Baphomet is a deity allegedly worshipped by the Knights Templar that subsequently became incorporated into various occult and Western esoteric traditions. The name Baphomet appeared in trial transcripts for the Inquisition of the Knights Templar starting in 1307. It first came into popular English usage in the 19th century during debate and speculation on the reasons for the suppression of the Templar order.
Baphomet is a symbol of balance in various occult and mystical traditions, the origin of which some occultists have attempted to link with the Gnostics and Templars, although occasionally purported to be a deity or a demon. Since 1856 the name Baphomet has been associated with the "Sabbatic Goat" image drawn by Éliphas Lévi, composed of binary elements representing the "symbolization of the equilibrium of opposites:" half-human and half-animal, male and female, good and evil, etc. Lévi's intention was to symbolize his concept of balance, with Baphomet representing the goal of perfect social order.
First recorded use of the name
Raymond of Aguilers, a chronicler of the First Crusade, reports that the troubadours used the term Bafomet for the Prophet Muhammad, and Bafumaria for a mosque. The first written record of the name Baphometh came in 1098. During the siege of Antioch, the Muslim defenders from the Seljuk Empire gave a war cry to Baphometh while the Crusaders silently prayed to God.
The name Bafometz later appeared around 1195 in the Provençal poems Senhors, per los nostres peccatz by the troubadour Gavaudan. Around 1250, a Provençal poem by Austorc d'Aorlhac bewailing the defeat of the Seventh Crusade again uses the name Bafomet for Muhammad. 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.
Baphomet was allegedly worshipped as a deity by the medieval order of the Knights Templar; because of this, King Philip IV of France had many French Templars simultaneously arrested, and then tortured into confessions in October 1307. Over 100 different charges were leveled against the Templars, including heresy, idolatry, spitting and urinating on the cross, and homosexual relations. Most of them were dubious, as they were the same charges that were leveled against the Cathars and many of King Philip's enemies.
The indictment from Rome against the Templars stated: "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."
A document called the Chinon Parchment suggests the Templars did not actually practice these activities, but engaged in a ritualized version of them during their initiation ceremony. This was designed to prepare the initiated knight for the kind of psychological and spiritual torture he might be subjected to if he were captured by the Muslim army. The intent was that the knight would not forsake Christianity if compelled to demean the cross and worship Muhammad by his captors because he had already performed theatrical versions of those offenses during the initiation.
During the Inquisition's trial of the Templar knights in 1307, the primary charge was worshipping of an idol of Baphomet. However, as the confessions of the accused were given under torture, it is difficult to separate fact from fiction. The description of the idol changed from confession to confession; some Templars denied any knowledge of it, while others described it as being either a severed head, a cat, or a head with three faces.
Complicating matters, the Templars did possess at least three silver-gilt heads as reliquaries: one marked Capud LVIII (Head #116), another said to be St. Euphemia, and possibly the actual head of their first Grand Master, Hugues de Payens.
The confessions included statements such as:
- Gauserand de Montpesant, knight of Provence: "His superior showed him an idol made in the form of Baffomet."
- Raymond Rubei, knight of Provence: Described the idol as a wooden head, on which the figure of Baphomet was painted, adding, "he worshipped it by kissing its feet, and exclaiming, 'Yalla,' a word taken from the Muslims."
- A Templar knight of Florence: 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."
As a result of these accusations and subsequent confessions, all across Europe, members of the Knights Templar were arrested, had their assets seized, and were executed by being burned at the stake. King Denis I was one of the few monarchs who refused to persecute the knights, instead forming them into the Order of Christ.
Adoption by occultists
While modern scholars believe the Templar origins of Baphomet came from the Old French rendering of "Mahomet," starting in the 1800s, European occultists began proposing alternative theories.
Freemason Christoph Friedrich Nicolai (1733–1811) was the first to claim that the Knights Templar were Gnostics, and that "Baphomet" was formed from the Greek words βαφη μητȢς, baphe metous ("Baptism of Wisdom"). Nicolai considered the figure representative of the supreme God and speculated that secret doctrines and initiatory rites were passed to the Templars by the Muslim magicians.
Hugh J. Schonfield (1901–1988), one of the scholars who translated the Dead Sea Scrolls, argued in his book The Essene Odyssey that the word "Baphomet" was created with knowledge of the Atbash substitution cipher using the letters of the Hebrew alphabet. "Baphomet" rendered in Hebrew is בפומת (bpwmt); interpreted using Atbash, it becomes שופיא (šwpy‘, Shofya), which can be interpreted as the Greek word "Sophia," meaning "wisdom."
In 1818, Austrian Orientalist Joseph Freiherr von Hammer-Purgstall wrote an essay titled Mysterium Baphometis revelatum on various Egyptian statues he examined throughout German museums. These little statues were made of stone. Some were hermaphrodites with two heads or two faces and a beard; in other respects, they were female. Most of them were accompanied by serpents, the sun and moon, and other emblems. Their inscriptions were mostly in Arabic.
In the late 1800s, Baphomet became further associated with occult practices. In 1854, occultist and author Éliphas Lévi published a grimoire titled Dogma and Rituals of High Magic featuring an illustration of Baphomet as "The Sabbatic Goat" on the frontispiece. Lévi's drawing depicted a winged humanoid goat with breasts and a torch between its horns. He described it as a symbolic representation of "the absolute." This image has become the most well known depiction of Baphomet.
"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; 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."
Despite its modern fame, Lévi's Baphomet does not match historical descriptions of the deity from the Templar trials. It was more likely inspired by the Egyptian figures depicted in Hammer-Purgstall's Mysterium Baphometis revelatum. 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.
In Lévi's writings, Baphomet does not only express a historical-political tradition, but also occult natural forces that are explained by his magical theory of the Astral Light.
Goat of Mendes
Lévi equates his illustration with "The Goat of Mendes," following the account by Herodotus that the god of the Egyptian city of Mendes (Djedet) was depicted with a goat's face and legs. Herodotus related how all male goats were held in great reverence by the Mendesians, and how he witnessed a woman publicly copulate with a goat during a ritual celebration. Egyptologist E.A. Wallis Budge confirmed these accounts, equating the goats with Greek worship of Pan and the Satyrs.
Lévi's interpretation of Baphomet was an important figure within Aleister Crowley's religious-magical tradition of Thelema. 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 Mysteries, in His name BAPHOMET."
Crowley asserted that Baphomet was a divine androgyne and "the hieroglyph of arcane perfection." He believed it represented 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 Babylon combined and biologically manifested with the sperm and egg united in the zygote.
Baphomet, as Lévi's illustration suggests, has sometimes been portrayed as a synonym of Satan, The Devil, or a demon.
Baphomet inspired the artwork for The Devil card in the 1909 Rider–Waite Tarot, but the actual image of a goat in a downward-pointing pentagram first appeared in the 1897 book La Clef de la Magie Noire, written by the French occultist Stanislas de Guaita.
Christian evangelist Jack T. Chick claimed 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 intended to ridicule the Catholic Church and its anti-Masonic propaganda.
In 2014, The Satanic Temple commissioned an 8.5 ft (2.6 m) statue of Baphomet to stand alongside a monument of the Ten Commandments at the Oklahoma State Capitol, citing "respect for diversity and religious minorities" as reasons for the monument causing the Oklahoma Supreme Court to declare all religious displays illegal. The Satanic Temple then transported the Baphomet statue to Little Rock, Arkansas, where another 10 Commandments monument had been recently installed; the statue was publicly displayed during a Temple demonstration on 16 August 2018.
The 2018 Tarot deck, The Demon-Possessed Tarot, by occultist Travis McHenry features Baphomet as The Magician card.