In classic tattoo fashion, this month’s tattoo is a combination of the pentagram and the female symbol, two very well known icons in their own rights. Not only are they combined for a novel visual effect but also for a spin on meaning. Interestingly, they may both have their ancient origins in the earliest surveys of the night skies, and even the same planet.
Venus, If You Will
Worshipped the world over by peoples in many cultures and time periods, back into prehistory, the planet Venus is still one of the most recognized points of light in both the night and twilight skies. Often referred to as the ‘evening star’ and also the ‘morning star’, it is not a star at all but the planet that is our next door neighbor in the solar system and the second closest to the sun. Precisely because it orbits closer to the sun than we do, we typically gaze in the same general direction of the sky in order to view either of them. So, as we watch the ‘morning and evening star,’ much brighter than any real star because it reflects the sun’s light, it tends not to stray too far from the rising and setting sun. A Babylonian king called her “she who at sunrise and sunset brings me good omens.” It wasn’t until 500 BC that the Greeks discovered that it was actually one heavenly body and not two.
It was likely in the fertile crescent that this planet was first associated with divine womanhood. In the Tigris-Euphrates region it was associated with Inanna (the Sumerian goddess of sexual love, fertility, and warfare), in the Phoenician Empire with Astarte (goddess of fertility, sexuality, and war and later Ishtar for the Babylonians), amongst the Romans with Venus (love, beauty, and fertility), and for the Greeks was a symbol of Aphrodite (love and beauty) and Athena (wisdom, war, and peace). It was then one small step to using the symbol for the planet as a symbol for womanhood. Sometimes described as a hand-mirror or a circle (symbolizing completeness) on top of a cross (earthly matter), it has been used as an astronomical symbol for Venus possibly since the inception of astrological / astronomical work which may have taken place as early as 6,000 years ago in the Tigris-Euphrates region.
Starry, Starry Night
The five-pointed symmetry of the pentagram or pentacle is almost surely the result of the same astronomical research of the Tigris-Euphrates region involving the planet Venus, “she who shows her way to the stars.” As early astronomers traced the path of the planet through a map of the sky, as it maneuvered between certain celestial inferior conjunctions with the zodiac (a cycle that took eight years to complete), the resulting line that was traced was the pentacle. Later, Pythagoras would give it the name of signum salutatis or “The Sign of Health” representing the ultimate in mind-body harmony, while in some medieval iconography it was associated with the Blessed Virgin (remember the divine female connection), and for the Freemasons it is the Blazing Star that “reminds us of the sun, which illuminates the earth with its rays and makes us mindful of our blessings, as it gives light and life to all who are on earth.”
Tattoo of the Times
Today, the upright pentagram is probably mostly famously associated with Wicca (the Old English word for ‘wizard’) or witchcraft. Celtic priests called it “the witch’s foot” and considered it essential to witchcraft. Practitioners today, while far from a homogeneous group, especially when considered worldwide, tend to combine aspects of witchcraft and nature worship that are based on the traditional and pre-Christian beliefs of the peoples of Europe. In addition, the plaited version of the pentagram, as in our tattoo example here, has an even more specific meaning as a protective talisman against evil, even drawn on doors in some Nordic countries as a safeguard. As a tattoo, the plaited pentagram within the circle of the female symbol represents both the divine feminine and protection. It hearkens back, not only to pre-Christian pagan practices, but also the worship of the goddess before the spread of the paternalistic religions of the mid-East.