WHAT DOES BAPHOMET ACTUALLY MEAN?
Some weeks ago, a Facebook follower asked us what Baphomet means, exactly?
This is a reasonable question, as it can be hard to find even basic information about common Satanic symbols and history; people might pick up books with titles like “The Satanic Bible” expecting to be filled in about such things, but it’s just not in there.
We gave the usual answers: The image we today call “Baphomet” first appeared in 19th century French occultist/beard model Eliphas Levi’s High Magic books (although the name is of course much older), representing a number of somewhat extravagant metaphysical and alchemical concepts.
Although Levi did borrow some devil imagery for his Baphomet, the association with Satanism was instead probably the result of a late 19th-century Satanic Panic about Freemasons–because why should history start making any kind of sense now?
Our commenter was initially disappointed–to them this all sounded arbitrary and meaningless. I guess that is one potential opinion, but actually from our perspective the biggest obstacle to understanding is that if anything such a symbol can mean TOO much for convenient comprehension.
In one sense, the Baphomet illustration is what we’d call a chimera, “a term loosely used for any grotesque, fantastic, or imaginary beast” consisting of mingled anatomies, as Britannica editors put it. In fact, the word “chimera” even comes from the Greek for “goat”–specifically “she-goat.”
“Over time, […] chimera came to symbolize evil–female evil in particular. In the medieval era, it was sometimes used to illustrate and support negative views of women” associated with witchcraft and devilry, fantasy writer Sarah Sawyer writes.
Sawyer was referring to the specific, original chimera described in The Iliad, “In the fore part a lion, in the hinder a serpent, and in the midst a goat, breathing forth in terrible wise the might of blazing fire,” But this descriptor could just as well fit Baphomet, who increasingly serves as a proxy for Satan and Satanic ideals like threatening femininity.
These days, Modern Satanists are more likely to read Baphomet not as simply feminine but as genderqueer, often in a liberating way: “If Baphomet can be a hot mess of gender confusion, then so can I,” one Black Mass Appeal listener quipped in 2019.
In his book Magick, occultist and real-life wacky neighbor Aleister Crowley called Baphomet “the androgyne who is the hieroglyph of arcane perfection” and the symbol of the devil as enlightener, liberator, and initiator.
Levi himself called his illustration “a pantheistic and magical figure of the absolute,” its various parts representing concepts like “the sanctity of labor,” “human intelligence,” “maternity and toil,” and “redemption,” to name a few of the going rates.
In the memoirs of nineteenth century Polish Satanist writer Stanisław Przybyszewski (it’s times like this I’m grateful for a non-audio medium…) he hailed Baphomet alongside Satan and Lucifer as “this symbol that is adopted by artists when they crush dogmas.”
And in a Danish newspaper story of indeterminate date, early 20th century occultist Ben Kadosh (real name Carl Hansen, possibly the earliest person to establish a public religious practice centered on Satan and leave any record of it) hailed Baphomet as, of all things, the true spirit of Christmas:
“While Europe celebrates Christmas for the ‘white Christ,’ I celebrate it as a feast for the highest one, the buck’s head. […] I celebrate it as a feast for Baphomet, the hidden divinity, whom I worship and worship again.”
Can’t wait to see what all the whos down in Whoville make of this.
These days, the Satanic Temple promote their Mark Porter-designed Baphomet statue as a symbol of religious pluralism, although in the eyes of the general public it’s come to represent the Temple itself and in many cases also Modern Satanism as a whole, since few ordinary people bother to distinguish different Satanic religions from each other (or indeed, to distinguish them at all).
Interestingly, in the 2019 documentary Hail Satan?, Temple cofounder Malcolm Jarry commented that they’d originally envisioned a more general Satan statue, but that Baphomet came to take precedence because of its perceived authenticity.
The United Aspects of Satan list Baphomet as one of their titular eight names or “aspects” of the devil, representing “logic, reasons, and empirical evidence,” venerated particularly at the Spring Equinox.
Aspects founded Damien Ba’al also promotes what he calls the “Baphomet principle” of “self-motivation balanced with compassion and reason.”
Even the reality deprived have an opinion: In his 1991 comic “The Curse of Baphomet” (later retitled “That’s Baphomet?”, sounding close to a sitcom pilot pitch), evangelical cartoonist and living urban legend Jack Chick proclaimed Baphomet “the ancient force behind Ba’al worship–and Freemasonry,” a rare human statement with zero correct words in it.
So what does Baphomet “really” mean? As you can probably guess, the answer–all of this. They’re all the “true” meaning. …well, except for Chick’s, that was just a brain shart. But Jack’s dead now, and well beyond our slings and arrows.
This of course is the very same truth about Satan, a character who has played countless roles for infinite parties over the millennia–and will continue to do so long after we’re gone.
Is Satan a liberator, a rebel, a philosopher, an artist, a lover, a teacher? Is he vengeful, tragic, compassionate, violent, remorseful, humane?
The answer is yes: For all these things, yes. Why should we expect human symbols to be any less diverse and complex than humans? Why should we want them to be?
I would not go so far as to say that ideas like Baphomet and Satan can represent absolutely anything; But personally, I have yet to sight the outermost boundaries of their definitions.