The Pentacle

A copper, clay or stone disc marked with the sign of the pentagram is used as the elemental tool of the north in most traditions of modern paganism. It relates to a much older symbol which is the stone or sometimes the shield or the mirror. In Celtic myth the Lia Fal is the stone of destiny, truth and wisdom which the Tuatha   de Dannan brought from the Otherworld city of Falias (‘truth’). 

The pentagram has become the accepted symbol of Paganism, first used in modern times by witches, but now also by Druids, Heathens and other Pagans. The word pentagram comes from the Greek pentagrammon meaning roughly ‘five-lined’. It is the simplest form of star shape that can be drawn with a single line and therefore it is sometimes called the Endless Knot, but also known as the witch’s foot, the Druid’s foot and many other names.

The number five relates to the microcosm within the macrocosm. We humans have five sense, five fingers on each hand and five toes on each foot. We have five stages in out lives- birth, youth, adulthood, decline and death. Five-fold constructions frequently appear in life forms, but rarely in inanimate objects, so it is a symbol of life. The apple cut in half crossways reveals a pentacle in the centre. The Roma refer to the core as the Star of Knowledge.

Its use in symbolism and magic dates back to at least 8000 years. In 3000 BCE it was used, two points up, in Sumerian pictograms which represent the word UB meaning a cavity or hole.

The pentagram is often said to be a symbol of the Goddess. It is particularly associated with Queens of Heaven and the planet Venus, since when viewed from the Earth, successive inferior conjunctions of Venus plot a nearly perfect pentagram shape around the zodiac every eight years.

In ancient Greece, the pentagram was a many-layered symbol for the Pythagoreans who considered it an emblem of perfection or the symbol of the human being. They called it the pentalpha, since it could be composed of five interlaced alphas (the Greek letter A) and Hugieia, meaning ‘health’, ‘wholeness’ or ‘blessing’, using the pentagram and the password Hugiaine (‘Be Whole’ or ‘Be Blessed’) and their secret sign and password after the school was suppressed.  Hugieia (Hygeia) is the goddess of health, equivalent to the Roman Salus. The Pythagoreans labelled the points of the pentagram with the greek letters U, G, I, EI, A. It was depicted two points up, like the Babylonian pentagram, and may have had a similar meaning relating to the Pentemychos (a work written by Pythagoras’ teacher and friend Pherecydes [1]) the ‘five chambers’ in the underworld were the five pre-cosmic offspring, representing disorder, had to be confined by Kronos (ordered time) so that the kosmos (the ordered world) could be born from Tartaros, the primordial darkness or Chaos.

Traditionally, the five elements of the ancients are attributed to the points of the pentacle, placed in the order of density – aether, fire, air, water, earth: 

Earth: (lower left hand corner) represents stability and physical endurance.

Fire: (lower right hand corner) represents courage and daring.

Water: (upper right hand corner) represents emotions and intuition.

Air: (upper left hand corner) represents intelligence and the arts.

Spirit: (at the topmost point) represents the All and the Divine.

Though the modern Christian Church generally sees the pentacle as a symbol of the occult and evil, it has a long history of use within monotheistic traditions. During the times of the Old Testament, the pentacle was the first and most important of the Seven Seals, amulets which represent the seven secret names of God.  The points of the pentagram also refer to the five books of the Pentateuch – the first five books of the Torah. For Christians, the pentacle represented the five wounds of Christ and the star of Bethlehem, used as an amulet of protection.

In the Arthurian tales, Sir Gawain had a shield bearing the pentagram in gold on a red background. Its five points symbolise the five knightly values of generosity, courtesy, chastity, chivalry and piety.

With the development of the Hermetic arts in the Renaissance, and its interest in sacred geometry, the pentagram was used as the ‘Star of the Microcosm’, symbolising man (think of da Vinci’s depiction of a man with arms and legs outstretched within a pentagram) and his relationship to the macrocosm.  Similar contemporary images show the elements or planets arranged around the points of the pentagram. 

As we have seen, the ancients often drew the pentacle with two points upwards, what we now call and inverted pentacle, which Hollywood and the popular media coupled with Satanism.  The association seems to have begun in the  nineteenth century with Eliphas Levi who illustrated the upright pentagram of microcosmic man beside an inverted pentagram containing the goat’s head of Baphomet, which the literally minded took to be good and evil.  Indeed, some modern day Satanists have adopted this sigil drawn within a double circle, replacing the Pythagorean letters with Hebrew ones spelling out Leviathan. Crowley used the inverted pentagram to represent the descent of spirit into matter, as opposed to its ancient meaning of order emerging from chaos.

The pentagram is often depicted within a circle. The circle can be seen as representing infinity and eternity, the cycles of life, protection, the containment of the magic circle and its secrets, or the God and Goddess.

Most modern Pagans follow the Golden Dawn system, in which the pentacle is associated with the earth, and is one of the four magical tools of the adept.  The disc corresponds to the element of earth, the season of winter, midnight and the direction of the North. Its station on the wheel is the midwinter solstice, which we call Yule, when the sun is reborn at the dead time of the year when the earth sleeps. From this point on the days begin to lengthen once more and though the worst of the winter weather is still to come, we have the promise of the return of spring.

Magically, the earth rules the body and the material plane. Earth is solid, the manifest world which supports and nourishes us.  In token of this, bread is placed on the disc during the ritual, which is then blessed and shared before its close.

© Anna Franklin, Pagan Ritual, Lear Books, 2008

Illustration © Anna Franklin


[1]Guardians of Darkness, Comrade August and Tani Jantsang,http://www.geocities.com/go_darkness/god-pythagorean-pentacle.html

Author: annafranklinblog

Anna Franklin is the High Priestess of the Hearth of Arianrhod, which runs teaching circles, a working coven, and the annual Mercian Gathering, a Pagan camp which raises money for charity. She regularly speaks at conferences, moots and workshops around the country. She is the author of many books on witchcraft and Paganism, including the popular Pagan Ways Tarot, Sacred Circle Tarot, The Fairy Ring, Herb Craft, Magical Incenses and Oils, Personal Power, A Romantic Guide to Handfasting, Familiars, The Oracle of the Goddess, Hearth Witch, The Path of the Shaman and The Hearth Witch’s Compendium. Anna’s books have been translated into nine languages.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s