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.

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 abbĂ© 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, the Queen of Heaven, 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 isly 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. 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.

For more on Wicca, see the extensive www.religioustolerance.org website.

15 comments:

Jeff said...

If y'all allow Mormons like myself, there is no reason that Wiccans shouldn't be allowed as well.

My local Lodge would have no problem admitting a Wiccan or other type of professing Pagan brother.

Rui Bandeira said...

In the version of the Scottish Ancient and Accepted Rite used in Continental Europe, and specifically in Portugal,it is commonly used a five-pointed star with a “G” in the center in the Fellowcraft degree. It is enlightened and it is called "Estrla Flamejante" (Flaming Star). One of most used interpretations of the symbol is that it represents man (remember well known Leonasdo's drawing of a man arms and legs opene...) with Divinity inside him or Man enlightened by God.

J. said...

Hmm - Brothers who have a problem with alt-religions based on the use of stars have obviously never used tracingboards, which are rife with stars, especially on the MM, where the Hebrew HEH or the number 5 is occasionally replaced with a 5-pointed star. So, I am guessing their Lodges used the lantern slide method or the slide project method to illuminate the lectures.

Proof that innovation corrupts the Craft?

J. said...

...now don't I feel like an moron. Let this be a lesson - blogger is not pda friendly. After posting my comment, I saw that original post continued, below my comments (the images skewed the formatting on a small screen). So I apologize. The question I think still remains: does innovation corrupt the Craft?

J.

Chris Hodapp said...

More important, if pentacles are inherently demonic, then the American flag must be Beelzebub's satanic banner, what with 50 of the scary things on it...

Tom Accuosti said...

Oh, come now, Bro. Chris - we all know that the "right side up" stars are angelic while the "upside down" stars are satanic.

I read it on the internet, so it must be true.

David Peronnet, RA said...

Nice commentary on an ancient religion. I am not in that camp but have had many contacts with folks who practice a 'Nature' religion and have felt their honesty compelling.

However i might suggest that the misconception that Wiccans are devil worshipers is further clouded by the comparison you made at the beginning of your post. Witches do not worship satan that is left over to satanists (they do exist). From what I have encountered the Wicca faith is very peaceful and has a type of creed call the Wicca Rede "Harm no one, Do what you will." A very similar thought as many mainstream religions. The argument for Wiccans in the lodge should not be debated around superstition but more on the essence of who the Supreme Being is to them. This is the sticky subject.

The essence of Wicca is to define the world and its spiritual realm as it is felt and influenced by teachers. Many Wiccans believe in competing myths or descriptions of a Mother and Father who give birth to creation and other lesser gods.

I truly support Wicca as a religion but our Landmarks direct us to think of the GAOTU as a singular God (monotheistic) and as a Father (brotherhood of man under the fatherhood of God) then I think this does not meet the expectations of being duly and truly prepared, worthy and well qualified.

Symbols are only points, lines and planes. Meaning is personal.

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Widow's Son said...

Excellent post, Bro. Chris.

"Co-incidentally" (there are no coincidences) I came across a January 2001 article about Wicca just this morning that outlines its history... and then debunks it. Interesting reading here.

Widow's Son
BurningTaper.com

Chris Hodapp said...

WS,
Interesting article.

My next book, The Templar Code For Dummies, co-written with Alice Von Kannon, started out as strictly being just about the Knights Templar. We expanded the portions about the Templars where they touched on the Da Vinci Code, which led to much research on the "sacred feminine" sources Brown used. Let's just say there's a lot of wishful thinking on the part of folks like Margaret Starbird and others.

I get especially entertained by folks who spend reams of paper and gallons of ink insisting that the Roman Catholic Church "suppressed" feminine influences and worship by covering up Mary Magdalene's role as Jesus' moll. So, just what the hell was the Virgin Mary, a cross-dresser? Church [i]tradition[/i] (not law) that developed in the countryside over the centuries gave the Virgin Mary almost equal status with Christ, as far as day-to-day worship went. Brown wants to make the Roman Catholic Church the Snidely Whiplash character in denial of feminine goddess worship in Christian tradition, but I have to tell you, I say blame it on the Protestants...

Chris Hodapp said...

Of course, there's the old connection between late 19th century Freemasons and Wicca, in the endlessly confused dabblings of Waite, Wynn-Westcott, Woodman, MacGregor Mathers and the rest of the Golden Dawn gang.

Which led to Isis-Urania Lodge, and Crowley and OTO and Gardner and...

And I swore I'd never get that discussion going again!

cmh said...

The (independent) Grand Chapter of New York uses a right-side-up version of the Eastern Star emblem. Perhaps they are the good ones.... ;)

Chris Hodapp said...

Cue the maniacal laugh track.

James said...

I'm pagan and I have been made a Mason, the lodge I petitioned Has known from the beginning. as far as I know I'm the first Openly Pagan that was made in Maryland

Devyn Christopher Gillette said...

What book might a Pagan use as the VOSL to make his obligations upon? There is no one sacred book in that faith(s). (However, there is legal precedent of someone taking an oath of citizenship in Canada that was sworn on the Homeric Hymns.) Might a Pagan use a book of myths, then? Or perhaps the Hermetic text "The Kybalion"?