The pentagram or
pentacle belongs to
the group of some 20 basic gestalts in Western ideography. Despite the fact
that consists of five straight lines it is still a
single entity, a holistic design. It is quite unlikely that this
design was discovered by chance. (For a discussion of this, see
"The mystical pentagram" in the Appendices.)
Here are other gestalts with which to compare it: ,
, , , ,
The pentagram was probably discovered as a result of astronomical research in the Euphrates-Tigris region about 6,000 years ago. For a derivation of this structure, see in Group 29.
Isolated pentagrams have been found on broken fragments of burned clay in Palestine, in layers dating from around 4000 B.C. It was a common sign among the Sumerians around 2700 B.C. Some of those who have conducted research of symbols believe was used by the Sumerians as a cosmic symbol representing the four corners of the earth and the vault of the heavens. This, however, seems a bit far-fetched. The sign would have been better suited for this particular purpose. After the Sumerian time there is no clear evidence as to what the pentagram might have meant until the sign appears in Pythagorean mysticism. There it is said to have symbolized the human being. The points of represent the head, arms, and legs of the body. Yet this interpretation seems to underestimate the intelligence and knowledge of the Pythagoreans. They did, however, use the sign extensively and are believed to have used it when signing their letters to each other around 400 B.C.
What we do know with all certainty is that was the main ideogram in the logotype or official seal of the city of Jerusalem during the period 300-150 B.C.
The pentagram has been called the seal of Solomon or Solomon's shield in medieval Jewish mysticism.
The fivepointed star has appeared in pre-Columbian America, although not in the form of the pentagram, but as . This makes it unlikely that the high cultures existing at that time, for example, the Mayan culture, had succeeded in discovering the design despite their advanced knowledge of the timing of the appearances of the Morning star and the Evening star, that is, the orbit of the planet Venus.
After the Sumerian epoch in the Euphrates-Tigris region the Venus goddess seems to have been symbolized by , the eightpointed star. The pentagram fell out of use and did not appear in this region until some 1,000 years later.
Count Goblet d'Alviella suggested in his book La migration des Symboles (see bibliography) at the end of the nineteenth century that certain graphic symbols for powerful mythological entities exclude each other. Thus , for Venus as the goddess of fertility and war, excludes the sign . The two do not appear simultaneously in the same political, economic, and cultural spheres. The same applies (an example from d'Alviella) for the sun god symbolized by and by the winged globe, . We could refer to this as the law of the graphic exclusiveness of symbols of dominating power.
The pentagram is sometimes known as the Eastern star and is apparently then identical with the Morning star and the planet Venus as the war goddess Ishtar or Astarte. Note that is very popular with the military. All officers in modern armies have a number of fivepointed stars on their uniforms. These stars are also found painted on the sides of tanks and fighter planes in the United States, Russia, China, and some other countries.
See in Group 28.
In Western ideography appears on some of the crusader knights' coats of arms. During the Middle Ages, however, began to be associated with magic and the Devil. In Nordic countries it was drawn on doors and walls as protection against trolls and evil. When the sign was turned so that two of its ends were pointing upward, like , it represented the Devil. Today, some hard rock groups still use the sign in this way and meaning.
Today is mainly used as a sign signifying favorable opportunities (for example, in advertisements for sales), parties, and joyful togetherness. In comic strips, however, it has retained its old association to warfare in that it is used to indicate the mental state resulting from a blow to the head (to "see stars") or the pain resulting from a blow or injury.
In the Japanese Art of Warfare, stands for forts and fortresses, as does .
As a mark of cadency stands for the third son (see in Group 22).
Except for in comic strips the sign is not used in modern Western ideographic systems. The filled variation, , or the empty variation, , however, is occasionally found in fire prevention contexts, as a sign indicating a source of light on nautical charts, and for unpostmarked stamps in philately.
For as a plaited sign, turn to Group 34.