Because the Knights Templars regularly transmitted money and supplies from Europe to Palestine, they gradually developed an efficient banking system unlike any the world had seen before. Their military might and financial acumen caused them to become both trusted and feared. Their defense of the Holy Lands and their monastic vows gave them a presumed respectability and those who wished to remain in Europe were happy to support their endeavors. The Knights amassed great wealth through gifts from their grateful benefactors.
By the late 1200s however, the Knights Templars had suffered several military defeats which left them in a vulnerable position while their wealth became the object of jealousy for many including the Papacy. World events were also taking place which caused this situation to become more complicated.
The French King, Philip IV, was engaged in a tumultuous struggle with Pope Boniface VIII which grew out of the King's attempt to levy taxes against the clergy. Boniface forbade the clergy to pay taxes to a secular power and in 1302 issued the bull Unam Sanctam, a declaration of papal supremacy. Philip's partisans imprisoned Boniface who later escaped but died soon afterwards. In 1305, Philip obtained the election of one of his own adherents as pope, Clement V and compelled him to reside in France where he would be in control of his every move. (This was the beginning of the so-called 'Babylonian Captivity of the papacy - 1309-1377 - during which the popes lived at Avignon and were subjected to French rule.)
With the papacy now firmly in his control, Philip turned his sight to the somewhat discredited (due to their military losses) Knights Templars and their treasure. In 1307, Philip ordered a sweeping raid during which all known Knights were rounded up and thrown into dungeons, including their Grand Master Jacques de Molay, charging them with sacrilege and Satanism. In 1312, the Pope, now a puppet of the King, issued the order suppressing the military and religious order and their wealth was confiscated by Philip. (The English assets of the Templars was similarly confiscated by King Edward II of England.).
The Templars ceased to exist from that time forward. Many of their members, including Jacques deMolay, were tortured mercilessly during their internment and caused to 'confess' to a myriad of crimes, including a list of some 127 charges in nine sub categories. These included such things as the holding their meetings in secret and at night.At the time, it was a crime punishable by death to recant a 'confession' - even if such 'confession' was extracted through heinous torture. Consider what you'd admit to if someone was pulling out your toenails with pliers or dropping hot coals on your body while chuckling.... Those who've experienced severe pain can barely appreciate the conditions under which the Templars met their fate.
Among the charges against the Templars were that they worshiped some sort of 'bearded head'. What was it? There are various theories including the religious relic head of John the Baptist, the Shroud of Turin, an image of Mohammed (the father of the Islamic religion) and other even more bizarre things. But how would such a respected religious order come to worship a head idol or engage in such evil? Likely, they didn't! King Philip lusted after the Templar wealth and could only take it from them if they were judged heretics. The charges against the Templars were nothing new. In fact, such charges were common when 'proving' heresy. Similar charges continued even through the 1600s and were seen even in the United States during the Salem Witchcraft Trials.
Author Stephen Dafoe in his excellent and detailed work on this subject titled "Unholy Worship" says, "Regardless of its lack of historical appearances, so central to the Templar legend has the Baphomet become, it has grown a Mythos of its own. The Baphomet has been utilized on everything from Tarot cards to video games. It has been accepted as synonymous with the Devil and has become, as we will see in a later chapter, the key iconography of Satanism as well as a rallying cry of Fundamentalist, Anti-Masonic Christians to defame Freemasonry."
Over 500 years later, Alphonse Louis Constant was studying to be a Roman Catholic Priest. He decided, however, to give up Catholicism and become an occultist and adopted the Jewish pseudonym of Eliphas Lévi. His life work involved writing huge volumes about Magick including extensive commentaries on the alleged deity of the Knights Templar, the Baphomet. Of all his works, the best known is his illustration which appears at the top of this page and was used as a frontispiece to "The Doctrine of High Magic" published in 1855. Levi also believed that if one rearranged the letters in Baphomet by reversing them, one would get an abbreviated Latin phrase "Tem Oph Ab" which he thought to be some type of reference to King Solomon's Temple. You can also see, parenthetically, that the "pentagram" is NOT the symbol Lévi used in his drawing shown above on the left: rather, it is a quite common star!
(From an anti-Masonic publication titled "Curse of The Baphomet" © Jack Chick publications whose little comic books rail against Freemasonry, Catholicism, and all sorts of other "evils". )
So how did this supposed idol of the ancient Templars become associated with Freemasonry? Through a hoax perpetrated by Leo Taxil on Albert Pike in the late 1800's. Taxil's hoax (which we describe in detail here on our site) was to reveal a highly secret Masonic order called the Palladium (which existed only in Taxil's highly fertile imagination). The cover of Taxil's book depicts a group of Masons dancing around the demonic Baphomet as drawn by none other than the ex-priest, Eliphas Lévi.
And from there, the rest is history. The hoax, despite the recanting by its creator, continues and is accepted as 'gospel' by new generations of religious intolerants. Freemasonry is defamed by a ludicrous charge and those thinking they're religious and right, perpetuate a lie. And the drawing of a goat's head now grotesquely changed becomes the rallying point of those who, in ignorance and/or hatred, defame Freemasonry.
A excellent book on this specific topic is by Stephen Dafoe titled "Unholy Worship - The Myth of the Baphomet, Templar, Freemason Connection". Although only 75 pages, it is one of the most complete works to date. We've reviewed it on our Book Reviews page and you can buy it directly from the author on his web site at www.templarbooks.com .
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