Baphomet and the Azoth
By Soror KTK
mysterious figure of Baphomet possesses great importance to Thelemites - we
find him invoked in the Gnostic Mass as the serpent and the lion, as the
speaking voice who reveals Liber A'ash, even as Crowley's motto as OHO. Yet who or what is Baphomet? Many studies have been done to attempt to
trace the origin of this figure found in the confessions given by the Templars
during their trials for heresy. I shall not
attempt to retrace this history, nor shall I examine the meanings concealed in
the word Baphomet itself, as
obvious is the fact that this figure is not a lion-serpent at all (although
Levi does refer to Baphomet as a "chimaera" - a combination of lion,
serpent and goat - Transcendental Magic 307). Instead, Baphomet
is familiar to us as the Devil card of the Tarot: a seated goat with breasts,
the figure of a caduceus extending upwards from his lap, a flame burning
between his horns. The figure resembles
a drawing in another of Levi's works, unpublished in his lifetime, but
currently available under the title Mysteries of the Qabalah, an
esoteric analysis of the book of Ezekiel.
There, a goat figure called "Azima," is identified also with
Mendes or Beelphegor, the scapegoat or physical love (63). In a later diagram, Lévi attributes it to a
perversion of Chesed as "obscure love" (70). Considering that the Baphomet of the Templars
was supposedly a cat, a skull or a bearded head, the leap to envisioning it as
a goat is as perplexing as
The "Goat of Mendes" is likely a Greek misinterpretation or reinterpretation of Egyptian custom. It is likely that the original was a ram honored in the nome of Mendes with nothing like the ceremonies described most notably by Herodotus. Nevertheless, said goat was known throughout the ancient world for its peculiar habit of copulating with female devotees. Greeks identified the Goat of Mendes with the lusty Pan. That Lévi would attribute this goat to physical love is hardly surprising. The name "Azima" is partly explicable by the knowledge that the Hebrew word for he-goat is ayin-zayin, usually transcribed as "Az" or "Oz" (similarly, the Greek word for she-goat is "chimaira"). This is tied in to the legend of the Hebrew scapegoat, who is driven out of the community to be sacrificed to "Azazel," a fallen angel who lost his wings due to a propensity to cohabit with mortal women. Azazel's misfortune, it seems, was not to be born in Mendes.
Besides the goat's head and hindquarters, there are many other remarkable features in Lévi's depiction. The figure has female breasts, but there is an obvious phallicism in the placement of the caduceus. Some have speculated that the caduceus replaces a phallus because depicting the real object was too extreme for prurient 19th century tastes. Even so, the caduceus possesses an important symbolism of its own. Much is made of the two snakes twining upwards around the central pillar - for example, that they represent bi-polarity, the androgyny present in the figure itself, and that they represent lust, the serpent-force, again, physical desire, and also kundalini. It is noteworthy, however, that the caduceus is actually triune in nature. It is similar to eastern depictions of the flow of ida, pingala and shushumna; it could also be seen as representing the three guanas sattvas, rajas and tamas, or the three elements sulfur, salt and mercury. The figure's hands are in a gesture of blessing, with one hand pointing upward, the other downward: the words "solve" and "coagula", the great alchemical formula, are inscribed thereon. Note also that the figure's torso is human - it may be significant that the female element is human, the male element bestial. Thus Baphomet is a perfect balance of elements, energies, sexual polarities, above and below, man and beast. It is also significant that the figure bears a torch on its head between two horns, replicating, in a way, the letter shin. The earthy goat conceals fire - in the same way, the oldest Greek depictions of the chimaera portray the goat as the fire-breathing element.
In Transcendental Magic, Lévi describes what seems to be the original type of this figure, a picture of the spirit of earth depicted in Traitez du Vray Sol (1621) by Sieur de Nuisement: a bearded and crowned man, holding a scepter, standing on a flaming cube, having the sun and moon on his right and left breast respectively, and with a caduceus where his phallus should be. This figure is explained as being Azoth on a pedestal of salt and sulphur. Lévi goes on to say that by replacing the head of this figure with the goat of Mendes, you obtain Baphomet, or “the Word of the Gnostics,” (168).
is in Key of the Mysteries, the book translated by
The question is confounded by the number of terms used as synonyms for this substance. In Key of the Mysteries, Lévi states that miraculous prodigies are accomplished "...by means of a single agent which the Hebrew calls OD, as did the Chevalier de Reichenbach, which we, with the school of Pasqualis de Martinez, call astral light, which Mr. de Mirville calls the devil, and which the ancient alchemists called Azoth" (201). He says it is also called "magnetism," although he dislikes the term, and also "light" or the Hebrew "AOUR," and that this is connected to the gold of the alchemists or the French word for gold "OR" (202). In Paradoxes of the Highest Science, when discussing similar prodigies, he refers to the same substance as the "light of dreams," the "dark or black light" (81-83). In Transcendental Magic, it is an “ambient and all-penetrating fluid; this ray loosened from the sun’s splendour and fixed by the weight of the atmosphere and the power of central attraction,” (42) “the Great Magical Agent, the ether, magnetic fluid, soul of the earth, Lucifer, Tetragram, INRI,” the fourth emanation of the life principle which manifests as four kinds of phenomena: caloric, light, electricity and magnetism (55), the “ever-renewing circlus of unbridled life which produces vertigo in the imprudent; this corporeal spirit; this fiery body, this impalpable omnipresent ether; this monstrous seduction of Nature” (75), it is “a horse having nature analogous to a chameleon, ever reflecting the armor of his rider,” (85) “Magnesia, universal glass of vision, bond of sympathies, source of love, prophecy and glory,” (105) and it is synonymous with TARO/ROTA (383). We are also told that Azoth is threefold: a Divine Hypothesis or belief, a philosophical synthesis or an idea, and a physical synthesis or a force, but it is unclear whether this idea originates with Lévi or is an interpolation of Waite’s (footnote 15). Pike again drawing heavily on Lévi, calls it "the igneous body of the Holy Spirit, "the Life-Principle of the world," " the Serpent devouring its own tail," an "electro-magnetic ether" (734), "the Azoth of the Sages," the "Prima Materia" (773), "the universal magnetic force, the grand magical agent, the Astral light, the light of life," (778). Apparently, Azoth is so all-encompassing that a profusion of terms is needed to describe it.
Transcendental Magic also introduces many metaphors and mythological allegories hinting at the nature of the Azoth. Lévi refers to ordeals concerning the loss of innocence, the descent into hell, a fall from grace. In this context, Azoth is symbolized by Pandora’s Box, the lamp and dagger of Psyche, the apple of Eve, the sacred fire of Prometheus, the burning scepter of Lucifer and the cross of the redeemer (16). He also alludes to the myth of Oedipus, saying the hero’s fatal error was to kill the Sphinx rather than to harness it. Lévi also refers to Hermes Trismegistus in saying that Azoth is the “soul of the earth,” “the son is its father, the moon its mother,” it is the “living image of the sun,” or “terrestrial sun” (55). Far and away, however, Lévi’s favorite symbol is to typify the great magical agent as a serpent of some sort – sometimes the “serpent of Edenic mystery” or “the winged dragon of Medea,” (105). This symbolism will merit further discussion.
First, it might be useful to investigate the history of the word "Azoth," a term which, stemming particularly from the discipline of alchemy, might be imagined to have a precise technical definition. Alas, not so. Its origin is probably from the Arabic "al-zauq" which means specifically Mercurius, and it is used in some ancient alchemical texts to refer to the simple chemical element. We see it also used to refer to the "first matter," "philosophical mercury," "mercurial water," or as a general term for solvent. Significantly, its spelling varies: Azoth, Azot or Azoch (Abraham 15).
cites an anonymous alchemical text, Zoroaster's Cave, for its depiction
of "Azot" as a fifth essence differing from the other elements, but
extracted from the other four, something that is not corruptible, but purifies
and keeps from corruption all that is joined with it (15). Azoth was also of great significance to
Paracelsus, who, in fact, named a text Liber Azoth. In this treatise, he uses the term to
designate vital mercury. In another
The alchemist Thomas Vaughn differs from these earlier alchemists in his conception of the Azoth. He says the "glassy Azoth" is "...a certain fiery, sulphureous, masculine minera. And this is the gold philosophical" (402). In fact, he contrasts it with the universal mercury, which he calls feminine. His meaning, although diametrically opposed to Paracelsus, is incorporated into later definitions of Azoth. It seems possible, perhaps, that Azoth is being used by the alchemists to denote "prima materia," and that the confusion over an exact definition of Azoth must be viewed in the context of alchemical debate over whether that first matter was of fiery or watery nature.
The 19th century conception of Azoth seems heavily drawn from Basil Valentine, who is quoted by Waite as teaching that it was the universal agent or astral light (Transcendental Magic, footnote 15). It also develops a dependency on a consistent spelling of the word not featured in the earlier alchemical terminology. Lévi analyzes the composition of Azoth in his commentary on the Apocalypse (also in Mysteries of the Qabalah) when he examines Christ's statement "I am the alpha and the omega." He remarks that these are the beginning and end letters of the Greek alphabet, and adds that the beginning and end in Latin are "A" and "Z," in Hebrew Aleph and Tau. These letters can be assembled to form "AZOTh." This word "...signifies God and also the universal substance," (250). In Transcendental Magic, he elaborates that God is “the AZOT of the sages, efficient and final principle of the great work” (15).To summarize, what Lévi has called in other places Baphomet, the devil, the astral or black light, in a Christian context he calls God! In addition, by equating Baphomet to “the Word of the Gnostics,” (logos) he is also equating Baphomet to Christ.
It seems a similar definition was widely used in other occult circles. Mathers titles a paper "The Azoth Lecture." He begins by using Lévi's analysis of the letters (without crediting the source), and also says that it can mean beginning and end, "...Astral Light wherein are the elements and the philosophic mercury extracted from Sol" or "essence" (30). The rest of the "Azoth Lecture" contains nothing more about Azoth - it is a disconnected jumble of alchemical and qabalistic information. Its one commonality, it seems, with Azoth, is to try to be all-inclusive.
this identification of the Azoth with the "beginning and the end" is
found in perhaps the earliest antecedent of Baphomet, a peculiar drawing found
in a Nabatean/Arabic work from ca. 900
CE by Ibn Wahshiyah, of a winged beetle with a crowned human that head he
identifies as "Bahumed." This
book, Ancient Alphabets and Hieroglyphic Characters, was known to
Blavatsky, and a copy of it was found in the library of W.B. Yeats (Mann). Thus, it is very possible that the book may
have been known to either
the later 19th century writers, Pike is more instructive than Mathers although,
at times, his comments seem paradoxical.
In one place he clearly states that the Azoth is the philosophical mercury, which must be
fecundated by sulphur, which he equates to intellect, which can then master and
regenerate matter, or salt (778). The
attribution of Azoth to mercury is again repeated when he speaks of
These elaborate and paradoxical usages of the term Azoth, along with the other plethora of terms used to denote the universal agent, simply serve to indicate the futility of trying to verbally express the incommunicable, all-encompassing nature of the substance. But although it may be impossible to express what Azoth is, it is possible to observe what Azoth does. Pike is effusive: "There is in nature one most potent force, by means whereof a single man, who could possess himself of it, and should know how to direct it, could revolutionize and change the face of the world...It is a universal agent, whose supreme law is equilibrium; and whereby, if science can but learn how to control it, it will be possible to change the order of the Seasons, to produce in night the phenomena of day, to send a thought in an instant round the world, to heal or slay at a distance, to give our words universal success, and make them reverberate everywhere" (734). "The Alchemists said that by means of it they could attain the transmutation of metals and the universal medicine" (773).
Lévi is also difficult to understand, but he leaves enough pieces of the puzzle, especially in Transcendental Magic, to form a somewhat clearer picture. When he speaks of alchemy, although he mentions that the alchemists sometimes called the philosophical mercury Azoth (175), it is clear that his version differs. Alchemical salt is specifically the cubic form of the philosopher’s stone, and is related to “immovable reason, fixed wisdom” (164). It is inscribed with opposing pairs of tetragrams: ShLMH/YHVH; ADAM/HEVA; AZOT/INRI (167). This implies that Azoth, while being composed in part, by salt, is also recursively an element of the salt’s composition. Later, he clarifies that the philosopher’s stone itself is, in fact, a combination of this alchemical salt and the Od or universal light, which he also calls sulphurated mercury. Azot is inscribed upon the salt even as it imbues itself into it, to create the philosopher’s stone. He leaves numerous hints as to the nature of the alchemical salt: it is a saline stone, it is both one and many, it can be dissolved or incorporated into other substances, it is a panacea, it must not be exposed to air which will destroy its virtue, and its extraction is a simple and easy operation. If you haven’t figured it out yet: “The wise man more readily conserves it in the natural envelopes, knowing that he can extract it by a single effort of his will and by a single application of the Universal Agent to the envelopes,” (359). Clearly, male semen is easy enough to find (we’ll get to the woman and the serpent yet!) so the question becomes how to “apply the Universal Agent.” Lévi effuses about the rewards of doing this. For one, it is a panacea for all illness since it is a deficiency of astral light which causes illness. Since it is the nature of astral light to cleave to living centers, the magician can manipulate it using his will for the purpose of healing (73). It also preserves all images, which might be formed by either “rays” or “reflections.” Imagination is the soul’s ability to perceive these images (63); the important thing for the magician to master is telling the reflections, causes of illusion, from the rays, sources of true vision (121). This reminds me of a similar discussion by Henri Corbin about differentiating fantasy from the Imaginal. In both Key of the Mysteries and Paradoxes of the Highest Science, Lévi deplores the ability of those "congested with black light" to create the appearance of the miraculous. He finds these dreamlike illusions (chimeras?) to be pointless distractions, inimical to the light of reason. There is grave danger in making this mistake, for the astral light is also the fire of hell, or the instrument of initiation. It is often symbolized by a monster to be overcome, for it is the source of daemonic energy. Lévi tells us that if we lose to the forces of hell, we fall prey to melancholia, mania and other forms of insanity. This is why experiments with evocation are dangerous – but if we win, we attain genius (76-77). To abuse it is to deserve all suffering, but to master it is to become master of the absolute (16). Comparing divine and infernal magic, Lévi states that the magician has knowledge of how to use this force, but the sorcerer abuses something of whose true nature he is ignorant. “The devil gives himself to the magician, and the sorcerer gives himself to the devil,” (28).
soon becomes clear that the one overwhelming feature of the Azoth is the idea
of duality – Alpha and Omega, beginning and end, creation and destruction, good
vs. evil. Lévi tells us that the Azoth
is the fire of the tormentor or of the sacrifice, the serpent and the aureole,
Lucifer and Lucifuge, and that it both transmits light and propagates darkness
(Transcendental Magic 75-76). He compares the Azoth to Adam’s omnipotence
and his punishment, malice vs. prudence, time vs. eternity, the tempter vs. the
redeemer, and Satan vs. the Body of the Holy Ghost (85). The Great Magical Agent is a “double-current
of light” which Lévi best likes to represent as a serpent: the dual serpent of
the caduceus, the serpent of Genesis, the brazen serpent of Moses, the serpent
twined around the Tau (which he sees as a symbol of the generating lingam), the
Gnostic Hyle, the twin serpents forming the legs of Abraxas, (242) and the
Oroboros serpent, which her relates to prudence and Saturn (42). In Key of the Mysteries he also
states, "The universal agent is a force tractable and subordinate to
intelligence. Abandoned to itself, it,
like Moloch, devours rapidly all that to which it gives birth, and changes the
superabundance of life into immense destruction. It is, then, the infernal serpent of the
ancient myths, the Typhon of the Egyptians..." (202). Most intriguingly,
in Transcendental Magic he relates it
to a representation of a serpent with an ox, dog or goat head “in ancient
theogonies,” (242). Interestingly, he
does not relate it to the serpent with the lion’s head – the Gnostic Chnoubis
The goat symbolism deserves more mention, as it is intimately connected to our impression of Baphomet. Like the snake, the goat also has a dual symbolism: the immolated goat vs. the scapegoat in the Biblical tradition, which comes to represent sanctuary in opposition to wilderness and priesthood in opposition to the devil’s Sabbath. Lévi interprets this to mean that there will always be a tradition of magic outside the sanctity of the church, but he quickly points out that as bearer of man’s sins, Christ is also the scapegoat (Transcendental Magic 308). He relates the goat’s head to Baphomet, or the alchemical sulphur (359). The goat symbolism of the devil of the Tarot is discussed: it represents Ahriman, Typhon, Python or the serpent of the Hebrews (so the goat and serpent symbolism intertwine again), a fantastic monster (Chimaera) or nightmare, the Great Beast (!), Baphomet, the bearded idol of the alchemists discussed earlier, Mendes, and the goat of the Sabbath. Lévi points out that this symbol was worshipped by “inferior initiates” “profaners of the Grand Arcanum,” (307-308) and that “The Devil is the Great Magical Agent employed for evil purposes by a perverse will,” (135). Yet he also states that those who worship the goat see it not as the devil, but as the great god Pan, the god of theurgists, Neo-Platonists and Gnostics! (308).
The very nature of the Azoth is dualistic: it combines both the forces of attraction and projection, which is why Hermes says it ascends and descends eternally, or as Lévi would have it, “it moves by opposing spirals that never meet,” (Transcendental Magic 55). This Universal Agent always seeks equilibrium – a sort of magical entropy – to “renew the power of fluidic life,” (86). He also states that the universal agent is twofold, "wherein are two natures and a double current, of love and wrath." According to Lévi, it is the source of “moral reactions,” the conservative backlash in an overly liberal society, or a revolution overthrowing tyranny. In order to control this force, we must use its own mode of operation: “alternate use of contrary forces, warmth after cold, mildness after severity, love after anger, etc. is the secret of perpetual motion and the permanence of power,” (216). This consists of two basic operations concentration/ projection (or fix/move) and solve/coagula (or collect/diffuse) (105).
a number of cases, Lévi likens the control of the Azoth to the symbol of a
woman with her heel upon the head of a serpent.
This is a common Catholic image – the Virgin Mary triumphing over carnal
desire – but it is also the image
We are invited to emulate this virgin, “The whole magical work consists therefore in our liberation from the folds of the ancient serpent, then in setting our foot upon its head and leading it where we will,” (242-243). In order to govern the astral light, we must place ourself outside of its currents – like Apollonius of Tyana, to wrap ourselves in a woolen mantle (76). Lévi explains that this means we cannot allow ourselves to be obsessed by passion or prejudice and must practice chastity and sobriety (105).
this, Lévi tells us that Love is one of the great images of magical power (75),
a mythological image of the Great Secret or Agent (17). It is dual in nature, like the Azoth –
action/passion, void/plenitude, shaft/wound (17). The sexual imagery is obvious. Yet Lévi claims love is forbidden to the
magus! He calls the astral light “the
universal seducer,” and says that sexual love is an illusion, romantic love but
“an intoxication of the astral light,” (75).
I can’t help but believe that Lévi’s philosophy is tainted by his bad
marriage and Catholic upbringing.
Nevertheless, there is a certain truth in what he says – what Carl Jung
would call projection. Unhealthy
romantic obsessions are certainly disastrous for magical undertaking (
Perhaps a further clarification can be found in a paper by a twentieth century writer of the Italian UR Group, who went by the pseudonym Abraxas. In his paper entitled "Knowledge of the Waters," he identifies the Great Magical Agent as "craving, an appetite that is never satisfied, an endless restlessness, an irresistible need, and a blind, wild yearning," (15). According to Abraxas, one experiences this force directly when one is hungry, afraid or sexually aroused. It most clearly manifests during times of danger, when the conscious will is superceded by a blind reaction, the instinct for self-preservation. When describing this life-force or universal agent, he draws to mind the devil card of the Tarot, "In relation to it, you usually have the same freedom of a chained dog; you may not feel the chain, and think you are free until you try to go beyond a certain limit. But when you do, the chain tautens and stops you. Otherwise, it deceives you: you move in a circle without realizing it" (16). The relationship of this force to physical love, the "Goat of Mendes," is apparent. Abraxas also points out that this force is responsible for "inclinations, faiths, atavisms, invincible and irrational convictions; habits, character..." (16). Here we see the movement of Lévi's black or astral light.
Abraxas gives explicit directions, devoting the majority of his essay on how to master the universal agent, to become the "absolute ruler of your soul" by reducing yourself to a "simplicity that wills" (20). Yet in my eyes there is something about the self-congratulatory language of his depiction of those who have successfully mastered the waters, "The Lords of Life and Salvation," "The Conquerors," "The Radiant Ones," which comes perilously close to describing the Black Brothers (compare please to the little pile of dust in the City of the Pyramids). His statement of "having slain desire, say 'I want'" (20), presupposes an "I" left to want. The ultimate emancipation of your Will is, after all, its freedom from you. This danger of the Azoth may be one of the reasons for the secrecy surrounding it. Recall the failure of the sorcerer who had "subdued all things to himself," in The Book of Lies (64): "And with all this, he was but himself. Alas!"
what exactly might Aleister Crowley have to say on this subject? Peculiarly, a wealth of information is to be
found in his whimsical novella The Lost Continent. In the novella, the mysterious Zro is the
source of all the power of Atlantis, and the object of all the work of the
citizens. In one circumstance, he states
"...the Quintessence, said they, or Universal Substance (which some
strove to identify with Hyle, others with the Luminiferous Aethyr) is the two-in-one,
liquid and solid, the former part being also twofold, fluid and gaseous, and
the latter earthy and fiery. The
combination of these four phases of Zro accounted for the universe." This twofold nature is reminiscent of
another place in Lost Continent,
We are told of all the wondrous virtues of Zro, but also that it has the power to fail and become a deadly poison. Here we see echoed the ambivalence of Lévi and Abraxas. Zro is all virtue and all venom, like Baphomet, god and devil both. If the Azoth is so powerful, yet so deadly, how is one to master it? Pike, drawing from Lévi, is perfectly clear: "The Great Work is, above all things, the creation of man by himself; that is to say, the full and entire conquest which he effects of his faculties and his future. It is, above all, the perfect emancipation of his will, which assures him the universal empire of Azoth, and the domain of magnetism, that is, complete power over the universal magical agent" (773).
Abraham, Lyndy. A Dictionary of Alchemical Imagery.
Abraxas. "Knowledge of the Waters." Introduction to Magic: Rituals and
Practical Techniques for the Magus.
Michael Moynihan ed. Guido Stucco trans.
De Givry, Emile Grillot.
Lévi, Eliphas. The Key of the Mysteries. Aleister
Lévi, Eliphas. The Mysteries of the Qabalah.
Lévi, Eliphas. Paradoxes of the Highest Science.
Lévi, Eliphas. Transcendental Magic. A.E. Waite (trans.)
Mathers, S.L. MacGregor. "The Azoth Lecture." The Sorcerer and His Apprentice: Unknown Hermetic Writings of S.L. MacGregor Mathers and J.W. Brodie-Innes. R.A. Gilbert ed. Northamptonshire: the Aquarian Press, 1983: 30-39.
Mann, Neil. "From Qusta ibn Luqa to Kusta ben Luka." 6/30/04. http://www.yeatsvision.com/Kusta.html.
Vaughn, Thomas. "
Wahshiyah, Ibn. Ancient Alphabets and Hieroglyphic Characters Explained. Joseph Hammer, trans. London W. Bulmer and Co., 1806.