By Bill McKeever
The Mormon Church has received plenty of criticism regarding the many inverted pentagrams that are displayed on both the exterior and interior of the temple in Nauvoo, Illinois. Several of them are located on the perimeter of the temple and as many as 138 inverted stars can be found in the assembly room. Inverted pentagrams can also be found on the upper walls and embroidered into the curtains of the celestial room. Some have wondered why a church claiming to be Christian would blatantly use emblems currently associated with Satanism as a temple decoration.
Mormon apologists have quickly come to their church’s defense by insisting that pentagrams have historically been a positive symbol and only recently have become a symbol of evil, therefore concluding that any comparison to the Nauvoo pentagrams is nothing more than sensationalism.
History of the Pentagram
The five-pointed star is a simple design that has shown up in the artwork of several cultures. Deciding when the inverted star actually came to be known as a symbol of evil can be confusing. There is no general consensus among historians and even Wiccans and witches are not in full agreement. Some say this happened around the time of the Inquisition, while others say it could have been as late as the 19th century.
Mormon apologists are correct when they insist that Christians have used the pentagram or pentacle in their artwork. For instance, at one time the five-pointed star was commonly known as the “five wounds of Christ.” However, the time frame in which Christians used this symbol becomes very important, and, as I will examine later in this article, tend to discount many LDS assertions. One thing we do know and that is the inverted pentagram has come to be associated with evil. Of that there is little doubt. Consider the following:
“The pentagram with one point upwards repels evil, but a reversed pentagram, with two points upwards, is a symbol of the Devil and attracts sinister forces because it is upside down and because it stands for the number 2. It represents the great Goat of the witches’ sabbath and the two upward points are the Goat’s horn.” (The Black Arts, Richard Cavendish (G.P.Putnam’s Sons Publishing; 1967, p.265).
“The spiritual knowledge of the Five-pointed Star is identical with its practical application. Let us beware that the figure is always well drawn, leaving no open space, through which the enemy can enter and disturb the harmony existing in the Pentagon. Let us keep the figure always upright, with the topmost triangle pointing to heaven, for it is the seat of Wisdom, and if the figure is reversed perversion and evil will be the result” (Magic – White and Black, Franz Hartmann, M.D., Newcastle Publishing, 1971,pp.290-291).
“Inverted Pentacle. The sacred symbol of Witchcraft often is misunderstood because of associations of the inverted pentacle, with single point down and double points up, with the infernal. If an upright five-pointed star represents God or the deity, then the reverse typically represents Satan…In Europe, some Witches have used the inverted pentacle to denote the second-degree rank. This use has declined, because of the association of the symbol with Satanism” (The Encyclopedia of Witches and Witchcraft, by Rosemary Ellen Guiley, Facts on File, Inc., 1989, p.266)
It is interesting to note that in the latter two quotes great care is expected regarding the direction of the points in order not to be associated with Satanism.
The LDS Perspective
I am not aware of any evidence that proves Smith was purposely attempting to use a symbol that society at the time would have viewed as evil, nor do I know of any LDS who feels such a symbol is meant to represent Satan either blatantly or esoterically. In fact, most Mormons have told me that the pentagrams used on LDS buildings symbolize the stars mentioned in 1 Corinthians 15:41. Perhaps that works for a Mormon, but I personally don’t imagine pentagrams when I read how “one star differs from another star in glory.” But then again, that’s just me.
BYU professor of history William Hamblin raises some good questions when he asks what the five-pointed star meant in the 1840s in the United States (email received 9/10/02). This is important because we would assume that what this emblem meant at the time the Nauvoo temple was built would probably reflect how Joseph Smith would have seen it as well.
Mr. Hamblin mentions in the same email that the “the swastika is a symbol of Nazism in the mid-twentieth century, but is a symbol of the sun-god or of good luck in India and Tibet.” This is true. In fact, for thousands of years the swastika, or the reversed sauvastika, shows up in artwork all over the world, including the artwork of American Indians. However, when Adolph Hitler chose to use this emblem as an insignia for his Nazi Party, things began to change very rapidly. This, I feel, is the whole issue regarding the LDS Church’s use of the inverted pentagram on its buildings. Mormons may argue that Smith’s pentagram was perfectly harmless in the 1840s, but there is no denying that many people in the world today associate it with evil. Show most people a picture of an inverted pentagram and I am sure that only Mormons would insist this is the star mentioned in 1 Corinthians 15:41.
On his web site (http://fhss.byu.edu/history/faculty/hamblin/Esoterica/Pentacles.htm), Mr. Hamblin asks:
“When was the inverted pentagram first explicitly said to be a symbol of Satan? As far as I have been able to ascertain, the originator of this symbol was Eliphas Levi (pseudonym for Alphonse-Louis Constant), a French defrocked Catholic priest, in his ‘Dogme et rituel de la haute magic’ published in 1855 and 1856 in France. (English translation Eliphas Levi, ‘Transcendental magic, its doctrine and ritual.’ trans. Arthur Edward Waite (New York, S. Weiser: 1970) illus. ii, p. 55.) He invented the idea in 1855.” Mr. Hamblin goes on to say, “This book was published over a decade after the death of Joseph Smith. Now it is certainly true that since Eliphas Levi, the inverted pentagram has become a widespread symbol used by occultists and Satanists. But it is the height of folly to take the symbolic meaning of the pentagram today and apply in to the symbolic world of Joseph Smith in 1844 by claiming Joseph secretly used the pentagram as an occult and satanic symbol. No one in 1844 would have understood it as such.”
Unless Mr. Hamblin can supply evidence that absolutely refutes much of what historians have told us about this symbol, I don’t think his conclusion is defendable. Whereas it may be argued that this symbol was not meant by Smith to have “occult or satanic” meanings, to say “no one in 1844” would have understood it as such is much too broad an assertion.
Joseph Smith’s fascination with folk-magic may supply some of the answers to this mystery. His use of seer stones, amulets, and magical parchments certainly do not help us draw a conclusion that Smith had no knowledge of what was known to be “occultic” in his time period. We do know that the word occult during Smith’s time meant, “to conceal.” Other definitions include invisible, secret, unknown, undiscovered, and undetected. The 1828 American Dictionary of the English Language states, “…the occult sciences are magic, necromancy, &c.” The fact that the LDS temple ceremony (prior to 1990) on numerous occasions used the words secret and secrecy would tend to fit well within this definition.
Even if it could be proven that prior to the 1840s the inverted pentagram did not have any relationship to evil, it does not explain why the Mormons would continue to use it during a time period when, by Hamblin’s own admission, it definitely does have that connotation. The LDS Church has used the inverted star to decorate other buildings that were completed long after 1855. This would include the famous Salt Lake temple, which was finished in 1893. Several inverted stars with an elongated point at the bottom can also be found in the woodwork in the Christus Rotunda in the North Visitor’s Center on Temple Square that was built in 1963. The lined, inverted star within a circle can also be found in the upper left hand corner near the entrance of the LDS Museum of Church History and Art built in 1984. And let us not forget that the Nauvoo temple we see today on Mulholland Street was not finished in the 1840’s — it was completed in 2002.
In his article entitled Inverted Stars on LDS Temples (http://www.fairlds.org/pubs/Stars.pdf ), Mormon writer Matthew B. Brown also refers to Eliphas Levi as the one who gave the inverted pentagram an evil connotation. He states
“Though Eliphas Levi is consistently credited with being the first person to associate the inverted five-pointed star with Satan, one commentator makes this important observation: “The inverted five-pointed star, with its single point downward, originally had no demonic meaning, but over the centuries it has mistakenly come to represent evil.” (Source cited, Tom Ogden, Wizards and Sorcerers: From Abracadabra to Zoroaster, New York: Facts on File, 1997, 172).
How this mistakenly happened is subject to debate, but it seems to be clear that if it has come to represent evil “over the centuries,” it is reasonable to assume that it did have had such a connotation when Joseph Smith was alive.
Several books on the subject, as well as several web sites sympathetic to Wicca and Witchcraft, insist that the occultic association of the inverted pentagram goes back much further than the 1850s.
“…when the Black Mass was developed by disgruntled priests during the times of the Inquisition, the inverted cross with its vertical line moving upward, as their symbol, took on an evil connotation just the opposite of what simple geometric symbolism would suggest. Also, during the Inquisition, the Pagan Horned God, sometimes depicted as a goat, otherwise as a stag, was characterized by Inquisitors as Satan, in one of many deliberate, false and very often violent attempts to suppress the Old Religion. As if that was not bad enough, the Church of Satan, founded in America in 1966, chose the inverted pentagram as its symbol. Since then, Satanic fears and fantasies, have caused the inverted pentagram to be thoroughly suppressed in any use by Wiccans, especially in the USA. Here it is largely viewed as the antithesis of Wicca, just as the inverted cross is viewed within Christianity.” (Starcrafts web site, retrieved 09/23/02, http://www.starcraftsob.com/craft/pentagram.shtml).
“During the long period of the Inquisition, there was much promulgation of lies and accusations in the ‘interests’ of orthodoxy and elimination of heresy. The Church lapsed into a long period of the very diabolism it sought to oppose. The pentagram was seen to symbolise a Goat’s Head or the Devil in the form of Baphomet and it was Baphomet whom the Inquisition accused the Templars of worshipping” (Magickal Musings, retrieved 09/23/02, http://magickalmusings.net/wicca/topic10.php).
The Inquisition began under the reign of Pope Gregory IX in 1231 as a means for controlling and condemning those who were considered heretics. Coupled with the Spanish Inquisition, its effect lasted for hundreds of years. When exactly during this time period the inverted pentagram became a symbol of evil is difficult to determine. However, if the above information is even closely correct, the parallels drawn by both Brown and Hamblin regarding medieval cathedrals become irrelevant since they were designed or built prior to the time this symbol was commonly linked with evil. The same is true for the artwork they mention.
While I see this as only a minor consequence, on the web page that bears Mr. Brown’s article is a picture of the “Great Star,” a flag he says, “flew from 1837 to 1845.” He notes “This flag displayed a large upright star in the center of the blue field with numerous smaller stars around it that were arranged so as to create one enormous inverted star.” Not that this really matters, it is doubtful that any of these designs had the sanction of the US Government considering the fact that on April 4, 1818 Congress enacted a law that gave clear instructions for the design of the American flag. It read: “That the Flag of the United States be 13 horizontal stripes, alternate red and white, and that on the admission of every State into the Union, one star to be added on the Fourth of July next succeeding admission.” Perhaps it should also be noted that there were also variations of the “Great Star” flag with stars arranged as an upright star as well. See:
Mr. Brown also correctly mentions that the prestigious Medal of Honor is an inverted five-pointed star. I concede that I don’t have an answer for this, but then, I can’t explain a lot of things our government does. I do know that it is probably not a wise thing to place too much trust in the government when it comes to things of a spiritual nature.
No Win Situation
When I heard that the LDS Church was going to rebuild the Nauvoo temple using its original design, I felt that they were going to find themselves between a rock and a hard place when it came to the pentagrams. If they kept them, they would be criticized for its now universal association to evil. If they changed them, it would be construed as somehow recognizing something was amiss. However, make no mistake about it, there is good reason to believe that Gordon Hinckley knew full well that this symbol would cause controversy. He could have easily avoided it, but he chose not to.
In his book titled Window Maker, Charles W. Allen tells how he was commissioned by the LDS Church to build the leaded glass stars that encircle the outside of the Nauvoo temple. The original plan was to stick as closely as possible to the original design, so Allan commenced to put together stars that would be placed in an inverted fashion. However, Allan notes on page 182 of his book how on Tuesday, May 8  he was approached by three men from his church. He writes, ” …Ron Prince, Cory Karl and Keith Stepan were in the shop this morning to see how I was doing and to take a look at the colored glass in the star sash. They really liked what they saw. Keith asked me whether, if President Hinckley wanted to have the star pointed in an up position, that would be possible? I said yes, that all I had to do is to rotate the sash. He made a recorded note of that for his next meeting with President Hinckley. There is some concern by members of the Temple Committee that the upside down star would be interpreted as a Satanic symbol which some cults believe in today.”
This paragraph is very telling since even some members of the temple committee were apprehensive as to how the stars would be interpreted. It also shows that President Hinckley had the final say as to which direction the stars would point. Since I have not read any statement as to why Hinckley chose to open his church to this criticism, I can only surmise that he probably wanted to remain true to the design Joseph Smith said he saw in a “vision” (History of the Church 6:196 -197). He apparently was unconcerned that this symbol’s meaning had changed drastically since the time of Mormonism’s founder. If Keith Stepan did in fact relate this concern to Hinckley then we know for sure his decision was not made ignorantly. For this reason I find it irrational for Mormon apologists to easily dismiss the concerns of Christians who find the inverted five-pointed stars troublesome.
I’d like to insist that I am not aware of any evidence that proves Smith was purposely trying to utilize what he thought was a Satanic symbol. Nor do I think that any Mormon sees it as such either. However, as I have pointed out earlier, this symbol has changed its meaning over the years. Just as any American who chooses to adorn his building with a swastika should expect to be criticized, so too should any religious group that chooses to utilize an inverted pentagram be second-guessed. If a Mormon wishes to belong to a church that purposely uses an emblem currently associated with evil, that is their choice. If a Mormon wishes to have their apologists defend such a symbol, that is their prerogative also. I personally don’t see this as emblem to be proud of and to prove my point I don’t expect to see pentagram necklaces being sold next to CTR rings.
What really puzzles me about this whole issue is how Mormons can defend the use of the pentagram but criticize the use of a cross as a Christian symbol. While recognizing that many who wear crosses see it as a “sincere and sacred gesture,” tenth LDS President Joseph Fielding had no problem insulting millions of Christians when he went on to say, “To them the cross does not represent an emblem of torture but evidently carried the impression of sacrifice and suffering endured by the Son of God. However, to bow down before a cross or to look upon it as an emblem to be revered because of the fact that our Savior died upon a cross is repugnant to members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saint (Answers to Gospel Questions 4:16). In light of such a comment, is it not hypocritical for Mormons to complain about Christians who find pentagrams on “sacred” buildings “repugnant”?
I personally feel that Hinckley’s loyalty to Smith’s original design is to blame for much of this controversy. We have no reason to believe he was compelled to remain completely true to the temple’s original design given the fact that the upright angel atop the steeple is not the same as the horizontal weathervane/angel used in 1846.
If I may offer my suggestion, I think the best way this issue could have been avoided would have been for Hinckley to change the design and issue a press release that said something like, “Because the meaning of the inverted pentagram has changed drastically since the 1840’s we felt that in order not to offend the many Christians who see this design in a negative light, we plan to place the stars in an upright position.” In doing so he would have calmed the concerns of his temple committee and probably put to rest many undue criticisms.
For more on temples, click here.