The pentagram has been used as a religious symbol throughout the world from the beginning of recorded history. The most basic pentagram is simply a five-point star drawn with one continuous line broken into five line segments and with one point of the star facing up. Today, however, when we say “pentagram,” we usually mean “a five-point star with one or two circles drawn around it.” Sometimes such a symbol includes other small markings denoting a particular magick sigil (a symbol used in magic spells). An inverted pentagram displays the star “upside down,” i.e., with one point facing down and two facing up. Whichever form is used, the pentagram has always been assigned a five-part symbolism.
The pentagram was used in ancient Chinese and Japanese religions to symbolize the five elements of life. In Japanese culture the symbol was also considered magical. Ancient Babylonian culture was also using the pentagram to represent various gods and religious beliefs of their own.
In Christian symbolism, the basic pentagram (without a circle) was originally used to represent the five wounds of Jesus Christ. It was soon supplanted by the symbol of the cross, but the pentagram was still recognizable as a Christian symbol for a few hundred years after Jesus’ resurrection. Some say that the continuous line was also considered symbolic of the Alpha and Omega.
Christian-influenced academia in Europe during the Enlightenment re-discovered Pythagoras’ interest in the pentagram, which contains the Golden Ratio. Pythagoras’ study went beyond mathematics, though, as he assigned the five ancient elements to the five points of the star: earth, water, air, and fire on the four lower points; and spirit on the topmost point. Depending on the mythology, this arrangement usually indicated the correct ordering of the world, with material things subject to spirit. The Free Masons and Eastern Star Organization have also used this Pythagorean pentagram, often adding their own symbols as well.
In Wicca and various forms of “white magic,” the encircled, upright pentagram is considered a symbol that provides protection of some kind. Pagan and neo-pagan groups use the pentagram in all manner of rituals and ornamentation because it symbolizes infinity, the binding of the five elements, and protection of the self.
In the mid-1800s, a researcher of magic declared in a book that the inverted pentagram was a symbol of evil because it presented an inversion of the natural order, placing matter over the spirit world. Since then, the inverted pentagram has had associations with occult practices and black magic. The Church of Satan uses the inverted pentagram as part of its copyrighted logo, adding a goat’s head, framed by the star.
Today, the pentagram shows up in horror films, thrillers, and crime dramas, reinforcing the symbol’s association with neo-paganism, black magic, and occultism. Of course, there’s nothing wrong with a star, and the pentagram itself contains no inherent power. It has been used in many ways by many different cultures, including Christianity. It should not be feared in and of itself, although we should be aware of what other people are communicating through it.