Alphonse Louis Constant was born the son of a shoemaker in 1810. At an early age he caught the attentions of a Parish Priest who arranged for Alphonse to be sent to the seminary of Saint Nichols du Chardonnet and latterly to Saint Sulpice. It was here that he studied Roman Catholicism with the intent of joining the Priesthood.
He gave up the collar of Catholicism to become an Occultist in the nineteenth century. Some claim he was thrown out of the Church for his heretical views or as the story goes for “preaching doctrines contrary to the Church.” Before his death in 1875 Levi is said to have reconciled with the Catholic Church and died having received last rites.
While alive he followed the esoteric path and adopted the Jewish pseudonym of Eliphas Levi, which he claimed was a Hebrew version of his, own name. Although known for many books on ritual Magic, Levi is perhaps best known for his work regarding the alleged deity of the Knights Templar, the Baphomet.
Levi considered the Baphomet to be a depiction of the absolute in symbolic form. His treatment of the Baphomet Mythos is best seen in his illustration of the Baphomet shown below, which he used as a front piece to one of his many books. According to the author Michael Howard, he [Levi] based the illustration on a Gargoyle that appears on a building owned by the Templars; the Commandry of Saint Bris le Vineux.
“The Gargoyle is in the form of a bearded horned figure with pendulous female breasts, wings and cloven feet. It sits in a crossed-legged position which resembles statues of the Celtic stag god, Cernnunnus or the Horned One, found in Gaul (France) before the Roman occupation.”
The Occult Conspiracy by Michael Howard
Levi’s Drawing: An Examination
It is believed that within Levi’s Baphomet, are contained the dualistic nature of life and the male female aspects of creation. The image combines both male and female qualities; one arm masculine, one feminine; the breasts of a woman with a phallic object on its lap; one arm pointing skyward while one pointing down, perhaps a representation of the Hermetic axiom “As Above…So Below”. The illustration also shows one arm points toward a white crescent moon the other towards a dark crescent moon, perhaps a representation of the waxing and waning phases of the moon but it could also represent the duality of good and evil. On the right arm is written “Solve” Solution and on the Left “Coagula” Coagulation. These are references found in alchemy a study that Levi not only undertook but also wrote about in his books.
Here is what Eliphas Levi had to say about the Baphomet image he drew. My thanks go to Christian Joachim Hartmann for providing me with this translation from Levi’s book:
“The goat on the frontispiece carries the sign of the pentagram on the forehead, with one point at the top, a symbol of light, his two hands forming the sign of hermetism, the one pointing up to the white moon of Chesed, the other pointing down to the black one of Geburah. This sign expresses the perfect harmony of mercy with justice. His one arm is female, the other male like the ones of the androgyn of Khunrath, the attributes of which we had to unite with those of our goat because he is one and the same symbol. The flame of intelligence shining between his horns is the magic light of the universal balance, the image of the soul elevated above matter, as the flame, whilst being tied to matter, shines above it. The ugly beast’s head expresses the horror of the sinner, whose materially acting, solely reponsible part has to bear the punishment exclusively; because the soul is insensitive according to its nature and can only suffer when it materializes. The rod standing instead of genitals symbolizes eternal life, the body covered with scales the water, the semi- circle above it the atmosphere, the feathers following above the volatile. Humanity is represented by the two breasts and the androgyn arms of this sphinx of the occult sciences.”
Levi’s Baphomet Sigil
Not commonly know, is that Eliphas Levi was the first to separate the pentagram into good and evil applications. It was Levi who first incorporated his goat headed Baphomet into the inverted pentagram attributing the qualities of evil to the new symbol. For the complete story on this and the history of the pentagram, see the link on the myths section of this site.
Eliphas Levi On The Baphomet
According to the controversial author, Nesta Webster, Eliphas Levi held the conviction that not only did the Templars adore the Baphomet but anyone embracing the Occult sciences did also. We see this in an alleged quote of his own words taken from the works of Nesta Webster, who may well have taken it out of context as so many such writers are want to do. Note the … usage which we have dealt with on another page. A common tactic for misquoting:
“Let us declare for the edification of the vulgar….and for the greater glory of the Church which has persecuted the Templars, burned the magicians and excommunicated the Freemasons, etc., let us say boldly and loudly, that all the initiates of the occult sciences… have adored do and always will adore that which is signified by this frightful symbol [The Sabbatic Goat]. Yes, in our profound conviction, the Grand Masters of the order of The Templars adored Baphomet and caused him to be adored by their initiates.”
Secret Societies and Subversive Movements by Nesta H. Webster
The above quotation does not seem to make sense in light of Levi’s theory on the etymology of Baphomet. Levi believed that if one rearranged the letters in Baphomet by reversing them you would get an abbreviated Latin phrase:
TEM OHP AB
He further believed that this would represent the Latin “Templi omnivm hominum pacis abbas” or in English “The Father Of The Temple Of Peace Of All Men”. This he felt to be a reference to King Solomon’s Temple, which Eliphas believed had the sole purpose of bringing peace to the world.
Eliphas Levi died on May 31st, 1875 and his books remain in print well over 100 years after his death. It is however, his illustrative representation of Baphomet that found its way into Waite’s Tarot deck as the Devil card and has in the process added another page to the Baphomet Mythos and perhaps added to demonizing something that may have had a more innocent interpretation.
Fascinating and informative post. Also, appreciate your objectivity.
One can only wonder what else Levi was trying to tell us with his drawing of the Baphomet figure. It seems this has been taken wrongly, adapting evil imagery to what was meant to simply represent natural forces. The ignorant truly profane.