The pentacle is perhaps the best known occult symbol. The five-pointed star (pentagram) in the circle can be found in just about every film that deals with the mystical. It is often confused with the Star of David from Judaism, and even more often it is attributed exclusively to Satanism. The pentacle, however, is more than that, and has taken an important position in the spiritual experience of many mystics.
One of the earliest and best explained uses of the pentacle can be found at Pythagoras. He probably took the symbol himself from ancient Babylon, but it is possible that he took it from Mesopotamian writings. Pythagoras saw the pentacle as a symbol of mathematical perfection, but also as a symbol for the connection between the physical and the psychic. That made him choose the symbol as a sign for his brotherhood, the semicircle or semicircle of the first ‘mathematicians’.
This group of people believed that the core of existence can be found in mathematical principles. Everything was, in their conviction, subject to an underlying mathematical structure.
There each star point is assigned a prime number. The primal types of forgiveness, justice, wisdom, understanding and transcendence are also given a place on the pentacle: the transcendent is, of course, reserved for the top point of the star. However, the idea that each star represents a principle was also nothing new: the Greeks already saw the star points as the four elements, with the upper star point as the fifth ‘etheric’ element.
The pentacle as magical symbol
The pentacle is now used in different forms and by even more different groups as a magical symbol. The interpretation of the star depicting the five elements (water, air, earth, fire and the spirit) remained and this view is therefore widely accepted.
However, what distinguishes the pentacle from the pentagram (the five-pointed star in itself) is the addition of a circle. This circle represents on the one hand the connection between the five elements of the star, and on the other hand the protection and unity of the star. This makes that the pentagram, among other things, is used as a protection symbol as well as a symbol of connection and unity.
A classic pentacle is made of metal, but you will also come across paper, parchment, cardboard, wooden or even fabric pentacles. You wear the pentacle around your neck, put it in a place that needs to be protected, or wear it elsewhere on your person. The reverse side of a pentacle can be decorated with other signs or images. In rituals a pentacle can even be drawn into sand or into a heap of herbs.
Since the pentacle is used in many different spiritual and occult currents, there are also many different interpretations of it. Below is a brief overview of the most commonly used meanings of the pentacle. Keep in mind that these meanings are not mutually exclusive and are even often applied overlapping!
As we mentioned above, the pentacle is usually seen as representative of the five elements: water, air, fire, earth and the spirit or the divine, with the latter in the upper star point. The five elements are connected by the circle.
You can also look at the pentacle as if the five star points represent the five senses. These senses form the bridge between our inner experience and the world beyond, represented by the circle. As you can see, the circle around the pentacle also has a connecting role here.
You can also place a human body over the pentacle: the limbs overlap with the lower four star points, the head with the upper star point. This vision fits nicely with the elementary vision where the upper star point represents the mind.
The opening in the middle of the pentacle is also sometimes linked to the uterus. The pentacle itself then becomes a symbol for the divine aspect of the woman and her creative powers.
Within the tarot the pentacle is always a symbol for the element earth, and in extension for the material. However, this material does not only include things: it concerns everything that influences physical reality. Think for instance of a diploma, a place on the beach, a tree and (certain aspects of) a relation.
Before you start using a pentacle, you can choose to inaugurate it. Do this with a chosen or self-designed ritual. When you use the pentacle again later, it is best to clean it before and after the ritual (with salt water and/or a cleansing ritual) and thank you.
By the way, pentacles would work better if crystals were used in them, or if they were used together with crystals. The crystal enhances the effect of the pentacle, but also makes the need for cleaning more urgent, as the effect when things go wrong is also magnified.
The pentacle is most commonly used for protection. You can carry a pentacle with you to protect yourself from evil influences, but you can also use your pentacle to protect your home or call for protection over a person of your choice.
A pentacle that is used for protection works better (some would even say only) when it is worn or depicted clearly and visibly. In this view, a necklace with a pentacle should be worn above the clothing.
You can use the pentacle in a classic cleansing ritual. In a classic cleansing ritual you go through all openings in the house – even closed windows and doors – and say protective words. This often involves burning sage and sprinkling salt dissolved in water. Here the pentacle is sometimes used to spread that salt water, but is in any case passed through every opening.
The pentacle, especially through the wiccup movement, is also used to strengthen rituals or as a focal point for evoking spirits or forces of nature. We briefly describe a very simple ritual using the pentacle.
For this ritual you have four candles, a pentacle board (may also be a piece of fabric or paper with a pentacle on it), a piece of paper and a pen. As soon as the circle has been drawn, you do not leave it until the ritual has been completed: so make sure the supplies are present in the circle before starting the ritual.
Draw a circle, this may be imaginary, and place an unused, inaugurated candle on each wind direction. In the middle you place a pentacle. Say words of protection (which words you use are less important than the intention you carry when speaking) and turn to any wind direction, from north to west. Light the candles as you speak each wind direction.
Then let yourself unwind. Empty your head, leaving only space for your intention. When you are filled with your intention, write it down on the piece of paper. Fold it in half and place your intention in the center of the pentacle.
Do not leave the circle yet: a ritual has to be completed in a similar way when it is started.
Say words of thanks (be sure to thank the pentacle and the circle, but you can also thank the wind directions, the candles and yourself). Then turn from west to north, and with each wind direction, take the time to make it clear that the ritual has ended and you are denouncing the protection. After addressing each wind direction, blow out the corresponding candle again. Finally, break the protection of the circle. You must literally break a visibly applied circle before leaving it.
The idea behind manifesting with a pentacle is to use the pentacle as a focal point. Magic practitioners mainly work with intention, and it helps to focus that intention in one or more places. The pentacle is excellent for this.
Pentacles in the tarot
The Tarot Pentacles are a set within the tarot with the pentacle as a common element.