Recently I saw the much-touted Paranormal State episode, "Darkness Falls", produced by Penn State Paranormal Research Society's Ryan Buell. The episode was about PRS's visit to West Virginia State Penitentiary. Ryan had been there investigating on his own with Chad Calek, and had a very frightening experience. Deciding that he couldn't walk into families' homes and talk about their fears without confronting his own, he returned to the sight he ran from, and brought his team. All of them experienced moments of isolation in some of the scariest parts of the prison, and all had some strange experiences. Ryan then decided to reveal to them what he found in the Warden's Tower of the penitentiary--an inverted pentagram built into the architecture.
Ryan very accurately states that the pentagram has many benign uses and symbolisms among groups, but that the inverted one is also used by many groups, most notably devil worshippers. How the pentagram got there is unknown. If its representational intentions were good or evil is also unknown--I agree with Ryan that the latter is likely. This post is not about the meaning of that particular pentagram. But it does make me think about what the inverted pentagram actually represents, and it's quite complex.
First, let's talk about the upright pentagram, or pentacle--a 5-pointed star in a circle. It's is generally accepted that the 5 points represent 5 elements--fire, air, water, earth, and spirit. In symbolic diagrams about man's relationship to the Universe (or "God" if you like), the 5-pointed star is embedded in a 6-pointed star (think of the Lesser Banishing Ritual of the Pentagram--"for about me flames the pentagram, and in the column stands the 6-rayed star"). What this symbolizes is man's place in the Universe--a microcosm of the macrocosm. We are but a small, self-contained piece of the Whole.
What the inverted pentagram represents, in Doreen Valiente's words, is "Spirit hidden in Matter." This has a very "loaded" history. We need to go back to the early Christian Church, and the Gnostics. Gnostics believed that the created world was corrupt--the Universe was continually created out of pairings called "aeons". However, one of these Aeons, Sophia (Wisdom), decided to create something on her own--and what she created was a being called Yaldabaoth. Yaldabaoth is synonymous in Gnosticism with Yahweh or Jehovah. Since this Being was unable to see the wider Universe, he assumed he was the only one in the Universe, and created our world. When Sophia saw this, she tried to intervene in the form of the Serpent--to show us that we really had Divine origins--but Yaldabaoth squelched that. Christ came along later to try to redeem us from the influence of Yaldabaoth.
From this belief system came the idea that all Incarnation in this world was evil. The extreme extension of this was what is now known as the Cathar Heresy--that all matter is evil, and that all human beings should refrain from procreation. Naturally the Orthodox/Catholic Church was against such a proposition (it would wipe out the human race if we all believed it), and condemned it as heresy. But from this notion came the idea that matter is evil.
Now--if we go back to the inverted pentagram--it represents Spirit hidden in Matter. So if all Matter is evil according to this way of thinking, then the inverted pentagram represents some great evil, namely the possibility of Incarnation, or descent into Matter. This is also how the Devil (from the Greek word "diabolos", meaning, "to put an obstruction in one's path"--very different from the idea of ultimate evil) came to be represented as this goat-headed figure. The Knights Templar, a Catholic religious order later accused and prosecuted as heretical, were said to worship an image called Baphomet, very much in line with our modern visual idea of "Satan" or "the Devil".
But if you look at the Baphomet image--it is both human and animal, both male and female, and has images of both day and night. Baphomet is a zoomorph--it represents all possibilities for incarnation. According to the Cathar Heresy, it would then be representing Ultimate Evil, since evil is the result of Spirit being degraded to Matter. But, as we've said, this is a heresy according to the traditional Church, and while I can't agree with them on all heresies, this seems pretty legit. Life requires incarnation. Yet somehow we've retained this notion of "evil" in our collective unconsciousness.
It may not be totally wrong for Satanists to identify with inverted pentagrams. After all, people who follow an organized "Satanism" are usually hedonists--they live exclusively for their own pleasure, and therefore they live for the strictly material. But there is a lot of what passes for "Satan worship" that is probably totally unaware of this connection. Certainly it behooves non-Satanists who may be called upon to recognize the unintended (or intended) consequences of such beliefs to understand the origins of the image.
I return again to the Tree of Life image. The Tree of Life is lighter at the top, and heavier at the bottom--heavier at the bottom because it is encased in Matter. But we need to remember that it is One Tree--it is all Divine, not just the "Spirit" part. Technically, we shouldn't separate it out at all. What is apparently separate is really unified. We shouldn't invest too much in the temporal (i.e., the material) because it dies or goes away after awhile. But that doesn't make it evil. Evil is something different--it comes from a total lack of respect for the "divinity" of others--if you don't like that idea, at least the idea that all humans are made in "God's Image". As Hannah Arendt put it (and I'm paraphrasing) -- true evil is what happens when you knock on the door of Conscience and nobody is at home.