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History of Pentagrams & Pentacles

Pentacles, or pentagrams , are two similar symbols that are used throughout modern paganism and witchcraft. But what are their differences? Where do they come from and are they actually Pagan in origin? Pentagram

A pentagram is the shape of a five pointed star without a circle around it. They were used as symbols in ancient Greece and Babylonia. Many modern day pagans, Wiccans and modern witches use this symbol a lot in their practice. Christians once used this symbol too to represent the five wounds of Jesus, and sometimes a pentagram can be found on church or even freemasonry buildings as it was also used in freemasonry.

Freemasonry building in Newcastle Upon Tyne.

Pentagram have been found on pottery as far back as 3500 BCE and were even associated with various deities such as Ishtar (Mesopotamian goddess), and Marduk, the patron deity of the city of Babylon.

Ancient Greeks also used it, seen as far back as 7th Century BCE. A pentagram is even thought to have been used by Pythagoras and his followers.

Judaism then picked it up around 300-150 BCE and it has its place in Jewish mysticism.

The concept of the pentagram being upside down is actually a modern idea, thanks to the writer Eliphas Levi, who was a writer on Kabbalah and occultism. He said that a pentagram pointing up is 'good' and pointing down is 'bad'. Occultists of the 18th and 19th century loved to use the pentagram and make up different claims about its meaning. They also held the belief as the Babylonians did about the pentagram being a protection symbol.

Similar concepts of five star patterns are seen within the Taoists Chinese tradition associating each corner of the star as a different phase or element: fire, earth, metal, water and wood. Thanks to 18/19th century occultism making the claim that an upside down pentagram was associated with evil, when the ‘Satanic Panic’ hit the USA in the 20th Century, many Christians believed an upside down pentagram was associated with the devil, and so also the right side up pentagram was similarly associated.

In all, the pentagram has been used throughout history by many different faiths, paths and religions. So, what's a pentacle?

Pentacles are magical symbols and have also been considered talismans throughout history. They don’t always include a star within a circle, but can include other forms of sigils or drawings. So, a pentagram can be placed within a circle and be called a pentacle.

Two books in the 16th Century, ‘The Heptameron' by Pietro d’Abano and ‘The Key of Solomon’ first use the word ‘pentacle’. In these books are pictures of pentacles; some include boxes inside a circle, others include a hexagon. Occultist Heinrich Cornelius Agrippa popularised the idea that a pentagram was a magical symbol, attributing the aforementioned five elements - fire, water, earth, air, and idea - to five points of the star.

Eliphas Levi (mentioned already before) made the concept of the pentacle containing a pentagram popular when he used pentagrams and pentacles in his own work, though he did also include pentacles without pentagrams, such as his Trident Pentacle. Eliphas Levi was a big influence for occult related people in the 20th century, such as Aleister Cowley, and even Gerald Gardner - the founder of Wicca - and they used pentacles containing pentagrams in their own religious beliefs and traditions. In short, the pentacle and the pentagram have both had a long history on separate but sometimes connecting paths. The pentagram was used as far back as the Babylonians and Pentacles were used as magical talismans or symbols as far back as the 16th century CE thanks to texts such as the Key of Solomon; then picked up and used by occultists over 500 years, incorporating pentagrams into pentacles. Then to modern times, Wicca using a pentagram in a pentacle as their symbol, which has then trickled into modern paganism and modern witchcraft as a whole into the 21st century. So This is a Pentagram:

And this is a Pentagram inside a circle, called a Pentacle:

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