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Friday, May 23, 2014

Lets Talk About Stars Baby...

While wasting time on Pinterest a few days ago, I came across this picture:

Underneath it someone has written "There's another, inaccurate one, going around on here and I wanted to share the truth. To a neo-pagan the inverse of a pentacle is a pentagram a pentagram is not a satanic symbol."

Now, here's the thing. First, the Meme is at least partly correct. The Baphomet is A symbol used by the Church of Satan, unfortunately, that's not it.  A Pentacle is A symbol used by Neo-Pagans.  And even the assumption that most people have no idea what a "Neo-Pagan" is is (although both saddening and amusing at the same time) is pretty accurate.  Especially since most "Neo-Pagans" don't call themselves that, preferring instead to just say "Pagan."

But the whole idea of people not knowing the difference and the pinner's attempt to correct one inaccuracy with another, has prompted me to set some things straight - at least for my readers.

First, lets discuss the "Baphomet."

"Baphomet" (usually depicted as pictured to the right) is a term used to describe a deity figure whom the Knight's Templar were accused of worshiping during the inquisitions of the 14th.  Therefore the symbolism is far from specific to the Church of Satan as it clearly predates the formation of the church by at least 600 years. Since the mid-1800's it has been used by numerous Occultists, most notably Eliphas Levi who used it as a symbol representing the "sum of the universe" since it held elements of both male and female, good and evil, and so on... It's also been linked to Freemasonry and numerous other "secret societies."

Today however, as stated above, it is most notably used by the Church of Satan and other, similar, Satanic "religious" groups.  However, of these groups it is only the official Church Of Satan which uses the the "Sigil of Baphomet" that is shown in the Meme above. They have trademarked it as their official insignium. Although there are other variations which are used by other similar Satanic and Left Handed paths.

Now lets talk Pentacle VS Pentagram...

As shown in the Meme, a Pentacle is any encircled 5 pointed star.  However, unlike what the caption on the original pin had added, a Pentacle is a Pentacle regardless of which direction is points.  The word "Pentacle" is defined as meaning "an amulet used in magical evocation, generally made of parchment, paper or metal (although it can be of other materials), on which the symbol of a spirit or energy being evoked is drawn."

A Pentagram, however, although so often confused with a Pentacle (and a great many magickal circles use the terms interchangeably) is not a magickal symbol at all. In point of fact, "Pentagram" is a mathematical term, having no inherent magickal relation. The word Pentagram comes from the Greek word πεντάγραμμον (pentagrammon), from πέντε (pente), "five" + γραμμή (grammē), "line," so it literally means "5 lined figure."

Regardless of their origins however, both symbols have been and are used in numerous magickal traditions.  The earliest uses of a Pentagram seem to date back to the first Ur divinity of the Sumerian peoples, around the 26th century BC.  In their writing, it seems to have been used to signify words similar to "corner," "wedge," and even "pitfall." It was also used in Greece around the 6th century BC, to represent the "Pentemychos" (meaning "of the 5 recesses") which was the title of the cosmogony of Pherecydes of Syros.  In this case the 5 points represented the 5 seeds which Chronos placed within the earth to create the Cosmos.

As Christianity came to power the Pentagram came to represent the 5 wounds of Christ or the 5 senses of the human body.  It's also featured as the symbol of Gawain in the now famous poem "Sir Gawain and the Green Knight" which dates to the 14th century. The poet explains that each of the five interconnected points represents a virtue tied to a group of five. Gawain is keen in his five senses, dextrous in his five fingers, faithful to the salvation provided through the Five Wounds of Christ, takes courage from the five joys that Mary had of Jesus, and exemplifies the five virtues of knighthood.

With the blossoming of Occult study and practices though the Renascence, men such as Heinrich Cornelius Agrippa had officially claimed the Pentagram as a magickal symbol, assigning each point to one of the 5 NeoPlatonic Elements.  By the mid-19th century the idea of an upright pentagram (one point up) as a positive symbol, and the down pointing pentagram being a negative or evil symbol was generally accepted by most occultists.  The upward facing pentagram was seen as representing the four natural elements (earth, air, fire, water) being ruled over by the spirit or God and was sometimes referred to as "The seat of wisdom." While the down-pointing pentagram was seen as a perversion of this symbolize and therefore negative or evil in it's intent.

Chinese traditions are similar with more emphasis on the transformation of elements rather than their material aspects. Unlike the European version however, the Chinese version does not include spirit. Instead it is made up of Earth, Fire, Metal Water, and Wood.

There is also a Japanese magickal tradition which uses the symbol of the Pentagram, but I personally know little about it and therefore would prefer not to elaborate on it.

The term Pentacle (as well as the symbols behind it) however, does not have such a long or widespread history, and has ALWAYS been used as a Magickal symbol. Roughly the term translates to "fivepointed" or "fivefolded talisman." And although it the word itself means "five pointed/folded" in point of fact most historical Pentacles did not use a Pentagram, but a Hexagram (6 pointed star.) References to Pentacles throughout old magickal texts could in fact mean nearly any design  and were used for talismans for all types of magickal workings. Many so called "Pentacles" did not even include a star design, others didn't include an outer circle, though these are less common.

Shown here from left: The First and Second of Solomon's Pentacles of Venus 
In "Of Occult Philosophy, Book 3" Heinrich Cornelius Agrippa summarizes that their use was to "fore-know all future things, & command whole nature, have power over devils, and Angels, and do miracles." Agrippa attributes Moses' feats of magic in part to his knowledge of various pentacles.

Numerous old Occult tomes show Pentalces as being worn either around the neck or in the form of a ring, as a way to imbue power and protection upon the individual wearing it.

In today's magickal practices the term Pentacle is solely used to reference an encircled star - generally of 5 points, but occasionally of 6, 7 or 8. More often using the terms "sigil" or "talisman" to describe non-star forms. But it's use as a talisman, and a symbol of both power and protection, has remained.

One final misconception which is generally touted as fact by those both inside and outside of the Pagan community is the idea that an inverted Pentacle is "negative" or "evil." While it is true that the Pentagram was at one point believed to signify good or evil depending on it's point orientation, this has never been true of the Pentacle - historically nor in modern day practices.  Instead it has, for the most part, held tight to the idea that regardless of it's makeup, a Pentacle is a talisman meant to benefit the wearer (or users in the case of ritual or spell working usages).

Some, even within the modern Pagan community, hold tight to the idea that an inverted Pentacle is used for dark or what is known as "left handed" magick, and this has some truth to it. But it is also used in some Wiccan groups to denote someone who has reached their "Second Degree" within the coven. This is also true (in even less groups) of the inverted Pentagram (without a circle). As I said though, there are those on a "left handed" path or practicing negative magicks who choose to use the inverted Pentacle in their practice, I would think though that there are just as many practicing those forms of magick who also use the upright form.  Like magick, there is no positive or negative when it comes to symbols, instead symbols are neutral and their alliance with good or evil depend on their use.

So there you have it... The Baphomet, Pentagram and Pentacle...  They're not only similar in form, but in use and meaning, so it's understandable why there is so much confusion, but hopefully, you now know how to tell them apart and what the differences really are!

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