Mystics, magicians, Wiccans, and Neo-pagans of all stripes identify their practice with the figure of the pentagram. But, it is unlikely that any group has incorporated the pentagram into its ritual work more than the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn. Not only does the pentagram play an essential role in the practical workings of our tradition, it is also used to classify all aspects of Golden Dawn Magic.
The pentagram, or five-pointed star, undoubtedly the best-known symbol of magic, is often said to resemble the figure of a human being; the upper point corresponds to the head while the remaining four points match the out-stretched arms and legs. The legs of our archetypal "pentagram-man" are the strong limbs of Fire and Earth, the two extremities that sustain and balance the figure, keeping it upright. As the pentagram itself is attributed to the fifth element of Spirit governing the lower elements of Fire, Water, Air, and Earth, the pentagram illustrates the importance of the ethereal element crowning and completing the lower corporeal elements. In other words, Spirit over matter—never the other way around. To flip the pentagram "on its head" would allow matter to reign over spirit, and cause the figure to lose its inherent balance and stability. In terms of the human psyche, Spirit represents higher awareness, which should always guide our actions.
Spirit is the element most closely identified with the practice of magic, since magic is often described as a spiritual science. The word "spirit" comes from the Latin spiritus, meaning "breath," indicating that the Divine Essence that animates everything in our manifest universe is the quintessential life-force of our world. As it states in the Neophyte Ritual of the Golden Dawn, "Breath is the evidence of Life." The Ultimate Divinity, Sacred Source of All, is as indispensable to human life as the air we breathe. Deity permeates every part of our environment, from the largest stars to the tiniest atoms. It transcends the four basic elements and makes the whole of the pentagram greater than the sum of its parts.
Although the symbol of the pentagram dates to antiquity, the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn introduced the arrangement of the five elements to the five points of the figure in its current form. Practitioners from several traditions of ceremonial magic commonly employ this pentagram arrangement in their ritual work. In addition, the individual pentagrams that the Golden Dawn developed to invoke the separate and specific energies of Fire, Water, Air, and Earth have also been adopted by modern magicians. These four basic elements are not simply physical substances, but rather archetypal energies and divisions of nature. They represent the basic categories of existence and action as well as the building blocks of everything in the cosmos. In magic, elemental energies are used to effect change in the physical and astral realms.
Invoking an element involves much more than simply waving a wand in the air to trace the figure of a pentagram. It requires practice to gain proficiency in the magical skills of focused visualization, memorization of attributes and correspondences, projection of willpower, clarity of intention, movement of energy, effective vibration of holy names and words of power, and other talents. When an experienced magician traces a pentagram in the air, a portal is created between the physical world and the invisible realm of the element in question.
Nevertheless, the mechanics of drawing an elemental pentagram are simple: to invoke an element the magician traces a line toward its corresponding point on the pentagram. To banish or dismiss the element, the line is reversed, leading away from the elemental point.
The Golden Dawn also designed pentagrams specifically for invoking the ethereal element of Spirit. In terms of gender polarity, Spirit is androgynous. However, the geometry of the pentagram enabled the Golden Dawn to assign two different pentagrams to Spirit, one for the Divine Masculine, and the other for the Divine Feminine (otherwise known as Spirit Active and Spirit Passive). The first connects the masculine points of Fire and Air on the pentagram, and the second joins the feminine points of Water and Earth. These two primary qualities of Spirit reflect the two fundamental divisions in nature similar to the Yin and Yang of Eastern mysticism, separated for the sake of union. Like the legs of our archetypal "pentagram-man," these two great Spirit forces provide the support and balance for the unified pentagram, sustaining the five lines of the "blazing star." Used in conjunction with the four basic elements, Spirit provides the sacred spark of life and a strong stabilizing force wherein the elemental energies are able to manifest in equilibrium and unity.
Western magic assigns many names to Spirit, including eth, which is Hebrew for "essence." It is spelled with the letters Aleph Tau, the first and last letters of the Hebrew alphabet, indicating that the essential Spirit permeates all of existence from beginning to end. Another Hebrew word for Spirit is ruach, which, like the Latin spiritus, means "breath." The Greek word for Spirit is pneuma, and an equivalent word in Egyptian is neter, which indicates qualities of renewal, permanence, and divinity.
One additional name for Spirit central to our discussion is known as the Pentagrammaton, which is Greek for, "five-lettered name." For many this calls to mind the Tetragrammaton, or "four-lettered name," comprised of the Hebrew letters Yod Heh Vav Heh. These four letters stand for the highest Hebrew name for God, whose real name is considered unknown and unpronounceable. They are also attributed to the four elements of Fire (Yod), Water (Heh), Air (Vav), and Earth (Heh). When the fifth element of Spirit, assigned to the letter Shin, is added to the center of the Tetragrammaton, the Pentagrammaton is created. This is a Qabalistic formula that renders the Hebrew name of Jesus as Yeheshuah, usually spelled as Yod Heh Shin Vav Heh. The Pentagrammaton therefore reflects the descend of Sacred Spirit to the heart of the basic elements that make up the corporeal realm, insuring that Deity is the ever-present guiding life-force of our physical world.
This quintessence of Spirit also lies at the core of Golden Dawn magic, which is categorized under the five divisions of the Pentagrammaton. A large portion of the practical magic that adepts of the Golden Dawn are expected to learn and perform on a regular basis is grouped under five headings, which serve as the basis for several modes of magical work collectively called the Magic of Light. These are classified under the five letters of Yesheshuah as follows:
It is within these five divisions of practical magic that the magician begins to bring all aspects of Golden Dawn magic together. Everything that the student learns while gradually absorbing the teachings of the system becomes part and parcel of the ritual tool-kit of the Golden Dawn magician. By using the symbol of the pentagram to exemplify the Magic of Light, the Golden Dawn places the Sacred at the core of our tradition, a tradition that continues to enrich the spiritual lives of its practitioners today.