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.
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 pentalpha, pentangle or star pentagon) is the shape of a five-pointed star.
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).
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.
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.
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):
- I must confess, my stepping o’er
- Thy threshold a slight hindrance doth impede;
- The wizard-foot [Drudenfuss] doth me retain.
- 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?
- Observe it well, it is not drawn with care,
- One of the angles, that which points without,
- Is, as thou seest, not quite closed.
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 tǔ), Metal (金 jīn), Water (水 shuǐ), and Wood (木 mù).
Use in modern occultism
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.
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
The five-pointed star is a symbol of the Bahá’í Faith. In the Bahá’í Faith, the star is known as the Haykal (Arabic: “temple”), and it was initiated and established by the Báb. The Báb and Bahá’u’lláh wrote various works in the form of a pentagram.
An unidentified work of the Báb.
An unidentified work of the Báb.
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.”
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
A multicolored version is used as symbol of the Druze religion.
It can be seen as a net of a pentagonal pyramid although with isosceles triangles.
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.
Pentagram of Venus
- Becker, Udo (1994). “Pentagram”. The Continuum Encyclopedia of Symbols. Translated by Garmer, Lance W. Continuum. p. 230. ISBN978-0-8264-1221-8.
- Ferguson, George Wells (1966). Signs & Symbols in Christian Art. Oxford University Press. p. 59. ISBN978-0-19-501432-7.
- πεντάγραμμον, Henry George Liddell, Robert Scott, A Greek-English Lexicon, on Perseus; a noun form of adjectival πεντάγραμμος (pentagrammos) or πεντέγραμμος (pentegrammos), a word meaning roughly “five-lined” or “five lines”
- πέντε, Henry George Liddell, Robert Scott, A Greek-English Lexicon, on Perseus; γραμμή, Henry George Liddell, Robert Scott, A Greek-English Lexicon, on Perseus
- this usage is borne out by the Oxford English Dictionary, although that work specifies that a circumscription makes the sthe form of a five-pointed star and its etymon post-classical Latin pentaculum […] A pentagram, esp. one enclosed in a circle; a talisman or magical symbol in the shape of or inscribed with a pentagram. Also, in extended use: any similar magical symbol (freq. applied to a hexagram formed by two intersecting or interlaced equilateral triangles).”
- πένταλϕα, “five Alphas”, interpreting the shape as five Α shapes overlapping at 72-degree angles.
- πεντέμυχος, Henry George Liddell, Robert Scott, A Greek-English Lexicon, on Perseus
- This is a lost book, but its contents are preserved in Damascius, De principiis, quoted in Kirk and Raven, (1983) , p. 55.
- “the divine products of Chronos‘ seed, when disposed in five recesses, were called πεντέμυχος (Pentemychos)” Kirk, Geoffrey Stephen; Raven, John Earle; Schofield, Malcolm (1983) . The Presocratic Philosophers: A Critical History with a Selection of Texts (2nd, illustrated, revised, reprint ed.). Cambridge University Press. pp. 51–52, 55. ISBN978-0-521-27455-5.
the only other place in Homer where Ortygie [sic] is mentioned is OdysseyV, 123, where Orion, having been carried off by Eos [the dawn], is slain… by Artemis… since solstices would normally be observed at sunrise in summer, and so in the north-east-by-east direction, that is what the phrase might suggest… the dwelling-place of Eos… Aia..
- Allman, G. J., Greek Geometry From Thales to Euclid (1889), p.26.
- Allman, G. J., Greek Geometry From Thales to Euclid, part I (1877), in Hermathena 3.5, pp. 183, 197, citing Iamblichus and the Scholiast on Aristophanes. The pentagram was said to have been so called from Pythagoras himself having written the letters Υ, Γ, Ι, Θ (= /ei/), Α on its vertices.
- Christian Symbols Ancient and Modern, Child, Heather and Dorothy Colles. New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1971, ISBN0-7135-1960-6.
- Morgan, Gerald (1979). “The Significance of the Pentangle Symbolism in “Sir Gawain and the Green Knight““. The Modern Language Review. 74 (4): 769–790. JSTOR3728227.
- Lévi, Éliphas (1999) [1896 (translated), 1854 (first published)]. Transcendental Magic, its Doctrine and Ritual [Dogme et rituel de la haute magie]. Trans. by A. E. Waite. York Beach: Weiser. OCLC263626874.
- Lévi, Éliphas (2002) [1939 (translated), 1859 (first published)]. The Key of the Mysteries [la Clef des grands mystères suivant Hénoch, Abraham, Hermès Trismégiste et Salomon]. Trans. by Aleister Crowley. Boston: Weiser. p. 69. OCLC49053462.
- Hartmann, Franz (1895) . Magic, White and Black (5th ed.). New York: The Path. OCLC476635673.
- The Magick of Aleister Crowley p 93 and endnote 31 to Chapter Five (p 247).
- Bahá’í Reference Library – Directives from the Guardian, Pages 51–52
- Nine-Pointed Star, The:History and Symbolism by Universal House of Justice 24 January 1999
- Haykal – Baha’i Five Pointed Star Symbol
- See the Nauvoo Temple website discussing its architecture, and particularly the page on Nauvoo Temple exterior symbolism. Retrieved 16 December 2006.
- Brown, Matthew B (2002). “Inverted Stars on LDS Temples”(PDF). FAIRLDS.org. Archived from the original(PDF) on 29 February 2008.
- “Religious Clothing in School”, Robinson, B.A., Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance, 20 August 1999, updated 29 April 2005. Retrieved 10 February 2006. “ACLU Defends Honor Student Witch Pentacle” (Press release). American Civil Liberties Union of Michigan. 10 February 1999. Archived from the original on 8 November 2003. Retrieved 10 February2006.“Witches and wardrobes: Boy says he was suspended from school for wearing magical symbol” Rouvalis, Cristina; Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, 27 September 2000. Retrieved 10 February 2006.
- “Federal judge upholds Indiana students’ right to wear Wiccan symbols”. Associated Press. 1 May 2000. Archived from the original on 30 March 2014. Retrieved 21 September 2007.
- Associated Press (23 April 2007). “Wiccan symbol OK for soldiers’ graves”. CNN.com. Archived from the original on 26 April 2007.
- “Burial and Memorials: Available Emblems of Belief for Placement on Government Headstones and Markers”. United States Department of Veterans Affairs. 3 July 2013. Retrieved 13 January 2014.
- Gravrand 1990, p. 216.
- Gravrand 1990, p. 20.
- Madiya, Clémentine Faïk-Nzuji (1996). Tracing Memory: A Glossery of Graphic Signs and Symbols in African Art and Culture. Mercury series, no. 71. Hull, Québec: Canadian Museum of Civilization. pp. 27, 155. ISBN0-660-15965-1.
- Ritual of the Order of the Eastern Star, 1976
- Baez, John (4 January 2014). “The Pentagram of Venus”. Azimuth. Archived from the original on 14 December 2015. Retrieved 7 January2016.
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