agrippa and others perpetuated the popularity of the pentagram as a magic symbol, attributing the five neoplatonic 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 spirit presiding over the four elements of matter, and was essentially “good”. However, the influential writer Eliphas Levi called it evil whenever the symbol appeared the other way up.

  • “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 hierolgyphic [sic] 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. It is the goat of lust attacking the heavens with its horns.”
  • “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.”

The apotropaic use of the pentagram symbol in German folklore (called Drudenfuss in German) is referred to by Goethe in Faust (1808), where a pentagram prevents Mephistopheles from leaving a room (but did not prevent him from entering by the same way, as the outward pointing corner of the diagram happened to be imperfectly drawn):

Mephistopheles:

I must confess, my stepping o’er
Thy threshold a slight hindrance doth impede;
The wizard-foot [Drudenfuss] doth me retain.

Faust:

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

Mephistopheles:

Observe it well, it is not drawn with care,
One of the angles, that which points without,
Is, as thou seest, not quite closed.

Wu Xing's five phases

Wu Xing’s five phases

East Asian symbolism

Wu Xing (Chinese: 五行; pinyin: Wǔ Xíng) are the five phases, or five elements in Chinese tradition (medicine, acupuncture, feng shui, and Taoism) They are similar to the ancient Greek elements, with more emphasis on their cyclic transformation than on their material aspects. The five phases are: Fire (火 huǒ), Earth (土 ), Metal (金 jīn), Water (水 shuǐ), and Wood (木 ).

Use in modern occultism

Based on Renaissance-era occultism, the pentagram found its way into the symbolism of modern occultists.

Following Anton LaVey, and ultimately based on a drawing by French nobleman and occultist Stanislas de Guaita (La Clef de la Magie Noire, 1897), the Sigil of Baphomet, a pentagram with two points up inscribed in a double circle with the head of a goat inside the pentagram is the copyrighted logo of the Church of Satan.

Church of Satan

Church of Satan

Aleister Crowley made use of the pentagram in his Thelemic system of magick: an adverse or inverted pentagram represents the descent of spirit into matter, according to the interpretation of Lon Milo DuQuette. Crowley contradicted his old comrades in the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn, who, following Levi, considered this orientation of the symbol evil and associated it with the triumph of matter over spirit.

Use in new religious movements

Latter Day Saints

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints began using both upright and inverted five-pointed stars in Temple architecture, dating from the Nauvoo Illinois Temple dedicated on 30 April 1846. Other temples decorated with five-pointed stars in both orientations include the Salt Lake Temple and the Logan Utah Temple. These usages come from the symbolism found in Revelation chapter 12:

“And there appeared a great wonder in heaven; a woman clothed with the sun, and the moon under her feet, and upon her head a crown of twelve stars.”

Wicca

Typical Neopagan pentagram (circumscribed)

Typical Neopagan pentagram (circumscribed)

Because of a perceived association with Satanism and occultism, many United States schools in the late 1990s sought to prevent students from displaying the pentagram on clothing or jewelry. In public schools, such actions by administrators were determined in 2000 to be in violation of students’ First Amendment right to free exercise of religion.

The encircled pentagram (referred to as a pentacle by the plaintiffs) was added to the list of 38 approved religious symbols to be placed on the tombstones of fallen service members at Arlington National Cemetery on 24 April 2007. The decision was made following ten applications from families of fallen soldiers who practiced Wicca. The government paid the families US$225,000 to settle their pending lawsuits.

Other religious use

Serer religion

The five-pointed star is a symbol of the Serer religion and the Serer people of West Africa. Called Yoonir in their language, it symbolizes the universe in the Serer creation myth, and also represents the star Sirius.

Druze

A multicolored version is used as symbol of the Druze religion.

Geometry

The pentagram is the simplest regular star polygon. The pentagram contains ten points (the five points of the star, and the five vertices of the inner pentagon) and fifteen line segments. It is represented by the Schläfli symbol {5/2}. Like a regular pentagon, and a regular pentagon with a pentagram constructed inside it, the regular pentagram has as its symmetry group the dihedral group of order 10.

It can be seen as a net of a pentagonal pyramid although with isosceles triangles.

Construction

The pentagram can be constructed by connecting alternate vertices of a pentagon; see details of the construction. It can also be constructed as a stellation of a pentagon, by extending the edges of a pentagon until the lines intersect.

The pentagram of Venus

The pentagram of Venus

Pentagram of Venus

The pentagram of Venus is the apparent path of the planet Venus as observed from Earth. Successive inferior conjunctions of Venus repeat with an orbital resonance of approximately 13:8—that is, Venus orbits the Sun approximately 13 times for every eight orbits of Earth—shifting 144° at each inferior conjunction. The tips of the five loops at the center of the figure have the same geometric relationship to one another as the five vertices, or points, of a pentagram. Groups of five intersections of curves, equidistant from the figure’s center, have the same geometric relationship.

Adapted from Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

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