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Pentacles and pentagrams, though often used interchangeably, are not one and the same. Both are used in similar contexts today but there are clear distinctions between the two. Here’s a look at the pentacle and the pentagram and what’s the difference between them.
What is a Pentacle?
Etymologically, pentacles refer to any symbol that contains five points. It comes from the Latin word pentaculum, with the prefix penta- which means five, and -culum, which translates to instrumentality.
However, the most popular iteration of the pentacle is the five-pointed star drawn within a circle. In fact, when modern occult practitioners refer to a pentacle, they exclusively refer to this attractive, proportional symbol.
For ancient Pagans, the pentacle represented the harmony of all five elements. The five points of the star are said to signify the elements of air, water, fire, earth, and spirit. These points are joined together by an outer circle, which thus represent the harmony and balance created when these elements work in unity together.
In certain sects of Christianity, the pentacle is regarded as a protective symbol that keeps evil at bay. This is because the five-pointed star is thought to represent Jesus himself, with the five points representing his five crucifixion wounds.
Evil Connotations of the Pentacle
Records reveal that it was Eliphas Levi, a French poet, writer and sage, who first cast a dark light on the pentacle, by saying that an inverted pentacle signifies the devil himself. According to Levi, when two points of the pentacle are pointed upwards, the image of Satan, with his horns, is conjured.
Since then, the pentacle has been used in popular media as an omen of evil and demonic possession. It didn’t help that the Church of Satan (which, despite the name, is mainly atheistic and in no way worships Satan) used the inverted pentacle with a goat head drawn in as their main symbol. This is known as the Sigil of Baphomet.
What is a Pentagram?
Now, let’s take a look at the pentagram, which is basically just a five-pointed star drawn in one continuous line, in such a way that there’s no telling where it begins and where it ends.
This is, by far, one of the oldest symbols used by humans, with the first recorded carving found to be over 5,000 years old. As such, no one country, religion, or culture can claim to own this symbol. Over different cultures, though, the pentagram was known as an apotropaic symbol, which are symbols involved to avert evil.
Ancient Greeks likewise used the pentagram as an illustration of the golden ratio and it was highly regarded as the symbol of perfection.
Negative Connotations of the Pentagram
It was German polymath and occult writer Heinrich Cornelious Agrippa who perpetuated the use of pentagram in magic. Much like the pentacle earlier discussed, Agrippa thought the five points in a pentagram referred to the five elements, with the spirit being the topmost point, lording over the four physical elements of fire, air, water, and earth.
Therefore, a reversed pentagram is said to overturn the proper order of things, in such a way that the spirit descends to the will of physical matter, resulting in perversion and evil.
Pentacle vs. Pentagram
It is only important to distinguish the pentacle and the pentagram as far as their ancient connotations go. After all, their only difference in terms of physical attributes is the fact that the pentacle has a perfect circle encapsulating the five-pointed star.
Back in the day, this meant the pentacle provided a higher form of protection than the pentagram, because aside from the presence of all five elements, it signified the harmony and balance between the five.
Meanwhile, there is scant consideration for the difference between these two symbols in modern-day occultism, since they are both closely related with the occult, especially when drawn upside down or with two points facing upwards.
The history of the pentacle and the pentagram in their symbolic sense speak of the nature of signs and symbols, in which their definitions typically change over time, depending on the prevailing perspective at any given time.
It is safe to assume that a few years or decades down the road, pentacles and pentagrams might have a widely different connotation than what we know today. Whether they would regain their noble origins as protectors of the spirit or if they will acquire brand new meanings in the future remains to be seen.