Pentagram and Pentacle Defined for Beginner Wiccans

Updated on October 21, 2017
WiccanSage profile image

A Wiccan of 25 years, Sage likes to put her background as a writer and teacher to use by helping people learn about this NeoPagan path.

Wicca for Beginners: Wicca Symbols

A pentacle is one of those symbols that has picked up a whole lot of baggage over the years. Beginner Wiccans often come to our religion having to ‘reprogram’ their own way of thinking about the pentagram. For years, pop culture, media hysteria and other religions have drilled the idea into our heads that Pagan symbols are bad, and the pentagram is evil.

Unfortunately, in a lot of books aimed at Wicca for beginners, more misinformation about the pentagram is spread. This time, it errs on the side of trying to make the pentagram look good, attaching to it all kinds of romanticized ideas that are just not factual.

What is a pentagram? What is a pentacle? Is there a difference? Let’s have a closer look at the history of this symbol, and the meaning of the pentagram today.

What Is a Pentagram Exactly?

A good place to begin anytime you’re trying to understand a word and its usage is to hit the dictionary and look up the entomology of the word. The word pentagram is rooted in the Greek.

Instead of giving you my own interpretations, I’ll take the meaning directly from the dictionary:

Dictionary Meaning of A Pentagram

From Dictionary.Com:
 
penta-
a combining form occurring in loanwords from Greek, meaning “five” ( Pentateuch ); on this model, used in the formation of compound words ( pentavalent ). Also, especially before a vowel, pent-.
-gram
a combining form occurring in loanwords from Greek, where it meant “something written,” “drawing” (epigram; diagram ); on this model, used in the formation of compound words ( oscillogram ).
pen•ta•gram
[pen-tuh-gram] noun a five-pointed, star-shaped figure made by extending the sides of a regular pentagon until they meet, usedas an occult symbol by the Pythagoreans and later philosophers, by magicians, etc. Also called pentacle, pentangle, pentalpha.

Crotona Pentagram Ring

his is the earliest known pentagram ring. It originates from Crotona Italy circa 525 BCE. This drawing was from taken from the book IMAGINI DEGLI DEI ANTICHI by V. Catari, published in 1647 The letters of the word YGEIA (Greek for "health", standard
his is the earliest known pentagram ring. It originates from Crotona Italy circa 525 BCE. This drawing was from taken from the book IMAGINI DEGLI DEI ANTICHI by V. Catari, published in 1647 The letters of the word YGEIA (Greek for "health", standard | Source

Meaning of a Pentagram: A Brief History

The earliest use of the pentagram we know of is from ancient Sumeria-- but it wasn't a religious Pagan symbol. It was a word in their language that meant a corner or angle (due to the 5 sharp angles in the figure).

In the 6th century BCE, Pherecydes of Syros used it to illustrate the five recesses of the cosmology. Pentagram figures occasionally turned up in the far East as well, due to the 5 Chinese elements: wood, fire, earth, metal, water.

Pythagoras went on to use the pentagram as the symbol of man. Partly it was because the shape represented a human standing with his arms spread wide (the top point being the head, the to outer points the arms, and the bottom two points the legs). It was also considered to represent the 5 elements that the Greeks believed made up the physical body: Earth (matter), Air (breath), Fire (energy), Water (fluids) and Aether (the psyche or soul). When Pythagoras’ school was driven underground, students used the pentagram as a secret symbol to identify each other.

In ancient Judaism it was a symbol found in mysticism, related to the top portion of the Tree of Life in the Kabbalah, it stood for the 5 books of the Torah (what Christians refer to as the Pentateuch in the Old Testament of the Bible) and the symbol was featured in a seal representing the secret names of God.

Early Christians into the middle ages used the pentagram heavily as a symbol for Christ’s five wounds. The star of Bethlehem that lead the wise men to the baby Jesus was believed to be the pentagram. In Authorial legends, you’ll often see the symbol of the Pentagram inscribed on knight’s shields and other things—these were actually Christian, not Pagan, references. Christians thought of the pentagram as a protective amulet, and it was the primary symbol of Christianity back then, even more common than the cross.

So the pentagram had a long, ancient history of uses as a Pagan symbol and Judeo-Christian symbol. It had no single meaning. It represented perfection in mathematics, the human body, words, and was also used in religious ritual and magic.

Pentagram Symbol In Judaism:

Source
Source

But What About Witches, Wiccans and Satanists?

So I’ve mentioned that just about everyone had used the pentagram back then, except I haven’t mentioned Witches, Wiccans and Satanists. What about them?

The fact is, they didn’t really exist yet. The only “witches” at the time were the kind of folklore and rumor. Oh, don’t get me wrong—there were people who did magic, but they would not have identified with the term “witch”, because at the time it exclusively referred to the secret baby-killing, nekkid-frolicking, Satan-suckling whackos who were believed to be responsible for plagues and crop failures. “Witchcraft” was not an underground movement, spiritual art or Pagan religion until it was re-defined in the late 19th/early 20th century. Witchcraft back then is essentially what the Illuminati is today: a big fat rumor fueled by hysteria, and some trouble makers will take on the name just to go against the status quo and freak people out.

Satanic Pentagram

The Sigil of Baphomet was adopted by the Church of Satan as their official seal in the 1960s. The symbols adopted in their version promotes autocracy and man embracing his carnal nature.
The Sigil of Baphomet was adopted by the Church of Satan as their official seal in the 1960s. The symbols adopted in their version promotes autocracy and man embracing his carnal nature. | Source

When the Pentagram Became Associated With Evil

The 14th and 15th century saw the rise of occult practices that were rooted in Judeo-Christian symbolism and mysticism, and they borrowed liberally from many of the symbols, including the pentagram. They also borrowed from Gnostic and Paganism symbols. It’s no small surprise Ceremonial Magicians were accused by the Christian church of heresy. And heresy, to a medieval Christian, barrels down to Paganism, Satan worship and witchcraft.

Anything liberally used by Ceremonial Magicians became associated with anything considered heretical. If you don’t want to be associated with such things, you don’t use their symbols.

By Victorian times, the witch hunt craze was ending, and people started to forget how pentagrams were once very common, prominent Christian symbols. It’s now associated with paganism, Satan and witchcraft, and seen as an evil symbol.

The love of romanticized myth and history drive a new movement: the Pagan revival, and the pentagram gets turned around again. This is where it gets confusing, because misinformation and false histories begin to fly liberally from the late 19th to mid-20th century.

This is the time the Pagan Revival begins (mostly a re-invention than a re-construction of “Old Ways”). This is when Margaret Murray published her theories on ancient Witch cults being peaceful Pagan religions—though her works have been completely debunked since. This is when Gerald Gardner founded Wicca, and people came crawling out of the woodwork claiming to be ‘hereditary Witches’, or claiming their coven was ancient, or claiming some unbroken line to the Pagan religions of antiquity. This is also when a few ‘reverse Christian’ groups popped up, with practices specifically designed to mock and rebel against Christianity (those these groups were pretty rare and the NeoPagan community did their best to distance themselves from such groups).

One thing most of these groups have in common, though, is that they adopt the pentagram.

Hollywood – new on the scene in the mid-20th century – adopts the pentagram as well. Hollywood is not interested in accuracy; it’s interested in the shock value of things. They adopt it as a symbol for evil magic and reverse-Christian style devil worship and stick it into just about every horror movie conceivable. This fuels the antics of a lot of bored, rebellious people, particularly teens, who like to spray paint it on park walls and carve it into trees for the shock value.

By the late 20th century, the pentagram is being used and abused all over the place, but it is Hollywood who manages to make an indelible imprint on the social consciousness—and this is further driven by the media with sensationalized reporting during the 1970’s “Satanic Ritual Abuse” hysteria (which has also been debunked).

It’s only the tail end of the 20th century and the beginning of the 21st century in which the pentagram is finally gaining some understanding. Though mainstream society hasn’t completely lost the ‘kneejerk reaction’ to it, the growth of the Pagan Revival and the availability of information via the Internet have helped to quell some of the shock value and fears over it.

Documentary on Wicca's Real History, Presented By Ronald Hutton

Wiccan Symbols: Pentagram vs. Pentacle

More misconceptions abound, considering the Pagan community more commonly refers to the symbol as a ‘pentacle’ rather than a ‘pentagram’. Many books and websites have tried (and failed) to make the distinction clear. Some assertions I’ve read in passing are:

  • The pentagram is evil with one point down
  • the pentacle is good with one point up
  • The pentagram is just the star
  • the pentacle is the star with a circle around it
  • The pentagram is 2-D; the pentacle is 3-D

Actually, all of these answers would be technically incorrect. If you look at the definitions provided above, pentagram and pentacle are synonymous, and have nothing to do with which way the points face, or whether or not they have a circle around them.

A look at the dictionary's answer to pentacle and you see that the only real difference is one is derived from the Greek, the other from the Latin:

Dictionary Meaning of a Pentacle:

From Dictionary.Com:
 
-cle
a suffix found in French loanwords of Latin origin, originally diminutive nouns, and later in adaptations ofwords borrowed directly from Latin or in Neo-Latin coinages: article; conventicle; corpuscle; particle. Origin: < French, Old French < Latin -culus, -cula, -culum, variant of -ulus -ule with nouns of the 3rd, 4th and 5thdeclensions, usually with the same gender as the base noun — suffix forming nouns indicating smallness: cubicle ; particle
pen•ta•cle
[pen-tuh-kuh l] noun 1. pentagram. 2. a similar figure, as a hexagram. Origin: 1585–95; < Italian pentacolo five-cornered object. See penta-, -c
 
 

Wicca Symbol Poll:

What do you call it?

See results

The Pentacle: Not Just a Figure, but a Tool

A tool arose out of ceremonial magic. This tool was a flat, round disc or paper that was inscribed with protective symbols (a pentagram could be inscribed on it, but there were other symbols they used as well). It is used as an amulet of warding and power because a large part of Ceremonial Magic is invoking and commanding various entities from Judeo-Christian beliefs.

It was called the pentacle or sometimes pantacle. On the Tarot (a Christian-origin divination system), the symbol is used for the suit of coins, and it represents the Element of Earth.

Wicca and other NeoPagan religions borrowed this tool from Ceremonial Magic. They kept the name, but re-defined its purpose since Wiccans don’t believe in Judeo-Christian entities and is not concerned with calling or commanding spirits.

The pentacle (the disc) was adopted as an altar tool, and is used to symbolize the Element of Earth on the altar. It’s also used as a tool for placing sacred items upon it when cleansing, consecrating or charging them.

The Wiccan symbol of choice for this round disc was the pentagram/pentacle. To further confuse things, this tool does not have to be inscribed with a pentagram/pentacle.

Also a Pentacle

This is a Pentacle (altar plaque/ritual tool) that does not have a pentacle (star-in-a-circle figure) on it.
This is a Pentacle (altar plaque/ritual tool) that does not have a pentacle (star-in-a-circle figure) on it.

Meaning of a Pentagram in Wicca (And Which Way It Should Point)

As far as Wiccan symbols go, the pentagram isn't a representation of good vs. evil. It’s a symbol of our faith, a symbol of the 5 Elements (one for each point), and the circle (the universe) contains and connects them all. No matter which way it’s facing, there’s nothing ‘bad’ about it.

Another misconception about the pentagram in Wicca is which way it points. Again, you will find common misinformation that says the pentagram is “evil” if point down and “good” if point up. The point down is most commonly associated with Satanism, because the largest branch of Satanism (Church of Satan, est. 1966) adopted the inverted pentagram with a goat head inside of it as their symbol.

It’s traditionally used both point up and point down. Point up pentagrams are more common; but point down pentagrams are not considered evil at all.

The point-up pentagram represents the spirit ascending above matter. The top point represents the Element of Spirit, the other four points represent the four Spiritual Elements.

When a pentagram is point-down, it represents spirit descending into matter. This is most traditionally used in lineage covens during second degree initiations, because it’s at this point of one’s spiritual path that one turns “inward”. You face and challenge your ‘dark side’ – your base emotions, fears, ignorance, prejudices, etc., you deal with them and develop mastery over yourself.

Wiccan Pentagram:

Source

© 2014 Mackenzie Sage Wright

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    • profile image

      Hope 

      30 hours ago

      I recently had family over and they brought a very terrible vibe with them. Ever since, i have had panic attacks and I also found a carved star in my brand new wooden table, does anyone think it means something evil? I beleive in these kinds of things and i know some people think it is bogus so please be kind.. if anyone can tell me if I should be worried or what the star could mean, that would be wonderful!

    • profile image

      Jeff 

      3 days ago

      Just an observation...I think you mean "boils down to" instead of "barrels down to"

    • profile image

      MoonShyne 

      5 weeks ago

      Jade- the first thing that came to mind for your symbolism is “As above so below” just my insight on it.

    • profile image

      jade 

      5 weeks ago

      I dreamt about a Pentacle pointing upward inside a Triangle - I know that a triangle represents fire or at least that's what I found - in my dream. I wanted to know what they would mean combined like in my dream so this website was very useful for me to find the exact meaning of a pentacle. I am new to wicca so it helped me a lot

    • profile image

      Denise 

      2 months ago

      I always assumed that the printed version of the 5-pointed star (with or without the circle) was called a pentagram, "gram" meaning a printed depiction of something. Hence, the three-dimensional 5-pointed star is a pentacle.

      The article says this is incorrect, so I guess I'm wrong. This wasn't an option in the survey question.

    • WiccanSage profile imageAUTHOR

      Mackenzie Sage Wright 

      4 months ago

      Hi Authentic;

      I disagree. I don't think it's untrue or unauthentic, etc., to share or teach about one's religion. I don't see that as sensationalizing it, I see it as trying to help people who are trying to learn, helping them sort through the information and organize it in a more digestible way, because it can be confusing to study on one's own without help.

      I would rather put out information that helps people make sense of Wicca, and that clears up misconceptions, than remain silent and let everyone flounder.

      If you prefer to keep your faith private, that's your right. I have many things about my faith that I do not share-- some personal experiences, some that I got from others that is not mine to share, oathbound things, etc. There are certainly personal things about an individual or group's spiritual journey.

      But I also feel there is much worth sharing, and I think it's a good thing. For me it's a way of paying it forward from the people I learned from.

      Thanks for commenting :o)

    • profile image

      authentic 

      4 months ago

      Think you're setting yourself up. Wicca is not something to be dabbled with. If you were true, you really wouldn't put yourself out there. You're open to allsorts. My family and friends don't know about my faith, power. You seem to be sensationalising things which gives the faith a bad name

    • WiccanSage profile imageAUTHOR

      Mackenzie Sage Wright 

      4 months ago

      Hi Jewel.

      There are 2 definitions for the word 'pentacle'.

      The first is a 5-pointed star symbol, usually in a circle, and yes-- in Wicca that symbol represents the elements.

      The second definition is an altar plaque or disc used to represent the element of Earth. It does not have to have a pentagram on it (though many Wiccans do use a pentagram on their pentacle disc).

      If you read the article more carefully, I explain it.

      As for the difference between invoke/evoke, again, depends on the definition you're using.

      Sometimes invoke is used to denote internal invocation (Drawing Down the Moon), while evoke is used to mean calling into our space, not in ourselves (such as calling the Gods into the circle).

      However, invocation is also a general religious term meaning to call a deity/spirit, without getting into specifics about internal/external manifestations.

      I didn't say Wiccans don't work with spirits. I said we don't use the pentacle (disc, altar tool) for calling and commanding spirits like Ceremonial Magicians use it.

      Thanks for commenting.

    • profile image

      An ordinary wizard. 

      4 months ago

      I have only just learned about this religion and I’ve been very curious about it. This article has helped me understand the pentagram/pentacle a lot more, so thank you. I enjoy diving deep into what other people’s religions are like because I find it all very interesting. For example the one time I just started reading the Christian bible just because I was curious about all the wonderful and interesting things I could find in it. At the moment I’m still young and I don’t know what to believe. So I’m just going to keep on learning and devouring knowledge until I’m just a giant brain sitting on the kitchen floor... Yup. Once again, thank you for teaching me about the pentagram/pentacle and enjoy your day. Meow.

    • profile image

      Jewel 

      6 months ago

      Merry Meet!

      There are a couple of errors in your information . . .

      1. Pentacles/pentagrams are representations of all the elements, not just earth. The material that the symbol is embossed with defines the element (ie an altar tile made of sandstone - this what defines what the object represents)

      2. Wiccans do call the spirits during ritual or spell casting. We evoke (NOT invoke, two completely different things) the spirits that we feel will enhance the spell/ritual we are doing.

      Just want to toss that out there . . . Merry Part!

      J.

    • profile image

      Anonymous Reader 

      7 months ago

      Wow. I never knew the pentagram/ pentacle used to be the symbol for christianity. Man, that's amazing... Mind blown! You're very informative. Thanks so much for explaining all of this...

    • WiccanSage profile imageAUTHOR

      Mackenzie Sage Wright 

      7 months ago

      Thank you!

    • profile image

      JJK22 

      8 months ago

      Enjoyable!!

    • profile image

      Danielle Renee Harris 

      9 months ago

      Enjoyed your article, very informative but a slight correction on your definition of "Tarot" it is not a "Christian orgin divination system". It was never meant for that. , and was not it's original purpose. Tarot is an ancient hermetic veiled knowledge and wisdom that was a way of sharing hidden wisdom among each other though symbolism, colors, codes and numbers unveiling universal secrets with other students of mysteries. Article is still very interesting. Thank you

    • profile image

      DenisseLujano 

      17 months ago

      I want to commend you for a very informative and eloquently written article. I'm going to check out other things you've written.

    • WiccanSage profile imageAUTHOR

      Mackenzie Sage Wright 

      21 months ago

      lol okay. If you believe that, then you should certainly live by it. I respect your beliefs. I don't buy into it for a second, myself. We'll just have to agree to disagree here.

    • profile image

      Eyeswideopen 

      21 months ago

      Illuminati is not "a big fat rumour" as you would put it . Illuminati very real and is found at the very highest seats of power. Involved in the manipulation and control in man kind

    • WiccanSage profile imageAUTHOR

      Mackenzie Sage Wright 

      22 months ago

      Symbols, words, etc. are all arbitrary-- always changing. It is fascinating to follow along. I still consider the symbol of a pentagram a symbol of 'good' faith, though-- it's a symbol of my faith. It just has a different meaning for me than it did for people a few centuries ago.

      I think a lot of people still accept kneeling and praying... I think it's more of a where/when type of thing. I saw someone do it once on a NYC subway, very loudly, and in a crowded subway he was blocking the way of a lot of commuters and scaring some children. Not to mention, giving me a real headache after a really long and hard sleep-deprived week, lol. It's not pleasant to be trapped in a subway with someone shouting near you when you're exhausted.

      An act of devotion is one thing; but deliberately trying to make a spectacle of oneself is another. There's a time & place for everything, I think it's a situational thing.

    • profile image

      JessicaH 

      22 months ago

      I think it's so fascinating how this symbol use to be considered a sign of a good faith. Wow! Society and the world is able to change everything. Just like words like 'a*s', never started out as 'bad words.' But we've been able to change it. Getting down on our knees and praying to God, use to be and perfectly acceptable act of faith. Now days, some people look at it like it's having to do with a cult, or some type of deranged worship.

      Fascinating read, I loved it! ;)

    • WiccanSage profile imageAUTHOR

      Mackenzie Sage Wright 

      2 years ago

      Hi Lynda, thanks for sharing. I wish you the best of luck on your spiritual quest and hope my articles can help you. Thanks for your comment! ~Sage

    • profile image

      Lynda69@icloud.com 

      2 years ago

      I feel deep inside I need to learn and find my Wicca way

    • WiccanSage profile imageAUTHOR

      Mackenzie Sage Wright 

      3 years ago

      Thanks Corrina, I appreciate that. Glad you found it helpful.

    • profile image

      corrina 

      3 years ago

      This inform me a lot and to respect this faith

    • WiccanSage profile imageAUTHOR

      Mackenzie Sage Wright 

      4 years ago

      Thank you so much Mystic. I love Sylvan's book! You're going to like Sabins just as much. Thanks so much for commenting.

    • WiccanSage profile imageAUTHOR

      Mackenzie Sage Wright 

      4 years ago

      Thanks VVanNess! I appreciate that compliment, how kind. Thanks for stopping by.

    • WiccanSage profile imageAUTHOR

      Mackenzie Sage Wright 

      4 years ago

      Hi Nell Rose! Thanks so much. I love the pentacle too, it represents to me all the things I love about my religion. Thanks!

    • profile image

      MysticMoonlight 

      4 years ago

      What a talent you have, Sage! You explain things so thoroughly and in an easy to understand way...you truly are a teacher. So glad to have found you and your wonderful and helpful hubs!

      I just received Thea Sabin's 'Wicca for Beginners' in the mail and I cannot wait to get started on it. I'm currently reading Dianne Sylvan's 'The Circle Within' and I'm really liking it.

    • VVanNess profile image

      Victoria Van Ness 

      4 years ago from Fountain, CO

      Very interesting and informative article! You are truly talented!

    • Nell Rose profile image

      Nell Rose 

      4 years ago from England

      Hi Wiccan, this is fascinating as always, I think I have about 3 Pentagrams around my neck! lol! so as you can see they totally fascinate me! voted up!

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