by Bro. James W. Maertens, Ph.D.
The Pentagram is a geometric figure
derived from a pentagon, a regular polygon of five sides. In symbolic Geometry it thus can symbolize anything to do with the number five. The Office Building for the United States Armed Services was constructed in the shape of a Pentagon -- hence its common name. Freemasons have been criticized for the use of the Pentagram as a symbol, usually on the grounds that it is "Satanic." Well, while it is true that some so-called Satanists have adopted this symbol that does not make a five-pointed star "Satanic". The pentagram is not a major symbol in Freemasonry, but where it does appear it is usallly interpreted as a symbol of the five senses, which are given treatment in the Fellowcraft degree as one of the mystic meanings of of the number five.
Masonry derives its major symbols from Geometry and traditionally the Craft equates itself with the science of Geometry as the basis not only for the operative craft of stonemasonry (and indeed all building), but also as the basis for a symbolic system that is applied to self-knowledge. Leonardo DaVinci's famous drawing called the Vetruvian Man shows a human form that links the proportions of circle, square, and pentagram. The significance of this is to remark upon the beautiful geometry of the human form with its four limbs and head. The star thus can be taken as a symbol of Mankind, or the Human Condition. But it also can be related to the five senses: smelling, feeling, hearing, tasting, and seeing. Note that these are all active verbs, not merely passive faculties. For Masons the senses are themselves symbolic of the relationshp among brothers who use the sense of touch in their handshake, the sense of hearing for their passwords and for receiving instruction, and the sense of seeing to see the signs which make up the craft. Smelling and tasting are more applicable to the festive board, but they too are included in the full five that maketh Man.
But Freemasons did not make up the pentagram, as should be obvious with a moment's thought. It is a symbol with its roots in alchemy and in the ancient mysteries. The metaphorical interpretation of geometric figures goes back to Pythagoras and the beginnings of philosophy.
In alchemical symbolism the five points signify the interconnection of the four elements (Air, Fire, Water, and Earth) united by the fifth element or "quintessence" that is sometimes called Aether and more often Spirit. This meaning is not a Masonic one, but I include it here to demonstrate that during the 18th and 19th centuries, if not earlier, Freemasonry was interwoven with Kabbalism, magic, and alchemy as approaches to understanding Nature and Man's place in it. This interweaving of philosophical traditions was due to the interests of particular Freemasons not to the Craft as a whole (indeed it is impossible to generalize about the Craft as a whole because no one has ever spoken for all Masonry).
The pentagram is used in traditional Chinese medicine and Taoism too, which employs a system of five elements rather than four (Water, Wood, Metal, Fire, Earth). The fact that we have five digits on each of our hands and feet is another way that five becomes a mysterious number signifying humanity. More recently, the pentagram has been widely publicized as the chief symbol of Wicca or the modern religion of "witchcraft." Wicca and Freemasonry are utterly different institutions, though the modern redactor of Wicca, Gerald Gardner borrowed a few things from Masonry, just as did Joseph Smith, the creator of the Mormon church. All of these are distinct institutions and the only connection between modern witches and Freemasons lies in the fact that both traditions have drawn upon the deep well of Kabbalah and Western metaphysical symbolism. Among Wiccans, the pentagram doesn't have anything to do with Satan either.
Perhaps the deepest symbolism of the the number five and its geometric figure in Freemasonry is the Masonic "five points of fellowship" which are a part of the rituals and allude to five duties of one brother to another. Those duties are:
- To walk with our brothers and help them on their path through life
- To remember our brothers in our prayers
- To deal with our brothers always "heart-to-heart"
- To listen to our brothers attentively and with civility
- To speak kindly to our brothers, giving them good and wholesome advice when we see them err.
This beautiful symbolism is well-known to Masons and those who apply strange meanings to the pentagram which are inconsistent with the values of the Craft do so out of ignorance, malice, or both.
Finally, one of the affiliated or "appendant" bodies associated with Craft Masonry, the Order of the Eastern Star, uses the pentagram along with other symbols within each of the five points. The Order of the Eastern Star was created as an American institution that permitted women to be members and undergo an initiation of their own. The need for this separate order arose in a time when in American culture women were not permitted to assemble freely with men, nor to even assemble together in clubs without a male escort. It was just not considered "ladylike" and indeed in that time was dangerous. In the liberated times we live in today, such a need may be hard to fathom but the O.E.S. continues to help bring wives and daughters of Master Masons into Masonic life.
The significance of the pentagram for the Order of the Eastern Star is at least two-fold. First, it symbolizes the Star of Bethlehem that the three magi followed to Bethlehem to discover the Savior. Second, its five points stand for the five Biblical and Christian heroines whose stories serve as moral lessons for the sisterhood. The reason that the fifth point is pointing down is to indicate that the light of the star is descending to Earth from Heaven. Just as in DaVinci's Vetruvian Man, the fifth point up points to Heaven and symbolizes that the head of a Man is that part of his body directed upward to the Divine world.