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Glossary of Wiccan, Neo-Pagan and Occult Terminology

PENTACLES and PENTAGRAMS

Pentacle

The pentagram is a five pointed star.   As it consists of a continuous line that runs from point to point, it has been referred to as an "endless knot".   This property led people to believe that as it had no unbroken lines or "gates" it could afford protection against spirits.

The Pythagorean mystics worshipped the pentacle or pentagram, a pentacle which is written or drawn, because it was based on the symbol of the Goddess Kore, frequently represented by an apple.   When an apple is cut through its equator, both halves will reveal a near-perfect pentagram shape at the core, with each point on the star containing a seed.   In ritual, many Wiccans and other Neo-Pagans continue to cut apples in this way.   The Romany Gypsies refer to the core as the Star of Knowledge.

The Pythagorean mystics called this symbol Pentalpha, the birth-letter interlaced five times.   The symbol meant "life" or "health."   The five-pointed star has also been known as the star of Isis, or of Isis' underground twin Nephthys.   To the Egyptians the star represented the underground womb.

The Celts believed that the pentacle was the sign of the Goddess of the Underworld, Morrigan.   The concept of five points seems to have permeated at least one of the Celtic lands.     "Ireland had five great roads, five provinces and five paths of the law. The fairy folk counted by fives, and the mythological figures wore five fold cloaks."

During the times of the Hebrew Scriptures (Old Testament), the pentacle represented the five books of the Pentateuch - the first five books in the Hebrew Scriptures; the Torah.

In Christian times the five points of the pentagram have been interpreted as representing the five wounds of Christ (2 wrist, 2 ankle and 1 side).

In Magick, however, the pentagram, the five-pointed star image with its lines often interlaced, is typically enclosed within a circle; and thus, in most Traditions, is a symbol of protection.

During ritual and magical workings, the pentagram is often symbolically drawn in the air using the athame or sword, this is done to either invoke or banish specific energies.   Traditionally four of the five points of the pentagram has been attributed to the four sacred elements:   Earth, Air, Fire and Water, with the fifth point (uppermost) representing Spirit:
  • Earth: Is represented by the lower left hand point of the star, and is symbolic of Stability and Physical Endurance.
  • Fire: Is represented by the lower right hand point of the star, and is symbolic of Courage and Daring.
  • Water: Is represented by the upper right hand point of the star, and is symbolic of Emotions and Intuition.
  • Air: Is represented by the upper left hand point of the star, and is symbolic of Intelligence and the Arts.
  • Spirit: Is represented by the topmost point of the star, and is symbolic of Deity the Divine, and the All that Is.

The star, as a whole, symbolizes the spirit bringing the elements into natural harmony, the opposite of chaos; a concept taught by Empedocles, ca. 475 BC.

One important use of the pentagram among Neo-Pagans. Wiccans and Ritual Magicians is to perform the Greater and Lesser Banishing Rituals of the Pentagram.   The purpose of these rituals is to diminish the projection of consciousness into consensus reality in order to 'rise on the planes,' to seek communion with spiritual forces.   The rituals have been adopted and adapted by Wiccans and other Neo-Pagans to invoke and banish the Watchtowers at the four quarters of the Magick Circle.

It is also a symbolic representation both of the journey though Initiation and of the different aspects of personality.   The pentagram may be inscribed with the ritual sword, or athame, in a series of five strokes.   It is then sealed with a sixth and final stroke which retraces the path of the first.

When the pentagram points upwards, it is a symbol of life but, when reversed, it becomes the symbol of the Horned God as the Lord of Death, the spirit descending to the inner depths.   The Pentagram is also a formal position adopted by the High Priestess when her arms are extended, a posture that symbolizes birth and is the reverse of the arms-folded position that symbolizes death.

Ceremonial Magicians also use the pentagram as a part of the Solomon Lamen (Seal of Solomon), which is composed of three sigils: the Pentagram, the Hexagram and the Secret Seal (a Mercurial symbol).   In this lamen, worn as a necklace by the magician when invoking spirits, the pentagram is used to open a doorway to spiritual forces.

The words on the seal have the following meaning: Solomon Lamen
    • Abdia - I conjure thee in secret, O Spirit!
    • Ballaton - Come forth from thy abode and speak clearly in my speech.
    • Bellony - Put forth thy might and discover unto me the knowledge and power in thy keep.
    • Halliy - Answer in the inward silence all of my questions without fail.
    • Halliza - Assume and show forth unto me thy form of divine perfection.
    • Soluzen - Open thy secret door and fulfill my purpose!

The symbol of Man the Microcosm of the Hermetic magicians was based on the pentacle.   The pentacle represents the macrocosm with the male figure representing the cosmos within it.   His feet, hands and head touch each of the points with his genitals located exactly in the center.   "This image is related to Fimicus Maternus's remark that man is a microcosm ruled by `the five stars.'"

The circle surrounding the star also represents the safe place in which the Neo-Pagan/Wiccan or Ritual Magician can work.   The circle symbolizes a binding; in this instance, binding evil away from the wearer.

Most pentacles used in modern witchcraft and Magick are made of silver, the metal of the Moon's female energies and Psychic forces.   Some, however, are made of gold, the metal of the Sun's male energies of power and strength.

INVERTED PENTAGRAM/PENTACLE:

Inverted Pentagram

To those who do not properly understand the symbolism of the Wiccan pentagram (single point on top) often associate or confuse it with the Satanic pentagram, the inverted pentagram (single point down).

Given that the up-right pentagram represents Spirit, or Deities control over the elements, then the inverted pentagram is said to represent Satan and Chaos.   Commonly today the inverted pentagram is depicted with a goat's head, a symbol adopted and made popular by Anton Szandor La Vey when in 1966 he founded the Church of Satan in San Francisco.   This he most probably took from a description made by Eliphas Levi in his book "The Key of Great Mysteries".   In it, Levi describes the inverted pentagram as representing the horns of a goat of the Witches' Sabbat:

"It is the goat of lust attacking the Heavens with its horns.   It is the sign execrated by the initiates of a superior rank, even at the sabbat," say's Levi.  

The inverted pentagram has also been used to represent the second-degree Initiation in most traditional groups of Wicca.   However, due to its association with Satanism and Black Magick, many Traditions have since substituted other symbols, such as the triangle to represent the second-degree Initiation.

Many other groups use the inverted pentagram in non-Satanic applications: for example the Victorian Police in Australia and the US Medal of Honor.

PANTACLES:

Pantacle

A Pantacle, a ritual device traditionally made of wax that is often mistakenly called a Pentacle, is used to consecrate ritual items, to ground energy and (in some Traditions at least) to serve food; Pantacles used for this latter function are usually round disks made of clay or wood rather than wax.   In most Neo-Pagan and Wiccan Traditions it symbolizes the element Earth.   The Pantacle is frequently used as a magickal plate upon which objects are placed to be magically charged, or presented as ritual objects and offerings.

Many witches make their own Pantacles, which can be as plain or ornate as they choose.   They can be decorated with pieces of stained coloured glass; stones or gems with due regard to their correspondences, or personalized by adding appropriate symbols, Runes and sigils that have special meaning to the practitioner.   By doing so many are designed and used for a particular purpose or intent.

NOTE: The Pentagram is also the name of a defunct occult magazine which collapsed in the late 1960s.


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PLEASE NOTE:
One of the major problems with 'defining' Paganism and/or its beliefs and practices is that it is an 'organic' movement, in that it is undergoing constant change and re-evaluation from within, and as such any 'one-size-fits-all' approach to understanding Paganism will be found wanting.

Due to the very 'organic' nature of Paganism, and the many differing Paths and Traditions within it, in many cases no one definition may be universally accepted by all Pagans.   Therefore, where such cases of possible conflicting and/or contradictory meanings of certain terms occur I have endevoured to give not only the generally accepted meaning, but also any major 'variations' in belief and/or practice.

Christians who believe this difference in meaning of certain key terms, beliefs and practices to be unique to Paganism need to remember that such conflicts also arise within the Body of Christ - the Church.   Take for instance the differing practices amongst Christians concerning Baptism and the different attitudes towards women in the clergy.

- Jean-Luc



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