October 23, 2007

Build Your Wild Self

Baby Baphomet

T
he New York Zoos website has a program that lets you build an image of yourself and then add animal features to it. [via MetaFilter] I found myself with horns and wings in a blink, and before I quite knew what was happening, I was a Muppet Babies-esque version of Baphomet.

It's possible that no image has been as abused or misunderstood as that of Eliphas Levi's Baphomet, pictured below. Originally published in 1854, it's been burned into the public imagination as a portrayal of the Devil himself, and has been heavily leaned on in movies and shows to indicate Satanism and the most repugnant, bestial depths of evil that humanity can sink to. However, Levi's own description of the icon presents a compelling figure that represents quite the opposite. To Levi, Baphomet is a complete portrait of human spirituality:

Baphomet

"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 hermetism, 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 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."
I've left the wikipedia notation intact in case you're not familiar with the Kabbalistic terms. The words on Baphomet's arms are SOLVE (dissolve) and COAGULA (congeal), which carry alchemical significance. Levi's description makes any primitive, bestial, or evil inerpretations of this icon almost impossible. It is a meditation on wholeness, a composite of the spiritual human's features as he attempts to approach the divine.

Incidentally, last year about this time, I underwent a transformation similar to today's, only in person. I began working on my costume for our "Horns Only" party, and by the time I was done, I realized that I was drafting my own love letter of sorts to the strange and mysterious Baphomet. I know one doesn't have to wait until this time of year to meditate on or build one's own Wild Self, but it seems important to post a reminder (even if it's just a self-reminder) that in October you get a free pass. Don't forget the horns.

VII

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