Baphomet is an enigmatic, goat-headed figure found in several instance in the history of occultism. From the Knights Templar of the Middle-Ages and the Freemasons of the 19th century to modern currents of occultism, Baphomet never fails to create controversy. But where does Baphomet originate from and, most importantly, what is the true meaning of this symbolic figure? This article looks at the origins of Baphomet, the esoteric meaning of Baphomet and its occurrence in popular culture.
Throughout the history of Western occultism, the name of the mysterious Baphomet is often invoked. Although it became commonly know name in the twentieth century, mentions of Baphomet can be found in documents dating from as early as the 11th century. Today, the symbol is associated with anything relating to occultism, ritual magic, witchcraft, Satanism and esoterica. Baphomet often pops up in popular culture to identify anything occult.
The most famous depiction of Baphomet is found in Eliphas Levi’s “Dogme et Rituel de la Haute Magie“, a 1897 book that became a standard reference for modern occultism. What does this creature represent? What is the meaning of the symbols around it? Why is it so important in occultism? To answer some of these questions, we must first look at its origins. We’ll first look at the history of Baphomet and several examples of references to Baphomet in popular culture.
Origins of the Name
There are several theories concerning the origins of the name of Baphomet. The most common explanation claims that it is an Old French corruption of the name of Mohammed (which was Latin-ized to “Mahomet”) – the Prophet of Islam. During the Crusades, the Knights Templar stayed for during extended periods of time in Middle-Eastern countries where they became acquainted with the teachings of Arabian mysticism. This contact with Eastern civilizations allowed them to bring back to Europe the basics of what would become western occultism, including Gnosticism, alchemy, Kabbalah and Hermetism. The Templars’ affinity with the Muslims led the Church to accuse them of the worship of an idol named Baphomet, so there are some plausible links between Baphomet and Mahomet. However, there are other theories concerning the origins of the name.
Eliphas Levi, the French occultist who drew the famous depiction of Baphomet argued that the name had been derived from Kabbalistic coding:
“The name of the Templar Baphomet, which should be spelt kabalistically backwards, is composed of three abbreviations: Tem. ohp. AB., Templi omnium hominum pacts abbas, “the father of the temple of peace of all men”. [1. Eliphas Levi, Dogmes et Rituels de la Haute Magie]
Arkon Daraul, an author and teacher of Sufi tradition and magic argued that Baphomet came from the Arabic word Abu fihama(t), meaning “The Father of Understanding”. [2. Arkon Daraul, A History of Secret Societies]
Dr. Hugh Schonfield, whose work on the Dead Sea Scrolls is well-known, developed one of the more interesting theories. Schonfield, who had studied a Jewish cipher called the Atbash cipher, which was used in translating some of the Dead Sea Scrolls, claimed that when one applied the cipher to the word Baphomet, it transposed into the Greek word “Sophia”, which means ” knowledge” and is also synonymous with “goddess”.
Possible Origins of the Figure
The modern depiction of Baphomet appears to take its roots from several ancient sources, but primarily from pagan gods. Baphomet bears resemblances to gods all over the globe, including Egypt, Northern Europe, and India. In fact, the mythologies of a great number of ancient civilizations include some kind of horned deity. In Jungian theory, Baphomet is a continuation of the horned-god archetype, as the concept of a deity bearing horns is universally present in individual psyches. Do Cernunnos, Pan, Hathor, the Devil (as depicted by Christianity) and Baphomet have a common origin? Some of their attributes are strikingly similar.
Eliphas Levi’s Baphomet
n 1861, the French occultist Eliphas Levi included in his book Dogmes et Rituels de la Haute Magie (Dogmas and Rituals of High Magic) a drawing that would become the most famous depiction of Baphomet: a winged humanoid goat with a pair of breasts and a torch on its head between its horns. The figure bears numerous similarities to the deities described above. It also includes several other esoteric symbols relating to the esoteric concepts embodied by the Baphomet. In the preface of his book, Levi stated:
“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 Hermeticism, 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 ugly beast’s head expresses the horror of the sinner, whose materially acting, solely responsible part has to bear the punishment exclusively; because 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 androgyn arms of this sphinx of the occult sciences.” [3. Eliphas Levi, Dogme et Rituel de la Haute Magie]
In Levi’s depiction, Baphomet embodies the culmination of the alchemical process – the union of opposing forces to create Astral Light – the basis of magic and, ultimately, enlightenment.
A close look at the details of the image reveals that each symbol is inevitably balanced with its opposite. Baphomet himself is an androgynous character as it is bearing the characteristics of both sexes: female breasts and a rod representing the erect phallus. The concept of androgeneity is of a great importance in occult philosophy as it is representing the highest level of initiation in the quest of becoming “one with God”.
Baphomet’s phallus is actually Hermes’ Caduceus – a rod intertwined with two serpents. This ancient symbol is has been representing Hermetism for centuries. The Caduceus esoterically represents the activation of chakras, from the base of the spine to the pineal gland, using serpentine power (hence, the serpents) or Astral Light.
“The Science is a real one only for those who admit and understand the philosophy and the religion; and its process will succeed only for the Adept who has attained the sovereignty of will, and so become the King of the elementary world: for the grand agent of the operation of the Sun, is that force described in the Symbol of Hermes, of the table of emerald; it is the universal magical power; the spiritual, fiery, motive power; it is the Od, according to the Hebrews, and the Astral light, according to others.
Therein is the secret fire, living and philosophical, of which all the Hermetic philosophers speak with the most mysterious reserve: the Universal Seed, the secret whereof they kept, and which they represented only under the figure of the Caduceus of Hermes.” [4. Albert Pike, Morals and Dogma]
Baphomet is therefore symbolic of the alchemical Great Work where separate and opposing forces are united in perfect equilibrium to generate Astral Light. This alchemical process is represented on Levi’s image by the terms Solve and Coagula on Baphomet’s arms. While they accomplish opposite results, Solving (turning solid into liquid) and Coagulation (turning liquid into solid) are two necessary steps of the alchemical process – which aims to turn stone into gold or, in esoteric terms, a profane man into an illuminated man. The two steps are on arms pointing in opposite directions, further emphasizing their opposite nature.
Baphomet’s hands form the “sign of Hermetism” – which is a visual representation of the Hermetic axiom “As Above, So Below”. This dictum sums up the whole of the teachings and the aims of Hermetism, where the microcosm (man) is as the macrocosm (the universe). Therefore, understanding one equals understanding the other. This Law of Correspondence originates from the Emerald Tablets of Hermes Trismegistus where it was stated:
“That which is Below corresponds to that which is Above, and that which is Above, corresponds to that which is Below, to accomplish the miracles of the One Thing”. [5. English translation of the Emerald Tablet]