The Element Encyclopedia of Witchcraft: The Complete A-Z for the Entire Magical World - Judika Illes 2005
Tools of Witchcraft
“Pentacle” and “pentagram” are now frequently used synonymously but technically a five-pointed star is a pentagram: a pentacle is a small flat disc on which a pentagram has been engraved or inscribed. So the pentagram is the geometric shape and a pentacle is a round amulet or magical tool that displays a pentagram. Many people use the words interchangeably, however, and do not distinguish between the two.
Pentacles can be formed from clay, wax, bone, and wood; most frequently they are made from metal. A practitioner on a low budget could cut a round pentacle from construction paper and inscribe it with a pentagram. Pentagrams may be drawn in the air, with an athamé or other ritual knife, in each of the four directional points to consecrate a magic circle.
Over the centuries, pentagrams, five-pointed stars, have been used to represent witches and to protect others against them. The pentagram has been used to symbolize Jesus Christ and also to represent Satan. Talk about contradictions!
A German folk name for pentagram is drudenfusz, “witch’s foot.” German folk tradition indicates the use of pentagrams as protective talismans against evil spirits. During the Middle Ages and the Renaissance, pentagrams were painted on homes or mounted within them to protect against evil spirits and witches.
The Pennsylvania Dutch hexafoos also indicates “witch’s foot” and is sometimes used as a synonym for hex signs. It also names a specific architectural motif involving an arch or decoration painted beneath a barn window that was expected to protect against witches. (See DICTIONARY: Drude.)
Pentacles are traditionally a protective talisman. In much of the ancient world, especially the Middle East and North Africa, the number five radiates protective energy and is the number most associated with protective spells. The pentagram may, thus, be understood as related to five-fingered hand-shaped amulets like the Hand of Fatima or the Hamsa, which symbolizes the all-protecting Five Fingers of God.
Master magus Cornelius Agrippa explains that every pentagram reveals the ideal qualities represented by the number five: it demonstrates five triangles, five obtuse angles, and five acute angles and is an excellent symbol for counteracting demons or malicious spirits.
Pentacles are one of the tarot suits where they are also called coins. They correspond with the playing card suit of Diamonds and represent the feminine element Earth. Pentacles represent Earth’s bounty, abundance, and protective energies. A parallel image would be the cornucopia, the horn overflowing with fruit and wealth. (See page 695, Horns.)
The pentacle is one of Wicca’s elemental tools, representing Earth, usually serving as a protective talisman. It has evolved into the religious emblem of Wicca in the manner of the cross for Christians and the hexagram (Star of David) for Jews.
Pentacles are ancient; earliest surviving images date back to over four thousand years before the Common Era. The pentagram within a circle appears on rings worn by members of the Pythagorean brotherhood. Pentagrams, both with and without surrounding circles, appear in Kabalistic writings, and they are among the sacred, magical images associated with Onmyoji, the wizards of Japan.
The pentacle may be interpreted in various ways:
The pentacle may represent a human figure
The pentacle may represent a parturient (birthing) woman
The pentacle’s solitary point may represent spirit while the others indicate the four elements (air, earth, fire, water)
Magus Eliphas Levi suggested that the pentacle represented the triumph of the human will over the power of the four elements
East Asian cosmology perceives five elements (air, earth, fire, water, metal) not four, and so the pentacle may represent the eternal interplay of the elements.
The solitary point may be considered the pentacle’s head. A pentacle may be positioned head up, down or sideways. Satanists have adopted the inverted pentagram but not because of any witchcraft associations. Many historians suggest that Satanists adopted the inverted pentacle as their emblem because early Christians used the pentacle as a symbol of Christ with the uppermost point indicating his head. Thus turning the pentacle upside down was perceived as a hostile, desecrating act.