Baphomet (from medieval Latin Baphometh, baffometi, Occitan Bafometz) is an imagined pagan deity (i.e., a product of Christian folklore concerning pagans), revived in the 19th century as a figure of occultism and Satanism. Often mistaken for Satan, it represents the duality of male and female, as well as Heaven and Hell or night and day signified by the raising of one arm and the downward gesture of the other. It can be taken in fact, to represent any of the major harmonious dichotomies of the cosmos. It first appeared in 11th and 12th century Latin and Provençal as a corruption of “Mahomet”, the Latinisation of “Muhammad”, but later it appeared as a term for a pagan idol in trial transcripts of the Inquisition of the Knights Templar in the early 14th century. The name first came into popular English-speaking consciousness in the 19th century, with debate and speculation on the reasons for the suppression of the Templars. Since 1855, the name Baphomet has been associated with a “Sabbatic Goat” image drawn by Eliphas Lévi.
The name Baphomet appears in July 1098 in a letter by the crusader Anselm of Ribemont:
As the next day dawned they called loudly upon Baphometh while we prayed silently in our hearts to God; then we attacked and forced all of them outside the city walls …
A chronicler of the First Crusade, Raymond of Aguilers, calls the mosques Bafumarias. The name Bafometz later appears around 1195 in the Occitan poem “Senhors, per los nostres peccatz” by the troubadour Gavaudan. Around 1250 in a poem bewailing the defeat of the Seventh Crusade by Austorc d’Aorlhac refers to Bafomet. De Bafomet is also the title of one of four surviving chapters of an Occitan translation of Ramon Llull’s earliest known work, the Libre de la doctrina pueril, “book on the instruction of children”.
When the medieval order of the Knights Templar was suppressed by King Philip IV of France, on October 13, 1307, Philip had many French Templars simultaneously arrested, and then tortured into confessions. Over 100 different charges had been leveled against the Templars. Most of them were dubious, as they were the same charges that were leveled against the Cathars and many of King Philip’s enemies; he had earlier kidnapped Pope Boniface VIII and charged him with near identical offenses of heresy, spitting and urinating on the cross, and sodomy. Yet Malcolm Barber observes that historians “find it difficult to accept that an affair of such enormity rests upon total fabrication”. The “Chinon Parchment suggests that the Templars did indeed spit on the cross,” says Sean Martin, and that these acts were intended to simulate the kind of humiliation and torture that a Crusader might be subjected to if captured by the Saracens, where they were taught how to commit apostasy “with the mind only and not with the heart”.
“The indictment (acte d’accusation) published by the court of Rome set forth … “that in all the provinces they had idols, that is to say, heads, some of which had three faces, others but one; sometimes, it was a human skull … That in their assemblies, and especially in their grand chapters, they worshipped the idol as a god, as their saviour, saying that this head could save them, that it bestowed on the order all its wealth, made the trees flower, and the plants of the earth to sprout forth.””
The name Baphomet comes up in several of these confessions. Peter Partner states in his 1987 book The Knights Templar and their Myth, “In the trial of the Templars one of their main charges was their supposed worship of a heathen idol-head known as a ‘Baphomet’ (‘Baphomet’ = Mahomet = Muhammad).” The description of the object changed from confession to confession. Some Templars denied any knowledge of it. Others, under torture, described it as being either a severed head, a cat, or a head with three faces. The Templars did possess several silver-gilt heads as reliquaries, including one marked capud lviiim, another said to be St. Euphemia, and possibly the actual head of Hugh de Payns. The claims of an idol named Baphomet were unique to the Inquisition of the Templars. Karen Ralls, author of the Knights Templar Encyclopedia, argues that this is significant: “There is no mention of Baphomet either in the Templar Rule or in other medieval period Templar documents”.
“Gauserand de Montpesant, a knight of Provence, said that their superior showed him an idol made in the form of Baffomet; another, named Raymond Rubei, described it as a wooden head, on which the figure of Baphomet was painted, and adds, “that he worshipped it by kissing its feet, and exclaiming, ‘Yalla,’ which was,” he says, “verbum Saracenorum,” a word taken from the Saracens. A templar of Florence declared that, in the secret chapters of the order, one brother said to the other, showing the idol, “Adore this head—this head is your god and your Mahomet.””
Modern scholars such as Peter Partner and Malcolm Barber agree that the name of Baphomet was an Old French corruption of the name Muhammad, with the interpretation being that some of the Templars, through their long military occupation of the Outremer, had begun incorporating Islamic ideas into their belief system, and that this was seen and documented by the Inquisitors as heresy. Alain Demurger, however, rejects the idea that the Templars could have adopted the doctrines of their enemies. Helen Nicholson writes that the charges were essentially “manipulative”—the Templars “were accused of becoming fairy-tale Muslims.” Medieval Christians falsely believed that Muslims were idolatrous and worshipped Muhammad as a god, with mahomet becoming mammet in English, meaning an idol or false god. This idol-worship is attributed to Muslims in several chansons de geste. For example, one finds the gods Bafum e Travagan in a Provençal poem on the life of St. Honorat, completed in 1300. In the Chanson de Simon Pouille, written before 1235, a Saracen idol is called Bafumetz. Partner’s book provides a quote from a poem written in a Provençal dialect by a troubadour who is thought to have been a Templar. The poem is in reference to some battles in 1265 that were not going well for the Crusaders:
“And daily they impose new defeats on us: for God, who used to watch on our behalf, is now asleep, and Muhammad [Bafometz] puts forth his power to support the Sultan.”
Baphomet is featured in the Demonology Book
- Paranormal Activity (2009)
While modern scholars and the Oxford English Dictionary state that the origin of the name Baphomet was a probable Old French version of “Mahomet”, alternative etymologies have also been proposed:
- In the 18th century, speculative theories arose that sought to tie the Knights Templar with the origins of Freemasonry. Bookseller, Freemason and Illuminist Friedrich Nicolai (1733–1811), in Versuch über die Beschuldigungen welche dem Tempelherrenorden gemacht worden, und über dessen Geheimniß (1782), was the first to claim that the Templars were Gnostics, and that “Baphomet” was formed from the Greek words βαφη μητȢς, baphe metous, to mean Taufe der Weisheit, “Baptism of Wisdom”. Nicolai “attached to it the idea of the image of the supreme God, in the state of quietude attributed to him by the Manichean Gnostics”, says François Juste Marie Raynouard, and “supposed that the Templars had a secret doctrine and initiations of several grades” which “the Saracens had communicated … to them.” He further connected the figura Baffometiwith the pentagram of Pythagoras:
What properly was the sign of the Baffomet, ‘figura Baffometi,’ which was depicted on the breast of the bust representing the Creator, cannot be exactly determined…. I believe it to have been the Pythagorean pentagon (Fünfeck) of health and prosperity: … It is well known how holy this figure was considered, and that the Gnostics had much in common with the Pythagoreans. From the prayers which the soul shall recite, according to the diagram of the Ophite-worshippers, when they on their return to God are stopped by the Archons, and their purity has to be examined, it appears that these serpent-worshippers believed they must produce a token that they had been clean on earth. I believe that this token was also the holy pentagon, the sign of their initiation (τελειας βαφης μετεος).
- Emile Littré (1801–1881) in Dictionnaire de la langue francaise asserted that the word was cabalistically formed by writing backward tem. o. h. p. ab an abbreviation of templi omnium hominum pacis abbas, ‘abbot’ or ‘father of the temple of peace of all men.’ His source is the “Abbé Constant”, which is to say, Alphonse-Louis Constant, the real name of Eliphas Lévi.
- Arkon Daraul proposed that “Baphomet” may derive from the Arabic word أبو فهمة Abu fihama(t), meaning “The Father of Understanding”. “Arkon Daraul” is widely thought to be a pseudonym of Idries Shah (1924–1996).
- Dr. Hugh J. Schonfield (1901–1988), one of the scholars who worked on the Dead Sea Scrolls, argued in his book The Essene Odyssey that the word “Baphomet” was created with knowledge of the Atbash substitution cipher, which substitutes the first letter of the Hebrew alphabet for the last, the second for the second last, and so on. “Baphomet” rendered in Hebrew is בפומת; interpreted using Atbash, it becomes שופיא, which can be interpreted as the Greek word “Sophia”, or wisdom. This theory is an important part of the plot of The Da Vinci Code. Professor Schonfield’s theory however cannot be independently corroborated.
Joseph Freiherr von Hammer-Purgstall
In 1818, the name Baphomet appeared in the essay by the Viennese Orientalist Joseph Freiherr von Hammer-Purgstall, Mysterium Baphometis revelatum, seu Fratres Militiæ Templi, qua Gnostici et quidem Ophiani, Apostasiæ, Idoloduliæ et Impuritatis convicti, per ipsa eorum Monumenta (“Discovery of the Mystery of Baphomet, by which the Knights Templars, like the Gnostics and Ophites, are convicted of Apostasy, of Idolatry and of moral Impurity, by their own Monuments”), which presented an elaborate pseudohistory constructed to discredit Templarist Masonry and, by extension, Freemasonry itself. Following Nicolai, he argued, using as archaeological evidence “Baphomets” faked by earlier scholars and literary evidence such as the Grail romances, that the Templars were Gnostics and the “Templars’ head” was a Gnostic idol called Baphomet.
“His chief subject is the images which are called Baphomet … found in several museums and collections of antiquities, as in Weimar … and in the imperial cabinet in Vienna. These little images are of stone, partly hermaphrodites, having, generally, two heads or two faces, with a beard, but, in other respects, female figures, most of them accompanied by serpents, the sun and moon, and other strange emblems, and bearing many inscriptions, mostly in Arabic…. The inscriptions he reduces almost all to Mete[, which] … is, according to him, not the Μητις of the Greeks, but the Sophia, Achamot Prunikos of the Ophites, which was represented half man, half woman, as the symbol of wisdom, unnatural voluptuousness and the principle of sensuality…. He asserts that those small figures are such as the Templars, according to the statement of a witness, carried with them in their coffers. Baphomet signifies Βαφη Μητεος, baptism of Metis, baptism of fire, or the Gnostic baptism, an enlightening of the mind, which, however, was interpreted by the Ophites, in an obscene sense, as fleshly union…. the fundamental assertion, that those idols and cups came from the Templars, has been considered as unfounded, especially as the images known to have existed among the Templars seem rather to be images of saints.”
Hammer’s essay did not pass unchallenged, and F.J.M. Raynouard published an “Etude sur ‘Mysterium Baphometi revelatum'”. Charles William King criticized that Hammer had been deceived by “the paraphernalia of … Rosicrucian or alchemical quacks,” and Partner agreed that the images “may have been forgeries from the occultist workshops.” At the very least, there was little evidence to tie them to the Knights Templar—in the 19th century some European museums acquired such pseudo-Egyptian objects,which were catalogued as “Baphomets” and credulously thought to have been idols of the Templars.
Later in the 19th century, the name of Baphomet became further associated with the occult. In 1854, Eliphas Lévi published Dogme et Rituel de la Haute Magie (“Dogmas and Rituals of High Magic”), in which he included an image he had drawn himself which he described as Baphomet and “The Sabbatic Goat”, showing a winged humanoid goat with a pair of breasts and a torch on its head between its horns (illustration, top). This image has become the best-known representation of Baphomet. Lévi considered the Baphomet to be a depiction of the absolute in symbolic form and explicated in detail his symbolism in the drawing that served as the frontispiece:
“The goat on the frontispiece carries the sign of the pentagram on the forehead, with one point at the top, a symbol of light, his two hands forming the sign of occultism, the one pointing up to the white moon of Chesed, the other pointing down to the black one of Geburah. This sign expresses the perfect harmony of mercy with justice. His one arm is female, the other male like the ones of the androgyne of Khunrath, the attributes of which we had to unite with those of our goat because he is one and the same symbol. The flame of intelligence shining between his horns is the magic light of the universal balance, the image of the soul elevated above matter, as the flame, whilst being tied to matter, shines above it. The beast’s head expresses the horror of the sinner, whose materially acting, solely responsible part has to bear the punishment exclusively; because the soul is insensitive according to its nature and can only suffer when it materializes. The rod standing instead of genitals symbolizes eternal life, the body covered with scales the water, the semi-circle above it the atmosphere, the feathers following above the volatile. Humanity is represented by the two breasts and the androgyne arms of this sphinx of the occult sciences.”
Lévi’s depiction is similar to that of the Devil in early Tarot cards. Lévi, working with correspondences different from those later used by Samuel Liddell MacGregor Mathers, “equated the Devil Tarot key with Mercury,” giving “his figure Mercury’s caduceus, rising like a phallus from his groin.” Lévi’s depiction, for all its modern fame, does not match the historical descriptions from the Templar trials, although it may also have been partly inspired by grotesque carvings on the Templar churches of Lanleff in Brittany and Saint-Merri in Paris, which depict squatting bearded men with bat wings, female breasts, horns and the shaggy hindquarters of a beast,as well as Viollet-le-Duc’s vivid gargoyles that were added to Notre Dame de Paris about the same time as Lévi’s illustration.
Goat of Mendes
Lévi’s now-familiar image of a “Sabbatic Goat” shows parallels with works by the Spanish artist Francisco Goya, who more than once painted a “Witch’s Sabbath”; in the version ca. 1821-23, El gran cabrón now at the Prado, a group of seated women offer their dead infant children to a seated goat. In Margaret Murray’s survey of The Witch-Cult in Western Europe, the devil was said to appear as “a great Black Goat with a Candle between his Horns”.
Lévi called his image “The Goat of Mendes”, presumably following Herodotus’ account that the god of Mendes—the Greek name for Djedet, Egypt—was depicted with a goat’s face and legs. Herodotus relates how all male goats were held in great reverence by the Mendesians, and how in his time a woman publicly copulated with a goat. E. A. Wallis Budge writes,
“At several places in the Delta, e.g. Hermopolis, Lycopolis, and Mendes, the god Pan and a goat were worshipped; Strabo, quoting (xvii. 1, 19) Pindar, says that in these places goats had intercourse with women, and Herodotus (ii. 46) instances a case which was said to have taken place in the open day. The Mendisians, according to this last writer, paid reverence to all goats, and more to the males than to the females, and particularly to one he-goat, on the death of which public mourning is observed throughout the whole Mendesian district; they call both Pan and the goat Mendes, and both were worshipped as gods of generation and fecundity. Diodorus (i. 88) compares the cult of the goat of Mendes with that of Priapus, and groups the god with the Pans and the Satyrs. The goat referred to by all these writers is the famous Mendean Ram, or Ram of Mendes, the cult of which was, according to Manetho, established by Kakau, the king of the IInd dynasty.”
Historically, the deity that was venerated at Egyptian Mendes was a ram deity Banebdjed (literally Ba of the lord of djed, and titled “the Lord of Mendes”), who was the soul of Osiris. Lévi combined the images of the Tarot of Marseilles Devil card and refigured the ram Banebdjed as a he-goat, further imagined by him as “copulator in Anep and inseminator in the district of Mendes”.
The Baphomet of Lévi was to become an important figure within the cosmology of Thelema, the mystical system established by Aleister Crowley in the early twentieth century. Baphomet features in the Creed of the Gnostic Catholic Church recited by the congregation in The Gnostic Mass, in the sentence: “And I believe in the Serpent and the Lion, Mystery of Mystery, in His name BAPHOMET.”
In Magick (Book 4), Crowley asserted that Baphomet was a divine androgyne and “the hieroglyph of arcane perfection”:
“The Devil does not exist. It is a false name invented by the Black Brothers to imply a Unity in their ignorant muddle of dispersions. A devil who had unity would be a God… ‘The Devil’ is, historically, the God of any people that one personally dislikes… This serpent, SATAN, is not the enemy of Man, but He who made Gods of our race, knowing Good and Evil; He bade ‘Know Thyself!’ and taught Initiation. He is ‘The Devil’ of the Book of Thoth, and His emblem is BAPHOMET, the Androgyne who is the hieroglyph of arcane perfection… He is therefore Life, and Love. But moreover his letter is ayin, the Eye, so that he is Light; and his Zodiacal image is Capricornus, that leaping goat whose attribute is Liberty.”
For Crowley, Baphomet is further a representative of the spiritual nature of the spermatozoa while also being symbolic of the “magical child” produced as a result of sex magic. As such, Baphomet represents the Union of Opposites, especially as mystically personified in Chaos and Babalon combined and biologically manifested with the sperm and egg united in the zygote.
Crowley proposed that Baphomet was derived from “Father Mithras”. In his Confessions he describes the circumstances that led to this etymology:
“I had taken the name Baphomet as my motto in the O.T.O. For six years and more I had tried to discover the proper way to spell this name. I knew that it must have eight letters, and also that the numerical and literal correspondences must be such as to express the meaning of the name in such a ways as to confirm what scholarship had found out about it, and also to clear up those problems which archaeologists had so far failed to solve…. One theory of the name is that it represents the words βαφὴ μήτεος, the baptism of wisdom; another, that it is a corruption of a title meaning “Father Mithras”. Needless to say, the suffix R supported the latter theory. I added up the word as spelt by the Wizard. It totalled 729. This number had never appeared in my Cabbalistic working and therefore meant nothing to me. It however justified itself as being the cube of nine. The word κηφας, the mystic title given by Christ to Peter as the cornerstone of the Church, has this same value. So far, the Wizard had shown great qualities! He had cleared up the etymological problem and shown why the Templars should have given the name Baphomet to their so-called idol. Baphomet was Father Mithras, the cubical stone which was the corner of the Temple.”
As a demon
Lévi’s Baphomet is the source of the later Tarot image of the Devil in the Rider-Waite design. The concept of a downward-pointing pentagram on its forehead was enlarged upon by Lévi in his discussion (without illustration) of the Goat of Mendes arranged within such a pentagram, which he contrasted with the microcosmic man arranged within a similar but upright pentagram. The actual image of a goat in a downward-pointing pentagram first appeared in the 1897 book La Clef de la Magie Noire by Stanislas de Guaita, later adopted as the official symbol—called the Sigil of Baphomet—of the Church of Satan, and continues to be used among Satanists.
Baphomet, as Lévi’s illustration suggests, has occasionally been portrayed as a synonym of Satan or a demon, a member of the hierarchy of Hell. Baphomet appears in that guise as a character in James Blish’s The Day After Judgment. Christian evangelist Jack Chick claims that Baphomet is a demon worshipped by Freemasons, a claim that apparently originated with the Taxil hoax. Léo Taxil’s elaborate hoax employed a version of Lévi’s Baphomet on the cover of Les Mystères de la franc-maçonnerie dévoilés, his lurid paperback “exposé” of Freemasonry, which in 1897 he revealed as a hoax satirizing ultra-Catholic anti-Masonic propaganda.
Secret Arcana presents:
Baphomet is an enigmatic, goat-headed figure found in several instance in the history of occultism. From the Knights Templar of the Middle-Ages and the Freemasons of the 19th century to modern currents of occultism, Baphomet never fails to create controversy. But where does Baphomet originate from and, most importantly, what is the true meaning of this symbolic figure? This article looks at the origins of Baphomet, the esoteric meaning of Baphomet and its occurrence in popular culture.
Throughout the history of Western occultism, the name of the mysterious Baphomet is often invoked. Although it became commonly know name in the twentieth century, mentions of Baphomet can be found in documents dating from as early as the 11th century. Today, the symbol is associated with anything relating to occultism, ritual magic, witchcraft, Satanism and esoterica. Baphomet often pops up in popular culture to identify anything occult.
The most famous depiction of Baphomet is found in Eliphas Levi’s “Dogme et Rituel de la Haute Magie“, a 1897 book that became a standard reference for modern occultism. What does this creature represent? What is the meaning of the symbols around it? Why is it so important in occultism? To answer some of these questions, we must first look at its origins. We’ll first look at the history of Baphomet and several examples of references to Baphomet in popular culture.
Origins of the Name
There are several theories concerning the origins of the name of Baphomet. The most common explanation claims that it is an Old French corruption of the name of Mohammed (which was Latin-ized to “Mahomet”) – the Prophet of Islam. During the Crusades, the Knights Templar stayed for during extended periods of time in Middle-Eastern countries where they became acquainted with the teachings of Arabian mysticism. This contact with Eastern civilizations allowed them to bring back to Europe the basics of what would become western occultism, including Gnosticism, alchemy, Kabbalah and Hermetism. The Templars’ affinity with the Muslims led the Church to accuse them of the worship of an idol named Baphomet, so there are some plausible links between Baphomet and Mahomet. However, there are other theories concerning the origins of the name.
Eliphas Levi, the French occultist who drew the famous depiction of Baphomet argued that the name had been derived from Kabbalistic coding:
“The name of the Templar Baphomet, which should be spelt kabalistically backwards, is composed of three abbreviations: Tem. ohp. AB., Templi omnium hominum pacts abbas, “the father of the temple of peace of all men”.
Arkon Daraul, an author and teacher of Sufi tradition and magic argued that Baphomet came from the Arabic word Abu fihama(t), meaning “The Father of Understanding”.
Dr. Hugh Schonfield, whose work on the Dead Sea Scrolls is well-known, developed one of the more interesting theories. Schonfield, who had studied a Jewish cipher called the Atbash cipher, which was used in translating some of the Dead Sea Scrolls, claimed that when one applied the cipher to the word Baphomet, it transposed into the Greek word “Sophia”, which means ” knowledge” and is also synonymous with “goddess”.
Possible Origins of the Figure
The modern depiction of Baphomet appears to take its roots from several ancient sources, but primarily from pagan gods. Baphomet bears resemblances to gods all over the globe, including Egypt, Northern Europe and India. In fact, the mythologies of a great number of ancient civilizations include some kind of horned deity. In Jungian theory, Baphomet is a continuation of the horned-god archetype, as the concept of a deity bearing horns is universally present in individual psyches. Do Cernunnos, Pan, Hathor, the Devil (as depicted by Christianity) and Baphomet have a common origin? Some of their attributes are strikingly similar.
The ancient Celtic god Cernunnos is traditionally depicted with antler horns on his head, sitting in “lotus position”, similar to Levi’s depiction of Baphomet. Although the history of Cernunnos is shrouded in mystery, he is usually said to be the god of fertility and nature.
In Britain, an aspect Cerennunos was named Herne. The horned god has the Satyr-like features of Baphomet
along with its emphasis on the phallus.
Pan was a prominent deity in Greece. The nature god was often depicted with horns on its head and the lower body of a goat.
Not unlike Cerenunnos, Pan is a phallic deity. Its animalistic features are an embodiment of the carnal
and procreative impulses of men.
Pope Sylvester II and the Devil (1460). In Christianity, the devil has similar features to the pagan gods described above
as they are the main inspiration for these depictions. The attributes embodied by these gods became the representation
of what is considered evil by the Church.
The Devil Card from the Tarot of Marseilles (15th century). This card’s depiction of the devil, with its wings, horns,
breasts and hand sign is undoubtedly a major influence in Levi’s depiction of Baphomet.
Robin Good-Fellow (or Puck) is a mythological fairy said to be a personification of land spirits. Bearing several attributes of Baphomet and other deities, he is here shown on the cover of a 1629 book surrounded by witches.
Goya’s 1821 painting “Great He-Goat” or “Witches Sabbath”. The painting depicts a coven of witches gathered around Satan,
portrayed as a half-man, half-goat figure.
A Baphomet-like figure on the Notre-Dame-de-Paris Cathedral, which was originally built by the Knights Templar.
Eliphas Levi’s Baphomet
In 1861, the French occultist Eliphas Levi included in his book Dogmes et Rituels de la Haute Magie (Dogmas and Rituals of High Magic) a drawing that would become the most famous depiction of Baphomet: a winged humanoid goat with a pair of breasts and a torch on its head between its horns. The figure bears numerous similarities to the deities described above. It also includes several other esoteric symbols relating to the esoteric concepts embodied by the Baphomet. In the preface of his book, Levi stated:
“The goat on the frontispiece carries the sign of the pentagram on the forehead, with one point at the top, a symbol of light, his two hands forming the sign of Hermeticism, the one pointing up to the white moon of Chesed, the other pointing down to the black one of Geburah. This sign expresses the perfect harmony of mercy with justice. His one arm is female, the other male like the ones of the androgyn of Khunrath, the attributes of which we had to unite with those of our goat because he is one and the same symbol. The flame of intelligence shining between his horns is the magic light of the universal balance, the image of the soul elevated above matter, as the flame, whilst being tied to matter, shines above it. The ugly beast’s head expresses the horror of the sinner, whose materially acting, solely responsible part has to bear the punishment exclusively; because the soul is insensitive according to its nature and can only suffer when it materializes. The rod standing instead of genitals symbolizes eternal life, the body covered with scales the water, the semi-circle above it the atmosphere, the feathers following above the volatile. Humanity is represented by the two breasts and the androgyn arms of this sphinx of the occult sciences.”
In Levi’s depiction, Baphomet embodies the culmination of the alchemical process – the union of opposing forces to create Astral Light – the basis of magic and, ultimately, enlightenment.
A close look at the details of the image reveals that each symbol is inevitably balanced with its opposite. Baphomet himself is an androgynous character as it is bearing the characteristics of both sexes: female breasts and a rod representing the erect phallus. The concept of androgeniety is of a great importance in occult philosophy as it is representative the highest level of initiation in the quest of becoming “one with God”.
Baphomet’s phallus is actually Hermes’ Caduceus – a rod intertwined with two serpents. This ancient symbol is has been representing Hermetism for centuries. The Caduceus esoterically represents the activation of chakras, from the base of the spine to the pineal gland, using serpentine power (hence, the serpents) or Astral Light.
The Science is a real one only for those who admit and understand the philosophy and the religion; and its process will succeed only for the Adept who has attained the sovereignty of will, and so become the King of the elementary world: for the grand agent of the operation of the Sun, is that force described in the Symbol of Hermes, of the table of emerald; it is the universal magical power; the spiritual, fiery, motive power; it is the Od, according to the Hebrews, and the Astral light, according to others.
Therein is the secret fire, living and philosophical, of which all the Hermetic philosophers speak with the most mysterious reserve: the Universal Seed, the secret whereof they kept, and which they represented only under the figure of the Caduceus of Hermes.
Baphomet is therefore symbolic of the alchemical Great Work where separate and opposing forces are united in perfect equilibrium to generate Astral Light. This alchemical process is represented on Levi’s image by the terms Solve and Coagula on Baphomet’s arms. While they accomplish opposite results, Solving (turning solid into liquid) and Coagulation (turning liquid into solid) are two necessary steps of the alchemical process – which aims to turn stone into gold or, in esoteric terms, a profane man into an illuminated man. The two steps are on arms pointing in opposite directions, further emphasizing their opposite nature.
Baphomet’s hands form the “sign of Hermetism” – which is a visual representation of the Hermetic axiom “As Above, So Below”. This dictum sums up the whole of the teachings and the aims of Hermetism, where the microcosm (man) is as the macrocosm (the universe). Therefore, understanding one equals understanding the other. This Law of Correspondence originates from the Emerald Tablets of Hermes Trismegistus where it was stated:
“That which is Below corresponds to that which is Above, and that which is Above, corresponds to that which is Below, to accomplish the miracles of the One Thing”.
The mastery of this life force, the Astral Life, is what is called by modern occultists “magick”.
“The practice of magic – either white or black – depends upon the ability of the adept to control the universal life force – that which Eliphas Levi calls the great magical agent or the astral light. By the manipulation of this fluidic essence the phenomena of transcendentalism are produced. The famous hermaphroditic Goat of Mendes was a composite creature formulated to symbolize this astral light. It is identical with Baphomet the mystic pantheos of those disciples of ceremonial magic, the Templars, who probably obtained it from the Arabians.”
Each of Baphomet’s hands point towards opposing moons, which Levi calls the Chesed and the Geburah – two opposing concepts taken from the Jewish Kabbalah. In the Kabalistic Tree of Life, the Sefirot, Chesed is associated with “kindness given to others” while Geburah refers to the “restraint of one’s urge to bestow goodness upon others, when the recipient of that good is judged to be unworthy and liable to misuse it”. These two concepts are opposed and, as everything else in life, an equilibrium must be found between the two.
The most recognizable feature of Baphomet is, of course, its goat head. This monstrous head represents man’s animal and sinful nature, its egoistic tendencies and its basest instincts. Opposed to man’s spiritual nature (symbolized by the “divine light” on its head), this animal side is regardless viewed as a necessary part of man’s dualistic nature, where the animal and the spiritual must unite in harmony. It can also be argued that Baphomet’s grotesque overall appearance might serve to ward off and repel the profane who are uninitiated to the esoteric meaning of the symbol.
In Secret Societies
Although Levi’s 1861 depiction of Baphomet is the most famous one, the name of this idol has been circulating for over a thousand years, through secret societies and occult circles. The first recorded mention of Baphomet as a part of an occult ritual appeared during the era of the Knights Templar.
The Knights Templar
It is widely accepted by occult researchers that the figure of Baphomet was of a great importance in the rituals of the Knights Templar. The first occurrence of the name Baphomet appeared in a 1098 letter by crusader Anselm of Ribemont stating:
“As the next day dawned they called loudly upon Baphometh while we prayed silently in our hearts to God; then we attacked and forced all of them outside the city walls.”
During the Templar trials of 1307, where Knight Templars were tortured and interrogated by request of King Philip IV of France, the name of Baphomet was mentioned several times. While some Templars denied the existence of Baphomet, others described it as being either a severed head, a cat, or a head with three faces.
While books aimed for mass consumption often deny any link between the Knights Templar and Baphomet, claiming it to be an invention of the Church to demonize them, almost all reputed authors on occultism (who wrote books intended for initiates) acknowledge that the link. In fact, the idol is often referred to as “the Baphomet of the Templars”.
“Did the Templars really adore Baphomet? Did they offer a shameful salutation to the buttocks of the goat of Mendes? What was actually this secret and potent association which imperilled Church and State, and was thus destroyed unheard? Judge nothing lightly; they are guilty of a great crime; they have exposed to profane eyes the sanctuary of antique initiation. They have gathered again and have shared the fruits of the tree of knowledge, so that they might become masters of the world. The judgement pronounced against them is higher and far older than the tribunal of pope or king: “On the day that thou eatest thereof, thou shalt surely die,” said God Himself, as we read in the Book of Genesis.
Yes, in our profound conviction, the Grand Masters of the Order of the Templars worshipped the Baphomet, and caused it to be worshipped by their initiates; yes, there existed in the past, and there may be still in the present, assemblies which are presided over by this figure, seated on a throne and having a flaming torch between the horns. But the adorers of this sign do not consider, as do we, that it is a representation of the devil: on the contrary, for them it is that of the god Pan, the god of our modern schools of philosophy, the god of the Alexandrian theurgic school and of our own mystical Neo-platonists, the god of Lamartine and Victor Cousin, the god of Spinoza and Plato, the god of the primitive Gnostic schools; the Christ also of the dissident priesthood. This last qualification, ascribed to the goat of Black Magic, will not astonish students of religious antiquities who are acquainted with the phases of symbolism and doctrine in their various transformations, whether in India, Egypt or Judea.”
Shortly after the release of Levi’s illustration, the french writer and journalist Léo Taxil released a series of pamphlets and books denouncing Freemasonry, charging lodges with worshipping the devil. At the center of his accusations was Baphomet, which was described as the Mason’s object of worship.
“Les mystères de la franc-maçonnerie” (Mysteries of Freemasonry) accused Freemasons of satanism and worshipping Baphomet. Taxil’s works raised the ire of Catholics.
In 1897, after causing quite a stir due to his revelations on French Freemasonry, Léo Taxil called a press conference where he announced that many of his revelations were fabrications. Since then, this series of events has been dubbed the “Léo Taxil Hoax”. However, some would argue the probability that Taxil’s confession may have been coerced in order to quell the controversy involving Freemasonry.
Whatever the case may be, the most likely connection between Freemasonry and Baphomet is through symbolism, where the idol becomes an allegory for profound esoteric concepts. The Masonic author Albert Pike argues that, in Freemasonry, Baphomet is not an object of worship, but a symbol, the true meaning of which is only revealed to high-level initiates.
“It is absurd to suppose that men of intellect adored a monstrous idol called Baphomet, or recognized Mahomet as an inspired prophet. Their symbolism, invented ages before, to conceal what it was dangerous to avow, was of course misunderstood by those who were not adepts, and to their enemies seemed to be pantheistic. The calf of gold, made by Aaron for the Israelites, was but one of the oxen under the layer of bronze, and the Karobim on the Propitiatory, misunderstood. The symbols of the wise always become the idols of the ignorant multitude. What the Chiefs of the Order really believed and taught, is indicated to the Adepts by the hints contained in the high Degrees of Free-Masonry, and by the symbols which only the Adepts understand.”
The British occultist Aleister Crowley was born about six months after the death of Eliphas Levi, causing him to believe that he was Levi’s reincarnation. Partly for this reason, Crowley was known within the O.T.O., the secret society he popularized, as “Baphomet”.
Here’s Crowley’s explanation of the etymology of the name Baphomet, taken from his 1929 book The Confessions of Aleister Crowley:
“I had taken the name Baphomet as my motto in the O.T.O. For six years and more I had tried to discover the proper way to spell this name. I knew that it must have eight letters, and also that the numerical and literal correspondences must be such as to express the meaning of the name in such a ways as to confirm what scholarship had found out about it, and also to clear up those problems which archaeologists had so far failed to solve…. One theory of the name is that it represents the words ???? ??????, the baptism of wisdom; another, that it is a corruption of a title meaning “Father Mithras”. Needless to say, the suffix R supported the latter theory. I added up the word as spelt by the Wizard. It totalled 729. This number had never appeared in my Cabbalistic working and therefore meant nothing to me. It however justified itself as being the cube of nine. The word ?????, the mystic title given by Christ to Peter as the cornerstone of the Church, has this same value. So far, the Wizard had shown great qualities! He had cleared up the etymological problem and shown why the Templars should have given the name Baphomet to their so-called idol. Baphomet was Father Mithras, the cubical stone which was the corner of the Temple.”
Baphomet is an important figure in the Thelema, the mystical system he established at the beginning of the 20th century. In one of his most important works, Magick, Liber ABA, Book 4, Crowley describes Baphomet as a divine androgyne:
“The Devil does not exist. It is a false name invented by the Black Brothers to imply a Unity in their ignorant muddle of dispersions. A devil who had unity would be a God … ‘The Devil’ is, historically, the God of any people that one personally dislikes … This serpent, SATAN, is not the enemy of Man, but He who made Gods of our race, knowing Good and Evil; He bade ‘Know Thyself!’ and taught Initiation. He is ‘The Devil’ of the Book of Thoth, and His emblem is Baphomet, the Androgyne who is the hieroglyph of arcane perfection … He is therefore Life, and Love. But moreover his letter is ayin, the Eye, so that he is Light; and his Zodiacal image is Capricornus, that leaping goat whose attribute is Liberty.”
The Ecclesia Gnostica Catholica, the ecclesiastical arm of Ordo Templi Orientis (O.T.O.), recites during its Gnostic Mass “And I believe in the Serpent and the Lion, Mystery of Mystery, in His name BAPHOMET.” Baphomet is considered to be the union of Chaos and Babalon, masculine and feminine energy, the phallus and the womb.
The Church of Satan
Although not technically a secret society, Anton Lavey’s Church of Satan remains an influential occult order. Founded in 1966, the organization adopted the “Sigil of Baphomet” as its official insignium.
The Sigil of Baphomet, the official symbol of the Church of Satan features the Goat of Mendes inside an inverted pentagram.
The Sigil of Baphomet was probably heavily inspired by this illustration from Stanislas de Guaita’s La Clef de la Magie Noire (The Key to Black Magic).
According to Anton Lavey, the Templars worshipped Baphomet as a symbol of Satan. Baphomet is prominently present during in Church of Satan rituals as the symbol is placed above the ritualistic altar.
In The Satanic Bible, Lavey describes the symbol of Baphomet:
“The symbol of Baphomet was used by the Knights Templar to represent Satan. Through the ages this symbol has been called by many different names. Among these are: The Goat of Mendes, The Goat of a Thousand Young, The Black Goat, The Judas Goat, and perhaps the most appropriately, The Scapegoat.
Baphomet represents the Powers of Darkness combined with the generative fertility of the goat. In its “pure” form the pentagram is shown encompassing the figure of a man in the five points of the star – three points up, two pointing down – symbolizing man’s spiritual nature. In Satanism the pentagram is also used, but since Satanism represents the carnal instincts of man, or the opposite of spiritual nature, the pentagram is inverted to perfectly accommodate the head of the goat – its horns, representing duality, thrust upwards in defiance; the other three points inverted, or the trinity denied. The Hebraic figures around the outer circle of the symbol which stem from the magical teachings of the Kabala, spell out “Leviathan”, the serpent of the watery abyss, and identified with Satan. These figures correspond to the five points of the inverted star.”
Baphomet is a composite creation symbolic of alchemical realization through the union of opposite forces. Occultists believe that, through the mastery of life force, one is able to produce magick and spiritual enlightenment. Eliphas Levi’s depiction of Baphomet included several symbols alluding to the raising of the kundalini – serpentine power – which ultimately leads to the activation of the pineal gland, also known as the “third eye”. So, from an esoteric point of view, Baphomet represents this occult process.
However, over time the symbol has come to signify much more than its esoteric meaning. Through controversies, Baphomet became, depending of the point of view, a representation of everything that is good in occultism or everything that is evil in occultism. It is, in fact, the ultimate “scapegoat”, the face of witchcraft, black magick and Satanism. The fact that the symbol is rather monstrous and grotesque has probably helped propel the symbol to its level of infamy as it never fails to shock organized religions while attracting those who rebel against them.
Since gaining widespread recognition in popular culture, the image of Baphomet is now used as a symbol of anything regarding occultism and ritualism. In corporate-owned mass media, which has ties with secret societies, the figure of Baphomet appears in the oddest places, often to audiences too young to understand the occult reference (Secret Arcana’s sister site Vigilant Citizen documents the occurrences of Baphomet and other occult symbols in music videos, movies and fashion). Is Baphomet used in pop culture as a symbol of the power of the occult elite over the ignorant masses?
After centuries of myths, hoaxes, propaganda and disinformation on both sides of the spectrum, can we truly answer the the original question posed by this article: “Who is Baphomet?”. Is it a symbol of Satan or of spiritual enlightenment? Is it a symbol of good or evil? The answer lies within the symbol itself: It is both. In Egyptian mythology, Toth Hermes was a mediating power between good and evil, making sure neither had a decisive victory over the other. Baphomet represents the accomplishment on this cosmic task on a very small scale, within oneself. Once perfect equilibrium is attained on a personal level, the occult initiate can point one hand towards the heavens and one hand towards the earth and pronounce this hermetic axiom which reverberated through millenniums: “As Above, So Below”.
First Published: Jan 10, 2012 – Last Updated: May 1, 2014