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.

Averse PentagramIn 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.

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—Initiation of the Star and Snake.[3] One must understand the cosmological basis of rituals.

Elevenfold Star of Initiation

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.

Elemental Attributions of the Pentagram

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 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 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.


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—Initiation of the Star and Snake. The phi ratio and Golden Mean is discussed in the ‘Foundation’ 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 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. If Herodotus did indeed travel to Mendes, then the local Egyptians were pulling his leg! The goat is a creature that did not inhabit the Delta region of northern Egypt. [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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Holy Guardian Angel: Phoenix Rising

The ‘Bornless Ritual’ for the Knowledge and Conversation of the Holy Guardian Angel is an ancient Coptic spell of exorcism retrieved from a fragment of papyrus. A translation of it was circulated among members of the historical Golden Dawn.

Egyptian Goddess NeithVarious attempts have been made since then to create from it a ritual for the invocation of the Holy Guardian Angel. Liber 717 Zain owes a good deal to those who have worked on the ritual since the dissolution of the 1888 Golden Dawn. Our further modifications are mostly to preserve continuity with our ritual schema.

Liber Zain requires careful preparations. A period of six months, between the equinoxes or solstices of the year, is deemed a reasonable time limit for the operation. One must be able to perform the ritual alone and undisturbed. The ritual and yoga is done on a strict daily basis along with other observances or ‘catch exercises’. One must be continually aware of the Great Work.

Some of the difficulties of this working are technical. The ritual demands a deal of expertise on the part of the practitioner. It is often supposed that one must only perform a ritual. In fact, the ritual is a preparation for intense yoga meditation. Even the ritual itself is yoga, when we know how to do ritual properly.

Some confusion has arisen from the literary legacy surrounding the working. It has been identified with the procedure described in The Book of the Sacred Magic of Abramelin the Mage.[1] The Abramelin Operation is rooted in the Jewish mystical and religious tradition. It is written in the language of a 15th century patriarch with all the cultural, religious and other taboos that one might expect. The only thing the Bornless Ritual has in common with the Abramelin Operation is the use of the term, ‘Holy Guardian Angel’.

The Knowledge and Conversation of the Holy Guardian Angel has its Qabalistic basis in Tiphereth of Yetzirah. By reflex, the eidolen of the Messenger informs the heart and mind of the practitioner in Tiphereth of Assiah. This should have been set in motion by the Neophyte admission ritual of the Phoenix. The Vision of the Holy Guardian Angel is therefore ascribed to Malkuth. The experience, though mystical at the heart, is nonetheless tangible to the material body and senses. Malkuth is Kether, but after another fashion.

Holy Guardian Angel: The Phoenix

Liber 930, otherwise known as the Phoenix, is the rite of admission to Neophyte, the first degree of the Order. The first degree is sometimes called the ‘Grade of Earth’ because it corresponds to Malkuth, the Kingdom. The ritual has its basis in the Golden Dawn Neophyte ceremony. Within it are the keys to forging the necessary inner plane contacts of a Thelemic magical Order.

Holy Guardian Angel: Phoenix and other Stellar Rites of InitiationThe key initiations are those that ascend the middle pillar of the Tree of Life. We therefore include with this book the admission to the grade of Zelator, The Ceremony for making the Khu perfect. The Adeptus Minor does not truly enter the Second Order until the Knowledge and Conversation of the Holy Guardian Angel is experienced. We therefore present here Liber 717 Zain, our modern version of the Bornless Ritual. The three rituals of initiation given here each come with full commentaries. The ‘flashing colours’ are particular to the Magick of Light and have a special rôle in theurgical rites. This book is therefore printed on photographic paper and includes 35 luxurious full colour diagrams and graphic illustrations.

The Neophyte experiences the Magick of Light in the entry ritual called Phoenix. The Magick of Light is expressive of universal natural principles. It is the basis for the consecration of talismans, invocation and evocation. The Golden Dawn General Exordium declares the method by which the Occult Force is transmitted. This is comparable to electricity or an electromagnetic current. At other times it is described as a ‘fluid’, Azoth. The aspirant to the first degree is exhorted to ‘Quit the Night and Seek the Day’. The darkness of the outer world must be eschewed ere we enter the company of heaven. To seek the spiritual, we must turn our back on material things. Here then is the universal theurgic schema, adapted for the use of the Neophyte.


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Capricorn: Egyptian Tarot of Thelema Set XV

The Capricorn Solstice is depicted here by our Egyptian Tarot of Thelema image of the god Set. The traditional title of the card is ‘The Devil XV’. The Egyptian god Set is no devil as such but is the Opener of the Year and Lord of Initiation.

Capricorn Solstice: Egyptian Tarot of Thelema Set XVSet is shown here as God of the South, wielding the was sceptre of priestly authority in his left hand and the Ankh of Life in his right hand. His colour is indigo or dark violet. His ornaments, sceptre and ankh are black, gold and grey as according to the key scale colours of the 26th path and the ancient Egyptian title that was afforded Set, ‘the black and gold one’ (Set-Nubti). His peculiar ass-head with truncated ears has caused much bafflement. Some have thought he was modelled on a creature that has long been extinct. Whether this is true or not, Set is certainly among the most ancient of gods. Like Sokar, Lord of the Necropolis, Set is older even than the Pyramids. Perhaps he is as old as the vast wilderness of the desert itself.

Most descriptions of Set focus on the later dynastic periods of Egypt, where he was demonised and known only as the slayer of Osiris. However, Set is the first and only begotten son of Nuit, the goddess of space and stars. His birth is by divine parthenogenesis—no paternal intervention is required for a star to manifest the mother, for Hadit to evoke the appearance of Nuit. To discuss Set-Typhon in terms of Osiris is therefore a diversion from understanding Set’s true nature and function.

Set is the most difficult of gods to ‘pin down’; his very nature forbids it. He is on the other side of wherever we happen to be in terms of consciousness. Thus, the Egyptians tended to think of Set as Mercury, the shapeshifter. In northerly locations, typical Setian totems are corvids—the raven, crow, jackdaw and magpie. The function of Set is dual. Firstly, Set veils the invisible in an infinite variety of forms. Secondly, he destroys the illusion of the appearance of things. Small wonder then, that Set is not only ‘First before the Gods’, but is also the most misunderstood of all gods.[1]

The hieroglyphic name of Set is shown at the top of the Tarot picture. The first two letters are phonetics (‘s’ and ‘t’) while the rectangle provides a further clue to Set’s mysterious origins. The rectangle means ‘stone’. This has agricultural and building connotations, as well as that of the graven image. Some of the earliest Dynastic kings of Egypt were Setians, and were noted for their great feats of architectural magnificence as well as introducing irrigation canals.[2] Esoterically, Set is the layer of the foundation of the universe from ‘before the beginning of things’. The Iset throne of Isis typifies the foundation stone. Set and Isis, though portrayed as enemies in more recent times, are in fact inseparable. Set is the elemental nature of Isis and is, through her identification with Nuit, her only begotten child. The identification is made clear in the (Egyptian) Book of the Law, AL I: 22, where Nuit reveals herself as I.S.I.S.

I am Infinite Space, and the Infinite Stars thereof.

The esoteric title of the Tarot key is Lord of the Gates of Matter: Child of the Forces of Time. The Thelemic year begins for us not on the 20th March each year, but on the winter solstice, when the Sun crosses the zero degrees mark of Capricorn. The 26th path of Capricorn is the Renewing Intelligence. The time of year marks the first light of the star of awakening consciousness sounded in the depth. In Thelemic terms it is the Khabs (‘star’) in the Khu (‘radiance’). As declared by Aiwass in AL, I: 8–9,

The Khabs is in the Khu, not the Khu in the Khabs.
Worship then the Khabs, and behold my light shed over you!

Cancer and Capricorn mark the height and depth of the Sun through the year. The equinoxes mark the seasonal crossing points. The four cross-quarters mark the Kerubic signs, Aquarius, Taurus, Leo and Scorpio.[3]

The 26th path of Capricorn connects Tiphereth, the sphere of the Sun, with Hod, the sphere of Mercury, which is the sphere of Set.[4] The Renewing Intelligence is the renewal and perpetuity of all created forms. Nature provides a useful analogy for the human psyche. Unless the intellect is able to adapt it atrophies and becomes petrified, ‘turning to stone’.[5] The identification of the personal ego with the forms or constructs that appear in Hod increases the limiting or restricting power of Saturn, ruler of Capricorn. According to AL, I: 41,

The word of Sin is Restriction.

It is the desire to become free of material limitations that drives man to seek freedom. It is necessary, though, to understand the principles of nature and their operation in the world before any limits can be transcended. The primary limitation is man himself and his ignorance of natural laws.

Capricorn, Set and the Eye of God

The magical powers of the 26th path are the Witches Sabbath and the Evil Eye. The so-called Witches Sabbath is largely fictional, owing to the paranoid imaginings of medieval clerics, but the symbolism is peculiarly apt.[6] The backwards dance of the revellers, for example, is a recollection of exceedingly antique rites as well as the whole underlying theology of ancient Egypt. Egypt recognised no ‘progress’ or ‘evolution’, the ideal was always to go back to the source, before the beginning of things. This is a spiritual truth known by every yogi and mystic; it is not a symptom of a reactionary disposition among the Egyptians, as superficial commentators have supposed. The naming of the Evil Eye, known as a mark or sign of protection against evil in many countries around the world, mirrors the letter A’ain of the 26th path, ‘an eye’. Set, as with most important Egyptian deities, is the upholder of the Eye of Ra or of God. In the Tantras, the ‘eye’ is the particular attribute of Shiva, who shares many of the attributes of Set. The letter A’ain has the value of 70, which is the manifestation of Venus (or Nuit) through the power of Saturn (or Hadit).[7]

Saturn is the planetary ruler of Capricorn. Mars, the energy required for renewal, is exalted therein. As with Shiva, the number 3 of Saturn or Binah is fundamental to an intellectual understanding of the god. The number 3 is the geometric foundation of form and likeness. It is the ‘stone’ or Set, the angular sides of the pyramid. It is the cipher of the matrix for all life and existence. It requires a triangular prism to split white light into seven colours, for only the triangle can reduce a phenomenon to its components. Therefore the rainbow spectrum is the sevenfold veil of Set. The number 7 is that of Venus, who doubles as both morning and evening star, and Saturn is the ‘power behind Venus’.

Set is identified with Sirius, the star of Egypt, and as such is the manifestor of the seven stars of Ursa Major. Sirius is the birthplace and home of the gods. It is the star of the ‘one in eight’ as Set-Hadit, manifestor of the seven and revealer of Nuit. Sirius is the sun behind the sun of our solar system, the transcendent regulator of all terrestrial aeons.


1. From ‘Ultraviolet Light of Set-Typhon’, pp. 173, Babalon Unveiled! Thelemic Monographs [Ordo Astri].

2. Even Seti I, the grandfather of Rameses II in the relatively late Middle to New Kingdom, was named after the great god and ensured the continuance of his cult.

3. Commencing from the winter cup of Capricorn and Aquarius, we can follow the course of the Lightning Flash on the Tree of Life through the year. Capricorn and Aquarius, ruled by Saturn, send the current from the supernal Eden to the sphere of Jupiter, ruler of Pisces. The next station is Aries, ruled by Mars, in which is the Sun’s exaltation. Next comes Taurus, ruled by Venus, the lovely star. We then pass across to Mercury, ruler of Gemini. Arriving at the solstice of the summer cup, the Moon and Sun are conjoined and the Holy Hexagram declared, with the Earth as witness. The current then streaks back up the Tree, in reverse order until the Capricorn solstice is again reached.

4. If a ‘star’ determinative (seba) is added to the name of Set, the hieroglyphs spell ‘Mercury’, the planet. Thus Set and Mercury, and the qualities of Mercury, are identical. See Budge, An Egyptian Hieroglyphic Dictionary Vol. I, pp. 707 A.

5. Tales of people being turned to stone are common in myth and legend. It is notable that in Cornish folklore, the origin of the prehistoric megaliths and stone circles that abundantly populate the land is illustrated by stories of the petrification of men, women and giants. For example: the Merry Maidens, the Nine Maidens of Boskednan, the Tregeseal Dancing Stones, and the Hurlers.

6. The fictional origin of ‘witchcraft’ is explained in ‘The Witches Sabbath and the Curse of Monotheism’, Babalon Unveiled! Thelemic Monographs [Ordo Astri].

7. Qabalistically, 70 = 10 x 7, the manifestation (10) of Venus (7).

The Egyptian Tarot of Thelema is an entirely new concept in the field of practical magick, divination and Thelema. The Tarot is a work in progress. The 12 Zodiac trumps can be viewed here.

© Oliver St. John 2018, revised 2019

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