The “Baphomet” of Eliphas Lévi

Its Meaning and Historical Context

Julian Strube

Although the Baphomet drawn by Eliphas Lévi (i.e., Alphonse-Louis Constant, 1810–1875) is one of the most famous esoteric images worldwide, very little is known about its context of emergence. It is well established that it has to be seen as a symbolic representation of Lévi’s magnetistic-magical concept of the Astral Light, but the historical background of this meaning remains largely obscure. This article demonstrates that a historical contextualization of the Baphomet leads to an understanding of its meaning that is significantly different from prevalent interpretations. It will firstly be shown that the formation of Lévi’s historical narrative can only be comprehended in the light of his radical socialist writings from the 1840s. It will then be discussed which sources he used to elaborate and re-signify this narrative. Secondly, it will be investigated how Lévi developed his magical theory in the 1850s by focusing on the contexts of “spiritualistic magnetism,” Spiritism, and Catholicism. This analysis will show that the Baphomet should be seen as more than a symbolization of Lévi’s magical theory. It is the embodiment of a politically connoted tradition of “true religion” which would realize a synthesis of religion, science, and politics.

Eliphas Lévi; Baphomet; occultism; socialism; Catholicism; magnetism