“The Baphomet should never be cute.” I overheard this spoken among our customers at the Mystic South Conference this July. They scowled with disapproval at my own colorful rendering of this often misunderstood symbol. Bemused as I was, that comment got me to thinking about the misunderstandings surrounding the original Baphomet symbol since its creation by Eliphas Levi 169 years ago. I’d like to talk about that more.
Eliphas Levi’s Baphomet
In 1854, French occultist Eliphas Levi published his book Transcendental Magic. On the frontispiece illustration of that book he presented the Hermetic philosophies as a hermaphroditic, goat-headed figure and called it “the Baphomet.” I think he chose this controversial name purposefully, because it was long used to accuse the Knights Templar of heretical practices, and was feared by the Catholic church. source Since then, this symbol has terrified, tantalized and confused occultists and accusers alike, which I guess was Levi’s intention.
Baphomet the Pious and Innocent Hieroglyph
I introduced the Baphomet in my book Elemental Witchcraft on page 49-50:
The iconic image of the Baphomet represents this [Hermetic] principle [of correspondence] in its posture, which Eliphas Levi calls the “sign of occultism” of one hand pointing above to the heavens, to the white waxing moon of Chesed (mercy) on the Qabala Tree of Life, and one hand pointing below toward earth and the black waning moon of Geburah (severity).
The Baphomet symbol was designed…as a panentheistic symbol of the “universal equilibrium” and reflects symbolically the Hermetic principles of alchemy. As pictured in Transcendental Magic, the Baphomet symbolism includes an upright pentagram of the microcosm on the brow of a bearded, goat-headed, hermaphroditic figure. There is a flaming torch of Divine Mind between the horns, with female breasts, the caduceus of Hermes as a phallus, and animal features of the beasts of air (wings), water (scales), and land (goat legs and hooves), which merge the four elements. Inscriptions on the arms represent the operations of alchemy: solve and coagula.
Levi’s Baphomet symbol is often conflated with the Sabbatic Goat, Goat of Mendes, and erroneously with the Christian Devil. The Baphomet was more recently adopted by the Satanic Temple of Detroit, Michigan, as a symbol of their “non-theistic movement aligned with Liberty, Equality and Rationalism.” (The Satanic Temple, accessed June 13, 2021, source)
However, Levi described it “like all monstrous idols, enigmas of antique science and its dreams, is only an innocent and even pious hieroglyph.” (Levi, Transcendental Magic pages xxii, 174, 290)
The Legend of the Initiatory Challenge
So long ago in my witchcraft training that I can’t remember who to credit with this story, I was taught that the Baphomet image was used by Levi as part of an initiatory challenge within whatever magical lodge he was part of. Legend had it, that during an initiation to a higher degree, the seeker was led into a dark and spooky room and left alone to be confronted by this illuminated Baphomet image. Later they were challenged to describe its meaning.
The witch who told me this story said that if the Baphomet terrified the seeker because they saw the Christian’s Satan, they failed the test. If they declared the Baphomet to be any old Pagan God and fell to their knees in worship of a deity outside of themselves, they failed the test. Even referring to the figure as a “him” or implying that it showed any solely “male being” failed the test.
I was taught that the trick to passing through the initiatory gate now guarded by the Baphomet was to perceive the “hidden” occult mystery lessons of Hermetic philosophy. Look beneath the purposefully scary and weird critter mash-up with impossible breasts, and what do you see?
“I recognize this as a symbolic representation of my own divine wholeness and empowerment, perfectly balanced within nature. I am a microcosm reflection of the macrocosmic Divine Wholeness; we are all interconnected…’As within, so without, as above, so below, as the universe, so the soul.’”
Anything like that answer would pass the test. Of course, back then you might have to read the entirety of Levi’s purposefully obfuscating diatribes to understand this mystery, which I know first hand is torture. <cackle>
I wish I could cite this story in a book or other official record somewhere. Alas, I’ve never found this teaching written down. If you know where that is, please let me know!
Desire’s Attainment: As Above, So Below
My rendering of the Hermetic Baphomet figure is called Desire’s Attainment: As Above, So Below. I created it as part of a ritual of artistic meditation using ink and water-color pencils on paper. Eliphas Levi clearly had no idea what a Goddess’s natural breasts would look like, so I fixed that, along with the goat’s creepy eyes that looked all kinds of wrong. <shudder>
Levi’s original descriptions of the Baphomet outlined the elemental colors he would apply to the body of the figure, so I know he’d take no issue with my applying some color now. However, rather than black wings, I chose to make these a rainbow. Yes, I’m going for a modern symbol of inclusiveness, but with the wings already a symbol of light and air, I chose to show all seven colors of the visible light spectrum. The caduceus phallus similarly illustrates the seven chakras in regards to the intersection of our physical and subtle bodies.
I added a purple lotus representing the seven celestial spheres as part of that torch of enlightenment between the goat’s horns. Everything within this middle world passes through those seven gates as they are cast into material form, and will ascend through them again along the path of return back to Spirit someday.
My horned figure is placed within the larger Hermetic story of nature’s creation. I retold that story for witch-children here as Pymander the Rainbow Dragon. My rendering represents the beautiful, magickal world that resulted from the inclusive love story of Goddess and God falling in love, a story meant to empower and inspire seekers of wisdom, not terrify them.
The Pymander Hermetic Creation Story
“The Pymander” creation story is the first tractate of the Corpus Hermeticum – the body of texts which founded Hermetic Alchemy. The Pymander recounts the vision given to the legendary priest named Hermes Trismegistus way back in ancient Egypt – at least that is what the legends tell us. For more info, check out my old blog on the hermetic cosmology.
My favorite part of that vision is the moment when the all-gendered Divine Spirit called “universal man” descends as light, fire, and air from the “above” of the heavens. As they pass through the seven celestial spheres (governed by the 7 classical planets) to the “below” of the middleworld, they are said to be cast into animal form (hence the horns, hooves, wings, etc.) Mother Nature arches up to enfold him within her dark waters and earth, blending her Divine Emotions and Physical Body into their Divine Spirit, Will and Mind. (I call this the five-fold Self.) Sir Walter Scott’s translation in Hermetica says she “wrapped him in her clasp, and they were mingled in one; for they were in love with one another.”(page 123.)
The Pymander is a love story, but it wasn’t about Mama and Papa hooking up once for sexy-times to make a separate world-baby. This creation story is a reunification of opposites to reconcile all paradoxes. It is a story of their wholeness, wherein the God and Goddess re-merge back into one being that some witches now call “The Two Who Move as One.” I call them the Great God/dess. They comprise everything in the cosmos and imbue all with their Divine Love. They are inseparable. That’s pretty sweet! Dare I say cute?
The Pymander story instructs us that we are the panentheistic incarnations of Divinity on earth that resulted from their reunion. The good news revealed to Hermes was that we are the offspring of this divine being, and all beings retain ALL of that Divinity’s creative powers, their all-gendered nature, and the power of all five elements. WE ARE THE BAPHOMET, and some of us are very cute!
Passing the Cute Baphomet Initiation
So here’s the pitch for cuteness:
If the Baphomet represents everything in the “below” of nature mirroring everything in the “above” of spirit, that must occasionally include cuteness, too. No matter how dark, spooky, grim and fearful the occult gets, that still *must be* balanced with light, cute, happy love of equal measure on the other end of the scale. Perhaps that is the initiatory challenge my artwork presents to the modern occultist.
“I am that which is attained at the end of desire.” These are the final words in the Charge of the Goddess (as arranged and penned by Doreen Valiente). They are spoken to the Witch who seeks to rediscover the Goddess after the fearful domination of the patriarchal era. She also advises that whatever you’re seeking, you’ll have to find it within yourself. In my book, Elemental Witchcraft, the Spirit chapter is called the Path of Completion. I think that wholeness within God/dess will be attained at the end of desire, and that wholeness is what I attempted to render in this image.
Purchase this Artwork from my shop!
We now have these images printed in a variety of forms and available for purchase through The Sojourner Whole Earth Provisions website, and can ship within the United States. 8.5 x 11″ posters, printed canvases, Window Clings great for use on glass candles. 4″ holographic stickers available here!
These images are also available on clothing, tapestries, blankets, tote bags, framed prints, housewares and other items at our Society6 shop, and they ship anywhere!
Thank you for your on-going support,