The Element Encyclopedia of Witchcraft: The Complete A-Z for the Entire Magical World - Judika Illes 2005
The Horned One and The Devil
In 1312, the Knights Templars, an organization of monastic knights, was accused of heresy and the order violently suppressed. Central to the accusations brought against the Knights Templars was that the knights adored an idol named Baphomet, incorporating his worship into various rituals including their initiation ceremonies.
Who was Baphomet? Did he or she exist? No one knows for sure. Accounts of Baphomet derive solely from the charges brought against the Templars and their trial testimony. Baphomet is not clearly identifiable as any other known spirit although, of course, this does not negate the possibility of his existence.
It is unclear whether Baphomet ever existed (no idol was presented as evidence), whether the Knights Templars had adopted other spiritual traditions or whether more than one idol existed, leading to contradictory testimony.
Twelve of the 231 knights examined acknowledged existence of an idol. All confessions and testimony were obtained under severe torture. It is unknown whether any part of these confessions was genuine or whether confessions were just desperate attempts to end torture by agreeing to whatever their persecutors asked. The various accounts are contradictory and inconsistent. The men do not seem to be describing the same thing.
Their Inquisitors were not interested in the finer nuances of Pagan tradition; from their perspective the Knights Templars had gone from Christian warriors to devil-worshippers. They perceived Baphomet as Satan. The crucial point for their Inquisitors was that the Templars confessed to heresy; identifying Pagan spirits, if indeed Baphomet existed, was irrelevant. Inconsistent testimony remained unexplored and Baphomet remains mysterious.
If Baphomet existed, who was he? The facts may be impossible to determine.
Templar trial testimony described Baphomet as the following:
Baphomet was worshipped in the form of a head, either a skull, or a bearded head, or a head with two or three faces
Baphomet was a black cat
Baphomet had a goat’s head and horns and a body combining features of a donkey, dog, and bull
Baphomet was described as an actual human skull. Others said their idol was made from wood, others that it was metal.
The Templar mystery continues to hold incredible fascination for people and various theories regarding Baphomet’s name and existence have developed.
For years, the standard explanation was that Baphomet was a corruption of Mahomet, an archaic spelling of the Islamic Prophet Muhammad’s name. The Knights Templars were in close daily contact with Muslims and so it was suggested that Baphomet represents attempts to syncretize Islam with Christianity. However, this explanation ignores the Islamic total abhorrence of idolatry. There is no “idol worship” or sacred imagery in Islam, quite the contrary. There are no depictions of Muhammad. No Islamic spiritual tradition resembles anything of which the Knights Templars were accused.
Nor were the Knights Templars accused of dabbling in Islam. They were accused of Christian heresy and of devil-worship, with the implication of witchcraft. Three possibilities exist:
Baphomet did not exist
The Christian Templars were engaged in Christian devil-worship
The Templars were engaging in Pagan-influenced practices possibly related to horned gods
The image now most associated with Baphomet was drawn by the magus Eliphas Levi in 1854 and explicitly portrays a horned spirit. It does not necessarily correspond to Templar testimony but depicts what appears to be a masculine human body with woman’s breasts topped by a crowned, horned goat’s head. (Another suggestion is that the image depicts a masked female.) There is an upright pentacle on the figure’s forehead.
The figure’s right hand points up to a white crescent moon, while the left gestures down toward a black crescent moon shape, interpreted as indicating the metaphysical rule, “As above, so below.” Baphomet’s naked belly is scaly like that of a snake or dragon. Baphomet has black wings, although these are feathered birds’ (angel) wings rather than the bat wings typically associated with the devil or demons.
An upright caduceus (Hermes’ magic wand entwined by a pair of snakes) is placed phallically between Baphomet’s legs, although it also obscures the figure’s genitalia. The figure combines male and female anatomy, which may indicate perfect balance, the balance of complementary opposites. The black and white crescent moons are reminiscent of the Chinese yin-yang symbol.
Levi’s image of Baphomet serves as the prototype for many Tarot depictions of The Devil.
Aleister Crowley took the magical name Baphomet when he joined the Ordo Templi Orientalis.
See ANIMALS: Bats, Cats, Dogs, Donkeys, Goats, Snakes; DICTIONARY: Ordo Templi Orientalis; MAGICAL ARTS: Astrology; HALL OF FAME: Aleister Crowley, Eliphas Levi.