Pentagram Elements And Their Directions
The Pentagram is a powerful symbol, and without doubt has a place as one of the most prevalent Indo-European signs. From Pythagorean Perfection to the wounds of Christ, the Pentagram is involved with nearly all esoteric traditions in Europe and Asia, and it’s easy to see it’s appeal. Five is a good number for magic, after all.
Most notoriously, the Pentagram has it’s place as a symbol of elemental magick. In nearly all post-Levi systems, it is tradition to have the four classical elements aligned with each of the pentagram’s points, often as a twist of the cardinal directions. Air and Water are paired as the upper pair, left and right respectively (Air is associated with the East and Water with the West), while Earth and Fire are the bottom pair, also right and left respectively (Earth is associated with the North, Fire with the South), and the uppermost point belongs to the loosely defined “Spirit”.
However, this system might not be accurate, as older sources disagree with this notion.
Basics and alchemical views
There are at least three interrelated systems connected with the Pentagram: the classical planets (Saturn, Jupiter, Mars, Mercury, Venus the Sun and the Moon), the classical elements and the four directions. To complicate matters, the pentagram can either be aproached circularly, around the outside, and/or as linearly, tracing the triangles that compose it. Progress, thus is either in 12345 or as 13524.
Alchemical systems have provided multiple alternatives to the arrangement seen in the top picture of the article. Such arrangements include (once again, clockwise from the topmost point) Spirit/Quintessence-Fire-Earth-Water-Air and Spirit/Quintessence-Air-Water-Earth-Fire. Planetary systems include Mercury-Jupiter-Saturn-Venus-Mars, Mercury-Saturn-Jupiter-Mars-Venus and Mercury-Venus-Jupiter-Saturn-Mars; the Sun and the Moon are never excluded, being placed aside, representing, respectively, the active and passive processes.
Agrippa shows a rather unorthodox system, being Fire-Air-Water-Mixtum-Earth. The planetary associations are seen in the image above.
The pentagram first appeared as a sumerian pictographic sign for the word “UB” meaning “corner, angle, nook, cavity”. It quickly adquired associations with heavenly bodies, and became a distinct symbol for directions. Ancient babylonians believed that Heaven was ruled in four quartets (a belief still seen in christian esoterism, associating specific heavenly houses with the archangels), with a fifth point indicating rulership over these quartets and domain over their owners. The heavenly quartets were Jupiter, Mars, Mercury and Saturn, with Venus, represented by the goddess Ishtar, on the top, but otherwise there’s no connection to the specific points of the pentagram.
While Babylonia probably did not have an extensive view of elemental alignments or even a general elemental theory, it is clear that there was a system of four realms identifiable with classical elements: Anu (“Luminous Heaven”), Enlil (“Sky”), Marduk (“Earth”), Ea (“Watery Abyss”). Unfortunately, so far we can only associate Marduk with Jupiter.
The elemental system, clearly invocatory of a ladder of realms (from the more divine to the more physical), has a crucial difference in regards to the greek system, in that Water in the Babylonian system is below Earth, while the opposite happens in the greek system. Plato’s system in particular is of enormous relevance to alchemy.
Egyptian theology had even less evidence for an elemental theory than the babylonian one, although by hellenic times greek influence obviously was present:
In addition, the Sun is associated with Osiris and the Moon with Isis, even though neither had anything to do with those celestial bodies.
Another system is offered by the Ogdoad of Hermopolis, which possibly might actually describe the original system of the egyptians without hellenic corruption. It is displayed as deity couples:
Nun and Naunet: Abyss
Huh and Hauket: Expansiveness
Kuk and Kauket: Darkness
Amun and Amaunet: Hidden
All of these are aspects of Thoth, analogous to the greek Hermes and thus to the planet Mercury, which takes place as the “dominant planet” in this system, much like Venus/Ishtar in the babylonian one.
Ptolemy’s Tetrabiblos provides a system more based on the four elemental qualities rather than the elements themselves. These qualities are based on the dualities Hot/Cold and Dry/Wet, on which the elements themselves are based (Fire is Dry/Hot, Earth is Dry/Cold, Air is Wet/Hot and Water is Wet/Cold). These qualities also take place as a natural order, as an organic system:
Wet, Child, Spring, Moon’s 1st quarter and West
Hot, Youth, Summer, Moon’s 2nd quarter and South
Dry, Middle Age, Autumm, Moon’s 3rd quarter and East
Cold, Old Age/Death, Winter, Moon’s 4th quarter and North
The Cold/Wet transition is rendered as of immense importance; it symbolises the darkness on the Moon’s face, the Vernal Equinox and reincarnation. The directional associations are made by the winds and the anemoi associated with them (Boreas for North, Notus for South, Eurus for East and Zephyrus for West).
There’s also a physical order, using the degree of density; naturally, it’s Earth-Water-Air-Fire, with Earth and Fire being extremes while Water and Air are “mediators”/”means”. The corresponding order is Dry/Cold/Wet/Hot/Dry. Being another cycle, this system has made it into alchemical thought, and also corresponds to natural transitions (the Vernal Equinox, for instance, is the Cold-Wet transition).
Like in the Babylonian system, this one also corresponds to divine ascension, very important to shamanic travelling, although as noted before Water comes before Earth in the Babylonian arrangement, creating a ladder from Abysssal Depths to Celestial Fire.
Ptolemy’s planetary arrangement is more complex:
Mercury: Dry/Wet (alternating)
Venus: Wet, Hot, Air and Water
Mars: Dry, Hot, Fire
Jupiter: Hot, Wet, Air
Saturn: Cold, Dry, Earth
From this, a more elaborate table of correspondences can be made:
Wet, Child, Spring, 1st Moon quarter, West, Water, Venus
Hot, Youth, Summer, 2nd Moon quarter, South, Air, Jupiter
Dry, Middle-age, Autumn, 3rd Moon quarter, East, Fire, Mars
Cold, Old, Winter, 4th Moon quarter, North, Earth, Saturn
Death, Upwards, Spirit, Mercury
With all of this said and done, now to assign the elements. There are several options, but the most logical one is this:
This arrangement is brought about by the nature of linear progress (13524); a more detailed explanation can be seen in the following paragraph, by Biblioteca Arcana:
“First observe that this Pentagram embodies the Physical Order of the Elements; if we stay on the Mundane level we have EWAF, and we can make it a cycle counterclockwise (as in the Alchemical Circulation) by returning from F to E across the horizontal beam of the Pentagram. Likewise, the Pentagram includes the Extended Physical Order (the Metaphysical Order), which includes the ascent to Spirit: EWAFS by a counterclockwise circuit. Of course we get the descent SFAWE by going clockwise. Also, the Organic Order WAFE = spring/summer/fall/winter is still embodied in the lower trapezoid, though the Organic Transition Point (Water) is the left leg of the Pentagram, an undistinguished position. Notice, too, how Spirit, with its four descending lines, surrounds the Cross of Opposition with its Form. (In my previous post I described how the Four Elements etc. are circumferentially bounded by Form or Spirit.)”
According to Ptolemy, Venus/Water and Jupiter/Air are “benevolent” while Mars/Fire and Saturn/Earth are “evil”; likewise, Saturn/Venus are nocturnal, while Jupiter/Mars are diurnal; to compliment the system, the Moon is located outside the pentagram on the left and the Sun is on the right:
The implication is obvious: the Left and Hand paths are represented here, each leading to a shamanic way. The Left path goes through the Earth into the watery abyss, while the Right path goes through the air into the celestial fire. In spite of what idiots like Madame Blavatsky say, neither are inherently good or evil; both represent valid ways to practise magick.