FolkloreReligion

Pentagrams vs. Pentacles: What’s the difference?

Pentagrams vs. pentacles: what’s the difference? This general symbol, the five-pointed star, might be one of the world’s most maligned and misunderstood symbols. Often used in pop culture as a visual shorthand for evil, magic, or both, the truth, as usual, is much more mundane.

First, definitions because pentacles and pentagrams are different, though they are often used interchangeably, even in dictionaries. They are related, but perhaps not in the way you think.

Table of Contents

Pentagram

Five Pointed Star Lined

This is a pentagram. A five-pointed star. It can be and sometimes is used in various religious practices, including Wicca, and in fact, is often used as the symbol of Wicca and others, but it’s not necessarily a pentacle. Not on its own, at least.

Pentacle

Pentacle 2

This is a pentacle—one of them. Pentacles don’t have to be five-pointed stars in circles, though they often are in traditions such as Wicca, going back to Gerald Gardner’s work where it was defined that way. This has become dominant in modern definitions and is an expected part of the natural evolution of terms.

But the etymology doesn’t limit it quite that much. The penta in pentacle doesn’t mean five. It’s from the Old French verb pendre, ‘to hang.’ As a whole, it refers to something hanging from the neck. (Kirsch, “pentacula”)

The Fourth Book of Occult Philosophy, falsely attributed to Agrippa and written in the 1500s, dedicates an entire section to describing pentacles and how they are created:

Caeterum de sacris Pentaculis, atque signaculis nunc dicamus. Sunt autem ipsa Pentacula tanquam signa quaedam sacra, a malis euentibus nos praeseruantia: et ad malorum Daemonum constrictionem, et exterminationem, nos asiuuantia, bonosque spiritus allicientia, nobisque conciliantia. Constant autem Pentaculua, ex Caracteribus et Nominibus bonoru spirituum superioris ordinis, vel ex sacris picturis, sacrarum literarum, seu reulationum: versiculus adaptis, vel ex figuris Geometrices, sacrisque Dei Nominibus, secundum multorum rationem, inuicem composistis: vel ex omnibus iss, autem eorum plurivus mixtum compositis.

Besides now, we speak of the sacred Pentacle and seals. Moreover, these Pentacles are sacred signs that preserve us from evil events and help us constrict and exterminate evil demons and attract and unite good spirits with us. The Pentacles consist of characters and names of good spirits of a superior order, or of sacred images of sacred letters and revelations:  composed with apt verses or geometric figures and holy names of God, in accordance with procedures of many, composed alternately: whether they are from all of them or of many of them having been mixed.

Caracteres autem, qui ad Pentacula constituenda nobis vtiles sunt; ipsi sunt Caracteres bonorum spirituum, maxime bonorum , primi & secundi ordinis , nonnunquam etiam Tertis  & ex illo Caracterum genere, quod potiflime sacrum nuncupatur: deinde Caraceres illi, quos supra sacratos vocauimus. Quocunque igitur huiusmodi Caractere instituto,  circunducemus ilium duplici circulo: in quo circumscribamus nomen sui Angeli.

The characters that are useful to us to constitute the Pentacle are the characters of good spirits, the highest degree of good, first or second order, and sometimes the third, which are called most powerfully sacred: then the characters we call sacred above. Whichever character there having been built of this kind, we lead around it two circles, in which we have written the name of his angel.

Et si volumus sibi addere nomen aliquod Diuinum, spiritui ipsi, suoque offico congruum , maioris erit efficaciae. Et si, secundum numerorum rationem, circunducere illi volumus. Angularem aliquam figuram, id quoque fieri licebit. Sacrae autem Pictura, quae Pentacula constituunt , ipsae sunt, quae passim in sacriscris literis Prophetis, tam veteris , quam Noui Testamenti traduntur: vt puta figura serpentis in cruce suspensi , & consimiles, quarum multa copia , ex Prophetarum visonibus , vt Isaiae , Danielis, Esdrae, & aliorum, tum ex reuelatione Apocalypsis inueniuntur : & nos de illis locuti sumus, in Libro Tertio occultae Philosophiae, ubi de sacris mentionem fecimus.

If we wish to add to this the name of some divine spirit, congruent with his office, it will be of greater effect, And if, accordingly we wish to draw around it some angular figure, it is permitted. However, the holy images that make up the Pentacle are themselves those frequently found in the sacred words of the Prophets or verses delivered in both Old and New testaments, or figure of the serpent hanging on a cross. Similar which there are many in the visions of the Prophets, such as Isaiah, Daniel, Esdra, and others, and also found in the revelation of the Apocalypse. And we have spoken of these things in the Third Book of Occult Philosophy, where we have mentioned sacred things.

So what we see here is that a pentacle, as it was defined in older practices, consisted of sacred names and geometric figures, possibly including verses. It could be a star, as is now the familiar, semi-colloquial meaning, but it often was not and seems to have functioned as an amulet.

Bibliography

Pentaculum, Logein

Kirsch, Adam Friedrich, Pentacula, Abundantissimum Cornu Copiae Linguae Latinae Et Germanicae Selectum. – Leipzig, 1774.

Fourth Book of Occult Philosophy (translation)

Liber quartus de occulta philosophia (Latin)

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