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Money Grows on the Tree of Knowledge Part II

In my previous essay I explained the dollar sign and its association with the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil in the Garden of Eden. I showed that it was another form of the caduceus, the magical wand crawling with serpents that the Greek Hermes and the Roman Mercury used to transform reality. I showed that this symbol actually denotes an alchemical transmutation, such as turning lead into gold.

I also talked about how the coining of money was a sort of Promethean act. Money is traditionally issued by a sovereign entity, such as a king, and it is an expression of his sovereignty. It defines the relative value of everything in his kingdom, so in a way it is like the king taking the place of God and creating his own reality. However, the actual historical roots of money are with the priesthoods of old. Money was a token that people received in exchange for their tithes to the temples. In this way, the money was metaphorically bestowed on the populace by the gods.

Now there were a few examples of predecessors, but really, historians consider the origin of coin money to be from around 3000 B.C, in the Temples of Ishtar in ancient Mesopotamia. It was created for use in a public religious rite known as “sacred prostitution.” The priestesses of the fertility goddess served her by offering themselves as representatives of her to male worshippers. It was thought that if the men simulated intercourse with the goddess, this would stimulate fertility in the land.

A very important part of the ritual was the donation that occurred beforehand. The worshipper was expected to make offerings to the goddess in the form of wheat. This was fitting, since wheat was the main agricultural product that they were asking the goddess to stimulate the production of.

During religious festivals, worshippers would bring a portion of their yearly wheat crop to the temple. After being symbolically offered to the patron god or gods, the offerings were used to feed all of the priests, priestesses, and temple support staff. In exchange for their sacrifices, the men received one coin for each bushel of wheat, and each coin would entitle them to a visit with one of the priestesses.

This is how the coin got its name: “shekel” means “bushel of wheat.” The coin featured a sheaf of wheat on one side, and a depiction of Ishtar on the other. This identification of money with wheat continues into the present day, where words that translate as “bread” all over the world are used as slang terms for money.

This is exactly how and why coin money was produced by the ancient Greeks as well. Beginning in 1000 B.C., the Greeks minted coins as tokens given to the worshippers of Dionysus in exchange for the donation of a bull to the Dionysian temple. These bulls would all be sacrificed at the annual celebration known as the “sacred feast”, to which Dionysus himself was invited. Half of the meat would be burned in honor of the god, while the rest was shared by the congregants – all those who could furnish a coin as proof of their donation.

When the large-scale minting of coins in Rome began in 269 B.C., this too had a connection to the divine. The new silver coin, called the “denarius,” was minted in the temple of Juno Moneta. Juno was the wife of Jupiter. “Moneta” means “to warn.” This appellation of Juno’s stems from an incident in which the sacred geese at her temple allegedly warned the Romans of an impending attack from the Gauls.

The Romans saw Juno as the protectress of the state. The issuance of money was one of the activities in Rome that she was thought to preside over. It is from Juno’s title of “Moneta” that the English words “money”, “monetary”, and “mint” are derived.

So that is the origin of coin money. In the ancient world, the amount of money circulating in a society was necessarily limited by the amount of gold and silver available to them to mint. This restricted the velocity of money, and thus, the economic growth potential. And even if you did obtain economic growth through the increased availability of money, it could easily vanish if the coins were used to purchase imported goods.

Thus the Spanish, who looted the ancient temples of South America, covered with gold and silver, ended up losing it all within a few decades by trading with Holland and Britain. The Spaniards ended up cash-poor, and the huge influx of coin created a historic period of inflation for Britain called “the Great Price Revolution.”

Now this is both the blessing and the curse of coin money: the value is in the coin. So if you spend it, lose it, or have it stolen from you, that value is no longer in your hands. This was a major problem in the ancient and medieval world: highway robbery. Every time you went anywhere, there was some thug waiting around the corner to rape your women and steal your silver. Robin Hood and his Merry Men couldn’t have robbed from the rich if the rich didn’t go around carrying hefty sacks full of cash. Towards the end of the Middle Ages, someone finally invented a solution to this problem, and, no surprise, it came from a religious “temple” of sorts: specifically, the Poor Knights of the Temple of Solomon.

Official Seal of the Knights Templar

Known in common parlance as the “Knights Templar,” this was an elite fighting force of Catholic monks at the forefront of the European struggle to capture and control the Holy Land in the twelfth century and thirteenth centuries. Some of their original founders and patrons were the very people essentially responsible for getting Europe involved in the Crusades in the first place. The Church granted them a charter that basically established the Templars as a law unto themselves, accountable to no one but the Pope. Thus they were able to operate autonomously at their various bases throughout Europe.

Templars fighting the Crusades

The Templars began to amass wealth and power quickly. Their membership was taken from the cream of European aristocracy, and they were expected to take a vow of poverty upon joining, so each new initiate remitted to the order what was often considerable money and property. Wealthy families from all over Europe also donated lands and money as the Second Crusade mounted. The Templars set up “preceptories” throughout the continent.

These were conducted like semi-autonomous city-states, where the knights farmed their own food, ran their own hospitals, and engaged in the manufacture of arms, textiles, and other goods. Perhaps most importantly, this allowed them to issue loans with interest, circumventing the rules against usury in other Christian nations.

Previously, only Jews in Europe were permitted to charge interest, since their souls were considered lost already. At various times and places there were even laws actually forcing Jewish merchants to engage in no other trade except banking. It was a role the community needed someone to play, but the Jews became the scapegoats when the debts got too high and people needed to default. This happened frequently enough, and was the true cause for many medieval anti-Semitic pogroms. This is the role that the Templars essentially took over, with the blessing of the Church, at least in the beginning.

Medieval depiction of Jews practicing moneylending

The Templars were, first and foremost, the official guardians of pilgrims en route to the Holy Land. This was supposedly the reason why the Order was created in the first place. In this capacity, they devised a system to protect pilgrims from robbery. Instead of loading themselves down with gold and provisions, which were likely to be stolen, the pilgrims would simply deposit some money in the form of gold or silver at the Templar preceptory nearest to their point of departure. From there they would make their way to Jerusalem along a pre-selected route consisting of a series of churches and cathedrals, which were themselves associated with nearby Templar preceptories, each featuring banking services.

At this point the pilgrim would present the banker with a “chit”: a piece of paper that was encoded with ciphered information regarding the pilgrim’s deposit at the originating bank. The pilgrim could then withdraw from the bank at his current location the amount of money he needed to pay for his stay at that particular stop on the route, or to make donations to the various churches, and could leave the rest in his “account.” He could also make direct charges to the account for any goods or services which the Templars themselves were able to offer the pilgrim. The complex ciphers used by the Templars to encode their chits became famous, and one is still in use in Masonic lodges all over the world.

A Templar cipher

It is thus that the word “cheque” entered into the English and French languages. Indeed, a great many Middle English words pertaining to banking and commerce seem to have originated in one way or another with the Templars. In the case of “cheque”, it came from the chequerboard clothe which Templar merchants and bankers used to square their accounts – to “check” their assets and liabilities.

An exchequor board

It was thus by donations, money-lending and industrial trade that the Templars were able to expand their empire and become Europe’s most powerful economic force. They were able to maintain this even after the Holy Land was finally lost in the Eighth Crusade in 1271.

But now they were without a cause. Some of Europe’s kings and nobles, as well as many within the Church, began to wonder what the Templars were going to do next. They had money, property, authority, horses, weapons, and a standing army with nothing to do. Many European crown heads were heavily indebted to the Templars financially, and since they were also banned by papal decree from exercising any political authority over the knights, many of these kings understandably felt threatened.

There was another potential threat as well, of a more metaphysical nature. Not everyone understood exactly how the Templars had become so wealthy and powerful. It was thought that there must have been a secret to this. One rumor was that the original nine founding Templars had discovered a treasure within or beneath the Al-Aqsa Mosque in Jerusalem, where they had once housed their headquarters.

Theories of a secret Templar treasure have been the subject of hundreds of books throughout the years, and this idea is even at the heart of some rituals performed by modern Freemasons. It is often suggested that the knights might have found the lost Ark of the Covenant underneath the Temple Mount. How this would have made the Order wealthy, however, is something that still remains unexplained by the theorists.

Another rumor floating around at the end of the thirteenth century was that the Templars acquired their wealth because their founders had made a pact with the Devil. According to this theory they allegedly kept the Pope under their control, and compelled others to give them money, through the power of witchcraft. Stories had begun to leak from disgruntled ex-knights about secret initiation rituals. Word was getting around that there was an inner circle of Templars running the show with a hidden agenda. They were said to practice bizarre rituals of idol worship.

At dawn on Friday the Thirteenth, 1307, the Knights Templar in France were arrested en masse by King Philip IV’s seneschals. Philip was out to get the order. He owed them a lot of money, and they had embarrassed him by refusing him membership to their club. Now he planned to use his influence on the papacy to have them disbanded. He had already sent in spies to join the Order and see if the rumors were true-that there was something unholy about the Templar initiation ceremony. What his spies reported back would make anyone’s hair stand on end.

Philip the Fair

When the stories of the spies are combined with the confessions of the tortured knights, a remarkably cohesive, if horrific, pattern begins to form. At initiation, new recruits were forced to kiss the naked behind of one of their new brothers, although sometimes the backside of a goat or a cat was used. They were made to spit upon the Cross and revoke their Christian baptism. Some confessing knights said they were taught by their superiors that John the Baptist was the true Christ, not Jesus. They were then introduced to their new savior, whom they were to worship. It was a “head” of some sort named “Baphomet.” None of the inquisitors knew what that meant at the time, and no translation was offered by any of the confessors.

Templars defiling the Cross

This “Baphomet” head was variously said to be that of a goat, a bearded man, a woman, or an androgyne, and it was said that it had leathery skin. Some said that it had two or three faces, or that it had “feet.” While it was generally described as a mummified flesh-and-blood relic of some sort, others said that it was a skull, or that it was made of brass or gold, or that it was merely a painting of a head. All witnesses agreed that it was terrifying to behold. They said that the head “prophesied” to them during the ceremonies, and gave them “wisdom.” They believed that it “made them rich” and “caused the land to germinate.”

Image of a male head found on Templar property

By November 1307, even the Grand Master of the Templars himself, Jacques de Molay, had confessed to these charges, and more. Pope Clement had heard enough. He issued a bull ordering the arrest of all Templars in eight countries, including England, Ireland, Portugal, Italy and Germany. On August 12, 1308, he drew up a list of 127 offenses with which they were charged. In addition to the various acts of blasphemy and heresy already discussed, they were also accused of homosexual orgies, baby sacrifices, and of treasonous dealings with the Muslim enemy, the Saracens.

Trials dragged on for another five years. Many recanted their confessions, including the Grand Master, and those knights who did so were put to death in brutal ways. As he burned at the stake in 1314, Jacques De Molay uttered a curse against Pope Clement and King Philip, prophesying that they would both die within a year. They did.

Other knights stuck to their confessions, and were rewarded with lenient sentences of monastic penance not much different from the ascetic lifestyle they were already used to. The order was officially disbanded by the Pope, its property given over to other monastic orders. So ended what was once the greatest military and economic power in Europe.

Templars burnt at the stake

Over seven centuries later, the legend of the Templars, and the mystery of Baphomet, is alive more than ever before. Hundreds of secret societies and religious orders claim descent from the Knights Templar in some form or another. Almost all mystical Hermetic groups claim to be perpetuating the Templar tradition, including various Masonic groups, Rosicrucian groups, and ritual magic orders, such as Aleister Crowley’s O.T.O, or “Order of Oriental Templars.” Rituals involving references to goats are still performed by Masons, and many Masonic scholars have written about Baphomet as being central to their mystic rites. Crowley even took on the name Baphomet as his own magical title for ritual purposes. Later, Anton LaVey from the Church of Satan made use of an image of the Baphomet goat-head within a pentagram as a logo for his pop culture devil cult, The Church of Satan.

But how did this image come to be the personification of the heinous Templar idol? The writer responsible for our modern understanding of Baphomet was a mid-nineteenth-century occult author named Eliphas Levi. Monsieur Levi’s main thesis was that all forms of occultism and mysticism held a common, secret doctrine. Ritual magic, he said, utilized the existence of what he called the “Astral Light,” defined as:

“ … a natural and divine agent, at once corporeal and spiritual, an universal plastic mediator, a common receptacle for vibrations of movement and images of form, a fluid and a force which may be called, in a sense at least, the imagination of nature.”

It was this agent which, he said, reflected the magician’s will, expressed during a ritual, and actualized it into existence. He illustrated this concept with a hieroglyphic form which he called “Baphomet,” claiming that this was the spiritual principle secretly revered by the Templars. Levi used this picture as the frontispiece for a number of his books.

Levi’s image of Baphomet is virtually synonymous in the common mind with the image of Satan enthroned in Hell. That’s only because most modern depictions of the Devil are based on the card of the same name in the popular Rider-Waite tarot deck, and this card is itself based on Levi’s depiction of Baphomet. Certainly the creature presented by Levi looks demonic and evil, with the head and legs of a goat, along with a human torso sporting both male and female sexual organs. On its forehead is that foremost symbol of witchcraft, the pentagram, and between its horns issues forth an enflamed torch.

Depiction of Baphomet appearing before the Templars

Levi repeatedly stated that Baphomet was not the same as the Devil, however. Rather, it was a symbol of a transcendental power beyond good and evil, man and beast, or male and female energies. Baphomet was, in Levi’s view, the synthesis of all energy, both on Earth and in Heaven, forming something greater than the sum of its parts, capable of performing any transformation of matter which the human mind could conceive.

Depiction of Baphomet appearing in a Masonic lodge

It is really by looking at the architectural motifs that decorate the Templar properties, and the items left within them, that we can get a clue as to what their secret doctrine actually was. The first place to look to is a series of depictions of similar creatures discovered on Templar properties by a nineteenth-century Austrian Orientalist scholar named Joseph, Baron von Hammer-Purgstall, presented in his book Mystery of Baphomet Revealed. In it, he documented a number of objects discovered at Templar properties throughout Europe.

Von Hammer-Purgstall’s “Baphometic Idols,” as they were later called by other authors, consisted mostly of statuettes, coffers and cups presenting strange images of inhuman figures. Seven of the images show only a head, and in two of these cases it is a head with two faces, much akin to the descriptions given by some Templars of the Baphomet head. Many of them were decorated with scenes of bizarre pagan sex rites, including someone bending over and kissing the buttocks of a strange idol.

One image in particular, from the lid to a coffer found in Burgundy, looks most especially like it might have influenced Eliphas Levi’s depiction of Baphomet. It shows a female figure crowned with towers, just like the goddess Cybele of the ancient world. She is holding in each hand a chain, and connected to each chain, floating in the air and upside-down, are the figures of the Sun and the Moon. Below the figure’s feet are a 7-pointed star and a pentagram. Between these is a human skull.

This combination of images was not unique, but rather turned up repeatedly at Templar properties. In other versions the figure is shown with a beard, making it quite clear that it was meant to be taken as androgynous, just like Levi’s Baphomet.

A possible origin of the goat-headed aspect can be found in the Von Hammer-Purgstall collection as well. This is a depiction of a winged and goat-headed figure with human legs seated upon an eagle. Arabic, Greek, and Latin inscriptions were found among these images too. One in particular brings to mind the confessions of the Knights Templar about Baphomet. Von Hammer-Purgstall translated it thus:

“Let Mete be exalted, who causes things to bud and blossom! he is our root; it is one and seven; abjure, and abandon thyself to all pleasures.”

You will recall that some confessing Templars said Baphomet “caused the land to germinate.” Von Hammer-Purgstall believed that the Templars had been secret practitioners of Ophite Gnosticism. The word “Ophite” comes from the Greek word for “snake.” They revered the serpent of Genesis as the one who bestowed wisdom upon mankind.

Like most Gnostics, the Ophites believed that the physical universe was a prison created by a demon named Ialdaboath. “Boath” comes from “Bythos” or “Behut”, and means “chaos” or “the deep.” It is connected to our modern words like “bath” and “baptize.” Chaos was called “the Abyss, or “the primeval waters,” and was analogous to the “First Matter” that the alchemists believed creation came from. “Yalda” means “son of.” In Gnostic cosmology, Yaldaboath was the son of Sophia, or Wisdom. The implication is that chaos, the First Matter, is wisdom, and is the mother of creation.

There is plenty of evidence that the Templars did practice Gnosticism, including a coin that has been found with the words “Templi Secreti” or “Secret of the Temple” written upon it. On one side there is an unmistakable depiction of the Gnostic deity Abraxas. He was viewed as the “Great Archon”, the union of good and evil, masculine and feminine. Like Baphomet, he is a chimera, with a hawk’s head, a man’s body, and serpents for legs. On the other side of the coin was a serpent with a lion’s head, a common Gnostic depiction of Ialdaboath.



The word “Mete,” found written next to the Baphometic idols surveyed by Von Hammer-Purgstall, was a Greek word for “wisdom.” He believed “Baphomet” was an illusion to the Gnostic rite of “Bapho Metis,” the “Baptism of Wisdom.” Also, “Mete” has been connected by some linguists to the name of the sun god Mithras, worshipped by some Gnostics as an incarnation of divine wisdom. Aleister Crowley believed that “Baphomet” meant “Father Mithras.”

More recently Dr. Hugh Schonfield, known for his work on the Dead Sea Scrolls, also proffered an interpretation that again led back to this concept of divine wisdom or gnosis. He said that “Baphomet,” when transliterated into Aramaic and fed through a cipher, yields the word “Sophia,” another Greek word meaning “wisdom.”

Idries Shah, in his book The Sufis, wrote that the image of the goat head with a candle between its horns comes from the disciples of Abu el-Atahiyya, a famous Arab poet and mystic who led a cult called “the Revelers,” or “the Wise Ones.” Their insignia was this goat head, said to represent their tribe, the Aniza, meaning “goat.” Another one of their signs was the pentagram.

However, another thing that comes to mind with the image of a candle between the horns is that miners used to mount candles on top of their helmets when they were down in the mines. This may connect the Aniza goat with the Azazel goat, the king of the jinn, or demons, who is worshiped as the true God by the Yezidi sect in Iraq.

The jinn are thought to live underground, and are said in folk tales to have invented mining and metallurgy, which Azazel, like Hephaestus to the Greeks and Vulcan to the Romans, was considered the patron deity of. Other legends link them with the children of Cain and Tubal-Cain in the Bible, who were likewise credited with inventing these vital arts of civilization.

With this in mind, it is worth noting that Idries Shah sees the Aniza goat as the inspiration for the goat-headed god worshipped by medieval European witches. Believed by the Church to be the Devil, they reveled in their secret unions with a figure they sometimes called the “coal-black smith.” Like the Templars, their rituals also involved kissing a goat’s behind and trampling on the cross. Like the Templars, they believed their hidden deity could bestow upon them fertility and wealth.

Kissing the Devil's behind at the Witches Sabbath

This word “Azazel” also reminds me of the word “Azoth.” This was a personification of the alchemical “Alkahest,” the “Universal Agent, ” the “Philosopher’s Stone”, or the “Quintessence” — that is, the fifth element. This was the original substance from which, they said, the whole universe was formed. The alchemists believed that it was to be found within the “Prima Materia” or “First Matter” mentioned previously, the chaos or Abyss out of which the created world was formed. It was believed that this substance could be used to transform any one thing into another.

The Azoth

Again, like Baphomet, the Azoth was a chimera of difference creatures, an androgynous being in whose body all of the disparate elements of the universe were united to form a whole. The A and Z in its name represented the beginning and end of the alphabet. Aleister Crowley pointed out that “A” or “Aleph” is the first letter of both the Latin, Greek, and Hebrew alphabets. “O” is like “Omega”, the final letter of the Greek Alphabet, and “T” or “Tau” is the final letter in Hebrew. So in every way possible, this creature represents the totality of existence combined, the sum of all knowledge collected all over the world in every culture. The name may be related to the Arabic “al-zā’ūq”, which means “the mercury.”

Depiction of Sophia Mercurius from an alchemical text

A variety of similar chimera creatures were used by different alchemists throughout the centuries to represent this idea. One thing that they all have in common is that they are androgynous.

The Divine Androgyne of Alchemy

Most of the archons in the Gnostic creation myths were said to be androgynous. In the Cabala, along with other Jewish and Islamic folklore, the first Adam and Eve were a united being, and only separated after being seduced by the serpent, who was also a Hermaphroditic being, made up of the male Samael and the female Lilith. There are even hints of this in Genesis itself.

The word Hermaphrodite comes from Greek mythology. Hermes and Aphrodite were said to have had a son, Hermaphroditus, whose body became merged with that of a water nymph, to become both male and female. Generally he was depicted as a woman with male genitalia.


On Cyprus he was represented in the form of Herm. A herm was generally a pillar, on top of which was a bust of Hermes, or sometimes a full torso, and on the front there was an erect penis sticking out. Worshipers would rub it, with their hands, or worse, for good luck. I haven’t been able to find any pictures, so we can only assume that the Hermaphroditic herms had breasts or other female attributes as well.

Interestingly, Aphrodite is the equivalent of the Roman Venus, or the Babylonian Ishtar, in whose temple money was invented, as a form of payment for the sacred prostitutes that were her priestesses. In other words, it is a union with the goddess of love and wisdom with the god of commerce, communication, and wisdom. In future installments of this series, I’ll show you pictures of modern versions of this goddess holding a caduceus.

The caduceus turns up in another Greek myth of interest, that of Tiresias. He is said to have come upon a couple of serpents mating on a stick while walking through the woods and interrupted them, whereupon the goddess Hera cursed him by turning him into a woman. He stayed a woman for seven years, working as a sacred priestess or prostitute in Hera’s temple.

The staff of Hermes can be found on Eliphas Levi’s depiction of Baphomet, with his phallus forming the pole that the serpents are wrapped around. A connection between Baphomet and Hermes seems obvious, since Hermes was a satyr, half-man and half-goat. He was the father of this race of satyrs, seemingly equivalent to the seirim, or goat-demons of the Hebrews, of whom Azazel was seen as the progenitor.


Another place the caduceus turns up is right on the frontispiece for De Re Metallica, the book about metallurgy written by alchemist Giorgio Agricola, who was in charge of the silver mining at Jachimov Valley in Bohemia, where the first talers, or dollars, were minted. In this case it’s the personal device of the printer, Johann Froben. Notice the two left hands holding the staff. The left, or sinister hand has always been associated with the Devil, whose mysteries are called the left-hand path of initiation.

Frontispiece for Agricola's De Re Metallica

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