Pagan Pride

The Pentagram - It's Significance, Use & Meaning

Having been asked recently about why I use the pentagram image on my webpage and warned about its "evil" I feel once again compelled to explain more about it. Although the pentagram is a cross-system archetype it has a fundamentally common significance between such systems. The earliest examples of it being used were found on pieces of stone found in the Babylonian ruins and dated at around 7000BC. Most people today associate the pentagram with witchcraft first and foremost and even amongst the Wiccan community there is a strong belief that its use dates back to the very early witch cults of the pre-christian northern european pagan communities. Sadly there is very little evidence to support this assumption - mainly because there is relatively little evidence to support any assumption about the early practice of Wicca due to its strong oral tradition - and it seems likely that the real author of the introduction of the pentagram into the craft was our old friend Gerald Bosseau Gardner who popularised and wrote for the first time about the practice of witchcraft when the laws concerning its practice were repealed in the fifties. Gardner has been rebuked for many of the things he described and brought into the Wiccan ethos including the pentagram and he has taken a disproportionate amount of criticism for his work. The fact remains that Gardner was passionate about his beliefs and even his most ferocious critics would have to concede that he was a man of great understanding driven by a deep compulsion to explain and spread the word of his religion. That said he has been proven on several occasions to have fabricated the method of his discoveries of certain ideas though it is important to see that this has no bearing on the truth of the ideas themselves and I believe (as I am loathe to see too much bad in anyone) he did this with the best intentions of adding plausibility to his discoveries. No doubt if he had proclaimed ecstatic visions or God's talking to him as his source of knowledge he would have been ridiculed and labelled mad. So it seems highly likely that Gardner brought the pentagram to modern Witchcraft and highly appropriate it seems to be. Before we get carried away with the craft let us examine the source and use of the pentagram which is undoubtedly from where Gardner drew his conclusions on it. Towards the end of his life the great (and curious) magician Aliester Crowley - of whom I have a great deal more to write in the future - became friends with Gardner and passed on a great deal of knowledge to him. Crowley had been extremely active in western occultism and had been a member (and a devout and active one at that) of several of the late victorian occult fraternities. The bottom line is that Crowley's background was in magickal systems that were fundamentally based on Hebraic mysticism - the qabalah - and christian conceptions and worldviews. Although this seems unlikely now it is true that many of the victorian magickal orders and fraternities trace roots to christian sects of the middle ages, notably the Rosicrucians and the Freemasons. Quite where the pentagram fits into all this remains a somewhat murky trail of of assumptions and so it would be fair to say that, for the purposes and scope of this article the pentagram and its modern meaning rests in the work of the Golden Dawn, the O.T.O. and all the later subsidiaries of such like the Isis Uranis, Society Of Inner Light and Crowley's own Argentum Astrum and religion of Thelema.

The pentagram itself is a stylised star shape made up of five interconnecting triangles around a central five sided polygon. As I have written much about numerical multiplicity in my articles on the understanding of fundamental reality I will pass relatively briefly over the subject but the pentagram has come to be viewed as a symbolic - and a near perfect one at that - representation of several sets of contiguous correspondences. The first way of seeing it is as the five senses radiating outwards from the central shape of the spirit. This is perhaps the most basic interpretation of the pentagram's significance but is not reduced in meaning for that. The more regular interpretation is of the five triangles which make up its points being the four Primal Powers, the Four Worlds and the four elements all added to by spirit or ether and thus a correspondent representation of the five Fundamental Arts. Deeper discussion of each of these sets of correspondence and their inter-relationships can be found in my further writings. The pentagram therefore is a summary and coalescence of these principles upon which the magickal systems of almost all western magickal traditions are founded. It is vital to note here that the pentagram is NOT a religious symbol in any way but a graphical model of reality which several religious systems in their use of magick (again I stress that magick in itself is NOT a religion) revere as a useful tool in the practice of ritual.

In most western magickal practices the pentagram is used to symbolically invoke and subsequently banish the forces it represents, those of Air, Fire, Water, Earth and spirit by the drawing of it on a physical and transcendently corresponding metaphysical level. The Golden Dawn system of invoking and banishing relied on the deosil (clockwise) drawing of the pentagram in the air with either the wand, the sword or the forefinger and, depending on which element was being invoked or banished, beginning this drawing at the correspondent point. Thus the invocation of Air began by making the first stroke of the pentagram towards the point representing air and the banishing of the element by making the stroke away. This has introduced the other - and more common - way of seeing the the pentagram, that of a shape which can be drawn with a series of five straight and contiguous lines or strokes. In a simple mathematical equation it can be seen that the drawing of the pentagram is also an abstract drawing of a spiral shape and a turning wheel both of which have great significance in the traditions. The spiral is of life itself and is evident in the base particles of life, in the streochemical twist of the simple carbons from which life seemingly evolved and from the familiar double helix of DNA, the building blocks of life. Certainly it is at this level that christians will have the most contrary point of view since christianity finds it so difficult to come to terms with the "heretical" and "atheistic" views of evolution as put forward by Darwin and supported by the inventor of gnosticism, Thomas Huxley. (I refer the reader to the great Oxford Union debate between Huxley and Bishop Wilberforce on the Origin Of The Species).

So the western magickal tradition advocates the use of the pentagram in the invocation and banishing of the basic elemental forces and any with a working knowledge of magickal systems can see how wonderfully useful a tool that will be. Needless to say none of these systems revere the pentagram as simplistically as this for there is far deeper significance in the movements involved in making the strokes that it is possible to discuss here.

Wicca and the practice of witchcraft diverge a little in symbology at this point (as do several magickal systems) but it is, in my opinion, the best fit theory and also the easiest to explain to demonstrate how the Wiccan magickal view continues in relation to the pentagram.

There are three degrees of initiation in Wicca though it is important to understand at the outset that Wicca is fundamentally opposed to a hierarchical structure, believing all to be held equal of stature and right. Initiates into a coven are initiated into a priesthood and unlike more hierarchical religious systems (notoriously the Roman Catholic Church) after initiation the Wiccan is deemed to be of sufficient spiritual enlightenment and wisdom to become a fully fledged practitioner, taking an active role in the rituals both magickal and religious. It seems then on cursory inspection unnecessary to continue with further initiation but this is far from the truth. In simplest terms the first degree initiate can been seen as being initiated into the Goddess mysteries, the symbolic birth and beginning anew. The second degree is concerned with the God mysteries, the stirring of force after the discovery of form and the final (third) degree of initiation being the symbolic marriage of the two to form the greater whole. This threefold system is analogous with (though NOT correspondent to) the triple aspected Goddess - Virgin, Mother and Crone - though this relationship is far more complicated and confusing and is, for the time being anyway, beyond the scope of this article.

So how does this relate to the pentagram? Well the journey through the degrees of initiation are "mapped out" in terms of strokes on the pentagram symbolised by journeys between the various elements. The first degree initiation is the journey of a single stroke, the second is of two strokes and the the third, not surprisingly, is three. An astute observer will not that this means six lines on the five lined diagram. Here is the illustration of the spiral for the sixth line is indeed a repeat of the first though this time the journey follows the same path but at a "higher" level.

Back in the magickal systems (including the magickal systems used by Wicca) it is common to draw a sixth stroke in the invoking and banishing of the pentagram form to "seal" the rite. To go one stage further one can see the invoking pentagram as an opening of the spiral, starting small and increasing - clearly in Wicca a parallel with both the spiral dance and the cone of power - and also the banishing rite as being a closing down of the spiral or cone.

So how does each stroke represent the journey in Wicca? Well, a detailed description of the meaning of each stage of initiation is again beyond the scope of this article but for those familiar with the mysteries of the Goddess (first degree) those of the God, the "Quest Perilous" (second degree) and the Sacred Marriage (third degree) the explanation should seem both logical and illuminating. Those unfamiliar with Wicca will have to follow as well as they can but the path is intuitive and they will have to exercise a degree of leniency in accepting that there is more to the paths than meets the uninitiated eye.

Unlike the more common magickal systems (indeed the one I have expounded in my four article series) the first pass is from the element of Air (inspiration) to the element of Water (formation). The magician will see this as disparate and it is indeed a difficult concept to grasp without greater understanding of Wicca and its first degree. It is the movement from the starting point in the East, the dawn, the child to the maturity of the adult, the parent or, in Wiccan terms the Virgin to the Mother. It is important to see that we are not talking about static points but dynamic paths, there is polarity but we are less concerned with the points from and to and more concerned with the journey itself.

With the second degree we must journey to and return from the element of earth, the underworld, the dark realm below the conscious wherin we may find the God, the Plutonian realm where the body (earth) is passed through to become spirit (ether). This is also a journey of death, the mother to the crone and it clearly takes on a twofold path, down and back again. In the third degree we must pass through the purging fire, the dark element of creation (of the self) and so onwards to spirit and light from where we may once again pass through (very important, "pass through", not "stop at" the element of Air which is the inspiration from which we began. Air is 0, the element of the archetypal tarot trump The Fool, inspired folly, which is how we began our journey and, being 0 it is symbolic of the completed circle, the beginning and the end and the next "layer" up on the spiral. In Wiccan there is no supreme state of enlightenment, no Heaven or Hell to which we are consigned for eternity depending on our actions in this single turn of the wheel for Wicca sees the wheel as ever spinning, eternal life, continuous and before any of my christian friends raise a voice this does not mean continuous on earth as a human incarnation by any means!

All well and good but the pentagram (to return at last to the original point of the article!) has other meaning in other places. The symbol as it stands is accepted as being the four elements with the fifth (spirit) in the ascendant position, in other words as placing spirituality above worldliness. In Wicca the second degree inverts the pentagram as symbolic of the necessity to travel back down from the inspiration of first degree initiation into the world and through it to the Underworld in order that the self can rise again and return the pentagram to its rightful and upright position with spirit once again in ascendence. So the Wiccan path of initiation can also be seen as the inverting and re-righting of the pentagram as well as a journey along its paths. Unfortunately (for Wicca) the second degree during which the initiate must pass THROUGH worldliness is where the worldly elements are in ascendence over spirit and this is indeed a dark state to be in. This is perhaps why (and as I say unfortunately for Wicca) the traditional interpretation of the inverted pentagram has come to be associated with darkness, evil, slavery (tarot trump The Devil) and satanism. The satanists have inverted the Christian cross (same symbology, different meaning) and have also taken up the cause of worldliness (and hence in Wicca - slavery) as being over spirit. Inverted crosses are disturbing symbols to christians as it is a sign of mockery of their faith but the inverted pentagram to a witch is a familiar symbol of necessary hardship to the spirit enabling a return to even greater heights of freedom and enlightenment. Hence the christian in general terms feels anger towards the satanist for his mockery while the Wiccan feels compassion for his inability to reach beyond the worldliness and material greed.

It has come to seem to me that there is an analogy here to the depth of enlightenment of the three comparative religions, and it it here that I will cause most controversy with the christian reader who I have no wish to patronise in any way. I see christianity (the theology as a whole) as naive here, analogous to the first degree in Wicca, young and idealistic, glad to be on the journey but with no grasp of a further stage. The satanists (and my friend Beel will no doubt concur here) have passed through this naivety but (and here he will not concur!) have become trapped in the dark of worldliness, the realm of the tarot Devil (coincidence do you think? No, me either) wheras the Wiccan view is that there is more, the circle must be completed and the next turn of the eternal spiral begins the journey once more but elevated to a higher plane. That said I think there are too few self-proclaimed satanists who truly understand their role in the scheme of things and though I believe it flawed I have at least conceded to Beel that his point of view is based on a lot more than attention seeking adolescence. think of an inverted cone and a spiral path going around it, all three are enjoying being on the path, the christian heading down to the point of ending where he may achieve salvation and judgement followed by eternity at either god's right hand or in hell with the christian devil. There is the Wiccan, glad to be on the path but heading upwards into ever increasing turns of the spiral which grow infinitely and have no end. And somewhere in the middle is the satanist, glad also to be on the path but fearful of moving at all lest he should fall into ending or eternity both prospects are too much to bear, one of too much responsibility (Wiccan view) and one of complete removal of responsibility (Christian).

Wicca recognises the need to pass through the paths and gives this second degree the inverted pentagram symbol whereas satanism adopts the symbol but remains static, a slave to the world and its master, Satan.

In conclusion then, the pentagram is a western and relatively modern symbol which has been adopted to have different significance to different groups. Magicians treat it as model for manipulation of the world around them both spiritual and physical, satanists (in their slavery) treat it as a static view, inverted and symbolic of the only world they can accept, christians (in their naivety) see it as static and symbolic of satanism and evil (they see the same view as satanists only from the reverse side) and Wiccans see the pentagram as dynamic and moving passing through all orientations in turn endlessly and continuously.

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