The Hexagram's Use in Religion

A star polygon
Inductiveload/Public Domain

The hexagram is a simple geometric shape that has taken on various meanings in a number of religions and belief systems. The opposing and overlapping triangles used to create it often represent two forces that are both opposing and interconnected.

The Hexagram

The hexagram is a unique shape in geometry. To obtain equidistant points -- those that are an equal distance from one another -- it cannot be drawn in a unicursal manner.

That is, you cannot draw it without lifting and repositioning the pen. Instead, two individual and overlapping triangles form the hexagram.

A unicursal hexagram is possible. You can create a six-pointed shape without lifting the pen and, as we'll see, this has been adopted by some occult practitioners.

The Star of David

The most common depiction of the hexagram is the Star of David, also known as the Magen David. This is the symbol on the flag of Israel, which Jews have commonly used as a symbol of their faith for the last couple of centuries. This is also the symbol that multiple European communities have historically forced Jews to wear as identification, most notably by Nazi Germany in the 20th-century.

The evolution of the Star of David is unclear. In the Middle Ages, the hexagram was often referred to as the Seal of Solomon, referencing a Biblical king of Israel and son of King David.

The hexagram also came to have Kabbalistic and occult meaning.

In the 19th-century, the Zionist movement adopted the symbol. Because of these multiple associations, some Jews, particularly some Orthodox Jews, do not use the Star of David as a symbol of faith.

The Seal of Solomon

The Seal of Solomon originates in medieval tales of a magical signet ring possessed by King Solomon.

In these, it is said to have the power to bind and control supernatural creatures. Often, the seal is described as a hexagram, but some sources describe it as a pentagram.

Duality of the Two Triangles

In Eastern, Kabbalistic, and occult circles, the hexagram's meaning is commonly closely tied to the fact that it is composed of two triangles pointing in opposite directions. This relates to the union of opposites, such as male and female. It also commonly references the union of the spiritual and the physical, with spiritual reality reaching down and physical reality stretching upward.

This intertwining of worlds can also be seen as a representation of the Hermetic principle "As above, so below." It references how changes in one world reflect changes in the other.

Finally, triangles are commonly used in alchemy to designate the four different elements. The more rarified elements – fire and air – have point-down triangles, while the more physical elements – earth and water – have point-up triangles.

Modern and Early Modern Occult Thought

The triangle is such a central symbol in Christian iconography as a represent the trinity and thus spiritual reality. Due to this, the use of the hexagram in Christian occult thought is fairly common.

In the 17th-century, Robert Fludd produced an illustration of the world. In it, God was an upright triangle and the physical world was his reflection and thus downward pointing. The triangles only slightly overlap, thus not creating a hexagram of equidistant points, but the structure is still present.

Likewise, in the 19th-century Eliphas Levi produced his Great Symbol of Solomon, "The Double Triangle of Solomon, represented by the two Ancients of the Kabbalah; the Macroprosopus and the Microprosopus; the God of Light and the God of Reflections; of mercy and vengeance; the white Jehovah and the black Jehovah."

"Hexagram" in Non-Geometric Contexts

The Chinese I-Ching (Yi Jing) is based off 64 different arrangements of broken and unbroken lines, with each arrangement having six lines. Each arrangement is referred to as a Hexagram.

Unicursal Hexagram

The unicursal hexagram is a six-pointed star that can be drawn in one continuous movement. Its points are equidistant, but the lines are not of equal length (unlike a standard hexagram). It can, however, fit inside a circle with all six points touching the circle.

The meaning of the unicursal hexagram is largely identical to that of a standard hexagram: the union of opposites. The unicursal hexagram, however, more strongly emphases the intertwining and ultimate unity of the two halves, rather than two separate halves coming together.

Occult practices often involve the tracing of symbols during a ritual, and a unicursal design better lends itself to this practice.

The unicursal hexagram is commonly depicted with a five-pedaled flower in the center. This is a variation created by Aleister Crowley and is most strongly associated with the religion of Thelema. Another variation is the placement of a small pentagram in the hexagram's center.