By Lionel Pepper
Part 1 - " In The Beginning "
The pentagram symbol today is ascribed many meanings and deep significance, though much of this is very recent. However, it has been used throughout history and in many contexts:
The earliest known use of the pentagram dates back to around the Uruk period around 3500BC at Ur of the Chaldees in Ancient Mesopotamia where it was found on potsherds together with other signs of the period associated with the earliest known developments of written language. In later periods of Mesopotamian art, the pentagram was used in royal inscriptions and was symbolic of imperial power extending out to "the four corners of the world".
Amongst the Hebrews, the symbol was ascribed to Truth and to the five books of the Pentateuch. It is sometimes, incorrectly, called the Seal of Solomon (see Hexagram) though its usage was in parallel with the hexagram. In Ancient Greece, it was called the Pentalpha, being geometrically composed of five A's. Unlike earlier civilisations, the Greeks did not generally attribute other symbolic meanings to the letters of their alphabet, but certain symbols became connected with Greek letter shapes or positions (e.g. Gammadion, Alpha-Omega). The geometry of the pentagram and its metaphysical associations were explored by the Pythagoreans (after Pythagoras 586-506BC) who considered it an emblem of perfection. Together with other discovered knowledge of geometric figures and proportion, it passed down into post-Hellenic art where the golden proportion may be seen in the designs of some temples. Pythagoras was known to have travelled all over the ancient world from the mysteries into which he was initiated, and it seems likely that his travels took him to Egypt, to Chaldea and to lands around the Indus.
There may be a connection here with the presence of the pentagram in Tantrik art. To the Gnostics, the pentagram was the 'Blazing Star' and, like the crescent moon was a symbol relating to the magic and mystery of the nighttimes sky. For the Druids, it was a symbol of Godhead. In Egypt, it was a symbol of the 'underground womb' and bore a symbolic relationship to the concept of the pyramid form. The Pagan Celts ascribed the pentagram to the underground goddess Morrigan. Early Christians attributed the pentagram to the Five Wounds of Christ and from then until medieval times, it was a lesser-used Christian symbol. Prior to the time of the Inquisition, there were no 'evil' associations to the pentagram. Rather its form implied Truth, religious mysticism and the work of The Creator.
The Emperor Constantine I, who, after gaining the help of the Christian church in his military and religious takeover of the Roman Empire in 312 AD, used the pentagram, together with the chi-rho symbol (a symbolic form of cross) in his seal and amulet. However, it was the cross (a symbol of suffering) rather than the pentagram (a symbol of truth) that was used as a symbol by the Church which subsequently came to power and who's 'manifest destiny' was to usurp the supreme power of the Roman Empire, using as an instrument a forged document - 'The Donation of Constantine'. The annual church feast of Epiphany, celebrating the visit of the three Magi to the infant Jesus as well as the Church's mission to bring 'truth' to the Gentiles had as it's symbol the pentagram, (although in present times the symbol has been changed to a five-pointed star in reaction to the neo-pagan use of the pentagram). In the legend of Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, the pentagram was Sir Gawain's glyph, inscribed in gold on his shield, symbolising the five knightly virtues - generosity, courtesy, chastity, chivalry and piety.
In Medieval times, the 'Endless Knot' was a symbol of Truth and was a protection against demons. It was used as an amulet of personal protection and to guard windows and doors. The pentagram with one point upwards symbolised summer; with two points upward, it was a sign for winter.
The Knights Templar, a military order of monks formed during the Crusades, gained great wealth and prominence from the donations of those who joined the order and from treasures looted from the Holy Land. The centre of the Templar order around Rennes du Chatres in France is noteworthy for the almost perfect natural pentangle of mountains spanning several miles around it. There is good evidence of the creation of other exact geomantic alignments and pentagrams as well as a hexagram in the area, centred on this natural pentagram, in the location of numerous chapels and shrines. It is clear from remaining traces of Templar architecture that architects and masons associated with the powerful order were well aware of the geometry of the pentangle and the golden proportion and incorporated that mysticism in their design. Alas, the whole Templar order fell victim to the avarice of the Church and of religious-fanatic Louis IX of France in 1303 and the black times of the Inquisition, of torture and false-witness, of purging and burning, began, spreading like a slow-motion replay of the Black Death, across Europe.
During the long period of the Inquisition, there was much promulgation of lies and accusations in the 'interests' of orthodoxy and elimination of heresy. The Church lapsed into a long period of the very diabolism it sought to oppose. The pentagram was seen to symbolise a Goat's Head or the Devil in the form of Baphomet and it was Baphomet whom the Inquisition accused the Templars of worshipping. Around this time also, poisoning as a means of murder came into prominence. Potent herbs and drugs brought back from the East during the Crusades had entered the pharmacopoeias of the healers - the wise - the witches. Prominent deaths by poisoning caused the Dominicans of the Inquisition to move their attention from the Christian heretics to the pagan witches, to those who only paid lip service to Christianity but still followed an Old Religion and to the wise-ones amongst them who knew about drugs and poisons. In the purge on witches, other horned gods such as Pan became equated with the Devil (a Christian concept) and the pentagram - the folk-symbol of security - for the first time in history - was equated with 'evil' and was called the Witch's Foot. The Old Religion and its symbols went underground, in fear of the Church's persecution, and there it stayed, gradually withering, for centuries.
Part 2 - " After the Inquisition "
In the foundation of Hermeticism, in hidden societies of craftsmen and scholarly men, away from the eyes of the Church and its paranoia, the proto-science of alchemy developed along with its occult philosophy and cryptical symbolism. Graphical and geometric symbolism became very important and the period of the Renaissance emerged.
The concept of the microcosmic world of Man as analogous to the macrocosm, the greater universe of spirit and elemental matter became a part of traditional western occult teaching, as it had long been in eastern philosophies. "As above, so below". The pentagram, the 'Star of the Microcosm', symbolised Man within the macrocosm, representing in analogy the Macrocosmic universe.
The upright pentagram bears some resemblance to the shape of man with his legs and arms outstretched. In Tycho Brahe's Calendarium Naturale Magicum Perpetuum (1582) occurs a pentagram with human body imposed and the Hebrew for YHSVH associated with the elements. An illustration attributed to Brae's contemporary Agrippa (Henry Cornelius Agrippa von Nettesheim) is of similar proportion and shows the five planets and the moon at the centre point - the genitalia. Other illustrations of the period by Robert Fludd and Leonardo da Vinci show geometric relationships of man to the universe. Later, the pentagram came to be symbolic of the relationship of the head to the four limbs and hence of the pure concentrated essence of anything (or the spirit) to the four traditional elements of matter - earth, water, air and fire - spirit is The Quintessence.
In Freemasonry, Man as Microprosopus was and is associated with the five-pointed Pentalpha. The symbol was used, interlaced and upright for the sitting Master of the Lodge. The geometric properties and structure of the Endless Knot were appreciated and symbolically incorporated into the 72-degree angle of the compasses - the Masonic emblem of virtue and duty. The origins of freemasonry are lost in the depths of history, obscured by the traditional 'craft'-secrecy of the order, but there are signs throughout history of the associations of craftsmanship and ritual and symbolism that have remained known only to a few, and the history of the pentagram has remained occluded in the same kind of mystery. The women’s' branch of freemasonry uses the five pointed 'Eastern Star' as its emblem. Each point commemorates a heroine of biblical lore.
No known graphical illustration associating the pentagram with evil appears until the nineteenth century. Eliphaz Levi (actually the pen name of Alphonse Louis Constant, a defrocked French Catholic abbé) illustrates the upright pentagram of microcosmic man beside an inverted pentagram with the goat's head of Baphomet. It is this illustration and juxtaposition that has led to the concept of different orientations of the pentagram being 'good' and 'evil'.
Against the rationalism of the 18th century came a reaction in the 19th century with the growth of a new mysticism owing much to the Holy Kabbalah, the ancient oral tradition of Judaism relating the cosmogony of God and the universe and the moral and occult truths of their relationship to Man. It is not so much a religion as a system of understanding based upon symbolism and the numerical and alphabetical interrelationships of words and concepts - the Gematria.
Eliphas Levi was a profound expositor of the Kabbalah and was instrumental in opening the way for the rise of the Victorian lodges of western mystery tradition - the Order Temporale Orientalis (O.T.O.), the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn (G.D.), the Theosophical Society, the Rosicrucian’s (Fellowship of the Rosy Cross), and several others, even the modern lodges and traditions of speculative freemasonry. Levi was also instrumental in taking the tarot from being a gipsy fortune-telling device to a powerful set of symbolic images relating closely to the Kabbalah (or as it is now called in the west, to distinguish it's development from the original Judaic form - Qabalah). It was Levi who designed upon the form of the pentagram such associative inscriptions as in the Pentacle of the Tetragrammaton and he who renamed the suit of 'coins' as 'pentacles'.
The workings of ritual magick in the orders took the symbolism of the pentagram and it's elemental attributes, along with those of the hexagram and incorporated them as ritual flourishing or signing of the athame (ritual knife) to symbolise invoking or banishing in respect to elemental associations. The Golden Dawn did much to advance and disseminate the roots of modern hermetic Qabalah around the world in its time of strength (from 1888 to around the start of the First World War), and through the writings and work of a number of its adepts and adherents, notably Aleister Crowley, have come some of the most important ideas of today's Qabalist philosophy and magick. Aleister Crowley also had association with the remaining traces of the old pre-Reformation 'hereditary' witches, notably through Old George Pickingill and with Gerald Gardner, generally considered the founder of modern witchcraft.
In the 1940's Gerald Gardner adopted the pentagram with two points upward as the sigil of second-degree initiation in the newly emergent, neo-pagan rituals of witchcraft, later to become known as Wicca. The one-point upward pentagram together with the upright triangle symbolised third degree initiation. (A point downward triangle is the symbol of First Degree Initiates). The pentagram was also inscribed on the altar pentacle, it's points symbolising the three aspects of the Goddess plus the two aspects of the God in a special form of Gardnerian Pentacle. The writings of Gerald Gardner, an initiate of old Dorothy Clutterbuck, and of his associate Doreen Valiente, brought the long-withered stem of witchcraft - the Old Religion - out into bloom once more, after centuries of occlusion, with the caution that the general misrepresentation of it's former nature had made wise, and the new religion of Wicca was born.
It was not until the late 1960's that the pentagram again became an amuletic symbol to be worn. Co-incidentally with the rise of popular interest in witchcraft and Wicca and the publication of many books (including several novels) on the subject, there was a reaction to the Church. In it's extreme, one aspect of that reaction was in the establishment of the satanic cult - The Church of Satan - by Anton LaVay. For it's emblem, this cult adopted the inverted pentagram after the Baphomet image of Eliphas Levi. The reaction of the Christian church was to condemn as 'evil' all that took the pentalpha as a symbol and even to condemn the symbol itself, much as had been the post-war attitude to the swastika.
The distinction between the point-upwards and point-downwards pentagram forms became accentuated in the minds of pagans and led to the concepts of 'white'-witchcraft and 'black'. Those who took on board the strong personal ethical code of Wicca - the Wiccan Rede of "An it harm none, do what you will" did not wish to be tarred with the same brush as the Satanists who's philosophy is one of the domination of the spirit by the physical body - the priority of matter and physical existence. Hence, despite the use and the different meaning of the inverted pentagram as a symbol of Gardnerian initiation, other wiccans, notably in the USA where the fundamentalist Christians are particularly aggressive to those who do not share their beliefs, are against any usage of the symbol. It is sad to say that even the use of the 'upright' pentagram gives rise to social discrimination against pagans in some communities. Otherwise, the pentagram or pentacle has become firmly established as a common neo-pagan and Wiccan symbol, acquiring many aspects of mystique and associations that are today often considered to be ancient folklore!
The antiquity of the pentagram is certain; its meanings and associations have evolved and richened throughout its history. It's use within modern neo-paganism as a group symbol is as important as the cross has been in the history of Christianity and it is in the ubiquity and the attributed meanings of the symbol that it's potency lies rather than in it's antiquity. From the Earth-aware attitudes and respect of life of modern pagans has already come the movement towards protecting and conserving the ecology and resources of our planet. Perhaps they will see the dawn of a real new age of hope or perhaps just the end of an age of humanity.