Monday, December 23, 2013

The Book of Baphomet

Book Review: The Book of Baphomet by Nikki Wyrd and Julian Vayne (Mandrake 2012 – Kindle Edition)

I found this to be one of the better magickal books I have read in recent years. However, there is much unusual about it. Although the book gives considerable historical info about the mysterious figure known as Baphomet, there is much more about the evolving nature and possibilities of Baphomet as a god-form. I suspect that many could be put-off by the nature of the book as it jumps around and often seems off-topic. But there is much to admire here. Much of the seeming digression really offers support for the proposed new (or un-recognized) features of Baphomet – as the egregore of all life, as the god-form of life-sex-death, and the androgynous lord/lady composite of the totality of the biosphere.  

The first section of the book is a long contemplation of the history of the universe and the history of life as we understand it scientifically. Indeed this section takes up more than 10% of the book. It is an excellent summary. Science seems to be embraced and enjoyed by the authors. I am sure, though, it will leave others wondering what evolution has to do with Baphomet. The arising of the current configuration of the cosmos from the Big Bang and stellar brew and the arising and evolving of life from oceanic chemistry and beyond are recounted brilliantly. This is seen as the alchemical stew refined more and more. Chunks of matter joining and splitting over billions of years, becoming more and more complex. Joining and splitting are sex and death – eros and thanatos, and Solve Et Coagula – the alchemical words scribbled on the arms of Eliphas Levi’s Baphomet. The dance of DNA exploring new environments and finding new survival strategies is given in some scientific detail. Eventually, foreknowledge of inevitable death comes. The authors see their work as a means to repatriate us from our exile with nature. They see it as a collage, a patchwork – perhaps like Baphomet as an anthropomorphized patchwork of the totality of life. The book does shift about from fact to lore to history to science to personal accounts, art, poetry, and contemplations of symbolism. Discovery of the place of we humans in nature, in the universe, is an ongoing theme of the book. A related theme is that of ecology – the delicate balance and dance of production and consumption, of the interplay between spheres.

The authors note the appearance of Baphomet in history: with the persecution of the Templars early in the 14th century, in Eliphas Levi’s depictions and descriptions amidst 19th century occultism, in reformed magickal orders such as the OTO, and more recently in chaos magickians of the IOT (Illuminates of Thanateros).

The raiding and arrest of the Knights Templars in 1307 set the stage for the Inquisition as allegations of idolatry, blasphemy, sodomy, and orgiastic behavior aided in bringing down the Templars. They were accused of confessing to one another rather than to a priest. The first known written mention of Baphomet comes from a troubadour in 1265 where he names “Bafometz” as a supporter of the Sultan. The reference is likely to Mohammad and indeed much of the tradition seems to have been derived from the Saracens and the Templars’ dealings in and near the Holy Land.

“The irony that Islam, with its proscription against representation in religious art, should be the imagined origin of such idolatry raises a wry grin.”

Indeed idolatry is a recurring theme as well in the story of the Templars and subsequent secret societies:

“The theme of idolatry is an important one. Worshipping the visible, tangible world rather than an abstracted God vouchsafed to us through the interpretive powers of a priesthood.”

Cornelius Agrippa suggested that the Templars were guilty as charged with black magic and heresy. Dante favored their innocence. Johann August Starck (1741-1816) first identified Baphomet with Satan. Apparently, there was much speculation, beginning earnestly in Renaissance times, concerning the secret nature of the Templars and their mysterious rites. Their legend became firmly established in esoteric lore and later Masonic lore. The Builders of the Temple of Solomon the King is a key motif of the Masons. Solomon himself, as the authors explain was a bit of a rebel as he turned to favor the Canaanite Goddess Astaroth, equated with Astarte, Ishtar, and even Aphrodite – all goddesses of love and war. Astaroth was sometimes depicted with the head of an ass or bull and the breasts of a woman. She was demonized by the Jews and later depicted in Medieval Christian times as a ‘prince’ of hell. Solomon is a legendary magical figure and iconic King of the Jews with the mythic powers of a hero or demi-god. The authors suggest that:

“The Templars, as crusader knights, were re-connecting their European Christianity to its eastern roots.”

There are several accounts of the authors’ shamanic journeys or magickal experiments worked with vigor and intent with various aids such as entheogens and the isolation of deep caves. Mithras is mentioned and too the “rather dubious” association of Baphomet with Father Mithras. Crowley also made this connection with his magickally derived “BAFOMIThr.” The authors though suggest Baphomet as a god of wild life (like Pan) and Mithras one of cultured life – so in this sense Baphomet would be “older.”

There is given some examples in history of deep persecution against magic and ecstatic behavior from the persecution of Bacchic celebrants in Rome to Nero to the Christian emperor Valens. These are compared to the persecution of the Templars. Allegations of sorcery then became a successful strategy in the Middle Ages and helped to fuel the Inquisitions.

The legendary Templars came to influence the varying groups of modern magicians:

“Freemasons, Satanists, Thelemites, Wiccans, and Chaos Magicians all name check the Poor Knights in their lineages. “… these groups see in the Templars a mysterious organization with an initiatory tradition, that was in possession of arcane knowledge,”

The connection to Wicca, or rather traditional witchcraft, is postulated by Doreen Valiente as the Order of the Garter functioning as a sort of royal coven. Elias Ashmole connected them to and compared them to the Templars as another secret cult. Ashmole, in the 1600’s was a great collector of occult lore and co-founded the Royal Society of London. This society promulgated the Natural Philosophy that was later to become Science, as Roger Bacon, the famed empiricist, and Francis Bacon, the fashioner of the scientific method, were among its members as were many influential thinkers. Here science was forged from the Alchemy, astrology, Neo-Platonism, and magic of the past. They too, like the theological-oriented thinkers of the recent past, were reading the Book of Nature but interpreting it in new ways that veered more and more from the infallibility of the Church. For this reason and others, the authors explain, it was a secret society as well. Galileo, Copernicus, and especially Giordano Bruno were victims of trying to bring such things out in the open. 17th century Masonry became one veil behind which the natural philosophers and scientists could work. In the 19th century this all comes to a head with the Enlightenment, Romanticism, Darwin, the rise of science, and the relative weakening of the Church (at least in telling people how to think). It is in this climate that Baphomet re-emerges in the writings of French occultist Eliphas Levi. Here he gives the now well-known drawing of Baphomet as a human-animal hybrid – the key of the Mystery.

The authors mention a hidden cave-cell in England, rediscovered in the 18th century, where carvings and Templar symbols appear, including one of Saint Catherine, thought to be venerated by the Templars – presumably for her wisdom. Another is of an execution by burning – perhaps depicting Jacques de Molay.

The section on Deep Ecology compares the American Transcendentalist movement of the 19th century to modern “back to nature” movements. The authors note the emphasis of the false distinction between natural and man-made:

“Not only are we natural, we are now a True Force of Nature….”

We have altered the world we live in inestimably. We are connected world-wide through communications technology. The Anthropocene is in its prime. The authors speak of a “…true Baphometic level of pooled awareness…”

Joseph von Hammer-Purgstall’s 19th century account Mysterium Baphometis described the Templars as Gnostic heretics. Levi described the various symbolism of the Baphomet figure and eased it into occult tradition – presenting Baphomet as a worthwhile deific representation of reality. Some think he got his ideas for the depiction from old gargoyles. He did make the observation that the gods of old become the devils of the new. Following descriptions from the early historian Herodotus Levi equated Baphomet with the Goat of Mendes, an Egyptian city with a goat-footed deity – though thought now to have had a ram’s head. There was said to be a tradition of the goat made to copulate with women – but of course Herodotus’s tales tell of many strange things. Levi called Baphomet purveyor of the Azoth of the sages, Azoth being the alchemical fluid. The woman trampling the head of the serpent, as in the Virgin Mary trampling the serpent to represent control of carnal desire, here is said to represent control of the alchemical fluid. The authors note that Crowley in his Lost Continent speaks much of the alchemical fluid as the Universal Substance, the Universal Seed, the Quintessence (and Crowley’s similar term Ararita). Baphomet as “baptism of wisdom”,  a well known etymology, is echoed in Crowley’s Gnostic Mass creed.

Also recounted is a hoax by a 19th century Frenchman called Leo Taxil who presented Baphomet as the deity of Masonic Satanists and apparently sent up a scare not too unlike the Satanic panic of the 1980’s with stories of elaborate orgies and child sacrifice. In this sense Baphomet has long been a popular subject to support conspiracy theories. The form of Baphomet became solidified as the Devil of the Tarot. For Christians the image of Baphomet is the Devil but for others it represents the horned god of nature, maybe Pan. Levi’s depiction of the pentagram with Baphomet also solidified that symbol as representative of magic, witchcraft, and Satanism. His explanation is of the regular (points down) pentagram as the venerable star of the Magi and the inverted pentagram as the symbol of Satan and “infernal evocations.” Baphomet was also associated with an octogram as was the goddess Inanna/Ishtar. The authors note overlapping symbolism of Inanna/Ishtar, Babalon, Chaos (as goddess), and even the more universal goddess of the witches and pagans. Indeed, as all, as totality, and as Androgyne, Baphomet is both god and goddess.

There is discussion of Baphomet as the mysterious head. The head of John the Baptist, the image of the head on the shroud of Turin, the head of a woman, even the head (or bones) of Christ himself have been suggested. The Templars were charged with, among other things, having a magical head that did things like make riches. Though not mentioned, it is perhaps more likely that the making of the head was symbolic of the spiritual quest as suggested by Idries Shah, the Sufi writer.

Margaret Murray’s Witch Cult in Western Europe published in 1921 and Charles Leland’s earlier Aradia or Gospel of the Witches probably did much for the revival of paganism in more modern times. Murray speculated that pagans existed covertly up into modern times. Certainly folk traditions did and a few in secret society fashion. By the 1970’s the Horned God was firmly re-established. Gerald Gardner in his 1954 Witchcraft Today asserted that the Templars practiced the Old Religion. Gardner was a member of Crowley’s OTO for a while and lifted some of Crowley’s material for direct use in his own cult. Crowley took the magical name Baphomet as head of the OTO. Crowley’s magickally derived spelling as BAFOMeTh numbered to 729 in Hebrew gematria – which is solar year 365 plus lunar year 364. Indeed Crowley refashioned much of the lore of Masonry, paganism, and occultism, including giving new attributes to Baphomet. The tradition continued with Kenneth Grant.

Founding chaos mage Peter Carroll first described Baphomet thusly:

“Baphomet is the psychic field generated by the totality of living beings on this planet.”

Carroll noted the role of the horned god (Baphomet) through the ages. The Chaos Magick current utilizes Baphomet in this general form as the one universal substance of all life.

Baphomet, seen as the deity of the life force of earth, can be magickally worked in many ways – the search for ecological balance, social justice, mental, and physical health, etc. In this sense, say the authors, the “Baphometic process” is one of adjusting our species for continued long-term survival and successful evolution.

With life comes death. Contemplated is the possibility that the death of a human is no more important (at least biologically) than the death of any other organism. They note that the magicians they have talked to generally do not seek out or embrace specific after-life scenarios. In other words, they are not so religious in their view. Perhaps, even death is impermanent and we live again as many conjecture. Panpsychism – the idea of a conscious World Soul is perhaps a key idea among mages.

“Consciousness is implicit in all aspects of the universe. In a simple sense this is the observer effect noted in physics, that observation structures the observed. Consciousness does not merely arise out of the physical structure of the cosmos; it is a fundamental quality of reality,….”

If consciousness is fundamental, the question remains: what happens to it after death? The authors discuss Near-death experiences noting that they occur in many cultures in a very significant percentage of those who have a close brush with death. However, it is also clear that the experiences are colored by both individual and cultural expectations. Experiences that can be similar to NDEs include electrical stimulation of the brain (ESB), prolonged (sensory?) isolation, and drug experiences – particularly with DMT and ketamine. The authors note that ketamine is used in palliative care and could possibly familiarize terminal patients with the NDE-like state. Strategies for dying are perhaps not typically well worked out among us humans although with the uncertainties one cannot help but wonder what is the best way to prepare. There is a neuro-chemical component common to the near death state where glutamate stimulates the receptors for N-methyl-D-aspartate (NMDA). Ketamine has a similar action. These chemicals are associated with memories and synaptic plasticity. Care of the dead and the dying is another important topic. The authors note that death is a strategy for life, of the species, rather than the individual. Often the individual dies by a virus which kills the virus keeping it from spreading to other humans.

In discussing trance/altered states and receptivity to gnosis it is noted:

“Trance is how we learn. When we enter a trance state we become ‘suggestible’, that is we can learn more rapidly from a given input.” “Trance is the tool of magick, of marketing, of propaganda, and of dreams.”

Entheogenic exploration is discussed with the idea that it is a sort of experimental alchemy – an exploratory shamanization. Recounted is a tale of entheogenic exploration in a group ritual context with Baphomet represented by the four elements, chanting of hir name, and the sacramental toad venom. DMT accounts are given. There is a short description of the Horns of Baphomet yoga made for the rite.

Also given is the Gnostic Chaosphere Ritual. In this schema there are five spheres: 1) Panpsychosphere – “The Panpsychosphere represents the realm of cosmic imagination from which emergent phenomena arise spontaneously and chaotically in all the lower spheres …” This sphere seems to represent the unmanifest as source of the manifest (quantum possibility?); 2) Noosphere, or Memesphere -  “… represents the sum of all ideas, beliefs, religions, philosophies, emotions, hopes, and terrors arising from all structures capable of creating them.” This is like de Chardin’s noosphere updated a bit. These are the emanations from beings - living, desiring, wondering beings like us; 3) Anthroposphere or Onusphere – the biomass of humanity and all of our creations. This anthroposhpere evolved from the biosphere. Each sphere is represented in the rite by a symbol. The anthroposphere is represented by the regular pentagram as man the microcosmos; 4) Biosphere – the sphere generated by all living things. It arose from the Gaia, the geosphere; 5) Geosphere – this is the sphere of the elements, of the matter and energy we utilize. As we can see – each sphere arises from the one below it in a sort of evolutionary way yet each is also intertwined. After the rite is given there is a section with ideas to explore each sphere in various ways – identifying how one interacts with each sphere, etc. This is not too dissimilar to utilizing the shcema of the qabalistic spheres.

Again this is an unusual book. For those inclined to the subject it is a gem. It is a contemplation of the idea, the evolving nature of the god-form, rather than a history. It does not seek so much to discern what exactly the Templars and their magical predecessors thought was their Baphomet but what this idolic god-form means to those who work with it now. Baphomet, as any god-form, is our tool to utilize for good or ill, to explore the scary and delightful aspects of our short time in these bodies. This is a great contemplation on deifying the qualities of sex and life/death and all that spins around those central ideas of our lives.

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