Baphomet origins: A “Mystery” Solved At Last? by Kevin Bold
Sooner or later every student of either the esoteric or the history of the Crusades encounters the name of an allegedly sinister entity known as “Baphomet”. Baphomet was said to be the “god” or “idol” of the Knights Templar, but has also been described as “the goat of Mendes”, “the god of the witches”, a latter-day version of the Greek god Pan, a symbol of an alchemical principal, and even Satan himself. And while each of these has a following, there is evidence suggesting the possibility that Baphomet’s origins are not only not sinister, but human rather than supernatural.
The “mystery” of Baphomet begins in 1307 with the demise of the Knights Templar. The military order of “warrior monks” was founded in 1118 in France after the First Crusade to protect European pilgrims on their way to and from the Holy Land. For nearly two centuries the Templars grew in size, strength, political clout, reputation (good at first, but bad towards the end), but most of all in wealth, and this would prove to be their undoing. In the early fourteenth century King Philip IV of France, who was deeply in debt to the Templars, decided to not only cancel that debt but seize their wealth and property for himself and having his puppet pontiff Clement V dissolve the order. To do this, Philip would have to have the Templars convicted of heresy. With “evidence” gathered from agents who infiltrated the Templars, along with a sworn deposition from a disgruntled ex-Templar on whose testimony his prosecutors could build a case, Philip made his move. Acting on sealed orders they were not to open until the previous midnight, Philip’s officials arrested every Templar they could during the dawning hours of Friday, October 13, 1307. While some of the charges, such as sodomy and desecration of Christian symbols, were obviously silly even to many people at the time, other allegations, such as the chanting of “Yallah!” (Daraul, 1961), sounded like descriptions of documented Sufi Muslim practices (Khan, 1974). But it is the charge of worshipping an idol called “Baphomet” that has inspired the most controversy.
At first, “Baphomet” was simply a head, and presumably a human one, but under the duress of torture, Baphomet’s descriptions became progressively elaborate and fantastic. Nearly every historian who has written on the subject has dismissed the “Baphomet” issue as patently false, just one more trumped-up charge against the Templars. However, after studying both the hypothetical and more plausible connections between the Templars, Sufism, and Freemasonry, I have come to the tentative conclusion that the “Baphomet” matter may have contained a sizable element of truth — one which the inquisitors certainly distorted, but true nonetheless.
Most of us who have heard of Baphomet first encountered the name in either a history book or the works of Anton Szandor LaVey, whose goat’s – head – in – the – inverted – pentagram illustration is supposed to be Baphomet, or else in the works of Aleister Crowley, who equated Baphomet with the Greek god Pan (Crowley, 1974). Crowley even adopted the name “Baphomet” as his own motto when he joined Ordo Templi Orientis (Order of the Oriental Temple, or O.T.O.). Other occult writers who have discussed Baphomet include nineteenth century authors Eliphaz Levi and Albert Pike, and Baphomet is the model for “The Devil” in the Waite-Rider and Case-B.O.T.A. tarot decks. Many historians have claimed that the name “Baphomet” was Old French for Muhammad, whose name is sometimes spelled Mahomet, although Crowley (1989) presented an interesting, but probably coincidental, claim that the name came from a Greek phrase for “baptism of wisdom”. The problem with Crowley’s case is it overlooks two basic facts about the Templars: 1) as Roman Catholics, Greek names were not that important to them (and to Catholics at the time, the Greek Orthodox Christians were in some ways just as much “infidels” as the Muslims), and 2) the Templars who lived in the Holy Land, along with the masons they employed, had to deal with the local population on a regular basis, often became fluent in Arabic, and for a European in the Holy Land –Templars included — to “go native” was not particularly unusual. But it was in the pop-history book _Holy Blood, Holy Grail_ that I first came across the idea that “Baphomet” was derived from an Arabic term, _abufihamet_, meaning “Father of Understanding”, rather than from an Old French name for the founder of Islam. Since that book, although a “good read”, is not one scholars take seriously due to its highly speculative theses, I decided to check their source for this, Idries Shah’s _The Sufis_, which contains additional relevant information discussed below.
For now I tend to favor the Arabic origins over the Old French for the following reasons: first, as an iconoclastic religion, Islam strictly forbids images, either painted or sculpted, of either God or Muhammad, so the idea of even unorthodox Muslims worshipping an idol is simply ludicrous. Second, of those authors I have read who claim that “any expert on Old French” will say that Baphomet was another name for Muhammad never actually cite any such Old French experts to document this assertion. One such writer was Peter Partner, who even found a French troubadour ballad from the late thirteenth century and published an English translation, showing parenthetically that “Bafometz” had appeared in the original French (he had rendered it as “Mohammed” as if this had somehow proved his point). What Partner had inadvertently done was prove that a) Baphomet was a known entity before the demise of the Templars, and most likely a person with spiritual power, capable of working miracles (although Islam never credits Muhammad with any “miracle” other than receiving the Qu’ran), and b) that Baphomet was known among non-Templars (although Partner believed the ballad’s author was an ex-Templar, that troubadour’s audience certainly had non-Templars among them), and if Shah is correct in his assertions about Sufic influences on the troubadours, then we have in the ballad Partner quoted possible proof of a link between Sufism and Baphomet. (As for the Templars and the Sufis, not only were there many documented contacts between Templars and Sufis [as well as other unorthodox Muslims such as the Ismailis] during their time in the Middle East, but there were also opportunities for contacts in Europe. France, after all, borders Spain, and during the Crusades Sufism flourished in Muslim-ruled Spain and influenced the early Qabalistic Jews and other mystics on both sides of the border; Robert Graves, in his introduction to Shah’s book, even claimed that Templars fought alongside Sufi warriors in Spain. And many Masonic trappings, such as the checkered floor and the tolerance of all monotheistic religions, are at least Islamic in origin if not specifically Sufic.) But in my opinion the strongest support for Baphomet as abufihamet is the number of Arabic sobriquets which begin with abu which belonged to historical individuals rather than esoteric principles.
One such individual was the tenth century Sufi martyr Husayn ibn Mansur al-Hallaj, who died in 922CE. A pantheist, an alleged miracle worker, and a most definitely unorthodox Muslim, Hallaj was imprisoned and tried for blasphemy for his public descriptions of his mystical union with God. Finally convicted after a nine year inquiry, Hallaj was maimed, crucified, beheaded, and his torso was cremated. Some of the stories surrounding his death include an account of the Caliph’s Queen Mother having Hallaj’s head preserved as a relic (Singh, 1970). Various Sufi sects have rituals commemorating Hallaj’s death, and Shah claimed that Hallaj was the model for the “Hiram Abiff” character in the Master Mason initiation ritual. Although Shah cited other reasons connecting Hallaj to Hiram Abiff and the sect of Sufis known as “the Builders” (who built the Al Aqsa Mosque and the Dome of the Rock on the site of Solomon’s Temple in Jerusalem, which was the Holy Land headquarters for the Templars and the mythical scene of Masonic initiations), Hallaj bore some interesting parallels to the Old Testament’s descriptions of Hiram the artificer: first, both men were sons of widows; second, both men had “sons of David” play key roles in their lives (Hiram worked for Solomon, and one of Hallaj’s prosecutors was named Ibn Daud [Massignon, 1994], which is Arabic for “Son of David”), and third, the Old Testament Hebrew for “Abiff” is abyu (Kohlenberger, 1987). Having already encountered writers who hypothesized a connection between the Templars and Freemasonry (which, although plausible, is nowhere near as romantic or fantastic as some, such as John J. Robinson in _Born in Blood_, have claimed), I had already found the first two most interesting, and further investigation of Hallaj, who, according to the medieval Islamic poet and historian Farid al-Din Attar, turns out to have been known by several titles beginning with abu-, brought the third coincidence to my attention. And since, as noted above, some of the Templars may indeed have been participants in documented Sufi practices, could the charge that the Templars “worshipped a head called Baphomet” not have had some factual basis, namely the commemoration of a decapitated Sufi martyr whose head became a relic and who had been given the sobriquet abufihamet? The only problem here is that despite all the other abu- titles belonging to Hallaj, there is no known documentation linking him to abufihamet. Perhaps this documentation does exist (it would be useless to hypothesis that “perhaps it once existed, but no longer does”), but has not yet come to my attention, and should someone who knows of it ever read this essay, I would be most appreciative to hear of it. Until then, the above thesis, although plausible in my opinion, and hopefully interesting to the reader, remains purely speculative. But if it does turn up, then at last we will have proof positive that the Templars possessed a body of knowledge that would later become known to the Freemasons, regardless of how Freemasonry came to be.
I wish to give my thanks to Kevin Bold for his kindness in allowing me to reprint his article and theory on the Baphomet origins here. (This article originally appeared in _Annuit Coeptis_, the official publication of Whiskey Rebellion Camp, Pittsburgh PA Ordo Templi Orientis. copyright 1995) Kevin is no longer a member of OTO, but has founded an organization called “Sodalicium Mysteriorum Arthuri (“Fellowship of the Arthurian Mysteries”.
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