The pentagram or pentangle is a widely used symbol in popular spirituality. Commonly associated with Wicca and Neo-Paganism in the United States, in Latin America the availability and distribution of low cost reprints of grimoires, chapbooks on ritual magic and various anthologies focused on practical instruction in ‘occult science’ provide interpretations based on the work of figures like 16th century Catholic philosopher Heinrich Cornelius Agrippa (1486?-1535) and the 19th century French Catholic Magician, Eliphas Levi (1810-1875) – based on these sources the following selections provide context for the use of the pentagram in the Santa Muerte tradition:
CHAP. XXIII. Of Geometrical Figures and Bodies, by what vertue they are powerful in Magick, and which are agreeable to each Ele∣ment, and the Heaven. (Heinrich Cornelius Agrippa)
Geometricall Figures also arising from numbers, are con∣ceived to be of no less power. Of these first of all, a Circle doth answer to Unity, and the number ten; for Unity is the Center, and circumference of all things; and the number ten being heaped together returns into a Unity from whence it had its beginning, being the end and complement of all numbers.
A circle is called an infinite line in which there is no Terminus a quo, nor Terminus ad quem, whose beginning and end is in every point, whence also a circular motion is called infinite, not according to time, but according to place; hence a circular being the largest and perfectest of all is judged to be most fit for bindings and conjurations; Whence they who adjure evil spirits, are wont to environ themselves about with a circle.
A Pentangle also, as with the vertue of the number five hath a very great command over evil spirits, so by its lineature, by which it hath within five obtuse angles, and without five acutes, five double triangles by which it is surrounded. The interior pentangle containes in it great myste∣ries, which also is so to be enquired after, and understood; of the other figures, viz. triangle, quadrangle, sexangle, septangle, octangle, and the rest, of which many, as they are made of many and divers insections, obtain divers significations and ver∣tues according to the divers manner of drawing, and propor∣tions of lines, and numbers.
The Egyptians, and Arabians confirmed that the figure of the Cross hath very great power, and that is the most firm receptacle of all Celestial powers, and intelligencies, because it is the rightest figure of all, containing foure right angles, and it is the first description of the super∣ficies, having longitude and latitude: And they said it is inspired with the fortitude of the Celestials, because their fortitude results by the straitness of angles and rayes: And stars are then most potent when they possess four corners in the figure of the heaven, and make a cross, by the projection of their rayes mutually. It hath moreover (as we shewed before) a very great correspondency with the numbers 5. 7. 9. most po∣tent numbers. It was also reckoned by the Egyptian Priests, from the beginning of Religion amongst sacred letters, signi∣fying amonst them allegorically the life of future salvation. It was also impressed on the Picture of Serapis, and was had in great veneration amongst the Greeks. But what here belongs to Religion we shall discuss elsewhere.
This is to be observed, whatsoever wonderfull thing figures work when we write them in Papers, Plates, or Images, they do not do it but by the vertue acquired from sublimer figures, by a certain affecti∣on which a natural apitude or resemblance procures, in as much as they are exactly configured to them, as from an opposite wall the Eccho is caused, and in a hollow glass the collection of the solarie rayes, which afterward reflecting upon an oppo∣site body, either wood, or any combustible thing, doth forth∣with burne it: or as an Harpe causeth a resounding in an o∣ther Harpe, which is no otherwise but because a sutable and a like figure is set before it, or as two strings on a Harpe being touched with an equall distance of time, and modulated to the same intention, when one is touched the other shakes also: Also the figures, of which we have spoken, & what characters so∣ever concern the vertues of the Celestial figures as they shall be opportunely impressed upon things, those ruling, or be rightly framed, as one figure is of affinity with, and doth express an other. And as these are spoken of figures, so also they are to be understood of Geometrical bodies, which are a Sphear, a Tetracedron, Hexacedron, Octocedron, Icocedron, Dodeca∣cedron, and such like.
Neither must we pass over what figures Phythagoras and his followers, Timeus, Locrus, and Plato assigned to the Elements and Heavens: for first of all they assigned to the earth a four square, and a square of eight solid angles, and of twenty four plains, and six bases in form of a Dice: to the fire, a Pryamis of a four triangular basis, and of so many solid angles, and of twelve plaines; to the aire Octoce∣dron, of eight triangular bases, and six solid angles, and twenty four plains: and lastly, to Water they have assigned Icoce∣dron twenty bases, twelve solid angles: To the Heaven they have assigned Dodecacedron of twelve five cornered bases, and twenty solid angles, and sixty plaines. Now he which knows the powers, relations, and proprieties of these figures, and bodies, shall be able to work many wonderful things in Natural and Mathematical Magick, especially in Glasses. And I knew how to make by them wonderful things, in which any one might see whatsoever he pleased at a long distance.
An excerpt from The Ritual of Transcendental Magic (Eliphas Levi)
Christ signifies priest and king by excellence. The Christ-initiator of modern times came to form new priests and new kings by science and, above all, by charity. The ancient Magi were priests and kings, and the Saviour’s advent was pro- claimed to them by a star. This star was the magical Pentagram, having a sacred letter at each point. It is the symbol of intelligence which rules by unity of force over the four elementary potencies; it is the Pentagram of the Magi, the Blazing Star of the Children of Hiram, the prototype of equilibrated light. Towards each of its points a beam of light ascends, and from each a beam goes forth; it repre- sents the Grand and Supreme Athanor of Nature, which is the body of man. The magnetic influence issues in two rays from the head, from either hand and either foot. The positive ray is balanced by the negative. The head corresponds with the two feet, each hand with a hand and foot, each of the two feet with the head and one hand. This ruling sign of equilibrated light represents the spirit of order and harmony; it is the sign of the omnipotence of the Magus, and hence, when broken or incorrectly drawn, it represents astral intoxication, abnormal and ill-regulated projections of Astral Light and therefore bewitchments, perversity, madness-all that, in a word, which the Magi term the Signature of Lucifer. There is another signature which also symbolizes the Mysteries of Light, namely, the Sign of Solomon, whose talismans bear on one side the impression of his seal which we have given in our “Doctrine,” and on the other the following signature which is the hieroglyphic theory of the composition of magnets and represents the circulatory law of the lightning.
Rebellious spirits are enchained by the exhibition of the five-pointed Blazing Star or the Seal of Solomon, because each gives them proof of their folly and threatens them with a sovereign power capable of tormenting them by their recall to order. Nothing tortures the wicked so much as goodness. Nothing is more odi- ous to madness than reason. But if an ignorant operator should make use of these signs without knowing them, he is like a blind man who discourses of light to the blind, an ass who would teach children to read.
“If the blind lead the blind,” said the Great and Divine Hierophant, “both fall into the pot.”
And now a final word to recapitulate this entire introduction. If you be blind like Samson when you cast down the pillars of the temple, its ruins will crush you. To command Nature we must be above Nature, by resistance of her attractions. If your mind be perfectly free from all prejudice, superstition and incredulity, you will rule spirits. If you do not obey blind forces, they will obey you. If you be wise like Solomon, you will perform the works of Solomon; if you be holy like Christ, you will accomplish the works of Christ. To direct the currents of the inconstant light, we must be established in the constant light. To command the elements, we must have overcome their hurricanes, their lightnings, their abysses, their tem- pests. In order to DARE we must KNOW; in order to WILL, we must DARE; we must WILL to possess empire and to reign we must BE SILENT.
IX.-MYSTERIES OF THE PENTAGRAM AND OTHER PANTACLES. (excerpt from Eliphas Levi’s The Mysteries of Magic)
The pentagram expresses the mind’s domination over the elements and it is by this sign that we bind the demons of the air, the spirits of fire, the specters of water, and the ghosts of earth. It is the star of the Magi, the burning star of the Gnostic schools, the sign of intellectual omnipotence and autocracy.
Its complete comprehension is the key of two worlds – it is absolute natural philosophy and natural science. Its use, however, is most dangerous to operators who do not completely and perfectly understand it…
All mysteries of magic, all symbols of the gnosis, all figures of occultism, all kabbalistic keys of prophecy, are resumed in the sign of the pentagram; which Paracelsus proclaims to be the greatest and most potent of all. It is indeed the sign of the absolute and universal synthesis.
- Agrippa, Henry Cornelius Agrippa, trans. John French (1616-1657), Three books of occult philosophy written by Henry Cornelius Agrippa of Nettesheim ; translated out of the Latin into the English tongue by J.F. (1651)
- Levi, Eliphas (Alphonse Louis Constance), trans. A.E. Waite, Dogme et Rituel de la Haute Magie (Rider & Company, England, 1896.)
- Levi, Eliphas (Alphonse Louis Constance), trans. A.E. Waite, The Mysteries of Magic – A Digest of the Writings of Eliphas Levi (George Redway, London, 1896)
PDF versions for some of these sources are available at The Esoteric Archives – http://www.esotericarchives.com and The International Association for the Preservation of Spiritualist and Occult Periodicals – http://www.iapsop.com/