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The year is 1307 and The Poor Fellow-Soldiers of Christ and of the Temple of Solomon, better known as The Knights Templar, are about to get busted. An avalanche of accusations is made against the members of this powerful military Order who have been in the business of protecting Christian pilgrims in the Holy Land since 1129. Among these charges, brought against them by King Philip IV ‘the Fair’ of France, is that the Templars are idolaters. Their idol is a head, a cat, a many-faced form, a skull stuffed with grain… Whatever the details might be its name, though confessed by only a few, is Baphomet.
And what of the name of this abominable idol? Baphomet – the word occurs earlier than the Templar Trials. Most famously in the melancholic writing of a troubadour from 1265, possibly a Templar himself:
“Then it is really foolish to fight the Turks, now that Jesus Christ no longer opposes them. They have vanquished the Franks and Tartars and Armenians and Persians, and they continue to do so. And daily they impose new defeats on us; for God, who used to watch on our behalf is now asleep, and Bafometz puts forth his power in support of the Sultan.”
Any historian worth their discourse will explain that Baphomet (whichever of the variegated spellings we prefer) is simply the Infidel’s rendering of Muhammed. The irony that Islam, with its proscription against representation in religious art, should be the imagined origin of such idolatry raises a wry grin.
While this etymology for the name Baphomet is pretty much accepted in the academy, part of the delight of this entity is that it acts as a strange attractor around which many weird and wonderful notions coalesce.
During the 18th century, some writers suggested that it was the Knights Templar who were the origin of Freemasonry. Certainly the iconography of locations such as the mysterious initiatory chamber of Royston Cave in Hertfordshire might be taken to support this assertion. Less likely, but just as much fun, was the suggestion that “Baphomet” was formed from the Greek meaning the “Baptism of Wisdom.” This Baphomet was imagined as a Gnostic secret God, a kind of ecumenical divinity worshipped by the Pythagoreans and handed down in secret through Masonic initiations.
More recent Sufi theorists have suggested that Baphomet derives from the Arabic meaning “The Father of Understanding.” While a Dead Sea Scroll scholar argues that it’s a Qabalstic cypher, and may be translated as Sophia or Wisdom.
Eliphas Levi, responsible for the enduring image of Baphomet as the Sabbatic Goat of Mendes, thinks that the name Baphomet is an anagram of the Latin TEM OHP AB – TEMPLI OMNIVM HOMINUM PACIS ABBAS – “The Father of the Temple of Peace Of All Men.” Levi naturally suggested that the Temple in question was that of King Solomon.
This idea of the unification of opposites: male and female, first and last matter, as above so below – this is the key to Levi’s startling symbol. Baphomet is the All, in the sense that Pan is the All – bisexual, chimerical, twirling the twin caduceus serpents. Our Sabbatic goat morphs animals of land, sea, and air together. Human and animal combined, and this meaning is of course made explicit by those forearm tattoos: SOLVE and COAGULA.
“We recall once more to that terrible number fifteen, symbolized in the Tarot by a monster throned upon an altar, mitred and horned, having a woman’s breast and the generative organs of man – a chimera, a malformed sphinx, a synthesis of deformities. Below this figure we read the frank and simple inscription – THE DEVIL. Yes, we confront here that phantom of all terrors, the dragon of all theogonies, the Ahriman of the Persians, the Typhon of the Egyptians, the Python of the Greeks, the old serpent of the Hebrews, the fantastic monster, the nightmare, the Croquemitaine, the gargoyle, the great beast of the Middle Ages, and – worse than all these – the Baphomet of the Templars, the bearded idol of the alchemist, the obscene deity of Mendes, the goat of the Sabbath…
…the Grand Masters of the Order of the Templars worshipped 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 adores of this sign do not consider, as do we, that it is a representation of the devil; on the contrary, for them it is 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 Cousins, the god of Spinoza and Plato, the god of the primitive Gnostic school; the Christ also of the dissident priesthood.”
Some people say that Eliphas found his inspiration in the grotesque gargoyles of the Templar Commandry at Saint Bri le Vineux. Occultist and writer Michael Howard tells us:
“The Gargoyle is in the form of a bearded horned figure with pendulous female breasts, wings and cloven feet. It sits in a crossed-legged position which resembles statues of the Celtic stag god, Cernnunnus or the Horned One, found in Gaul (France) before the Roman occupation.”
So what does Levi say?
“This is the AZOTH of the sages on its pedestal of Salt and Sulphur. The symbolic head of the Goat of Mendes is occasionally given to this figure, and then it is the Baphomet of the Templars and the Word of the Gnostics… ‘universal medicine’ or ‘universal solvent’.”
“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 hermetism, 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 rod standing instead of genitals symbolises 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 androgyny arms of this sphinx of the occult sciences…”
Of course (if you believe the hype) Eliphas Levi was reincarnated as another fan of Baphomet in the form of one Aleister Crowley.
The story is that when Theodor Reuss, head honcho of the Ordo Templi Orientis, met Crowley in 1910, he challenged him over his publicly revealing the secret of sexual magick. By writing about Adepts armed with ‘mystical roses’ and ‘magic rods,’ Reuss claimed that Crowley had given the game away. Wisely, Reuss offered to take Crowley from the cold and into his quasi-Masonic style group. Crowley accepted, took the magical name Baphomet, and began re-designing the Ordo Templi Orientis into the vehicle for his new cult of Thelema.
Following the strand of Baphomet as horned-deity, Crowley was of course already well versed in all things horny. He’d previously written his inspired Hymn to Pan.
All-devourer, all begetter;
Give me the sign of the Open Eye,
And the token erect of thorny thigh,
And the word of madness and mystery …
The O.T.O. became Crowley’s organ of choice for promulgating his Word of Thelema. Through Brother Scire (Gerald Gardner, who joined around 1945), Crowley had a channel into the emerging witchcult. The O.T.O. was also allied with the Gnostic Catholic Church (Ecclesia Gnostica Catholica), and in this way Crowley was very astutely backing several horses at once. The Great Beast’s ideas would be coded into the DNA of the neo-Pagan movement, the ceremonial magick tradition (via the O.T.O.) and the renegade Christianity of the Gnostic Catholic Church. Crowley realised that Freemasonry was the perfect vector for his plans, since it touches upon so many esoteric styles. He claimed in The Book of Lies that Baphomet was the keystone to the symbolism of the Scottish Rite of Freemasonry. Baphomet is thus at the narrative heart of Crowley’s magickal work: ‘the method of science, the aim of religion.’
The Gnostic Mass, given by Crowley in LIBER XV, name checks Baphomet:
“And I believe in the Serpent and the Lion, Mystery of Mystery, in His name BAPHOMET.”
Baphomet for Crowley is the bestial outpouring of the union of Chaos and Babalon. An image he develops further in the tarot depiction he realised, with Frieda Harris, of Atu XV, The Devil.
“This card is attributed to the letter ‘Ayin, which means an Eye, and it refers to Capricornus in the Zodiac. In the Dark Ages of Christianity, it was completely misunderstood. Eliphas Levi studied it very deeply because of its connection with ceremonial magic, his favourite subject; and he re-drew it, identifying it with Baphomet, the ass-headed idol of the Knights of the Temple… But at this time archaeological research had not gone very far; the nature of Baphomet was not fully understood… At least he succeeded in identifying the goat portrayed upon the card with Pan.” – excerpt from The Book of Thoth
Crowley identified Baphomet with Shaitan of the Yezidi and Satan of the Jews.
As the Great War came to an end, the Wizard Amalantrah was asked by Crowley, during an excursion to the astral plane, how Baphomet should be spelt. A sure-fire way, with the application of a little gematria, of discovering the inner-nature of any symbol. ‘A man like the gods of the mountains’ in the vision provided B-A-F-O-M-E-T-H. This variant generates a Hebrew numeration of 729. This number, at the risk of lulling you, gentle reader, to sleep, is 365 (the solar year) plus 364 (the lunar year). It is also the cube of 9. Another leading light in the Wiccan community, Doreen Valiente, likes this and says as much in her 1978 publication, Witchcraft for Tomorrow. She points out that the Greek numeration of Belēnos (the Ancient British sun God) plus Andatē (the lunar Goddess worshipped by Boadicea) also equals 729. The case, if you’re down with gematria, is thus proven.
This sexual magick that so fascinated Crowley was the process by which he created AZOTH, that mysterious substance that Levi links to Baphomet. For Crowley, Baphomet is both the leaping capricious form of Pan and the androgynous union of opposites. AZOTH is powerful stuff, the literal saviour of the world; Crowley has replaced the messianic Lamb of God with the riotous explosion of the lusty goat.
Baphomet continues to dwell in the liturgy of the Ordo Templi Orientis and covertly in the horned god of Wicca, but come the 1970s and it’s Peter J. Carroll, one of the founding figures of the chaos magick approach, who is handed the flaming baton from between the horns of the beast. He says of Baphomet:
“Baphomet is the psychic field generated by the totality of living beings on this planet. Since the Shamanic aeon, it has been variously represented as Pan, Pangenitor, Panphage, All-Begetter, All-Destroyer, as Shiva-Kali – creative phallus and abominable mother and destroyer – as Abraxas – polymorphic god who is both good and evil – as the animal headed Devil of sex and death, as the evil Archon set over this world, as Ishtar or Astaroth – goddess of love and war – as the Anima Mundi or World Soul, or simply as Goddess. Other representations include the Eagle, or Baron Samedi, or Thanateros, or Cernunnos – the horned god of the Celts.”
Carroll favours the conjecture that our god’s name comes from the Greek BAPH-METIS – Union with Wisdom. The clear identification of Baphomet with Thanateros explains why this deity is central to the culture of the magickal group Carroll founded – The Magical Pact of the Illuminates of Thanateros, the I.O.T. And it’s from the context of chaos magick that The Book of Baphomet emerges.
Most of the story given above is the esoteric narrative of Baphomet. But as a concept what Baphomet has come to mean comes into focus when we look more broadly at the spiritual and cultural narratives of Western culture. We should remember that the theory of evolution was still big news in Crowley’s day. When Carroll was founding the I.O.T., the basic chemistry of DNA was still being unravelled. And way before these modern magicians, those alleged Baphomet worshippers of the medieval and early modern age were, in secret, meeting and exploring what they called Natural Philosophy and alchemy, what today we call science and chemistry.
Like the Gnostics before them, such practitioners placed their search for knowledge in individual experimental endeavour rather than the study of religious texts. Historically, they formed the network of personnel that would emerge in the early modern period as modern Freemasonry (a multi-denominational spirituality created in a time when religious wars were still ripping through Europe). Underground, this heretical flame was kept burning by groups such as the Invisible College, and only came into the open after the formation of The Royal Society of London for Improving Natural Knowledge after the English Civil War. Natural Philosophy was the critical mass lurking in the centre of the alchemists’ laboratory. It really was the Universal Solvent, the Philosopher’s Stone, the Big Secret.
And the key message of this Philosophy?
“Nullius in Verba”
– The Motto of the Royal Society, which may be translated as ‘on the words of no one.’
Or put another way –
“Think for yourself and question authority.”
– Timothy Leary (paraphrasing Socrates)
Baphomet then is to be the tiny eight-letter mote around which a mythic pearl of great price has grown. Like Levi’s hybrid devil-god, this deity demonstrates what we now know; that the natural world, and humanity are of the same stuff. The caduceus coiling of snakes rising from its groin is the DNA common to all life. The humanoid form reminds us our species is embedded in the world, not the result of some special act of ex nihilo creation by a transcendent God.
The meaningless mis-hearing of the word itself – Baphomet – reminds us that all gods, all ideas, are hollow, filled only with chaotic unknowable Kia; dark mirrors upon which we project our own needs and perceptions. Yet Baphomet provides this Great Spirit with a face, in fact with billions of faces, as many as there are living things in the universe. By perceiving the innerworld as spirits we extend our socialising simian style to the experiences that trance or gnostic states give us access to. This isn’t a dumb anthropomorphism, but rather a seriously brilliant stratagem. Our brains are built to do complex social relationships. By perceiving thoughts not just as things but rather as entities, we can open up channels of communication and control much more readily than if we stick to a farcical ‘objective perception.’
This is why I conceptualise Life as the Great Spirit, which I call Baphomet. If you want to talk to something, it’s polite to address it by name.
So why the horns? Who knows? Perhaps it’s the natural tendency of the human mind to pay attention to the vertical symmetry of faces. The face I see on Baphomet is that of a V shaped form: Nemesis the Warlock from 2000AD comics, Herne the Hunter, Cernunnos. Horns as a deeply embedded icon of power? (Well, we’ve paid attention to horned beasts from before even the first human city of Çatal Hüyük was built.) Horns as the basic duality arising from unity? Perhaps those horns are the fallopian tubes, or the shapes of DNA unravelling and duplicating? Or the simple yet profound mathematical fact that one gives rise to two, and then many. A deity capped with a dendritic crown, like neurons or lightening or trees.
So you see the gnostic project to understand God through study of the book of Nature was the secret carried from the Templars, through the Masons and by all the hidden alchemists and occultists of the second millennium. This natural philosophy, this science, is one of the gifts of Baphomet. Rather than seeking enlightenment through holy books, instead we look outwards into the world and inwards into subjective space.
Baphomet invites us to see no division between mundane and magickal, between male and female, between animal and human. It invites us to use our intelligence and the certain knowledge that we are an integral part of the story of evolution (rather than the result of some Fall from Grace) and form new relationships with the other people and species that exist on earth. This god is a deity of this earth, the here and now (and if that makes it a devil for some then so be it). Baphomet invites us to become illuminated in, and through the body, to find the divine in nature and not put off sorting out our own spirituality (or ecological) situation by waiting for a hypothesised apocalypse, or rapture or post-mortem heaven. Baphomet is emblematic of the blurring of boundaries, and the sense of interconnectedness rather than the series of lines in the sand drawn by a cruel desert God with absolutely no sense of humor.
A Gysin cut-up deity of fish scales and shaggy legs, of cock and breasts, of eagle wings and raised horns. Icon of Satanists, of Metal fans, of post-modern, post-ironic pop culture.
Glyph of the swirling, inevitable emergence of biological life! Symbol of consciousness, embedded in, and arising from the world! All-begetter of innumerable forms, destined to occupy all n hyperdimensional niches in all existences!
Wide-eyed self-perceiving metaphor, nature looking at itself and understanding itself through itself, through our selves: all-devouring, analysing and self-swallowing awareness. All-destroying impermanence, delighting in vain at the SOLVE ET COAGULA of this Universe.
Funny little goat with wings!
We evoke, celebrate and banish you,
With laughter 🙂
The Book of Baphomet by Julian Vayne and Nikki Wyrd
The Blog of Baphomet – A Magickal Dialogue Between Nature and Culture