Do what thou wilt shall be the whole of the Law
On the wall above me as I write is a framed blessing my son brought me from the shrine of Abe no Seimei in Kyoto, Japan. I can’t read the Japanese script, but the design includes a red pentagram, of the type familiar to all Hermetic practitioners.
Just as with the Hermetic pentagram, the Japanese one relates to a concept of five elements. Abe no Seimei, for those who don’t know him, was an astrologer and esoteric philosopher who lived from c. 921 to 1005 CE, so nobody can claim his symbol was borrowed from Western magick. The Figure is universal.
As a visual symbol, the pentagram is a powerful one. It is regular, but not wholly symmetrical: each side mirrors the other, but the top and bottom don’t. Its five arms are equal and, intriguingly, there is an inverted pentagon in its centre.
Often, people look on it as a geometrical representation of a human being, following the example of Leonardo’s Vitruvian Man. Yet the pentagram isn’t a human being, or simply a human being. It’s a symbol that stands on its own, related to other things and ideas, yet independent of them. It embodies the Golden Ratio (1:1.68) in the relations of the shorter lines to larger ones, and includes ten isosceles triangles, if we subdivide the internal pentagon into five. The Golden Ratio also links the pentagram to the motions of the planet Venus, which orbits the sun thirteen times for every eight revolutions Earth makes.
Theoretically, therefore, the pentagram embodies principles of sacred geometry and sacred mathematics … none of which ever seems more than a distraction to me when I’m actually working a pentagram-based rite. The mystique and power of the thing have their roots in something other than math.
In magick, the pentagram is usually the first thing we learn to trace with a sword or wand, and it can be maddeningly hard to do. When I started, I had to put Post-its on my bedroom wall to mark the termination points of each of the five lines I was trying to trace, because like many people, I easily produce lopsided pentagrams on my own. I had to develop a special muscle memory to get it right in the long term.
Nothing else is quite like a pentagram. I’m trying to think of adjectives to cover it, but of course I can’t. Its unique potency sits outside the boundaries of conventional descriptions. It isn’t just sacred, but conveys a sacred authority. Once you can see your pentagrams with your own inner vision – clairvoyantly if you have the skill, or simply imaginatively if you don’t – you find they have a quintessential irreducibility. They do something more than just exist as regular polygrams: they have a simplicity and subtle force that is irreducible.
The Lesser Ritual of the Pentagram, which is the primary ritual we learn to use, elaborates the power of the sign by charging the symbol with divine Names, then shifting gears to the realm of the Archangels to seal the deal. But while there are several reasons why the ritual “works,” mostly from the shifts in psychic energy it produces, it’s the fact the pentagram itself is at the heart of the process that makes it effective. It reaches out from the aura of the magician to the unknown and the invisible. I must have performed it many thousands of times by now, and it’s still effective for me.
In earlier centuries, magicians referred their successes either to spirits, which they held to be objectively real, or to God. In recent decades we’ve come through a phase of tediously materialistic skepticism; or, for other people, as in my own case, through psychological interpretations largely derived from the Jungian playbook.
Now, a certain amount of skepticism is necessary to train us to eliminate the trivial from the transcendent; and the psychological approach can be helpful at first in helping us ground our understanding of what we’re doing. We need to avoid veering into paranoia, or imputing excessive stern authority to the forces with which we’re dealing.
Yet at the end of the day, there is usually a sense of wonder with good magick. Our psychology and our rationalisations aid our early development, but at some moment, that edifice of one-dimensional comprehension is going to give way to a genuine emergence of awe. There are still times, as I go through yet one more LRP, that the symbols I’ve traced hover in space around me with a still authority: glowing, steady, forceful, and with a connection to something well outside my mind’s grasp of existence.
I can direct the energy of the ritual. But with the passage of years, the actual source of that energy, which I used to see as coming from myself, appears as more than a mere result of visualisation and vibrating a Name.
Love is the law, love under will,