The Strange Tale Of Lord Ponsonby, The Pentagram And The Labour Movement

pentagram-bikini

How a politician suggested that the Labour Party adopt the Pentagram as their official symbol in the 1930s.

Among the more curious items in the Reprobate library is a 1918 edition of H. P. Blatvatsky’s Theosophical Glossary, heavily annotated by what looks to be at least three different people over a period of decades up to 1969, with assorted news clippings and typed additions inserted throughout. Clearly, this was a much used reference volume for a number of people before it slipped into our possession.

Among the clippings is a curious piece from an unidentified newspaper, dated the 27th of November 1933, headlined Modern Magic. It’s a strange bit of comical political trivia that, if taken up, might have changed the way we see the Labour movement – for better or worse, depending on your point of view. To quote:

“This is a period when no political movement seems to regard itself as complete without a badge or symbol of some sort – a point that was made by Lord Ponsonby, in a speech last weekend, when he referred to the hammer and sickle, the fasces and the swastika. His own suggestion was that the British Labour movement should adapt the pentangle, that five-pointed star sometimes called a pentagram. His idea was that the five angles of the figure would represent what he specified as the five main points of policy for the present Socialist movement in this country.”

labour-pentagram-clipping

Lord Ponsonby, formerly Labour politician Arthur Ponsonby and fully titled 1st Baron Ponsonby of Shulbrede, had been Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs, Under-Secretary of State for Dominion Affairs and Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Transport before being made a hereditary peer in 1930. He was a noted peace campaigner in the lead up to WW2 and by 1937 was Chair of the International Council of the War Resisters’ International. He was certainly what we might now call a political rebel within his own party, but not by any suggestion an occultist with a mischievous streak, and so we can only assume that his suggestion that Labour adopt the pentagram as their symbol was a sincere, if wildly misguided, belief that this would be a fine bit of branding. Given that the pentagram was already firmly associated in the public mind with magic, occultism and possibly Masonic ritual at the time (this isn’t the place to go into the long history and misunderstanding of the symbol), it’s curious to imagine how this might have gone down if Labour had taken his suggestion seriously – it seems like a remarkably easy way for their political opponents to suggest that they would be untrustworthy and manipulative rulers.

And you’d have to wonder how Wiccans, Satanists and others might feel at the prospect of the pentagram being used for political purposes – it would surely be like the swastika, a religious symbol of divinity and spiritual peace, being stolen and degraded by the Nazis (and before anyone gets worked up – no, I’m clearly not equating the Labour Party to the Nazis. Settle down). You do wonder why political movements or their supporters feel that they have the right to (dare we say) appropriate existing symbols that already have specific meaning – just invent your own, please.

Lord-Ponsonby
Lord Ponsonby – almost certainly not a closet occultist.

Anyway, Ponsonby’s suggestion seems to have been little more than the sort of looney comment made by loose cannon politicians needed to fill out a speech, and clearly didn’t get anywhere, to the presumed relief of both Labour supporters and occultists, allowing the former to not be tarred with the brush of being either witches or devil worshippers – still, unfortunately, not great selling points to the great unwashed – and the latter free to wear pentagram bikinis without showing any political allegiance (yes, of course we are shamelessly clutching at straws to justify publishing the pentagram bikini photo).

DAVID FLINT