The Pentagram and Hexagram rituals are almost always the first rituals that students of the Western esoteric tradition endeavor to learn. They are printed in almost every introductory book on magick in the world, usually along with some basic correspondence tables cribbed from Liber 777, and almost always by writers who are just copy-pasting with very little understanding of what the rituals actually do. I guess it's a good way to fill a page count if you need to churn out cheap paperbacks.
Sorry to sound harsh, but it just is what it is, and anybody who's spent more than a tourist's amount of time in the occult world will know exactly what I'm talking about.
I discuss these rituals at length in my Introduction to Banishing Rituals course, but questions about these rituals come up so often in Magick.Me Office Hours—more than on any other topic, in fact—that I think it bears writing a few blog posts sharing core definitions and clarifications on these rituals for students. So here goes.
Where Did the Rituals Come From in the First Place?
As with everything in magick, or life, you need to go straight to primary sources to understand what these rituals actually are.
The pentagram and hexagram rituals go back to the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn, the Victorian occult society that synthesized and in many cases created the Western esoteric tradition as we now understand it. As the story goes, the founding adepts of that order found outlines of the rituals in the "Cipher Manuscripts," the loose notes of a continental Rosicrucian order that they discovered in a second hand bookshop, which led them into correspondence with one Anna Sprengel, a German adept who authorized them to work said Rosicrucian rite in Britain and create the Golden Dawn around their own elaborations of the skeletal ritual outlines they had found.
The veracity of this story has been called into question quite frequently, although working Rosicrucian orders most certainly existed on the continent and still exist today. I will note that in my research for John Dee and the Empire of Angels I came across sections of John Dee's Spirit Diaries where Dee is performing a ritual remarkably similar to the Qabalistic Cross. I'll also note that Dee and Kelly were likely causally responsible for the creation of Rosicrucianism in the first place. However, any academically documented and verified connections to European Rosicrucianism or irregular Masonic rites are lacking, although that may simply mean lack of paper trail. (If you know of any more specific research, please let me know.)
So, speculate as you will, but as far as we're concerned, the rituals originate with the Golden Dawn, and outside of the Cipher Manuscript notes were largely composed by MacGregor Mathers (and likely the rest of the order). They are explicitly designed to work off the bedrock technology of the Golden Dawn's initiatory system, and their version of Qabalah and Enochian.
Origins aside, they are among the most elegant and enduring artifacts of our entire Western spiritual heritage.
This means that the Golden Dawn grade papers are our go-to source for the original text of the rituals. However, contrary to what many assume, the original grade papers aren't available either! Although you can get a version of them in Regardie's big Golden Dawn book, what isn't often understood is that this book is actually the grade papers of the Stella Matutina, a New Zealand splinter of the original Golden Dawn; Regardie joined this order in the 30s, after his time with Crowley, and its was their papers that he leaked.
Legendary as they were, did the Stella Matutina have the exact same papers as the original English order? Maybe... maybe not.
This leaves us with Aleister Crowley, who WAS a student of the original order, and ascended to the grade of 5=6, at least in part by bribery and politicking. Crowley was the only student who broke his oaths and leaked the grade materials, but he did so by summarizing them in his own words in The Equinox. I have no reason to think Crowley was fabricating or altering anything he published on this point... but it's still second hand information.
Crowley did indeed publish the pentagram and hexagram rituals for the first time, in Liber O. He later elaborated on the ritual, albeit briefly, in his "Notes on the Ritual of the Pentagram" as well as the poem "Palace of the World," which describes the inner experience of the operator while performing the Lesser Pentagram Ritual.
All of these materials are frankly invaluable. Combined with Regardie's Golden Dawn, they should be your go-to source, unless even more authoritative primary sources at some point emerge (and if anybody knows of any, I'm all ears).
In addition to these primary(-ish) sources, an invaluable book that clarifies many technical details of these rituals, from the perspective of a direct lineage initiate of A.'.A.'. and the Golden Dawn, is Jim Eshelman's Pearls of Wisdom, which is a must for any serious student of the Western tradition.
So, with that said, what is NOT a go-to source? First and foremost, Donald Kraig's Modern Magick, for reasons discussed below (nothing against Don), as well as any second, third or twenty-seventh hand copy of the ritual from (name your favorite mass market occult book here). If these books inspire you to do the work, excellent—but go to the source too, and make sure you're getting the details right.
What Do These Rituals Actually Do?
As will be elaborated below, the pentagram rituals are for working with elemental energy (and can be customized for zodiacal energy), either generally (in the lesser form) or specifically (in the greater form); and the hexagram rituals are for working with planetary energy, generally (lesser) or specifically (greater).
In various formulations, these rituals can be customized to work with all of the aspects of the Western esoteric conception of the universe—the five elements, the seven classical planets, and the twelve signs of the zodiac.
These "energies" or aspects of human psychology, depending on how you want to think about them, make up your entire personality, as graphed by your birth chart. They also, in various combinations, make up the entirety of the Tree of Life, the traditional map of the macrocosmic universe, as well as the Enochian tablets, an even more refined map of said, alleged universe.
In practice, this means that the rituals can be used to analyze, in detail, any aspect of your psychology, or of the universe, in isolation from the other aspects.
For example: A Venus ritual will allow you to analyze just the parts of your psychology concerned with love and relationships, without any of your other aspects (like aggression, economics, intellectual pursuit, etc., intruding and muddying up the session).
This is one of the great benefits of the Western tradition, which I never tire of pointing out: It allows detailed analysis of yourself and the universe, as opposed to the Eastern traditions, which tend to be concerned simply with the total goal of spiritual enlightenment, and frown on looking at any of scenery along the way. This tends to produce monastics with very little ability to interface with the real world, whereas the Western tradition is actually surprisingly good at producing well-rounded individuals without massive, glaring holes in their personality makeup, who can comfortably interface with the real world—and this is generally why I teach the Western tradition first and foremost.
The watchword here is balance. These rituals are for subsequently analyzing each aspect of your psyche, clarifying and aligning it, and then—critically—bringing it back into balance with all other parts, so that your psyche does not become grossly imbalanced or biased into any one direction. This is an ongoing process that never ends! And as long as you approach the process with the overall goal of balancing and harmonizing your life, you can't go far wrong.
With that basic theory out of the way, let's clear up some common points of confusion.
Lesser vs. Greater
Both the Pentagram and Hexagram rituals have "lesser" and "greater" forms. This can easily lead somebody to think that the greater forms are "mo betta," and that you get them when you become super cool and powerful enough, at which point you can drop the lesser forms.
This is wrong, although you could certainly be forgiven if you were confused by the terms themselves.
Here's what the actual deal is: The "lesser" forms work with all of the elements or planets at once, and the "greater" forms work with them one at a time, and in much greater and more elaborate detail.
"Greater," in this context, is best understood as "more elaborate, detailed, and modular."
Let's break this down ritual by ritual, for clarity:
The Qabalistic Cross, which is common to both lesser and greater forms, centers the operator on the Tree of Life, and affirms their own connection to divinity.
The Lesser Ritual of the Pentagram invokes or banishes all four elements in one fell swoop, and calls the Archangels associated with those elements.
The Greater Ritual of the Pentagram invokes or banishes all four elements one at a time, in detail, as well as calling the Archangels, and additionally using Hermetic and Enochian methods to invoke or banish the twelve zodiacal signs associated with those elements—three zodiacal signs per each element. It is a fully modular ritual, and can be adapted to work with only one elemental or zodiacal energy at a time.
The LVX Signs, which are common to both lesser and greater hexagrams, center the operator within the lower five Sephira of the Tree of Life, and balance their conscious and terrestrial personality in accordance with the general initiatory current of the present epoch. There are forms of the LVX signs for both the Aeon of Osiris as well as that of Horus; the latter are not the NOX signs. (If this is all Greek to you, don't worry about it for now—just do the traditional LVX signs; you can read more in Eshelman's Pearls of Wisdom.
The Lesser Ritual of the Hexagram invokes or banishes all seven classical planets in one fell swoop.
The Greater Ritual of the Hexagram has no catch-all form; it is a modular toolkit for constructing your own rituals for invoking or banishing specific planets one at a time. It can also be modified to work with entire Sephira.
I must here mention one specific point, which comes up during Magick.Me Office Hours more than perhaps any other: In his well-known book Modern Magick, the late Donald Michael Kraig, who I knew and was lucky enough to befriend shortly before he died, states that the pentagram rituals work with the "microcosm," and the hexagram rituals work with the "macrocosm."
Sorry, Don, but this is just wrong, and quite confusing to boot. Both rituals can be tuned to work either with the individual's microcosmic reality or the macrocosm at large (I will leave the details of that to those skilled enough to figure it out for themselves—wizard not just gonna give everything away), but ultimately, where one ends and the other begins is not only anybody's guess, but functionally irrelevant.
Invoking vs. Banishing
This point very badly needs detailed clarification.
All of the above rituals can be used for either banishing or invoking. The only difference is the direction the lineal figures are traced. Clockwise tracing invokes; counterclockwise banishes.
So let's be exceedingly clear about what these terms actually mean. In the light of the general theory above, when we invoke we call forth a specific aspect, or set of aspects, of ourself. When we banish, we banish that aspect.
In practice, what we're actually doing here is invoking into conscious awareness or banishing out of conscious awareness. We're pulling up an aspect of ourselves into our conscious "workspace" to be operated upon, and then put away when we are done.
This framework will prove much more useful for you than any fantastical Hollywood visions of wizards throwing lightning bolts around, battling demons, and so forth.
There is one more absolutely critical point to clear up about this process in regards to the actual experience of doing the rituals.
Owing to how these rituals are constructed, it can be easy to make the assumption that the elemental and planetary energies are actually "outside" of you; for instance, that the earth element is always to the north, the fire to the south, and so on. They are not—this is just for convenience and dramatic effect within the context of the ritual. The actual elemental and planetary energies are present at all levels of your internal world and the external world alike, ubiquitous and interwoven throughout everything, and these too are but metaphorical, short-hand terms convenient for discussing vast arrays of phenomena—much like all constructions of human language. The pentagrams and hexagrams drawn in the air are but conventions for accessing each "energy."
This may seem like a blatantly obvious point, but I have it on no uncertain terms, from high authority, that students of the Western tradition must have this point directly clarified.
Now: That said, you are unlikely to find a description this clear in nearly any occult book or source. Instead, you will probably get superstitious descriptions of the rituals as cure-alls, guaranteed to make all your ills go away, along the lines of "three LBRPs a day keep the exorcist away, but we don't really know why, um, it's old and sacred and stuff, and just, like, do it."
In that light, in the next post in this series (coming soon), we're going to talk about the more general, all-purpose "hygenic" versions of these rituals—as in, how to use them on a daily basis to keep a general sense of centeredness, clarity and balance.
We'll also assess the specific elements and planets in detail, what they actually are, and what it actually means to "work" on them via ritual.
Until then, keep practicing, do your reading... and I'll see you in class!