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Baphomet (băfˈəmĕt), idol or mystical figure that the Knights Templars were accused of worshiping in the 14th cent. Apparently the name was unknown before that time in Western demonology. Its origin is disputed: it may have been a distorted form of Mahomet (Muhammad); it may have been of Greek origin.
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Image of a Baphomet, with a pentagram on his forehead, 1896. Courtesy Fortean Picture Library.


(religion, spiritualism, and occult)

In 1307, one of the accusations leveled by Philip IV of France against the Knights Templar, in an effort to lay his hands on their enormous wealth, was that they worshiped an image in the form of a human skull named Baphomet. Supposedly there were a number of these skulls, or even whole human heads, one kept at each of the Templar centers.

The name Baphomet is of unknown origin. It has been suggested by Montague Summers that it comes from the Greek words baphe and metis, meaning "absorption into wisdom." Others see it as a corruption of the name Mahomet (Mohammed) to Bahomet in Provence, home of the Cathars, or Albigenses, with whom the Templars are sometimes linked.

As a result of the attacks on the Knights Templar, their leader and Grand Master, Jacques de Molay, was burned at the stake. He was accused of worshiping the devil, of heresy, and of homosexuality. Under torture, only twelve of the 231 knights examined admitted to knowing anything of the head or skull. Some described it as simply a skull, some said it was a head made of wood, some a head made of metal. It was also variously described as having feet or breasts, or being bearded. However described, the consensus seems to have been that it was worshiped and regarded as a bringer of fertility and abundance.

Joseph von Hammer-Purgstall believed that the Knights Templar were, in reality, "Gnostics," or secret heretics. He referred to objects of thirteenth century art, consisting of various statues, goblets, and coffers, depicting androgynous figures, often with a skull at the feet, and displaying the symbol of the pentagram. As drawn by the nineteenth century French magician Eliphas Levi, Baphomet was a humanlike figure with a goat's horned head and hind legs, and with bat's wings. A torch stood between the horns, a caduceus rose as the phallus, and a pentagram was inscribed on the goat's forehead.

Doreen Valiente points out that there were similarities between these depictions, descriptions of the Templars' Baphomet, and deities acknowledged in Witchcraft. For example, Wiccan deities are thought of as fertility figures, or bringers of life. They are associated with a horned god and with a goddess. In addition, the pentagram is used by Witches.

Valiente goes on to point out that there are frequently "inner circles" to magical orders. Such may have been the case with the Templars, judging from statements like that of one of the accused, Stephen de Staplebridge, who admitted to there being "two professions in the order of the Temple, the first lawful and good, the second contrary to the faith." He was admitted to the inner "profession" a year or so after his original initiation into the Templars.

It was not unusual for deities to be thought of as androgynous. One of Dionysus's titles was Diphues, or "double-sexed." Mithras was sometimes so presented. The Syrian god Baal was also sometimes presented as androgynous.

Aleister Crowley took the name Baphomet, as a member of the Ordo Templis Orientalis, a secret society focused on sexual practices, formed in Germany at the end of the nineteenth century.

Although the Eliphas Levi drawing is popularly reproduced and often associated with Witchcraft, through the symbolism mentioned above, it actually is not a part of Witchcraft per se. Some individual Witches acknowledge it as a representation of a Wiccan fertility deity, while others abhor it.

The Witch Book: The Encyclopedia of Witchcraft, Wicca, and Neo-paganism © 2002 Visible Ink Press®. All rights reserved.


fabled image; allegedly a Templar fetish. [Medieval Legend: Walsh Classical, 46]
Allusions—Cultural, Literary, Biblical, and Historical: A Thematic Dictionary. Copyright 2008 The Gale Group, Inc. All rights reserved.