The name “Baphomet” has been around for centuries, and is derived from the Medieval Latin “Baphometh”. The oldest known record of which is from a letter written in July of 1098 by a Christian Crusader, named Anselm of Ribemont. In it he wrote:
“As the next day dawned, they called loudly upon Baphometh; and we prayed silently in our hearts to God, then we attacked and forced all of them outside the city walls.”
In 1307, during the Inquisition of the Knights Templar, the holy soldiers were falsely accused of worshiping this enigmatic entity. Centuries later, theories began to arise that sought to tie the Knights Templar with the origins of Freemasonry. Then, in 1782, Christoph Nicolai claimed that the Templars were Gnostic, not Catholic Christians. He believed that “Baphomet” was formed from the Greek words βαφη μητȢς, Baphe Metous, meaning “Baptism of Wisdom”. However, the English word “Baphomet” didn’t come into popular use until the 19th century when scholars first began to debate the suppression of the Templars. Regardless, since 1856, the name Baphomet has been associated with “The Sabbatic Goat” of Eliphas Levi.
When Levi drew the classic depiction of Baphomet he cited old lore, making use of things like the goat with a candle between its horns from records of medieval witchcraft. The traditional drawing also contains a number of different binary elements representing the “sum total of the universe”. This is the Western Alchemical equivalent to the yin-yang of Eastern Taoism, including concepts such as positive/negative, up/down, active/passive, light/dark, and good/evil. In this way, Baphomet symbolizes the harmony that is necessary to bring about what Levi called “the emancipation of humanity” and “a perfect social order”. In The Dogma and Rituals of High Magic, Levi sketched what would become the best-known representation of Baphomet. The scholarly theurgist wrote the following words regarding the now-famous image:
“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; 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 androgyne arms of this sphinx of the occult sciences.”
Of course, Baphomet means different things to different people. For instance, during the 1800s, Emile Littre asserted that “Baphomet” is Kabbalistically formed by writing “tem. o. h. p. ab.” backward. This is said to be an abbreviation of “templi omnium hominum pacis abbas”, meaning “father of the temple of peace of all men”. In contrast to this, according to the Encyclopedia of Occultism and Parapsychology:
“During the nineteenth century, the Austrian Orientalist Baron Joseph von Hammer-Purgstall discovered an inscription on a coffer in Burgundy that he claimed showed that the name Baphomet derived from two Greek words meaning ‘‘Baptism of Metis [Wisdom]’’; the inscription exalted Metis or Baphomet as the true divinity. When Karl Kellner and other early twentieth-century German occultists founded the secret order OTO (Ordo Templi Orientis, or Order of Templars in the East), they adopted an emblem of Baphomet taken from Richard Payne Knight’s A Discourse on the Worship of Priapus as the seal of the order’s grand master. At a later date, when British occultist Aleister Crowley became head of the British section, he took the name Baphomet as his motto.”
Along with this, during the 1900s, one of the scholars who worked on the Dead Sea Scrolls was a man named Hugh Schonfield. He argued that the word “Baphomet” must have been created using the Atbash cipher. This substitutes the first letter of the Hebrew alphabet for the last, the second for the second to last, and so on and so forth. Thus, “Baphomet” rendered in Hebrew is בפומת, and when this is interpreted with Atbash it becomes שופיא, which can be interpreted as the Greek word “Sophia”, meaning “Wisdom”. From this perspective, Baphomet is simply a re-imagining of the God of Abraham, but He is more akin to Ahura Mazda, the “Wise Lord” of Zoroastrianism.
In essence, Baphomet is nothing more than a piece of spiritual symbolism. In the tarot deck created by Aleister Crowley, as well as that of Rider and Waite, Levi’s Baphomet was used as the source of the Devil. The Goat of Mendes has a downward-pointing pentagram on its forehead in the latter card. This is based on Herodotus’ account of the god of Mendes, the Greek name for Djedet in Egypt, which was depicted with a goat’s face. To my knowledge, the image of a goat in a downward-pointing pentagram first appeared in a book by Stanislas de Guaitathe from 1897. That was the image that was later altered by Maurice Bessy and then adapted and adopted by Anton LaVey as the official symbol of the Church of Satan, known as the Sigil of Baphomet.
Unfortunately, lots of people tend to fear Satanists, and by extension Baphomet, but this shouldn’t be the case. After all, in 2014, the Satanic Temple commissioned a large statue of their own version of Baphomet. The breathtaking sculpture was originally designed to stand alongside a monument of the Ten Commandments at Oklahoma State Capitol. In line with this, the Satanic Temple cited respect for diversity and religious minorities as the reasons for erecting their 8 ½ foot tall monument. Thanks to the efforts of those kinds of Satanists, the Oklahoma Supreme Court declared all religious displays illegal, and on July 25th of 2015, the statue was erected near a warehouse in Detroit.
The Satanic Temple is often in and out of court for one thing or another. Similarly, the Church of Satan has also gone through court battles over the trademark rights to its signature Baphomet design as well. In this way, Baphomet is right there on the front lines fighting for social justice and protecting intellectual property. So, Baphomet is much more than just a strange symbol that adorns albums, t-shirts, and books. He, or she, or whatever it is, can truly be said to be magical in every sense of the word. The Sabbatic Goat is an international image that has now become synonymous with the occult. Baphomet is an immortal icon, and a sort of mystical mascot for many, including myself. Of course, the strange being can be many other things as well, as I have hopefully shown.
This can be seen in the distinctions between the religious use of the official Sigil of Baphomet by the Church of Satan versus the political use of the official Statue of Baphomet by the Satanic Temple. The two groups are very different from one another, but they both believe in the right of everyone to believe anything. To them, Baphomet is symbolic of their versions of Satanism, which have nothing at all to do with Devil worship, in either instance. The point is that Baphomet means different things to different people. To Satanists, Baphomet is a symbol of self-empowerment and personal freedom. To Kabbalists Baphomet is a symbol of divinity in all of its perfect splendor. To Alchemists, Baphomet is a symbol of balance and harmony within the cosmos.
Baphomet is whatever I need it to be, whenever I need it most. To me, Baphomet is a symbol of my faith in the unseen and the unknown, but not the unnameable. In other words, Baphomet puts a face on something that is otherwise unimaginable. In this way, the Sabbatic Goat serves as the sacred source of my spirituality. More to the point, many of the manifestations in this mythos are actually forms of religious art that should be treated as such. Ultimately, the bottom line is that, as the Satanic Temple has shown, to truly have freedom of religion in our society, people must make room for Baphomet alongside whatever it is that they believe. Such is the wisdom of the glorious goat-headed god and goddess that is the holy and unholy Baphomet.