The History and Symbolism of the Pentagram
Updated: Apr 22
With Halloween slowly creeping around the corner, I wanted to share with you a new post that focuses on one of the most popular symbols used in witchcraft--the Pentagram.
If you don't feel like reading, you can see my video of it on my new YouTube channel, LightnDarkChat! This channel is separate from Dual Crossroads, and is my personal channel where I talk about things I enjoy (like special effects makeup, history, ghost-things, horror movies, philosophy, or whatever else I want to talk about!)
The History of the Pentagram
The pentagram is five-pointed star made of lines that intersect with each other in a continuous motion. When encased within a circle, it is called a Pentacle. An easy way to remember the difference between a pentagram and pentacle is that a pentaCle is surrounded by a Circle.
The pentagram is deeply rooted in history, going as far back as 3000 BCE. It has been found on artifacts from Mesopotamia, was the subject of fascination in Ancient Greece, and was used for religious practice by ancient Babylonians. It was also present in early Christianity for over 500 years, where the five points represented the five wounds of Christ, as well as the Beginning and the End ( or the Alpha and the Omega) since it could be drawn in one continuous stroke. In Judaism, the pentagram was the official seal of Jerusalem at around 300-150 BCE.
So now we know the pentagram has been around for thousands of years, but what does it represent? In the Jewish kabbalistic tradition, the pentagram represents justice, mercy, wisdom, understanding, and transcendent splendor. For the Sumerians, it represented the “vault of Heaven”, which was Jupiter, Mars, Mercury, Saturn, and Venus. According to the Greek mathematician and philosopher Pythagoras, the pentagram represents the elements: Earth, Air, Fire and Water, with Spirit placed on the top. His followers, the Pythagoreans, saw it as mathematical perfection, which would later come to be known as the Golden ratio.
Today, the pentagram is used mostly in witchcraft for ritual practice, and for protection. Pythagoras’ attribution to Nature’s elements and the Spirit is still accepted, and shows them working together in harmony.
Right-Side Up Pentagram Vs Upside-Down Pentagram
When drawing the pentagram, people usually depict it with a singular point projecting upwards. There is a split in beliefs on what the pentagram represents when it is inverted to an upside down position, with the single point facing downward.
In Wiccan traditions, it signifies the wearer as entering into the 2nd degree of learning. This basically means that they have “graduated” to a higher level of learning in the craft. For others, an inverted pentagram has been changed into a symbol of evil.
The association of the pentagram with evil is sprinkled at various parts of history, though its starting point may be likely be at the start of the Inquisitions of the Catholic Church in its attempt to remove heresy from the masses.
Heresy is any belief or opinion contrary to orthodox religious doctrine (especially Christian), and the first Inquisition against it started in 1184 by Pope Lucius III. The second was the Medieval Inquisition of 1231 by Pope Gregory, which was eventually followed by the most famous one of all: the Spanish Inquisition.
Established in 1478 by the Catholic monarchs Ferdinand II of Aragon and Isabella I of Castile, the Spanish Inquisition was made to spread “true” Catholicism, and purge all heretical practices. While the Inquisition mostly focused on the growing Jewish population, pagans weren’t exempt from judgement, and anything resembling paganism was removed from the Church. The Inquisition halted in 1807 when Napoleon defeated Spain, and it wasn’t disbanded until 1834.
It was in 1855 where the pentagram was solidified with evil connotations.
Former Roman Catholic priest and occult writer Alphonse Louis Constant, pennamed Eliphas Levi, wrote Dogme et Rituel de la Haute Magie, which was translated into English by Arthur Edward Waite (co creator of the Rider-Waite Tarot Deck) as Transcendental Magic.
In his book, Alphonse wrote that, “a reversed pentagram, with two points projecting upwards, is a symbol of evil and attracts sinister forces…” This was the first time it was documented that the pentagram was connected with evil forces.
In 1966, things came to a head when American author musician and occultist, Anton Lavey, established the church of satan. Ironically, this church isn’t full of actual satan worshipers, but atheists who attributed the word for satan with the original, Hebrew word satan, meaning “adversary”.
They do not believe in the entity of satan, and instead painted the perception of satan as an archetype for pride, individualism, and rebellion to Abrahamic faiths. In 1968, Leve released an album with the Sigil of Baphomet on the cover—an inverted pentacle with the head of goat in the center, circled around by Hebrew letters. This immediately became the church’s symbol.
The final component that assorted the pentagram with evil was the attention it got (and still receives) from the media. In the 1970s and 80s, there was a mutual rise highly publicized serial killings and interests with occultism. The media released numerous articles and news reports attributing killings to satanic groups, referencing the pentagram as their symbol (thanks to the events in 1968). Since then, the pentagram has been used in movies, TV shows, and books as a mark for satanism or dark witchcraft. Now, the historical context of the upside-down pentagram (and even the right-side up pentagram) has changed, much like the upside down cross—which is actually the symbol of Peter the Apostle. They are seen as rejections of the good power that’s believed to come from their right-side-up counterparts.
Knowledge is Power!
I hope this has helped you come to a new or better understand of the pentagram. Knowing history and context behind such taboo subjects is a powerful thing, because through knowledge, we can remove misconceptions that need not be there, and understand how beneficial something like the pentagram has to people been for centuries.
Let me know what your thoughts are on the pentagram, and of what you’d like to see featured next time. Until then, have a wonderful day!