In early (Ur I) monumental Sumerian script, or cuneiform, a pentagram glyph served as a logogram for the word ub, meaning "corner, angle, nook; a small room, cavity, hole; pitfall" (this later gave rise to the cuneiform sign UB 𒌒, composed of five wedges, further reduced to four in Assyrian cuneiform).
The word Pentemychos (πεντέμυχος lit. "five corners" or "five recesses") was the title of the cosmogony of Pherecydes of Syros.
Here, the "five corners" are where the seeds of Chronos are placed within the Earth in order for the cosmos to appear.
A Pythagorean "Hugieia Pentagram"
In Neoplatonism, the pentagram was said to have been used as a symbol or sign of recognition by the Pythagoreans, who called the pentagram ὑγιεία hugieia "health"
The pentagram was used in ancient times as a Christian symbol for the five senses, or of the five wounds of Christ.
The pentagram plays an important symbolic role in the 14th-century English poem Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, in which the symbol decorates the shield of the hero, Gawain. The unnamed poet credits the symbol's origin to King Solomon, and explains that each of the five interconnected points represents a virtue tied to a group of five: Gawain is perfect in his five senses and five fingers, faithful to the Five Wounds of Christ, takes courage from the five joys that Mary had of Jesus, and exemplifies the five virtues of knighthood.
Heinrich Cornelius Agrippa and others perpetuated the popularity of the pentagram as a magic symbol, attributing the five neoplatonic elements to the five points, in typical Renaissance fashion. By the mid-19th century a further distinction had developed amongst occultists regarding the pentagram's orientation. With a single point upwards it depicted spirit presiding over the four elements of matter, and was essentially "good". However, the influential writer Eliphas Levi called it evil whenever the symbol appeared the other way up.
- "A reversed pentagram, with two points projecting upwards, is a symbol of evil and attracts sinister forces because it overturns the proper order of things and demonstrates the triumph of matter over spirit. It is the goat of lust attacking the heavens with its horns, a sign execrated by initiates."
- "The flaming star, which, when turned upside down, is the hierolgyphic [sic] sign of the goat of Black Magic, whose head may be drawn in the star, the two horns at the top, the ears to the right and left, the beard at the bottom. It is the sign of antagonism and fatality. It is the goat of lust attacking the heavens with its horns."
- "Let us keep the figure of the Five-pointed Star always upright, with the topmost triangle pointing to heaven, for it is the seat of wisdom, and if the figure is reversed, perversion and evil will be the result."
The apotropaic use of the pentagram symbol in German folklore (called Drudenfuss in German) is referred to by Goethe in Faust (1808), where a pentagram prevents Mephistopheles from leaving a room (but did not prevent him from entering by the same way, as the outward pointing corner of the diagram happened to be imperfectly drawn):
- I must confess, my stepping o'er
- Thy threshold a slight hindrance doth impede;
- The wizard-foot [Drudenfuss] doth me retain.
- The pentagram thy peace doth mar?
- To me, thou son of hell, explain,
- How camest thou in, if this thine exit bar?
- Could such a spirit aught ensnare?
- Observe it well, it is not drawn with care,
- One of the angles, that which points without,
- Is, as thou seest, not quite closed.
East Asian symbolism
Wu Xing (Chinese: 五行; pinyin: Wǔ Xíng) are the five phases, or five elements in Chinese tradition (medicine, acupuncture, feng shui, and Taoism) They are similar to the ancient Greek elements, with more emphasis on their cyclic transformation than on their material aspects. The five phases are: Fire (火 huǒ), Earth (土 tǔ), Metal (金 jīn), Water (水 shuǐ), and Wood (木 mù).
Use in modern occultism
A goat's head inscribed in a downward-pointing pentagram, from La Clef de la Magie Noire
by Stanislas de Guaita (1897).
Based on Renaissance-era occultism, the pentagram found its way into the symbolism of modern occultists.
Following Anton LaVey, and ultimately based on a drawing by French nobleman and occultist Stanislas de Guaita (La Clef de la Magie Noire, 1897), the Sigil of Baphomet, a pentagram with two points up inscribed in a double circle with the head of a goat inside the pentagram is the copyrighted logo of the Church of Satan.
Aleister Crowley made use of the pentagram in his Thelemic system of magick: an adverse or inverted pentagram represents the descent of spirit into matter, according to the interpretation of Lon Milo DuQuette. Crowley contradicted his old comrades in the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn, who, following Levi, considered this orientation of the symbol evil and associated it with the triumph of matter over spirit.
Use in new religious movements
The five-pointed star is a symbol of the Bahá'í Faith. In the Bahá'í Faith, the star is known as the Haykal (Arabic: "temple"), and it was initiated and established by the Báb. The Báb and Bahá'u'lláh wrote various works in the form of a pentagram.
An unidentified work of the Báb.
An unidentified work of the Báb.
Latter Day Saints
The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints began using both upright and inverted five-pointed stars in Temple architecture, dating from the Nauvoo Illinois Temple dedicated on 30 April 1846. Other temples decorated with five-pointed stars in both orientations include the Salt Lake Temple and the Logan Utah Temple. These usages come from the symbolism found in Revelation chapter 12: "And there appeared a great wonder in heaven; a woman clothed with the sun, and the moon under her feet, and upon her head a crown of twelve stars."
A typical Neopagan pentagram (circumscribed).
Because of a perceived association with Satanism and occultism, many United States schools in the late 1990s sought to prevent students from displaying the pentagram on clothing or jewelry. In public schools, such actions by administrators were determined in 2000 to be in violation of students' First Amendment right to free exercise of religion.
The encircled pentagram (referred to as a pentacle by the plaintiffs) was added to the list of 38 approved religious symbols to be placed on the tombstones of fallen service members at Arlington National Cemetery on 24 April 2007. The decision was made following ten applications from families of fallen soldiers who practiced Wicca. The government paid the families US$225,000 to settle their pending lawsuits.
Other religious use
Representation of the three worlds in Serer cosmogony:
the invisible world, the terrestrial world and the nocturnal world.
The five-pointed star is a symbol of the Serer religion and the Serer people of West Africa. Called Yoonir in their language, it symbolizes the universe in the Serer creation myth, and also represents the star Sirius.
A multicolored version is used as symbol of the Druze religion.
Other modern use
- The pentagram is featured on the national flags of Morocco (adopted 1915) and Ethiopia (adopted 1996 and readopted 2009)
- The Order of the Eastern Star, an organization (established 1850) associated with Freemasonry, uses a pentagram as its symbol, with the five isosceles triangles of the points colored blue, yellow, white, green, and red. In most Grand Chapters the pentagram is used point down, but in a few it is point up. Grand Chapter officers often have a pentagon inscribed around the star(the emblem shown here is from the Prince Hall Association).
- A pentagram is featured on the flag of the Dutch city of Haaksbergen, as well on its coat of arms.