Baphomet is an idol or image of uncertain provenance, depicting a being of heretical worship. The name first came to public consciousness during the suppression of the Knights Templar.
In the Templar confessions
During the judicial proceedings against the Knights Templar, assertions were made that the knights engaged in pagan idolatry. Statements had been obtained from former knights, stating that the order secretly worshipped idols, one of which was named as Baphomet. Such confessions were obtained under torture and were later recanted; therefore their validity is questionable. The Templar idols were variously described as having a human skull for a head, as having two faces, as a cat-like creature or alternately as a bearded head; most of these likely originated from the veneration of saint's relics, while the idol of Baphomet was thought to have been an Old French bastardization of the word Mohammed. In later legends, the idols were said to have been worshipped by the Knights Templar as their source of fertility and wealth.
Allegations of demonic activity on the Knights' part arose when Philip IV who was in financial difficulty due to wars with England (and who it is believed desired the wealth of the Templars, diminished influence of the Church in France, in addition to being well in debt to the Templars) plotted to destroy the order. On Friday October 13th 1307, Philip IV had Grand Master Jacques de Molay and 140 other knights arrested in the Paris Temple. More arrests followed throughout France, and later throughout Europe after Pope Clement V annulled the French process and began papal proceedings.
During the suppression of the Knights Templar it was claimed by Royal officials, who used torture during the Inquisition to coerce confessions, that the knights used worship of Baphomet as part of their initiation ceremonies. This, among other charges of spitting, trampling, defecating or urinating on the cross; while naked, being "kissed obscenely" by the receptor on the lips, navel, and base of the spine; heresy and worship of other idols; institutionalized homosexuality; and contempt of the Holy Mass and denial of the sacraments, was used to portray their Order asheretical.
The Templars were subjected to torture in the French secular process. There was secrecy surrounding their meetings and wild rumors spread concerning bizarre initiation rituals that did much to promote public suspicion of the order. Under torture, members of the order admitted to renouncing the Nazarene; spitting on, trampling and urinating on the crucifix; the "obscene kisses" of the initiation ceremony (though none admitted to sodomy); worship of idols; and accepting members through bribery. A total of fifty-four Templars were burned at the stake by French authorities, as well as Grand Master Jacques de Molay and Geoffrey of Charney, the Preceptor of Normandy, who after being imprisoned for seven years were seized and executed by French authorities as relapsed heretics after proclaiming their and the Order's innocence. Other Templars in France faced various prison terms, while very few Templars outside of France were convicted of charges.
Eliphas Levi and Baphomet
In his 19th-century Occultist reincarnation, a well known depiction shows Baphomet in the form of a winged humanoid goat with a pair of breasts and a torch on his head between his horns (illustration, top). This image comes from Eliphas Lévi's 1854 Dogme et rituel de la haute magie (English translation Transcendental Magic, its Doctrine and Ritual). Lévi considered the Baphomet to be a depiction of the absolute in symbolic form and explicated in detail his symbolism in the drawing that served as the frontispiece:
- "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 hermeticism, 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 responsible 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 called his image “the Baphomet of Mendes”, presumably following Herodotus' account that the god of Mendes was depicted with a goat's face and legs. However the deity was actually a ram deity Banebdjed (lit. Ba of the lord of djed, and titled "the Lord of Mendes"), who was the Ba of Osiris. Levi combined the images of the Tarot of Marseilles Devil card and refigured the ram of Banebdjed, worshipped in the city of Mendes, the Greek name of ancient Djedet in Egypt, as a he-goat, imagined as “copulator in Anep and inseminator in the district of Mendes”.
The head, horns and torch of this figure together take the form of a Fleur-de-lis.
Criticism of Levi's interpretation
Egyptian connections aside, Lévi's depiction, for all its modern fame, is not particularly authentic to the historical description from the Templar trials, although it is akin to the gargoyles found on several Templar (and non Templar) churches— or Viollet-le-Duc's vivid gargoyles that were added to Notre Dame de Paris about the same time as Lévi's illustration.
Critics argue that Levi and other writers, such as Albert Pike, were attempting to use the false accusations against the Templars to fabricate from the name Baphomet a veritable Deity of Hedonism and Rebellion against a Christian establishment. Levi's now-familiar image shown here as a "Sabbatic Goat" shows parallels with works by the Spanish artist Francisco Goya, who more than once painted a "Witch's Sabbath"; in the version ca 1821-23, El gran cabrón now at the Prado, a group of seated women offer their dead infant children to a seated goat. Levi also incorrectly identified Baphomet with Herodotus' mistaken "Goat of Mendes". Further fanciful connections link the ram-god of Mendes with the syncretic Ptolemaic-Roman Harpocrates. Harpocrates was a granter of fertility, but he was not associated with debauch or lust -- and, most important from the standpoint of this investigation into mythography, in animal-form, he was a ram, not a buck goat.
Aleister Crowley and Baphomet
The Baphomet of Lévi was to become an important figure within the cosmology of Thelema, the mystical system established by Aleister Crowley in the early 20th century. Crowley identified Baphomet with Harpocrates (the Greek version of the child-form of the Egyptian god Horus) and also with what he called the Lion-Serpent. Crowley agreed that Baphomet was a divine androgyne, while also being bi-sexual (as Crowley was) and "the hieroglyph of arcane perfection" (Magick, ch.21). In The Law is for All (p. 95), Crowley identifies the Lion-Serpent with one's "Secret Self", also called the Holy Guardian Angel.
For Crowley, Baphomet is further a representative of the spiritual nature of the spermatozoa while also being symbolic of the "magical child" produced as a result of sex magic. As such, Baphomet represents the Union of Opposites, especially as mystically personified in Chaos and Babalon combined and biologically manifested with the sperm and egg united in the zygote.
But Crowley saw Baphomet as more than the Union of Opposites—he is also the Lust that leads to such Union. Baphomet is depicted in Crowley's Thoth Tarot deck, in the card "Devil" (Atu XV). Here, he is identified with the Greek god Pan, the All-Begetter. He is "creative energy in its most material form [...], the goat leaping with lust upon the summits of earth [...], the divine madness of spring" (p. 105).
Crowley also identified Baphomet with himself. In The Equinox of the Gods he describes another card from the Tarot, this time "Lust" (Atu XI), "It shows the Scarlet Woman, BABALON, riding (or conjoined with) me The Beast ; and this card is my special card, for I am Baphomet, 'the Lion and the Serpent,' and 666, the 'full number' of the Sun" (ch.7). It is perhaps for this reason that Crowley assumed the magical name of Baphomet when he was risen to the X° within Ordo Templi Orientis.
Baphomet as a demon
Baphomet, as Lévi's illustration suggests, has occasionally been portrayed as a synonym of Satan or a demon, a member of the hierarchy of Hell. Baphomet appears in that guise as a character in James Blish's The Day After Judgment. Christian evangelist Jack Chick claims that Baphomet is a demon worshipped by Freemasons, a claim that apparently originated with the Taxil hoax. Lévi's Baphomet is clearly derived from the Tarot image of the Devil. The downward-pointing pentagram on its forehead is enlarged upon by Lévi in his illustration of a goat's head arranged within such a pentagram, which he contrasts with the microcosmic man arranged within a similar but upright pentagram.
The symbol of the goat in the downward-pointed pentagram was adopted as the official symbol of the Church of Satan, and continues to be used amongst Satanists.
A different interpretation of Baphomet is given by the Satanic group the Order of Nine Angles. According to the ONA, Baphomet is female, and is depicted as a beautiful mature woman, naked from the waist up, who holds in her hand the severed head of a bearded man. "The name of Baphomet is regarded by traditional Satanists as meaning "the mistress (or mother) of blood" - the (Satanic) Mistress who sometimes washes in the blood of her foes and whose hands are thereby stained. Allegedly, 7,000 years ago a civilization known as Albion had various rites associated with a Dark Goddess who was known as "Baphomet".
Etymology of the name "Baphomet"
The word's etymology is questionable. Different theories exist as to the origin of the term, including:
- A slanderous deformation of the Latinised "Mahomet", a medieval Latin rendering of Muhammad (مُحَمَّد), the name of the prophet of Islam.  During the era of the Crusades, European literature contained considerable misinformation and distortions against Islam and its prophet (such as the claim that Muslims worshipped a god called "Termagant"). It is therefore possible that the name "Baphomet" represents one more such incident, and was coined by the enemies of Islam, and made deliberately to resemble "Mahomet" for propaganda purposes. The interaction between the Templars and Muslims during the course of the order's history would make the charge of secret Islamic idolatry seem plausible at the time. The very strong proscription of idolatry in Islam makes any actual Muslim use of an idol highly improbable, but Christian writers typically equated all non-Christian beliefs with idol worship and devil worship. This is currently the most accepted interpretation in academia.
- Atbash cipher for Sophia. Dr Hugh J. Schonfield, one of the scholars who worked on the Dead Sea Scrolls, argued in his book, The Essene Odyssey, that the word "Baphomet" was created with knowledge of the Atbash substitution cipher, which substitutes the first letter of the Hebrew alphabet for the last, the second for the second last, and so on. "Baphomet" rendered in Hebrew becomes בפומת; interpreted using Atbash, it becomes שופיא, which can be interpreted as the Greek word "Sophia", or wisdom. This fact is an important part of the plot of Dan Brown]'s hugely popular The Da Vinci Code.
- From the Greek words 'Baphe' and 'Metis'. The two words together would mean "Baptism of Wisdom".
- Satanists from the Church of Satan, founded by Anton LaVey in 1966, usually claim that Baphomet is the name of their identifying sigil, a point-down pentagram enclosing a goat's head, surrounded by five Hebrew letters spelling out LVYThN (לויתן, "Leviathan").
- Edward Alexander "Aleister" Crowley, deployed the name not only as his title within the O.T.O. but also incorporated the tradition of Templar symbolism within that of the Gnostic Catholic Church. Crowley did not accept wholeheartedly Eliphas Levi's conflation of the evil-looking Baphomet fantasized as the object of the anti-Knights Templar accusations with Harpocrates, the Ram of Mendes -- for the 16th major trump card of Crowley's tarot deck, produced in collaboration with Frieda Harris, depicts the Ram standing beneath a stylized phallus, as a friendly four-legged, multi-eyed animal-god, not a demonic half-human hermaphrodite.
- Idries Shah, writing as "Arkon Daraul" in his book about Secret Societies, proposed that "Baphomet" may actually derive from the Arabic word ابو فهمة Abufihamat, meaning "The Father of Understanding". (ISBN 0806508574) "Probably relying on contemporary Eastern sources, Western scholars have recently concluded that 'Bafomet' has no connection with Mohammed (مُحَمَّد), but could well be a corruption of the Arabic "Abufihamat" (pronounced in the Moorish Spanish similar to bufihamat). The word means 'father of understanding'. In Arabic, 'father' is taken to mean 'source, chief seat of,' and so on." - Idries Shah 
- Lévi proposed that the name was composed from a series of abbreviations: 'Temp. ohp. Ab.' which originates from Latin 'Templi omnium hominum pacis abhas,' meaning "the father of universal peace among men." An alternative reading could be tem. o. h. p. ab. for templi omnium hominum pacis abbas. The translation in this case is abbot of the temple of peace of all mankind, perhaps referring to the Templars themselves.
Baphomet in popular culture
Baphomet appears in many works of horror and fantasy fiction. It is usually depicted as a demon per Lévi's interpretation, but often bowdlerized to remove the hermaphroditic aspects and bare breasts. Baphomet makes a rare film appearance in the 1968 Hammer Horror film The Devil Rides Out.
In the Clive Barker novel Cabal (novel) (1988) & film Nightbreed (1990), Baphomet is the founder of the legendary underground city of Midian where the "lost" tribes of humanity, the Nightbreed, can find sanctuary from their persecution by "normal" humans. Whilst horrifying in appearance, this powerful demon/god version of Baphomet is relatively benevolent. Despite being dismembered by powerful enemies, Baphomet lives on for millenia until the arrival of Aaron Boone in Midian triggers a catastrophic chain of events which ultimately leads to the destruction of both Baphomet and the city itself. The motifs of a tortured and mutilated god continuing to live after death, have resonances both in the Egyptian myth of the murder of Osiris by Set and his subsiquent resurrection, and in the story of the crucifixion.
Baphomet is one of many demons popularly referenced in black metal music and related artwork, such as in the lyrics of the English band Venom.
In The Mars Volta's forthcoming album Amputechture there is a song entitled "Day of the Baphomets"
Unique demons or monsters named Baphomet appear in many computer and video games, often acting as a boss monster. Notably, the final boss of Silent Hill, Incubus, is almost identical appearance-wise to Baphomet. Baphomet likewise appears in many role-playing games, such as Final Fantasy IX (a monster called 'Ash' bears an uncanny similarity to Baphomet). There is also a "Baphomet" demon in the Playstation 2 game Shin Megami Tensei: Digital Devil Saga. It is depicted identically as it is represented above. The demon is also stated to appear in the upcoming game Raid over the River. Baphomet is also the final boss of Doom II, appearing in Map30, Icon of Sin.
Baphomet also makes an appearance in the online RPG Ragnarok Online, as an extremely powerful Boss Monster, and is a popualar choice for the Game Masters to raid a town with. Also in this game, Baphomet Jr. is an offered character pet, depicted as a tiny form of Baphomet that follows a character around, eats honey and often makes rude comments.
Baphomet also appeared as a demon lord in the Advanced Dungeons & Dragons role playing game. First introduced in the 1982 module Lost Caverns of Tsojcanth and later appearing in the 1983 hardcover supplement book Monster Manual II, and again in the 2004 hardcover supplement book Fiendish Codex I: Horrors of the Abyss he's described as the Demon Lord of Minotaurs, having the head of a bull and body of an ogre.
Additionally, Baphomet appears on the cover of the self-titled Tenacious D album.