Pentagrams, Pentacles and Venus in The Da Vinci Code
Information from reliable sources on the history and meaning of the pentagram, whether the shape is traced by Venus, and what this has to do with the Olympics.
The pentagram or pentacle is one of the major symbols described by "symbologist" Robert Langdon in The Da Vinci Code. This article compares his claims about the symbol with reality.
Overview of Pentagram Facts and Fiction in The Da Vinci Code
|In The Da Vinci Code||In Reality|
About the Pentacle and Pentagram
The Merriam-Webster Online Dictionary indicates that "pentagram" and "pentacle" are synonyms:
pen·ta·gram Etymology: Greek pentagrammon, from penta- + -grammon (akin to gramma letter) -- more at GRAM : a figure of a 5-pointed star usually made with alternate points connected by a continuous line and used as a magic or occult symbol; also : a similar 6-pointed star (as a Solomon's seal) pen·ta·cle Etymology: (assumed) Medieval Latin pentaculum, probably from Greek pente : PENTAGRAM
The Encyclopedia Britannica article on number symbolism states the following about the number 5:
The number 5 was associated with the Babylonian goddess Ishtar and her Roman parallel, Venus, and the symbol for both was the five-pointed star, or pentagram.... A human placed in a circle with outspread arms and legs approximates the five points of a pentagon, and if each point is joined to its second-nearest neighbour a pentagram results. This geometric figure is central to occultism, and it plays a prominent role in summoning spells whereby it is supposed to trap a demon, or devil, who can then be compelled to do the sorcerer's bidding.
According to The Secret Language of Symbols by David Fontana:
The endless five-pointed pentagram stands for perfection and wholeness, the four elements plus spirituality. These properties give the symbol power over evil spirits, and make it a favorite of magicians. (p. 97) Pentagram (or Pentacle): A five-pointed star drawn with five continuous strokes used as a religious or magical symbol. (p. 313)
A thorough article on the Pentagram by the Grand Lodge of British Columbia and Yukon reports:
De Vogel, Goff and Van Buren tell us that the use of the pentagram dates back to Uruk IV (c.3500BCE) in ancient Mesopotamia where the general sense seems to be "heavenly body." By the cuneiform period (post 2600 BCE) the pentagram or symbol UB means "region," "heavenly quarter" or "direction". "That this symbol always has a specific unambiquous meaning continues to be an unsupported hypothesis." It is found on potsherds in the location of Uruk (near the mouth of the Gulf), and more frequently on Jemdet Nasr (3100-2900 BCE) and Proto-Elamite tablets (3000-2500 BCE). Examples elsewhere are infrequent. Historically, it does not appear to be equated with Venus. Venus is equated with the Sumarian goddess, Ishtar (Ishhara, Irnini, Inanna) whose symbol is an eight or sixteen point star. Amongst the Hebrews, the five point symbol was ascribed to Truth and to the five books of the Pentateuch. In Ancient Greece, it was called the Pentalpha. Pythagorians considered it an emblem of perfection or the symbol of the human being. The pentagram was also associated with the golden ratio (which it includes), and the dodecahedron, the fifth Platonic solid, which has twelve pentagonal faces and was considered by Plato to be a symbol of the heavens. Burkert says that the pentagram had a secret significance and power to the pythagoreans, and was used as a password or symbol of recognition amongst themselves.
According to Richard Cavendish, ed., in Man, Myth & Magic (1971), p. 2159:
...pentacle (or pantacle) is not necessarily connected with the number 5. Pentacle probably comes from an old French word for 'to hang' and means a talisman or, by extension, any symbol used in magical operations.
About Venus Tracing a Pentagram
The Encyclopedia Britannica article on Venus doesn't mention the tracing of a pentagram:
Venus: second planet from the Sun and the planet whose orbit is closest to that of the Earth. Venus' orbit is the most nearly circular of that of any planet, with a deviation from perfect circularity of only about 1 part in 150. The period of the orbit—that is, the length of the Venusian year—is 224.7 Earth days... Venus was one of the five planets known in ancient times, and its motions were observed and studied for centuries prior to the invention of advanced astronomical instruments. Its appearances were recorded by the Babylonians in approximately 3,000 BC, and it also is mentioned prominently in the astronomical records of a number of other ancient civilizations, including those of China, Central America, Egypt, and Greece. The first telescopic observations were, as mentioned above, those of Galileo, which led to the discovery of the planet's phases.... Important early telescopic observations of Venus were conducted in the 1700s during the planet's solar transits. In a solar transit, a planet passes directly between the Sun and the Earth and is silhouetted briefly against the Sun's disk. Transits of Venus are rare events, occurring in pairs eight years apart with more than a century between pairs. They were extremely important events to 18th-century astronomy, since they provided at that time the most accurate method for determining the distance from the Earth to the Sun.
The article on the Pentagram by the Grand Lodge of British Columbia and Yukon says:
Historically, it does not appear to be equated with Venus. Venus is equated with the Sumarian goddess, Ishtar (Ishhara, Irnini, Inanna) whose symbol is an eight or sixteen point star. Amongst the Hebrews, the five point symbol was ascribed to Truth and to the five books of the Pentateuch. In Ancient Greece, it was called the Pentalpha. Pythagorians considered it an emblem of perfection or the symbol of the human being. The pentagram was also associated with the golden ratio (which it includes), and the dodecahedron, the fifth Platonic solid, which has twelve pentagonal faces and was considered by Plato to be a symbol of the heavens. Burkert says that the pentagram had a secret significance and power to the pythagoreans, and was used as a password or symbol of recognition amongst themselves.
The Grand Lodge's article on Venus and the Pentagram states:
The pentagram (pentacle or pentalpha) is considered by some western occultists to trace its esoteric significance to an astronomical observance of the pattern of Venus' conjunctions with the Sun. This is not possible. ...But it is true that plotting the recurrence of Venus' westward elongation from the Sun, over five consecutive synodic periods, will create the points of a pentagram. This period is approximately 584 days long, each period determining a different point of the observed pentagram—taking approximately eight years, five days to complete the figure. One would get a pentagram by picking any sunrise date on which the morning star is prominent and then repeating the observation at 584 day intervals following that date. The synodic period of Venus, the time required for it to return to the same position relative to the Sun as seen by an observer on Earth, is 583.9211 days. There is a 0.0789 day slippage every 584 days, totalling a one day slippage each 12.67 synodic periods. This means that the pentagram figure is slowly revolving within an oval in a clockwise direction, alternating either one or two points ascendant roughly every 160 years. There is no observation point on Earth that would present a regular pentagram. Moving further north elongates the figure while on the equator the figure is an irregular pentagon.
About the Olympics
Encyclopedia Britannica says about the Olympic Games:
The Olympic Games, like almost all Greek games, were an intrinsic part of a religious festival. They were held in honour of Zeus at Olympia by the city-state of Elis in the northwestern Peloponnese.... In Sparta, girls and young women did practice and compete locally. But, apart from Sparta, contests for young Greek women were very rare and probably limited to an annual local footrace. At Olympia, however, the Herean festival, held every four years in honour of the goddess Hera, included a race for young women, who were divided into three age groups. Yet the Herean race was not part of the Olympics (they took place at another time of the year) and probably was not instituted before the advent of the Roman Empire. Then for a brief period girls competed at a few other important athletic venues. The 2nd-century-AD traveler Pausanias wrote that women were banned from Olympia during the actual Games under penalty of death. Yet he also remarked that the law and penalty had never been invoked. His account later incongruously stated that unmarried women were allowed as Olympic spectators. Many historians believe that a later scribe simply made an error copying this passage of Pausanias's text here. Nonetheless, the notion that all or only married women were banned from the Games endured in popular writing on the topic, though the evidence regarding women as spectators remains unclear. The Olympic flag presented by Coubertin in 1914 is the prototype: it has a white background, and in the centre there are five interlaced rings—blue, yellow, black, green, and red. The blue ring is farthest left, nearest the pole. These rings represent the "five parts of the world" joined together in the Olympic movement. ## More Information
It is difficult to find authoritative, expert information on Venus and the pentagram online. Some of the following resources may be more reliable than others.
- The Pentagram - Grand Lodge of British Columbia - cites many good sources
- Venus and the Pentagram - Grand Lodge of British Columbia - includes animated diagram
- Pentagram - Wikipedia - some references
- Pentacle - Wikipedia
- Pentagram - The Skeptic's Dictionary
- Pentagram or Pentacle - Symbols.com
- Symbol 29:14 (pentagram in a circle) - Symbols.com
- The Pentagram - by Jennifer Emick at About.com - no references
- Pentagram and Pentacle - Religious Tolerance - cites sources, but not good ones
- The Pythagorean Pentacle - Biblioteca Arcana