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A pentacle (or pantacle in Thelema) is an amulet used in magical evocation, generally made of parchment, paper or metal (although it can be of other materials), on which the symbol of a spirit or energy being evoked is drawn. It is often worn around the neck, or placed within the triangle of evocation. Protective symbols may also be included (sometimes on the reverse), a common one being the five-point form of the Seal of Solomon, called a pentacle of Solomon or pentangle of Solomon. Many varieties of pentacle can be found in the grimoires of Solomonic magic; they are also used in some neopagan magical traditions, such as Wicca, alongside other magical tools.
The words pentacle and pentagram (a five-point unicursal star) are essentially synonymous, according to the Online Oxford English Dictionary (2007 revision), which traces the etymology through both French and Italian back to Latin, but notes that in Middle French the word "pentacle" was used to refer to any talisman. In an extended use, many magical authors treat them as distinct. In many tarot decks and in some forms of modern witchcraft, pentacles often prominently incorporate a pentagram in their design.
There is a specific differentiation between pentacle and pentagram within Wicca and other re-constructionist systems. Namely, a pentacle refers to a pentagram circumscribed by a circle. This form of pentacle is formed upon a disk which may be used either upon an altar or as a sacred space of its own. The pentacle is representative of the Earth in occult usage.
According to the current Oxford English Dictionary, the word pentacle comes from the Middle French pentacle: 'a talisman, most often in the form of a five-pointed star'. This in turn comes from the post-classical Latin pentaculum, from penta- ('fivefold') + -culum (diminutive suffix).
Earlier editions of the OED give the same etymology, but also say that "some would connect it" with the Middle French word pentacol (1328) or pendacol (1418), a jewel or ornament worn around the neck (from pend- hang, à to, col or cou neck). This is the derivation the Theosophical Society employ in their glossary:
The Encyclopedia of Witches and Witchcraft states that the name pentacle has a few possible etymological sources including a tray for bread ("pain" in French) which may relate to the practice during the burning times of covering a bread plate with wax inscribed with symbols that could be dissolved at will should an inquisition or other persons hostile to the use of the pentacle enter the home.
Pentacles, despite the sound of the word, often had no connotation of "five" in the old magical texts, but were, rather, magical talismans inscribed with any symbol or character. When they incorporated star-shaped figures, these were more often hexagrams than pentagrams. Pentacles showing a great variety of shapes and images appear in the old magical grimoires, such as the Key of Solomon; as Heinrich Cornelius Agrippa summarises it, their use was to "fore-know all future things, & command whole nature, have power over devils, and Angels, and do miracles." Agrippa attributes Moses' feats of magic in part to his knowledge of various pentacles.
A Fourth Book of Occult Philosophy (c. 1565) spuriously attributed to Agrippa gives detailed instructions as to how pentacles should be formulated:
In the Golden Dawn magical system, the Earth Pentacle is one of four elemental "weapons" or tools of an Adept. These weapons are "symbolical representations of the forces employed for the manifestation of the inner self, the elements required for the incarnation of the divine."
Other pentacles for the evocation of spirits are also employed in the Golden Dawn system; these are engraved with the name and sigil of the spirit to be invoked, inside three concentric circles, having painted on their reverse a circle and cross like a celtic cross.
According to Aleister Crowley's instructions for the A∴A∴, the pentacle is a disc of wax, gold, silver-gilt or Electrum Magicum, eight inches diameter and half an inch thick; the Neophyte should "by his understanding and ingenium devise a symbol to represent the Universe", and engrave this on the disc.
In many old grimoires dealing with magical evocation, the pentacle is described as being hung about the neck, providing protection and authority to the operator. Johannes Trithemius has the magician donning the pentacle just before casting the protective circle:
One version of the Key of Solomon mentions both a "Great Pentacle" which is drawn in a book, as well as a collection of other pentacles which are drawn in ink on separate pieces of parchment for use as amulets:
The pentacle is of central importance in the evocation of spirits. A fairly typical evocation involves a series of conjurations of increasing potency, each involving the display of the pentacle:
Once the spirit has appeared and been constrained, the pentacle is covered again, but is uncovered whenever demands are made of the spirit or when it is compelled to depart.
In the Golden Dawn system, the pentacles are not suspended from the neck, but wrapped in a cloth covering; instead of a "pentacle", the magician wears fastened to their breast a "Lamen", which serves among other things as a magical shield.
The pentacle of the Art, as given in Pietro d'Abano's Heptameron. It is to be drawn on kid-skin parchment on the day and in the hour of Mercury, the Moon increasing.
The Earth Pentacle in the Golden Dawn system of magic, one of the elemental "weapons" or tools of an Adept.
In the tarot, the Minor Arcana are divided into four suits (much like conventional playing cards): swords, staves/wands, cups and coins. Following the innovation of Eliphas Levi, many English language writers on Tarot divination now call the coins "pentacles", and many decks depict them as discs marked with a pentagram. In this context they represent the element earth or divinity manifesting in matter.
The term pentacle is used in Tilings and Patterns by Grumbaum and Shepard to indicate a five-pointed star composed of ten line-segments, similar to a pentagram but containing no interior lines.
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