As a writer, prior knowledge is a double edged sword. You make assumptions based on what you believe to be true from accumulated experience. In my case, I have a tendency to go off and begin writing using this knowledge and experience as my starting point. Normally, it ends well and this starting point is the catalyst for more ideas. But I have had occasions where I’ve had to re-write great swathes of my work because my prior knowledge was wrong. Either I misinterpreted, re-interpreted or simply just forgot. Such was the case with pentagrams and pentacles.
I thought I knew enough about them (at least as a starting point) without having to get bogged down in too much research. Whilst I like researching and it is completely necessary, I also feel compelled to just get on with the nuts and bolts of writing. Research takes a lot of time – time I sometimes dish out begrudgingly. It needs to be done but when you are on a roll, the last thing you want to do is spend precious hours reading when you know you should be writing.
A pentagram is a five pointed star. Simple, right? Wrong. I always believed that a pentagram had magical associations. What I didn’t know (this is when the research comes in) is that the pentagram was once a powerful Christian symbol, representing the five wounds of Christ. Some took it to mean the five senses. For whatever reasons however, the symbol fell out of favor with Christians sometime in the 20th century and came to be associated with Satanism.
Further research ensued. If the pentagram was orientated the wrong way, that is with two points upwards, (which is ‘up’ by the way?), then it is evil, representing the two horns of the devil. If the topmost point is orientated towards heaven, then the reverse is true. So even though I’m not sure which way is up, my research confirmed the duality of pentacles. They could be good or evil depending on orientation. So far, so good (or evil, depending on orientation).
Anyway, that led me to pentacles. Apparently the terms are interchangeable, but for the purposes of my book I used one interpretation: a pentacle is a pentagram enclosed by a circle.
Now then, a pentacle can also be good or evil depending on how it’s drawn and orientation. Some pagans believe that it is a symbol of goodness and protection. If drawn with a goats head at the centre and with two circles instead of one, it becomes a sigil of Baphomet (a powerful goat like demon, sometimes believed to be synonymous with Satan), with the two horns upwards and three down (indicating rejection of the holy trinity). Apparently it’s now also the symbol for the Church of Satan. Didn’t know Satanists were so well, organized.
Clear so far? Great. Stick with me, almost there. Once you have drawn your pentacle (using a variety of substances – chalk is always handy), you can use it in two ways. When summoning a powerful demon, it serves as a cage (unless the circle is disturbed in some way) where the demon becomes trapped unless they answer questions, perform a service etc. It also stops the demon escaping and wrecking terrible vengeance on you for disturbing it in the first place. In Rapture, I decided to approach pentacles from a whole different angle.
Sam is part demon, right? Therefore, like other demons, he is trapped inside a pentacle (assuming it’s prepared correctly). Then I thought - why couldn’t he use a pentacle to protect himself from demons (and bad dreams)? Well, of course he could – providing, of course, that he has someone nearby that can release him. And therein lies the problem. If no-one releases him, he is potentially trapped. Forever. The irony of this doesn’t escape me either. Essentially he is using a symbol of evil to protect him from evil and that very protection can lead to his doom.
The duality of pentacles – they can be symbols of good or evil. They can protect against evil but they are also symbols used to summon evil. Yet another example of the dichotomy surrounding demonology. This duality is embodied by the demons themselves and especially half demons (or cambions) such as Sam. Hence the reason I’m drawn to write about them – such fascinating and conflicted subject matter.
phillip w. simpson
Phillip W. Simpson is an author of YA and children's books.