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

The meaning of Pentacle & Pentagram symbols
to their users. Dress code conflicts in schools.


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See also an essay on frequently confused symbols: The
pentacle, pentagram, & the Sigl of Baphomet
.

The meaning of Pentacles/Pentagrams to their users:

There is no single consensus on the significance of these symbols. Various groups use and define them quite differently:

bulletWiccans have attempted to reconstruct a Pagan religion similar to that of the ancient Celts. They have adopted the upright pentacle/pentagram, since it was the symbol of Morgan, an ancient Celtic goddess. Many wear it as jewelry and use it on their altars. The symbol is frequently traced by hand using an athame (a ritual knife) during Wiccan rituals. It is used to cast and banish their ritual circles. Some Wiccans interpret the five points as representing earth, air, fire, water, and spirit -- the five factors needed to sustain human life. Others relate the points to the four directions and spirit.  Some Wiccans and other Neopagans bless themselves and others with the sign of the pentagram. Their hand passes from their forehead to one hip, up to the opposite shoulder, across to the other shoulder, down to the opposite hip and back to the forehead. Some of the more highly structured Wiccan traditions have used an inverted pentagram to represent a second or third degree status. "Many of these groups have since substituted a triangle form for the same degrees because of the association of the inverted form of the pentacle with Satanism and black magic." 1

bulletCeremonial magicians also use the pentagram. Its points can "represent various elemental energies, spirits or deities." 1

bulletThe Order of the Eastern Star is a international humanitarian organization composed of women who are wives of advanced Masons. They use an inverted pentacle as their symbol. Essentially all Eastern Star members in North America are Christians.

bulletThe Rosicrucian movement consists of groups of Christian mystics. They frequently use a wand, sword, cup and pentagram as tools during their rituals. The pentagram represents "earth, matter and stability." 2

bulletThe Masonic Order associate the five points of the pentagram with "Five Points of Fellowship." However, its "use in Masonry is vestigial and peripheral." 3 Again, almost all Masons in North America are Christians.

bulletSome heavy metal rock bands occasionally use a pentacle or pentagram as a band symbol. It is often neither an upright nor an inverted symbol. Curiously, it is often, it is aligned to have a top point which is slightly off vertical. Most of these groups simply use the symbolism and stage theatrics to generate notoriety, popularity and record sales. However, a few bands -- particularly in the Black Metal scene -- have been founded by Satanists. Some are: "Morbid Angel" in the U.S., "Emperor" in Norway, "Dark Funeral" in Sweden, and "Rotting Christ" in Greece.

bulletSatanism is composed of many diverse groups with no central overall organization. They number perhaps 20,000 in North America. Some Satanic grottos and temples use the Baphomet symbol.

The meaning of Pentacles/Pentagrams to Christians:

Because liberal and conservative Christians interpret the Bible in different ways, they have developed very different belief systems over time, and agree on very few points. This disagreement carries over into their understanding of pentacles and pentagrams. 

bulletLiberal Christians generally view Satan as a principle of evil rather than as a living entity. Those who are familiar with Wicca and Satanism are aware of the lack of similarity of the two religions:

bulletWiccans do not recognize the existence of the Christian quasi-deity, Satan. They have no all-evil deity in their pantheon of gods and goddesses. Satanists recognize Satan (or one of his precursors) as either a living deity or a principle.

bulletWiccans are prohibited by their Wiccan Rede from harming, manipulating or controlling others. Satanists, on the other hand, are free to use magic to harm their enemies.

bullet

Wiccans follow an gentle, nature-based, aboriginal religion that is similar to that of Native American spirituality. Satanists practice indulgence, gratification and vengeance, rather than concern for all humans and for the environment.

Many religious liberals view the Wiccan upright pentacle or pentagram as an elegant, spiritual symbol that represents life. They see the Satanic inverted pentacle or Sigil of Baphomet as primarily representing a self-centered religion.



bulletFundamentalist and other Evangelical Christians generally have an entirely different view of Wicca, Satanism and other religions. This is influenced by some of their beliefs. In many, but not all cases:

bulletSince they believe in the inerrancy of the Bible, they regard as true those passages which state that the gods and goddesses worshiped by other religions are, in reality, Satan or his demons.

bulletThey regard Satan as a living entity, a living, quasi deity who is totally dedicated to destroying people's lives and ruining their faith. They regard themselves as being in continuous "spiritual warfare" -- a personal battle with Satan and his demons.

bulletThey regard Satanism as having existed as an organized movement, murdering and performing "black masses" for may centuries. This contrasts with a consensus of modern historians that: "no reliable historical sources indicate that such organizations existed; the black mass appears only once in the sources before the late nineteenth century."

bullet They do not differentiate between Wicca and Satanism. Because they consider the Wiccan gods and goddesses to be Satanic or demonic, they regard the two religions as very similar .

bulletThey commonly believe that Satanists, (and by extension, Wiccans) engage in Satanic Ritual Abuse (SRA) and murder. Belief in SRA was widespread during the 1980s and early 1990s. However it rapidly declined during the late 1990s due to a complete lack of physical evidence.

bulletMany books during the 1980s and early 1990s by conservative Christian authors about Wicca and Satanism were based primarily on books by other conservative Christian authors, rather than on primary religious sources. Some of the ideas put forth in these books as truth can be traced back to 15th century Christian propaganda during the Burning Times. 

Many conservative Christians do not differentiate between Wicca and Satanism, or between upright and inverted pentacles/pentagrams. All are viewed as symbols representing evil, violence and lawlessness. 

Dispute over pentagrams in Roswell NM public schools:

Confusion over pentagram and pentacle symbols often extends into public schools. One fascinating example ocurred during 1999-SEP. The Roswell Independent School District in New Mexico had a dress code that stated (in part):

"...Any attire associated with gothic, satanic, or occult-type activities such as trench coats, knee high boots, all-black clothing, spiked jewelry, upside-down crosses, swastika, tattoos, pentagrams, etc...are prohibited.."

The son of Katherine King, owner of a local Pagan book store in Roswell, discovered the ban during a school assignment. He asked why such a prohibition was in place, because it was such an obvious violation of the 1st Amendment of the U.S. Constitution. That amendment guarantees freedom of speech and freedom of religion. This triggered a study which resulted in  a recommendation by the school staff that the ban on religious symbols be removed -- specifically the prohibition on pentagrams. Legal staff  from the city  advised that the ban was unconstitutional, as written. At a school district meeting, over 200 people attended. Many were from the conservative Christian "Church On The Move;" some were from other conservative Christian groups. After an emotional 3 hour discussion, the board voted whether to change the dress code. It was a 2 - 2 tie. This meant that no action was taken and the existing prohibition continued. Kathyrn King, described by the Roswell Daily Record as a "Pagan activist," is reported as saying that she will ask the American Civil Liberties Union to mount a lawsuit against the school board. 4,5

On SEP-12, the Roswell Daily Record News published an interview with Steve Smothermon, pastor of the Church on the Move. He indicated that their goal was not to deny any students the right to wear their religious symbol. "Our whole point was, nobody has the right to promote violence in our school system." Referring to Kathryn King, he continued: "If [the dispute is]...all about a symbol, change her symbol...But she shouldn't be allowed to promote anything which promotes violence."

Mary Reeves, a member of Smothermon's congregation, said that the pentagram has been viewed as a Satanic symbol for centuries. "Why would they [the Neopagans] pick a violent symbol to promote their love? It's been known as being violent from the medieval age on."

State Senator Rod Adair, (R-Roswell) expressed support for the pentagram ban. He said:

"In an era when the term 'zero tolerance' for drugs, guns, knives and violence is the watchword of the day, it is inconceivable that we would allow symbols which directly promote Satanic worship and the violence and bloodshed which are part of it."

Both Reeves and Adair seem to have not recognized the violence associated with the Christian cross symbol. To Protestants, who often wear a plain cross consisting of an upright and horizontal post, the cross represents a torture/execution device. Many Roman Catholics wear a crucifix, which is a plain cross on which is hanging the image of a nearly naked man being tortured to death. There would appear to be considerable violence associated with both symbols. The cross brings to mind the famous quotation by Lenny Bruce: "If Jesus had been killed twenty years ago, Catholic school children would be wearing little electric chairs around their necks instead of crosses." He allegedly was arrested at least once for that statement.

Reeves' and Adair's association of the pentacle with violence and bloodshed apparently refers to the Satanic Ritual Abuse hoax. During the 1990's and early 1990's, many North Americans believed that Satanists ritually abused and killed tens of thousands of children annually. The belief has largely dissipated due to the complete lack of hard evidence. However, many conservative Christians were still convinced at the end of the 20th century that such abuse actually happens.

Smothermon doubts that the wearing of a pentagram is protected by law. "What ruling allows for violence to be promoted in our school system? I want to know what law that is. If they're talking about the equal access law, that has no bearing on this issue." (The equal access law is a federal statute which assures that religious clubs and religious expression are guaranteed the same rights as secular clubs and secular speech). He continued: "They have the right to worship what they want to worship; that is not in question here."

On 1999-SEP-21, the school board again met to discuss the issue. The meeting was attended by about 400 Christians and just over 20 Pagans. The police had an obvious presence. Prayer meetings inside and outside the meeting area were held throughout the evening. The discussion period involving extensive public input. Speakers threatened to remove students from the school system if pentagrams were allowed; some called for a religious battle in the courts and offered to help with legal costs; some opposed the wearing of pentagrams anywhere, not just by students in school. The general consensus of the Christians at the meeting was that the pentagram is, and always will be, a Satanic symbol to them. One Native American spoke of Christians stripping his culture of their talking stick and other symbols of his faith. He said that he found the Christian cross offensive because, to him, it stood for the destruction of his culture. Many Wiccans and other Neopagans spoke, asking for tolerance, understanding and human rights. The board finally voted to cancel the previous dress code and substitute:

"No student on school property or at any school activity shall wear, possess, use, distribute, display or sell any clothing, jewelry, emblem, badge, symbol, sign or other item that currently evidences or reflects membership in, or affiliation with, any gang."

The vote was 4 to 1 in favor of the new dress code which allows the wearing of Neopagan religious symbols. Those supporting the change indicated that they based their decision on constitutional considerations; the one person who was opposed based their decision on the massive outpouring of public concern. The Church on the Move threatened legal action to reinstate the ban.

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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. Anon, "The elemental pentacle," at The Witches' Voice web site. See: http://www.witchvox.com/
  2. Anders Sandberg, "Rosicrucians," at: http://www.student.nada.kth.se
  3. T.W. McKeown, "Anti-Masonry Frequently Asked Questions," http://users.uniserve.com/
  4. News release from the "Alternative Religions Educational Network (AREN). [Formerly called Witches Anti-Discrimination League or WADL], 1999-SEP-9. 
  5. Various news reports from the Roswell Daily Record at: http://www.roswell-record.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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