Pentagram with the date 1813 on the door, Podgorica 1948 - by Boris Orel [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
This is not a post on the experience of using these pentagrams, it is just some musings on the structure of the traditional set up. I’ll use the standard (not the “averse” forms).
Pentagrams are used in a great deal of Western ceremonial magic, and in a good deal of neopagan (ceremonially influenced) witchcraft.
Use of the pentagram as a glyph goes back to at least the Sumerian civilisation, and was referred to by Pythagoreans as ύγιεια (Hygieia), “health”, linked to the Golden ratio. It acquired Christian symbolism with time, and appears in Sir Gawain and the Green Knight by the 14th century.
In terms of occultism, Henry Cornelius Agrippa (16th Century) disseminated the association of the pentagram with the five elements (Earth, Air, Fire, Water and Spirit or Idea), via an interpretation of the Pythagorean design. He also depicted a figure of a man within a pentagram, with the five visible planets arranged around the points.
The common, modern-day occult associations of the pentagram largely derive from The Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn, whose teachings have formed the basis of a great deal of modern occult “technology”. This is the scheme I’ll be looking at, as a means of invoking and banishing the elements.
Here are the pentagrams in full:
Here are the standard elemental attributes of the points:
By Mefistofeles (Own work) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
As is obvious, the pentagram can be drawn with a continuous line, and this is how the elements are invoked and banished. The pentagrams are “traced” in the air with physical movements that are overlayed with imagined lines of light or fire as they are drawn, as if one were painting with light. Specific elements are banished or invoked by drawing the pentagram, starting at a specific point, and proceeding towards or away from the point associated with the element*, going round the whole pentagram and ending at the starting point (by which time you should have an imagined pentagram clearly visualised in front of you). For instance the banishing pentagram for earth:
Starting at the corner associated with earth, the first line is traced away from that point (towards the point of “spirit”), and then continues round until you get back to the earth corner.
The invoking pentagram for earth:
starts at the point associated with spirit, and draws its first line towards the corner associated with earth (which is being invoked).
The other elements have similar arrangements, except for spirit, which has two forms (active and passive), both of which follow a different rule.
If it was just a matter of drawing lines towards or away from an element, we could obviously have two ways of invoking and banishing each element, but if that were so each banishing would also be an invocation of something else, as every line is both going towards and away from a point. So we have the scheme as shown above. Let’s look at them in terms of relationships within the pentagram.The general rule of “towards to invoke, away from to banish” still holds*, but the arrangement is as follows.
Water is invoked from the direction of air, and banished towards the direction of air.
Air is invoked from the direction of water, and banished towards the direction of water.
Fire is invoked from the direction of spirit, and banished towards the direction of spirit.
Earth is invoked from the direction of spirit, and banished towards the direction of spirit.
So there is a symmetry with respect to air and water, and fire and earth.
Spirit has two forms, active and passive, and neither are invoked by tracing towards the corner of spirit, which is a banishing technique for earth and fire, and neither is banished by tracing away from spirit, as this invokes either earth or fire.
Active spirit is invoked by starting at the fire corner and tracing towards air (masculine to masculine), then continuing round to the starting point. Active spirit is banished by starting at the air corner and tracing towards fire (masculine to masculine in reverse order).
Passive spirit is invoked by starting at the earth corner and tracing towards water (feminine to feminine), then continuing round to the starting point. Passive spirit is banished by starting at the water corner and tracing towards earth (feminine to feminine in reverse order).
It’s an interesting scheme which can be seen as deriving from the physical limitations of a five pointed structure that has to accommodate all these functions, but does it have an implicit structural consistency?
The mirroring of air and water, and earth and fire is interesting, as these pairings are also what was picked up by CG Jung as polarities in psychic functioning, in his case this manifesting as thinking-feeling (air-water), and sensation-intuition¹ (earth-fire).
Air and water are both, in their different ways, highly relating elements, and these two get invoked and banished in relation to each other in a sense here.
Earth and fire on the other hand, get invoked and banished in relation the third, quintessential element of spirit or ether. They seem to be at extremes of the four-element scheme, the ultimate in quixotic movement, flux and energy, and the ultimate in fixity, inertia and potentiality. One is the will we can singularly gain, and the other the physical basis of our separate, unique existence. These two derive their invocation from spirit, not each other, yet share an inner bond by virtue of that, and are banished by spirit in a sense, the ultimate holistic element. At least that is how it appears to me.
Active spirit is called upon (and banished) with reference to the two masculine elements, while passive spirit uses the two feminine elements.
Active spirit is invoked starting at fire and going towards air, and banished starting from air and going towards fire.
Passive spirit is invoked starting at earth and going towards water, and banished starting at water and going towards earth.
Where working with spirit is concerned, all elements are involved, but by gender, according to whether it is active or passive spirit. Spirit is invoked away from the direction of earth and fire. Spirit is banished away from the directions of water and air. So spirit is invoked in masculine or feminine forms², starting from the points of fire and earth respectively.
These are entirely incidental musings on the scheme, but I hope they might be of interest to someone.
* aside from spirit.
¹ “intuition” here refers to a fiery, lightning flash, insightful quality, not to the watery associativeness that tends to popularly get ascribed to the term.
² in a metaphysical sense, not in the sense of manhood or womanhood.
6th March 2017: edit of last paragraph but one.