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Revered and reviled, the pentagram is ubiquitous with the study and practice of magick, though its rise to fame (and infamy) truly began only in the nineteenth century. While it remained largely a static form until this point, the Golden Dawn changed this by defining a number of ways of drawing the pentagram with respect to its elemental associations. The magician would begin the invoking or banishing form of an elemental pentagram by starting the line toward (invoking) or away (banishing) from the element under consideration. The uppermost point was attributed to spirit, the upper right to water, the lower right to fire, the lower left to earth, and the upper left to air. Thus, when working an elemental ritual, such as the Lesser Banishing Ritual of the Pentagram, which uses the banishing pentagram of earth, the magician begins by drawing the line away from the lower left (earth) point and toward the uppermost (spirit) point.
The way in which the Golden Dawn defined their elemental pentagrams is, however, one of my least favorite traditions from their body of work. Since they focused on the line drawn toward or away from a point, it presented a quandry: there are always two lines leading to a point of the pentagram. Thus, which one to use? Their solution, in my opinion, was relatively arbitrary, and involved the creation of a set of active and passive spirit pentagrams to make up for the fact that some of the banishing forms for one element were the same as the invoking form of another, resulting in two “unused” lines on the pentagram after all the elemental associations had been accounted for. Specifically, the invoking and banishing pentagrams of air and water are exactly the same, but reversed, due to the method derived by the Golden Dawn. There are thus twelve forms of the pentagram rather than the expected ten - invoking and banishing for each of the five elements.
I propose a more consistent application. Consider that, traditionally, clockwise motions are used for invoking, while counter-clockwise motions are used for banishing. Furthermore, rather than focusing on the line approaching or retreating from a point, let us instead focus on the point itself. If we consider only the elemental association of a point on the pentagram, an invoking form would trace the pentagram clockwise, and a banishing form would trace the pentagram counter-clockwise. This assures us with a simple and consistent method of determining the method of drawing a pentagram for any element, invoking or banishing. No, it's not the Golden Dawn form to which we have become accustomed, but it is important to remember that the Golden Dawn completely fabricated this association. That's right, they made it all up, so if it seems like we can improve upon it, then by all means we should.
Let us consider the form of the earth pentagram used in the Lesser Banishing Ritual of the Pentagram, also a creation of the Golden Dawn, which would start in the lower left, related to the element of earth. The Golden Dawn method traces the pentagram up to spirit at the top, then down to fire, and so on until the line returns to the earth point to complete the figure. The new method described above would also begin at the lower left point (the earth element), but then draw the pentagram moving counter-clockwise from earth to water, which uses the other line emanating from that point of the pentagram, across to air, and continuing until the line returned to the point of earth from which it was begun.
The set of elemental invoking and banishing pentagrams now becomes:
Invoking - Begin at uppermost point and move clockwise, toward fire. Banishing - Begin at uppermost point and move counter-clockwise, toward earth.
Invoking - Begin at upper right point and move clockwise, toward earth. Banishing - Begin at upper right point and move counter-clockwise, toward air.
Invoking - Begin at lower right point and move clockwise, toward air. Banishing - Begin at lower right point and move counter-clockwise, toward spirit.
Invoking - Begin at lower left point and move clockwise, toward water. Banishing - Begin at lower left point and move counter-clockwise, toward spirit.
Invoking - Begin at upper left point and move clockwise, toward water. Banishing - Begin at upper left point and move counter-clockwise, toward fire.
This alternative method is, to my mind, much more consistent, and subsequently proves more practical with respect to deriving the elementally-associated pentagrams for any given operation.
The same rules would still apply to inverted pentagrams, oft maligned as they may be. Note that there are in fact two methods of “inverting the pentagram.” The first method is by rotating the figure until the spirit apex is pointing downward. This would retain the relative positions of the remaining elements around the angles, and is the association I prefer. The other method is to “flip” the pentagram as if it were hinged on its two lowermost points. This results in the lowermost point also being spirit, but the remaining elements are horizontally opposite the previous method. (Draw it out on paper if you're not able to visualize this. Because the elements do not rotate in this second method, they stay on the same side of the spirit apex/nadir.)
Miscellany Many times the pentagram is also called the pentalpha, as it can be seen as the union of five letter “A”s. It famously exhibits the Golden Ratio in the length of its sides/vertices, and intersects a circle at increments of seventy-two degrees, which number is important in its own right in conjunction with the Shemhamphorash.
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The works presented in De Arte Magica are © 2010–2016, Colin D. Campbell