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Now, I know what the OED online edition says. They have abandoned the speculative etymology from the French pend-a-col "hang-to-neck". And I cannot agree. I have looked through quite a number of early grimoires looking for pentacles (pentaculum in the Latin) and early examples are almost invariably six-pointed stars or other designs. Also, when the pentacle is discussed, it is never just a diagram drawn somewhere (like the four pentagrams drawn around the magic circle); it is a physical tool in active use. For instance, in the 15th century Heptameron of Peter of Abano, the word pentagoni refers to pentagrams, while pentaculo and pentaculum are used in a very different sense, referring to a piece of kid-skin with a six-cornered figure drawn on it. The various versions of the Key of Solomon give numerous diagrams of 'pentacles' for different planetary powers, and only a very small minority of these feature any prominent five-pointed star. Far more commonly these are constructed around six-pointed stars, squares or equal-armed crosses. They are all physical objects, to be created in a circular form on particular types of metal or other material, with engraving or diagrams on both sides.

Also, pentacles are usually described as being worn hanging from the neck.

This is all consistent with the derivation given by authors on magic and mysticism, that pentacle derives from the French pend-a-col, and has only become linked with the Greek penta- by a spurious folk etymology.

I contacted the OED with quite a lot of information on this, and received the reply that they didn't consider the grimoires important enough sources to consider in determining the derivation of these words. The attestations they have used come from popular literature, which at best are only derivative and imitative of the magical literature in which the word had its inception. Perhaps I caught them on a bad day, but I wasn't filled with confidence. Anyway, I don't expect us to contradict the OED without better evidence; I just mention it here in case anyone else wants to do more research.

The pentacle currently illustrating this article was originally created by me along with several other pentacles to illustrate the wikipedia:Pentacle article. It is the only one featuring a pentagram, and my main reason for including it was to show that pentacles did occasionally feature pentagrams. It comes from quite a late text, and it is far from being representative of pentacles in general. It's ironic that this is the pentacle chosen to illustrate this wiktionary article. 04:18, 26 January 2010 (UTC)

Early French references[edit]

M Godefroy's Dictionairre de l'ancienne langue Francaise et de tous ses dialectes has the following entries:

pentacol, pend a col, s. m., bijou, qui se pendait au cou:
  • Un pentacol d'un saphir, dedens une bourse, prisié .c. liv. (1328, Inv. de la royne Clem., ap. Laborde, Emaux.)
  • Un pentacol ou il avoit .xii. perles et .iii. esmeraudes, prisié .vi. escus. (1353, ib.)
  • Pentacol a ymages, d'un camahieu garny de perles. (1353, Invent. du garde-manger de l'argent., Compt. de l'argent., p. 307, Douët d'Arcq.)
  • Item, un pentacol d'un camahieu vert. (1380, Inv. de Ch. V, nº 2886, Labarte.)
  • Un pend a col, d'un camahieu vert, ou il a un ymage. (1400, Pièces relat. au règ. de Ch. VI, t. II, p. 355, Douët d'Arcq.)
pendacol, voir Pentacol.
pentacle, pan., s. m., chandelier à cinq branches:
  • Ah, j'avois quasi oublié le pentacle. (Jehan de la Taille, le Negrom., I, iii, éd. 1572.)
  • Je vais pour acheter le pentacle, les cierges, et les gommes pour les encensemens. (Ib., ib., II, iii.)
  • Leurs cernes (des magiciens), cercles et pantacles. (Pierre le Loyer, Hist. des Spectres, p. 696, éd. 1605.)

To me the French pentacol seems a very likely precursor to English pentacle, especially as pentagrams are quite uncommon among the pentacles of the early (pre-18th century) grimoires. Far more common are hexagrams, squares and equal-armed crosses. Pentacles were typically either worn around the neck or sewn onto the front of one's robe.

Godefroy seems to have utterly misunderstood the word pentacle, defining it as a "five-branched candlestick". The quotes he supplies don't bear this definition out:

"Ah, I had almost forgotten the pentacle."
"I'm going to buy the pentacle, candles, and gums for incenses."
"Their rings (of magicians), circles and pantacles."

Obviously these quotes refer to the usual pentacles employed in ceremonial magic, i.e. small pieces of parchment or other flat material marked with magic symbols. I presume Godefroy was unfamiliar with such outlandish objects. The OED 2nd Ed took him at face value, however, and didn't question his "candlestick" theory. Fuzzypeg (talk) 16:01, 28 March 2013 (UTC)

The term pentacol is explained in Londesborough's Miscellanea graphica: representations of ancient, medieval, and renaissance remains in the possession of Lord Londesborough (London, 1857) p. 62:

"It had then become the fashion to hang rich masses of jewelry to the collar, instead of fixing them to the dress, and under this form they were known by such names as pewlants and pentacols. Clemence of Hungary, queen of France, possessed, in 1328, 'a round fermail for a pentacol' (un fermail ront à pentacol) [...]"

Fuzzypeg (talk) 16:23, 28 March 2013 (UTC)

I don't really see what's wrong with the etymology we have. Old French pentacol doesn't work in terms of the definition or in terms of the spelling. The thing with the Godefroy dictionary is he doesn't give definitions for words that are the same as in modern French, for example if you look at aigle, it doesn't mention that 99% of the time it simply means eagle as it does in Modern French (aigle). I'd be quite happy to believe this definition (five-branched can candelabra) is just plain wrong. Mglovesfun (talk) 16:26, 28 March 2013 (UTC)
I'm nowhere near being prepared to start messing around with the etymology given on the entry page. I don't even know how wiktionary establishes reliability in these regards. I'm just doing some research for my own interest and I think it could be useful to wiktionary in future, so I'm posting it here.
As you can see, though, I do think something's wrong with the existing etymology. My reasoning is that "pentacle" is a specialist term in ritual magic, and until relatively recently it has referred to talismans suspended round the neck and typically not of five-point star design. A few grimoires from the 18th century onwards started making pentagrams more prominent in pentacle designs, but the real turning point came with the publication of E.A. Waite's and Pamela Coleman Smith's version of the tarot, in which the traditional suit of coins was renamed "pentacles", and these pentacles were depicted as metal discs with pentagrams on them. Even after that, scholarly sources for ceremonial magic continued to maintain that a pentacle was a talisman having any manner of design, and that it was not to be confused with a pentagram. The Theosophical dictionary, for instance, gives to the "pend a col" etymology. The Golden Dawn's pentacle design was a hexagram. And Aleister Crowley's "pantacle" was to be designed according to the magician's individual ingenuity. But the influence of the Waite-Smith tarot deck has been overwhelming, and nowadays people argue whether a pentacle is a pentagram, or a circled pentagram, whether it needs to have one point upwards, etc., etc. All spurious, to my mind. I've observed the new usage firming up quite a lot even in the last fifteen years, as a mass of poorly-researched books on magic have flooded the market.
Anyway, I'm not about to jump in and change the etymology currently given on the entry page. It's great to find someone who can comment on what I've found and point out potential problems. When I first visited this page wiktionary seemed like a ghost town, but it's really growing now and turning into a superb resource! Fuzzypeg (talk) 17:33, 28 March 2013 (UTC)
I would be interested to know why "Old French pentacol doesn't work in terms of the definition or in terms of the spelling". The definition seems to fit: a bauble hung on a collar around the neck. The spelling seems close enough to me that it could be latinised as pentaculum, and I had presumed that its entry to English was via a latinised intermediary. But I'm not a linguist, so I'd be very interested to hear what you have to say. Fuzzypeg (talk) 17:47, 28 March 2013 (UTC)
I'm going to copy some of this across to WT:Etymology scriptorium. I'm going to assume I have your permission to do that. Mglovesfun (talk) 10:40, 29 March 2013 (UTC)

Italian reference[edit]

From Luigi Pulci's Morgante (1478) Ch. 22 stanza 102:

"Malagigi non volle gittar l'arte
Però che ne facea gran conscienzia
E non si può far sempre in ogni parte;
Convien ch'a molte cose abbi avvertenzia
E veste consacrate e certe carte
Esorcizzate con gran diligenzia,
Pentacol, candarie, sigilli e lumi,
E spade e sangue e pentole e profumi."

I can't translate everything here, but a pentacol is clearly something magical. Fuzzypeg (talk) 17:33, 28 March 2013 (UTC)

Etymology according to the OED[edit]

The second edition has:

pentacle (ˈpɛntək(ə)l). [In med.L. pentaculum, app. f. PENTA- five + -culum, dim. or instrumental suffix, but actual history obscure. It. had pentacolo 'any thing or table of five corners' (Florio), F. had (16th c.) pentacle, something used in necromancy (Godef. says 'a five-branched candlestick').
As applied to something worn round the neck as an amulet, some would connect it with F. pentacol, pendacol (14th c. in Godef.) a jewel or ornament hung round the neck, f. pend- hang, à to, col, cou neck.]
A certain figure (or a material object, e.g. something folded or interlaced, of that shape) used as a symbol, esp. in magic; app. properly the same as PENTAGRAM; but also used for various other magical symbols, esp. the hexagram or six-pointed star formed by two interlaced triangles. (See also PENTANGLE I.)
The pentacle of Solomon, in H. More 1664, is the same as the pentangle of Solomon of Sir Gawayne c 1340, Sir Thomas Browne 1646, and others.
1594 CHAPMAN Shadow Nt., Hymnus in Cynthiam Wks. (1875) 16/2 Then in thy clear and icy pentacle, Now execute a magic miracle. 1607 DEKKER Wh. of Babylon Wks. 1873 II. 200 Take Periapts, Pentacles, and potent Charmes To coniure downe foule fiends. 1616 B. JONSON Devil an Ass I. ii, They haue..Their rauens wings, their lights, and pentacles, With characters; I ha' seene all these. 1664 H. MORE Myst. Iniq. I. xviii. §3 Their Pentacles which they hang about their necks when they conjure (which they the Pentacles of Solomon) are adorned and fortified with such transcriptions out of holy Scripture. [1668-70 M. CASAUBON Credulity & Incred. (1672) 71 By certain pentacula, and seals and characters to fence themselves and to make themselves invisible against all kinds of arms and musquet bullets.] 1808 SCOTT Marm. III. xx, His shoes were marked with cross and spell; Upon his breast a pentacle. 1862 LYTTON Str. Story 1, You observe two triangles interlaced and inserted in a circle? The Pentacle in short. 1885 Sat. Rev. 19 Sept. 380/2 The sacramental [charm] bore a figure that looked like a rough copy of the pentacle.
Hence penˈtacular a., of, pertaining to, or of the nature of a pentacle.
In mod. Dicts.

Online draft revision September 2005 had:

[< Middle French pentacle talisman, most often in the form of a five-pointed star (a1555; French pentacle (now hist.)) and its etymon post-classical Latin pentaculum (1531 in the passage translated in quot. 1569) < penta- PENTA- + -culum -CULUM. Cf. Italian pentacolo, pentaculo five-pointed star (1483). Cf. PENTANGLE n.]
A pentagram, esp. one enclosed in a circle; a talisman or magical symbol in the shape of or inscribed with a pentagram. Also, in extended use: any similar magical symbol (freq. applied to a hexagram formed by two intersecting or interlaced equilateral triangles).
pentacle of Solomon = pentangle of Solomon s.v. PENTANGLE n. 1.

This info was at w:Talk:Pentacle but is probably more useful here. Fuzzypeg (talk) 07:15, 16 April 2013 (UTC)