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Origins and Meanings of the Eight-Point Star

khatim

The shape that most clearly represents Morocco in my mind’s eye is the eight-point star. It is a simple shape made by overlapping two squares. The hard-edged lines make it indicative of Moroccan patterns, which are known for their use of straight lines in contrast to the curvilinear arabesque of the Middle East. It has a feel that is both modern and ancient. What is the meaning behind this particular shape and what does it represent? (Note: this article was revised on March 24, 2008)

 

Universal Symbolism

In truth, the eight-point star is not unique to Morocco. It appears in cultures around the globe. It can be found on national flags and in religious iconography. It carries various meaning associated with each culture that utilizes it. The are eight-paths in the way of Buddah and eight immortals in Chinesse tradition. However, its universal symbolism is one of balance, harmony, and cosmic order. Its pattern is associated early astronomy, religion, and mysticism. It is symbolic of both stars and humanity’s earliest attempts to understand and communicate the order and unity inherent in Creation, nature’s rule.

Astrological Origins

The roots of the eight-point star symbol are in early astronomy. The eight lines are symbolic of the four corners of space (north, south, east, and west) and time (two solstices and two equinoxes). 1

four corners of space and time
Above diagram taken from Resonateview.org

Use in Islam

By the middle-ages, the eight-point star is widely used as a symbol in Islamic art. It is called khatim or khatim sulayman, seal of the prophets, as in signet ring. The phrase “seal of the prophets” is also used in the Koran and has particular ideological meaning for Muslims. Moroccan zillij artisans also refer to the eight-point star as sibniyyah, sabniyyah, which is a derivative of the number seven sab’ah.

The design of the Muslim khatam was likely inspired by Jewish version, which is the Seal of Solomon. The seal of Solomon is a six point star formed by overlapping two triangles. According to the brilliant book, Beginners Guide to Constructing the Universe” Muslim legend recounts Solomon using the star to capture djinns, genies, the immaterial counterparts to humans.

Ancient use of Eight-point Star Symbol

The eight-point star was used as a symbol long before the rise of Islam.

An Italian nobleman named Pietro della Valle discovered the use of an eight-point star as a seal in the ruins of the ancient city of Ur (~2000BC), Tell al Muqayyar, in the mid-seventeenth century. He wrote “I found on the ground some pieces of black Marble…which seem to be a kind of Seal like what the Orientals use at this day: for their Seals are only letters or written words…Amongst the other letters I discovered in a short time was…a star of eight points…” 

Abraham, the shared prophet of the monotheistic religions (Judaism, Christianity, and Islam) lived in the Sumerian city of Ur. Excavations from Ur reveal early use of the eight point star, often in the form of an eight petal rosette used in jewelry or metalwork decoratation.

Rosettes excavated from Ur

The Sumerians used an arrangement of lines as a symbol for both star and God. The linear eight-point star represented the goddess Inanna, Sumerian queen of the heavens and Ishtar (Astarte), the Babylonian goddess known as “The Lightbringer.” An eight-point star enclosed within a circle was the symbol for the sun god. The “Babylonian star-cult is the core and the archetype of subsequent astrology.” 3

For centuries, the Greeks believed that the morning and evening star we different entities. The Greeks recognized Venus as the morning and evening star is 400 BC, 1,500 years after Sumerians.4

Religous Integration of Symbol

How does the pagan symbol for God/star transform itself into an Islamic symbol? What could the connection be between the Islamic use of the eight-point star and its uses as a symbol in Sumerian culture?

I mention the Sumerian history to show the earliest origins of the eight-point star as a reflection of astronomical observations from one of the world’s oldest civilizations. Sumer is located in an era of the world where several civilizations, such as Babylonian, Arkadian (Semetic), Elam (proto Indo-Iranian), Egyptian, and Greek expanded and retracted. It doesn’t require much imagination to imagine how these symbol migrated to other cultures and eventually made its way into Islam. Why the eight point symbol endured instead of a six point star or some other shape is the real story, I suppose.

Additionally, all the monotheistic religions accommodate astrology in some way through fact that the stars are part of the Creation. Islam inherited pagan symbols along the same lines as other monotheistic religions, which share the same history and origins.  Muslims accommodated ancient symbols inasmuch as they supported the Islamic view of Creation.

Moreover, astronomy plays an important role in Islam in both its expansion, obligations (pilgrimage), and daily act of worship (five times of daily prayer done directed towards Mecca). Astrology had an impact on Muslim scholars as well. As inheritors of ancient texts and avid supporters of scholarly study, Islamic scholars poured over Greek learning, which included meanings attached to the movement and position of the stars. Pythagoras, who is credited as being the first person to call himself a philosopher (lover of wisdom), is of particular important to Muslim scholars. Pythagoras developed a system of belief that centered around mathematics. Pythagoras identified the planets as being spheres rotating around a central fire. Pythagoras also influenced Plato and Aristotle and the philosophies that followed.

The following picture, taken from www.discoverislamicart.org is of an astrolobe in the Batha Museum in Fez. “This astrolabe includes all of the component parts of the planispheric astrolabes that were indispensable to ancient astronomers for determining prayer times and the height of the stars, and for establishing horoscopes. It is one of the first portable astrolabes in the West.”

astrolobe

Use in Ornamentaion and Pattern Building

Further symbolism of the eight-point star can be discovered by examining its role in Islamic ornamentation and pattern building. The khatam is at the heart of many Islamic ornamental patterns.

Ornamentation is particularly important in Islam. Islam discourages representational art in an effort to avoid the temptation of idol worship that arises with created mimics of Creation. Therefore, Islamic art grew from the study of geometry and the practice of ornamental decoration, as well as the sciences, literature, and development of architecture. The idea in Islamic faith is to seek to understand Creation, not to worship it, but to honor the Creator through the application of understanding. “Praise God the creator who has bestowed upon Man the power to discover the significance of numbers” the Prophet Mohammad is quoted as saying. see #1

Furthermore, the mental disciplined, study, and restraint required for constructing complex, precise, geometric patterns support the Islamic belief that humans are the greatest of God’s creation.

The following photo shows detail of a zillij pattern used to decorate a wall in the media of Fes. The pattern contains multiple uses of the eight-point star, both as a center point and an encompassing shape of the pattern.

zillij wall in Fes

More complex patterns can be developed using the khatam or its variant as a centerpiece. The following diagram shows how a pattern that employs a symmetry of eight is built around a central khatam using a grid of four circles around a central circle.
Diagram of pattern construction

The following picture shows a fountain in Fes that is decorated with various patterns based around a central khatam that radiates outwards into various star formations.

fountain in fes

Mytical Signifigance

The Sufi mystic Ibn al-Arabi drew a diagram similar to the one used to develop a pattern around a khatam (see above). However, Al-Arabi’s diagram’s diagram is concerned with spirituality, not ornamentation. He drew it as part of his explanation that “all phenomena are nothing but manifestations of Being, which is one with God.” Conincidentally, Al-Arabi was born in Spain at around the same time the practice of zillij, mosaic design, was starting to flourish. As Sufism had particular appeal to North Africa, his spirtual use of the pattern may explain the prolific use of the eight-point star and and symetries of eight in Moroccan Islamic patterns.

Ibn al-Arbi diagram

The number eight was important among Sufi mystics. “The octagon, with a ninth point in the center, is also central to the mystical symbology of Sufism. It is the seal or design which Ernest Scott says ‘reaches for the innermost secrets of man’. Meaning wholeness, power and perfection, this primary geometrical symbol is one which Sufis associate with Shambhala …”

On his website of natural patterns, Ian Alexander refers to the eight-point star as both the Sufi star and the Moroccan star. He offers the following explanation, as quoted from Friday mosque in Iran “Form is symbolised by the square. Expansion is symbolised by the square with triangles pointing outwards (an 8-pointed star). Contraction is symbolised by the square with triangles pointing inwards (a 4-pointed star). The two star-shapes together symbolise the cycle of creation, ‘the breath of the compassionate.’”

Breath of the Compassionate

The following pattern is created by repeating the khatam. The cross-like four-point star mentioned above appears in the negative space. This pattern is called the Breath of the Compassionate. Of the ninety-nine knowable names of God in Islamic tradition, the Compassionate is the highest pronounceable name. “Through the polar cycle of the divine breath the universe is periodically created, maintained, dissolved, and renewed…More than just an ornamental motif, the Breath of the Compassionate is a cosmological model symbolizing the interplay of polarities that manifest form.” Given the Muslim belief in both humans and jinns and the squares association with material worlds, it is no wonder that the Breath of the Compassionate and the Seal of the Prophet in the Muslim context would also represent a balancing act between the two.

Keith Critchlow has extensively studied Islamic patterns and states the four-fold archetype “has a deep and profound relationship to the Moroccan genius, particularly as it relates to the crossroads of Africa and the migration of symbols from the south. Critchlow describes the Moroccan patterns language similar to late King Hassan II’s often quoted description of Morocco: “…drawn from the depths of Africa but transmuted in the light of Islam, memorized and learnt by heart and transmitted from generation to generation for the love of beauty.” 

Conclusion

The eight-point star as a symbol marks early human understanding of the intellegent order that underlies our universe. Today, it carries religous and mystical associations. Known as the khatam in Islamic cultures, it and its variants are found at the center of stunning zillij masterpieces throughout Morocco. Amidst the color and compostion, the khatam stands as a symbol of early astronomy, interconnectedness, and faith in the ultimate harmony of Creation. In this way, the khatam represents the highest virtues in Moroccan culture: learning, community, faith, and love of beauty.

detail of star pattern

 

Author: Sarah Tricha  Writes about Moroccan Design and Culture.

Comments (13)  

 
Mohamed B
+1 #1 COMMENT_TITLE_R E Origins and Meanings of the Eight-Point StarMohamed B 2010-01-08 23:13
Sarah,
thanks for the article. There is so much there.
there are additional works would like to discuss..
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A.Naji
-2 #2 Symbolism in Islamic architectureA.Naji 2010-01-09 05:39
I found the article to be very informative and instrumenal . I wish we can n opnien a dialogue and a front in researching the elements of design and decoration in Islamic architecture.
the eight pointed start has been analyzed and interpreted many times, yet the basises are always point toward one source. The Tawheed that there is only one god and his throne is arrows by eight angels.

Thank you for a wonderful article .
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JAWHARY IDRISS
-9 #3 Judaism, Christianity, and IslamJAWHARY IDRISS 2010-01-20 01:31
JUDAISM ? and Abraham ! .....Judaism comes from Judas isn't it ? so what this does with Abraham ?
Christianity ? and Abraham ! .....the same question in this case ?
What means Christ who gived this name to Issa ? and what language have been used in Gospel ?
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stricha
+1 #4 follow-upstricha 2010-03-28 03:57
If you would like to discuss this article, there are lots more comments on my site at http://moroccandesign.com/eight-point-star
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Red Z
+1 #5 thank you a lot!Red Z 2012-10-26 18:07
Hi!

You cannot imagine how shocked I am finding this... I was researching the meaning of my new pendulum which turns out to be the Moroccan star! (8 point star made out of black tourmaline) .. and i'm born in Morroco! amazing how the universe works
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dj
+3 #6 8 point stardj 2012-11-28 16:59
my grandpa died from cancer, and befor he died he said " my star my star, two squares put together one on its side." and he was very dalushanal . what does this mean?
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Anita
+1 #7 MrsAnita 2013-01-03 14:12
Latvian symbology also has the 8 point star and it has astrological origins as far as I know and represents the two solstices and two equinoxes and North, South, East and West. It is featured in many textiles and as decoration on doors, mittens, pottery etc. It makes me wonder if Islamic art got to peoples in Latvia centuries ago or is it a universal symbol?
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Raquel Bond
+1 #8 It's meaningRaquel Bond 2013-01-12 03:55
My for year old autistic daughter kept making drawings of the eight point star inside a circle so I looked up the meaning. I'm glad to see it means something so beautiful as being one with
God and the creation comming together in balance etc.
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dj
0 #9 plz tell me moredj 2013-02-16 19:19
Quoting dj:
my grandpa died from cancer, and befor he died he said " my star my star, two squares put together one on its side." and he was very dalushanal . what does this mean?

but he was cathlic, but right now im athiust
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Rowan Welch
+1 #10 solutionRowan Welch 2013-03-02 23:00
To the person that mentioned his passing grandfather describing a star made of two squares, it is highly possible that he was referring to the star of Chaos. A star in which can be (with the appropriate connective research) associated with laws of nature to the point of "good" and "evil". Both terms, for the record, were not originated by the definition of "bad", but simply an equal part of the pantheon. Anyhow, the star of Chaos can be, in term, used for "infinite possibilities" from the derivation of the word chaos. And also being apart of the destruction being, therefore he might have wanted you to obtain the other half which is your inner piece.
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8pointed star-sun
-1 #11 star square8pointed star-sun 2013-03-13 02:41
http://img829.imageshack.us/img829/9756/8stargeomtery.jpg "my star my star, two squares put together one on its side" ......
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eddie
0 #12 RE: Origins and Meanings of the Eight-Point Stareddie 2013-07-03 02:54
i don't know if it has anything to do with the original meaning, and even a place of origin, but in a criminal underworld of russian prison camps, two eight pointed stars, one on each shoulder, means that the owner of such tattoo is a high ranking member of criminal elit( vori or if you translate the meaning of the word, literally meaning thievs) Stars on the shoulders mean that one is at least a two time loser and both convictions are for the same offence, thus showing loyalty to the profession. However, the same two stars, one on each kneecap, means that the owner never was on his knees. Years ago I would not dare write about it, but it is a comon knowledge today...
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Muhammad Ali Abdul Al Adl
0 #13 Moorish American PedagogueMuhammad Ali Abdul Al Adl 2014-07-20 20:38
2014 Ramadan Mubarak
The Literatures of The Moorish Science Temple Of Temple Of America, Inc., are specially designed. The M.S.T. Of A., Inc. is an evolutionary Al Islamic Nationalist Movement in the Americas. This powerful subject about the Moroccan connection with Eight-Pointed Star is ingeniously encoded in the "Moorish Literature" pamphlet. The" Moorish Literature" pamphlet contains the Literary Canon of The M.S.T.Of A., Inc.And many of the Pre-1978 "leaders"/"teac hers" and their followers, refuse to accept this and so, don't know this

As I stated above, The Moorish Science Temple Of America, Inc. is evolutionary Al Islamic organization and Movement ;and, this Organization and Movement is far advanced intellectually ,and philosophically . important. as we can imagine! We/ I have found out, by The Sweet Grace Of AllahSubanna Hu Wa Ta Allah, that Noble Drew Ali's (AS) Prophet hood can be Quranicly proven! And, that The Descendants Of The African Triangular Trans-Atlantic "slave" Trade are, in fact, "The People Of The Pen"! A people Ordered By Allah to be Restored to Scientifically, Intellectually, and Philosophically set the certain Quranic Exegeses and Recorded History Straight! A most powerful development, if you all only knew.
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