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Symbols of Wicca, other Neopagan traditions, Satanism, etc.

Frequently confused symbols: The
pentacle, pentagram, & the Sigil of Baphomet

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Notation:

The terms pentagram and pentacle are sometimes used interchangeably. However, we believe that the most common precise meanings are:

bulletThe word pentagram comes from the Greek: "pente means 5 (as in Pentagon). "Gram" comes from the Greek verb graphein, "to write".  The same ending is found in such words as telegram. Thus, pentagram refers to a five pointed star, or "any figure of five lines." 1 It is most often used to refer to a symmetrical, five pointed star, with equal sides, drawn either with a single line or with two closely spaced parallel lines. Their overall shape is like the decoration on the top of many Christmas trees, and the stars on the American flag.

bulletAn upright pentagram is a 5 pointed star with one point aligned upwards.

bulletAn inverted pentagram is a 5 pointed star with two points aligned upwards.

bullet An upright pentacle is generally defined as an upright pentagram surrounded by a circle, as is shown in the following icon. It often takes the form of a pentagram printed, engraved, or cut into a flat disk.

Upright Pentacle/Pentagram

Upright pentacles and pentagrams are among the most widely used religious symbols. They have been used in many eras and by many cultures and religions of the world: by ancient Pagans, ancient Israelites, Christians, magicians, Wiccans and others. The following pentagram-using groups are listed in chronological order:

bulletThis symbol apparently originated as the symbol of a Goddess who was worshiped over an area which extends from present-day England to Egypt and beyond. Her name was Kore (a.k.a. Car, Cara, Carnac, Ceres, Core, Kar, Karnak, Kaur, Kauri, Ker, Kerma, Kher, Kore, Q're, etc.). As Carmenta she was said to have invented the Roman alphabet. From her alternative Roman name Ceres have evolved many English words: cardiac, carnal, cereal, core, corn, and kernel. The port of Caraalis, (now Cagliari, the capital of Sardinia), was named after her. 

Kore's sacred fruit is the 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. Many Wiccans, other Neopagans and Roma (a.k.a. Gypsies) continue to cut apples in this way. The Roma refer to the core as the Star of Knowledge.

bulletIn ancient Greece, Pythagoras (586 - 506 BCE) established a school which pursued knowledge in mathematics, music, religion, and other specialties. Driven underground, his followers used the pentagram as a secret sign to identify themselves to each other. The Masonic Order has traditionally traced its origins back 2,500 years to the Pythagoreans.
 
bulletKore was worshiped within the Coptic Gnostic Christian religion in Alexandria, Egypt, during the 4th century CE. Her festival, the Koreion, was held yearly on JAN-6. This was adopted by the Christian church as Feast of Epiphany (a.k.a. Twelfth Night). 2 This date is still celebrated as Jesus' birthday in Armenian churches, and is observed with more pomp than is Christmas by the Greek Orthodox church. 3
  
bulletIn England, the Koreion became the Kirn - the Feast of Ingathering. The Christian church later adopted it to the Feast of Our Lady of Mercy. 2
 
bullet During the times of the Hebrew Scriptures (Old Testament), the pentacle was the first and most important of the Seven Seals - an amulet whose seals represented the seven secret names of God. It was inscribed on King Solomon's ring, which is often called Solomon's Seal in error. 4 Each point of the pentagram was also interpreted as referring to the five books of the Pentateuch - the first five books in the Hebrew Scriptures; a.k.a. the Torah.
 
bullet The Celts believed that the pentacle was the sign of the Goddess of the Underground, who they called Morgan (a.k.a. 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." 5
 
bulletIn Christian times:
bulletThe five points of the pentagram have been interpreted as representing the five wounds of Christ (2 wrist, 2 ankle and 1 side).

bulletThe Roman Emperor Constantine used the pentagram in his seal and amulet. 6

bullet It has been referred to as the Star of Bethlehem.

bullet It was used to symbolize the star which allegedly led three Zoroastrian astrologers (a.k.a. the three wise men) to the baby Jesus; it was called the Three Kings' star.

bulletThe English warrior Sir Gawain, a nephew of King Arthur, adopted the pentagram as his personal symbol and placed it on his shield. 7 It appeared in gold on a red background. The five points symbolized "the five knightly virtues - generosity, courtesy, chastity, chivalry and piety." 6

bulletTarot cards originally had a suit of coins or discs. These were changed in the 19th century to pentacles when the Tarot became associated with the Kabbalah. They eventually became the suit of diamonds in modern playing cards.

bulletIt has been widely used by past Christians as a protective amulet.

bullet During the three centuries long burning times, the Christian church burned alive or hung tens of thousands of innocent people accused of Witchcraft, Satan worship or other heresy. The meaning of the pentagram changed. It began to symbolize a goat's head or the devil in the form of Baphomet. "The folk-symbol of security - for the first time in history - was equated with evil and was called the Witch's Foot." 6

bulletModern times:
bullet The pentacle and pentagram are the main symbols used by Wiccans and many other neo-Pagans. The religion of Wicca is based in part on ancient Celtic deities, symbols, days of celebration, etc. They are an Earth-centered religion whose days of celebration follow the phases of the moon and the seasons.Their total membership in the U.S. is on the order of 750,000. That would make Wicca about the 5th largest organized religion in the United States, behind Christianity, Islam, Judaism, and Hinduism.

bullet Many religious and spiritual groups use the pentacle or pentagram today in a secondary role.

bullet The National flag of Morocco consists of a green interwoven star on a red background. The color red has "considerable historic significance in Morocco. ... during the reign of Mulay Yusuf, the green Seal of Solomon was added to the national flag." 8

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Inverted Pentacle/Pentagram

Some religious and spiritual groups have used the inverted pentacle.

During the 20th century, Satanists inverted the upright pentacle and adopted it as their own symbol. However, the symbol is most commonly shown with the head of a goat within the pentagram as shown below. 

Medal of Honor The Medal of Honor is also a pentacle.It is the nation's highest medal for valor in combat that can be awarded to members of the armed forces. It sometimes is referred to as the "Congressional Medal of Honor" because the president awards it on behalf of the Congress.

Sigil of Baphomet

The inverted pentacle with a goat's head is called the Sigil (or Sigl) of Baphomet. The second word may have come from two Greek words, baphe and metis, meaning "absorption of knowledge." It has also been called the Black Goat, Devil's Goat, Goat Head, Goat of Mendes, and Judas Goat. Its first appearance appears to have been during the vicious interrogation of members of the Knights Templar by the Roman Catholic Church during the Inquisition. There was little consensus among different victims' descriptions of the Baphomet. It can probably be safely assumed that their description of the Baphomet is more a product of the Inquisition's torture methods than of any actual statue that was in use by the Knights. 

According to the Mystica web site:

"In the 20th. century Karl Kellner and other German occultists formed the secret order of the O.T.O. (Ordo Templi Orientis or Order of Templars in the East). They installed the English occultist Aleister Crowley to head their British section. Crowley took Baphomet as his magical name." 9 

Today, the Baphomet is widely used by religious Satanists. The Church of Satan also uses a second symbol which is an infinity sign (a figure 8 on its side). A Roman cross is placed on top with a second, longer cross piece added beneath the top cross piece.

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See also an essay on what pentacle and pentagram symbols mean to various
people, including school officials who sometimes confuse them with gang symbols.

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References used:

The following information sources were used to prepare and update the above essay. The hyperlinks are not necessarily still active today.

  1. "Webster's New World Dictionary: 3rd college edition"
  2. Barbara G Walker, "The woman's encyclopedia of myths and secrets," Harper & Row, (1983), Page 514-515.
  3. Barbara G Walker, op. cit., Page 166-167.
  4. Barbara G Walker, op. cit., Page 782 to 783.
  5. "Pentagram History" at: http://www.concentric.net/ 
  6. Sharynne NicMacha, "The star of life," at The Witches' Voice web site. See: http://www.witchvox.com/ 
  7. J.C. Cooper, "An illustrated encyclopaedia of traditional symbols," Thames and Hudson (1992), Page 128.
  8. "Flag of Morocco," Wikipedia, at: http://en.wikipedia.org/
  9. "Baphomet," at the Mystica web site at: http://www.themystica.com/

Copyright © 1999 to 2010 by Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance
Written: 1999-SEP-22
Latest update and review: 2010-NOV-27
Author: B.A. Robinson

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