WHY THE GOAT-HEADED GOD OF THE TEMPLARS IS MAKING A SATANIC COMEBACK
In August 2017, a conglomeration of far-right and neo-Nazi groups gathered in Charlottesville, Virginia, ostensibly to protest the removal of a statue of Confederate general Robert E Lee. Infamously, this ‘Unite the Right’ march left one person dead and 19 injured, demonstrating the very real power of symbol and representation. Two years earlier, in another part of the United States, a more unconventional statue was the focus of controversy and protest, fortunately not resulting in violence.
At a secret location in Detroit, Michigan, in July 2015, The Satanic Temple (a USbased organisation whose HQ is located in Salem, Massachusetts) erected a 9ft (2.7m)tall bronze statue of a winged, goat-headed, cloven-hoofed figure, with two adoring children beside him (see FT331:4). Although the Satanic Temple has been compared to Anton LaVey’s Church of Satan, the Temple is more political in its aims, and without LaVey’s belief in the efficacy of magic.
The Detroit statue has the right arm raised, with two fingers of the right hand forming a papal gesture of benediction. The left hand similarly gives a blessing, but with the arm resting outward at waist height. The Satanic Temple declared that their statue specifically represented ‘Baphomet,’ as a distinct form of Satan (for the Temple, Satan represents rebellion, the rejection of all authority, a refusal to accept boundaries or limits, the primacy of personal sovereignty, and humankind’s spirit of enquiry).
Elsewhere, in some contemporary Neopagan and Wiccan circles, Baphomet has come to represent untamed nature, a Panor Dionysus-like figure, the embodiment of the life force. Trance, body magic, dance and sacred sexuality were all features of Euphoria, an Australian Neopagan festival that began in 2000, taking place in a rural location somewhere outside Melbourne, over a four-day period. Euphoria’s presiding deity is Baphomet, and the erotic Baphomet Rite is at the heart of the festival. 1 Here, Baphomet is unambiguously ‘Other,’ beyond either/or norms. Both male and female, terrifying and arousing, an enemy and a friend. S/he is also, by virtue of her/his hermaphroditic attributes, a ‘genderqueer’ figure opposing and challenging heteronormative sexual orthodoxy. This Baphomet appears to be derived at least in part from the goat-like Devil of the legendary mediæval Witches’ Sabbat.
But what, originally, did the name Baphomet denote? And whence does the goat-headed figure originate? LEFT: The iconic Baphomet engraving from Éliphas Lévi’s Transcendental Magic. FACING PAGE: The Satanic Temple’s Baphomet statue, which was unveiled in Detroit in 2015.
The imagery of the Detroit sculpture is closely based upon an engraving that appears in Dogme et Rituel de la Haute
Magie (1854-56, translated by AE Waite
as Transcendental Magic: Its Doctrine and
Ritual) by the seminal French esoteric writer Éliphas Lévi (real name Alphonse Louis Constant). Here it is captioned: “The Sabbatic Goat: The Baphomet of Mendes.” Mendes was the Greek name for the ancient Egyptian city of Djedet, whose inhabitants, according to Herodotus, “consider all goats sacred, the male even more than the female... one he-goat is most sacred of all; when he dies, it is ordained that there should be great mourning in all the Mendesian district. In the Egyptian language Mendes is the name both for the he-goat and for Pan.” 2
One of the city’s patron deities was the ram god Banebdjedet, sometimes represented as a goat. Djedet was also associated with the worship of Pan: “The Egyptians of whom I have spoken sacrifice no goats, male or female: the Mendesians reckon Pan among the eight gods who, they say, were before the 12 gods.” 3
Lévi’s depiction of Baphomet differs from that of the Satanic Temple in that his is hermaphroditic, with a pair of female breasts. It also has the alchemical SOLVE (separate, dissolve) and COAGULA (unite, join together) upon the right and left forearms respectively, and features two crescent Moons, one light and one dark, behind each hand. Both Baphomets feature a pentagram between their horns, a torch atop their heads, and both have a caduceus arising from their groin areas. Interpretations of Lévi’s design tend to emphasise its unification of opposites, male-
Baphomet is unambiguously ‘Other’, beyond either/or norms
female, good-evil, day-night: a representation of totality, the Universal. Lévi himself described it as a “pantheistic and magical figure of the Absolute”. The goat’s head represents matter and the physical body, whilst the figure’s wings signify its heavenly aspiration or nature. The four elements are present: two hooves are placed on a globe (earth); fish scales adorn the belly (water); its wings denote air, and a fiery torch blazes between its two horns.
Elsewhere in Transcendental Magic, Lévi reiterates his belief that the figure of Baphomet is emblematic of occult philosophy as a whole, that which lay concealed in the myths of pre-Classical Greece, in Kabbalah, the
Corpus Hermeticum and the Great Work of the alchemists, for “they are expressions of the different applications of one same secret”. 4 Of the Great Work specifically, he says: “The Gnostics represented it as the fiery body of the Holy Spirit; it was the object of adoration in the secret rites of the Sabbath and the Temple, under the hieroglyphic figure of Baphomet or the Androgyne of Mendes.” 5
It has sometimes been suggested that Lévi’s inspiration for his engraving was a carved head on the facade of the Templar Commandery building in Saint Bris-le-Vineux, roughly 150km (93 miles) south-east of Paris. 6 However, in the present author’s opinion, Lévi, a Parisian, is more likely to have been inspired by another carving that appears on the exterior of the 16th-century Gothic church of Saint-Merri, near the Pompidou Centre in Paris. It resembles Lévi’s Baphomet in several respects: a winged, horned, demonic figure with female breasts, squatting on a pedestal or plinth. Goya’s haunting, dream-like painting El
Aquelarre (The Witches’ Sabbath, 1798), where an enormous goat presides over the coven, may well have been another influence. Like Lévi’s Baphomet, the goat sits upright, elevated upon a mound, arms aloft. A crescent moon appears in the background. Another possible source or inspiration is the goat-headed, winged Devil who appears in several illustrations in Francesco Maria Guazzo’s 1608 Compendium Maleficarum, with humans making obeisance in each one.
The Knights Templar (whose full title was the Poor Fellow-Soldiers of Christ and of the Temple of Solomon; see FT193:38-41) are, of course, inextricably linked with Baphomet. Lévi appears to have conflated Banebdjedet, the goat or ram deity of Mendes, with Baphomet, the alleged object of worship of the Templars. In early 14thcentury records of Templar interrogations and trials, the name ‘Baphomet’ sometimes appears; ‘Mahomet’ is also recorded. It is believed by many that the name ‘Baphomet’ was originally derived from ‘Mahomet’ (i.e. the prophet Mohammed), with the suggestion that during the Crusades, the Templars had come into too close contact with the Saracen foe, and had adopted some of their religious practices.
Documentation of interrogations and trial testimony certainly make mention of Templar worship of an idol, sometimes described as a head. But there was no consensus regarding its physical appearance; the descriptions (many derived through torture) of the idol are varied, and do not resemble Lévi’s goat-headed figure. The papal
Articles of Accusation issued in August 1308, detailing the charges against the Knights Templar, stated: Item, that in each province they had idols, namely heads, of which some had three faces, and some one, and others had a human skull. Item, that they adored these idols or that idol, and especially in their great chapters and assemblies. Item, that they venerated [them]. Item, that [they venerated them] as God.
Item, that [they venerated them] as their Saviour.
Item, that they said that that head could save them. Item, that [it could] make riches. Item, that it gave them all the riches of the Order. Item, that it made the trees flower. Item, that [it made] the land germinate. 7
Elsewhere, one reads of the Templars’ idol as: a gilded or brazen head or other reliquary; a painting on a wall or beam of wood; having two faces; having four faces; a long-bearded man’s head; “a face of flesh… with the hairs of a dog… very bluish in colour and stained”. 8 Frequently, too, a cat (long associated, of course, with witchcraft and the Devil) is mentioned as an object of worship. Nowhere, however, is the idol described as resembling a goat, although one Templar described it as a head with “two small horns and possessing the ability to reply to questions put to it.” 9
It should be noted that despite our focus upon these allegations of idol-worship, the majority of Templar confessions were concerned with the denial and refutation of Jesus Christ as Saviour and Son of God. Thus, of 231 Templars examined during the Paris inquisitions, the majority admitted to having denied Christ and to having defiled the Cross, but only a very few confessed to the idolatrous worship of a head. Renunciation of Christ was the primary accusation, from which the others sprang.
Whether or not the Templars were genuine heretics, with religious and mystical views far removed from mainstream Christianity, is still a matter for debate. One persuasive school of thought has it that the suspects, many of whom were subjected to torture, were merely regurgitating the fantasies of the inquisitors. Norman Cohn, in his Europe’s Inner Demons (Sussex University Press, 1975) notes that similar accusations that had been levelled at Jews, witches and similar ‘othered’ groups were also aimed at the Templars. 10 Thus, they were accused of consorting with beautiful female demons, homosexuality, spitting on crucifixes, the worship of idols (these idols sometimes anointed with the fat of burnt children), and using the ashes of burnt Templar bodies to make a potent magical powder.
Any attempt to disentangle this convoluted history must first establish whether the name ‘Baphomet’ really was used by mediæval Christian writers in place of ‘Mahomet’ (Mohammed). And there are indeed several examples of this. Thus, a song composed by the troubadour Austorc d’Aorlhac, lamenting the defeat of the Seventh Crusade in 1250, contains the lines:
Christianity has been given a very great blow,
Such a great loss I believe us not to have suffered [before];
For this reason that we may as well abandon our belief in God, And [instead] worship Bafomet [Mohammed] right there… 11
Another Troubadour song (attributed to one Ricaut Bonomel, believed to have been a Templar) takes as its theme the series of defeats that befell the Crusader kingdom in 1265. It contains the following lines:
And we are defeated every day Because God sleeps, who once stood watch, And Bafometz [Mohammed] acts with all his power… 12
An Old French epic poem, the Chanson
de Geste de Simon de Pouille, written circa 1235, takes as its theme a Frankish crusade against the Saracens at the time of Charlemagne. Here, the name ‘Bafumetz’ appears to be one of several pagan gods believed by mediæval Christians to be worshipped by Muslims, the others being Termagant, Jupiter and Apollyon. 13
Note that all the above references to Baphomet preceded by several decades those which appear in the Templars’ interrogations and trials, demonstrating that the name was in existence well before.
It is something of an irony that, due to a profound ignorance of Islam by much of Western Christendom, many in mediæval Europe viewed Muslims as idolaters who worshipped Mohammed. Ironic, considering Islam’s abhorrence of ‘graven images’, a function of its uncompromising monotheism. So strong was this mistaken association that the words ‘Mahomet’ and ‘Baphomet’ became synonymous with idols; ‘mahomet’ morphed into ‘mammet’ or ‘mommet,’ meaning a false god, a lifeless puppet or effigy; alternatively, a witch’s poppet or doll, used to work sympathetic magic.
It is important to emphasise that, prior to the Templar inquisitions and trials, there had been no evidence to suggest that the Knights were associated with an idol in the form of a head (whether named Baphomet or not), just rumour. Moreover, despite thorough examinations and searches, no such head was ever found in any Templar buildings throughout Europe. It’s been proposed that the cult of relics (which was not without its critics at the time) may have led to these charges of idolatry; Holy relics were popular throughout the Christian world; they might be the actual skull of a saint, or a jewelled, gilded replica. As for the Templars, it has been argued that their reverence for the skulls of two martyrs (Saints Euphemia and Ursula) had been deliberately misunderstood.
Another rumour, the suspicion that the Knights Templar had, during their long sojourn in the Middle East, ‘gone native’ and adopted Saracen customs and religion, was explicitly given voice in interrogation testimony, which had the newly initiated Knight spitting and trampling upon a
There was a suspicion that the Knights Templar had gone native in the Middle East
crucifix, then being led to the Baphomet idol accompanied by cries of “Yalla” – very similar to the Arabic “Ya Allah”. Again, it is quite probable that the sleep-and fooddeprived, disorientated and in some cases tortured prisoners were merely echoing the interrogators’ own beliefs and fantasies.
It has also been suggested that the blasphemous elements of the initiation did actually take place, but were a form of training whereby the novice warrior-monk was shown what he might expect were he to be captured by the Saracens (much as the training of an SAS man prior to being posted to Northern Ireland during the ‘Troubles’ would simulate capture and interrogation by the IRA). It was permissible for him to renounce Christ by such outward demonstration, provided that he remained faithful in his heart, recanting and repenting at the earliest opportunity.
Leaving aside the question of whether the Knights had ever denied Christ as the true God, it seems most likely that their worship of Baphomet, the idolatrous head, was an invention of their inquisitors, perhaps based in part upon a growing antipathy towards the cult of relics, and in part inspired by mediæval traditions of oracular heads, Roger Bacon (c1220-1292) and his fabled brazen head being the most obvious example.
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Lévi’s Baphomet was evidently the model for artist Pamela Colman Smith’s design for the 15th Tarot Trump, the Devil, in the celebrated Rider-Waite Tarot deck, first published in 1910. However, another celebrated deck (or rather, a series of decks), the Tarot de Marseilles, was in existence around 200 years before that; here, Le Diable bears a marked similarity to Lévi’s 1850s engraving, with its horns, wings and female breasts. Again, one arm gestures heavenwards, whilst the other points towards Earth, or to Hell. In his
Transcendental Magic, Lévi mentions the “Italian Tarot” (then a synonym for the Tarot de Marseilles) several times. However, compare these with the Devil of the far older-Visconti-Sforza Tarot, dating from the mid-15th century, the artist Bonifacio Bembo having been commissioned by the Visconti and Sforza ducal families of Milan.
From this, it appears probable that early Tarot designs had influenced Lévi, just as his own Sabbatic Goat was to be the inspiration for so many subsequent depictions that helped to disseminate the image among a wider public. The RiderWaite Tarot is thought to be the best-selling and arguably best-known Tarot deck in the world. And, circulating the image still further, the notorious but successful late-19th century anti-Masonic hoaxes of French journalist and author Léo Taxil (real name Gabriel Jogand-Pagès) utilised Lévi’s Baphomet in their efforts to smear Freemasonry as a Satanic conspiracy.
PLEASE HAMMER DON’T HURT ‘EM
Taxil’s accusations were not new. Around 80 years before his spurious claims were published, and around 50 years before Lévi’s seminal Baphomet illustration first saw the light of day, another text was published, one that is significant in the construction of the Baphomet myth. This was Baron Joseph von Hammer-Pürgstall’s Mysterium Baphometis
Revelatum (a section from his larger Fundgruben des Orients (Treasures of the
East, 1818), in which the Austrian historian adopted a distinctly hostile position towards the Knights Templar. Von Hammer regarded the Templars as one of a long line of heretics, beginning with Gnostic sects, specifically the Ophites, through the Albigensians, by way of Hassan i Sabbah’s Assassins, leading ultimately to Enlightenment Freemasonry. A fervent reactionary, he sought to portray the radicals of the French Revolution as heirs to certain blasphemous and evil ideologies of the past. He was, in effect, an early conspiracy theorist, with a Foucault’s
Pendulum- style ‘grand unified’ theory – numerous secret societies throughout the centuries as incarnations of a single body dedicated to the achievement of their ultimate goals of power and domination.
In support of his argument that Baphomet had not been a mere invention of the Templars’ inquisitors, von Hammer offered
as evidence various carved and engraved artefacts from the late Classical to mediæval periods. These supposedly depicted Baphomet amidst heretical, orgiastic and sacrificial rites, and were, he claimed, illustrative of surviving Gnostic beliefs which were enthusiastically continued by the Knights Templar. Line drawings of many of these objects appear in Mysterium
Baphometis Revelatum. It should be noted that, today, the general consensus among contemporary historians holds these artefacts to have been forgeries. 14 Some years prior to writing his Mysterium
Baphometis Revelatum, von Hammer had also
translated Ancient Alphabets and Hieroglyphic Characters Explained, a mysterious text by the 9th- or 10th- century Arabic historian and alchemist Ibn Wahshiyya the Nabatean, who is believed to have (at least partially) deciphered the ancient Egyptian hieroglyph writing system, some 800 years before the French philologist Champollion. In Ancient
Alphabets, after several pages of hieroglyphs and their meanings (said by Ibn Wahshiyya to represent the ‘Hermesian language’) is a curious beetle-bodied, winged figure named as ‘Bahumed.’ “This figure,” writes Ibn Wahshiyya, “is expressive of the most sublime secret, called originally Bahumed and Kharuf (or calf) viz. The Secret of the nature of the world, or The Secret of Secrets, or The Beginning and Return of every thing.” 15
Von Hammer offered his own etymology for the name Baphomet, suggesting that it was derived from the Greek βαφη ( bafo) and
μητεοϛ ( meti), that is, “the Gnostic baptism, which was not performed by the water of redemption, but was a spiritual lustration by fire: BAFOMET therefore signifies illumination of the spirit.” 16
150 years later, Idries Shah proposed an alternative derivation. Writing as ‘Arkon Daraul’ in his Secret Societies (Frederick Muller, 1961), he suggests ‘Baphomet’ to be a corruption of the Arabic abu fihamat (father of understanding). Elsewhere, Lévi had argued that the name was composed of three abbreviations, TEM. OHP. AB., that is, Templi
omnium hominum pacis abbas (‘the father of the temple of universal peace among men’). Why it should have been in reverse order Lévi did not explain; perhaps it was an echo of the backward liturgy of the Satanic Black Mass. 17
Whether von Hammer’s thesis has any validity or not (and most modern historians give him short shrift), it is probable that Mysterium Baphometis Revelatum, particularly the imagery of the line drawings, was a major influence upon Lévi’s conception of Baphomet.
Nineteenth-century Romantic authors helped keep the legend of the Knights Templar alive; but more than that, the Romantics are in large part responsible for the mystique in which the Templars are now cloaked. Much popular belief now views them as repositories of ancient wisdom, of powerful magical knowledge, rather than simple Crusading warriors or bankers. A negative version of this sees them as an Illuminati-style secret society bent on world domination. Balzac portrayed them as the guardians of esoteric secrets passed down from Chaldea, India, Persia, Egypt and Morocco. In contrast, Walter Raleigh’s Templars are ruthless and fanatical, without religion or moral values, intent only on accumulating and consolidating their power. The poet Gérard de Nerval saw the crusading Templars as a secret and mystical society that had sought to synthesise Catholicism with the ideas of Middle Eastern sects like the Druze, Gnostics and Essenes. The Druze, he wrote in his Voyages en Orient, “have been compared to the Pythagoreans, the Essenes, the Gnostics, and it appears that the Templars, the Rouge-Croix and the modern Freemasons borrowed many of their ideas.” 18 He also claimed that the Druze employ a black stone as a means of recognising one another, and that “this Stone must be the bohomet (little idol) which is referred to in the trial of the Templars.” 19 Presumably this black stone is a literary echo of the sacred Kaaba of Mecca, but, in the sense of a mysterious stone with its own recondite name, it is also peculiarly reminiscent of Kenneth Grant’s Cult of the Black Stone, Ixaxaar (by way of Arthur Machen’s Novel of the Black Seal. 20
IT’S THAT MAN AGAIN
Mention of Kenneth Grant inevitably leads us on to Aleister Crowley; indeed, a discussion of Baphomet would be incomplete without mention of the Beast. At the start of the 20th century, a group of highranking German and Austrian Freemasons established the Order of Oriental Templars, or Ordo Templi Orientis (OTO). It differed from other Masonic orders in that it placed sexual magic, teachings apparently derived from Indian yogins, at its core. The trials of the 14th century having linked the Knights Templar with unusual sexual practices in the popular imagination meant that the name of the order was apposite. Just over 10 years later, in 1912, Theodor Reuss, then head of the OTO, appointed Crowley to be the Order’s head in Great Britain, his full title being Supreme and Holy King of Ireland, Iona
and all the Britains within the Sanctuary of
the Gnosis. Crowley took the magical name of Baphomet. By so doing, he was associating himself not only with the esoteric and proto-Masonic wisdom of the Templars, but also, perhaps, with Satanism, by way of the blasphemous, sexualised image of Lévi’s Mendes goat. “This serpent, SATAN,” Crowley wrote, “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 [i.e. the Tarot], and his emblem is BAPHOMET, the Androgyne who is the hieroglyph of arcane perfection.” 21 This is Satan or Lucifer as Light-bringer, teacher of humankind, encouraging us childlike, timid humans to become free-thinking and independent. This benevolent Devil was portrayed by the sculptor of The Satanic Temple’s Detroit Baphomet, who keeps a kindly watch over his two wards, the adoring boy and girl; whereas the Devil in the RiderWaite Tarot shows the man and woman in chains, enslaved to him by their physical desires.
During the 1918 Amalantrah Working, Roddie Minor, one of Crowley’s Scarlet Women, acted as a medium and communicated (whilst in an opium trance) with an entity known as the Wizard Amalantrah. Crowley enquired of the Wizard the correct way to spell Baphomet (using Hebrew letters). He was informed that there was an additional ‘R’ at the end – BAFVMIThR – which name he associated with Mithras. And, by gematria, this spelling yielded the number 729 (9 x 9 x 9). Crowley wrote: “This number had never appeared in my Cabalistic working and therefore meant nothing to me. It however justified itself as the cube of nine. The word Κηφᾶς [kephas], 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… 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.” 22
Perhaps the cube upon which Baphomet sits in the famous engraving by Lévi (who, incidentally, was claimed by Crowley as a previous incarnation) may be interpreted as the Temple’s cornerstone, a symbol of Masonry as well as of Christ (“the stone which the builders rejected is become the head of the corner” – Mark 12:10). Whilst Lévi denied that his Baphomet was to be equated with the Devil, proposing that the figure be regarded as a symbol of initiation, such a link had been made elsewhere. The 18th-century German theologian and Freemason Johann August Starck appears to have been the first to have made this suggestion, in his 1766 Canon of the Temple. This identification of Baphomet with Satan has proved to be a persistent one. The so-called Sigil of Baphomet (a goat’s head within a pentagram), a variant image on the Baphomet theme, has become popular in recent years owing to its adoption by various heavy metal groups (see, for example, Geordie proto-blackmetal bandVenom’s 1981 debut album Welcome to Hell). In fact, the design had appeared on an earlier album cover: the Church of Satan’s Satanic Mass LP from 1968. As well as a recording of a Satanic Mass itself, the LP included some spoken-word material that was subsequently published in the Satanic Bible, whose cover also featured the Sigil. The Church of Satan’s founder Anton LaVey is credited with having created the Sigil; however, it does have a 19th-century antecedent. Stanislas de Guaita, the fin-de-siècle French poet, mystic, cabbalist and Rosicrucian published his La Clef de la Magie Noire in 1897; 23 an illustration on page 387 shows two pentagrams, one of which is inverted. This latter has a goat’s
head within the pentagram, surrounded by five Hebrew letters at each of its points. These spell LVYTN or Leviathan, the monstrous sea beast from the Old Testament and the Apocrypha; and as de Guaita’s design also bears the names of Samael and Lilith. 24 It’s clear why this pentagram is reversed, pointing downwards towards Earth or to Hell (in contrast to the upward-pointing pentagram with the names of Adam, Eve and a Cabbalistic spelling of Christ in Hebrew letters) and why LaVey co-opted it.
This ‘Leviathan’ Sigil is believed to have been designed for de Guaita by Oswald Wirth, who later produced his own Tarot deck. 25 More recently, the image was reproduced in Maurice Bessy’s 1962 Histoire
en 1000 Images de la Magie. 26 Bessy’s book was LaVey’s source for the image, but whilst the Church of Satan’s image kept the Hebrew letters, it dropped the names of Lilith and Samael. Perhaps the Hebrew appeared more esoteric, but more importantly, LaVey wished to retain the name Leviathan, who (according to the 15th-century Book of
Abramelin) is one of the four Crown Princes of Hell; he represents the element of water and the West quarter.
As the official symbol of the Church of Satan and of LaVeyan Satanism, the Sigil of Baphomet is available in numerous forms worldwide (check eBay for embroidered Baphomet patches, T-shirts, hoodies and the like). This, of course, has helped to spread awareness and recognition of the name Baphomet.
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Baphomet is arguably now more popular than ever before. In 2003, novelist Dan Brown brought the name to the attention of millions who would previously have been unaware of the goat-headed one. In The Da Vinci Code, Brown proposes that ‘Baphomet’ is simply an encoded form of the Greek word sophia (wisdom), using, somewhat tortuously, the
Atbash substitution cipher. 27 Prior to Brown was Baigent, Leigh and Lincoln’s best-selling
The Holy Blood and the Holy Grail (1982). Here, the Templars are on a top-secret archæological dig beneath Jerusalem’s Temple Mount at the end of the 11th century, where they apparently find proof of Jesus’s marriage to Mary Magdalene, their children, and the continuing bloodline. Keith Laidler went one better in his The Head of God: The Lost Treasure of the Templars (1998), in which the Templars dig up the embalmed head of Jesus; this clearly references the Templar interrogations and trials and the allegations of idolatry centred on a head they called Baphomet.
The figure of Baphomet is, whether named as such or not, an enduring one; an image and a character that speaks to our unconscious desires, the allure of transgression and of blurred demarcation lines. Baphometthemed T-shirts, hoodies, statuettes, mobile phone cases and more are offered on eBay and Amazon; even a traditional Baphomet Christmas knitted jumper is available.
Has the commodified rebellion and consumer transgression of late capitalism kept Baphomet in the public eye, and in the baskets of online shopping websites? Some of the aforementioned Baphomet products bear no resemblance to Lévi’s design, instead featuring upside-down pentagrams, the number ‘666’ and so on: generic shopping-mall Satanist trinkets. Clearly the name is a familiar one, and thus successful as a marketing tool. No doubt, Crowley’s identification with Baphomet helped keep the name, if nothing else, in the spotlight. Might one argue that Crowley’s bisexuality was a precursor to the sexual liberation of the last 50 years? Or that his placing sex and sexuality at the heart of human experience prefigured its centrality in today’s popular culture? Baphomet, as a variant of Satan, may be said to represent unashamed sexuality and the pleasures of bodily experience. Perhaps that is one reason for her/his continued popularity today.
Unlike Detroit, the United Kingdom does not yet boast its own Baphomet statue. Surely that time has come, and, just as London’s ICA recently displayed a giant Pazuzu on its roof, I look forward to seeing a winged, horned, goat-headed hermaphrodite standing tall and proud upon Trafalgar Square’s Fourth Plinth.
ABOVE LEFT: Carvings on the Templar Commandery building in Saint Bris-le-Vineux include a Baphomet-like head. ABOVE RIGHT: Another carving, on the church of Saint-Merri in Paris, bears an even closer resemblance to Lévi’s Baphomet. BELOW: Goya’s 1798 painting El Aquellare might have been another influence on Lévi.
ABOVE: Another possible source for Lévi’s Baphomet is the goat-headed, winged Devil seen in numerous illustrations in Guazzo’s Compendium Maleficarum of 1608.
ABOVE: Freemasons dressed as Knights Templar worship Baphomet in an engraving from Les Mysteres de la Franc-maconnerie by Leo Taxil.
ABOVE: Various Tarot decks either prefigure or echo Lévi’s Baphomet: (left to right) The Rider-Waite Tarot, the Tarot de Marseilles and the Visconti-Sforza Tarot. LEFT: One of von Hammer’s probably forged ancient representations of Baphomet. BELOW: The beetle-bodied, winged figure of ‘Bahumed’ in Ancient Alphabets.
BELOW: The Sigil also appeared on the Church’s 1968 Satanic Mass LP, and these days adorns T-shirts, hoodies and even seasonal knitwear.