The origin of the name Baphomet is unclear. It may be a corruption of Mahomet (Muhammad). The English witchcraft historian Montague Summers suggested it was a combination of two Greek words, baphe and metis, meaning “absorption of knowledge.” Baphomet has also been called the Goat of Mendes, the Black Goat and the Judas Goat. In the Middle Ages the Baphomet was believed to be an idol, represented by a human skull, a stuffed human head or a metal or wooden human head with curly black hair. The idol was said to be worshiped by the Order of the Knights Templar as the source of fertility and wealth.
In 1307 King Philip IV of France accused the Order of the Knights Templar of heresy, homosexuality and, among other things, worshiping this idol and anointing it with the fat of murdered children. However, only 12 of the 231 knights interrogated by the church admitted worshiping or having knowledge of the Baphomet. Novices said they had been instructed to worship the idol as their god and savior, and their descriptions of it varied: it had up to three heads and up to four feet; it was made of either
wood or metal, or was a painting; sometimes it was gilt.
In 1818 a number of idols called heads of Baphomet were discovered among forgotten antiquities of the Imperial Museum of Vienna. They were said to be replicas of the Gnostic divinity Mete, or “Wisdom.”
Perhaps the best-known representation of Baphomet is the drawing by the 19th-century French magician Eliphas Levi, called “the Baphomet of Mendes.” Levi combined elements of the Tarot Devil card and the he-goat worshiped in antiquity in Mendes, Egypt, which was said to fornicate with its women followers (as the church claimed the Devil did with witches). Levi’s Baphomet has a human trunk with rounded, female breasts, a caduceus in the midriff, human arms and hands, cloven feet, wings and a goat’s head with a pentagram (see pentac le and pentagram) in the forehead and a torch on top of the skull between the horns. The attributes, Levi said, represented the sum total of the universe—intelligence, the four elements, divine revelation, sex and motherhood and sin and redemption.
White and black crescent moons at the figure’s sides represent good and evil. Aleister Crowley named himself Baphomet when he joined the Ordo Templis Orientalis, a secret sexual magic order formed around 1896 in Germany.