In a different world, that would be the end of it, but this is academia.
December 1, 2016 2:17 PM   Subscribe

In his 2005 book Gnostic Philosophy: From Ancient Persia to Modern Times, Churton challenged this scholarly consensus, acknowledging the likelihood that Baphomet originated as a botched transliteration from Arabic to French, but offering a few alternate etymological routes that it may have traveled to get there.
What’s In A Name: How A Medieval French Typo Might Have Come To Represent Satanism
posted by griphus (29 comments total) 41 users marked this as a favorite
 
I love it!!

Basically the thesis: Mohammed --> --> Mohamet --> --> Baphomet (in a Provencal dialect, I guess?)

Thank you for this link, griphus...it is truly thought-provoking to think of how part of the current conception of Satan generally, and the Satan worship of Baphomet specifically, originated in the Muslim-hatred of post-Crusade Europe.
posted by darkstar at 2:28 PM on December 1, 2016 [3 favorites]


Expect a mangled version of this in your favorite Trumpist's FB feed in 3...2...1...

But no, seriously, this was very interesting, thank you!
posted by sandettie light vessel automatic at 2:50 PM on December 1, 2016 [1 favorite]


An interesting read. I found this bit particularly provocative, especially as written by an (ostensibly) pagan author:
At a time when Roman Catholicism finally has an almost cool Supreme Pontiff, actively concerned with addressing environmental decline and income inequality; at a time wherein our elite overlords are chaos-worshiping Silicon Valley disrupters and creative destroyers; perhaps it is time for a few pagans, witches and Gnostic weirdos to reengage in that savvy ecumenicism that brought Christianity traditions like Easter Eggs, Christmas Trees, and Patron Saints (perhaps one of the greatest polytheism-to-monotheism cheats of all time). Maybe America could do with a noisy subversive Gnostic revival out competing for “heart and minds” against all those villainous aspiring theocrats, mega-church preacher-grifters, and Hot Profit Gospel saviors, stalking America’s airwaves, looking for unlucky marks with a soul to sell.
posted by Atom Eyes at 2:52 PM on December 1, 2016 [6 favorites]


Remembering the anagrammatic relationship between Satan and Santa...
posted by oneswellfoop at 2:59 PM on December 1, 2016 [1 favorite]


Yay! for the Burt Reynolds joke at the end. Boo! for implying that peeing on a cracker is a "clear hate crime."

Overall though, my brain boggles at little at the idea that Baphomet, the "idol" that the Templars supposedly worshiped, was actually a representation of Mohammed, because worshiping an idol of Mohammed is, to my understanding, pretty much the opposite of what any follower of Mohammed would do.

Also, as someone who sees Satanism (especially the modern incarnations of the Satanic Temple, I need to make it to one of the Twin Citie's Bake Sales one of these days) as all in good fun, it's unfortunate to learn that one of the symbols basically sprang out of ignorant racism.
posted by sparklemotion at 3:24 PM on December 1, 2016


I read this and was a little confused by how these relics could be confused for Satanic implements: "He also proposes that the multi-faced idol supposedly worshiped by the Knights Templar — which Inquisitors had labeled Baphomet — may well have been nothing more insidious or heretical than relics of St. Januarius, the patron saint of Naples, Italy."

But upon Googling "januarius relics" I was presented with about a billion pictures of popes and priests kissing a glass ball full of 1500 year old dried blood and it did kind of have a Black Mass sort of feel to it.
posted by Copronymus at 3:34 PM on December 1, 2016 [5 favorites]


sparklemotion: From paragraph 2 of TFA.

“Of course, no Muslims ever worshiped idols, either then or since,” Barber adds, “but there was a popular belief in the 12th and 13th Centuries that they did, and the French lawyers seem to have been exploiting this to discredit the Templars.”
posted by absalom at 3:47 PM on December 1, 2016 [1 favorite]


My partner was involved in the OTO, and they tried sharing the mistranslation theory to a few of them.

They weren't having it.
posted by SansPoint at 3:50 PM on December 1, 2016 [3 favorites]


"but there was a popular belief in the 12th and 13th Centuries that they did, and the French lawyers seem to have been exploiting this to discredit the Templars.”

OK, I I might have it backwards: racist (let's slander these folks by associating them with brown people) ignorance (let's not actually learn the basics beliefs of the brown people)
posted by sparklemotion at 4:32 PM on December 1, 2016


For Malcolm Barber however, the name Baphomet is little more than a transliteration error.

A similar error might stand behind YAHWEH, albeit much further back in time:

The head of the Canaanite pantheon was El, and one theory is that the name Yahweh is a shortened form of el dū yahwī ṣaba’ôt, "El who creates the hosts", meaning the heavenly army accompanying El as he marched beside the earthly armies of Israel.

Umberto Eco, in Foucault's Pendulum, suggested that a lot of the things the Templars were accused of (blasphemy, spitting on the cross, kissing each others genitals, etc.) mapped pretty clearly onto initiation/one-uppmanship rituals:

...For instance, it was like fraternity hazing. You want to be a Templar? Okay, prove you have balls, spit on the crucifix, and let's see if God strikes you dead. If you join this militia, you have to give yourself to your brothers heart and soul, so let them kiss your ass.

Worshipping the Baphomet(=Mohammed) head could have had similiar origins: are you man enough to bow down and worship the great foe, whose followers you've devoted yourself to killing?
posted by AdamCSnider at 5:49 PM on December 1, 2016 [1 favorite]


Haven't RTFA but have to tell you that I love love love your post title. I may need to print it frame it hang it on the wall.
posted by medusa at 6:15 PM on December 1, 2016 [1 favorite]


OK, I I might have it backwards: racist (let's slander these folks by associating them with brown people) ignorance (let's not actually learn the basics beliefs of the brown people)

Hey, hating people for their skin color is a modern thing! Medieval Europeans were all praying to black St. Maurice and kneeling before Black Madonnas and even telling stories about a Moorish knight of the Round Table (Sir Morien). They might have exoticized dark skin, they might been hostile towards non-Christian cultures, but it took modernity to give us Racism As We Know It.

(Sources: all over the place on the Medieval POC tumblr!)

They've certainly got enough religious bigotry and xenophobia to answer for though.
posted by edheil at 6:22 PM on December 1, 2016 [8 favorites]


This kind of thing makes me quietly happy. See also Barlaam and Josaphat, two martyrs who turned out to have originally been derived from the life story of Buddha. A number of misspellings from sources across Europe were part of bringing this about: Bodhisattva - Budasaf - Joasaph - Josaphat.

I didn't know Anton LaVey changed his first name. I can't blame him. Hard to set yourself up as a lord of darkness if people keep calling you Howard.
posted by Countess Elena at 6:56 PM on December 1, 2016 [9 favorites]


Love is the law, love under footnotes.
posted by vrakatar at 7:16 PM on December 1, 2016 [4 favorites]


I didn't know Anton LaVey changed his first name. I can't blame him. Hard to set yourself up as a lord of darkness if people keep calling you Howard.
Not unless your name ends with Lovecraft.
posted by b1tr0t at 8:02 PM on December 1, 2016 [1 favorite]


“Baphomet” comes from “Papa Mithras”, from a sun god (also known as Sol Invictus) worshipped by a Roman cult, doesn't it?

Incidentally, Mithras/Sol Invictus may also be where Christianity got 25 December from.
posted by acb at 2:52 AM on December 2, 2016


the act of self-identifying as a Satanist was not merely 60s’ youth culture provocation; it was arguably a kind of social justice reclamation project for America’s pagan minority, an act of defiance on par with the LGBT community confiscating and redeploying the word “queer.”

Except that LaVey's Church of Satan was more like the alt-right of its time; its doctrines were lifted from Nietzsche and Ayn Rand and intended as a reaction to the hippies with their peace-and-love idealism.
posted by acb at 4:32 AM on December 2, 2016 [5 favorites]


I wonder if this makes that statue from Oklahoma more provocative, or less so.
posted by Huffy Puffy at 5:09 AM on December 2, 2016


Countess Elena: See also Barlaam and Josaphat, two martyrs who turned out to have originally been derived from the life story of Buddha.

The whole shebang might be.

There's a textual problem with the Gospels. Three of them, Matthew, Luke and John, share material that seems to descend from older source, usually called Q (enter Star Trek joke here), maybe a collection of saying associated with Jesus, or possibly some kind of oral memory tradition (that's wildly simplified, but I don't have time to get into the weeds of it).

I don't remember exactly where I read or heard this, but one theory about Q is that these were originally Buddhist sayings that had migrated along trade routes to Palestine, and had become somewhat mangled. There they were associated with a possibly real or possibly folkloric figure and lo and behold, the figure of Jesus Christ came to be.

From what I understand, this is at the edges of respectability in Q studies, but I always like outside the box solutions to thorny problems.
posted by Kattullus at 7:11 AM on December 2, 2016 [3 favorites]


As a long-time Metafilter lurker, it is always a treat when one of my pieces crops up on the main page. (It's only happened once before, to the best of my knowledge.)

Anyway: Hi!

A Couple Small Points:

• The primary proponent of the theory that the Q Source material was derived from Buddhism was a German writer named Holger Kersten, building off of material by "a Crimean Jewish adventurer who claimed to be a Russian aristocrat" named Nicolas Notovitch and the founder of the Ahmadiyya Movement in Islam, Mirzā Ghulām Ahmad. I personally kinda like this theory, even though it seems like scholars of Christian apocrypha have been notably harsh about it. I would probably at least watch the first episode of a fictionalized show about twenty-something Jesus traveling around India learning stuff, particularly if it had (like) Beatles music in it or something.

• The idea, sparklemotion, that wrongfully taking a sacred object from one religious group to expressly "corrupt" it (in what was planned to be a public ceremony at Oklahoma's Cityspace Theatre) is somehow not the FBI's explicit legal definition of a hate crime is pretty laughable and more than a little depressing. I'm going to be incredibly offended, if you try to obfuscate this by assuming I'm unaware of all the terrible things bad Christians and bad Catholics have done over the broad sweep of history. This is pretty straightforward: criminal act ("theft, fraud, wrongful taking") + expressed prejudicial sentiment = hate crime. Stealing a prayer rug to use as a canvas for your Mohamed painting: a hate crime. Breaking someone else's E-meter because you're part of some new counter-religion that praises Scientology's evil space dictator Xenu: technically, a hate crime too. Jurisprudence! What a world we live in.
posted by ProfLinusPauling at 9:21 AM on December 2, 2016 [14 favorites]


My partner was involved in the OTO, and they tried sharing the mistranslation theory to a few of them.

They weren't having it.


What is the OTO?
posted by univac at 9:36 AM on December 2, 2016


Ordo Templi Orientis

posted by griphus at 9:43 AM on December 2, 2016


A friend of mine did medieval history in college and one of her stories has stuck with me. A knight is captured on the crusades and is brought before the local commander. They present him with the idols they pray to (I know, I know, but this is 12th or 13th centure France or England here) and tell him to bow down to them. He instead prays to Jesus, the idols are broken and the evil spirits inside have to flee. His captors are so overwhelmed by the godly power he has just shown that they surrender to him.

The idol thing is ridiculous, but if you believe that your enemy is literally worshiping the devil, then of course they have idols. Of course, at the same time, there was (this is disputed, but I think the evidence is there) a belief that Jews had horns.
posted by Hactar at 10:54 AM on December 2, 2016


criminal act ("theft, fraud, wrongful taking") + expressed prejudicial sentiment = hate crime.

At the risk of a derail about what (I assume) was a throwaway line in the piece, my understanding of the facts of the case at hand leads me to question how "clear" it is that a "criminal act" (as defined by local/state/federal law) occurred, or that any "prejudicial statements" were made or planned to be made.

Do I think it that the whole stunt was a dick move? Yes. Arguable hate crime? Maybe, depends on how the facts actually lean. Clear hate crime? No.
posted by sparklemotion at 11:50 AM on December 2, 2016


He instead prays to Jesus, the idols are broken and the evil spirits inside have to flee. His captors are so overwhelmed by the godly power he has just shown that they surrender to him.

Could that be an adaptation of the Dagon idol story from 1 Samuel?
2 When the Philistines took the ark of God, they brought it into the house of Dagon, and set it by Dagon.

3 And when they of Ashdod arose early on the morrow, behold, Dagon was fallen upon his face to the earth before the ark of the Lord. And they took Dagon, and set him in his place again.

4 And when they arose early on the morrow morning, behold, Dagon was fallen upon his face to the ground before the ark of the Lord; and the head of Dagon and both the palms of his hands were cut off upon the threshold; only the stump of Dagon was left to him.

5 That is why to this day neither the priests of Dagon nor any others who enter Dagon's temple at Ashdod step on the threshold.
posted by griphus at 11:59 AM on December 2, 2016 [1 favorite]


YHWH low-key fucking with Dagon is one of my favorite Bible stories. Really, anything to do with the Ark or the Philistines was good stuff. That's peak Bible there, for me.

YHWH: *boop*
DAGON: KNOCK IT OFF THIS IS MY HOUSE
YHWH: lol
posted by prize bull octorok at 12:13 PM on December 2, 2016 [5 favorites]


2 When the Philistines took the ark of God, they brought it into the house of Dagon, and set it by Dagon.

3 And when they of Ashdod arose early on the morrow, behold, Dagon was fallen upon his face to the earth before the ark of the Lord. And they took Dagon, and set him in his place again.


Whatevs, that Ark had some Class-A hooch in it and I got my lean on. Y'all judgy jerksacks can't act like you wouldn't follow suit when presented with an opportunity to dip into the Holy Pop's Schnapps. Eleventh Commandment - GET SHWIFTY
posted by FatherDagon at 1:28 PM on December 2, 2016 [7 favorites]


Griphus, it's probably inspired by it.
posted by Hactar at 1:52 PM on December 2, 2016


The idol thing is ridiculous, but if you believe that your enemy is literally worshiping the devil, then of course they have idols.

In some Medieval epics like the Chanson de Roland, "Saracens" worship a pagan Anti-Trinity composed of "Mahomet", "Apollo" (or rather "Apollyon") and Termagant.
posted by Phersu at 4:35 AM on December 4, 2016


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