The earliest known use of the pentagram can be found around 3500 - 3000 BCE (Before the Common Era) at Ur of the Chaldea’s in Ancient Mesopotamia. It was found there on fragments of broken pottery along with some of the earliest findings of the written language. (Cuneiform)
In later periods of Mesopotamian art, the pentagram is said to have been used in and on royal inscriptions as a symbol of imperial power extending out to "the four corners of the world“? I.e. the top point represented the king, the other four representing the four directions; N. E. S & W?
The pentagram was also used by the Hebrews as a symbol of Truth and for the five books of the Pentateuch. Which are Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers and Deuteronomy?
Five pointed stars are found in ancient Egyptian, Greek and Roman art and also that of early Gaulish/Celtic and Middle-Age Christian art. But there seems to have been no single tradition concerning their meaning or use. In many cases it was simple used as an art form.
In Ancient Greece, the geometry of the pentagram and its metaphysical associations were explored by the Pythagoreans (named after Pythagoras 586-506BCE) they considered it a symbol of perfection.
It was also called the Pentalpha, as it was thought to be composed of five geometrical A's (Alpha’s) joined at their base to form the five-pointed star.
Early Christians attributed the pentagram to the Five Wounds of Christ and from then until medieval times, it was a lesser-used Christian symbol.
In twelfth century Renaissance the pentagram was said to form the centre linking point between scripture, divine harmony, mathematics and spirit. Honorius of Autun and (St) Hildegard of Bingen said that as the human body is constructed on the basis of the number five; having five senses, five members and five figures this made the pentagram a symbol of the microcosm, the earthly reflection of the divine plan the macrocosm and of the divine image!
The number 5 has always been regarded as mystical and magical, yet essentially 'human'. We have five fingers/toes on each limb. We commonly note five senses - sight, hearing, smell, touch and taste. We perceive five stages or initiations in our lives - e.g. birth, adolescence, coitus, parenthood and death.
The number 5 is also associated with Mars. It signifies severity, and harmony through conflict. In Christianity, as said before, five were the wounds of Christ on the cross. There are five pillars of the Muslim faith and five daily times of prayer.
Five were the virtues of the medieval knight - generosity, courtesy, chastity, chivalry and piety as symbolised in the pentagram device of Sir Gawain. The Wiccan Kiss is Fivefold - feet, knees, womb, breasts and lips. Five is a prime number. The simplest star - the pentagram - requires five lines to draw and it is unicursal; it is a continuous loop.
It was also thought to contain an active magical power in its angles. In the Babylonian context, the points of the pentagram were probably orientations: forward, backward, left, right, and "above". These directions also had an astrological meaning, representing the five planets Jupiter, Mercury, Mars, Saturn, and Venus as the "Queen of Heaven" (Ishtar) above.
Another mention of the pentagram that I have come across is by the historian and satirist ‘Lucian’ (120 CE): He was a citizen of Rome who wrote in Greek but actually came from Syria!
His book! ‘De Dia Syria’ the Goddess of Syria played an important role in the development of neo-paganism; Robert Graves (he of the White Goddess fame) cited it as one of the few actual accounts of ancient Goddess worship.
According to Lucian, the druids absorbed some of the tenets of the ‘Pythagorean’s’, he came to this conclusion because of a copy of a coin of the Suessiones said to have been made by the Keltǽ (a Celtic tribe) showing a pentagram and a horse on the reverse side and the head of Philip of Macedon on the face.
Later, the pentagram came to be symbolic of the relationship of the head to the four limbs and hence of the pure concentrated essence of anything, such as spirit, to the four traditional elements of matter - earth, air, fire, and water. Spirit is the personification of “Mind over Matter”.
Eliphas Levi is accredited with establishing the design upon the pentagram, and such associative inscription’s as those in the Pentacle of the Tetragrammaton and also renaming the suit of ‘coins' in the Tarot as 'pentacles'.
In the epic poem ‘Sir Gawaine and the Green Knight’ composed in the second half of the 14th century the author (un-known) placed the pentagram on the shield of the hero Sir Gawaine.
The author in his defence of its use said that Solomon had used it and that it represented the divine plan and thus the human figure. He also stated that in England it was known as the ‘Endless Knot’ and that it represented the five wounds of Christ and is potent against evil.
In Goethe's Faust, an incomplete pentagram prevents Mephistopheles from leaving a room.
According to the book, ‘The Triumph of the Moon’ by Ronald Hutton; in 1854 Eliphas Levi was the first to state that using the pentagram the elementals spirits, demons and angels could be invoked and direct !
Levi was the first to use the word ‘Occultism’ signifying hidden wisdom. He also said that as well as calling and controlling daemons and spirits by drawing the pentagram in a certain way at each of the quarters he also asserted that by drawing the pentagram in the opposite way would banishing them.
Eliphas Levi also stated that the pentagram with two points down represented God; with one point down it represented the Devil. Levi considered this orientation of the symbol evil and associated it with the triumph of matter over spirit but I will come back to that later! And the two combined (conjoined) represented the Holy Spirit!
Macgregor Mather’s: Mather’s was introduced to Freemasonry by a neighbour in 1877. In 1882, the same year he resigned from Masonry, he was admitted to the Metropolitan College of the Societas Rosicruciana in Anglia. In 1891, Mathers assumed leadership of the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn. After a schism in 1900, Mathers formed a group called Alpha et Omega, but his most enduring contribution to the history of the pentagram was to elaborate on Levi’s concept of the invoking and banishing pentagram associated with the elemental spirits at each quarter into the eight fold system that we know today, with a different drawing of the figure to call or dismiss the spirit of each element or direction.
He was also the first recorded magus to place air in the east, fire to the south, water to the west and earth to the north.
He strengthened this process further by adding to it the tetragrammaton and the lords of the watch towers the later which he took from Dr John Dee and Edward Kelley’s concept of good angels guarding each direction, he was also the first to use or atleast the first to write it down that as part of the circle consecration; fire and water should be carried around the circle sunwise. He also stated that the pentagrams must be drawn upon the air with a steel dagger at each quarter.
Aleister Crowley redeemed the inverted pentagram sometime in the late 1800s or early 1900’s (probable in the early 1900’s,) which had been declared by Levi to be the sigil of the Devil: Crowley used it to signify the descent of the ‘Spirit into Matter’ as opposed to Levi associating it with the triumph of ‘matter over spirit’. Gerald Gardner later adopted the inverted pentagram as the symbol of the 2nd degreBack to the Top
There are also those who believe the origins of the five pointed star or Pentagram stems from the myths and legends of our Celtic ancestors: According to an old Irish text called ‘Suidigal Tellaig Temra’ (The settling of the Manor of Tara) the four quarters are ascribed to functions corresponding to functions within the tribe. The fifth function is ascribed to the centre which is symbolic of tribe and/or sovereignty. This was the binding element in Celtic society.
The first function is ‘fios’ (knowledge) and is associated with the west. This was usually seen in the guidance, council and mediation of the Druids.
The second function is ‘cath’ (battle) and is associated with the north. This was invested in the protection and security given by the warrior classes. In times of war other members of the tribe were conscripted.
While the third function is ‘bláth’ (flower/harvest/plenty?) and is associated with the east. This was the concern of the whole tribe, each member young or old had a duty to grow, harvest and hunt for food for the family and tribe (extended tribe) as well as to provide tools and weapons etc.
A forth functions, which was not usually cited is ‘séis’ (melody/tune, song?) this takes up all the functionality of what remains. This is usually the responsibility of the Bards who would travel from village to village or who may even reside in the village if it was large enough or important enough.
The binding function that holds them all together is ‘flaith’ (sovereignty) and is placed in the centre. This was seen at many levels; the head of a family gave allegiance to the Village Chief or head man, he in turn owed allegiance to the Clann Chief who in turn gave his allegiance to the ‘ard righ’ , the ‘’High King’ or Clann Chief.
There are four animals associated with the directions and they are; the Boar; Stag; Eagle and Salmon. Again the fifth and binding element is family, Clann, Tribe or Race.
Welsh and Irish names.
1. Stag; (W) Rhedynfer, (Ir) Redynver; station west.
2. Eagle; (W) Gwern Abwy (Ir) Séig station north.
3. Salmon; (W) Llyn Llyw, (Ir) Fintan; station east.
4. Boar; (W) Trwyth, (Ir) Torc Traith; station south.
Some would argue that the fifth element should be mankind or tribe.
5. Tribe; (Ir) Treibh, (Sc) Treubh; station Centre.
The fifth comes from the old Irish word ‘Tuatha’ as in ‘Tuatha De Danaan’ (The People/tribe of Danaan)
Researched & Written in by Rainbird ©2004
Then there are the treasures of the Celtic world each of which is attributed to a direction and element and in some cases a function.
1. The Stone: ‘Lia Fáil’ or ‘Fál’ known as the ‘Stone of Destiny’. There is a great deal of controversy attached to this stone. Some say it is the very phallic stone currently found at ‘Tara’ the seat of Kings in Co. Meath. Others maintain it is the Scottish ‘Stone of Scone’ taken from either Tara or Cashel in Ireland for the coronation of Fergus Mac Eirc. However, whichever stone it was, all parties more or less agree it was one of the treasures brought to Ireland by the Tuatha Dé Danaan when they first came to Ireland.
2. The Spear: ‘Gáe Assail’ or spear of Assail fetched by the sons of Tuirenn for Lugh/Lug Lamfhada and was one of the four treasures of the Tuatha Dé Danaan. It was known as ‘The Lightening spear of Lug’. There were also many other spears whose title included Gáe in the name; Gáe and Sleá in old Irish simple means spear/lance.
3. The Sword: ‘Caladbolg’ and ‘Claidheamh Soluis’. The first sword ‘Caladbolg’ was referred to as ‘The lightening Sword’. This was reputedly owned by Fergus Mac Róich, and according to legend he chopped off the tops of three hills in Meath. The first part of the name Calad simple means ‘Hard’. The second sword ‘Claidheamh Soluis’ was known as the ‘Sword of Light’ and was reputedly owned by Cúchulainn. The name Claymore derives from the Scottish and Irish Gaelic word ‘claidheamh mór’ or large sword claidheamh meaning sword.
4. The Cauldron: Almost everyone who was anyone in the pantheon of Celtic Deities and hero’s whether Scottish, Irish, Welsh or British had a cauldron. Cúchulainn twice brought cauldrons back from Scotland. Ceridwyn had the ‘Cauldron of Inspiration’. In the Welsh ‘Mabinogi’ ‘Bendigeidfran’ obtains a cauldron in Ireland and gives it to ‘Matholwch’, but the most important one was the Cauldron of the Good God ‘Dagda’, This was another of the four treasures of the Tuatha Dé Danaan. And the Cauldron of Gwigawd was one of the four treasures of Briton. The one that cannot be in dispute however is, the Gudestrup Cauldron found in a bog in Denmark in the 1880s. And of course we have all heard of ‘San Grail’ which is another sort/type of cauldron?
5. And again the binding point is to these is Spirit or Sovereignty of Earth and the ‘Otherworld’, in other words the Goddess and the God.
There are also those that believe the Pentagram is linked to the ‘Otherworldly’ cities, (see below) each of which are linked to a part of ancient Ireland. And all four are linked to the spiritual centre of ancient Ireland, sometimes referred to as the ‘omphalos’ which is a Greek word for ‘navel’ as in ‘belly button’ an analogy referring to the centre of a culture!; examples of these are: the omphalos stone at Delphi in Ancient Greece; The Standing Stone at Kermaria in Brittany; Pumlumon of Wales, a group of five mountain tops whose springs provide the sources of the Wye and Severn Rivers; The hill of Uisnech in Ireland which contains the ‘Ail na Miirenn’ (Stone of Division); and also the Tynwald of the Isle of Man where their ancient parliament meets. All being centres of ritual and significant sites in Celtic mythology. For England (Albion) it may have been somewhere like heel stone at Stonehenge or the well at Glastonbury Tor or the standing stones at Avebury but there is no official record of this. Locally there would also have been centres where people would meet and discus things important to the Clann. In my area (Suffolk) just outside Bury St Edmunds, one such place was renamed by the Danes as ‘Thinghow’ hill and was recorded as being in use right up until 1766 as a place of meeting and executions.
Mythical Cities of Ireland.
Key to Gaelic place names; W: Welsh; B: Breton; Ire: Irish; Scot: Scottish
N.B. The diagram above appeared in its original form in the book ‘The Way of the Celtic Tradition’ by Caitlín Matthews to which I have added a column titled ‘Celtic Poems’. These titles come from the four Celtic nations of Whales, Ireland, Scotland and Brittany; four poems in slightly differing forms of the Gaelic language which I found in another book; the title of which alludes me at present.
I have one point to make, that of where the Otherworldly Cities are situated. Although in her book ‘The Way of the Celtic Tradition’ Caitlín Matthews maintains they are in Ireland, according to the generally accepted beliefs of historians they are the place/city names from which the Tuatha Dé Danaan migrated from? And as I understand it Otherworldly places are beyond the ‘Ninth Wave’ i.e. foreign! Anything that was beyond the ninth wave was not a part of The Islands of Albion or Erin. Perhaps they are just analogies that are situated in those regions of Ireland just as the ‘omphalos’ is an analogy for a centre?
Some believe that through our Celtic ancestor’s love of symmetry, art and interlocking swirling patterns they came up with the design of the interlocking five pointed star and the continuous interlocking Pentacle, but my own personal belief is that these are modern designs drawn in the last decade or two.
(* CE: Common Era: **BCE Before the Common Era)
Researched & Written in by Rainbird ©2004
Invoking & Banishing Pentagrams.
Invoking and Banishing Gates or Directions etc
These are the directions I prefer to use when I draw the summoning and banishing sigils; especially those of Air and Water. Not everyone agrees and this is not the traditional way chosen by the vast majority of witches.
Invoking Pentagram Banishing Pentagram.
Earth: North Gate or direction; Season, Winter
Festival: Winter Solstice, Yule.
Air: East Gate or direction; Season Spring.
Festival: Eóstra; Ostara
Fire South Gate or direction; Season Summer.
Festival: Litha; Summer Solstice
As I wrote at the beginning I have gone against the traditional line for banishing air and water pentagrams* because I think it confuses people (see below); and on the principle of as above so below (confusion that is) I propose the above set of directions as apposed to the usual:
* (i.e.The Opening direction for Air; is also the closing direction for Water. The Opening direction for Water is also the closing direction for Air.) The use of sigils at North, East, South and West as far as I can ascertain began with the use of the Earth Sigil of summoning and banishing only and as far as I know it was introduced by Eliphas Levi. Later the introduction of summoning and banishing sigils for the East, South and West were added I believe by Macgregor Mather. Rainbird )O(
The use of sigils at North, East, South and West as far as I can ascertain began with the use of the Earth Sigil of summoning and banishing only and as far as I know it was introduced by Eliphas Levi. Later the introduction of summoning and banishing sigils for the East, South and West were added I believe by Macgregor Mather.