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How the Pentagram became evil.

To: alt.magick,alt.magick.tyagi
From: catherine yronwode 
Subject: Re: How the Pentagram became "evil."
Date: Wed, 28 Nov 2001 02:36:30 GMT

Terry McCombs wrote:
> You don't have to look hard to find examples where the pentagram is 
> used as THE symbol of evil.  Bad movies, bad novels, worse "non-
> fiction," yellow journalism, inflammatory web pages you name `em and 
> they are chuck full of the pentagram as the "Devil's foot print."
> This message however is not how wrong they are about this ancient
> symbol.  What I am wondering is just when and how did it happen?
> This is, relatively speaking, a resent development.  I have my
> suspicions.  I suspect that it is the result of a combination of the
> Anti-Mason movement of the early 1800's (big Masonic symbol) and the
> British hack writer Dennis Wheatley.
> While almost forgotten and out of print these days. Wheatley in the
> early 50's to the late 60's was the author of a string of very 
> popular "occult thrillers" such as the Devil Rides Out and others.
> It seems since there was no one who knew anything to fill the void 
> he was taken as the world's leading expert on the subject by some.
> Though he really knew nothing about any of it and for the most part 
> just made it up. His fiction became the basis for a series of "non-
> fiction" books that lead to much nonsense.
> It was as if Edger Rice Burroughs (Tarzan) were put forth as the 
> soul word on ecology and tropical environments. Only unlike those 
> subjects there was no one to come forth and say what a load of crap 
> his stuff was.
> That is what I suspect, however I don't really know.  Does anyone by 
> any chance have any other ideas, facts or even research on this?
> Terry MoCombs

Paul Hume replied:

> I don't think Wheatley had the popular audience to impose the image
> that widely -- as you note, largely forgotten today (except by, I
> suspect, magicians who have a collection of his works for shits and
> giggles (g)).
> The pentagram gets called (as Bill H. recently noted) the wizard's
> foot, and devil's foot, in Faust (the Goethe version). Levi seems to
> me to be the source of the conflation of the "averse" pentagram and
> the Devil, dating from his statements during the magical war between
> Guaita and Boullan - so we are back to the first half of the 19th
> century. Mathers took this up with a vengeance, and was adamant 
> about the meaning of the averse symbol in the paper on the Pentagram 
> formula in the GD material.
> The symbol is not that widely used outside the grimoires until the
> modern occult movement starts gathering momentum in the 19th 
> century. Up until then it was as likely to be a mullet of five (sort 
> of a heraldic hex nut) as anything else when it appears as a graphic 
> or architectural detail.
> Paul

I think you are BOTH right, actually. And i think there is more. 

I agree with Paul that it was Eliphas Levi who popularized what think of
as the the French "evil-witchcraft-satanism-pentagram-goat-head"
associations. I also think that the Golden Dawn authors -- Mathers,
Waite, etc. -- took their ideas from Levi. 

Next, both of you may be overlooking the importance of so-called Leo
Taxil hoax, later in the 19th century, by which i refer not only to the
anti-Freemasonry tracts written by Gabriel Jogand-Pages, under the Leo
Taxil pseudonym, but more particularly to his "non-fiction" (fictional)
account of occultism in contemporary Europe, "The Devil ion the 19th
Century" produced under his Dr. Bataille psuedonym, which really sent
people into exteasies of fear. Waite even went so far as to produce a
rebuttal of these books, "The Devil in France," so we know he took the
hoax seriously. This material drew from Levi, but twisted it toward
spooky-scary ends. It had a great influence on novelists of late 19th
and early 20th centuries, who used it as a backdrop for fictional
accounts of demonalatry -- most of them set in France. 

Then we get to Dennis Wheatley -- who i believe was not so poorly
educated as Terry thinks, and every biot as influential as he presumes.
Wheatley not only produced his own outre fiction books with occult,
witchcraft, and Satanism themes, he also was the editor of an
influential series of reprints of earlier occult fiction and
non-fiction, thus reviving interest in these books during the 1960s. The
"Dennis Wheatley Library of Occultism" was mostly gleaned from books
published during Wheatley's own youth and ranged in scope from the
above-mentioned detective novels of the 1910s and '20s in which evil
mages kept fragile society women in thrall while performing black masses
(stories, in short, drawn from the earlier Taxil hoax!) to reprints of
the Theosophical books of Helena Blavatsky. It was a random bag, as we
used to say back then. 

So -- for good or ill -- i would not discount Dennis Wheatley as an
influence on the shaping of opinions about the pentagram. Although he
may be considered a mionor author by today's standards, he was at the
center of a rather splendid cottage industry in occult fiction and
occult hiostory publishing that continued full blast for about two

Finally, i would also add mention of Maurice Bessey's book "Histoire en
1000 images de la magie," published in 1961 in France and translated
into English as "A Pictorial History of Magic and the Supernatural" in
1964. It sported on its cover (in both editions) a downward facing
pentagram superimposed on a goat's head, which Bessey had lifted from a
1931 book by Oswald Wirth, and which the publisher's book designer
further simplified so it could be foil-stanped on the binding cloth.
Bessey wrote of this downward pentagram symbol very obliquely, as if he
was just faking stuff, but he was not helped by what seems to be a
really bad translation. The ENTIRELY of his his entry is as follows:


        _624-625._ Pentagrams are the result of obscure
        numerological speculations. The five-pointed
        star, for example, seems to be characteristic
        of the Christian era, while the cross is the
        symbol (amongst others) of the figure five:
        four arms and the centre. By a strange
        coincidence, the Holy Spirit, the United States,
        the U.S.S.R. and Islam use the fivepointed [sic]
        star as their emblem. (The opposition of good
        and evil is indicated through the inverted
        "A Pictorial History of Magic and the Supernatural",
         by Maurice Bessy, Spring Books, 1974 (previous
         editions 1970, English 1964, French? 1961); p. 198.

This downward-facing pentagram  -- taken directly from the Bessey book
cover -- was almost immediately adopted by the Satanist Anton Szandor
LaVey for use as a logo for his Church of Satan. This is documented in
detail in an article by Don Webb, archived at 

For more details on the pentagram and its post-19th-century
asssociations with Baphomet, France, Templarism, Satanism, and so forth,
see these Lucky Mojo archive pages

Good luck, 

cat yronwode 

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