Analysis of the Archetypal Symbolism and Etymology of Baphomet
The image above was created by Alphonse Louis Constant under the pseudonym of Eliphas Levi Zahed, and published in a two volume book titled Dogme et Ritual de la Haute Magie, in 1856. The English title is Transcendental Magic: It’s Doctrine and Ritual, as translated by Arthur Edward Waite, a Freemason and esoteric author. But the literal translation is The Dogma and Ritual of High Magic.
In this book, Levi called the image ‘The Templar Baphomet’ and the ‘Baphomet of Mendes’, explaining that it is a composite representation of Pan and similar archetypal horned-gods of fertility, generation, virility, pleasure, and hedonism; comparing it to the Devil card from the Tarot, which is usually shown with a man and woman chained to the block on which he stands to represent man’s bond with the material world and the incarnate soul.
Card number 15, The Devil, from the Jean Noblet tarot.
Born in 1810, Levi, a former Roman Catholic Priest, became an occult writer after dropping out of seminary and discovering the esoteric path. Some historians speculate that he was in fact excommunicated for his heretical views and unorthodox teachings. Nevertheless, he went on to join the Fraternitas Rosae Crucis (FRC), and eventually rose to the office of Supreme grand Master of the Conclave and Supreme Master for the Western World. Fascinated with the idea of synthesizing philosophy, mathematics, religion, and other aspects of life, he utilized his theological training to convey esoteric ideas through symbolism and defied the narrow view and rigid interpretation perpetuated by what he claimed as church indoctrination. (Barrett 153, Tau Apiryon)
The Age of Enlightenment
While the age of enlightenment refers to the period between 1688 and 1789, the later part of the eighteenth century saw an occult revival amidst political unrest, criticism of the established church, and social revolution. Free thought and liberation from political and religious persecution enticed millions to explore new philosophies and novel avenues of self expression. Charles Darwin published The Origin of Species in 1859 which shook the already weak faith of many in the established Church, and numerous old fallacies and superstitions were turned aside to make room for a modern age of reason.
Ironically, free thought quickly gave way to spiritualism and occult curiosity as numerous esoteric publications revived the art of spiritual alchemy, Kabalah, and other arcane philosophies which spawned new religions, fraternal orders and secret societies.
The eighteenth century produced such notable and prolific authors as Madam Helena Petrovna Blavatsky (founder of the Theosophical Society), Albert Pike (Scottish Rite Grand Commander and prolific Masonic writer), Theodore Reuss (founder of the Ordo Templi Orientis), Arthur Edward Waite (Rosicrucian, Golden Dawn), Gerald Brosseau Gardner (founder of Gardnerian Wicca), John Yarker (Oriental Rite of Memphis,Rite of Mizraim), Samuel Liddel MacGreggor Mathers and William Wynn Wescott ( Co-founders of the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn), Paul Foster Case ( member of the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn and founder of the Builders of the Adytum), Aleister Crowley (member of the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn, Outer Head of the Ordo Templi Orientis, founder of the Argentium Astrum, founder of the religion of Thelema), and Gerard Encausse (founder of the order of Martinism).
“Pan”, Musée du Louvre, Paris, France
Cernunnos, Costume Network Gallery.
Levi and others revived old Pagan, Babylonian and Egyptian gods that the Roman Catholic Church had been effectively demonizing for centuries; most especially the Capricornus Goat god who exemplified pleasure, fertility, and primacy of nature. Pan, the Black Goat of the Sabbat, was also known as the Green Man and Cernunnos, whose archetypal history can be traced all the way back to Babylonia and Sumeria as one who taught initiation and commanded mankind to ‘Know Thyself’. Once considered to be the embodiment of Gnosis and enlightenment, he became the scapegoat for all that was wrong in the world when Rome embraced Christianity; and along with other Pagan icons, was sacrificed on the altar of deception, ignorance, megalomania and greed.
Green-Man in St. Wilfrid’s Mobberley (Church of England)
Garden ornament of the horned god Cernunnous, the Green Man.
The word Pan as a prefix, means “all, whole, all-inclusive”, which explains the ubiquitous nature of this god and his correspondence to the universal life force. But there has been quite a lot of speculation as to the origin of the name of Baphomet. Indries Shaw, a Sufi scholar claimed it originated from the Arabic term abu fi ‘hamat, meaning ‘father of wisdom’ or ‘father of understanding’, explaining also that the Arabic term Ras el ‘fahmat means ‘head of knowledge’. And according to author Joshua Seraphim the Arabic word for father also translates into ‘source’ or ‘chief seat’, relating it to the great Sufi healer and martyr, Husain ibn Mansur al ‘Hallaj, who was crucified and beheaded in 922 A.D. His mother had his head preserved as a relic, which calls to mind the unsubstantiated stories about the Templar Knights worshiping the preserved head of John the Baptist. (Harper Etymology, Secret Rituals 59)
Another theory of the etymology of Baphomet states that a combination of the Greek words baphe and metis, meaning absorption of knowledge, or baptism of Metis who is a Gnostic goddess of wisdom. (Guiley 30, Walker, 89) According to Levi, the name of the Templar Baphomet should be “spelt Kabalistically backwards, producing three abbreviations: TEM OHP AB, which represents the Latin phrase Templi omnivm hominum pacis abbas, and translates to: The Father Of The Temple Of Peace Of All Men.” Stephen Dafoe, a respected author on Templar history, considers this to be a reference to King Solomon’s Temple, which Levi believed had the sole purpose of bringing peace to the world. (Levi 86, Man Behind Baphomet)
In Dogme et Ritual de la Haute Magie, Levi explained the image of Baphomet thus:
The goat which is represented in our frontispiece bears upon its forehead the Sign of the Pentagram with one point in the ascendant, which is sufficient to distinguish it as a symbol of the light. Moreover, the sign of occultism is made with both hands, pointing upward to the white moon of Chesed, and downward to the black moon of Geburah. This sign expresses the perfect concord between mercy and justice. One of the arms is feminine and the other masculine, as in the androgyne of Khunrath, those attributes we have combined with those of our goat, since they are one and the same symbol. The torch of intelligence burning between the horns is the magical light of universal equilibrium; it is also the type of the soul, exalted above matter, even while cleaving to matter, as the flame cleaves to the torch. The monstrous head of the animal expresses horror of sin, for which the material agent, alone responsible, must alone and forever bear the penalty, because the soul is impassible in its nature and can suffer only by materializing. The caduceus, which, replaces the generative organ, represents eternal life; the scale-covered belly typifies water; the circle above it is the atmosphere, the feathers still higher up signify the volatile; lastly, humanity is depicted by the two breasts and the androgyne arms of this sphinx of the occult sciences. (Levi 82)
A. E. Waite, a Rosicrucian, created a more ‘Christianized’ and masculine version of Baphomet for his infamous Rider-Waite tarot deck. Notice the averse pentagram on the forehead and the absence of female breasts, caduceus, and torch of illumination.
Waite’s interpretation from the Rider-Waite deck
The Woman’s Encyclopedia of Myths and Secrets explains that the Baphomet was a bisexual idol that the Templar Knights were accused of worshiping during the heresy trials of the 14th century and some say it is a corruption of the name Mohammed. But this is absurd, according to Albert Pike, as the Templars never venerated the Arab prophet. (Walker 89, Pike 818)
Whether or not the Templars were persuaded to the Muslum faith is a matter of conjecture. But Islam was and is still aniconic, and would not have approved of such an idol in the first place. Pike states that the symbolism of the Templars originated in earlier ages, going all the way back to Aaron’s calf of gold, made for the Israelites. He complained “The symbols of the wise always become the idols of the ignorant multitude.” (Pike 818)
Levi observed that the bull (and cow), goat, and dog were chief symbolical animals in ancient Egypt and India, with the bull representing Earth and the Salt of the alchemical trinity while the dog signified Hermanubis or Anubis, the fluidic Mercury, and the goat symbolized the sulfuric fire of virility.
While Pike believed the symbolism originated from Aaron’s calf of gold, which represented the god Baal, Levi related the Old Testament story of two consecrated goats. One, the scapegoat, was symbolically loaded with the sins of the multitudes and released to wander in the desert as a sacrifice to Azazel, while the “pure one was promptly sacrificed to YHVH. “…a strange ordinance, but one deep in symbolism and signifying reconciliation by sacrifice and expiation by liberty!” (Levi 82) (Leviticus 16).
Perhaps this is a story of reconciling sin (which implies restriction of the soul), and absolute freedom, illustrating the idea of balance between opposites, and, on a deeper level, the ebb and flow between extremes. The impure goat represents the constraint of material existence as the soul remains wrapped inside the body and wanders the Earth. The pure goat which represents the spirit or soul, becomes an offering to God.
Elaborating this concept, Helena and Tau Apiryon stated:
The “evil” of Baphomet, the “Devil” of the Tarot, is not the evil of crime or oppression or superstitious blasphemy, but that which was considered most “evil” by the Manichaeans and other Old Aeon Gnostics, namely generation, which results in incarnation, the “imprisonment” of pure Spirit in the impure “Tomb” of matter. (Creed)
In another viewpoint, Nigel Jackson and Michael Howard elucidate that the outward imagery of the goat relates to its astrological symbolism of material wealth and worldly ambition, which is emphasized by its impulse to climb mountains. But the inner level is one of transformation into the spiritual as the goat climbs to the home of the Gods or the spiritual summit, thus achieving the spiritual goal of the Great Work.
By this process the sheep are separated from the goats by the Good Shepherd. The goats are the initiates who follow the sunlit path to the top of the mountain and the sheep are the materialists and the followers of orthodox religions who stay in the dark valley below. (Pillars 226)
Jackson & Howard caution their readers however, not to allow this metaphor to push them into the trap of spiritual arrogance. This is sound advice, as the Eastern philosophers describe many paths to spiritual enlightenment which include orthodox religions.
The alchemical Baphomet, as a horned, androgynous creature representing the universal force, reconciles the elements with bat-like feathered wings (air), scales (water), hooves and cubical seat (earth), and a torch (fire). The primal matter or prima materia is exemplified by the overall chimera-like quality of the image, conforming to historically established edicts against the creation of idols resembling actual creatures.
“You shall not make for yourself a carved image, or any likeness of anything that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth.” (Exodus 20:4)
The cloven hooves and cubical stool signify the densest and heaviest material and lowest form of earthly matter. It also represents the plane of bodily sensation, pleasure, and inhibition which naturally leads into the water symbolism of the scales and feminine breasts symbolizing feminine life force, childbirth, emotions, love, nourishment, and healing. The two serpents (currents) winding their way around the TAU shaped caduceus implies the opposing forces which are in eternal balance, male and female joined as one, wisdom and understanding, the two hemispheres of the brain, the bipedal nature of man, the twin spirals of DNA, the Kundalinî, and the union of a fiery, fluorescent sperm with the dark, elusive egg.
Epitomizing the concept of balance, Baphomet reconciles layers of opposing forces, symbolically unifying the dual nature of material existence. The right hand is pointed upward at a white (waxing) moon with the hermetic sign as the left hand is pointed downward toward a black (waning) moon, illustrating the second code of the Emerald Tablet of Hermes, ‘What is above is like what is below, and what is below is like that which is above, to make the miracle of the one thing.‘
In other words the atoms, galaxies, and everything else are governed by the same laws.
The phallic caduceus wand, worn by healers and carried by Mercury/Hermes represented life and abundance.
Ceiling mural by Tiepolo
As a messenger of the gods, Mercury/Hermes was often accompanied by a ram or goat symbolizing fertility. With his winged shoes and cap, Mercury embodies the airy, unpredictable aspect of life. He is the archetypal trickster whose pranks impart vital life lessons. He is air, the nurturer of all that breathes, which alludes to the volatile portion of the alchemical prima materia which is fixed by the heavier elements; the spirit animating the body as the body holds the spirit captive.
The right arm of this alchemical sphinx bares the word “Solve” (dissolve), and reflects the light, active, male force, while the left arm bares the word “Coagula” (coagulate), reflecting the dark, passive, female force, and conveying the ebb and flow of the cycle of life, as things coagulate or converge eventually dissolve or diverge. Physical fire and water accelerate both of these processes, as well as the intellectual and spiritual fire coming from the torch of illumination with its three points signifying the Triune nature of the One.
The upright pentagram at the base of the torch can symbolize a myriad of microcosmic ideas such as the soul, will or spirit of man having dominion over the 4 elements. Levi indicated that a counterbalancing or averse pentagram, representing the feminine aspect, can be traced over the head. And regrettably, a hundred years later Anton LeVay would popularize that structure as a logo for his Church of Satan, closing the minds of millions while demonizing and trivializing it. For thousands of years the averse pentagram meant nothing more than the heavy, female, passive force of the Spirit as it sunk downward to manifest in the material body, as opposed to the single tip pointing upward, denoting the masculine aspect and the Spirit actively moving heavenward.
The persecution and torture of the Templar Knights by King Phillip in 1307 resulted in numerous confessions given under duress. None of over a hundred heretical charges were ever proven, no statue was ever found among their possessions, and none of the numerous counterfeits proved to be the Baphomet of the Templars. Many statements by the Templars themselves conflicted with one another as to the nature of this idol. Some accounts claim it was a human skull, others, a head with two faces, and still others said it was a cat, a cockerel or a goat. These conflicting accounts could point to the idea that the Baphomet takes many symbolic forms, but it is more likely the Templars were forced to make something up while they were being tortured.
Curiously, some of the grotesque carvings found on the Templar churches of Lanleff in Brittany and St. Merri in Paris, depict squatting hybrid man-like creatures with bat wings, female breasts, horns and beastly, bushy legs, which possibly served as an inspiration for Levi’s Baphomet.
Church of Saint-Merri (Eglise Saint-Merri), built between 1500 and 1550, Rue Saint Martin.
A Devilish Hoax
Thirty years after Dogme et Ritual de la Haute Magie was published, Leo Taxil, a disillusioned ex-Roman Catholic who was expelled from Freemasonry for misconduct, used the Baphomet image to pull off a hoax that would embarrass the Catholic Church and change the public’s perception of Freemasonry for years to come by connecting it with Baphomet and the Templars; spawning hundreds of anti-Freemasonry conspiracy books and web sites. (Gilgoff)
Les Mystères de la Franc-Maçonnerie Dévoilésl [The Mysteries of Freemasonry Unveiled by Léo Taxil 1886
In his book, The Mysteries of Freemasonry Unveiled, Taxil depicted an image of Baphomet similar to Levi’s, only his wore a Masonic Apron with a sword and skull on it. Given that Taxil was expelled from Freemasonry shortly after he was initiated, it is doubtful he was privy to the fraternity’s secrets or mysteries, but this did not stop him from concocting stories of devil worship, sexual perversion, bestiality, and murder in the Lodge. When he discovered that his story was deemed believable by the gullible public and church authorities alike, he generated more lies; even creating a fictional “High Priestess” who committed all manner of unspeakable acts of perversion and blasphemy.
Eventually he was ordered by the church to produce this fictional woman, and he came clean, explaining that he lied in order to embarrass the Catholic Church. Later, in a boastful public interview he stated:
The public made me what I am, the arch-liar of the period, for when I first commenced to write against the Masons my object was amusement, pure and simple. The crimes laid at their door were so grotesque, so impossible, so widely exaggerated, I thought everybody would see the joke and give me credit for originating a new line of humor. But my readers wouldn’t have it so; they accepted my fables as gospel truth, and the more I lied for the purpose of showing that I lied, the more convinced became they that I was a paragon of veracity. (Sibley)
In spite of the negative elucidations and outright condemnations, many esoteric fraternities, rock bands, and Pagan communities appreciate the symbolism and mystique that Baphomet engenders. The interpretation of his imagery depends on the background, perception and beliefs of the observer, of course. And the widespread opinion that he is evil is just as valid as any other interpretation.
But a treasure trove of knowledge awaits for those who choose to dig a little deeper into this mystery and allow the layers of insight to unfold like a lotus flower opening up to reflect the many colorful rays of the Sun.
Note: Please comment or contact me if you have any information about the unreferenced images above so I can give proper credit. Thank you.
Anonymous (unknown date). The Emerald Tablet of Hermes. History of the Tablet (largely summarised from Needham 1980, & Holmyard 1957). Sacred Texts. Accessed 3 September, 2010 from: http://www.sacred-texts.com/alc/emerald.html
Jackson, Nigel, & Howard, Michael (2003). The Pillars of Tubal Cain. Milverton, Somerset: Capall Bann Publishing. p. 223
Levi, Eliphas (Alphonse Louis Constant) (1856). Dogme et Ritual de la Haute Magie, Eng: Transcendental Magic: It’s Doctrine and Ritual, tr. by Arthur Edward Waite. England: Rider & Company (1896). Transcribed and converted to Adobe Acrobat format by Benjamin Rowe, January, 2002. Accessed 3 September, 2010 from: http://hermetic.com/browe-archive/pdf/DogmaEtRituel%20Part%202.pdf
Taxil, Léo (1886). Les Mystères de la Franc-Maçonnerie Dévoilés, (The Mysteries of Freemasonry Unveiled), [Chromolithograph]. Edw. Ancourt & Co., Paris, France. National Heritage Museum, Van Gorden-Williams Library and Archives, A2000/80/1, Photograph by David Bohl. Accessed 3 September, 2010 from: http://nationalheritagemuseum.typepad.com/library_and_archives/leo-…