Thursday, May 8, 2014

Baphomet Comes to Oklahoma

The images have come across the more esoteric corners of my feeds for the past few weeks, peculiar pictures of a statue of a horned, goat-headed god with two children sitting enthralled.

It's a statue of Baphomet, a "satanic" figure commissoned by a Satanic Temple in New York City.  Satanists are...well...I've always found them a bit doofy.  Sort of like Raelians, only with a darker color scheme.  But so it goes.  One may believe as one wishes.

Their odd statue may or may not be put up at the Oklahoma capitol as a free-speech challenge to the presence of a 10 Commandments monument.

Whether it gets there or not, it's stirred a whole bunch of fulmination and controversy, which is great for earnest bloggery amongst the easily panicked right and the chiding left.  Standard blahblahblah, just another thing to keep us riled and distracted, or so it seems to my soul.

In all of the commentary and back and forthing, though, it was a passing comment from a friend that caught my eye.  It had to do with the historic roots of the name Baphomet, which are rather more complicated and interesting than one might expect.

Because when you go back into the roots of that name, you discover that no culture ever had a god named Baphomet.  There was no ancient cult that worshiped a horned deity by that name.  No pagans ever danced by the firelight around a shrine to Baphomet.

This is not Pan or Ba'al or Anubis.

Baphomet appears to be a Christian creation.

To be more specific, there's a significant historical consensus that the god "Baphomet" is just a mangled medieval attempt at the name "Mohammed."

It appears that when some of the Knights Templar returned from their Crusades, certain among them had stopped fighting Muslims long enough to listen to them.  Some had, apparently, developed a respect for the warrior faith of noble and estimable Muslims like Salah-ad-Din, to the point that they'd picked up a belief in "Baphomet," a deity they invoked with the magical word "Yallah."  Sounds remarkably familiar, eh?

Those Knights were killed by the church, of course, for their heresy.  That they'd become too powerful and threatened the church hierarchy was also a smidge of a factor.

The word "Baphomet" then got blended with lumpenchristian fears and fascinations about demons and the occult, and eventually...meaning the 18th and 19th centuries...was used in some fantastical art pieces by the occult-obsessed folks of the late Enlightenment and Victorian eras.  And lo, the horned god Baphomet.

On the one hand, I'm not sure telling Oklahomans that there's a statue indirectly referencing Mohammed in the works for their state capitol would make things better.  I'm also not sure how the darker corners of the Muslim world would respond to that one, either.  Here's an image that kinda sorta uses the name of your prophet, only we've slapped a goat's head on him.  You guys cool with that?

On the other, it seems strangely appropriate.  It's a statue whose very identity arises from the conflict between faiths, and the misbegotten fear that comes when we willfully demonize and misrepresent things we do not understand.

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