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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Hermetic Qabalah Foundation

This article is to provide some background and the historical basis to our course, Hermetic Qabalah Foundation. It also provides some useful guidelines to how the course is worked.

Crowley once remarked of Thelema that ‘do what thou wilt’ was to bid stars to shine, vines to bear fruit, water to seek its own level, etc. … we are all expressions of the 93 Current, with our parts to play, and in this play, the Current is expressing itself through us. Thus there is no need to look upon the work of Crowley, or Grant, or Spare as being a fixed body of work before which we can only, awestruck, bend the knee; rather, we should use it as one source amongst several from which we can develop our own body of work.

Michael Staley, Starfire Volume II No. 3

There is a Thelema beyond Aleister Crowley, whose magical system was put together between 1909 and 1947. Working through a correspondence course to achieve magical initiation nonetheless seems to have originated with Crowley, though he is rarely given credit for it. In the old style Golden Dawn Lodges, where initiation was supposed to be achieved with group ceremonies, few persons did any personal work. There was little or no supervision unless they were fortunate to know the right people. Crowley was taught by Allen Bennett, but that was a rare case. There was a tendency therefore for quite a lot of people to get into relatively high grades without gaining real knowledge. They attended meetings and paid their dues.

The correspondence method, introduced by Crowley and continued for a short time by Kenneth Grant, is necessarily didactic. Initiation is then about personal work done and the discipline of the magical diary Record. Dion Fortune further developed the correspondence course method in her Fraternity of Inner Light, and it came to us through that route. It was a former student of Dion Fortune that first put it to us that we might continue the tradition. We are now in the 4th generation and everyone has added and contributed along the way.

Hermetic Qabalah Foundation

Hermetic Qabalah Foundation: Lightning Flash

The Hermetic Qabalah Foundation is unique and original to the O∴ A∴ but the mode of working, where the Tree of Life is travelled from top to bottom instead of bottom to top, was first developed by the Helios Group in England in the late 1950s. The Helios Group was a project that was developed in association with the Fraternity of Inner Light. The author and Qabalist Gareth Knight (Basil Wilby) had much to do with what was then called the Helios Course in practical Qabalah, in consultation with Israel Regardie. The bulk of that course, fifty lessons and fifty months of study and work was penned by W. E. Butler, working on commission.

Our course, Hermetic Qabalah Foundation, bears little comparison with the Helios course; there is no Arthurian symbolism, no Graal castle and, with all due respect to our mentors, ‘Thelema’ is not a word used to clear the room after a party. The course takes one year to complete and is presented in Hermetic Qabalah Foundation—Complete Course. The letters received from the course guide on a monthly basis fill out the rest. That way, the instruction can be tailored to suit the individual.

There is in reality no such thing as a beginner’s course in magick. The ancient Egyptians did not have one set of hieroglyphs for novices and another set for priest-kings; they are all the same hieroglyphs. The Hermetic Qabalah Foundation was written and structured in such a way as to teach the novice how to make their way through the labyrinth of symbolism that pervades the subject. The course also serves the purpose of enabling the student that is properly prepared a chance to forge the necessary inner-plane contacts. If a master of magick were to work their way through the same course, they would not be wasting one minute of their time, for they would work it to their own level of ability and knowledge.

Holy Guardian Angel

The primary objective of the Great Work is the Knowledge and Conversation of the Holy Guardian Angel. In many ways the Angel can be regarded as a divine lover, for the Knowledge and Conversation is the most complete form of consummation within human experience. Qabalistically, union between the ego and the non-ego takes place in Tiphereth, the heart and centre of the Tree of Life. This then becomes the seat of the True Will or True Self. In the normal state of affairs Tiphereth is merely the place of the lower ego, which has usurped the position of its true ruler, prince and king. The mundane chakra attributed to Tiphereth—its physical vehicle in the cosmos—is the Sun. The symbol used for this star is a circle with a point in the centre. The circle with a point in the centre is also the symbol of Kether concentrated from the Ain Soph Aur, the void from which emerges the point of consciousness. As Kether is in Malkuth and Malkuth is in Kether, the Vision of the Holy Guardian Angel is attributed to Malkuth on the Tree. The Holy Guardian Angel informs the person while they are incarnated in a body of flesh—the Great Work as understood by Hermeticists is not something that is postponed until an after-life.[1]


Notes

1. From Hermetic Qabalah Foundation—Complete Course, pp. 38.

© Oliver St. John, 2018

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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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