The word "Pentalpha" came into use in the English language in the 17th century, and means five Greek letters "A". It is a modified pentagram, with the five lines woven under and over in a clockwise direction, enclosing a pentagon.
The Greek root word translates as "pentagram", meaning five straight lines.
Other confusable words, often misused in various contexts, are "pentacle", "pentangle", "pentagon" and (incorrectly) the "Seal of Solomon" which in actual fact has six points.
The earliest existing records of the symbol, with two points up, are in Mesopotamian hieroglyphs, dating from 5000 BC, and "confirmed" by Agrippa (1486-1535).
Pythagoras, (582 BC to 496 BC) whilst still a young man, travelled to Ancient Egypt, and Babylon, where, for many, many years triangles with sides of three, four and five units had long been used to make squares and right angles for surveying and building purposes. Brethren examining a Past Master's collar jewel should remember to refer to the diagram as the 47th Proposition of Euclid, and not Pythagoras' Theorem!
Pythagoras and his men and women disciples called this pentagram "Hygieia", which translates as "health", and is the root of hygiene. They were influential in philosophical and religious teachings, and in the health and well being of their communities. Their concepts encouraged virtue and a strict conduct. It is said that the Hippocratic Oath is based on their principles. Their obsession was to reduce everything to numbers, and predict the cyclic movements of the planets, the moon and the sun, so proving the harmony of the Universe. To them the Pentagram was mystical perfection, concealing the pleasing proportions of the Golden Section, used to such good effect in so many ancient buildings. Each of the five lines is intersected by two of the others, and the various ratios of the parts, and of a whole line divided by the distance between two points, all give the irrational number of 1.618…. [known to mathematicians as "phi" ] the Golden Section or Number. This phenomenon engaged the Pythagoreans' attention some 2,500 years ago and they and many others since have considered that the symbol had mystical properties.
The disciples of Pythagoras used the symbol as a badge of recognition, and in time, they spread to other Greek city-states, taking their benefits with them. Their badge became associated with healing, and good luck. It is noticeable how many of these querulous and fiercely independent mini-states used the device on their coinage. In Europe, by the Middle Ages, the symbol was thought to bring good fortune, and to ward off illnesses.
To the Freemason, the Pentalpha represents the Five Points of Fellowship, and like eternity, has neither beginning nor ending.
For practical reasons it is suspended from one of the vertices, and appears mostly to have fallen into disuse in the Craft. In Freemasons' Hall, London, there is one suspended over both of the Wardens' Chairs in the Grand Temple, and our Grand Master has one as part of his badge of office.
So, why did our Founders adopt the Pentalpha name and symbol ?
There are no clues in the early Minutes for the choice of the name of "The Pentalpha Lodge". It is a fact that our Founding Master, W. Bro. Professor Thomas Comyn Woodman, had connections with Shipley in Yorkshire. He must have visited the Lodge of Hope (302) (Yorkshire, West Riding) at Bradford, and probably the two Daughter Lodges: the Lodge of Harmony (600) and the Pentalpha Lodge (974).
(The Pentalpha Lodge of East Kent (8535), consecrated in 1973 and meeting at Canterbury, is the only other "Pentalpha" in England.)
Some present members today may still remember that the late W. Bro. John Templeman visited the Pentalpha Lodge (90) in the United Grand Lodge of Victoria Australia. And there are at least six "Pentalpha" Lodges in the United States of America.
There are several references, and copy letters, in the early Minutes between the Pentalphas in Shipley and Pulborough.
The Founding Master and several of the following Masters of our Lodge had reciprocal membership with the Pentalpha Lodge (974) at Shipley in the West Riding of Yorkshire. W. Bro. Louis Nicholas Corden appears to have been the last reigning Master to make such a visit from Pulborough, just before World War 1. After this, the custom was sadly not continued
It is likely that both the Yorkshire connection, and his classical education, inspired Professor Woodman to suggest the name "Pentalpha" for our Lodge. He would have been conversant with the history of Ancient Greece, and of the Pythagoreans who followed the teachings of the famous philosopher Pythagoras. "Greece" in those days was a loose association of many city-states, not all of which were in modern-day Greece. Pythagoras set up his "school" at Croton, which was then in the southern part of what is now Italy, in about five hundred years BC, and there his disciples gathered. They were taught to heal the sick, support each other, and philosophise. Their use of the Pentalpha as a "badge" of recognition caused others to associate it with healing, and so good luck. The Pythagoreans spread to many of the other city-states, taking their teachings, benefits, and the "Pentalpha" badge with them.
As Royal Arch Masonry was fostered by the "Moderns", it is not surprising that a "hexalpha" (or hexagram) is their symbol.
By the Middle Ages the (true) symbol was considered by many to be a lucky charm, just as the horseshoe is still thought to be lucky today.
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