The origin of Baphomet
According to Peter Partner’s book “The Knights Templar and their Myths”, the name Bafometz first appears in a poem by a troubadour in the 1260’s: “And daily they impose new defeats on us: for God, who used to watch on our behalf, is now asleep, and Bafometz puts forth his power to support the Sultan.” Most scholars interpret ‘Bafometz’ in this context as a Provençal corruption of Muhammed, the prophet of Islam. This is not an unreasonable interpretation, but I would speculate that the corruption may have its origins in confusion with another, albeit more obscure, name from the Arabic world.
In ‘Witches, Druids and King Arthur’, Professor Ronald Hutton mentions that the name ‘Bahumed’ appears in a book of alphabets by Ibn Wahshiyya, as a bogus translation of an Egyptian hieroglyph. Whether bogus or not, if the text is genuinely by Ibn Wahshiyya, this would place its first (known) use around the 9th or 10th century. Hutton describes the name Bahumed used in a context that ‘concerns a figure used to represent the secret of the world’s nature’. This may or may not be a reference to the pre-Islamic beast mentioned in Arabic folklore, ‘Bahamut’, described as a giant fish with the head of a hippopotamus or elephant. This name in turn is considered to have etymological links to the Biblical ‘Behemoth’, a beast which some have also linked to these same animals. Of course the Biblical Behemoth was not a giant fish, but definitely a beast of the land, the Arabic version also inheriting the physical sea dwelling characteristics of the Biblical Leviathan. My own speculation would be that the Provençal name Bafometz came at least in part from either Bahamut or Bahumed, possibly as a result of getting these names confused with that of the Muslim prophet. Perhaps even deliberately confusing them. Certainly the concept of ‘the secret of the world’s nature’ would be connected in medieval christian eyes with the Devil as the lord of the earth, who would also be seen by them as ruling all non-christian nations. But this does not mean the name has its origins in such an insult, just that a version of it was used as such at a specific point in history. Its origins seem far older.
The Egyptian god Set was sometimes depicted in the form of a hippopotamus. Some also consider the head of the ‘Set animal’ to resemble that of an Oxyrhynchus fish, the fish said to have eaten the phallus of Osiris. No-one is quite sure what species of fish this is, but some speculate that it could be a Mormyrid, commonly known as a Freshwater Elephant-fish. Some species of these can grow up to one and a half meters in length. Some species have particularly prominent mouth extensions for feeding on the small invertebrates that can be found in muddy substrates, which lead to their association with elephants.
The elephant also makes one think of the Hindu god Ganesha. One story tells of how Ganesha was born to his mother Parvati whilst Shiva was away from home. She gives him the task of guarding the threshold and not letting anyone past without her permission.
Shiva returns, and finds Ganesha guarding his home, not knowing it is his son. Ganesha in turn does not recognise his father Shiva and refuses to let him past. Shiva gets angry and cuts off Ganesha’s head. When Parvati discovers her dead son she demands Shiva put his head back on and restore him to life. Shiva, realising his mistake, reveals that he cannot do this, but that he will throw his trident, which will cut off the head of whichever animal it hits, and their son will have this head from then on. So he throws it, and it severs the head of a monster with the head of an elephant. This is the head which he gives to his son Ganesha.
Eshu and Legba
Could this tale link Ganesha to Bahamut or Behemoth? It certainly seems to, in a poetic and magical sense if nothing else. Statues of Ganesha depicting him as thin with cowrie shell eyes also exist, which would also link him to Eshu and Legba, who are also depicted with such eyes. Finding information about this form of Ganesh has proved difficult, but one seller of this statue claimed that it is one of the oldest forms of the god. Online sellers of these thin Ganesha statues, usually in brass, with brass eyes in the form of cowrie shells, tend to refer to them as ‘antique Ganesha’ statues. It is interesting the the ‘esh’ sound can be found in the names ‘Eshu’ and ‘Ganesha’.
Baphomet and the mysteries of the Goat
Banebdjedet, Osiris and Ptah
The animal most often associated with Baphomet is the goat. For this we have to thank Eliphas Levi, who made an association between Baphomet and the Egyptian god Banebdjedet in his book “Dogmas and Rituals of High Magic”. It would seem that due to a translation error Levi called Banebdjedet ‘The goat of Mendes’. In fact Banebdjedet has the head of a ram. Ba is the ancient Egyptian word for both ‘ram’ and ’soul’, and it seems that the soul of a god was often depicted with a rams head. In this case Banebdjedet was supposedly the Ba of Osiris, although this varies between different texts, presumably in reflection of the ever changing political and religious climate of the ancient civilisation. In one text Banebdjedet is a form taken by Ptah, and in another concerning the trial of Set and Horus he initially remains neutral and later sides with Set, not actions one would credit with the ’soul of Osiris’.
Zeus, Amalthea and Melissa
Levi’s thinking of Banebdjedet as a goat may well have been a result of a mistranslation of the account given by the Greek historian Herodotus. Herodotus also told a story about Zeus appearing to Heracles hiding behind the severed head of a ram so as not to reveal his true face, using it to explain why Egyptians depicted Zeus with a rams head. It seems the Greeks saw Banebdjedet as a form of Zeus. Certainly both gods were associated with prolific sexual verility. The sexual nature of the gods cult was such that it lead to early Christians to demonise him.
Interestingly, some conspiracy sites try to claim that the statue of George Washington by Horatio Greenough was modelled on Eliphas Levi’s famous depiction of Baphomet. However the statue was commissioned in 1832 and completed in 1840, whereas the Elpihas Levi’s book wasn’t published until 1855, fifteen years later. Greenough apparently modelled the statue of the first US president upon the statue of Zeus at Olympus by the ancient Greek scupltor Phidias. In some myths, the infant Zeus is said to have suckled from the breast of the goat Amalthea, whose name is Greek for ‘tender goddess’, and in others he was raised by Melissa on goats milk and honey. Melissa is Greek for ‘Honey Bee’. Was Levi inspired by the same statue of Zeus for his Baphomet illustration?
Ask people for a god associated with goats and I suspect many would answer ‘Pan’. Whilst the Greek word pan means ‘all’, the name of the god most likely originates in the word ‘paein’ which means ‘to pasture’. Like Baphomet, Pan has the legs of of a goat, although facially he is depicted as a bearded man with goat horns rather than a full goat head. Generally Pan is depicted in the manner of a faun. His father is said to be either Zeus, Hermes or Dionysus. The latter two being sons of Zeus themselves would make Pan a grandson of Zeus if they were the father. Either way, the theme of highly sexual virile gods is maintained. In some Hellenistic mystery cults however, Zeus, Phanes, Dionysus, Pan and Eros were all considered cognate.
Ambrosia and the Cornucopia
So what mysteries do these goat deities reveal to us about the significance of Baphomet’s goat head and legs? Well the theme of sexual potency is very strong from many of the male gods associated with goats, so this would definitely be a part of Baphomet in that regard. Of course Levi depicts Baphomet as Hermaphrodite so goddesses associated with goats also come into the picture, the most significant of which seems to be Amalthea, the tender goddess who nursed the infant Zeus. According to some versions ambrosia, the food of the gods, came forth from her horns to feed him. This brings to mind the cornucopia, the horn of plenty. So the the divine goat also manifests a strong nurturing aspect.