Written August 3rd, 2016 | Edited: 6th March 2019
Of all the symbols associated with magick and the occult, the pentagram is the most popular and recognizable, almost the emblem of Magick. And even as all the occult symbols infiltrated and found a place in the mundane world, the pentagram was above all else, as it is the common symbol for perfection, and even found on the flags of nations, both communist and capitalist. When little kids draw space in art class, they use the Pentagram for stars, and the Pentagram is what dominates the Walk of Fame. Several religions have also incorporated the symbol throughout history, and it has it’s origins all the way back in Mesopotamia. It was eventually co-opted in both Persia, and Rome, and lived through till the Byzantine era. later, the Turks would conquer Byznatium and adopt it, and it would be carried to all corners of the world. The symbol itself is archetypal, and several different meanings have been denoted to it over the millenia.
But what is the true meaning behind this famous and popular symbol? Like all symbols in Sacred Geometry, the Pentagram has several layers of information encoded into it. Much of this information transcends into higher planes, and the Pentagram might just be the lower visual manifestation of some profound higher thing. But anyways, today I’ve made a handy list of the multiple meanings on the Pentagram, as well as the inverted version of it, so you don’t have to read a hundred different sources to understand all the different associations. This isn’t an exhaustive list, just the different interpretations offered by different branches of the Mysteries.
Note: Pagans sometimes use the word Pentacle, but Pentacle refers to vast range of symbols. So, when I say Pentagram, I mean five pointed Star. I’d actually suggest against using the word Pentacle. For example, all the Seals of the Greater Key are referred to as “Pentacles”.
In Sacred Geometry
The symbol of the Pentagram is part of sacred geometry, meaning it is made of very exact and precise proportions which are considered holy.
“God is the Great Geometer of the World”
Although “Pentagram” refers to only the star itself, it is generally depict it enclosed in a circle. While this circle is very important, just the star itself is sufficient.
The Pentagram, naturally, adheres to the Golden Ratio, and is constructed on five straight lines. The regular pentagon is the middle is 108 degrees at each inward angle. The Isometric triangles on the outside are 72 degrees on the base and 36 degrees at the top. If you joined all five corners of the star, it would also form a regular pentagon. The star itself can be divided into many other pentagrams.
And if you want to draw one, you can do so easily with a compass or protractor, or even straightedge. So there you have it, a bit of math of those interested. I know I hated math, but this info is useful if you ever need to construct or draw a Pentagram, which is very likely for magicians. All the numbers used in it’s construction: 36, 72, 108, are sacred numbers, most commonly used in Judaic and Hindu mysticism.
The Unity of the Five Elements
This is the most important meaning of the pentagram, which is Universal, regardless of which philosophy or tradition you follow.
In Kabbalah, the top left hand represents Water, then going clockwise it is Fire, Earth, Air. The top hand represents their sum total as Spirit.
Put very simply, the Pentagram= Air+Water+Fire+Earth= Spirit. And since everything is created of the elements, the Pentagram represents the sum of everything in the cosmos, aka the All/Divine, as well as the mirror image of it, which is Man, who hosts the Spirit.
Often, the circle around it can be interpreted as the material/manifest world, in which all 5 elements are contained and restricted, or the Divine Unity which binds all together.
The letters YHVH, pronounced Yehovah or Yahweh, is the Hebrew name of the Divine. These days it has become corrupted as “Jehaovah”, the patron deity of Israel and the God of the Judeo-Christian tradition. But the original mystical name YHVH does not refer to a specific deity with human attributes. It’s is a mystical name, made from the Hebrew letters Yod-He-Vav-He.
Each letter represents one of the four elements, Yod is the sacred Fire, with He being Water, and the Womb of the Great Mother. Vav is Air, or the Son born from the Union of the Male (fire) and Female (water). The second/last He is the Lesser Mother, or Bride of Vav, representing Earth. YHVH = Fire Water Air Earth.
This name, YHVH, is called Tetragrammaton, and so the Pentagram represents Tetragrammaton, as you can tell from the above discussion. I write this separately because there are multiple symbols that are used for the Tetragrammaton, not just the Pentagram, but the Pentagram itself is the sum of all elements, which IS Tetragrammaton. This might not be making a lot of sense to those of you who are new to magick, but try to keep up. You’ll understand eventually.
When the Tetragrammaton is depicted as a Pentagram, is often looks like this (as far as I know, the first depiction like this was by Eliphas Levi).
As you can see, the Pentagram is combined with other symbols to give the full meaning. The figure of Tetragrammaton is what is used as one of the Seals of Solomon.
So in simple terms, the Pentagram represents The Divine, or rather when the Divine is depicted as Tetragrammaton, the symbol for it is the Pentagram.
You might notice that the Pentagram is five pointed but YHVH only has the four elements. There is VERY long and complex reason for that, laboriously conceived by our great mages of the Golden Dawn, who perhaps enjoyed tedious and mind numbingly long thought experiments. I won’t go into it here, it’s not important if you just want to understand the Pentagram.
But for what it’s worth, the five lettered name is YHSVH, with the letter Shin representing Spirit. The name then spells Yeheshuah, and that is the original Hebrew name of Jesus.
By the way, that is why the old symbol of the Five Wounds of Christ was an inverted Pentagram, before it’s association with Satanism. There’s literally medieval Churches which have the Inverted Pentagram in their spires.
As A Symbol for Man/Spirit
Now that we’ve established that the Pentagram represents the sum of all elements, and the Divine. However, Man is said to be the reflection of the Cosmos too. You may have heard how God made Man in his image, and also that God dwells within us. This, the Pentagram becomes a symbol for the Human Spirit (which is basically the same as the Divine). This is best captured in Hinduism, where Brahman (The Cosmos) and Atman (the Soul) are considered identical.
“As within, So without”
(Note: For anyone actually confused when I say Man, I also mean Women. Please no bully)
Man is made of the four elements, together form and house the Spirit. This is the pentagram. One might say that the spiritually awakened man, who has the five elements working in harmony within him is the Pentagram. Each element can be represented with separate symbols too. For Earth (the physical body), the symbol if the Cross.
An interesting depiction of this is Leonardo Da Vinci’s Vitruvian Man, where you see a person eagle spread in the form of the Pentagram, representing the Five elements, superimposed on a person standing with his arms out and tilted upwards in the form of the Cross (or specifically, the form of a man hanging on the Cross, known to the Christians as the image of the Crucification), representing the material body of Man. (Of course, this image itself has it’s own multitude meanings, as does the Cross).
While performing the LBRP, which is a basic ritual in ceremonial magick, this posture of the Pentagram is assumed at the end by the magician, to invoke the five elements within him. The Pentagram is both the Microcosm (Man) and the Macrocosm (The Cosmos)
EDIT (2019): According to Da Vinci himself, this symbol shows Man has the perfect blueprint of the Universe, made in the Golden Ratio (this is his official definition. He was definitely an Occultist). I won’t break down the image here, but it’s got some very strong symbolism. According to me, he is showing the Mundane, that is the Earthly vessel of Man, as well as the Sacred, the Awakened Man, as the same being. Or perhaps, like the symbol of Christ, he wants to show the emergence of the Awakened Man upon Crucifixion of his flesh. This is the same concept shown in Hinduism by the Lotus emerging from the mud.
Secondly, I should mention that the Pentagram enclosed in the circle represents Man, and so it is used as the symbol for the Earth element in many traditions. When I say “symbol” I mean implement. For example, in the Golden Dawn, Fire is represented by a Wand, Air by a Dagger, and Water by a Cup. The element of Earth is often symbolized a wooden Pentacle. Although the actual Pentacle has a Hexagram on it, it is depicted with a Pentagram on tarot cards.
Venus is the Goddess of Love and Fertility, called the Morning/Evening Star. The Pentagram is closely associated with her as well, and this might be why we use it to depict stars in general. It should be noted that Venus rules over fame, drama, music and the arts. This is probably why the Pentagram is the symbol of celebrities and stardom.
If you look at the orbit of the planet Venus throughout the cycle of 8 years in the Earth’s sky, you will see it traces a rough Pentagram shape.
There is a lot of astronomy and math behind this, which I wont claim to fully understand. Google it if you want.
EDIT (2019): The Pentagram is not the Kabbalistic symbol of Venus. That would be the Seven sided star, or Heptagram. Nonetheless, the Five Pointed Star is a powerful and important symbol of the Sacred feminine.
When we are talking about Venus, we often mean the “lesser” aspect, known to the Greeks as Aphrodite Pandemos. This is the well known Goddess of Love, Sex, and fertility. This is the Heptagram Venus. This Venus, in Hellenic mythology, was the daughter of Zeus.
However, Venus is also the symbol of the Sacred Feminine itself, in it’s higher aspect. This Venus, known in Greece as Aphrodite Ourania, was born from the castrated phallus of Uranus falling into the Sea (Neptune). This is the ancient aspect known as Ishtar/Ianna in the Middle East, and as Shakti in India. This aspect is rightly symbolized by the Pentagram.
Remember how we discussed at the start that the five pointed Star first emerged in Mesopotamia? Well, in Mesopotaia, it was the symbol of Ishtar, and in Egypt a symbol of Isis. In Rome it was that of Venus, and even later in Christian Byzantine, it was used as a symbol of the Virgin Mary. All of these deities represent the same force.
Ishatr was known as Astarte to the Greeks. Astarte. That’s why the Pentagram is symbol commonly called a “Star”. Mind blown?
Well, the “star” in question, at the time, referred not to the planet Venus, but to Sirius, or the “Tear of Isis”. It was the brightest star in the Sky, and it’s heliacal rising symbolized the ancient Egyptian New Year. The festival is still celebrated in Egypt.
Spirit Over Matter
You might have noticed how each arm of the Pentagram represents one of the elements, but the Spirit is the one on top. While the opposite of each element is depicted on the arm opposite to it, the Spirit, having no opposite, is on top. Even when you see Pentagrams with a different combination of the elements, the Spirit will always be on top.
The reason should be obvious. The Spirit is separate to the other elements. The Pentagram also depicts the message that the Spirit is superior to the material body, hence, “Spirit over Matter”, and here by “Matter” I mean “flesh”, or one’s Earthly life, desires and ambitions.
A thing to note here is that the astrological symbol of Venus also depicts this.
It’s a circle over a cross. Remember what I said about the Circle of the Spirit and how the physical body is shown as the Cross. The Circle is over the Cross, so once again, “Spirit over Matter”. I think it’s interesting how the Pentagram is a symbol of Venus, and the message it contains is contained in the astrological symbol as well.
In magick, it can be said to symbolise the exaltation of Spirit over Matter.
So, now that we know that the Pentagram is symbolic of Spirit over Flesh, we can see what the Inverted Pentagram stands for.
The Inverted Pentagram is structurally the same as the Pentagram, so it symbolizes the same Unity of Elements, The Spirit but now it is flipped, with the Spirit BELOW the four elements. You know what that means: the Inverted Pentagram depicts “Matter over Spirit”.
The Inverted Pentagram and it’s strange message have their own significance. You’ll be interested to know that the Second Degree of Witchcraft is symbolised by this Inverted Pentagram. I’m not a witch though, so I don’t know what exactly they do in this degree.
The Inverted Pentagram stands for a message that opposes what the Pentagram stands for, and this can be seen in the astrological symbol for Mars, which is the opposite of Venus.
As you can see, this time the Cross of Matter, which is now in the form of an arrow, is above the Circle of the Spirit.
The Order of the Eastern Star, which I believe is the Sisterhood associated with the Freemason Brotherhood, use an inverted Pentagram to show the Union of the elements.
EDIT (2019): In magick, this is the exaltation of Matter over Spirit, and is the opposing counterpart to the normal Pentagram. In this way, the upright Pentagram become the Key to access the Angelic forces above the realm of Matter, while the inverted version is for the Infernal forces beneath Matter (hence why Inferno lies under the surface of the Earth, while Heaven is symbolised as being in the Sky. It wasn’t just primitive people being superstitious. It was symbolic.)
We talked about how the Kabbalistic symbol for Venus was the Heptagram. Well, the Kabbalistic symbol for Mars in the Pentagram. Mars and Venus are strongly connected too. In Kabbalah, the Pentagram would a more male symbol.
I’d love to get into, but Kabbalah is just far too much for this already long article. In Kabbalah, the Pentagram (and the number 5) represent Kinetic energy, or motion. This is perhaps the most clear reason why the Pentagram is used as a symbol for Magick. It is the symbol for invoking any and all spiritual and mundane forces. It is Symbolic of force itself, and magick relies heavily on Invocation and Evocation of forces. It is like a spinning water wheel, helping you harness the latent energy of water and turn it into power. I could go on and on, from one thing to the next.
The Right and Left Hand Paths
The Pentagram and the Inverted Pentagram have been symbols in the occult for a very long time. The distinction was not commonly used by ancient magicians. It is generally seen as a modern new age idea. In ancient traditions, they would have been used together.
Eventually, there was the divide within the occult between the Left and Right Hand Paths. One of the primary differences between the two was whether God was inside us, or outside us. Now yes, I know that there’s a lot more to this, relating to the history of Black and White magick, and a long history of philosophical and ideological struggles, and we can argue about that forever.
But this was the first time the LHP and RHP properly came about. LHP believed that God was inside us, and so we should serve the Self only, so they chose the Inverted Star, which was Flesh over Spirit. This was probably influenced by the founding of atheistic Satanism at the time. The RHP guys said that God was external, a theory which had already been believed by the Church for centuries, and so they believed in serving others, and picked the normal Pentagram, Spirit over Flesh, which they interpreted as serving others before self. And so they argued whether God was within, or without.
One could say that the split was also between Hedonism and asceticism. If the Divine is external, then Spirit must be exalted over Matter. After all, we must sacrifice everything for the greater good. On the other hand, if all Divinity is within, then why not be self serving? Why not exalt the Matter over Self?
EDIT (2019): Lots of angry people have said that I never did justice to this topic here, and I know. This post is about the Pentagram, so I merely give an introduction to the RHP/LHP split in the Occult, and how they each used their Pentagram. It’s just so that new people an have a basic understanding. I myself do not ascribe to either, and follow the Middle path. And the way I see it, this was of thinking is only growing, as the old absolutist worldviews decline.
The Satanic Pentagram
Well, as you know, the RHP/White Magick and the LHP/Black Magick are still two existing streams within magick. I’ve made it clear how I don’t buy into that idea, but I still have to admit that they’re there. And obviously, even though the utterly polarized Serving Only Others vs Serving Only Self thing is more or less gone, an ideological divide over various other issues still exists, particularly over White and Black magick. The Inverted pentagram has a more common symbolism associated with it.
You’re probably familiar with it: it’s the image of a Goat head, which is Satan, superimposed on an inverted Pentagram with an outer circle that has five characters, which, which spell Leviathan. It is often called the Satanic Pentagram.
This is the symbol for the religion of Satanism, which today is an atheistic, philosophical religion present largely in the USA. The philosophy and ideas they believe in are also present within the LHP, and so this symbol has also become an emblem for many Black Magicians. The symbol of the inverted Star now represents the collective ideologies of the LHP, as the normal Pentagram sometimes represents the ideologies of the RHP.
I don’t mean that people will always show it with the goat head, and most of the times you’ll simply see an inverted Pentagram, but this does not simply mean “Serve only Self” anymore, but instead represents the ideas and beliefs that the LHP stands for, as oppossed to the ideas and beliefs of the RHP, which are often depicted by stylised variations of the the Pentagram, which also no longer really means “Serve only others”. I’ll leave it at that.
Remember again how the Inverted Star is linked to Mars. Well, Mars rules the sign of Aries, and it’s symbol is the goat head.
EDIT (2019): I should say that this largely affects modern traditions, especially those derived from the New Age. The way I see it, true, complete and authentic traditions reject ideologies entirely, accepting that the world is complex and each person must chart his own path.
You may object, but I personally hold that the LHP/RHP split is superficial. There is only one Magick, one force. Duality is ever present, and we must live in it, but it comes form the One.
Secondly, I say that no perspective is totally correct. I venerate both dark and light Gods, and respect the Gods and practices of others. To me the split is the sign that a practitioner is still polarised and blinded by himself. When I originally wrote this article, I was not confident enough to make such a statement. But now I am. This is not the fault of people, because they simply have not experienced the spiritual process fully yet. Suffering teaches empathy, and empathy leads to an end of polarity.
The Pentagram is used to invoke forces. We established this before.
Within a ritual setting, the Pentagram can be used to represent each of the other four elements as well. This depends of exactly which of the five points you begin tracing from, and which direction you go:
So, in short, there is an Invoking and Banishing Pentagram for each of the four elements, making 8, and 4 for Spirit, both for passive and active, making 12. Technically, these Pentagrams can be used to Invoke and Banish pretty much all magickal forces, depending on how they are used. This is the primary use of the Pentagram for the magician. You will see it in a variety of rituals.
As you can see, the Pentagram has a vast plethora of encoded and acquired meanings. You will often see people use it in different ways and give a different explanation for it, and remember, over time it may very well acquire even more meanings and associations. In this article I tried to give as clear an understanding as I could manage, starting simple and slowly building up the layers. I follow the Hermetic Kabbalah, so I have a bias towards the Kabbalah in general. There’s probably more about Pentagrams that I missed out. As I discover them, I shall continue to edit and update this post.
EDIT (late 2019): Yeah that’s not really happening. While I updated each post on this blog this year, any new ideas, experiences or insights I have will always be written as new posts. I hate changing old work, but I also don’t like bloating them with extra content. Remember, when on my blog, always read the latest post, and you’ll know where I currently stand on most things. For one, I can actually write now without spelling errors, and in more eloquent prose. At the very least, I no longer sound like a 19th century philosopher. Now I just sound like a 20th century philosopher!
Who knows, maybe we’ll get to the 21st one day. Lol amirite mah dudes. #sorelatable #pepedidnothingwrong #ihatehashtags. But I think I might scare away all my older, sophisticated readers in their 30s and 40s. You know, millenials 😛
All symbols in the occult have many meanings built on top of one core meaning, such as the unity of five elements in this case, but even that is a condensation of many things into one symbol, and the end result is a huge amount of energy contained in a single symbol. That is why these are called Symbols of Power. They too follow the Law of Rhythm, and over time grow, evolve and adapt, growing in power, influence and popularity. They are archetypal.
So remember, whatever the Pentagram means to you, it may mean something else to another person, and both of your interpretation is as valid as the other.
Well that’s it for now. Be sure to follow the blog. You can also follow me on Instagram @WhiteRavenMagus
EDIT 2020: As of July 2020, I’ve written a new book on the Tree of Life and Kabbalistic theory. I’m quite proud of it, and you can check it by going to the Books tab, or clicking right here.
Until we meet again