The Pentacle, a five pointed star with perfectly matched angles; quite difficult to draw without geometric assistance, has come to be at times a source of debate: is it a symbol of good, or evil? Or could it symbolize both…or neither? Let’s take a look at the some of the history, as well as some of its uses.
The oldest known use of the Pentacle dates to 3,000BC. It is believed to have been the symbol of an ancient Egyptian goddess Kore, whose fruit was the apple – if an apple is cut in half through the core, the shape of a pentacle is revealed. It appears that most ancient cultures had a use for this symbol. Some ancient civilizations utilized the pentacle for angles in building and for showing directions, others in astrology, with the five points referring to Mercury, Mars, Jupiter, Saturn, and Venus. Ancient Hebrews referred to the pentacle as the “Seal of Solomon” which appears still today on Ethiopia and Morocco’s flags. Pythagoras, who is widely considered one of the fathers of math and geometry, referred to the pentacle as a “golden ratio” of lines an angles, resulting in the Greeks including it in their architecture. Unlike the more ancient peoples, they considered the five points as representative of the five elements of fire, air, water, earth, and knowledge. Early Christians looked at the Pentacle as a representation of the five wounds of Jesus Christ, which pierced: his two hands, his two feet, and his side. It was referred to as the Star of Bethlehem, that guided the Three Kings to Jesus, and worn as an amulet of protection.
It was many years later when the pentacle became thought to represent the head of Satan’s goat, and became associated mainly with the practice of witchcraft and Satanism, among others. As typical of mass fear, thousand were killed for its use. “The folk symbol for security – for the first time in history – was equated with evil and was called the witch’s foot.”
In modern times, the symbol is thought by many to represent the five primary religions: Hinduism, Judaism, Islam, Christianity, and Buddhism. If you recall the ancient peoples as stated above thought the pentacle represented the five planets they could see with the naked eye. It was commonly stated in those times and beyond, “as above so below” – as it is in the heavens, so it is on earth. This more modern school of thought brings us full circle to that idealism. Despite all major religions, and many other religions’ use of the symbol, many still solely associate the pentacle with Satanism and black magic, though this is not always the case. Hence the debate that rages on…
Some use pentacle and pentagram as synonyms, even the definitions are subject to debate. Some sources refer to a pentacle as the star alone, and the pentagram as the star with the circle; others, however, state that both have the circle and the customization differentiates the two. The orientation of the star is sometimes significant as well, though not in all cases. The Mormon Church uses both upright and inverted pentacles in their architecture.
An upright pentagram has the two pointed side at the bottom, similar to the stars on the American flag, and may be surrounded by a circle, depending on the definition one follows. The upright pentacle is quite commonly used in religious symbolism, including in Paganism, Christianity, Wicca to name a few.
In German folklore, the pentacle is believed to keep evil spirits from escaping a certain area. In Tarot, the suit of pentacles (equivalent to diamonds in playing cards), when upright symbolize how we influence our own external surroundings, and with self-image.
The inverted pentagram has the single point at the bottom. Some religious and spiritual groups have used the inverted pentagram. During the 20th century, Satanist groups adopted the inverted pentacle/pentagram as its own, again referring to a goat’s head seems to be visible in the form.
The inverted pentacle with the goat’s head is referred is the Sigil of Baphomet. While it is unclear how, the Sigil of Baphomet reportedly was used in The Middle Ages in the torture of the Knights Templar. According to the Mystica website, “In the 20th century German occultists formed the secret “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.” Crowley’s name is synonymous with the occult. The Baphomet symbol is currently used by religious Satanists.
That said, the US Congressional Medal of Honor is also a pentacle, which appears inverted when hanging from its ribbon. It is the nation’s highest medal for valor in combat that can be awarded to military. The Order of the Eastern Star is a Freemasonry-related fraternal organization for adults, both men and women. The group admits persons of all religions. The pentacle is inverted here as well.
In Tarot, while upright pentacles represent personal growth, the meaning changes when the pentacles are reversed. When reversed, the pentacles present negative aspects of the human psyche: greed, possessiveness, laziness, etc. However, these signs are intended to encourage the person being read to reverse these traits and set goals or prioritize in order to get back on track. So it seems that, particularly in the case of the inverted pentacle, the symbolism is wrapped in the intention of the user. It cannot be assumed to be a symbol of evil unless specifically customized to make that intent clear.