Baphomet

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.

History

The name Baphomet appears in July 1098 in a letter by the crusader Anselm of Ribemont:

Two Templars burned at the stake, from a French 15th century manuscript

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.”

Alternative etymologies

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:

Promotional poster for Léo Taxil, Les Mystères de la franc-maçonnerie dévoilés (1886), adapts Lévi’s invention.

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

Joseph von Hammer-Purgstall (1774-1856) associated a series of carved or engraved figures found on a number of supposed 13th century Templar artifacts (such as cups, bowls and coffers) with the Baphometic idol.

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.

Eliphas Lévi

Le Diable, from the early eighteenth century Tarot of Marseilles by Jean Dodal.

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”.

Osiris (Egyptian Ram God)

Learn more about Osiris and his importance in Egyptian Mythology

Osiris’ soul, or rather his Ba, is occasionally worshipped in its own right, almost as if it were a distinct god, especially so in the Delta city of Mendes. This aspect of Osiris is referred to as Banebdjedet, which is grammatically feminine (also spelt “Banebded” or “Banebdjed“) which literally means The ba of the lord of the djed, which roughly means The soul of the lord of the pillar of stability. The djed, a type of pillar, is usually understood as the backbone of Osiris, and, at the same time, as the Nile, the backbone of Egypt. The Nile, supplying water, and Osiris (strongly connected to the vegetation) who died only to be resurrected represented continuity and therefore stability. As Banebdjed, Osiris is given epithets such as Lord of the Sky and Life of the (sun god) Ra, since Ra, when he had become identified with Atum, is considered Osiris’ ancestor, from whom his regal authority is inherited. Ba does not, however, quite mean soul in the western sense, and also has to do with power, reputation, force of character, especially in the case of a god. Since the ba is associated with power, and also happened to be a word for ram in Egyptian, Banebdjed is depicted as a ram, or as Ram-headed. A living, sacred ram, is even kept at Mendes and worshipped as the incarnation of the god, and upon death, the rams were mummified and buried in a ram-specific necropolis. Banebdjed is consequently said to be Horus’ father, as Banebdjed is an aspect of Osiris.

As regards the association of Osiris with the ram, the god’s traditional crook and flail are of course the instruments of the shepherd, which has suggested to some scholars also an origin for Osiris in herding tribes of the upper Nile. The crook and flail were originally symbols of the minor agricultural deity Andjety, and passed to Osiris later. From Osiris, they eventually passed to Egyptian kings in general as symbols of divine authority.

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Aleister Crowley

Lévi’s Baphomet image employed in the later 19th century to suggest Baphomet worship by Freemasons.

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 Noireby 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.

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IN-DEPTH OCCULT ANALYSIS ON BAPHOMET

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