The pentacle is the magical tool associated with the earth, and–like the cup–it’s fairly easy to see the association. After all, the pentacle is a solid disk that can act as a sort of platter to hold all the other tools: it is the ground upon which everything else holds focus. You can use any disk for the pentacle, and–believe it or not–it doesn’t have to be inscribed with a pentagram–the five-point unicursal star that, when encircled, also goes by the name of pentacle. This star is an important symbol in Wicca because it naturally corresponds with man’s five extremities (think of the Vitruvian Man), his five senses, and the five major elements (earth, air, fire, water, spirit). It becomes an important pagan symbol when it is inscribed by a circle, which symbolically ties all the points, extremities, and elements together. Moreover, each separate point of the pentacle has a hard association with a particular element. With the upright pentagram, the top point represents the fifth element–spirit or akasha–while the top left corresponds with water, the top right with air, the bottom left with earth, and the bottom right with fire.
I think that, at first glance, it seems a little odd to inscribe a symbol that encompasses all the elements onto the tool that corresponds primarily with earth. I suppose one would assume that the earth symbol would make far more sense. But again, you’ve got to remind yourself that the disk is the ground–it is the surface upon which all the other elements can come into existence. The tool pentacle is not the pentacle symbol: the symbol rides on the surface to remind us of earth’s importance.
If there’s still confusion on the fact that the disk is not the star symbol itself, it’s important to learn that past magical traditions didn’t exclusively use the word “pentacle” to mean an encircled five pointed star. In fact, the word could refer to any magical amulet used in evocation. My somewhat uncharitable (and completely unfounded) assumption is that “pentacle” and “pentagram” have become nearly synonymous in post-Wicca magic because of Gerald Gardner’s issues with learning disabilities. With the words “pentagram” and “pentacle” being so similar, I think it highly likely that old Gerald inadvertently substituted one for another without much thought. It’s also likely that the two terms became synonymous because one of the most famous pre-Wiccan pentacles was the Sigillum Dei Aemeth, a late middle-ages magical diagram that has at its center a pentagram. A very reduced version of it, then, would probably look like an encircled pentagram.
Practically, we use the pentacle disk in ritual to represent the element of earth during invocation, as a symbol that sort of ‘grounds’ the other magical tools and items by consecrating and magically charging the items placed upon it, and band as a platter to hold and consecrate the food for cakes and wine.
Many people who are new to Wicca have an uneasy relationship with the star symbol, since popular culture often understands it to mean ‘evil’ or ‘Satanic’ (which it can mean when inverted, just like an inverted cross would). If this is your mindset, Roderick offers a meditative practice to help us understand the pentacle symbol:
Take time to consider your body as the living symbol of the pentacle and know that you are a manifestation of all elements. The following pentagram exercise helps connect you to the earth, provides grounding and centering of your energy, and provides magical protection.
Get a container of salt (preferably kosher or sea salt) and take it outside with you. Ue the salt to form a 6-7 foot diameter pentagram on the ground. (Note: if you do this on a lawn, the salt will kill the grass and vegetation.) As you create this pentagram, chant these words of power:
Five-fold forms the sacred birth,
Of air, fire, water, and earth.
Lie down in the center of the pentagram with your head at the top point, your arms within the side points and your legs inside of the bottom points. Close your eyes and take several deep breaths. Now imagine that a golden glow begins to form in your right hand. (You are the pentagram, so you are the mirror of the description above.) In your left hand, a blue glow begins to form. In the sole of your right foot, you can see a green glow forming, and in your left foot a red glow takes form. Focus now on your breath. As you inhale, draw each of these glowing colors toward your chest. Once the colors meet at the center of your chest they explode into rays of blinding white. Imagine that this energy travels up your spine and out through the top of your head. This energy then links you to the universe. When you are done, open your eyes, stand up, and scatter the salt pentagram on the ground with your left foot.
I can see how this can become a favorite grounding exercise of mine! Physically, lying on the ground with my legs spread at the pentacle angles almost always ‘pops’ the tension in my lower vertebrae and allows me to relax more deeply. Spiritually, I really enjoy purposefully drawing each element into myself and charging me fully. I often feel that in my Hartwood Grove groundings that I’m only really pulling earth and air, though I often try to envision tapping into the volcanic core for fire and the clouds for water. This gives a very full grounding feeling.