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Baphomet is a deity, demon, and/or symbolic icon which originated in the 14th century as a supposed figure of worship of the Knights Templar. In those accounts, Baphomet was described as an inscribed head or human skull. The name "Baphomet" originally was a deformation of the name of Muhammad, the prophet of Islam. Claims that the Templars were worshipping "Baphomet" meant, in fact, that they were secret Muslims. Medieval European folklore did not recognize that Islam was a monotheistic faith, and imagined instead that Muslims prayed and sacrificed to a number of terrifying and evil imaginary deities.
In the 19th century, French occultist Eliphas Lévi formulated the modern conception of the figure via an illustration portraying it with wings, a horned goat's head and an emblazoned pentagram...and, oddly, breasts (though that might be unsurprising, since it was drawn by a Frenchman). The Freemasons were thereafter accused of worshipping it, after which it was incorporated into the theology of Thelema, and in turn into the iconography of LaVeyan Satanism.
Owing to Levi's drawing and these associations, the figure, in a similar manner to Baal and Moloch, has (mistakenly) become virtually synonymous with Satan in popular consciousness, and it continues to be brought up in the present day by conspiracy theorists as the claimed god of whoever their boogeyman of choice is.
In the Templar confessions
In 1307, King Philip IV of France owed a lot of money to the Templars (and was furthermore angry at them because they wouldn’t let him become a member) and figured he could weasel out of it and take revenge on his creditors by slandering them into oblivion. On October 13, he ordered the arrest of hundreds within France on charges of all the usual suspects (heresy, apostasy, idolatry, devil worship, homosexual orgies, money laundering, etc.), and had them tortured until they confessed to anything he wanted to hear.
The worship of Baphomet was not, unto itself, one of the charges; however, a handful of the internees brought the name up on their own accord. The Templars' account of the figure offered at this point was different from that of the modern conception, described variously as: an idol with a human skull, a head with two faces, a cat idol, or a bearded head. Whatever the case, the figure supposedly served a role in the Templars' initiation ceremonies.
Eliphas Lévi and Baphomet
The image that everyone envisions when they hear the name "Baphomet" — that of a winged humanoid goat with a pair of breasts and a torch on his head between his horns gesturing towards two crescent moons — did not appear until over 500 years after the business with the Templars. This image — also known as the "Goat of Mendes" — comes from Eliphas Lévi's 1854 Dogme et rituel de la haute magie (in English known as Transcendental Magic).
Lévi's depiction, for all its fame, is not particularly authentic to the historical description from the Templar trials, although it is not unlike gargoyles found on several Templar-built churches — or Viollet-le-Duc's vivid gargoyles added to Notre Dame de Paris about the same time as Lévi's illustration. Mainly, however, Lévi appears to have devised the figure by combining the depiction of the Devil in the Tarot de Marseille with the hieroglyphic depiction of the ram-headed Egyptian deity Banebdjedet, which was worshipped at Mendes but which Lévi mistakenly interpreted as goat-headed rather than ram-headed. In turn, Lévi's Baphomet image influenced the design of Devil cards in later Tarot decks made for the occult market.
Lévi explains the significance of his image of Baphomet as follows:
“”A pantheistic and magical figure of the Absolute. The torch placed between the two horns represents the equilibrating intelligence of the triad. The goat's head, which is synthetic, and unites some characteristics of the dog, bull, and ass, represents the exclusive responsibility of matter and the expiation of bodily sins in the body. The hands are human, to exhibit the sanctity of labour; they make the sign of esotericism above and below, to impress mystery on initiates, and they point at two lunar crescents, the upper being white and the lower black, to explain the correspondences of good and evil, mercy and justice. The lower part of the body is veiled, portraying the mysteries of universal generation, which is expressed solely by the symbol of the caduceus. The belly of the goat is scaled, and should be coloured green; the semi-circle above should be blue; the plumage, reaching to the breast, should be of various hues. The goat has female breasts, and thus its only human characteristics are those of maternity and toil, otherwise the signs of redemption. On its forehead, between the horns and beneath the torch, is the sign of the microcosm, or the pentagram with one beam in the ascendant, symbol of human intelligence, which, placed thus below the torch, makes the flame of the latter an image of divine revelation. This Pantheos should be seated on a cube, and its footstool should be a single ball, or a ball and a triangular stool. In our design we have given the former only to avoid complicating the figure.
|—Eliphas Lévi, Transcendental magic, its doctrine and ritual|
This seems rather lofty and abstract for a picture of a goat with human teats. The TL;DR version? It represents the totality of existence, and the unification of opposites, such as masculinity and femininity, day and night, entropy and extropy, etc. as a divine whole; somewhat akin to the Hindu concept of Brahman. In other words, nothin' whatsoever to do with the Biblical Satan.
The Taxil Hoax
In 1885, the Templar episode repeated itself. A journalist named Gabriel Antoine Jogand-Pagès was pissed at the Freemasons because they'd kicked him out, and sought to take revenge by leveraging pretty much the same accusations against them that King Philip had against the Templars. So he adopted the pseudonym "Leo Taxil" and published a book accusing them of child sacrifices, homosexual orgies, stealing candy from children on Halloween and cackling maniacally, etc., etc. (oh, and worshipping Baphomet too, of course), and let the moral panic-happy Catholic Church take it from there. Taxil's claims had all the authenticity of an Alex Jones YouTube video, but that, of course, hasn't stopped both the Alex Jones viewerbase and (as noted on the article of the Freemasons) Evangelical Christians from seizing upon them right up until the present day.
Baphomet in Thelema
In the 1910s, Aleister Crowley adopted Lévi's figure as a deity within his religion/magical system Thelema. Within this context, it again represents the unification of opposites such as masculinity and femininity, and more specifically of the masculine and feminine deities Chaos and Babalon. In his magnum opus, Magick (Book 4), Crowley offers a similarly ponderous explanation for the figure (although note, again, how explicitly and specifically he denies any connection between the figure and the Biblical Satan):
“”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.
|—Aleister Crowley, Magick (Book 4)|
Baphomet in LaVeyan Satanism
Another depiction of Baphomet that's almost as well-known as Lévi's drawing is that of the Sigil of Baphomet (left), wherein the horns, ears, and chin of a goat form a pentagram surrounded by five Hebrew glyphs which spell the word: "Leviathan". This depiction originated in the book La Clef de la Magie Noire by French occultist Stanislas de Guaita, in 1897, and was later used in Mourice Bessy's book A Pictorial History of Magic and the Supernatural. In the 1960s, when Anton LaVey was formulating the Church of Satan, he decided to adopt this depiction as the symbol of his religion, in much the same manner that Crowley adopted Lévi's conception of the figure into Thelema. Once again, the figure, in this context, does not represent the Biblical Satan (whom LaVeyan Satanists do not worship in the first place), but rather simply comprises a metaphor for the Church's beliefs and values. The Church describes it as: "[The] preeminent visual distillation of the iconoclastic philosophy of Satanism."
Baphomet in contemporary conspiracy theories and popular culture
Despite the fact that Baphomet is blatantly not the same entity as Satan in the context of either the Templar confessions, Lévi's illustration, the cosmology of Thelema, or the symbolism or the Church of Satan, and despite the fact that everything that Jogand-Pagès wrote was pure hogwash, the reputation it has accumulated through these associations is more than enough for contemporary conspiracy theorists from Jack Chick to David J. Stewart to continue citing it as an all-pervasive boogeyman. Whether you're the Freemasons, the Illuminati, the New World Order, Skull and Bones, or whoever else, you can bet that some green ink website will have accused you of worshipping Baphomet at some point. One particularly popular theory is that the statue of George Washington by Horatio Greenough, located in the National Museum of American History, Washington, D.C., represents Baphomet, because, well, because its arms happen to be situated in similar positions to those of the figure in Lévi's drawing. (See also: Washington, D.C. street design conspiracy theory).
Outside such circles, Baphomet is present in popular culture more than often considering it a demon, as in Dungeons and Dragons or the video game Shin Megami Tensei, among other examples, as well as in occult circles and some neo-pagan circles, often in a more positive light.
In 2014, a Satanist group calling itself the Satanic Temple planned to install a monument featuring Baphomet at the Oklahoma state capitol (promoting "compassion and empathy among all living creatures"). This was in response to a Ten Commandments monument being approved on the same site, which had been seen as going against the separation of church and state. The plan was put on hold when the Ten Commandments monument was destroyed by vandals later that year, but the group said that the Baphomet statue would be erected if the Ten Commandments monument was restored.  The Oklahoma Supreme Court controversally banned all religious displays at the capitol, and the controversial statue was later erected amid protests and emotional scenes in Detroit.
The statue may be taken to Arkansas, where another 10 Commandments monument has been authorised. Formal requests have been made to put up monuments to the Big Ten and to Baphomet and representatives for both proposals have held discussions. An atheist group has applied to put up a brick wall called a 'wall of separation' with quotes from the founding fathers and others about the importance of keeping religion and secular government separate. If the Ten Commandments monument is allowed and either of the other two are denied, there will be a court case. Legislation has been passed making erection of the wall and the Baphomet monument more difficult and the courts could get involved.
The Satanic Temple have also accused the makers of the Netflix horror-comedy series The Chilling Adventures of Sabrina of copying the copyrighted image of their deity as depicted in the statue. A statue made for the TV series includes elements like the adoring children, not found in the Lévi image.
Etymology of the name "Baphomet"
All non-occult scholars consider the name "Baphomet" to be a deformation of the Latinised "Mahomet", or really "bayt Mahomet", a mediæval European rendering of (house of) Muhammad, the name of the Prophet of Islam. Accusations of worshipping Baphomet therefore meant that the Templars were being accused of being secret Muslims. In medieval European folklore, Muslims were fancied to be "pagans" worshipping Muhammad as a deity, in addition to other fictional deities such as Termagant. This seems clear from the accounts of the Templar trials, which mention Allah and Muhammad in addition to Baphomet:
“”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."
Similarly, Austorc d'Aorlhac, a thirteenth century troubador, in Ai! Dieus! Per qu'as facha tan gran maleza[note 1], mentions Baphomet and Termagant in the same passage, as deities allegedly worshipped by Muslims:
- ...per qu'es razos qu'hom hueymais Dieu descreza
e qu'azorem Bafomet, lai on es,
Tervagan e sa companhia....
- "So now it's reasonable that we abandon God, and that we worship Baphomet there where he stands, and Termagant and his companions."
D'Aorlhac's poem was a lament for the defeat of the Seventh Crusade.
Occultists don't like to keep things this straightforward, though. A variety of other explanations have been proposed:
- Montague Summers proposed that the word represents the Greek words 'Baphe' and 'Metis'. The two words together would mean "Baptism of Wisdom".
- Atbash cipher for the Goddess Sophia. Dr Hugh Schonfield, one of the scholars who worked on the Dead Sea Scrolls, believed 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 becomes בפומת; interpreted using Atbash, it becomes שופיא, which can be interpreted as the Greek word "Sophia", or wisdom.
- Idries Shah, writing as "Arkon Daraul" in his book on secret societies, proposed that "Baphomet" may actually derive from the Arabic word ابو فهمة Abufihamat, meaning "The Father of Understanding," and associated with Sufism.
- Lévi proposed that the name was composed from a series of abbreviations: 'Temp. ohp. Ab.' which originates from Latin 'Templi omnium hominum pacis abhas,' meaning "the father of universal peace among men." An alternative reading could be tem. o. h. p. ab. for templi omnium hominum pacis abbas. The translation in this case is abbot of the temple of peace of all mankind, perhaps referring to the Templars themselves.
- Austorc d'Aorlhac, Ai Dieus, per qu’as facha tan gran maleza, with translations.
- Jack Chick, That's Baphomet? Sounds like an engaging title for a sitcom.
- Eliphas Lévi, Transcendental magic, its doctrine and ritual (1896). Arthur Edward Waite, translator.
- Pneumatikos, Analysis of the Archetypal Symbolism and Etymology of Baphomet
- Montague Summers, The history of witchcraft and demonology, (1926)
- Arthur Edward Waite, Devil Worship in France (1898). Debunks the Taxil hoax.
- "Alas! God! Since you've done us such a great wrong."
- Sara C. Nelson, "Satanic Temple's 7 ft. 'Baphomet' demon is coming along nicely", Huffington Post UK, 5 February 2014
- "The Satanic Temple submits monument design to Oklahoma City", Release Wire, 6 January 2014
- Satanists Put Oklahoma Statue On Hold After Christian Statue Destroyed
- Satanists unveil sculpture in Detroit after rejection at Oklahoma capitol
- Protesters: Don't turn Detroit over to Satanists
- Satanic Temple unveils controversial Baphomet sculpture to cheers of 'Hail Satan'
- Arkansas is One Step Closer to Putting an Illegal Ten Commandments Monument on Capitol Grounds Satanists Have Submitted a Glorious Application to Install a Baphomet Statue in the AR Capitol
- The Satanic Temple is a Step Closer to Installing a Baphomet Monument at the Arkansas Capitol
- Atheists Have Submitted an Application to Erect a “Wall of Separation” Outside the Arkansas Capitol
- Arkansas House Passes Emergency Bill to Prevent Satanists from Putting Monument on Capitol Grounds
- Bakare, Lanre. Satanic Temple sues Netflix over Chilling Adventures of Sabrina's demonic statue, The Guardian, Nov. 9, 2018.
- See E. Cobham Brewer, Termagant, in Brewer's History of Phrase and Fable (1898)
- Thomas Wright, The Worship of the Generative Powers, ch. 14
- Jaye Puckett, "Reconmenciez novele estoire: The Troubadours and the Rhetoric of the Later Crusades," Modern Language Notes, v. 116 no. 4, French Issue (September 2001:844–889), p. 878, note 59.