Evidence of heresy used by Pope Clement V to destroy the Knights Templar was the worship of an idol called Baphomet. This strange “thing”—although sometimes referred to as a “cat” or “goat”—was generally seen as a “severed head.” Allegedly they adored and used to kiss this bearded head. It was variously described, in the trial proceedings. Allegedly, its eyes were made of carbuncle, thus, as a precious garnet, a deep red gem. Supposedly, it was kept at the Knights Templar’ Temple in Paris. An interpretation that makes sense is that it either was a sculpted head, a head reliquary, or a preserved human head. One presumably legendary account is the Knights Templars’ Baphomet was the head of a man, embalmed with herbs and spices, and interrogated as an oracle.
Some said it was a man’s head, but others a woman’s head. Some said that it was bearded, others nonbearded. Some presumed that it was made from glass and that it had two faces. This general mixing of ideas shows where the idea of the head could have come from. That it was a man’s head or a woman’s, indicates its “dual nature”—and much like the ancient Celtic heads, it would incline one to the opinion that it emerged from part of the supposed ancient head cult. Templar interrogation records reveal that the head was respected as a source of fertility and germination. There is obviously a link here with the idea of the "Lord of Midsummer" and the summer solstice.
A templar of Florence, declared that, in the secret meetings of the chapters, one brother said to the others, showing them the idol, 'Adore this head. This head is your God and your Mahomet.' Another, Gauserand de Montpesant, said that the idol was made in the figure of Baffomet (in fieram Baffomeli); and another, Raymond Rubei, described it as a crystal head, which was hanged opposite the Baphomet.
The name Baphomet that was ascribed to the head is usually assumed now, as being a variant of Mahomet, just as a form of the term Mahomeries was Baphomeris, applied to mosques. Another proposed origin of the word Baphomet is that the Baphomet of the Templars must be read in reverse: TEM-O-H-P-AB; being an anagram of the Latin words: Templi Ommun Hominun Pacis Abbas. With this is intended: the Father of the Temple, Universal Peace to Men.
An effect of the trials was the proliferation of a kind of gargoyle in France: a sculpted demonic figure (rather than just the head), also called Baphomet. It is a bearded, androgynous devil, horned, winged, and sporting claws, as found on the portals of the churches of Saint Merri in Paris (Figure 1) and of Sainte Croix in Provins. In Italy, such a sculpted figure called Baphometto is found in a grotto near Padua, called the Grotto de Cavalieri Templari.
While some scholars reckon the word Baphomet was simply a corruption of "Mahomet" and employed to accuse Templars of apostasy to the Islamic faith, esoteric scholarship has tended to focus on the possibility of the name's being derived from the Greek words haphe methra, that is, the baptism of "mithra." Mithraism was a cult very popular with Roman soldiers, involving degrees of initiation. The Roman cult was probably derived from Iranian traditions of a redeemer called Mithra. This is all very suggestive of course.
If you ask a Mason today why Freemasonry enjoys a "John the Baptist" connection, he might well say it is because many Masons believe that in some way they derive from Templars. Pressed, he might mention something about a head "worshipped" by Templars, held by enemies as heretical, but really harmless. Somehow, John has become linked to the "head" or caput mortuum (death head) touched by some Templars with the waist cords of their dress in the thirteenth century. The late (after 1725) Masonic 3rd Degree ceremony does deal with facing death and emerging, raised, from the threat of the "King of Terrors," but any idea of a link to a thirteenth-century figure called "Baphomet" seems hopelessly strained.
Where the connection with John the Baptist? Well, apart from the hypothesis that "Baphomet" referred to a "baptism" of Mithra, we may consider how in Islamic tradition, which the Templars encountered at close quarters, the prophet Idris, the "Green One" or "Evergreen," is commonly associated both with Elijah and with Enoch. As an "incarnation" of Elijah, and arguably of Enoch also, the prophet John is thus brought into relation with Idris. In Islam, Idris is a saint and prophet whom God raised to heaven. He may appear when miraculous help is needed. The Quran describes Idris as a man of truth, sincerity, constancy, and patience. Remarkably, in this regard, the Sabians (meaning "bathers," the Islamic word for the Mandaeans) relate how they received their religion from Adam's realization of God as Life, passed on to the prophets Seth and Idris (Enoch).
The Templars had established and maintained contact with mystic sects belonging to different religions and denominations, including sorcerers. They were known to have close links to the hashashis (assassins), an influential sect of the Muslim population.
Muslims in Damascus and Aleppo credited the relic of John the Baptist's head with miraculous powers. Readers may draw what conclusions they will from these deeply related images and ideas, but before we leave this realm of speculation, we cannot avoid mentioning a notable painting discovered in a cottage in the village of Temple Combe, Dorset, England. The painting shows a severed head. Most who see it instinctively relate it to John the Baptist, rather than Jesus, the other obvious candidate for a bearded, long-haired icon. It has been carbon-dated to ca. 1280 CE, when the Templars held a commandery at Temple Combe. Temple Combe became the property of the Knights Hospitaller after 1307, when four knights were arrested, following the accusations of Philippe of France. The painting may have been a Templar object; it has a haunting quality.
In 1806 the London publishers Bulmer & Cleveland published a book by Joseph Hammer (later Joseph von Hammer-Purgstall), called Ancient Alphabets and Hieroglyphic Characters Explained, with an account of the Egyptian priests. What he had printed in 1806 were his first experiences of research and, possibly to support the wishes of his mighty patron Metternich and surely under the influence of the "black legend" of the Templars in his time, he placed in this review of ancient scripts a hypothesis born from a mere similarity in sound, which would however rouse great shock and interest. Hammer-Purgstall had in fact identified a word written in hieroglyphics, which in his reading sounded like bahumid, and which, if translated into Arabic, meant "calf." We do in fact find that some witnesses, not members of the Order, who testified in the trial of the Templars in England, had mentioned strange rumors including that the Templars kept an idol in the shape of a calf. Furthermore, some testimonies in the trial carried out in southern France featured that strange name, Baphomet, which made such an impression on Hammer-Purgstall because it seemed to approximate his mysterious word.
In 1818 Hammer-Purgstall published the work fated to achieve the highest fame in this area, whose eloquent title was Mysterium Baphometis Revelatum—The Mystery of Baphomet Revealed. The author gave up his former belief that the Templar idol's strange name came from an ancient hieroglyphic term, and embraced a more complex theory: The word was no longer from the Egyptian language, but was a compound of two Greek terms joined to mean a "baptism of the spirit." He claimed that it proved that the Templars had inherited from antiquity, through the Cathar heretics of southern France, the doctrines of the ancient Ophite sect. The latter took their name from the special cult they offered to the snake (Greek Ophis) from the Biblical book of Genesis. To them, the God of the Bible was not the principle of good, but of evil, who out of petty jealousy had kept man in a condition of ignorance; it had been the snake, who was not the enemy but the friend of humankind, who had revealed the path of truth—gnosis (Greek for "knowledge"), divine knowledge.
This was the primeval religion, the most ancient one known; it always survived in the shadows with its secrets, escaping throughout the millennia from the persecutions by the Church and by the various powers that relied on the Church. One of the worst charges the king of France had made against the Templars was that they forced their novices to deny Jesus and spit on the Cross; this could be matched with information from Origen (who had lived in the early 3rd century AD) that the Ophites forced their new members to blaspheme Jesus.
Shortly after the publication of Hammer-Purgstall's theories, it happened that the duke of Blacas, a famous collector of exoteric-type objects, found, as if by magic, two extremely strange little caskets supposedly dated to the Middle Ages and representing some sort of devil cult. The Baphomet received public consecration at that point, which none of the Templar sources, rare and mutually contradictory as they were, could ever grant the henceforth famous shape. It was depicted as a kind of devil with the horns and legs of a ram, the breasts of a woman, and the genitals of a man. The brilliant and dishonest occultist Eliphas Levi rediscovered these fascinating fakes in the late 1800s, finding material in them that was most useful for his speculations; he dressed the ill-defined Baphomet in that threatening devilish majesty in which it towers to this day in so many fantasy pictures. Fans of the occult are free to believe what they wish, but historical evidence leaves no reasonable doubt that Baphomet was nothing but an ugly doll invented—more or less—by romantic fantasy, and still in use to this day to profitably catch the simple-minded.
French occultist Eliphas Levi wrote this about Baphomet: “According to some, the Baphomet was a monstrous head; according to others, a demon in the form of a goat. A sculptured coffer was disinterred recently in the ruins of an old commandery of the temple, and antiquaries observed upon it a baphometic figure, corresponding in its attributes to the Goat of Mendes and the androgyne of Khunrath. It was a bearded figure with a female body, holding the sun in one hand and the moon in the other, attached to chains. Now this virile head is a beautiful allegory which attributes to thought alone the initiating and creating principle. Here the head represents spirit and the body matter. The orbs enchained to the human form, and directed by that nature of which intelligence is the head, are also magnificently allegorical. The sign, all the same, was discovered to be obscene and diabolical by the learned men who examined it.” Perhaps the most famous image of the horned goat-devil was drawn by Levi.
The Devil is the fifteenth mystery of the Tarot pack. It takes the form of Baphomet (of the Knights Templars) portrayed as having the head and feet of a he-goat and the bosom and arms of a woman. Like the Greek sphinx, it incorporates the four Elements: its black legs correspond to the earth and to the spirits of the nether world; the green scales on its flanks allude to water, the undines, and dissolution; its blue wings to sylphs and also to bats (because the wings are membranous); and the red head is related to fire and salamanders. The aim of the devil is regression or stagnation in what is fragmentary, inferior, diverse and discontinuous. Finally, this Tarot mystery-card is related to the instincts and to desire in all its passionate forms, the magic arts, disorder and perversion.
The scaly pattern on the lower parts of some beings such as mermaids, mermen and Baphomet of the Knights Templar serves to emphasize their association with level symbolism, expressing in visual form the cosmic (or moral) inferiority of what, from the viewpoint of vertical ‘height’, appears below.
In the 19th century, the image of Baphomet was revived among occultists and enthusiasts of ritual magic as noted earlier. The well-known British occultist Aleister Crowley took the name Baphomet at one point in his career. In the 20th century, a version of the image of Baphomet—a goat’s head inscribed in an upside-down pentagram—was adopted by the Church of Satan as its official symbol. The image has also often been associated with witchcraft, but few practitioners of Wicca or other forms of modern neo-paganism use the image in any way, although practitioners of modern Satanism continue to do so.
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