THE BROKEN BAPHOMET: A SATANIC PARABLE ABOUT THE POWER OF LOSING
I’ve got a Baphomet that’s always breaking on me. Fixing it over and over has become a thoughtful experience.
It’s the same mass-produced, nine-inch tall Baphomet statue that I think 75 percent of Satanists in the world own. Although online ads often call it “bronze,” it’s actually a fairly fragile resin—and lucky thing it is or I’d never have been able to afford it.
Because it travels a lot, this little Baphomet breaks often. The “coagula” arm, the fingers on both hands, and one of the hooves need to be glued back on fairly frequently. This is an annoying chore, but in a very odd way I now think of it as affirming.
Fixing a broken thing seems an inherently Satanic errand. Although our instinct in art, rhetoric, and ritual is to portray Satan as a powerful, conquering figure, I don’t think that’s really the essence of the myth.
Most often, I think of the Satan myth as a story about what happens after you lose. And the time comes to put the pieces back together.
Some other Satanists push the slogan “Might Is Right,” this phrase borrowed from an anonymous 19th century anti-Semitic tract. Even putting aside its distasteful origins, this seems a strange precept for a self-proclaimed Satanist to adopt.
After all, Satan is not mighty. The fundamental story of Satan is how he loses a contest of might and falls from grace. That’s his signature.
The god of might is the god of the Hebrew Bible, whereas we might call Satan an avatar of the downcast. In that he is literally downcast.
In the opening lines of John Milton’s epic poem Paradise Lost, that’s how we meet first meet Satan, still reeling from his defeat:
“His pride had cast him out from Heaven, with all his host of rebel angels, hurled headline flaming from the ethereal sky, with hideous ruin and combustion down to bottomless perdition, there to dwell in adamantine chains and penal fire.”
Say what you like, it’s quite an entrance.
Of 19th century French printmaker Gustave Dore’s timeless illustrations of Milton, none is more arresting than the scene of Satan falling headlong towards the universe. Poet William Blake composed a version almost as good. The Fountain of the Fallen Angel in Madrid is less deft but at least as provocative.
This is not a traditionally heroic pose. Satan even says so in the poem, declaring “to be weak is miserable.” But of course, whether Satan is a tough guy or winner is a meaningless and even silly distinction given that he’s a fictional figure. Losing a war is not a great hand to be dealt in life, but it’s an excellent break in terms of creating drama.
That’s why, for example, we so admire Guillame Geefs’ statue of Lucifer at St Paul’s Cathedral in Belgium. The one technically titled The Genius of Evil but usually referred to around these parts as “Hot Satan.”
Church fathers specifically demanded that Geefs create a devil who looks actively distressed by his misfortune. But this humanizing touch only makes the figure more attractive.
French satirist Anatole France recognized that’s Satan’s adversity makes him compelling in his 20th century novel The Revolt of the Angels, treading the same territory as Milton with much more sympathetic scrutiny:
“The Mountain of God was wreathed with lightnings, and thunderbolts, falling on our fortress, crushed it to dust. After this fresh disaster the Seraph remained awhile in meditation, his head buried in his hands. At length he raised his darkened visage; now he was Satan, greater than Lucifer. Steadfast and loyal the angels thronged about him.”
For France, Satan’s early martial victories don’t make him “greater.” In fact, the book’s conclusion indicates that actually defeating god would completely corrupt everything worthwhile about Satan’s cause. It’s by losing that he becomes mightier, in that he becomes a more complete version of himself.
It’s natural not to necessarily like this idea. To say that Satan is not mighty and victorious risks making us as Satanists feel impotent.
But maybe that’s a weakness in our judgment. Violence, martial strength, military acumen—these are usually toxic and stupid standards anyway.
Victory often spurs abuse, whereas Satan’s defeat engenders compassion. It makes us identify with him. More to the point, it’s the only reason anyone has heard of him in the first place. That’s not “might” in the regressive, aggro sense of the word. But it is power.
Of course, nobody wants to lose. Lose too many times and material risks start to pile up. But loss sooner or later is inevitable; and personally, I don’t much feel like I need a “god” when I win. Winning is already easy. Defeat is when I need help.
After the disastrous 2016 US election, I often reflected on the image of Satan, stunned and confused while lying in a lake of fire. Not a pretty picture, but one very much reminiscent of the human condition.
Satan, of course, does not just loll around the inferno forever. And after the election neither did we; in fact our response to that disaster was a formative moment for Satanic Bay Area. You might even call it our big break.
So whenever the Baphomet breaks, I take a minute to fix it, and I think about the naturally Satanic paradigm of healing from trauma.
Presumably one day it’ll break so badly as to need replacement. I’m confident we’ll manage that too. Like Satan himself, it makes us more human.