The word pentagram comes from the Greek word pentagrammos, which roughly translates to "five-lines". This age-old symbol, also known as the pentacle, is highly regarded by modern Pagans and is (unfortunately) often feared by others. In this guide, I will attempt to dispel the fear associated with the pentagram by providing historical facts. I will also seek to give new Pagans and those exploring the Pagan path for the first time a heightened appreciation for this symbol. To those already established in one of the many western Pagan traditions, I offer this guide as a review of the pentagram's history and meaning.
This symbol, nearly as old as humanity itself, has been linked with many of history's greatest civilizations including the Greeks, Romans, Persians, Chinese, Egyptians, East Indians, and Mayans. The first recorded use of the pentagram occurs in Mesopotamian writings dating to approximately 3,000 B.C. (over 5,000 years ago). Mesopotamia consisted of portions of modern day Iraq and Syria.
When viewed from Earth, the planet Venus plots a completely perfect pentagram shape around the sun every eight years. This phenomena gives credibility to the theory that the symbol originated from the observations of ancient astronomers, and also explains the strong ties between it and early worshippers of Venus and its goddesses. Among others, those worshipped included Venus/Aphrodite, Hygeia, Turan, Ishtar, Astarte, Inanna, Frigg, Freya, Kukulcan, and Ushas.
The ancient Greek mathematician and numerologist Pythagoras, for which the Pythagorean Theorem is named, seems to have been the first to assert that each of the pentagram's points represents one of the five elements that combine to form you and I - earth, air, fire, water, and psyche (or spirit). Another school of thought in ancient times held that each of the pentagram's points represented one of the five visible planets: Mercury, Venus, Mars, Jupiter, and Saturn.
You (as well as many modern Christians) may be surprised to learn that prior to the Cross of Calvary, the pentagram was the preferred emblem of early Christians, most likely worn to represent the five wounds of Christ or the Star of Bethlehem.
Modern Meaning and Use
To most modern Pagans, the pentagram symbolizes the elements of earth, air, fire, water, and spirit, as well as the directions East, South, West, North, and Within. The continuous line that forms the star speaks to the interconnectedness of all things Divine and Earthly, and reminds us to strive toward balance with all we encounter. The circle that frequently appears around the pentagram is symbolic of unity, wholeness, the quest for Divine Knowledge, and the never-ending cycle of birth, death, and rebirth.
It is by drawing on the elements represented by the pentagram while within a sacred circle that those who practice the art of focused intention known as Witchcraft (or simply "the Craft") seek to alter their internal and external realities. Those who follow the Wiccan tradition believe that the Craft is governed by the Threefold Law, which states that any energy set forth, be it with good or harmful intentions, will be multiplied three times over and returned to the caster. This encourages most Wiccans to use the Craft only for spiritual growth and healing, and discourages its use in the harming of anyone or anything, including the interference with another's free will.
The inverted or upside-down Pentagram
Many of us have been programmed by the mass media and evangelical Christianity to fear the inverted pentagram, and to associate it with satanic worship. In truth, the inverted pentagram is not inherently "evil," and is not necessarily a sign of satanic worship.
First and most importantly, know that Satan is a Christian deity. There is no all-evil deity in the Wiccan tradition that corresponds to Satan. Most Pagans believe in neither the existence of such a being nor in the place Christians call Hell. Second, modern satanists adopted the use of the inverted pentagram in the mid-1900's. Recorded history shows that the pentagram (and even the inverted pentagram) was around long before this time. For example, Pythagoras (mentioned above) and his followers wore inverted pentagrams to identify themselves to each other. Early Christians also wore inverted pentagrams (which they likened to the Star of Bethlehem) as emblems of their faith. Neither of these groups were "evil." Third, the Pagan Horned God, associated with vitality, sexuality, logic, power, and the hunt, is sometimes depicted within an inverted pentagram. The point-down pentagram is also an emblem of the second-degree initiation in today's Gardnerian tradition of Wicca. In none of these cases are the labels "evil" or "Satanic" applicable or relevant.
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Sources used in the writing of this guide include:
Natural Magic: What it is and How it Works, by Edain McCoy
The articles "The Pentagram," "Venus," and "Mesopotamia" from Wikipedia, the Online Encyclopedia
The articles "The Pentagram" and "Satanism," from About.com