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Monday, April 23, 2007
Pentacles, Wiccans and Masonry
A question that pops up from time to time on Masonic forums and in lodge has to do with the requirement of a petitioner to believe in a "supreme being" and whether Wicca qualifies as such a belief. Undoubtedly, part of the trepidation by some Masons to accept Wicca as a religion has to do with seeing inverted pentacles drawn on floors by hooded devil-worshippers in too many old Night Gallery reruns. Curiously, these same brethren generally have no problem with the inverted pentacle of the Order of the Eastern Star.
Nevertheless, Wiccans are NOT Satanic or devil worshippers. Perhaps some calm may be brought to the discussion by the news today that the Veteran's Administration has agreed to allow the Wiccan pentacle on the gravestones of fallen soldiers. The pentacle joins the list of 38 accepted religious symbols approved for headstones.
The pentacle, pentalpha or five pointed star, in truth, had no connotations of "good" or "evil" until the defrocked French abbé Eliphas Levi gave it such distinctions in the late 1800s. The pentagram first appeared more than 5,000 years ago, in Mesopotamian writings and drawings. The Babylonians used it as an astrological diagram to represent the five known planets, —Mercury, Mars, Jupiter and Saturn, with Venus at the top point of the star as the Queen of Heaven. The Pythagorean Greeks used an inverted pentacle's five points to represent the Classical elements of fire, water, air, earth and idea – (or more properly, Hieron, a word meaning “divine thing.”). Modern day Wiccans and Neopagans similarly use the symbol in this a similar manner, to represent the four earthbound elements air, earth, fire, water and the “spirit.” Depending on the variety of Wicca, the symbol may appear with the point up or down.
Five has been a sacred number is a variety of religions, and the pentacle has long been a handy shorthand for those many meanings. Humans have five fingers or toes on each limb. We have five senses. Early Christians used the pentacle to describe a very wide range of concepts. Over time they have been used by Christians to describe, from the five senses and to the five wounds of Christ on the cross. Catholics have used it to describe symbolize the five “virtues of Mary” (Annunciation, Nativity, Resurrection, Ascension and the Assumption). In the 14th 14th-century Arthurian tale of Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, it appears on Sir Gawain’s shield to delineate the five virtues of knighthood: fellowship, purity, frankness, courtesy and compassion. And Islam has its five pillars of faith.
The pentacle has occasionally appeared in the symbolism of Freemasonry in a couple of references. It’s most prominent appearance today is as the symbol of the Order of the Eastern Star. The Order of the Eastern Star is, part of the Masonic family of related groups known as the appendant bodies. It was created in the 1850s by Freemason Rob Morris and his wife as a group that allowed both men and women to mix in a lodge-like setting. Men who are Masons may join, as well as women who are married or otherwise related to a Masons. Morris was, an inveterate lover of Masonic ritual, and so he created a ritual ceremony that was initiatory like as in Freemasonry, but was dissimilar enough that so he couldn’t be accused by Grand Lodges of making women into Masons.
He based his ritual on biblical sources. The degree ceremonies of the Order of the Eastern Star tell stories about five heroines of the Bible: Adah, Jephthah’s daughter from the Book of Judges; Ruth, the daughter-in-law of Naomi; Esther, the brave Hebrew wife of Xerxes; Martha, Lazarus’ sister, from the Gospel of John; and Electa, the “elect lady” mentioned in II John.
The pentacle as it is used in the Order of the Eastern Star represents the Star of Bethlehem, and the points of the star refer to the biblical heroines. Chapter rooms are traditionally laid out with a large floor cloth or carpet representing the pentagram and its star points. At the center of the symbol stands an altar with an open Bible open upon it.
Apart from its use in the Order of the Eastern Star, the pentacle – right-side- up or inverted – does not officially appear in Masonic ritual or symbolism – at least not in the U.S. But that hasn't always been the case. Some “tracing boards” appeared in the early 1800s that contained five-pointed stars with a “G” in the center as a symbol of both God and of the knowledge of geometry. Other researchers have suggested that it may have represented a portion of the Master Mason degree ritual, the “Five Points of Fellowship.” But it was not a common symbol and has not survived in widespread use in this country.
However, many other countries frequently place a five-pointed star in the East of the lodge instead of the 'G' we commonly use to depict the presence of God. Some also combine it with the letter G. Proving the longstanding problem with making generalizations about Masonic symbolism: the answer usually is that "it's jurisdictional."
For more on Wicca, see the extensive www.religioustolerance.org website.