By Tracy R. Twyman
Originally written for Dagobert’s Revenge Magazine, Copyright 1998
(Does not necessarily represent author’s current viewpoint.)
Friday the 13th, October, 1307 - a dreadful day. Especially if you happened to be a Templar knight. For on that dreadful day, just as the Sun was rising, King Philip IV’s seneschals descended upon all of the order’s French holdings, arresting the members and seizing their property. The king had owed the order a lot of money, and he had hoped to get his hands on the rumored Templar treasure that had made them fabulously rich. But they had been forewarned, and had moved the treasure, along, perhaps, with some mystical artifacts, to their preceptories in Scotland, where the atmosphere was much more pleasant for them.
Nevertheless, with the assistance of Pope Clement V, his so-called “puppet,” King Philip had the knights tortured and executed by the Inquisition. They were accused, among other things, of heresy, necromancy, homosexual practices, and conducting a bizarre ritual that involved spitting on, defecating on, or in some way desecrating the cross (which, if true, is perhaps evidence that they did not believe in the crucifixion). Under extreme physical duress, most of them confessed. In fact, many of their confessions were remarkably similar in detail. By far the most popular theme of the confessions was the worship of an idol called “Baphomet.” Sometimes described as a cat or a goat whose anus was ritually kissed, Baphomet was most often referred to as a severed head. A list of charges drawn up by the Inquisition on August 12th, 1308 reads:
Item, that in each province they had idols, namely heads.
Item, that they adored these idols.
Item, that they said that the head could save them.
Item, that it could make riches.
Item, that it could make the trees flower.
Item, that it made the land germinate.
Item, that they surrounded or touched each head of the aforesaid idol with small cords, which they wore around themselves next to the shirt or the flesh.
In light of the probability that these charges were true, it would bid us well to examine the possible origins and meanings of the famous dreaded head.
Where did it come from?
The Templar legends regarding the head’s origin are numerous and confusing. Some said it was a man’s head, and some said that it was a woman’s head. Some said that it was bearded, and some said that it was clean-shaven. Some said that it was made of glass or crystal, and some said that it had two faces. A popular tale held that it was the head of the Templars’ first Grand Master, Hughes de Payens. Others said that it was made of gold and called “Caput LVIII,” meaning “Head 58,” combined with the symbol for Virgo. One recurrent story that kept popping up in several confessions says that a Templar called “the Lord of Sidon” was in love with a young woman named “Yse” (possibly derived from “Isis”) who died suddenly. On the night of her burial, the knight dug up her body and copulated with it. Nine months later a voice “from the Void” told him to go back to the grave, where he would find his son. There he discovered a head resting on a pair of leg bones (perhaps the origin of the Templar’s famous “skull and crossbones” symbol). The voice told him that if he was careful to guard the head, it would be “the giver of all things.” He took it with him, and for the rest of his days it protected him. Later on the Templar order got a hold of it and incorporated it into their rituals.
A common claim by historians is that the name “Baphomet” was derived from “Mahomet” an Old French corruption of the name of the prophet Muhammad. Others have said that it comes from the Arabic word “abufihamet,” meaning “Father of Understanding.” Whatever the specific derivation, the idea that the Baphomet legend was influenced by Islam is quite logical. The Templars were known to have cavorted with Sufis and other unorthodox Muslims while stationed in the Middle East, as well as in Spain and perhaps even Jerusalem, where they were supposed to be fighting the “infidel” during the Crusades. This would have given them ample opportunity to pass on the legend of Baphomet, if not the actual item. In his book The Sufis, Idries Shah argues that Baphomet was really the head of a mystic revered by a number of Sufi sects called “Hallaja,” who was executed for testifying about his spiritual experiences. After he got decapitated, the Caliph’s Queen Mother had the head embalmed, and it later came into the possession of certain Sufi masters, who revered it for its magical powers. Shah claims that Hallaj, a “son of a widow” was not only the source of the legend of Baphomet, but also the model for the Masonic figure of Hiram Abiff.= He, of course, was the architect of Solomon’s Temple who, in Masonic legend, was killed by his underlings with three ceremonious blows to the head for not revealing the secret words, grips and signs of a Master Mason.
In Holy Blood, Holy Grail the authors point out that when run through a certain cabalistic cipher known as “Atbash,” the word “Baphomet” (written in Hebrew) renders “Sophia,” the name of the Greek goddess of wisdom. This makes sense, for the Templars were known to be the keepers of an ancient “wisdom tradition,” and a logical representation of wisdom is the human head. Interestingly, Aleister Crowley, who adopted the name “Baphomet” upon joining the Ordo Templi Orientis, believed the name to derive from two Greek words joined together which mean “baptism of wisdom” or “absorption into wisdom.” Indeed, the experience of “absorption into wisdom” could be considered an ego death, and the skull and crossbones became a well-known symbol for death.
Bran the Blessed
Elements of the Baphomet story are quite obviously Celtic in origin. The Celts believed that the soul resided in the head, and therefore they would sever the heads of their enemies, preserving them as magical talismans. The most well-known severed head among the Celts was that of the legendary giant Bran the Blessed, which is said to be buried outside London, facing France. It was put there to ward off the plague, to ensure fertility and to protect the city from foreign invasion. Similar powers are also attributed to the head of the Green Man, the Celtic fertility God, as well as the head of Merovingian King Dagobert II.
Baphomet was sometimes described by the tortured Templars as having a human form, with wings, cloven feet, and the head of a goat. From this came the nineteenth century occultist Eliphas Levi’s well-known depiction of Baphomet, now incorporated into the Waite tarot deck as “the Devil.” This popular image, sometimes referred to as “the Sabbatic Goat,” was made to embody symbols of conflicting dualities. Thus the beast bears the breasts of a woman and the organs of a man. He is poised between the waxing and waning moon symbols, with his right and left hands pointing up and down, respectively. Levi, who was obsessed with dualities, was the first occultist to come up with the idea of “good” (upward-pointing) and “evil” (downward pointing) pentagrams, and his version of the “evil” pentagram included Baphomet’s goat face super-imposed onto it, from whence came the “Sign of Baphomet” used by Satanist Anton LaVey. Levi believed Baphomet to be the symbolic form of the absolute supreme being, and claimed that all occultists, including Templars and Freemasons, actually worshiped the Baphomet. He even believed that the name “Baphomet” was a code for Solomon’s Temple, because if you spell it backwards you get the letters: “TEM-OH-AB,” which he said stood for: “Templi omnivm hominum pacis abbas,” meaning “the Father of the Temple of Peace of All Men.” Despite this, Levi’s characterization of the Baphomet led to the popular conception of the Devil as we know him today, and gave fodder to the theories that Freemasonry is Satanic.