Exact definitions can be hard to pinpoint within ‘magic’. Each tradition my have their own, respective you’ll hear different views and more or less substantiated ideas concerning this or that term. This text deals with the words ‘pentagram’ and ‘pentacle’.
A pentagram per se, is a simple geometrical figure, a five pointed-star drawn with five strokes. A pentagram is also called a pent-alpha, because five alphas joined at their base resemble a pentagram, the angle of each edge measuring 36°. Sumerians and Egyptians used the pentagram in scripture as well as a religious symbol. Interestingly, some of the oldest discovered depictions of pentagrams traced by Sumerians were drawn in such manner that the lowest angle would point downwards, which by some is also called an ‘inverse’ pentagram. It is unclear whether Sumerians attributed anything negative to the ‘downward pointing’ pentagram, as is done in modern times. There were also pentagrams pointing into other directions. It is possible they were simply used to denote orientations.
A pentagram traced within a circle is sometimes referred to as ‘pentacle’. However, throughout centuries the word pentacle was synonymous for any religious amulet attributed with the magical purpose of evoking a spirit, which had symbols inscribed upon it. These symbols could be pentagrams or other geometrical figures. A magical property and directionality arises, if the maker or person using it charges the amulet with his personal intent. Such pentacle used in magic and ritual can be made from metal, wax, clay, paper, wood or other materials, and can for example be worn as an amulet or placed as a disc upon the altar. Instead of a pentagram this disc can for instance also feature a hepta-, nona-, deca- or hendecagram, astrological figures and other things.
Concerning directionality and magical functions
According to my understanding neither the term pentacle nor the word pentagram imply any directionality or magical purpose. Neither does a downward pointing pentagram automatically carry ‘negative’ attributes. A pentagram with the lowest angle pointing to the ground emphasizes a connection with the earth and the plane of materialization (of which the disc upon the altar is representative). The two ‘legs up’ may represent the feminine, an open chalice or the prima materia into which the ‘seed of spirit’ or ‘divine spark’ is conceived, and the lowest point the source from which same spirit is evoked. It can further be associated with the underworld and the dead – for the positive and the negative, the benific and the baneful alike. In the same way a pentagram pointing upwards could be associated with positive and negative attributes.
In general, the pentacle represents physical manifestation. E.g. in rites of evocation the spirit, who’s signature is drawn upon the pentacle, is made to appear by anointing, rubbing, fuming and knocking the amulet, in combination with chanting formulae. The reasons for and goals of such evocation can be manifold, e.g. the spirit may be evoked for giving answers, drawing money, granting boons or fame etc. The purposes are as manifold as man’s needs and as diverse are the spirits, saints, demons etc. that may be evoked. During the evocation the pentacle acts simultaneously as a protecting amulet.
The pentagram disc worn as an amulet or placed upon the altar is a basic tool, whereby the pentagram is often seen as an allegory of the harmonic interplay between the four elements of the natural world, with each point being assigned to one element and the fifth point representing the ‘spirit’. The shape of the pentagram is viewed as a perfect geometrical figure and thus also represents wholeness, balance and health. In some Satanic traditions the pentagram can represent aspects adversarial and disruptive towards the harmony and balance between the elements of the created world (which is then perceived as a prison) and the pentagram disc is used for manifesting destructive goals. In these contexts the magician may visualize a pentagram turning black, dissolving or breaking. In baneful operations, curses directed against a certain person or group are wrought to manifest with the help of the pentagram disc.
The symbols and illustrative elements are my personal preference. They are telling stories and transmit something of the events occurring at the time of their crafting. None of the pentacles are baneful or benific per se. They can be used for both. However if you are looking specifically for a pentacle pointing upwards or having any other orientation, a different motif or special symbols traced upon it, we can discuss the details and price for making a custom one.
This article is a short discourse and addendum to the pentacles page. It was spawned by a recent discussion and I want to thank the persons, who took the time to comment and share their insights and knowledge.