Why is the Pentagram upside-down?

The pentagram is a key part of the geometric extensions that are used in rituals. Anyone considering taking up practical work should have fulfilled the first two limbs of yoga, Abstentions and Observances, as set down by Patanjali.[1] Practical work is the third limb of yoga, not the first.

Ordo Astri Symbol: Star and Snake Mandorla or Vesica PiscisThe Symbol of the Order: Is the star upside-down? The answer to that question all depends on where we are viewing it from. Aspirants should begin by thinking and meditating upon this symbol and its meaning.

In broad terms, it is necessary for every Student to gain an intellectual understanding of the work. This involves getting a wide range of reading in the esoteric field. If the person wishes to take up a course with us, then we naturally expect them to make an in-depth study of our works. In ritual, the purifications come first, then the consecration. One must be prepared to spend long hours completely alone, reading, studying and thinking, away from all distractions. That is the greater part of purification. Only then is the person in any way prepared for the practical work. Theurgy requires utmost consecration, or dedication: the reserving of all energies for the special purpose.

Lesser Ritual of the Pentagram: Invoking Spirit

Averse Invoking Pentagram: Lesser Ritual of the Pentagram

To perform ritual we must at all times know what we are doing and why we are doing it. The magician must be prepared to study a little of astronomy, or at least, the geocentric framework that astrology is based on. The hermetic practitioner will want to know a great deal about the Qabalah, for that is the basis of ritual and ceremonial magick. Occult Science includes astrology, hermetic philosophy, religion, mysticism, meditation, ritual and divination. The aspirant is not required to speak fluently in classical Greek, or to know how to form Latin verbs. They will need to learn something of how these languages work. They will write the characters of the Greek and Hebrew alphabets and commit their numerical value to memory. Before all else they will begin by studying the diagram called the Tree of Life and the philosophical basis of the Hermetic Qabalah.[2]

The Pentagram: Averse and Aright

The question of the so-called averse pentagram has been frequently asked. It is all down to the mechanics of ritual, and has been explained in the Introduction to Ritual Magick—The Rites and Ceremonies of Hermetic Light.[3] One must understand the cosmological basis of rituals.

Dual Pentagram or Elevenfold Star of Union

Dual Pentagram: Star of Union, or Eleven

Ten is the number of Malkuth and of  the sephiroth of the Tree of Life. The point in the centre is the seed of eleven, the number of magick and of change. In this symbol, all dualities are resolved.

It is not a question of geometry; it is a question of perspective. Imagine we were to enter a room, square in shape. Upon the floor is painted or tiled a large circle, and within that is a pentagram star with the five points touching the edges of the circle. One of the points of the pentagram is pointing at our feet. Which way up is the pentagram? Then imagine that we walk straight across the room to the other side and turn around, facing the door by which we entered. Look at the pentagram again. Which way up is it now, do we think? Has the pentagram changed, or is it our relative position that has changed?

There is another important consideration. Do we think it is possible for a geometric form to possess moral qualities, objectively speaking? If we think the answer is ‘yes’, then it is better if we steer well clear of occult practices. Such a person will get into one hell of a mess, and very quickly. The Devil never needs to be evoked by the incantations and gestures of any magician, as Goethe portrayed in his version of Faust. The Devil is at all times present—and more than willing to enter into a bargain.

The rites and ceremonies of the historical Golden Dawn were solar, and terrestrially based. The ritual circle was defined by the ‘four winds’, so that East represents Air, West represents Water, North represents Earth, and South represents Fire. However, the rites and ceremonies of the O∴ A∴ are stellar. Our ritual circle is zodiacal. We place Aquarius (Air) in the North, Leo (Fire) in the South, Taurus (Earth) in the East, and Scorpio (Water) in the West. The magician ‘standing on the sun’ is the simplest way of explaining the cosmic configuration of our ritual circle and pentagrams. From the solar perspective, the ‘averse’ pentagrams made on earth are ‘aright’. One may regard the Tarot trump, The Hanged Man XII: it is the magician, in fact, that is upside down. In the Thoth Tarot trump, the shape of the arms and crossed legs of the adept forms the symbol of the Golden Dawn Cross and Triangle. Yet the same attitude is simultaneously that of Typhon Inversus.

In many traditional systems the magician paces out the circle deosil, following the course of the sun as it appears from the earth. In our system the magician orbits the solar centre of the circle widdershins. The terrestrial point of view of the magician is raised to that of the sun in the midst of the solar system—the pentagrams of the zodiac and four elements are therefore turned upside down. We orient the Temple to the North, the place of the immortal or imperishable constellations. In the historical Golden Dawn, the North was regarded as the place of greatest darkness. The North is in fact the place of greatest power, and is a gateway for that power to enter into the ritual sphere of operation. Far from emphasising material or ‘evil’ forces, the North Star is the key to effective theurgic operations.

Attributions of the Pentagram

The symbolism of our reversed pentagram is identical to the symbolism of the pentagram that originated with the Golden Dawn. They in turn took the idea from Eliphas Levi, Transcendental Magic. That is to say, each point is attributed to Spirit, Air, Fire, Water and Earth respectively.

Attributions of the Pentagram

Attributions of the Pentagram (elemental)

It was Eliphas Levi that first introduced the idea that the pentagram with point downwards was a symbol of the ‘Sabbatic Goat’, or ‘Baphomet’.[4] It is from there that some members of the Golden Dawn began to view the downwards-pointing star as something to be feared. Before Eliphas Levi published his formulation of the pentagram (1856), there was no particular rule about which way up a pentagram might be. Levi was a very subtle magician—infinitely more so than many who presume to know better.

Dual Pentagram StarEvery pentagram contains its reverse. In that sense, there is no such thing as an upright or averse pentagram, as all contain the inverse mirror. The pentagon symbolises whirling or spiralic force. The pentagram contains that force.

The pentagram also expresses the phi ratio (φ), the Golden Mean. The Greek letter phi sums up the mathematical and geometrical formula of the pentagram. The ratio between the shorter lines of the pentagram to the longer parts is called the Golden Proportion. From this is derived the Golden Mean. It is built into the architecture of mystery temples, churches and the pyramids of Egypt.

The Pentagram: Golden Mean Spiral of Phi Ratio

1 + √52 ≈ 1.61803399 (or φ)

When the phi ratio is expressed as a spiral, it can clearly be seen that the ancient Egyptian hieroglyph for the throne or seat of a god, the iset, was drawn to express the perfectly irrational proportions of the Golden Mean.

The Pentagram and Holy Guardian Angel

For us, the averse pentagram, with the point of Spirit below the other four elemental points, is the descending grace of the Holy Guardian Angel. We can achieve nothing entirely alone. Love is the law, love under will. There are two currents, the descending lightning and the ascending serpent. The serpent is awakened through the descending stream. It is the polar attraction between Kether and Malkuth that works the miracle.

The Pentagram and the Wars in Heaven

When a person is so heroic as to want to join us in the Great Work, we take it for granted they will want to inspect the armorum. They will want to know and understand how everything works. There are no directions in space other than those we posit by arbitrary appointments. Geometric forms do not possess moral qualities. However, life is packed to the brim with good and evil to the extent that all virtues contain latent evil, and all vices contain latent good. The world is now in universal agreement that smoking tobacco is harmful to the physical being. It took an Oscar Wilde to point out how even such an evil thing must, by the immutable law of nature, also contain something of the good in it. Thus he declared, through a character in the play, Lady Windermere’s Fan, that smoking has a thoroughly demoralising affect.

Baphomet as drawn by Eliphas Levi: Hermetic Light

Baphomet as drawn by by Eliphas Levi

The last word should be left to Eliphas Levi, who perhaps inadvertently started the uproar of moral indignation over geometric forms—something that Euclid and his ancient Egyptian tutors would no doubt have found quite bewildering. Levi’s attribution of the ‘Baphomet of Mendes’ was not a correct one, and probably owes to confusion between the ram-headed god of Mendes and the unidentifiable chimera of Khem.[5] However, Levi was never one to be dogmatic over attributions, much to the horror of scholastic pedants. Of the equation between the reversed pentagram and the ‘Sabbatic Goat’ or ‘Baphomet of Mendes’:

A pantheistic and magical figure of the Absolute … The goat’s head, which is synthetic, and unites some characteristics of the dog, bull and ass, represents the exclusive responsibility of matter and the expiation of bodily sins in the body. The hands are human, to exhibit the sanctity of labour; they make the sign of esotericism above and below, to impress mystery on initiates, and they point at two lunar crescents, the upper being white and the lower black, to explain the correspondences of good and evil, mercy and justice. The lower part of the body is veiled, portraying the mysteries of universal generation, which is expressed solely by the symbol of the caduceus.

Honi soit qui mal y pense. Lords, ladies, gentlemen and fellow asses! The road is clear for those who wish to travel. Now we can all get on with some real work.


Notes

1. Our comment, Yoga and the Dweller on the Threshold, may be read here at Ordo Astri.
2. The Hermetic Qabalah is explained in clear, simple terms in the book required for our practical course: Hermetic Qabalah Foundation—Complete Course.
3. The cosmological explanation of the pentagrams and our ritual basis is given in the Introduction to Ritual Magick—The Rites and Ceremonies of Hermetic Light and is more fully revealed through the nine volumes that follow. The phi ratio and Golden Mean is discussed in the Dominus Liminis section.
4. For Eliphas Levi’s full description of his drawing of the ‘Sabbatic Goat’, see the ‘Explanation of the Figures’, pp. xiv Transcendental Magic.
5. The confusion between the ram-headed god of Mendes (Ba-neb-djedet) with a goat probably owes to the Greek traveller Herodotus. In a rather complicated account in his Histories, Herodotus describes the god of Mendes as goat-headed. Much popular fiction associating the worship or sacrifice of goats with ‘devil worship’ arises from this account. It is possible that, if Herodotus did indeed travel to Mendes, the local Egyptians were pulling his leg! [Herodotus, History, Book II pp. 42, Robin Waterfield translation.]

© Oliver St. John, 2018

The Lesser Ritual of the Pentagram is presented in several of our publications. It is also posted at Ordo Astri here.

Related Articles: Left Hand Path of Magick and Thelema

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When is the Solstice?

Some were confused this year by a science news bulletin informing them that the latest sunrise would not occur until January. In fact the astronomical solstice took place as usual, on the 21st December. A variance in methods of measuring by clock and solar time means that the earliest sunset occurs a few days before the solstice while the latest sunrise comes a few days after. In the northern hemisphere the 21st December was still the shortest day in terms of daylight hours. However, the widely broadcast news report led many persons to think the winter solstice would not take place until some time in January.

The precise point of solstice is measured according to the angle of the sun’s declination. When the sun reaches its lowest angle of declination relative to the earth, we experience the longest night and shortest day. In summer this is reversed as the sun reaches its zenith. At the equinoxes, days and nights are equal in length—for the poles of the earth are tilted in relation to earth’s orbit around the sun. Around the solstices, the difference each day in time for sunrise and sunset is fractional—a matter of seconds at best.

Urizen Measuring the Universe, William Blake

Solstice: Europe: A Prophecy by William Blake

We generally mark the solstices and equinoxes of the year according to the circle of the ecliptic. When the sun enters zero degrees of Capricorn, around the 21st December each year, it marks the winter solstice festivity for those of us dwelling in the northern hemisphere of the globe. For those situated in the southern hemisphere the same date marks the summer solstice. The 360-degree circle of the ecliptic is formed by the apparent course of the sun, moon and planets, as relative to earth. We divide the ecliptic into 12 equal sections or ‘signs’. This we call the zodiac, and each 30-degree sign is represented by a very ancient glyph, for example, Capricorn the sea-goat.

Man is a measurer, and there are countless ways in which things can be measured. All measurement is arbitrary and the division of the circle into 360 degrees serves a practical purpose; it is not a declaration of any absolute in itself. Though the fanatic frequently forgets it, neither science nor any spiritual philosophy was intended to produce absolute truth.

For many of us, the technocratic industrial calendar is not in any way meaningful. We therefore look to a reliable mark for our communion with nature, spirit, mind and soul. We do not worship at the altar of the sun and the moon any more than we would wish to worship at the altar of profane science. Visible nature is nonetheless the only miracle required should we seek for a demonstration of eternal beauty and truth—for as according to the ancient Egyptian wisdom, ‘As above, so below’. Our scale is necessarily a human one, not a mechanical one. We do not search for meaning in arc minutes, yet we may make a meaningful observation of nature’s course, seeing there many wonders to behold in her form and geometry.

The music of Mozart is precise in itself; the scores can be ‘played’ automatically, by a machine. Yet when Mozart is played by a machine, it is no longer music and it is no longer wonderful. It is perhaps a miracle in itself that it requires an imprecise human being to produce the music of Mozart. For this reason, music lovers down the centuries have thought that God must have moved the hand of Mozart, for they have experienced something therein that will not be explained otherwise. This same ineffable presence moves behind all of visible nature and is closer to us than our own heartbeat


For more about the Capricorn Solstice, see Enigmatic Magick of Set and Thelema.
See also, Magick of the Capricorn Solstice at Tantrika.

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Enigmatic Magick of Set and Thelema

There is very little known, or at least recorded, concerning the nature of the god Set. Light research will reveal little other than the legendary battles between Set and Horus, which owe to middle and late dynastic times by which time Set had become thoroughly demonised. It was not always that way, since Set was originally the only begotten son (or star) of Nuit, by divine parthenogenesis. As such, Set is identical to Hadit, for he is the manifester of Nuit through her star.[1]

The God Set as drawn by Jeff Dahl

Set, as drawn by Jeff Dahl

Some of the mysteries of Set can be found in the Sethian Gnosis, which forms part of the collection of works attributed to Hermes Trismegistus.[2] There we find a unique non-dualistic cosmological trinity, where light and darkness are permeated by spirit or fragrance, forming the matrix for manifestation. The mystery deepens with the Gnostic scriptures of Set. In Pistis Sophia the name of Jesus is said to be ABERAMENTHO. While to most Christians the name is that of a historical personage, the Graeco-Egyptian name clearly means, ‘image (or likeness) of Ra-Menthu’. The Coptic name, which begins with alpha and ends with omega, adds Qabalistically to the number 1013. The name identifies the Gnostic Christ with Set-Typhon as the Initiator. The Qabalah indicates there is more to ‘likeness’ than mere similarity, for the number 1013 is that of syzygy, a word indicative of a method by which one knows ‘through another’.[3] The polar twin or double is central to the elemental magick of the ancient Egyptian priesthood of Set. The surviving fragments of this knowledge were attributed to the Greek god Hermes (Roman Mercury) to obscure the fact that it was derived from Egypt, the ‘black land’ of Khem-menthu.

Menthu is the name of the god that appears on the obverse of the Stele of Revealing. The fact that this god, the Lord of Thebes, is commonly held to be Ra Hoor Khuit, or Horakhty, serves as a convenient veil drawn over the identification with Set. This god Menthu or Set of the ancient Theban cult of Thelema, then, embodies the attributes of Ra, Horus, Set and Apophis (as serpent) in one image. Study of the hieroglyphics on the obverse and reverse of the Stele demonstrates that Kenneth Grant was not mistaken when he insisted that Thelema, or the Egyptian Book of the Law, Liber AL vel Legis, veils the cult of Set-Typhon.[4]

Set and the Solstice

We tend to focus on the spiritual and magical import of the Capricorn solstice, since the industrial commercialisation of Christmas sweeps all else away. The hedonist revelry is all the more bizarre considering its principal icon, Santa, is derived from an obscure Roman Catholic anointed luminary, St Nicholas! Nonetheless, three days after the winter solstice the Light is most certainly born into the darkness of the world—whether the world cares or not.

[About Solstice Timing: See our post of 27-12-17]

Socrates and his modern day adorants prefer the naturalistic explanation of supernatural phenomena, which does not dare contradict the sacred shrine of science (astronomy in this case). While asceticism demands that visible nature is abhorrent, pre-religious spiritual doctrines assert that visible nature is the form of the formless, even a miraculous demonstration, to use latter day terms, of the existence of God. This cannot of course be proved by argument, persuasion, reason or fact, since the miracle is entirely in the eye of the beholder. While nature is the object here, our doctrine asserts there are no objects as such and that all worlds of existence arise from pure subjectivity. For that reason, the nature of Set is impossible to pin down, for he is both the pin and the thing pinned; he is the hook, the line and the sinker; the cross (way) and the one crucified; the stone of the wise, the stone for stumbling and the one that stumbles.

If we look to the Pyramid Texts, we find that the ancient Egyptians, shrewd in such matters, depicted the serpent (cognate with messiah) going forth on two legs—when everyone knows the serpent is uniquely identified by the fact of having no legs. Thus do we go forth, be it in darkness or light!

The Egyptian and Thelemic New Year

It is no accident that Saturn should be Lord of two signs and not one, though the harmony was not realised by modern astrologers who wished to align their particular form of black art with profane science. They thus wheeled in the outer planets as new rulers of Capricorn, Scorpio and Pisces, invoking the Lords of Unbalanced Force. Aleister Crowley had a much better idea of what to do with the outer planets in astrology but his idea was not taken up—it requires Qabalistic knowledge before it can be understood (Ref. The Book of Thoth).

The ancient Egyptians marked the New Year by the reappearance of Sirius or Set, ‘who came first before the gods’. The appearance of Sirius coincided with the Nile flood. Though it is a break from mainstream tradition, the Thelemic New Year begins with the Capricorn solstice. So far as nature is concerned, this is so obvious as not to require an explanation. We could also term this the Qabalistic or Platonic New Year, while bearing in mind that Plato learned it all from the Egyptian priesthood. So let us focus on Khem. Set was, and is, the Opener of the Year, and for that reason was always present at the coronation of a pharaoh. As the child of Nuit he is her manifesting star. Now if we follow the natural progression of that wondrous Decad, the Tree of Life, we will see how the year is mapped out in spiritual terms and follows the Sword and Serpent, evolution and involution:

Opening the year, Capricorn ruled by Saturn (Binah and the supernal wisdom). Next, Aquarius, also ruled by Saturn. The pair forms the ‘winter cup’ in which the light is born—the son (sun) of Nuit. After Aquarius comes Pisces, ruled by Jupiter (Chesed). Next, Aries ruled by Mars (Geburah) and the first equinox of the year. After Aries comes Taurus, ruled by Venus (Netzach). Next, Gemini ruled by Mercury (Hod), then, at summer solstice, Cancer ruled by the Moon (Yesod). With the sign of Leo, ruled by the Sun, Malkuth is brought to Tiphereth via the Alchemical Wedding of Sun and Moon. From here we begin the ascent via the Serpent: Virgo is ruled by Mercury (Hod), and next, at the second equinoctial gate of the year, comes Libra ruled by Venus (Netzach). Then comes Scorpio ruled by Mars (Geburah). Finally, Sagittarius ruled by Jupiter (Chesed). The end is with the beginning as we once more enter the Capricorn solstice.


Notes

1. In the writings of Kenneth Grant, “Saturn is the power behind Venus”. For a magical reappraisal of divine parthenogenesis, and its importance in theurgy, see The Phoenix and other Stellar Rites of Initiation.
2. See Thrice Greatest Hermes: Studies in Hellenistic Theosophy and Gnosis, G.R.S. Mead (Kessinger Books).
3. See The Flaming Sword Sepher Sephiroth Volume Two.
4. For more information on the key role of Menthu, see the article, New Light on Stele 666.

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