Eliphas Lévi is reputed to be the first person to have drawn the Baphomet, which would become the most famous depiction of this symbolic figure: a winged humanoid goat with a pair of breasts and a torch on its head between its horns.
But what exactly does it represent?
The Baphomet represents the alchemical Great Work where separate and opposing forces are united in perfect equilibrium to generate Astral Light. This alchemical process is represented on Levi’s image by the terms Solve and Coagula on Baphomet’s arms. While they accomplish opposite results, Solving (turning solid into liquid) and Coagulation (turning liquid into solid) are two necessary steps of the alchemical process – which aims to turn stone into gold or, in esoteric terms, a profane man into an illuminated man. The two steps are on arms pointing in opposite directions, further emphasizing their opposite nature.
Baphomet’s hands form the “sign of Hermetism” which is a visual representation of the Hermetic axiom “As Above, So Below”. This dictum sums up the whole of the teachings and the aims of Hermetism, where the microcosm (man) is as the macrocosm (the universe). Therefore, understanding one equals understanding the other.
Each of Baphomet’s hands point towards opposing moons, which Levi calls the Chesed and the Geburah – two opposing concepts taken from the Jewish Kabbalah. In the Kabalistic Tree of Life, the Sefirot, Chesed is associated with “kindness given to others” while Geburah refers to the “restraint of one’s urge to bestow goodness upon others when the recipient of that good is judged to be unworthy and liable to misuse it”. These two concepts are opposed and, as everything else in life, an equilibrium must be found between the two.
The most recognizable feature of Baphomet is, of course, its goat head. This monstrous head represents man’s animal and sinful nature, its egoistic tendencies and its basest instincts. Opposed to man’s spiritual nature (symbolized by the “divine light” on its head), this animal side is regardless viewed as a necessary part of man’s dualistic nature, where the animal and the spiritual must unite in harmony. It can also be argued that Baphomet’s grotesque overall appearance might serve to ward off and repel the profane who are uninitiated to the esoteric meaning of the symbol.