The pentacle is a five-pointed star sometimes surrounded by a circle, and is one of the most recognisable symbols in human history. It has been prominent in almost every ancient culture, from the Mayans to the ancient Egyptians and has even been found scratched on walls in Neolithic settlements. Ancient Hebrew Scriptures are rife with examples of this symbol, and yet in later years it seems to have developed a strong association with the occult and Satanism. What is it that has changed our perception of what this symbol stands for?
Origins of the pentacle
Although rough pentagrams have been found drawn onto cave walls in Neolithic dwellings, the original meaning behind this symbol to our earliest ancestors has been lost. There are some schools of thought that assume that they may have had something to do with charting the positions of the stars or were representative of a deity. However, in later civilisations, the pentacle was used as the symbol for Venus, the goddess of love.
The ancient Greeks had a strong part to play in the development of the pentacle and its meaning. The mathematician Pythagoras purported that the number five was the perfect number with which to represent man, because of the five ‘points’ of the body: the head, the feet and the hands. He also suggested that it was representative of the five elements that were used to make up a man: earth, air, fire, water and spirit. The symbol was taken up by the followers of Pythagoras and used to symbolise the god Hygeia, whose name was an anagram of those five elements. In essence, however, Pythagoras saw the symbol as a ‘map’ of the human body and the elements that went together to create mankind.
However, the Greeks were also practitioners of ritual magic and used symbols as a means through which to communicate with the higher forces. It was believed that certain symbols could take on strong and potent powers, which had an effect both on the spiritual and the physical worlds. Because of its strong association with man, the pentacle was used regularly. However, because of its perceived potency many magicians, such as Giordano Bruno were concerned that followers of more sinister forces might manipulate it for more malign purposes.
Jewish and Christian influences
The Jewish kabala also ‘borrowed’ the Pythagorean pentacle, interpreting it as representing the five sephiroth of the Tree of Life. The sephiroth were numbers that, being only divisible by themselves, were seen to represent five important forces in life, those of justice, mercy, wisdom, understanding and spiritual transformation. Through this branch of faith, the pentacle became important to Christians, who used it as a symbol of god being made into man. For a time it was used to represent Jesus Christ; God incarnate. Later, it was used to represent the five wounds that Christ suffered on the cross and, later still, became a symbol for both Alpha and Omega. Because the symbol could be drawn without taking pen from paper, it was seen as being the perfect symbol with which to convey the idea of a god without beginning or end. Pentacles were also used in gothic churches, their true form disguised as more pleasing five-pointed flowers.
The pentacle and the Devil
Despite its benign origins, the pentacle is most widely associated with Satanism, although it has only been used for this for a fraction of the time it has been used by other religions and belief systems. The main difference between the standard or ‘original’ pentacle is its positioning. In traditional depictions, one of the points of the star points upwards. In Satanic depictions, this is inverted, with the point facing down.
However, the modern use of the pentacle is not as a representation of Satan, but as a symbol of the self. Modern Satanism promotes the choice of the individual to pursue immortality or glory, rather than a union with a god. Yet, the lasting association with this symbol in its inverted form is with that of the Devil.
The Sabbatic Goat was originally an imagined pagan deity - a god that Christians supposed was worshipped by pagans. It was thought to represent the harmonies within life: day and night, male and female and Heaven and Hell. However, the Sabbatic Goat was confused with the figure of Baphomet, a demon from Templar Legend, and quickly an association was drawn between paganism, Satanism and the pentacle. Indeed, many pentacles feature a depiction of a goat’s head within its five points and further associations were drawn during the Middle Ages when it was a popular belief that witches danced with and rode upon goats. With its underlying symbolism of unrestrained sexuality, the symbol was adopted by Satanists and some pagan sects as representative of freedom from sexual and religious taboos.
The pentacle has also been adopted by another organisation that tends to be viewed with fear and suspicion: the Freemasons. In Freemasonry, the pentacle – sometimes referred to as ‘the blazing star’ – is taken back to its more traditional meanings, representing God incarnate. In other aspects of Freemasonry, it is used as a symbol of the star of Bethlehem.
However, it is a relatively underused symbol and it is rare to find it in Masonic temples and shrines. Unfortunately, many have jumped to the wrong conclusions where the Freemasons are concerned, assuming non-existent links between them and darker belief systems.
Interestingly, countries have been founded on this symbol, providing endless material for conspiracy theorists. Many of the American Founding Fathers were Freemasons and incorporated the pentacle into a number of their designs. The five-pointed star appears on the American flag, their Great Seal and the dollar. The White House is even built on the apex of a five-pointed star, originally as a means to bring it closer to God.
What started as a symbol to reflect man’s position in the grand scheme of things has attained a number of different meanings. However, the one with which it is most closely associated is also the one it has used it for the least amount of time.