Horns of Baphomet: The Story Behind the Symbol
The word ‘Baphomet’ appears in the names of twenty-seven metal bands: six are just called Baphomet, then there’s Baphomet’s Blood, Baphomet’s Temple, Baphomet’s Cunt. You read that last one right. The number of bands that have a goat-headed creature on their covers is incalculable. The idea of Satan as being somehow goat-like has persisted, despite it appearing nowhere in the Bible or Apocrypha, where he is described as being a serpent or dragon – when he is described at all. More recently, the Satanic Temple has moved to build a statue of ‘Satan’ in an Oklahoma Courthouse (CVLT Nation covered this of course).
The problem is that ‘Baphomet,’ a hermaphrodite half-goat usually seen with an index and middle finger raised skyward, isn’t supposed to be Satan and was never meant to be. The name has its roots in the Crusades that tore apart the Middle East for two hundred years – the symbol in later occultism – but even when it was used to slander the Knights Templar, it was never understood to actually be Satan.
The simplest version of the story goes that when the Catholic Church turned against the Knights Templar, who had become a major military and economic power during the Crusades, they accused the Templars of worshiping an idol called Baphomet. The name is a corruption of Muhammad, at the time latinised as ‘Mahomet’ – the idea being that the Templars had become Muslims during the Crusades. The Catholic church also levied more Fox News-worthy accusations at the Templars: that they were practicing sodomy, that they defiled the cross and had renounced God. Documents recently uncovered in the Vatican Secret Archives suggest that these last two accusations may have been true, that they may have been part of the training Templar recruits received in how to resist torture, a medieval precursor of the US Army’s SERE program.
There are some alternate explanations however. One is that the name comes form the Greek baphe metous, ‘Baptism of Wisdom’, which links it with the Gnostics. It may be a corruption of the Arabic Abu fihamat, meaning ‘father of wisdom’. Or, if you run it through the Atbash substitution cipher that many of the Dead Sea Scrolls are written in, it becomes just ‘Wisdom’. See a theme emerging here?
The symbol itself, like the name, has one unambiguous explanation and dozens of strange, half-conjectural precedents in ancient myth. Horned gods are everywhere in ancient mythology: Pan, Banebdjedet, Lord Hayagriva, Cerennunos, Hathor. However, the modern image of Baphomet only appeared as late as 1856, in Elphias Levi’s Dogma and Ritual of High Magic. It isn’t intended to show an actual deity, or even an idol to be worshiped. Levi’s image is a metaphor for the unity that magicians and alchemists were supposed to seek – neither male nor female, human or animal, black or white. Understood this way, it’s just an over-elaborate ying-yang. Levi had a ‘profound conviction’ that the Templars did indeed worship Baphomet, but he can neither produce proof of this or show that the Baphomet they worshipped is in any way related to his symbolic drawing.
Once there was a face to the name, interest in Baphomet exploded. French writer Leo Taxil resurrected the Catholic Church’s charge of Baphomet worship, this time directing it at the Freemasons. Taxil’s ‘proof’ was elaborate enough that it gained him an audience with the Pope, but the author later revealed at a press conference that the whole thing had been a hoax to show how easily Catholics would buy into anti-Mason hysteria. Aleister Crowley picked up on the imagery through Elphias Levi, as did William Rider and A.L. Waite when they made a very similar figure, the ‘Devil’ in their widely-used Tarot deck.
Anton LaVey’s Church of Satan adopted the ‘sigil of Baphomet’ as one of their symbols, and in this form it has found its way onto album covers and bass drum skins. While the pentagram on Levi’s Baphomet’s head is pointed upwards, the properly ‘Satanic’ Baphomet is placed in a downward-facing pentagram. For Levi, the upwards point of the pentagram represented the highest spiritual aspirations, and inverted it represents the ‘left hand path,’ or just the triumph of rationalism over empty spiritualism. Fundamentalist Christian comic-book artist Jack Chick wrote Baphomet into several of his tracts as the ‘ancient force behind Baal worship… and Masonry!’ (the word Baal simply means ‘Lord’, and is used to refer to a number of human and divine beings, including the Hebrew God).
Over a thousand years, Baphomet has gone from being a jumble of syllables that sounded vaguely ‘other,’ used in the long and bloody political game between the Church and the Templars, to a symbol that is so generic that it can be used for just about anything. It can be a weapon against Freemasons, a rallying point for freethinkers, a generic symbol of everything dark and occult in Metal. That’s the only thing about it that’s magical: a word and an image that objectively mean nothing end up being hugely powerful.