The image of Baphomet was originally created in 1854 by occultist Eliphas Levi for his book “Dogme et Rituel de la Haute Magie” (“Dogmas and Rituals of High Magic“). It reflects a number of principles considered fundamental to occultists and was influenced by Hermeticism, Kabbalah, and alchemy, among other sources.
The History of The Name
The term Baphomet is almost assuredly a corruption of the name Muhammad, the last prophet of Islam. It has long been thought to be a derivation from Mahomet, the French name for the prophet.
The term gained notoriety during the trials of the Knights Templar in the 14th century, when the Templars were accused of, among other things, worshiping an idol called Baphomet. Many of the accusations against the Templars were clearly false. This caused many to assume this charge was likewise invented by a king trying to get rid of a rich Order to which he was indebted.
Meaning of Levi’s Baphomet
Levi’s illustration has nothing to do with Islam, although tales of the secret knowledge of the Templars might have inspired him to adopt the name of their supposed god.
Levi himself described the meaning of the symbol thusly in “Dogme et Rituel”:
“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 hermetism, 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 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.”
The idea of polarity, such as dividing the world into male and female energies, was a central concept within 19th-century occultism. This influence is obvious in Levi’s Baphomet in several places:
- The gesture of one hand pointing up while the other hand points down. This expresses the Hermetic concept “As above, so below.” It reflects how different levels of existence influence one another, whether those levels be intellectual versus physical, the spiritual world versus the material world, or microcosm versus macrocosm.
- Chesed and Geburah, are two Sephirot on the Kabbalistic Tree of Life, which maps out aspects of existence. They are on opposite sides of the tree, which are commonly understood to be male and female, severity and mercy. Chesed represents kindness and love, while Geburah represents power, strength, and judgment.
- The Latin terms solve and coagula written upon Baphomet’s arms. These translate to dissolve and coagulate, which are opposing alchemical processes.
- Multiple physical examples of Baphomet being both male and female (e.g., breasts and phallus; one male arm, one female arm).
- The caduceus-like image replacing the phallus, in which the two snakes frequently represent male and female.
Baphomet also represents the unity of the four Platonic elements: earth, water, air, and fire. Air and water are the easiest to identify through the fish scales (water) and the symbolic semi-circle of the atmosphere (air). Baphomet’s feet are planted on the sphere of the earth, while a fire burns from his crown.
Fertility and Life
The choice of goat-like features for Baphomet comes from several connections between goats and fertility. Levi himself called the figure Baphomet of Mendes, comparing him to a what he believed was a goat-headed Egyptian god honored for fertility purposes. Pan, a Greek god with goat features, was likewise commonly associated with fertility in the 19th-century.
In addition, Baphomet’s phallus has been replaced with a caduceus, which is considered by some to be a symbol of fertility. Certainly, the phallic emphasis can only encourage notions of fertility.
Other References in Levi’s Explanation
Levi’s mention of Khunrath refers to 16th-century occultist Henrich Khunrath, a Hermetic and alchemist whose works influenced Levi.
Levi describes Baphomet as the sphinx of the occult sciences. A sphinx is most commonly a creature with the body of a lion and the head of a human. They originated in Egypt, where they were probably connected with guardianship, among other things. By Levi’s time, the Freemasons were also using sphinxes as symbols of guardians of secrets and mysteries.