Following the Star:
The Elemental North and Ritual Space
In contemporary Western Occultism, the Northern quarter represents the womb and tomb, the dark moon, night, winter, earth, and form and potentiality. Whereas the Southern quarter is associated with assertiveness and action, the Northern quarter is associated with the vehicles of action: the body and will. In it is the will and potential to exist. What can Exist is then realized in the east, asserted in the south, and fulfilled in the west.
In the idea of the elemental north is the seed of becoming where the realm of archetype and pure idea intersect with the physical world. This idea is an ancient one known to the pre-Socratic philosophers of the 6th century BCE, the Hermeticists and Neoplatonists of the ancient world (circa 1st century BCE to 3rd century CE), the Hermetic mystics and magicians of the medieval era, and the mystics of the East. It is this: that the physical world is the manifestation of an ideal spiritual world. Therefore, the theme and mystery of the elemental North can be summarized in the Hermetic adage “As above, so below.”
The Emerald Tablet
This is True and certain without doubt.
What is above is from what is below and what is below is from what is above,
From this work comes the miracle of the One from which all things come.
Its father is the Sun, and its mother is the Moon.
It is carried in the belly of Earth and nourished by Wind, becoming Fire.
Therefore, feed the Earth with what is subtle, the greatest power.
It will ascend from the earth to the heavens and become ruler over what is above and below.
Thus says Hermes Trismegistus.
A number of symbolic ritual objects are used to represent Elemental North. They include: The Pentacle or Pentagram, Paten or ritual offering plate, Mirror, and Stone or Crystal. The ritual Shield, Breastplate, or Lamen perhaps can be added to this list. With the exception of the pentagram, these items are reflective objects. What they symbolically reflect is the Higher sphere of Reality: the Macrocosm reflected in the Microcosm.
The Paten used in Wicca and Ceremonial Magick generally is a pentacle—a pentagram in a circle, or in this case, a disc on which a pentagram in engraved. It is related to the paten used in Christian worship: a platter that represents the resting place –that is the womb and tomb—and the body of the Christian dying and resurrecting god. Even Aleister Crowley (1875-1947), in Liber ABA, Book IV, acknowledged this connection, saying about the pentacle: “that which is merely a piece of common bread shall be the body of God.”
Some antique patens are—as the name implies—large platters or bowls, and in fact are related to the grail. In Christian lore, the grail is described as vessel sometimes associated with the chalice used at the Last Supper and sometimes with the platter on which the Pascal lamb was served. The word grail and words like it originally meant something like big bowl or serving dish. So both the chalice and paten are variations of the Grail that quickly evolved in Christian lore to respectively represent the blood and body of Christ.
In the late 19th century, the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn decided that the cup would represent the water element and the west (which was the convention within Freemasonry) and the pentacle paten would represent the element of earth and the north (Freemasons did not address the northern quarter, believing it to be a place of darkness). If we want to trace the chalice and paten to pagan origins, we can look to pagan Celtic grail legend and cauldron mysticism.
The paten in the form of a pentacle or pantacle, as Crowley liked to call it, also has the properties of a coat of arms and has been associated with the breastplate or lamen, although Crowley says that this in error. A lamen among ceremonial magicians is somewhat obsolete now but once referred to a specially engraved metal disc worn over the heart to protect its wearer or else activate a magickal charm that usually had to do with bullying otherworldly entities. We will see as we go on in this article that the pentacle was used in medieval times as a talisman to ward away supernatural evil, so the relationship between the pentacle and lamen may not be distant.
The mirror also is an appropriate symbol of the elemental North because, as mentioned, the microcosm is a mirror reflection of the macrocosm. Likewise, the stone or crystal symbolizes the Philosopher’s Stone, which is the transformed self that holds and reflects the divine light.
The Pentagram and the Pythagoreans
Although the pentagram/pentacle symbol dates back to at least the ancient Babylonians, its importance in Western occultism probably rests most with the Pythagoreans. It is equated with the Golden Mean, which is the formula of the structure of man and life on earth. It also was a symbol of health and Cosmic wholeness to the Pythagorean mystics who associated the pentagram with the goddess of health and well-being Hygieia—from whom we get the word Hygiene. Indeed, amulets have been found in which the letters υ-γ-ε-ι-α (UGEIA) or SALVS (the Roman equivalent) are inscribed around a pentacle.
Popular Pagan commentators have reported that the Pythagoreans used the pentagram to commemorate Kore, the Maiden form of the Cosmic cycle. They also point out that the word core, which entered the English language in the 14th century to mean the pith of fruit, and Kore, the Greek word for maiden or female child, are the same. I could not find hard evidence to support either claim but did find allusions to the similarities between Orphic and Pythagorean mysticism and about the doctrine of the Pentemychos, a philosophy told as creation mythology and attributed to a 6th century pre-Socratic philosopher named Pherecydes of Syros. In the Pentemychos, the interplay between pre-cosmic Time (Chronos), Being (Zas), and “What Lies beneath the Earth” (Chthonie) results in the creation of the Cosmos. In brief, a structure made of five recesses (a pente-mychos) is inseminated, giving rise to the “offspring of the gods.” This event, however, occurs in the midst of an archetypal drama that pits light and dark and order and chaos against each other. Some commentators speculate the Chthonie is the pentemychos and is the prototype of the goddesses Persephone (i.e., Kore) and Hecate.
In addition to sacred geometry, the Pythagorean philosophers wrote a great deal about the role of the elements in the creation and structure of the world. Their ideas strongly influenced medieval esotericists who turned the name Hygieia into a mnemonic for the 5 elements: hudor (water), gaia (earth), heile, (heat/fire), Hieron (idea “a divine thing”) and aer (air). Pentagram-engraved talisman on which the mnemonic was inscribed were worn to ward away evil, including evil thought to originate with witches and demons. This practice was said to be common among the general Christian public, who also associated the symbol with the wounds of Christ and the Christmas star.
The Pentacle as the World
The pentagram is an ancient archetypal geometric form. It is a contemplative image that contains insight about the nature of Self and Reality.
In Crowley’s view, related in Liber ABA (Book IV), the pentacle represented the mages self and universe. The item had to be designed with utmost care and after much contemplation since it represented the values and vision of the mage. The practice of contemplatively and ceremoniously designing one’s own pentagram or paten—as well as one’s other ritual tools—is a primary part of course work for initiates in modern Hermetic forms of ceremonial magick.
In Transcendental Magic, Eliphas Levi (Alphonse Louis Constant, 1810-1875) likens the pentagram to the morning star. It is the self as deity displaced from the heavens. It also represents the human soul harnessing and deconstructing the elemental sphere such that it realizes its True Nature in deity—a concept that is patently both Hermetic/ Gnostic and Eastern. He writes:
The pentagram is the figure of the microcosm—the magical formula of man. It is the one rising out of the four—the human soul rising from the bondage of animal nature. It is the true light—the “Star of the morning.” It marks the location of the five mysterious centers of force, the awakening of which is the supreme secret of white magic.
It can be said to be the extension of the mystical dimensionless point into the four cardinal directions of space. In this sense, the pentagram symbolizes the one becoming the many through the process of “emanation” in which God doesn’t create the world but becomes the world through a step-wise evolutionary process. The idea of emanation is a principle doctrine in early Greek philosophy, Kabala, ancient and medieval Hermeticism and Gnosticism, and Eastern mysticism.
The pentagram, as a symbol of elemental earth, represents the final step and the totality of creation. Just as all elements are contained in Elemental Earth, all elements and basic directions are contained in the mandala of the pentagram.
The founders of the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn developed a schema that more or less continues to be the template for modern ceremonial magicians and Wiccans/Post-modern Pagans. Some common correspondences, drawn from the Golden Dawn and other sources that are now associated with the vertices of the pentagram and their corresponding directions of space are as follows:
Lower left hand corner of the pentagram represents the northern quarter and its correspondences. In relation to time, these correspondences include winter, night, the new moon, death and germination. Its element is earth, associated with being cold and dry in quality, and representing form, stability, will, as well as scent and the sense of smell. Its representative color is black or green. Its associated ritual tool is the paten, pentacle, or crystal. Its Hebrew double-letter is פ (pe), which hieroglyphically represents a mouth and implies creative expression. Its angelic guardian is Uriel (“God’s light”), and its fairy elemental is the gnome.
Upper left hand corner represents the eastern cardinal point and its correspondences. In relation to time, these correspondences include spring, sunrise, the waxing moon, youth. Its element is air, associated with being hot and moist in quality, and representing knowledge, expression, communication, healing, and the sense of touch. Its representative color is yellow. Its associated ritual tool is the dagger. Its Hebrew double-letter is ד (dalet), which hieroglyphically represents a door and implies a portal to pass through. Its angelic guardian is Raphael (“God heals”), and its fairy elemental is the sylph.
Lower right hand corner represents the southern quarter and its correspondences. In relation to time, these correspondences include summer, midday, the full moon, the prime of life. Its element is fire, associated with being hot and dry in quality, and representing energy, action, courage, self-assertion as well as consumption and combustion, light, and the sense of sight. Its representative color is red. Its associated ritual tool is the wand or staff. Its Hebrew double-letter is ר (resh), which hieroglyphically represents a head and implies the highpoint of the sun’s passage through space. Its angelic guardian is Michael (“Like God”), and its fairy elemental is the salamander.
Upper right hand corner represents the western cardinal point and its correspondences. In relation to time, these correspondences include autumn, sunset, the waning moon, old age. Its element is water, associated with being cold and fluid in quality, and representing intuition, the unconscious, dream states, feeling, and sensation, as well as the sense of taste. Its representative color is blue. Its associated ritual tool is the cup. Its Hebrew double-letter is כ (kaf), which hieroglyphically represents a cupped hand and implies a vessel. Its angelic guardian is Gabriel (“God’s strength”), and its fairy elemental is the undine (mermaid).
The apex represents the Quintessence: That which transcends and is the source of the elements. It is the sacred center and the Void, the dimensionless point that is nowhere and everywhere. Its representative color is white or gold. Its Hebrew double letter is ת (tau), which hieroglyphically represents a mark or seal of ownership and implies the sacred center and identity with deity.
Among numerous other cultures, the pentagram is also important in Tantric Hindu sorcery and mysticism. It is associated with the deity Shiva and is the central geometric shape in an important meditational and talismanic image called the Sri Mrityunjaya Yantra. Mrityunjaya means He Who is Victorious Over Death. The yantra is meant to provide well-being, protection, and redemption from death. It is interesting that in the mantra that goes with this yantra, Shiva is revered as having excellent fragrance, associating Shiva with the Earth element.
Triyambakam Yajamahe Oh Three-eyed Lord, we adore you.
Sugandhim Pushti Vardanam Of excellent fragrance, you nourish all life.
Uruvarukamivabandhanan As the cucumber is freed from the stem,
Mrityor Muksheeyamamritat Liberate us from death and grant the nectar
In this system, the pentagram represents the five senses, and—the same as in the West—the “tattvas” or elements: Space/hearing, Air/touch, Fire/sight, Water/taste, Earth/smell. Name and form—that is, material existence—are said to arise out of these elements and sense perceptions.
The Inverted Pentagram
The pentagram of the Pythagoreans may have been inverted and appears this way in ancient seals and also in a comment on the Pythagorean pentagram in the work of the medieval occultist Cornelius Agrippa (1486-1535).
Ironically, the pentagram, and especially the inverted pentagram has taken on sinister meaning in modern times. For this, we can thank 19th century occultist Eliphas Levi—or at least the interpreters of his work. He associated the inverted pentagram with an esoteric deity called Baphomet—an entity of Levi’s invention, constructed from several sources and firmly based in pseudo-history. The image was meant to be a mandala associated with profound gnosis. He writes:
The goat on the frontispiece carries the sign of the pentagram on the forehead, with one point at the top, a symbol of light, his two hands forming the sign of hermetism, the one pointing up to the white moon of Chesed, the other pointing down to the black one of Geburah. This sign expresses the perfect harmony of mercy with justice. His one arm is female, the other male like the ones of the androgyn of Khunrath, the attributes of which we had to unite with those of our goat because he is one and the same symbol. The flame of intelligence shining between his horns is the magic light of the universal balance, the image of the soul elevated above matter, as the flame, whilst being tied to matter, shines above it. The beast’s head expresses the horror of the sinner, whose materially acting, solely responsible part has to bear the punishment exclusively; because the soul is insensitive according to its nature and can only suffer when it materializes. The rod standing instead of genitals symbolizes eternal life, the body covered with scales the water, the semi-circle above it the atmosphere, the feathers following above the volatile. Humanity is represented by the two breasts and the androgyn arms of this sphinx of the occult sciences.
Levi also associated Baphomet with the god Pan and his cultural counterparts (e.g., Cernnunos), who 19th century Romanticists convinced everyone were the principle deities of pagan pre-Christian cultures—an idea that contemporary historians of witchcraft and paganism have disproved. In addition, Levi also demonized Baphomet by associating it with the Lord of Darkness of both Christian and various non-Christian religions and with the supposed diabolical object of worship of medieval heretics (i.e., alchemists and the Knights of Templar) and accused and mythical witches. He writes in a tract about the 15th card of the Tarot:
We recur once more to that terrible number fifteen, symbolized in the Tarot by a monster throned upon an altar, mitered and horned, having a woman's breasts and the generative organs of a man—at chimera, a malformed sphinx, a synthesis of deformities. Below this figure we read a frank and simple inscription—the Devil. Yes, we confront here that phantom of all terrors, the dragon of all theogonies, the Ahriman of the Persians, the Typhon of the Egyptians, the Python of the Greeks, the old serpent of the Hebrews, the fantastic monster, the nightmare, the Croquemitaine, the gargoyle, the great beast of the Middle Ages, and—worse than all of these—the Baphomet of the Templars, the bearded idol of the alchemist, the obscene deity of Mendes, the goat of the Sabbath.
Crowley and later occultists such as some adherents of a form of post-modern sorcery called Chaos Magick (primarily derived from Discordianism, Thelema, and Zos Kia Cultus) adopted Levi’s stance that the Baphomet image represented a Gnostic deity related to man’s connection with earth, primal nature, integration. Crowley and others, such as Anton LaVey (1930-1997), founder of the Church of Satan, also adopted it to attest to their disgust with and defiance of Christian-based society.
Ultimately (in the 1960s with the birth of the Church of Satan), Baphomet and the inverted pentagram became the mascot and logo of a new occultist front: Satanists. Although Satanists/Setians, like modern-day witches/Pagans, are actually far removed in philosophy and practice from what was ascribed to them in paranoid medieval lore, the stigma remains and strongly affects how the pentacle—inverted or not—is viewed by society-at-large. Indeed, the use of the inverted pentagram in Wicca is increasingly being discontinued because of its co-opting by Satanists.
The inverted Pentagram otherwise is said to represent the Horned God or the Spirit descending into or hidden in matter. Some oft-quoted Pagan literature says that the Horned God’s was named Pentamorph—or “He of Five Shapes,” (human, bull, ram, goat, and stag), by Neoplatonic philosophers—an idea that I could not find evidence for. This is not surprising since the idea of a supreme masculine God as a horned nature deity is more of a convention now among Pagans than it probably ever was before.
As mentioned, the concept was developed by Romanticist poets of the 19th century who had a fascination with the Greek deity Pan and disenchantment with the Industrial Revolution. It resulted in the creation of a pseudo-history about nature-based spirituality. This coupled with speculative ethnography and the revival of Western Occultism redefined through such channels as the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn and Thelema, ultimately resulted in Gardnerian Wicca and its offshoots, including the still evolving phenomenon of post-modern Paganism.
The Pentacle as Mandala and Ritual Space
In ritual, we enter into a dimension of consciousness in which we communicate through symbols. This is true of both conventional religion and esoteric and occult spirituality. Symbolic language, gestures, and use of forms, images, and tools are the “language” used to communicate while in another dimension of human reality; the spiritual dimension. The space within which ritual is conducted is a mandala—a specially constructed spiritual space where the mundane world is eclipsed by a numinous one.
Creating ritual space and also addressing the quarters of space has an ancient and history. For one, it is seen in sacred geometry the world-over, which, in part, is related to ancient astronomy. Consider the ancient Persians who, millennia ago (5000 years), associated the quarters of space with the seasons and regarded giant stars and constellations as the guardians of those quarters and seasons. For them (who, please note, associated the Northern quarter with summer and the Southern quarter with winter) the guardians of the quarters were:
-Fomalhaut, in the mouth of the Southern Fish beneath Aquarius, heralded the winter solstice. (Due to precession, the star’s appearance is now moving toward the spring.)
-Aldebran, in the right eye of Taurus, heralded the spring equinox. (Its appearance is now moving toward summer.)
-Regulus, in the heart of Leo, heralded the summer solstice. (Its appearance is now moving toward the autumn.)
-Antares, in the heart of Scorpio, heralded the autumn equinox. (Its appearance is now moving toward the winter.)
Medieval esotericists, drawing on what they understood about the Pythagorean, Hermetic, and Kabalistic ideas from ages past, also had lore and about the quarters, sacred space, and the role of the elements in the design of the Cosmos. Much medieval magick had to do with addressing energies related to the quarters, the planets, and angelic realms that governed time and space.
In one of many diagrams developed by the 16th century mystic and physician, Robert Fludd (1574-1637), illness is attributed to demonic influences that are countered by angelic forces that guard the directions of space. In the image, the archangels stand in watchtowers and repel fallen angels and archdemons:
-Michael is depicted repelling the fallen angel Samael and the archdemon Oriens in the East, which was associated with elemental fire.
-Uriel is depicted repelling the fallen angel Azazel and the archdemon Amaymon in the South, which was associated with elemental air.
-Raphael is depicted repelling the fallen angel Azael and the archdemon Paymon in the West, which was associated with elemental water.
-Gabriel is depicted repelling the fallen angel Mahazael and the archdemon Egyn in the North, which was associated with elemental earth.
Fludd’s vision was inspired by Jewish mysticism about the Merkabah—the divine vision of Ezekial (Ezekial 1-28) in which the prophet describes a mystical mandala. He sees four “holy creatures” that each have four heads (man, lion, bull, and eagle). They face the quarters of space, support the throne of God, and are likened to a chariot and the firmament of Cosmos.
With the occult revival in the 19th century and the establishment of the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn, whose founders were Freemasons, the medieval scheme about the directions of space and correspondences was reinterpreted and elaborated on such that elements, god-names, symbolic Hebrew letters, colors, archangels, ritual tools, meditations on cyclic time, etc. were assigned to each quarter, as summarized earlier in this article.
In ritual, the apex of the pentagram is the center, or oneself. Besides correspondences mentioned earlier, incense is often the offering associated with the East or air element, candlelight with the south or fire element, water with the west or water element, and a flower or fruit, or (in Wicca) salt with the North or earth element.
Although creating ritual space and circle casting was a part of many ancient religions and remains central to Eastern and native religions and ceremonial magick, it probably was not part of crypto-pagan folk culture or so-called witchcraft traditions until the witchcraft revival and development of Wicca in the early to mid 20th century. This emerging fact does not invalidate the practice. Circle casting founded around the mysteries of the pentagram and its glorification of earth-based spirituality has become a mainstay of post-modern Pagans who are increasingly owning” their spirituality as a vibrant and evolving contemporary movement distinct from die-hard legends—both good and bad—about their tradition.
Because “tradition” in contemporary Paganism is often based on mere decades-old convention, reinvention and reinterpretation of folkways, and pseudohistory, improvisation and individualization should be and is becoming increasingly acceptable in creating personal or group ritual space. General templates for creating ritual space—whether in the context of ceremonial magick, contemporary Paganism, or Eastern spirituality—include many of the following features.
-Self purification: This may take for form of a ritual bath, engaging in meditations meant to modify and protect one’s energy field (such as the Kabalist Cross and similar exercises), anointing, or nyasa (consecrating parts of the body by intentionally touching them and uttering an appropriate mantra).
-Atonement: Acknowledging one’s imperfections and being in a state of repentance and forgiveness. In Gardnerian initiatic rites, this takes the form of scourging.
-Banishing/Purification of Space: Gestures and statements, including the ringing of bells or other noise makers or else smudging or asperging , meant to disperse obstructive influences from the ceremonial space.
-Purification/Consecration of the Elements/Tools/Ritual Offerings: Gestures and statements meant to sanctify the objects and offerings that will be used during the ceremony.
-Addressing the quarters: This may be done to banish or neutralize obstructive energies or to invite energies or entities to the ceremony either as participants or protectors. Correspondences associated with the quarters may be contemplated at this time and/or signs and gestures may be performed to give further shape to the ceremonial space.
-Transubstantiation: Identification with the deity, theme, or aim of the ceremony—or the witnessing of and interaction with transubstantiation. At the least, some sort of commemoration may occur.
-Ritual offering or communion: Various items, including food may be offered to the object of the ceremony and then shared among participants.
-Deconstruction of the ceremonial space: Final salutations or dismissal of evoked energies or else a de-barring of banished energies.
-Grounding: An agreement that the ceremony has ended and that all participants have returned to ordinary time/space and function.
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