Devil of the Astral Light: Eliphas Levi’s Baphomet
Devil of the Astral Light: Eliphas Levi’s Baphomet
By Michael Osiris Snuffin (2009)
In the eyes of the Western world, Eliphas Levi’s illustration of Baphomet is a representation of the Christian Devil, the source of all evil. The French occultist’s illustration from his magnum opus Transcendental Magic shows a winged, goat-headed creature, a pentagram on his forehead, surrounded by occult symbols—all iconography associated with the Devil. A pitchfork and a barbed tail are all that would be needed to complete the stereotype.
This devilish association was fostered in part by Arthur Edward Waite, who misinterpreted the Baphomet illustration when he used it as a model for the Devil trump of his ever-popular Rider-Waite Tarot deck. Waite’s Devil trump replaces the figure of the Christian Devil common to earlier trumps with a corruption of Levi’s Baphomet, giving him bat wings, a scowling face, and beastial legs and feet. Waite translated Levi’s Transcendental Magic into English, but was unwilling to accept Levi’s interpretation of his own Baphomet image, as stated in his Pictorial Key to the Tarot: “With more than his usual derision for the arts which he pretended to respect and interpret as a master therein, Eliphas Lévi affirms that the Baphometic figure is occult science and magic.”1
Waite’s Devil trump associates Baphomet with the Christian Devil, and he interprets the trump to signify violence, force and evil. Yet if we examine what Lévi has written, we find that Baphomet is a complex symbol of occult science and magic.
Lévi’s primary discussion of Baphomet is found in Transcendental Magic, which is divided into two parts, Doctrine and Ritual. Baphomet is connected with the Devil trump in Chapter 15 of Ritual: 2
“We recur once more to that terrible number fifteen, symbolized in the Tarot by a monster throned upon an altar, mitred and horned, having a woman’s breasts and the generative organs of a man–a chimera, a malformed sphinx, a synthesis of deformities. Below this figure we read a frank and simple inscription–THE DEVIL. Yes, we confront here that phantom of all terrors, the dragon of the all theogenies, the Ahriman of the Persians, the Typhon of the Egyptians, the Python of the Greeks, the old serpent of the Hebrews, the fantastic monster, the nightmare, the Croquemitaine, the gargoyle, the great beast of the Middle Ages, and–worse than all these–the Baphomet of the Templars, the bearded idol of the alchemist, the obscene deity of Mendes, the goat of the Sabbath. The frontispiece to this ‘Ritual’ reproduces the exact figure of the terrible emperor of night, with all his attributes and all his characters.”3
Lévi’s initial description of Baphomet in connection with the Devil trump is dark and sinister, comparing it to the Satanic and evil representations of many religions. However, Lévi clarifies his interpretation later in Chapter 15:
“Yes, in our profound conviction, the Grand Masters of the Order of Templars worshipped the Baphomet, and caused it to be worshipped by their initiates; yes, there existed in the past, and there may be still in the present, assemblies which are presided over by this figure, seated on a throne and having a flaming torch between the horns. But the adorers of this sign do not consider, as do we, that it is a representation of the devil; on the contrary, for them it is that of the god Pan, the god of our modern schools of philosophy, the god of the Alexandrian theurgic school and of our own mystical Neoplatonists, the god of Lamartine and Victor Cousin, the god of Spinoza and Plato, the god of the primitive Gnostic schools; the Christ also of the dissident priesthood.” 4
Baphomet is a god of the old religions and schools of thought that were active before the full advent of Christianity, and not a representation of the devil.
Lévi gives the justification for Baphomet’s monstrous appearance in The Book of Splendours:
“[Baphomet] is a knowledge rising in opposition to idolatry, protesting though the very monstrosity of the idol.
The Israelites were forbidden to give divine concepts the figure of a man or of any animal; thus, on the ark of the covenant and in the sanctuary, they dared sculpt only cherubs, that is, sphinxes with the bodies of bulls and the heads of men, eagles or lions.
These mixed figures reproduced neither the complete form of any man, nor that of any animal.
These hybrid creations of impossible animals gave to understand that the image was not an idol or reproduction of a living thing, but rather a character or representation of something having its existence in thought.
Baphomet is not worshipped; it is God who is worshipped, this faceless God behind this formless form, this image which resembles no created being.
Baphomet is not a God; He is the sign of initiation.” 5
Baphomet is not a god, devil, or a living being; he is the sign or symbol of initiation. But what knowledge does this symbol of initiation impart to us? In the introduction to Doctrine in Transcendental Magic, Lévi identifies Baphomet with a force he calls the Universal Agent:
“There exists in Nature a force which is immeasurably more powerful than steam, and a single man, who is able to adapt and direct it, might change thereby the face of the whole world. This force was known to the ancients; it consists in a Universal Agent having equilibrium for its supreme law, while its direction is concerned immediately with the Great Arcanum of Transcendental Magic. … This agent… is precisely that which the adepts of the Middle Ages denominated the First Matter of the Great Work. The Gnostics represented it as the fiery body of the Holy Spirit; it was the object of adoration in the Secret Rites of the Sabbath and the Temple, under the hieroglyphic figure of Baphomet or the Androgyne of Mendes.” 6
Baphomet is a representation of the Universal Agent, which is more commonly known in Transcendental Magic as the astral light. This connection is restated later in the text:
“In this place let us affirm without evasion that the Great Magical Agent–the double current of light, the living and astral fire of the earth–was represented by the serpent with the head of an ox, goat or dog, in ancient theogenies. It is the dual serpent of the caduceus, the old serpent of GENESIS, but it is also the brazen serpent of Moses, twined about the TAU, that is, the generating lingam. It is, moreover, the Goat of the Sabbath and the Baphomet of the Templars.” 7
Baphomet is a representation of the Astral Light, the medium of all magic, and gaining power over it is the goal of the Great Work:
“The Great Work is, before all things, the creation of man by himself, that is to say, the full and entire conquest of his faculties and his future; it is especially the perfect emancipation of his will, assuring him… full power over the Universal Magical Agent.” 8
The symbolic connection between the Astral Light and Baphomet can be found in Lévi’s description of his Baphomet image in Chapter 15 of Ritual:
“The goat which is represented in our frontispiece bears upon its forehead the Sign of the Pentagram with one point in the ascendant, which is sufficient to distinguish it as a symbol of the light. Moreover, the sign of occultism is made with both hands, pointing upward to the white moon of CHESED, and downward to the black moon of GEBURAH. This sign expresses the perfect concord between mercy and justice. One of the arms is feminine and the other masculine, as in the androgyne of Khunrath, whose attributes we have combined with those of our goat, since they are one and the same symbol. The torch of intelligence burning between the horns is the magical light of universal equilibrium; it is also a type of the soul exalted above matter, even while cleaving to matter, as the flame cleaves to the torch. … The caduceus, which replaces the generative organ, represents eternal life; the scale-covered belly typifies water; the circle above it is the atmosphere, the feathers still higher up signify the volatile; lastly, humanity is depicted by the two breasts and the androgyne arms of this sphinx of the occult sciences. … The dread Baphomet henceforth, like all monstrous idols, enigmas of antique science and its dreams, is only an innocent and even pious hieroglyph.” 9
Careful examination of this detailed description of Baphomet in light of Lévi’s other expositions on the astral light reveal much about the connection between the two. The Sign of the Pentagram on Baphomet’s forehead is a symbol of the astral light: “The empire of will over the Astral Light, which is the physical soul of the four elements, is represented in Magic by the Pentagram.” 10
In Chapter 5 of Doctrine, Lévi elaborates on the nature of the pentagram:
“The Pentagram signifies the domination of the mind over the elements, and the demons of air, the spirits of fire, the phantoms of water and the ghosts of earth are enchained by this sign. Equipped therewith, and suitably disposed, you may behold the infinite through the medium of that faculty which is like the soul’s eye, and you will be ministered unto by legions of angels and hosts of fiends.” 11
The “soul’s eye” is the ajna chakra or third eye, which allows you to see and interact with the invisible spirits (angels and fiends) of the astral light; thus the pentagram is placed over the third eye of Baphomet. Likewise, the torch of intelligence burning above the pentagram corresponds with the crown chakra, the connection between the Microcosm and the Macrocosm described above as “the soul exalted above matter, even while cleaving to matter, as the flame cleaves to the torch.”
The duality expressed by the sephiroth Chesed (mercy) and Geburah (justice), the black and white moons, and the masculine and feminine arms are simply reflections of the dual nature of the astral light:
“Now the ancients, observing that equilibrium is the universal law in physics, and is consequent on the apparent opposition of two forces, argued from physical to metaphysical equilibrium, and maintained that in God, that is, in the First Living and Active Cause, there must be recognized two properties which are necessary to each other—stability and motion, necessity and liberty, rational order and volitional autonomy, justice and love, whence also severity and mercy. And these two attributes were personified, so to speak, by the kabalistic Jews under the names of GEBURAH and CHESED.” 12
The dual nature of the astral light is also reflected in the alchemical formula “Solve et Coagula:”
“The Great Magical Agent, by us termed the Astral Light, …this occult, unique and indubitable force, is the key of all empire, the secret of all power. … To know how to make use of this Agent is to be the trustee of God’s own power; all real, effective Magic, all occult force is there, and its demonstration is the sole end of all genuine books of science. To have control over the Great Magical Agent there are two operations necessary–to concentrate and project, or, in other words, to fix and to move.”13
These two operations are represented by the words written on the arms of Baphomet: SOLVE, to dissolve, to project, to move; and COAGULA, to coagulate, to concentrate, to fix.
The Caduceus is yet another symbol of the dual nature of the astral light:
“Those of you who have read my books will know what the two serpents of the Caduceus signify. They are the two opposing currents of the universal magnetism. The serpent of creative and preserving light and the serpent of eternal fire which devours in order to regenerate.” 14
The Caduceus replaces the generative organ in the Baphomet image because it is both masculine and feminine, thus preserving the androgyny of Baphomet, and as the generative organ represents eternal life. The Caduceus is a symbol of the magical equilibrium of matter, as the torch represents the universal equilibrium of the “magical light” or spirit
As we have seen, Levi’s image of Baphomet is not a representation of the Christian Devil but a symbol of the astral light, the dual current of occult force behind all magical work. This force may be employed for either good or evil ends, but is neither good nor evil in itself. Perhaps if Mr. Waite had understood this important point, he wouldn’t have demonized the Baphomet image in the Rider-Waite Tarot deck.
1. Waite, Arthur Edward. The Pictorial Key to the Tarot, page 131.
2. The chapters in Transcendental Magic correspond with the tarot trumps, and fifteen is the number of “The Devil.”
3. Levi, Eliphas. Transcendental Magick, page 307.
4. TM, pages 307-308.
5. Levi, Eliphas. The Book of Splendours, page 118.
6. TM, page 12.
7. TM, page 242.
8. TM, Page 113.
9. TM, pages 308-310.
10. TM, page 67.
11. TM, page 63
12. TM, pages 95-96.
13. TM, page 104.
14. Levi, Eliphas. The Great Secret, page 185.
Copyright © 2010 Michael Osiris Snuffin
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All material copyright © 2010 Michael Osiris Snuffin