THE HISTORY OF PENTACLES
AND PENTAGRAMS

 

Notation:

The terms pentagram and pentacle are sometimes used interchangeably. However, we believe that the most common precise meanings are:

  The word pentagram comes from the Greek: "Pente means 5 (as in Pentagon). Gamma means a letter. Thus, pentagram refers to a five pointed star, or "any figure of five lines." It is most often used to refer to a symmetrical, five pointed star, with equal sides, drawn either with a single line or with two closely spaced parallel lines. Their overall shape is like the decoration on the top of many Christmas trees, and the stars on the American flag.
  An upright pentagram is a 5 pointed star with one point aligned upwards.
  An inverted pentagram is a 5 pointed star with one point aligned downwards.
  An upright pentacle is generally defined as an upright pentagram surrounded by a circle, as is shown in the following icon. It often takes the form of a pentagram printed on (or cut into) a flat disk.

Upright Pentacle/Pentagram

Upright pentacles and pentagrams are among the most widely used religious symbols. They have been used in many eras and by many cultures and religions of the world: by ancient Pagans, ancient Israelites, Christians, magicians, Wiccans and others. The following pentagram-using groups are listed in chronological order:

This symbol apparently originated as the symbol of a Goddess who was worshiped over an area which extends from present-day England to Egypt and beyond. Her name was Kore (a.k.a. Car, Cara, Carnac, Ceres, Core, Kar, Karnak, Kaur, Kauri, Ker, Kerma, Kher, Kore, Q're, etc.). As Carmenta she was said to have invented the Roman alphabet. From her alternate Roman name Ceres have evolved many English words: cardiac, carnal, cereal, core, corn, and kernel. The port of Caraalis, (now Cagliari, the capital of Sardinia), was named after her. 

Kore's sacred fruit is the apple. When an apple is cut through its equator, both halves will reveal a near-perfect pentagram shape at the core, with each point on the star containing a seed. Many Wiccans, other Neopagans and Roma (Gypsies) continue to cut apples in this way. The Roma refer to the core as the Star of Knowledge.

In ancient Greece, Pythagoras (586 - 506 BCE) established a school which pursued knowledge in mathematics, music, religion, and other specialties. Driven underground, his followers used the pentagram as a secret sign to identify themselves to each other. The Masonic Order has traditionally traced its origins back 2,500 years to the Pythagoreans.

Kore was worshiped within the Coptic Gnostic Christian religion in Alexandria, Egypt, during the 4th century CE. Her festival, the Koreion, was held yearly on JAN-6. This was adopted by the Christian church as Feast of Epiphany (a.k.a. Twelfth Night). This date is still celebrated as Jesus' birthday in Armenian churches, and is observed with more pomp than is Christmas by the Greek Orthodox church.  

In England, the Koreion became the Kirn - the Feast of Ingathering. The Christian church later adopted it to the Feast of Our Lady of Mercy.

During the times of the Hebrew Scriptures (Old Testament), the pentacle was the first and most important of the Seven Seals - an amulet whose seals represented the seven secret names of God. It was inscribed on King Solomon's ring, which is often called Solomon's Seal in error. Each point of the pentagram was also interpreted as referring to the five books of the Pentateuch - the first five books in the Hebrew Scriptures; the Torah. 

The Celts believed that the pentacle was the sign of the Goddess of the Underground, who they called Morgan (a.k.a. Morrigan). The concept of five points seems to have permeated at least one of the Celtic lands. "Ireland had five great roads, five provinces and five paths of the law. The fairy folk counted by fives, and the mythological figures wore five fold cloaks."

In Christian times:

  The five points of the pentagram have been interpreted as representing the five wounds of Christ (2 wrist, 2 ankle and 1 side).
  The Roman Emperor Constantine used the pentagram in his seal and amulet.
  It has been referred to as the Star of Bethlehem
  It was used to symbolize the star which allegedly led three Zoroastrian astrologers to the baby Jesus; it was called the Three Kings' star.
  The English warrior Sir Gawain, a nephew of King Arthur, adopted the pentagram as his personal symbol and placed it on his shield. It appeared in gold on a red background. The five points symbolized "the five knightly virtues - generosity, courtesy, chastity, chivalry and piety."
  Tarot cards originally had a suit of coins or discs. These were changed in the 19th century to pentacles when the Tarot became associated with the Kabbalah. They eventually became the suit of diamonds in modern playing cards.
  It has been widely used by past Christians as a protective amulet.
  During the burning times when the Christian church burned alive hundreds of thousands of innocent people, the meaning of the pentagram changed. It began to symbolize a goat's head or the devil in the form of Baphomet. "The folk-symbol of security - for the first time in history - was equated with evil and was called the Witch's Foot.

The religion of Wicca is based in part on ancient Celtic deities, symbols, days of celebration, etc. The pentacle and pentagram are their main symbols. 

Many religious and spiritual groups use the pentacle or pentagram today.

 

Inverted Pentacle/Pentagram

Some religious and spiritual groups have used the inverted pentacle.

During the 20th century, Satanists inverted the upright pentacle and adopted it as their own symbol. However, the symbol is most commonly shown with the head of a goat within the pentagram as shown below. 

 

Sigil of Baphomet

The inverted pentacle with a goat's head is called the sigil of Baphomet. The term may have come from two Greek words, baphe and metis, meaning "absorption of knowledge." It has also been called the Black Goat, Devil's Goat, Goat Head, Goat of Mendes, and Judas Goat. Its first appearance appears to have been during the vicious interrogation of members of the Knights Templar by the Christian Inquisition. There was little consensus among different victims' descriptions of the Baphomet. It can probably be safely assumed that their description of the Baphomet is more a product of the Inquisition's torture methods than of any actual statue that was in use by the Knights. 

"In the 20th. century Karl Kellner and other German occultists formed the secret order of the O.T.O. (Ordo Templi Orientis or Order of Templars in the East). They installed the English occultist Aleister Crowley to head their British section. Crowley took Baphomet as his magical name.

Today, the Baphomet is widely used by religious Satanists. The Church of Satan also uses a second symbol which is an infinity sign (a figure 8 on its side). A Roman cross is placed on top with a second, longer cross piece added beneath the top cross piece.

 

The meaning of Pentacles/Pentagrams to their users

There is no single consensus on the significance of these symbols. Various groups use and define them quite differently:

  Wiccans have attempted to reconstruct a Pagan religion similar to that of the ancient Celts. They have adopted the upright pentacle/pentagram, since it was the symbol of Morgan, an ancient Celtic goddess. Many wear it as jewelry and use it on their altars. The symbol is frequently traced by hand using an athame (a ritual knife) during Wiccan rituals. It is used to cast and banish their healing circles. Some Wiccans interpret the five points as representing earth, air, fire, water, and spirit -- the five factors needed to sustain life. Others relate the points to the four directions and spirit.  Some Wiccans and other Neopagans bless themselves and others with the sign of the pentagram. Their hand passes from their forehead to one hip, up to the opposite shoulder, across to the other shoulder, down to the opposite hip and back to the forehead. Some of the more highly structured Wiccan traditions have used an inverted pentagram to represent a second or third degree status. "Many of these groups have since substituted a triangle form for the same degrees because of the association of the inverted form of the pentacle with Satanism and black magic."
  Ceremonial magicians also use the pentagram. Its points can "represent various elemental energies, spirits or deities."
  The Order of the Eastern Star is a international humanitarian organization composed of women who are wives of advanced Masons. They use an inverted pentacle as their symbol. Essentially all Eastern Star members in North America are Christians.
  The Rosicrucian movement consists of groups of Christian mystics. They frequently use a wand, sword, cup and pentagram as tools during their rituals. The pentagram represents "earth, matter and stability."
  The Masonic Order associate the five points of the pentagram with "Five Points of Fellowship." However, its "use in Masonry is vestigial and peripheral." Again, almost all Masons in North America are Christians.
  Some heavy metal rock bands occasionally use a pentacle or pentagram as a band symbol. It is often neither an upright nor an inverted symbol. Often, it is aligned to have a top point which is slightly off vertical. We are unaware of any band that is actually composed of religious Satanists. All the groups which we have studied simply use the symbolism and stage theatrics to generate notoriety, popularity and record sales.
  Satanism is composed of many diverse groups with no central overall organization. They number perhaps 29,000 in North America. Some Satanic grottos and temples use the Baphomet.

 

The meaning of Pentacles/Pentagrams to Christians

Because liberal and conservative Christians interpret the Bible in different ways, they have developed very different belief systems over time, and agree on very few points. This disagreemnt carries over into their understanding of pentacles and pentagrams. 

  Liberal Christians generally view Satan as a principle of evil rather than as a living entity. Those who are familiar with Wicca and Satanism are aware of the lack of similarity of the two religions:
Wiccans do not recognize the existence of the Christian quasi-deity, Satan. They have no all-evil deity in their pantheon of gods and goddesses. Satanists recognize Satan (or one of his precursors) as either a living deity or a principle. 
Wiccans are prohibited by their Wiccan Rede from harming, manipulating or controlling others. Satanists, on the other hand, are free to use magic to harm their enemies.
Wiccans follow an gentle, nature-based, aboriginal religion that is similar to that of Native American spirituality. Satanists practice indulgence, gratification and vengeance, rather than concern for all humans and for the environment.

Many religious liberals view the Wiccan upright pentacle or pentagram as an elegant, spiritual symbol that represents life. They see the Satanic inverted pentacle or Bahomet as primarily representing a self-centered religion.

  Fundamentalist and other Evangelical Christians generally have an entirely different view of Wicca, Satanism and other religions. This is influenced by some of their beliefs. In many, but not all cases:
Since they believe in the inerrancy of the Bible, they regard as true those passages which state that the gods and goddesses worshiped by other religions are, in reality, Satan or his demons.
They regard Satan as a living entity, a living, quasi deity who is totally dedicated to destroying people's lives and ruining their faith. They regard themselves as being in continuous "spiritual warfare" -- a personal battle with Satan and his demons.
They regard Satanism as having existed as an organized movement, murdering and performing "black masses" for may centuries. This contrasts with a consensus of modern historians that: "no reliable historical sources indicate that such organizations existed; the black mass appears only once in the sources before the late nineteenth century."
They do not differentiate between Wicca and Satanism. Because they consider the Wiccan gods and goddesses to be Satanic or demonic, they regard the two religions as very similar
They commonly believe that Satanists, (and by extension, Wiccans) engage in Satanic Ritual Abuse and murder. Belief in SRA is gradually diminishing, but remains still at a high level.
Books by conservative Christian authors about Wicca and Satanism are based primarily on books by other Christian authors, rather than on primary religious sources. Some of the ideas put forth in these books as truth can be traced back to 15th century Christian propaganda during the Burning Times.

Many conservative Christians do not differentiate between Wicca and Satanism, or between upright and inverted pentacles/pentagrams. All are viewed as symbols representing evil, violence and lawlessness. 

 

Dispute over pentagrams in Roswell NM public schools

In 1999-SEP-7, The Roswell Independent School District in New Mexico had a dress code that stated (in part): "...Any attire associated with gothic, satanic, or occult-type activities such as trench coats, knee high boots, all-black clothing, spiked jewelry, upside-down crosses, swastika, tattoos, pentagrams, etc...are prohibited.." The son of Katherine King, owner of a local Pagan book store in Roswell, discovered the ban during a school assignment. He asked why such a prohibition was in place, because it was such an obvious violation of the 1st Amendment of the U.S. Constitution. This triggered a study which resulted in  a recommendation by the school staff that the ban on religious symbols be removed - specifically the prohibition on pentagrams. Legal staff  from the city  advised that the ban was unconstitutional, as written. At a school district meeting, over 200 people attended. Many were from the conservative Christian Church On The Move; some were from other conservative Christian groups. After an emotional 3 hour discussion, the board voted whether to change the dress code. It was a 2 - 2 tie. This meant that the existing prohibition continued. Kathyrn King, described by the Roswell Daily Record as a "Pagan activist," is reported as saying that she will ask the American Civil Liberties Union to mount a lawsuit against the school board.

On SEP-12, the Roswell Daily Record News published an interview with Steve Smothermon, pastor of the Church on the Move. He indicated that their goal was not to deny any students the right to wear their religious symbol. "Our whole point was, nobody has the right to promote violence in our school system." Referring to Kathryn King, he continued: "If [the dispute is]...all about a symbol, change her symbol...But she shouldn’t be allowed to promote anything which promotes violence."

Mary Reeves, a member of Smothermon's congregation, said that the pentagram has been viewed as a Satanic symbol for centuries. "Why would they [the Neopagans] pick a violent symbol to promote their love? It’s been known as being violent from the medieval age on."

State Senator Rod Adair, (R-Roswell) expressed support for the pentagram ban. He said: "In an era when the term ‘zero tolerance’ for drugs, guns, knives and violence is the watchword of the day, it is inconceivable that we would allow symbols which directly promote Satanic worship and the violence and bloodshed which are part of it." His mention of violence and bloodshed apparently refers to the Satanic Ritual Abuse hoax. During the 1990's and early 1990's, many North Americans believed that Satanists ritually abused and killed tens of thousands of children annually. The belief has largely dissipated due to the complete lack of hard evidence. However, many conservative Christians are still convinced that it happens; Senator Adair is apparently one.

Smothermon doubts that the wearing of a pentagram is protected by law. "What ruling allows for violence to be promoted in our school system? I want to know what law that is. If they’re talking about the equal access law, that has no bearing on this issue." (The equal access law is a federal statute which assures that religious clubs and religious expression are guaranteed the same rights as secular clubs and secular speech). He continued: "They have the right to worship what they want to worship; that is not in question here."

On 1999-SEP-21, the school board again met to discuss the issue. The meeting was attended by about 400 Christians and just over 20 Pagans. The police had an obvious presence. Prayer meetings inside and outside the meeting area were held throughout the evening. The discussion period involving extensive public input. Speakers threatened to remove students from the school system if pentagrams were allowed; some called for a religious battle in the courts and offered to help with legal costs; some opposed the wearing of pentagrams anywhere, not just by students in school. The general consensus of the Christians at the meeting was that the pentagram is and always will be a Satanic symbol to them. One Native American spoke of Christians stripping his culture of their talking stick and other symbols of his faith. He said that he found the Christian cross offensive because, to him, it stood for the destruction of his culture. Many Wiccans and other Neopagans spoke, asking for tolerance, understanding and human rights. The board finally voted to cancel the previous dress code and substitute: "No student on school property or at any school activity shall wear, possess, use, distribute, display or sell any clothing, jewelry, emblem, badge, symbol, sign or other item that currently evidences or reflects membership in, or affiliation with, any gang." The vote was 4 to 1. The board decided to allow the wearing of Neopagan religious symbols. Those supporting the change indicated that they based their decision on constitutional considerations; the one person who was opposed based their decision on the massive outpouring of public concern. The Church on the Move threatened legal action to reinstate the ban.

 

Thoughts about religious symbols

A given religious or spiritual symbol many be interpreted by people in different ways. for example:

  Pentacle & pentagram:
  A Wiccan might interpret then as spiritual symbols representing life and eternity. They might help the Wiccan identify with their spiritual ancestors -- the use of these symbols predates Christianity by thousands of years.
  A conservative Christians might associate them with profoundly evil acts of child abuse and human sacrifice. They may be seen as representing blasphemy against the Christian god, as well as violence, hate and sin. They might wish to ban its use.
  A crucifix:
  A Roman Catholic might wear this symbol proudly, as a reminder of the gift that Jesus Christ gave to humanity. Through the act of one sinless man dying on the cross, he brought the potential of salvation to all peoples through the sacraments of the Roman Catholic church. 
  A non-Christian might see a man having been nailed to a cross and dying a terrible, lingering death in the most inhumane manner possible. He might feel that if symbols of violence were to be eliminated from the school campus, the authorities might start with a ban of all crucifixes. 
  A cross:
  A Protestant might see their cross as representing Jesus' gift to humanity, in much the same way as the Roman Catholic does. Through Jesus' sacrifice, an individual can be born-again and attain salvation -- through personal repentance and trust in Jesus as Lord and Savior. 
  A non-Christian might look at a cross and simply be reminded of the most barbaric, inhumane method of execution conceived by the mind of mankind: nailing or tying a naked human being to a wooden stake or cross. Again, the symbol might symbolize brutality, degradation, violence and murder. If they wanted to promote a school campus that is free of violence, they might wish to all eliminate symbols of violence, such as Christian crosses.

A single piece of religious jewelry can represent very opposite concepts in different people. This raises some questions:

  If one group views a particular symbol profoundly evil, do they have the right to ban it from the school campus?
  Should a person wear their religious symbol if it is interpreted as profoundly evil by most people in the area? 
  Does it matter whether the group that condemns a symbol is from the dominant religion or a minority faith?

Fortunately, these questions have been answered by the U.S. courts. The wearing of religious jewelry and clothing is protected as a protected form of free speech. If the Roswell case had gone to court, the results are totally predictable. There is a substantial amount of case law pointing in the same direction: that students do not leave their human rights behind when they enter a public school campus. Their religious beliefs, speech, and their right to wear their faith's jewelry is protected by the 1st amendment of the U.S. Constitution. 

 

References:

  1. News release from the Witches Anti-Discrimination League (WADL), 1999-SEP-9. [WADL is now renamed the "Alternative Religions Educational Network (AREN).]
  2. Various news reports from the Roswell Daily Record at: http://www.roswell-record.com/
  3. Todd Fuqua, "Pastor says Pagans need new symbol," Roswell Daily Record, 1999-SEP-12, at: http://www.roswell-record.com/091299/news02.html
  4. Barbara G Walker, "The woman's encyclopedia of myths and secrets," Harper & Row, (1983), Page 514-515.
  5. Barbara G Walker, op. cit., Page 166-167.
  6. Barbara G Walker, op. cit., Page 782 to 783.
  7. J.C. Cooper, "An illustrated encyclopaedia of traditional symbols," Thames and Hudson (1992), Page 128.
  8. "Webster's New World Dictionary: 3rd college edition"
  9. Sharynne NicMacha, "The star of life," at The Witches' Voice web site. See: http://www.witchvox.com/basics/pentacle.html 
  10. Anon, "The elemental pentacle," at The Witches' Voice web site. See: http://www.witchvox.com/basics/pentacle.html 
  11. T.W. McKeown, "Anti-Masonry Frequently Asked Questions," http://users.uniserve.com/~ttrevor/anti-masonry_faq.html#pentagram 
  12. DragonHawk, "The pentagram & pentacle: The definative [sic] religious symbol of Pagan spirituality," at:  http://www.amysticalgrove.com/WhatIsPentagram.html 
  13. Anders Sandberg, "Rosicrucians," at: http://www.student.nada.kth.se/~nv91-asa/Mage/roci2.html 
  14. "Pentagram History" at: http://www.concentric.net/~Godfrey/history.htm 
  15. "Baphomet," at the Mystica web site at: http://www.themystica.com/mystica/articles/b/baphomet.html 

 

 

thanks to B.A. Robinson for the info