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The reversed pentagram; the key to the liberation of matter

The  Golden Dawn Temple Deck  by Harry Wendrich
The modern Golden Dawn has a bit of a problem with using the reversed pentagram due to some very mixed messages about its use by its founder Samuel Mathers.
Mathers firstly tells students that it is an evil symbol and you should not use it, however later on he tells you that it has a use for controlling evil spirits. It is possible that Mathers changed his mind, but it is equally possible that he expected people to work out what the reversed pentagram actually meant.
In Mathers Last Secret I printed the only version seen of the original GD portal ritual. In it Mathers describes the Devil card which shows the Devil with an upright pentagram above his head and a face which is shaped like an inverted one.

Thus he represents the gross and materialized Elemental Forces of Nature, and the whole would be an evil symbol, were it not for the pentagram of light above his head which guides and regulates his movements. He is the eternal renewer of all the changing forces of creation in conformity with the laws of the All Powerful One, Blessed be He, which controlling laws are typified by the Pentagram of Light surmounting the whole.

In other words, the reversed pentagram represents lowest elemental force, but it is redeemed by the message of the upright pentagram.

How not to do it… very naughty Mr Case
The upright pentagram means that spirit rules the elemental nature, however the reversed pentagram appears to show that spirit is under the control of the elements. However, in fact the pentagram means a little more than that. It actually shows that spirit is latent within all matter. Moreover, if you use a reversed pentagram to banish or invoke you end up revealing that latent spiritual force.
The reversed pentagram is about finding the divine in everything around you. This is a mystery and a heresy to those who find matter evil and something which needs to be escaped. This might be the reason why it does not get a mention or developed in much of the GD paperwork.
The formula of the Devil card hints that it is possible to do a supreme inverted pentagram ritual which is intended to liberate and use the divine force which is around you.  If you look at the card it would suggest you would do a normal upright active or passive pentagram and then an inverted pentagram of the element.  You are, using Mathers’ words working with the “eternal renewer of all the changing forces of creation in conformity with the laws of the All Powerful One.
A lesser ritual of the pentagram ritual has nothing to do with the elements and Mathers suggests that were you to draw an inverted pentagram you would be drawing symbol of the “gross and materialised Elemental Forces of Nature.”What I think he is suggesting is that spirit is latent in everything but slumbers. You cannot draw it out naturally but need the extra energy of a spirit pentagram to awaken it.
Mathers suggests using this reversed pentagram when you are dealing with evil spirits so that you do not harm them. This too is probably a blind. When you open the quarters using any supreme pentagrams you are working with the elementals through the power of spirit. Inverted pentagrams take you much lower into matter. This is a point often represented by the depths of the underworld. It is hard for us to get to that point naturally because it is bound up with our own rational fears. We are trying to conceive of a point where matter slows down to the point where it triggers unconscious fears of demonic forces, death, plague and extinction.
The reversed pentagram acts as a divers weight drawing us down, but before we can do so we need to be sure that we can handle that pressure.
It takes a balanced soul not to journey to that level and not project their own devils into the dark, but rather see the divine manifesting there.  It takes an adept to see those forces as Gods working slowly at those levels.
It is probably for this reason that Mathers warned his students off, while at the same time gave hints of what they needed to do.  

21 thoughts on “The reversed pentagram; the key to the liberation of matter

  1. To my understanding, this is similar to the view taken of the inverted Pentagram in British Traditional Wicca, where the inverted Pentagram is the symbol of the second degree. It shows that spirit has become manifest in the world of matter.

  2. My theory on the inverted pentagram is that it’s used by adepts to spread the light. The pentagram representing malkuth with the addition of spirit used to empower the earthly self to climb the tree of life. Once you have reached kether and have attain enlightenment it’s time to take a position of power and reverse the pentagram sending the light down the tree to other seekers.

    Thoughts…..?

  3. Mathers has often contradicted himself in the GD (especially with that quixotic personality of his) and the reverse pentagram and the dual use and non use is a good example, I like your analogy of a divers weight and its a good one. As you say the devil is non elemental, though with its association to the Pan archetype of Kircher (which is elemental or nature) causes some confusion. The use of the reverse pentagram explanation in not wanting to harm entitiies is sheer bollocks and he was having a dollar each way here. The pentagram is representative of many things and not just Malkuth. It can represent matter and also non matter – depending on context as context is everything. In general, the pentagram as I see it, represents balance and harmony of incorporeal forces around you. The reverse pentagram indicates to my mind a certain heaviness of those forces – as you suggest. When you use the tarot card as part of divination then this becomes very apparent. The card can represent things coming to a slow down, stop or temporary halt, and this is because one is trying to advance in area that is no good for the individual.. So the matrix of nature, which we live in is pushing back and holding us back until the time is right, but again context is important here. Mathers used the reverse pentagram originally in the card because he was carrying on a tradition and as such kicked the can down the road., I have never been happy with the reverse pentagram in this card as it detracts from its overall meaning.

  4. I would like to ask an out there question if I may, would there be any relationship between the inverted pentagram and the Hiereus and what would happen if he used the inverted pentagram in the neophyte ceremony? The tip of the inverted pentagram lands on yesod / illusion on the tree of life inverted, I ask this question with no disrespect, I only seek growth on a journey of light, and pat I have just started reading your books. maybe I should keep reading lol

    1. I know of one person who thought that the tassels on the heirus’s banner made an inverted pentagram and insisted they be removed. They dont btw it is just the way the inkblot goes. For the inverted pentagram to do anything productive the Heirus would have to open by watchtower with a spirit and inverted one (something which is not done in the ritual for a good reason) this would open up the elements and defy the Z forumula. But if he did it would sink the ritual down deep into the candidate’s sphere of sensation. The candidate would walk from a lower point in their unconscious mind and never meet their higher self at the end of it. All the godforms used in the ritual would take on their more “demonic” natures because you would be encountering the same gods on a lower arc. My guess is the candidate might end up completely barking 🙂

  5. Case and Waite weren’t being *so* naughty. The symbolism of their Devil is meant to be more alchemical. The pentagram in alchemy is sometimes a symbol of our Sulphur, because our Sulphur is like unto Mars. The cube in alchemy is sometimes a symbol of our Salt, which corresponds to Saturn. The Sulphur and the Salt are the opposite poles of our Mercury, and that is why a Mercury symbol appears in the middle of Case’s card, and is suggested in Waite’s. Before the alchemical Great Work is begun, i.e., in the state of the “natural man” (and I mean that in the sense that St. Paul uses it), our Salt is incomplete (which is why there is half a cube), and we misuse our Sulphur (which is why the pentagram is inverted). In the initial stages of the alchemical Great Work — called the Gross Work — one rectifies one’s mineral deficiencies (and so complete the Cube of Saturn), and also learns how to manage our inner fires properly (and so right the Pentagram of Mars). In both of those pursuits, the Mercury is important. Mercury rules two signs — Gemini and Virgo. Gemini governs the lungs, and it is by breathing exercises, chiefly, that the inner fire is managed. Virgo governs the intestines, and it is by the digestion of select foods that our mineral basis is completed.

    When one has completed the Gross Work, one begins to perceive that the Devil is none other than the Divine Androgyne — another common alchemical symbol. It formerly appeared devilish by virtue of our ignorance projected upon it.

    I do not like as much the other Devil card you have shared above. The Cube is completed there, but no one enters incarnation with a completed Salt. There is also a specific reason why Case’s card has the lowest point of the pentagram hitting the Moon center in the Devil’s forehead amidst the V of arched eyebrows, and I can’t think why the other artist would switch that to the Devil’s snout. The other card also omits the Mercury in favor of a phallus. Doubtless there were important doctrinal reasons for those choices, though, just as there were for Case’s card.

  6. Case and Waite weren’t being *so* naughty. The symbolism of their Devil is meant to be more alchemical. The pentagram in alchemy is sometimes a symbol of our Sulphur, because our Sulphur is like unto Mars. The cube in alchemy is sometimes a symbol of our Salt, which corresponds to Saturn. The Sulphur and the Salt are the opposite poles of our Mercury, and that is why a Mercury symbol appears in the middle of Case’s card, and is suggested in Waite’s. Before the alchemical Great Work is begun, i.e., in the state of the “natural man” (and I mean that in the sense that St. Paul uses it), our Salt is incomplete (which is why there is half a cube), and we misuse our Sulphur (which is why the pentagram is inverted). In the initial stages of the alchemical Great Work — called the Gross Work — one rectifies one’s mineral deficiencies (and so complete the Cube of Saturn), and also learns how to manage our inner fires properly (and so right the Pentagram of Mars). In both of those pursuits, the Mercury is important. Mercury rules two signs — Gemini and Virgo. Gemini governs the lungs, and it is by breathing exercises, chiefly, that the inner fire is managed. Virgo governs the intestines, and it is by the digestion of select foods that our mineral basis is completed.

    When one has completed the Gross Work, one begins to perceive that the Devil is none other than the Divine Androgyne — another common alchemical symbol. It formerly appeared devilish by virtue of our ignorance projected upon it.

    I do not like as much the other Devil card you have shared above. The Cube is completed there, but no one enters incarnation with a completed Salt. There is also a specific reason why Case’s card has the lowest point of the pentagram hitting the Moon center in the Devil’s forehead amidst the V of arched eyebrows, and I can’t think why the other artist would switch that to the Devil’s snout. The other card also omits the Mercury in favor of a phallus. Doubtless there were important doctrinal reasons for those choices, though, just as there were for Case’s card.

    1. I think this is the problem Chic, words like “good” and “evil” have become less black and white as humanity has developed. If there is One Thing… One mind then anything that happens within that must be ultimately part of God. But when we look at what humans do to each other (and we are supposed to be the most developed part of the One Thing on this planet, we start to understand that there is a part of God that is dysfunctional. We shove that reality in the depths of an underworld along with all the ideas that God and humanity has supressed or given up on. For a long time we have heard that these things are evil and yet some of them proved actually not to be. It was once “evil” for women to have responsibility for their lives (in some parts of the world it is evil for a woman to own a mobile phone). Other evils become matters of circumstance. It is evil to murder someone, and yet in war it is not. In some parts of the US, people want the right to judicially murder evil people who have murdered.
      So if I would define evil it would be:
      “An action or being which is in the wrong place or time.”
      Pretending that they are not there however does not help us understand or liberate them. Ignoring them does not restore them to their rightful place. For example… Hitler was in the wrong place and time killing people. If you ignored him, he would have stayed in the wrong place and might have influenced other times (in the same way that Stalin’s influence did).

  7. Chic’s question of defining evil is a real hoot that makes you think.. I doubt very much if the reverse pentagram is evil in the traditional sense, as some have stated or it is wholly alchemical either. When in doubt I always follow nature. In the GD the Devil is Capricorn, the winter solsltice which in many respects defines it and also links back to Kircher and an aspect of Pan.

  8. Indeed, the reversed pentragram is not wholly alchemical. But the alchemical aspect is certainly present in Case’s card. There are many more things one could say about that one symbol in Case’s card — why it is pointing to the Moon center in the midst of a V, why it is the same color as the beard, why it is the same color as the horns “on” the heads of the people (“on” in quotations because they are really crescents behind the heads of the people), why the Devil’s right horn (as we face it) has 12 divisions between the points of Fire and Water, and why the Devil’s left horn has 10 divisions between the points of Air and Earth. All of those things have specific meanings. I think it is unparalleled genius the way Case has presented all of it, and all tied together.

  9. I love Case’s work on the tarot and I doubt that any will surpass it . However the absence of the upper horn in his version creates a stumbling block for linking other themes in the traditional sense and there are quite a few layers of them.

  10. Pat had some problems posting here so I have cut and pasted it
    For some reasons my posts are not getting through so I will bring it over here. To follow up on Nick, quoting Mathers:

    “Thus he represents the gross and materialized Elemental Forces of Nature, and the whole would be an evil symbol, were it not for the pentagram of light above his head which guides and regulates his movements. He is the eternal renewer of all the changing forces of creation in conformity with the laws of the All Powerful One, Blessed be He, which controlling laws are typified by the Pentagram of Light surmounting the whole.”

    One way of looking at this, and I stress one way, is to follow nature. By linking the card to nature as Mathers suggested and associating it to Capricorn you have the winter solstice. The solstices are the renewal of the forces of the seasons that are on the cusp of change in deep winter. The change or journey into light then begins as it awakens in the dead of winter to turn.This also relates to the reverse pentagram that is white that allows the turn toward the light (summer solstice) to take place.

    The discussion of the Paul Case card is departure form the traditional one of not having a horn in the upper right hand of the devil. Now not all Devil cards in the past have had that horn, but not having it does restrict its meaning somewhat, especially from the alchemical viewpoint.The upper hand relates to the horn with water and the alchemical association I have given here is coagulation/cibation where its own liquid feeds itself by dripping in dry matter (from the horn full of water).Paul Case equates Congelation to Taurus and applies it to cooling, the cooling part I agree with, hence water in the GD version in the horn above the fire below.

    Interestingly enough The Devil Key in the Case deck is possibly his weakest key and the one that shows the least development and focus compared to other keys in his course. Its a pity Case copied Waite rather than develop more of his own ideas as I would have loved to have seen what he could come up with visually.

    When looking at winter solstice and the renewal aspect that Mathers refers to a good comparison is hexagram 24 of the I-Ching. In 1973-77 I ran an I-Ching consultancy (while working for the government) as there was little happening at the office in those days. The I-Ching is based on elemental actions and is a great learning tool in this respect.

    Pat

    1. I do not have access to Kaplan’s various tarot Encyclopaedia’s volumes to make you a list. My point though is not primarily on what cards went before but what the figure means from a GD orientated hermetic viewpoint. Many of the previous decks (prior to the GD one) were not all hermetically orientated so deck comparisons to a certain extent would be futile there. However the constant is the figure and in the GD the twin horns of water and fire are used more than once. We see this is in the figure of Azoth in the Portal and also in the old version of the temperance card also in the Portal. So all three figures are in the Portal ritual and all three figures have this heavy alchemical component which goes way beyond a single tarot key. I brought the Case comparison into this due to the fact that the BOTA rituals are reduced GD rituals – but still GD type rituals are far as I am concerned. The twin horns are guides to more indepth studies both of the rituals and alchemy itself and through the zodiac signs and its seasonal compartments which I mentioned earlier. You cannot really assess the full meaning of the(GD) Devil without its seasonal or winter solstice component which to my way of thinking is essential to the visual twin horns whose placement (high and low) is different to the Azoth and Temperance card which are more or less level. In Capricorn, at winter solstice, Babault makes the point the sun(heat) is in the LOWER hemisphere. The water above is nurturing the ground while the fire will increase slowly from the winter solstice.

  11. >> I do not have access to Kaplan’s various tarot Encyclopaedia’s volumes to make you a list.

    For the sake of discussion, a single example will suffice for all of them.

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