Baphomet. (And Bono)

Search terms. I don’t know much about SEOs and the like. Those sorts of emails/’comments’ that thinly disguise advertisements for companies that do know all about such things end up in the spam folder and are all deleted. I have written about a few peculiarities that have popped up now and again, but I’m kinda wondering what’s up with people right now. Every day for the past week or more, the same search term keeps on showing up on the stats page.

It’s there again today. Twice.

I did write about Baphomet- in a particular context- not all that long ago. So okay. Fair enough. The search engine brings people- who happen to be looking for the guy- here. But it seems like a whole lot of people are looking for info about a 14th century construct lately.

Weird.

Perhaps that damned movie about a fictional code was on tv again.

While we were visiting Scotland I insisted that we pay a visit to that little chapel that shows up at the end of the damned movie (and the even more damned book that inspired the damned movie).

Small (okay, LARGE) aside- in case some of you might be wondering why I am so against Dan Brown and That Damned Book (TDB, from now on)…

1) he ripped off the idea from a bunch of ‘journalists’ who came up with the (fictional) story without any level of thought about actual historical veracity;

2) the writing is pretty much uniformly bad, but the ending is just plain terrible;

3) TDB is so filled with scientific and historical inaccuracies that I just can’t even…,

4) it has fed the never-ending and voracious appetites of conspiracy idiots across the globe (who certainly needed no new fodder);

and

5) his main character is a professor in an academic discipline that doesn’t exist. Semiotics is an academic discipline. Symbology is not. Semioticians study signs and symbols as elements of communication and behaviour, focusing on the relationship of the signifier and the signified, using linguistics and psychology to identify the ways in which symbols are used to construct meaning. Symbologists study nothing. Because they don’t exist.

Oh. And also because TDB was turned into TDM, and, as a result, I actually hated a movie that starred Tom Hanks. Which is terrible. Because Tom Hanks is lovely.

Admittedly, it did bring a number of people to my classrooms over the years. Either because they were looking for evidence that the RC Church hadn’t lied to them all these years, or because they thought that an examination of the non-canonical Xian writings would demonstrate that TDB was right all along. Unfortunately, I wasn’t able to set minds at ease in the first group (the Church has told more than its fair share of lies) and the primary sources and historical evidence we have does not, in any way, point to anything in TDB being at all accurate. Historically speaking.

End rant.

So.  You could ask, legitimately, why would I want to visit Rosslyn Chapel – just outside of Edinburgh- if I loathe TDB/M so much?

Well. Quite simply because it’s beyond lovely and the story of the Chapel and its restoration is way more interesting than anything a hack novelist could dream up.

I loved it there. At the end of a long day touring some of Scotland’s most historic sites- Bannockburn and Stirling Castle were just two of the stops- we were coping with a fair bit of history overload (yes, it can happen. Even to me) when we arrived at Rosslyn. The site, for all its historical value, overwhelms with its beauty and the intricacy of the carvings, yet is a place that lends itself to quiet reflection.

And, since I do like the actual history of groups like the Masons, the Chapel provides some interesting evidence of the traditions and symbols associated with that storied Brotherhood. I bought a matted rubbing of some of the Masonic symbols that are found in the Chapel, as a matter of fact (have yet to get it framed. Which, since I had to go looking for a stock photo of the Chapel because I haven’t started sorting through the photos we took, isn’t really all that surprising).

As we sat in the Chapel, listening to the guide talk a bit about its history, its resident cat, William, popped in to say hello to everyone. He made straight for my lap (as is generally the case with most small creatures. I tend to attract animals), and was a purring mass of black and white fur who enhanced the story we were being told immensely. Nothing like a lap full of cat and a good story. If I’d had a Scotch in hand, it would have been pretty much perfect.

The guide noted that the Chapel had fallen into disrepair after centuries of neglect, but was gradually undergoing some restoration work when TDB was released. That August, the Chapel received more visitors than they had in the entirety of any previous year. Since there was only one washroom available on the site, this proved more than a little problematic. And Dan Brown’s fans continued to descend en masse to discover the secret of the Code for themselves.

The influx of Seekers of the Holy Grail facilitated the building of a beautiful Visitors’ Centre (complete with washrooms, cafe and gift shop- where you can buy Scotch, bottled especially for Rosslyn as a means of raising funds for its on-going restoration- although they frown on you drinking it in the Chapel) with all kinds of cool interactive displays that talk about the carvings and the (family) history of its construction.

The release of TDM brought even more visitors to the site- again, a good thing from a heritage preservation perspective. The guide told us a few tales of memorable visitors- those convinced that Elvis lay in the inaccessible vault beneath the Chapel, those convinced of the existence of the Sang Real, and those who thought they might catch a glimpse of Tom Hanks.

And then there were the crazy people…

One of the things that most resonated with me as we traveled the highways and byways of Scotland, in the company of fantastic storytellers with an impressive knowledge of history, was the fact that so much of it is continually being re- and/or over-written. This was made clear as crystal by the unanimous expression of disdain for one film in particular- one that starred a too-short Australian, dressed in anachronistic belted plaid, while painted (also anachronistically) with woad. I’ll refrain from mentioning the bit about the affair with Isabella of France (who was only three at the time of the events portrayed in the film). Oops. Guess I just did.

I haven’t seen Braveheart in its entirety. Never really interested me- especially since I read about the glaring inaccuracies fairly early on. I’m not all that fond of the Aussie-in-question (although, while I’m not much into the post-apocalyptic genre, Mad Max did have its moments. And I liked the first Lethal Weapon film. Nothing after that, though), so I wasn’t in a rush to witness his particular brand of over-acting.

I was quite surprised at the vehemence with which our guides emphasized the wrongness of the film’s presentation of its hero. William Wallace is very important to the Scots- and messing with his story is problematic. To say the least. They still talk of his murder (and they consider it murder, not execution) as if it happened recently, rather than in the 13th century.

We humans revise and review and revisit history all the time. Our stories are re-written and re-presented in different forms. The best stories hold up in the face of reworking and redaction because their themes and characters speak to something that is universal.

But, all too often, we do so at our peril.

Am I being pedantic when I complain about the ridiculousness found in TDB? Probably. A lot of people like the story, and found some level of entertainment in it. And, after all, Dan Brown never claimed that the story was non-fiction. Those conspiracy fans who make such claims do so of their own accord.

But. The subject matter at the source of his fiction, for all that it is, itself, fictional, has loomed fairly largely in my life. I’ve spent a lot of time with the texts- primary, secondary and tertiary, in my adult life. So the fact that people are willing to accept the further fictionalization of the myths, and reinterpretation of the symbols and metaphors they were meant to illustrate, as TRUE just bugs me. For the same reasons that any sort of unexamined credulity makes me crazy.

And now I’m ranting again.

What does any of this have to do with a search engine term that keeps bringing people here to visit? Some of you (assuming you’ve stuck around this long) are probably thinking (not without cause) that I’ve gotten totally lost in a complete derailment of my train of thought, but there is a connection. I swear.

You see, poor old Baphomet is the exemplar of this sort of thing. He is a construct that originated out of torture designed to garner confessions from a group of monks that had become a bit too rich and too powerful for the comfort of the King. And the Pope (although the Vatican now says that the persecution was ‘unjust’, and that Clement V was ‘forced into it’ by King Philip IV).

As they were tortured, some of the falsely arrested Knights confessed to the worship of some sort of heathen idol- variously described as a severed head, a head with three faces, and a cat. Until the persecution of the Templars, no one had heard of Baphomet. He arose out of the stories that were told about the perceived crimes of the Knights of the Temple.

Created. Whole cloth. As an instrument of condemnation of a group that was causing the powers-that-be some difficulties. Various theories as to the origins of his name- and of the demon/idol himself- proliferated as the centuries passed. His existence was back-dated for veracity.

With the 18th century rise of Freemasonry, Masonic leaders sought connections to heroes of the past, as they sought to create their own mythologized history. They connected the Masons to the Templars and then, going back even further, to some of my beloved Gnostic-types.

It’s all pseudo-history of the worst possible kind.

Dan Brown is far from the first person to cash in on the credulity that such unexamined claims can foster, if not cause outright. Eliphas Lévi drew a picture (literally) of Baphomet that served to secure a place for his image in Western minds for subsequent generations.

This is him. According to an occultist with a really good imagination.

 Aleister Crowley liked Baphomet (and Eliphas Lévi) a fair bit. He is generally considered to be one of the minions of Hell (Baphomet, not Eliphas)- if not the Devil Dude himself. Some Xian evangelist-types suggest that Masons, today, still worship that particular demon.

All this notoriety. From a singular mention in the writings of a chronicler of the First Crusade- suggesting that those they fought against called upon him as they attempted to hold the city against the Crusading Xians.

Baphomet is demonstrative of what can, and does, happen when myths (and mythological characters) are cited outside of their originating context. The stories go through a process akin to Broken Telephone- with the elements of the narrative losing all connection to their original, metaphorical or symbolic purposes.

As we add details and creatively expand upon sparse references, the innocuous can become monstrous. Such is the power of story– in the hands of people who have a way with words and the construction of lasting images.

When taken as entertainment- or as a potential source of universal truths/common sense- such stories serve to unite us as human beings. We all love a good story.

Stories become dangerous their authors purport to tell truths to which they cannot, legitimately, lay claim. Or when the credulous among us (an ever-growing crowd) decide to infer truths underlying the fiction.

Baphoment is a poster-child for this phenomenon. I’d like to think that that’s the reason so many people seem to be looking for information about him here in the interworld.

Given the stuff that I see in the media on a daily basis, I’m not naive enough to really subscribe to that particular conceit.

People are searching for information about him because they believe, however foolishly, in his existence as a manifestation/personification of evil that exists in the real world.

‘Don’t believe what you hear
Don’t believe what you see
If you just close your eyes
You can feel the enemy…

And I’d join the movement
If there was one I could believe in
Yeah I’d break bread and wine
If there was a church I could receive in
’cause I need it now…

And I know that the tide is turning ’round
So don’t let the bastards grind you down’

Bono has said that the song is largely about examining his own hypocrisy. It’s about having high standards for other people, and yet not living according to those standards. Wrapped up in the clearly-communicated anger and contempt is a message to continue onward in the face of overwhelming opposition.

So, despite the constant stream of evidence that supports the supposition that we are increasingly swayed by ancient superstition and reactionary rhetoric as we are subsumed by state-sanctioned credulity, I, like Bono- and Baphomet- shall persist. In living life at the standard which I expect from others, while attempting to spread my message regarding required examination and understanding of our history- literary and otherwise. With all its revisions and redactions.

Rant over. For real, this time.

Much Ado About Nothing

I don’t know about you, but I don’t really find this illustration particularly helpful in explaining why it’s SO FREAKIN COLD OUTSIDE.  And the typo is making me nuts, but I’m too chilly to search for another image.

Well there I was all hunkered down against the c-c-c-cold of the polar vortex- or whatever they’re calling it- getting ready to kill an evening watching some tv or something equally mindless.

Decided to check the WP Reader before turning off the laptop for the night and, what’s there?  A wee little goad by my friend OM- over there at Harsh Reality.

It’s one of the fun things he does- he gets conversations started.  I actually saw the link about the Baphomet statue earlier today.  I read the article, smiled a little and then forgot about it.

Jeepers.  People really don’t have larger concerns?

The constant negative back-and-forth between the atheist and non-atheist groups out there nowadays is inexplicable to me.  I don’t get it at all.  The defensiveness- on both sides- is astonishing.

Back when I had the time- and the interest- to be producing academic articles about new religious movements (including early Christianity- in an historical perspective, and the Church of Satan as a contemporary movement), a sociologist friend and I set the stage for some research into the phenomenon that seems to be overtaking some atheist movements out there.  The atheists are becoming as institutionalized as the institutions they seek to deride at every given opportunity.

I’ve talked about this a bit in passing before.  Our freedoms are supposed to allow us to express the manifestations of our faith- or complete lack thereof- without fear of reprisal or threat.  Regardless of whether they are sourced in a 1st century CE Nazarene carpenter or a horned figure that is assumed (by those unwilling to do a little homework) to be the antithesis of said Nazarene carpenter.

Before y’all go leaping to conclusions about my potential adherence to the Lord of Flies, let me remind you (or let you know if you’re visiting for the first time- a big ‘welcome’, if so) that I don’t believe in the existence of any deity- be it many-armed and elephant-headed; a complicated triumverate that is at once father, son and spirit; a one-eyed, raven-loving northerner; a creator Grandmother Spider; and/or the source of all evil and temptation who is set against the perceived originator of the world.

But I do like, and respect, them all.  I appreciate them as the manifestations of our human need to answer the unanswerable questions and I celebrate the variety and the beauty of these manifestations as representations of both the best and worst that we people can come up with in the recesses of our imaginations and ways of viewing our world and the one(s) that may exist beyond this one we know.

I’ve written about that Devil Dude here at colemining a time or two and it’s therefore unlikely to be a surprise that I personally feel that the guy(s) has gotten a very bad rap.  For lots of politically, sociologically and theologically motivated reasons.  I like him.  He’s an interesting character that has contributed significantly in Western art, culture and literature.

It can even, possibly, be safely said that he is my favourite mythological character.  I do hate to choose- it’s like picking my favourite book or song.  How can you fairly choose with so very many wonderful inventions that span millennia?

I don’t worship him, though.  Or believe in him- as such.

I’m not a satanist.  I don’t worship the flip-side of the coin that is the Christian deity.

You know what?  Neither do Satanists.  Not those folks who want to build the statue, anyway.  One would have to subscribe to the beliefs about the nature, theology and theodicy of the Christian deity in order to revere its opposite.  And they don’t.

They use the terminology based in its foundation: satan as ‘adversary’- and as found in the Hebrew scriptures.  Satanism is mainly an ideological social movement- opposed to things like herd mentality, stupidity, pretentiousness and lack of perspective (okay, maybe I AM a little bit of a satanist…)- and the movement developed its precepts and beliefs based on the examination of human nature and the ‘laws of the jungle’.

Anton LaVey based its core beliefs on things like secular humanism, individualism, religious skepticism and an eye-for-an-eye mentality that is positively Old Testament in flavour.

No sacrificing of babies or virgins to the Devil.  No desecration of Christian churches or symbols.  No black masses.

While some off-shoots of LaVeyan Satanism do envision a deity, it is one that is much more associated with older iterations of the satan/Lucifer/fallen angel who was responsible for bringing wisdom and technology to humanity.  For our benefit.  Like Prometheus.  I talked about that guy before too.

And poor old Baphomet.  Symbol of a doomed Knighthood that was brought down by a corrupt king, jealous of their wealth, power and influence.

His origins are hazy, but he maintains a presence- his likeness is representative of the Devil in many Tarot decks to this day.

Various theories (and accusations, at the time) suggested that the Templars brought the worship of Baphomet back from their adventures (on behalf of Church and Crown) as they attempted to ‘reclaim’ the Holy Land from the ‘infidels’.  Some suggest that Baphomet is a derivation of Mohamet- and that the assumption was that the Muslim infidels worshiped their Prophet as a deity.

That novel about Leonardo and a supposed ‘code’ played with the idea that Baphomet was a creation of a substitution cipher, and meant ‘wisdom’- but arcane- anti-Church and anti-King- wisdom that flew in the face of the social mores of the day.  Hence both the destruction of the Templars, and the equally-heinous development of the cult of Dan Brown.

So we’re back to the symbol of the satanists being all about the imparting of wisdom– that was outside the control of the ruling authorities- and therefore verboten.

How is any of that bad?  Let alone the embodiment of evil?

I say again, ‘Jeepers.’

Baphomet, Satan, Lucifer, Church of Satan?  All victims of bad PR (although, in the case of the Church of Satan, they aren’t all that interested in what others think these days- now that the era of ‘Satanic Panic’ has thankfully passed into sordid memory), nothing more.

Anyhoo.

The intent of OM’s post was to start a discussion about ‘tolerance’ and whether or not people expect tolerance of their worldviews yet remain quick to condemn those of others.

I commented that the statue would bother me not at all.  Just as statues of Jesus or Buddha bother me not at all.  (Although if they are erected in public spaces using public funds… there’s a different argument to be found.  I touched on that here).

I don’t understand the impulse to defensiveness that comes with belief.  I really don’t get the reactionary fall-out of being challenged in belief that causes people to malign the beliefs of others.

We all have things to teach- and we definitely all need a little more learning about certain things in this wide world of ours.  If such lessons can be gleaned by the placement of a statue- representative of the beliefs of a portion of humanity- in close proximity to another statue- also representative of the beliefs of a portion of humanity- where, exactly, is the harm?

That’s not simple rhetoric.  In my own search to understand us people-type-people I welcome all differences of opinion and perspective that are open to discussing such things.

Might help keep us all warm on this chillychilly night.

PS- I have to take issue with the creators of those myths about Hell- much as I do enjoy them.  If they had ever spent any time in a polar vortex, they’d know that such a place- if it existed would be COLD, not hot.  Warming trend can arrive any time now…

Pots and Kettles

“Evil, they said, was brought into the world by the rebel angels.  Oh really?  God sees and foresees all, and he didn’t know the rebel angels were going to rebel?  Why did he create them if he knew they were going to rebel?  That’s like somebody making car tires that he knows will blow out after two kilometers.  He’d be a prick.  But no, he went ahead and created them, and afterward he was happy as a clam, look how clever I am, I can even make angels… Then he waited for them to rebel (no doubt drooling in anticipation of their first false step) and then hurled them down into hell.  If that’s the case he’s a monster.”

Umberto Eco- The Mysterious Flame of Queen Loana (pg. 349)

No one writes like Umberto Eco.  His language- even as translated from Italian- is beautiful beyond belief.  He seems to see words as symbols- and as a semiotician (not a ‘symbologist’- hear that Dan Brown?  No such thing) he maintains that all cultural phenomenon can be viewed as communication.

He is one of my heroes.

I will likely wax philosophic and play the super-fan about him at some point, but the focus here is meant to be what he has to say about god and the fall of the angels in Queen Loana.

(after one more quick aside… It’s a beautiful book- about memory, and the loss of memory, and how it is tied to our definitions of self and the construction of personality.  You should read it).

So… God is a prick.  And a monster.

What else can you say about a deity who sets its creation up to fail?  And to Fall?  That particular point of theology/theodicy has always been a big sticking point for me.

‘Look at all these super-cool trees.  You can eat from any of them.  Oh.  Except that one.  The best looking one of all.”  There seems to be a whole bunch of unreasonable and unjustified ‘testing’ going on throughout the biblical mythology.  It’s like Yahweh was playing The Game with an entire Nation of unsuspecting suitors.

Of course it’s not a new thing- questioning the theodicy of the god of Israel.  Reconciling a supposedly benevolent and omniscient singular deity (the ‘mono’ in monotheism) with the evil that is an apparently dominant presence in the world was something that the Ancients also wrestled with.  Some of the greatest Wisdom literature examines this tension in great detail- and to differing degrees of success.

For polytheists, this was less of an issue.  There were all kinds of gods- and not all of them had the good of humanity as one of their major points of concern.

Evil (or chaos- going back to that foundational Ancient Near Eastern and Egyptian dichotomy) was easily explained as the influence of malignant beings- gods or demons- as they messed with humanity- either for their own ascendency or just for something to do.  Apparently, being a god could get boring.  This godly need to ‘interfere’ with humans is a functional component of most world mythologies and religion.

Interference can take the positive form of divine inspiration or communication (through such interesting media as burning bushes, voices in the thunder, taking human form on earth, and etc.) or the less-than-holy ‘temptation’- persuasion and inducement to join the dark side of the force.

And sometimes they just showed up to get their rocks off.  Zeus, for example, had a thing for animal disguises and tendency toward rape.  Even the god of the New Testament wasn’t above impregnating unsuspecting Palestinian maidens.

All this is pretty ‘hands on’ involvement in the lives of us human creatures as we crawled about on the face of the earth back in the day (it doesn’t seem to happen as much lately).  Many of the oldest stories feature humans as little more than playthings of the gods- pawns in some incomprehensible game of Twister.

(And as I wrote that line this popped into my head :

The gods may throw the dice, their hearts as cold as ice

And someone way down here loses someone dear

Ah, Abba.  Benny and Bjorn can be connected to anything!)

The biblical stories- canonical and non-canonical- demonstrate this propensity and the idiosyncratic changeability of the character of the god.  This can be explained by the fact that stories were written and re-written and redacted by generations of Israelites, Judeans, Jews and Christians (not to mention the ‘heretics’ like the followers of the various gnostic groups) over hundreds of years.

But many of those who see the bible- old and new testaments- as a single continuity and narrative have a harder time reconciling the vast differences in personality and approach of the singular deity (that was then divided- yet not divided– into three parts).  Still, they manage.  Somehow they are okay with this clearly bi-polar god being seen as unchanging and unchangeable.

The lengths to which we are willing go in the continuation of self-delusion when we try really hard is pretty spectacular at times.

Still, can we really look at the actions of Yahweh as being all about the betterment and support of humanity?  The authors of books like Job and Ecclesiastes didn’t really think so.  They asked questions and received less-than-strongly-supported ‘arguments’ about the god’s omniscience and justice.

If the fallen angels can be vilified for giving humanity the gifts of civilization (temptations that lead us from the path ordained by the deity) can we go any easier on the deity who allowed the Fall(s) (Adam’s and the angels’) to happen.  Who orchestrated the actions?  Is it not all part of the ‘divine plan’ that is laid out in linear history and leading us to the ultimate End of Days at which time those pesky fallen angels will finally get their comeuppance?

Free will is a tricky proposition.  Arguably, there would be far fewer (or non-existent) issues if we all were programmed to follow a set path at all times and under all examples of adversity.  The truth is, people often suck.  We do have this propensity to want to look out for ourselves, take what isn’t ours, reach beyond that which we’re capable of.

In order to explain that- in a worldview that posits a benevolent deity- evil, and those who suborn evil, had to be created in explanation.  And if we were to be able to be influenced by this evil and its incarnations, we had to have some sort of ability built in to us that permits that choice.  So, free will.

It would be lovely if I could believe in just the benevolence and the love and wisdom that can be seen in some of the myths of the biblical deity/deities.  As I have said before, faith can provide hope when faced with nothing more than hopelessness.

I had an email conversation with a friend, and former student, today.  In discussing current job searches, I offhandedly told him to ‘keep the faith’.

His response to that?  “Faith is the active suspension of critical thinking…. no thanks.”

And my comeback?  “It doesn’t have to be about a lack of critical thinking.  I was using it figuratively- or rather, in a humanistic manner.  In that I have faith in (some of) my fellow humans and experiential evidence that some people warrant that level of faith.”  Or something along those lines.

I can continue to believe in people.  We are continually subject to change and so very very adaptable that it astonishes me when I see the things that some manage to cope with, weather and emerge the stronger for.  I honestly think that we are constantly trying to do better, to be better, to achieve the level of goodness with which we imbue the best of our gods.

Even assuming that I could somehow change the entirety of the way in which I view the world and discover some form of faith in a supernatural entity that is overseeing my life and the lives of those I love, if that deity adheres to/embodies an approach to justice that I can’t begin to comprehend in what way does it deserve love and worship?

And if said deity is not as adaptable and open to evolution (as opposed to inconsistent and scatter-brained changeability) and betterment as its creation, how can he it considered in any way superior to the best of humanity?

Blaming rebel angels for the negative stuff that happens in the world is a supreme cop-out.  Especially when the creator deity, if we follow the theology and myriad attempts to explain an incomprehensible theodicy (‘humans cannot know the mind of god’?  Another cop-out), is supposed to be all-knowing, -creating, -seeing and -loving.

Making this group of rebels the source and continuation of all that is bad and wrong in the world not only doesn’t make the least bit of logical sense, it really is a case of one kitchen implement referring to its comparable counterpart as dark and evil.

Or, just a childish, petulant deity that has no place in the 21st century.

I know you are, but what am I?