Image by Maxine Miller
Rick Derks, whose blog is yet another must-read, asked me for my views on Baphomet, after I had said in a FaceBook comment that “I have *views* about Baphomet”, expressed an interest in those views. Rick, you have your privacy settings tweaked so that I can’t message you, though we’re mutual FB friends! (Rick also clearly overestimates my level of Gnosis!) —Then I thought to myself that putting my personal, idiosyncratic “*views*” and whence I came by them into words might result in a decent little post, so … here they are, my views on Baphomet.
You can find some of this info on Wikipedia — the good stuff you can’t.
One of the first two magic books I bought, was Liber Null and Psychonaut, by Peter J. Carroll, co-founder of what soon became known as Chaos Magick and of the Illuminates of Thanateros, which has included such luminaries as William S. Burroughs. —Burroughs should need no link. If you don’t know who he is, read all his books. Start now! I started with Cities of the Red Night. Maybe the first Postmodernist writer in English, his books in the most literal of myriad ways are magic.
Anyways, Carroll in Psychonaut has a short chapter on Baphomet. Now Chaos Magick’s most famous slogan is Nothing is true. Everything is permitted, reputedly coined by Hassan-i Sabbah, founder of the Hashshashin or Assassins, back in the 12th century. In reality it was Friedrich Nietzsche who first put that sentiment into those words, in On the Genealogy of Morals. Burroughs used the phrase at least once or maybe several times, I can’t recall (meaning, you should find out for yourself), best of all in the marvelous, blasphemous invocation at the beginning of Cities of the Red Night, and he’s often mistakenly credited as its originator.
Back to Baphomet. Carroll’s chapter on Him (for convenience’ sake I’ll call Baphomet Him) took the Chaos Magick slant. Baphomet was a perfect God for the Chaote, but then — Nothing is true. Everything is permitted. That leaves the nature and ontology of Baphomet — just who or what is Baphomet? — complete mysteries. Having experienced spirits as real already (read about that here), I wondered if He might not be as real as you or I. So many other impossible things had turned out to be extremely possible and as real as a bullet already, and something about Baphomet was just so compelling. Yeah, I though, He’s real…
[N.B.: It’s all shite, pardon the language, that Baphomet was the Goat-God of the Knights Templar. I like the pic though.]
Eventually I found Eliphas Levi’s book Dogme et Rituel de la Haute Magie, which contains the familiar infamous image of Baphomet, and the following explication of that image:
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 occultism, 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 androgyne 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 androgyne arms of this sphinx of the occult sciences.
In other words, his image of Baphomet sums up everything, and in a good way, sort of like the meaning of Life, the Universe and Everything in Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy, if only the answer in Douglas Adams’s books weren’t so silly. —And then in Magic (Book 4), Aleister Crowley riffs on Levi’s basic idea and states at great length that Baphomet is “the hieroglyph of arcane perfection”. In other words, Baphomet symbolizes the completion of the Great Work, the ultimate goal of magical mysticism in the Western Tradition.
Word is that the Great Work is a ɢᴏᴏᴅ ᴛʜɪɴɢ, and I believe it. I respect the Great Work, but I can’t tell you what alchemists and practitioners of High Magick mean by the phrase. —I’ll tell you what I think it means. Since it’s the goal, the end, and the completion of magic and mysticism, it must mean the attainment of Absolute Perfection: and that Perfection must be a permanent state the practitioner dwells in for all eternity thereafter, and not a mere temporary state or flash of insight. Think of the Enlightenment of the Buddha. Think of Master Yeshua ben Yosef’s (or perhaps ben Panthera’s) — perhaps the greatest of all Mages, called the Son of Solomon, who before him had been the greatest Mage of Antiquity, according to both Jew and Pagan (Pagan and Jew were also agreed on the point of Jesus as magician in the decades and first centuries after his death, vide Morton Smith’s Jesus the Magician and Marvin Meyers’s Ancient Christian Magic) — what I’m trying to say is, think of this “heretical” view of Jesus becoming a Son of God, which in Ancient Hebrew is simply idiomatic for a God, through magical and mystical means.
Baphomet then as symbol of this mighty deed exists primarily at what I’ll call the Perfection Level. Gods exist, I’m sure, at the Perfection Level, but also lower down, all the way down to the lower Astral, where They can behave with all the pettiness of the most trivial Greek or Hindu myth you can remember. Baphomet is different. He must exist a little further down the Perfection Scale towards materiality and manifestation, but only enough that He can have an effect on our physical Universe. For example, one can pray to Baphomet: Baphomet can answer that prayer. Baphomet has no existence, as Gods do, on the Lower Astral. Therefore Baphomet is not a God. Nor would it seem that He is a perfected human.
So what is Baphomet?
I’m a polytheist but I’m also an animist. As animism is supposedly an antiquated and obsolete word, call me a panpsychist, a coinage of Peter J. Carroll’s. That means I believe everything great or small possesses a soul. No … divine spark is a better term here I think than soul. (Allow me to skip a justification for that statement, let’s hurry along.) If everything really means everything, then even a symbol or a hieroglyph of arcane perfection must possess this spark. And that is why I believe that Baphomet is a living Entity. If you think that’s a strange idea, the last of the great original and creative Kabbalists, Isaac ben Luria, claimed that every word we speak is an angel. An angel! (I believe it, by the way.)
That Baphomet is a living Entity existing at the Perfection Level is however still not a good enough answer. So What is Baphomet?
I found the missing puzzle pieces in a blog post by Jason Miller and in its comments. Jason is both a practicing Christian and a priest no less (he may even be a Wandering Bishop by now, I’m not sure), and also a Ngakpa in Vajrayana Buddhism. He put in the years and years of study and practice in both religions and received the required sacraments and empowerments to become a priest (or maybe even bishop) with Apostolic Succession and also a (in Wikipedia’s words) “non-monastic practitioner of Vajrayana, shamanism, Tibetan medicine, Tantra and Dzogchen amongst other traditions, disciplines and arts” — a Ngakpa. I don’t know how he performs this balancing act, but I have no doubt that being a practicing Buddhist first and cultivating non-attachment has a lot to do with it. —Anyway, Jason had to consolidate his Buddhist and Christian altars, or magical working spaces, into one. He felt the dissonance rising, traditions clashing. What to do? He hung a picture of Baphomet higher than any images of either the Buddha or Christ or the many other saints and spirits he works with. All was peaceful. Baphomet had brought a yet higher harmony and that harmony prevailed. How? Some excerpts from the comments follow, all made by Jason himself…
“Baphomet is not a separate being in the way that most dieties are. He is a symbol of the spiritual work itself, and the resulting goal. Yet, there is also a consciousness behind it that can be invoked similar to a diety… ”
“I think that it is the specific lack of a historical cult and connection to particular culture that made him ideal to tie it all together…”
“By real being I do not mean that he doesn’t manifest as a being, can be invoked, and can act as a god. [Jason made a grammatical error here, but the meaning is plain.] He certainly can, as can Kuntuzangpo. The difference is about Egoistic manifestation further down the chain of manifestation. There is no personal ego drive like there is with many beings. Many gods seem to straddle both the transcendent and cosmic as well as the immanent and egoistic. Baphomet seems beyond this, though certainly some on the LHP would see him as the very embodyment of ego.”
I think Mr. Miller’s words speak for themselves. They did for me. My pursuit of just who and what Baphomet is, was satisfied.There is vastly more Baphomet lore than what I’ve sketched here. There are numberless theories. Read The Da Vinci Code, for example. Here you’ll only find the train of thought that lead me to my “*views*”, which pretty much are summarized in Jason’s comments above, the views that Rick Derks was interested in, way back up at the top.
This is my longest post so far. Well, I need to practice expository writing anyway…
(LHP, if you don’t know, means Left Hand Path. The phrase has utterly, completely different meanings in Hinduism and Buddhism in the East, on the one hand, and the many “dark” groups in the West, who go by the same moniker. The Temple of Set and the Fraternitas Saturni are two examples of such Western groups. Many of the Western Left Hand Path are pleasant, intelligent, reasonable people. A few at least, the ones with Neanderthal brows and three X chromosomes, are the sort of people who enjoy smelling their own farts. —Hey! – no philosophy has perfect adherents…)