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The Tau or Tav means “cross,” and is the final letter of the Hebrew alphabet. It is numbered 300 in the Greek and 400 in the Hebrew numerical alphabet. The tau corresponds astrologically with the planet Saturn and the concept of finality. The mark was associated with the absolution of sin and may have been the original “mark of Cain” of the Old Testament. In the Hebrew kabbala, the Tav represents the completion of creation and is an emblem of infinity. In the visions of Ezekiel, it is the sign etched on the foreheads of priests and initiates. The Greek Tau is associated with the letter Theta, an emblem of death originally symbolized by a cross in a circle or a skull.

It is assumed the the biblical symbolism of the Tau stems from the ancient cult of Tammuz, a vegetation god whose annual death and resurrection was commemorated by ritual mourners who marked their foreheads with the cross. Tammuz, like Christ, was associated with fishing and shepherding. The Tau cross takes the shape of the letter of his name, and is one of the oldest letters known. The custom of marking the forehead with a cross of ashes as a sign of mourning dates back to these rituals.

The Tau was adopted as the emblem of the Franciscan order of monks, and during the renaissance it was used in religious paintings to denote monks, pilgrims, and wandering hermits. The Tau was a special symbol of Saint Anthony, considered the progenitor of monasticism, and may have referred to the “T” in the word “Theos,” God. In magic, the Tau represents a supplicating posture. Ritual robes are typically referred to as “Tau robes” due to their shape, going back to the traditional pattern of monastic robes.

Esoterically, the Tau represents a gate or opening, symbolic death. In the Victorian magical Order of the Golden Dawn, the Tau was the “sign of the Enterer,” a posture that symbolized the opening path of the Kabbalistic tree of life, connecting the sphere of Malkuth (earth) with that of Yesod (the moon). It was strongly associated with the World or Universe card in the tarot, and emblematic of the cross of life juxtaposed on the sphere of matter- a symbol of death as initiation.

The tau cross is often used as a variant of the Latin, or Christian cross.

An arrangement of three Taus in a spoked formation is an emblem of the Royal Arch degree of Freemasonry, symbolizing the Temple of Jerusalem. The Triple Tau is said to actually comprise only two letters, for the Greek phrase “Templum Hieroslymoe,” with the H as a pictographic stand-in for the Arch of the Temple entrance; the Tau likely reflecting the death-and resurrection symbolism of the Masonic initiation.

The Greek “Hiero,” or “holy,” is also the root of the word “Hierophant,” an initiator. To add a further layer of symbolism, the Hebrew equivalent of the Greek eta (H) is cheth, a gate. Cheth/eta enumerates to 8 or 800, with the Tav 400, making it truly a double Tau.

A tau cross displayed alongside a rope with knots symbolizes the vows of the order. A tau displayed with crossed arms is called the “Franciscan Shield.”

 

Related Symbols:

Ankh

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If you are looking for a symbol you’ve seen but can’t identify, try the visual indexes at right.

If you want to browse symbols by genre, faith, or type, try the categories If you want to view related symbol ideas,  try searching by tag (ie, star, circle, magic, etc.) 

Feel free to suggest tags. If you don’t see the symbol you’re looking for, want a larger image for a tattoo, or have other comments or questions, don’t hesitate to contact me, either through the comment form below, or email:

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Emick, Jennifer, [page title], http://symboldictionary.net [retrieval date]

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CopyrightJennifer Emick, 2005-2009, [page title, linked to relevant page]

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The Egg and the Serpent: Part two of three The philosophical or cosmic egg is another nearly universal symbol. Alchemically, the egg is a symbol of the cosmos, as it is in a multitude of folk legends. In Hindu cosmology, it is the source of the universe. The egg as a container of the universe is found in many ancient religions. The egg symbolizes birth and potential. It contains within a miniature sun, and it features prominently in solar mythology. The gods Vishnu, Phanes, and Mithras, are all “egg born” solar deities. Another solar entity, the rooster, is also born of an egg.

Cosmic eggBirth of MithrasCosmic egg

The serpent plays an important role in every culture. It is a dual role, as a symbol of wisdom and of evil. A snake is a lowly creature who cannot leave the ground, making it an obvious symbol of base desires and material entrapment. As a sexual symbol, the snake can represent the energies of the universe, or base human desires and lust- traditional pictures of dragon slayers are allegories to conquered material desires such as these, as are many human/monster hybrids. However,as even the lowest serpent sheds its skin and renews itself, it is a token of resurrection. As a symbol of spiritual power, the serpent represents the awakened self.

Naga serpent, protector of Vishnu Alchemical crucified serpent

The serpent is most often related to sexual energies, which can be harnessed for spiritual purposes, or when abused, can overwhelm the spirit. Serpents depicted symbolically on a vertical axis nearly always represent sexual energy- the twin serpents of the caduceus, the kundalini serpents, the alchemical crucified serpent, and the serpent of Genesis are all symbols of the sexual nature of man. In the Judeo-Christian allegorical story of Adam and Eve, the serpent represents the dual nature of sexual energy, which can either entrap or release the spirit. It is this serpent who guards the mythical tree of life and immortality featured in mythology the world over, where it serves as both a protector of the aspirant and an obstacle to the uninitiated.

Cadeceus, or wand of HermesUraeus, symbol of divine powerIshtar, with serpents
Kundalini serpentsAdam, Eve, and the serpentMesopotamian forerunner to the CadeceusAlchemical serpents- look familiar?

One of the most recognizable serpent symbols is the Ouroboros. The ouroboros is found in alchemy, in ancient Egyptian, Greek and Gnostic texts, in Norse mythology, and even Aztec icons. The ouroboros is a serpent swallowing its own tail, and usually describes a circle, although a lemniscate shape is also common. It is a symbol of eternity, rebirth, and resurrection. It is often colored dark and light to illustrate the victory of the spiritual nature over the material.

Alchemical ouroborosArabic alchemical ouroboros

Previous> A Guide to The Structure of Spiritual Emblems

Next> The womb of the Goddess and the all seeing eye

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A Guide to The Structure of Spiritual Emblems Alchemical Tree of  Life

There is a secret language we all recognize, but few are fluent in- the language of symbols. Symbols surround us in myriad forms and form an inextricable part of our daily lives, yet unlike our spoken languages, schooling in symbolism is left to the individual initiative. Even in religious teaching, symbols are presented as emblems of belonging, mere historical artifacts one wears to identify with one’s faith.

Many of the symbols we take for granted today as static signs of religious or secular life were created long ago, representations of the movements of earth and heaven, symbols of the seasons, and representations of cosmic and earthly deities. Over time, they have acquired layers of increasingly complex meaning, and this evolution of meaning tells us much about how we developed our ideas about the nature of life and the universe.

Signs used in modern magick and Western religious traditions share a common ancestry that dates before the creation of writing. These symbols are powerful because they are archetypal- even cultures that do not share language share an innate understanding of symbols. In this article we’ll explore the evolution of symbolism by examining the basic elements that make up more complex symbolism. The symbols of western magic, astrology, and alchemy are based on a common symbolic ‘alphabet,’ composites created from smaller symbols.

Knowing how to recognize these smaller units will allow you to decipher many of the larger symbols whenever you encounter them. Knowing the secret system behind these symbols can provide an incredible amount of insight into even the most inscrutable signs.

The basic building blocks of symbolism

The Circle is the most common and universal signs, found in all cultures. It is the symbol of the sun in its limitless or boundless aspect. It has no beginning or end, and no divisions, making it the perfect symbol of completeness, eternity, and the soul:

The circle is also the symbol of boundary and enclosure, of completion, and returning cycles. The circle symbolism most familiar to us is that of the wedding ring which encircles the finger associated in ancient times with the heart. The wedding ring symbolizes not just a pledge of eternal love, but the enclosure of the heart- a pledge of fidelity.

The circle reflected represents the dyad, the introduction of duality, and represents creation and manifestation. The symbol of the dyad is known as the ‘vesica pisces,’ or fish bladder, because it appears as a fish. The equal armed solar cross is another universal symbol, which can be found in every culture with a knowledge of the passage of time. It is the first truly theological emblem, marking not only the points of the solar calendar, but the juxtaposition of the realm of the material with the realm of the divine.

The cross is in this case actuality two separate signs-

First, a vertical axis, representing man, the body, and our upright posture, which is unique in the animal kingdom. The vertical line symbolizes the path from earth to heaven and the realm of spirit, symbolizing the dual nature of man, who embodies the spiritual and the temporal. The vertical axis equates directly to the human spine and to the tree of life, as well as to the axis mundi, the great pole around which the constellations of the zodiac revolve. These seemingly disparate ideas share a common idea- they link the earth and heavens. Thus is the concept of the connection between earth and heaven established- and also the divinity of man, who alone is built on this axis.

The horizontal axis, represents the path from birth to death, beginning to end, and linear time. This axis represents life on earth as a binary, linear process- life to death, beginning to end, and the dual nature of human existence evidenced by our symmetrical shapes: left and right, male and female, good and evil. These ancient concepts are embodied even in our language- our good, “righteous” side, and our dark, “sinister” side. (sinister having the original meaning “of the left hand”)

Both axis are also representations of the sexual nature of man, the vertical line representing the solar phallus, and the horizontal, the receptive, female earthly nature. Many early solar temples (such as Stonehenge) are not only solar calendars, but representations of the earth awaiting fertilization from the masculine energies of the sun. (The appearance of the rays of the solstice on these ancient solar altars represents the copulation of the gods) The cross, then, is the symbol of humanity- when the two axis are combined in a cross shape, they represent the cube of space, the four elements, and the binding together in man of matter and spirit. (The old geometrical puzzle of ‘squaring the circle’ is a hidden reference to the continual difficulty of reconciling spiritual and material concerns.)

A cross within a circle forms a solar cross or a horoscope wheel, both symbols of spirit and matter. A horizontal bar within a circle is the alchemical symbol for salt, pure material existence in its most exalted state. The equal-armed cross is often disguised in religious art as a four petaled flower, a cube, or a scepter. Examples of this cross in it’s simplest meaning will be found in primitive swastikas and sunwheels; the more complex spiritual meanings in the symbols of alchemy, the Templars’ equal armed cross, and the symbol of the crucifix. Because of the inherent nature of this symbol as representational of both the sun and the divine in man, the cross is commonly associated with redemptive solar deities. (Read more about the Dying God archetype here)

The Tau cross is a later variation, with a horizontal bar balanced atop a vertical bar, creating a “Tau,” or “T” shape. With its exaggerated vertical axis, the tau cross is associated with sacrifice of the lower, base nature, and emphasizes the earth/heaven connection. Some examples of the Tau cross are the cross of Attis, the egyptian Ankh (surmounted by a loop or circle), and the Norse Irminsul.

The arc found in more complex symbols, especially planetary symbols, represents ascension or striving. The arch has been a traditional element of architecture and often figures in commemorative monuments of triumph and achievement. The sigils of the planet Saturn and Jupiter, for example, combine identical symbols with very different results, using the arc in conjunction with the cross. In the sigil of Jupiter, the arc of aspiration rises above the struggle of matter and spirit, and symbolizes bounty, triumph, expansion, and success. Saturn’s sigil places the cross above the arc- ascension subverted by the material struggle, and a symbol of Saturn’s power to limit and confine:

The crescent represents the powers of the moon- reflective and receptive. (An example of this symbol taken to its highest symbolic meaning would be the Holy Grail) A reversed crescent often represents emptiness and illusion.

The triangle is one of the most easily recognized religious symbols in the West, most commonly associated with the Christian trinity or Freemasonry. The triangle is the simplest geometric shape, and also the first purely theological symbol. To the ancient Pythagoreans, the triangle was, as the first complete polygon, the womb of number and the essence of stability.  Triangles stand in for the Christian trinity of Father, Son, and spirit, as well as the earlier primordial trinity of Isis, Osiris, and Horus.

The upward moving triangle is sometimes called the blade (the chalice and blade figure ceremonially in many ritual magic operations). It is a symbol of aspiration or rising up, male force, and fire. It is purely phallic in origin. The triangle represents aspiration, rising force, and the male principal.

The downward pointing triangle is sometimes referred to as the chalice. It is the symbol of water (as it flows downward), the grace of heaven, and the womb. it is one of the most ancient symbols of female divinity, as a representation of the genitalia of the goddess.

When combined, the triangles of fire and water form a potent symbol of balance and divine union. In western tradition, it is called the Seal of Solomon, and the symbols for air and earth are derived from the reconciliation of water and fire in this symbol. The hexagram has an identical meaning in Hinduism and Buddhism as well, where it also represents the divine union, or perfect balance of male and female energies. Kabbalistically, it is the sign of resurrection and completeness- in Hebrew tradition, it is called perfect. Occasionally, this conjunction forms a diamond or lozenge shape.

Next: The Egg, the eye, and the serpent: Exploring more complex symbols

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A popular image of the Hindu deity Shiva. The dance of Shiva is symbolic of the dynamic forces of creation and destruction, and the harmonious balance of opposites. Most images of the dancing Shiva depict him with four arms, which represent the four cardinal directions of space, and are symbolic of Shiva’s omnipresence. In each hand, the figure holds a different symbolic object or makes a meaningful gesture. A drum represents the sound of creation.

A gesture (Abhaya) means “do not be afraid.” A gesture toward the lifted right foot is symbolic of release from the cycles of death and rebirth. Another hand holds a flame, which is the essence of creation and destruction. The small figure under Shiva’s feet is the body of the dwarf Purusha (forgetfulness), who is symbolic of man’s inertia, the ignorance which must be overcome for spiritual liberation. The circle of flames surrounding the figure denotes the universe in its entirety.

Related Symbols:

Shiva Linga

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The dharma chakra (literally, ‘wheel of Law’) Buddhist emblem resembling a wagon wheel, with eight spokes, each representing one of the eight tenets of Buddhist belief. The circle symbolizes the completeness of the Dharma, the spokes represent the eightfold path leading to enlightenment: Right faith, right intention, right speech, right action, right livelihood, right endeavor, right mindfulness, and right meditation.

It is drawn from an Indian symbol, but instead of representing Samsara, or endless rebirth, it symbolizes overcoming obstacles. The Dharma wheel is one of the eight Ashtamangala, or auspicious symbols of Tibetan Buddhism.  Sometimes, the wheel is flanked by deer, which refer to the deer park in which the Buddha is said to have given his first sermon.

glossarydharmachakra

Related Symbols:

ChakrasKalachakra

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The Phurba is a special triple sided Tibetan ritual dagger or stake, patterned after an ancient Vedic tool which originated as a ritual stake used to tether sacrificial animals. It is used ritually to create stability and areas of protected space, often staked into the ground in circles prior to rituals. Only one initiated into its use may possess a phurbha, all others are forbidden.

 

 

Pronunciation: Fur-bah

Related Symbols:

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The enso (“circle”) is the emblem of Zen Buddhism. A simple circle drawn with a single, broad brushstroke, it is a symbol of infinity, and represents the infinite void, the ‘no-thing,’ the perfect meditative state, and Satori (enlightenment.)

 

 

 

Related Symbols:

 

stupa

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The peace sign is not a religious symbol, but is included here as it is so often misinterpreted as a such. It is a common conceit in some evangelical Christian circles to refer to the symbol as anti-christian, and they refer to it as a ‘broken cross’ or ‘Nero’s cross,’ referring back to the story of the upside-down crucifixion, supposedly at the hands of Emperor Nero. Thus, it is supposed to be a Satanic emblem- somehow, Satanists at the beginning of Christianity are supposed to have adopted the emblem of a Saint to somehow signify the defeat of Christianity. It makes no sense, but little in these convoluted conspiracy theories ever does.

It is also fashionable to compare the symbol to the letter algiz in the Norse runic alphabet, and thus extract a further connection to the Nazi and Neonazi groups who use such symbolism. To make it work, they have to take the runic letter algiz, call it ‘life’ when in fact it means ‘elk,’ and then flip it over and call it ‘death’. Make sense? 

The truth, as usual, is much more interesting, if less dramatic. The creator of the peace sign is Gerald Holtom, a leader in the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament. Holtom, a Christian, originally used a Christian cross in his design, an idea that was rejected by religious leaders. He relates that he settled on the final design, a combination of the semaphore letters ND (for Nuclear Disarmament) as an emblem of the despair that he felt, a representation of a gesture of pleading:

“I drew myself: the representative of an individual in despair, with hands palm outstretched outwards and downwards in the manner of Goya’s peasant before the firing squad. I formalised the drawing into a line and put a circle round it.”

The design was a popular success, and almost transcended its original intent, first adopted by the American Civil rights movement, then the anti-war movement, eventually becoming the ubiquitous emblem of peace.

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The inspiration: Goya’s “Execution of the Defenders of Madrid.”
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Similar Symbols:
Runes- algiz runeRunes- algiz rune
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The symbol of the Martinist Order, known most commonly as the “Martinist Pentacle.” The components are a Seal of Solomon, representing the Old Testament, a cross, representing the New Testament, and a circle, which represents the gnostic Ouroboros. The Order, a nineteenth century mystical order founded by mystic Gerard Encausse (Known better by his nom de plume, “Papus.”) and based on the teachings of eighteenth century philosopher Louis Claude de Saint-Martin. The order is a Kabbalistic initiatory system which has been recently revived.
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Martinist Pentacle
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The triangle of art represents the protected space outside the magic circle, into which spirits are compelled to appear in Solomonic ritual magic. Typically, the central circle is inscribed with the sigil (seal) of the spirit to be invoked. The usual form is of a triangle, circumscribed with various words of power, containing an inner, blackened circle. The purpose of the triangle is to contain the manifested entity. In some cases, the triangle is created as a physical object; sometimes, the central circle is replaced with a black scrying mirror.

Triangles from various grimoires

Related Symbols:

Alchemical SulfurFire elementStar of Babalon

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The Black Sun is a Nazi emblem consisting of three swastikas arrayed within a circle to form a sun design. The black sun symbol is found in the ornamental floor design of Wewelsburg Castle in Germany, Himmler’s “World center” for the Nazi party, the headquarters of Hitler’s SS.

The design was drawn for Heinrich Himmler from an old aryan emblem, and was meant to mimic the Round table of Arthurian legend- each spoke of the sun wheel represented one “knight” or Officer of the inner SS. The spokes are made up of the same sowelo rune that forms the logo of the SS.

The “black sun” and its attendant mythology has fueled a number of bizarre conspiracy theories involving UFOs, secret societies, the hollow earth, and worse, none of which have any real basis in fact.

The Wewelsburg sun should not be confused with the alchemical black sun, a symbol of unrevealed spiritual potential.

Related Symbols:

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The astrological glyph for the sun, and the alchemical symbol for Gold. This symbol originated in ancient Egypt as a symbol for the sun God Re. The sun represents the pinnacle of spiritual development and human achievement.

For more, see: Point in the circle

 

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The Solar Disk Re
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Related Symbols:
Coptic CrossAssyrian winged solar disk
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The symbol representing the constellation and astrological sign of Pisces, the fishes. The last sign of the Zodiac, Pisces is the fishes, a water sign. Pisces is the ruler of the current equinoctial age, and an emblem of early Christianity. The symbol for pisces is derived from the vesica pisces (meaning literally, womb of the fish), which is created by the intersection of two circles:
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Pisces emblem, from the earliest known Christian church in Meggiddo, Israel
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Related Symbols:
Sheela-na-gigMessianic seal
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The Rosicrucian rose is another form of the Rose or Rosy Cross, a Christian symbol originating in the first century. It was adopted as a Hermetic occult symbol during the English Renaissance and was re-popularized by the Nineteenth century magical order the Golden Dawn.

The equal-armed cross symbolizes resurrection and rebirth, the earth axis, and the world of matter; the rose, the unfolding nature of spiritual growth, the blood of Christ, awakening. The two emblems combined show thew triumph of the spiritual over the material. The history of the Rose Cross is an unusual one. It has been linked with the equilateral red cross of the Knights Templar. The appearance of the rose cross in “Christian” art and poetry is often taken as a secret communication of heresy- the worship of the Goddess Venus, or even secret tantric sex practices, particularly in connection with the medieval troubadours.

For example, a Catholic rosary spread flat reveals a symbol of the planet Venus- a circle surmounting a cross. If one draws a line connecting the five beads of the “mysteries” (that is, the five large beads in the circle), a pentagram is formed- the “Rose of Venus.” The pentagram is a symbol of the Planet Venus, as it is the shape it forms on its travels through the heavens. The name “rosary” means “garland of roses,” and early Rose Cross imagery mimicked the shape of the rosary.

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Rose Cross spacer Rose Cross
Robert Fludd’s Summum Bonum; inscription reads, “The Rose feeds the Bees” Rosicrucian seal of Martin Luther
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The “Mark of the Beast” as shown at right is a creation of Ritual Magician Aleister Crowley. The name of the symbol, which functioned in some ways as Crowley’s personal seal, was a play on his magical moniker “To mega Therion,” (The Great Beast).

In the simplest terms, the image is a symbol of the masculine principal, and is usually paired with its feminine counterpart, the seven pointed Seal of Babalon:

The mark is constructed of three overlaping circles plus one half circle, echoing the number of revolutions in the mark’s associated ritual, and the number of coils in the kundalini. The uppermost circle is the alchemical sigil of the sun; the half circle below is the lunar crescent. The resemblance to male genitalia is, of course, intentional.

Related Symbols:

Star of BabalonUnicursal hexagram

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The symbol and the idea for the International Banner of Peace were both composed by artist, mystic, and activist Nicholas Roerich. Drawn from various historical symbols, the figure was meant as a cultural equivalent to the Red Cross. The banner, meant to be flown over cultural landmarks, was conceived as a symbol of the “Roerich Pact,” a treaty between nations designed to protect historical, cultural, and artisitc heritage. The circle represents the unity of human culture; the three circles represent art, science, and religion- the three main vehicles of culture. The pact, signed in the presence of Franklin Roosevelt, guarantees the protection of cultural sites even in times of war- museums, scientific institutions, schools, galleries, and the like are to be considered neutral and protected even during conflicts.
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Madonna Oriflamma, a painting created in 1932 to promote the Roerich Pact.
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Similar Symbols:
DruidCrescent moon
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sglossarybaphometThis enigmatic figure, known as Baphomet, was first described during the trials of the Templars, a medieval order of Crusader Monks accused of Heresy, witchcraft, and other crimes. The Order, founded in 1118 by nobleman Hughes de Payens, was the first of a number of “Military Orders.”

Originally conceived as a means of protecting Christian pilgrims to Jerusalem, the new order excited the public imagination, and they became extraordinarily popular. They were exempted from taxation, and had amassed great wealth and property by the 13th century.

Eventually, with all this money and power, the Templars became a political threat to the Church and especially King Phillip of France, who issued secret orders (using contrived information) to have all of the Templars in France arrested. Torture elicited hundreds of confessions of various crimes and heresies. The laundry list of unlikely crimes included spitting on the cross, denying Christ, and worshiping an idol; namely, a grotesque bearded head (other descriptions conflicted) called Baphomet.

Indeed, a number of supposedly Templar artifacts have surfaced which bear an image of an unusual male/female hybrid which resembles alchemical drawings of the soul of the world. Historians over the years have debated the possibility that the Baphomet rumor was true or an artifact of torture, and many suggestions about the origin of the word have been put forward. Some have proposed that the name is a corruption of the name Mohammed, or from the Greek, a phrase meaning “baptism of wisdom,” or “Bufihimat,” Moorish-Spanish for “father of wisdom”. Others have suggested more intriguing possibilities- that baphomet is a kabbalistic cipher for the Gnostic Goddess Sophia, or a variant name for the Greek Titan Goddess of wisdom “Metis.”

The interpretation of Baphomet pictured above was drawn by the nineteenth century occultist Eliphas Levi (Alphonse Constant), using elements from various descriptions. It was drawn with the head of a Goat, a human body with cloven feet and wings. According to Levi, it was a revelatory figure, requiring study to understand. This particular drawing is quite popular with Satanists and Ritual magicians, for varying reasons. However, save for a few details, Levi’s connection between his version of Baphomet, and the legendary idol of the Templars is mostly nonexistent. Levi’s description of the figure:

“The goat on the frontispiece carries the sign of the pentagram on the forehead, with one point at the top, a symbol of light, his two hands forming the sign of hermeticism, the one pointing up to the white moon of the Quabbalic Chesed, the other pointing down to the black one of Geburah. This sign expresses the perfect harmony of mercy with justice. His one arm is female, the other male like the ones of the androgyn of Khunrath, the attributes of which we had to unite with those of our goat because he is one and the same symbol. The flame of intelligence shining between his horns is the magic light of the universal balance, the image of the soul elevated above matter, as the flame, whilst being tied to matter, shines above it. The ugly beast’s head expresses the horror of the sinner, whose materially acting, solely responsible part has to bear the punishment exclusively; because the soul is insensitive according to its nature and can only suffer when it materializes. The rod standing instead of genitals symbolizes eternal life, the body covered with scales the water, the semi-circle above it the atmosphere, the feathers following above the volatile. Humanity is represented by the two breasts and the androgyne arms of this sphinx of the occult sciences.”

Related Symbols:
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sglossaryagla A protective magical talisman, inscribed “AGLA,” designed for the reverse of the Sigil of Ameth by Dr. John Dee, under the [supposed] direction of the angel Uriel. It is a common form of an amulet already in use for several hundred years. (The image at right is a facsimile from Dee’s handwritten notes)

sglossaryaglaAGLA is a notariqon (kabbalistic acronym) of the biblical phrase “Ateh Gibor Le-olam Adonai,” “The Lord is mighty forever.” AGLA was considered a name of God by magicians of the middle ages and appeared in magical formulas for everything from protection to flying. By Renaissance times, the formula was a common inscription for amulets and talismans.  AGLA is used in its short form in a number of apotropaic circle-making formulas. The Golden Dawn used it as the “God Name” of the North quarter in the “lesser banishing ritual,” representing Earth, and in the GRP to represent the passive elements of water and Earth.

Agla also appears in Masonic  lore, and some Masonic scholars have suggested that AGLA was a substitution for the “Word which was lost,” a primordial name of God or magical incantation which may represent the tetragrammaton.

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A magical square from Reginald Scott’s “Discoverie of Witchcraft,” with God-names Detail from the 1427 “Ghent altarpiece” by Jan van Eyck; AGLA inscription in the floor tiles
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This symbol, called the vesica pisces (piscis) or “Jesus fish,” has an unusual history. Used almost exclusively today to denote membership in the Christian religion, the symbol once held a very different meaning (even to the early Christians who adopted it). The word usually found inscribed within, IXOYE (Ichthus), is Greek, meaning fish. The emblem became significant to Christians after St. Augustine, who extracted the word from the acrostic prophecy* of the Erythraean Sibyl, and applied the kabbalistic technique of notarikon (acrostic) to the word to reveal “Jesus Christ, God’s son, savior.”

The custom of early Christians to communicate by drawing a portion in the dust was carried over from the practice of the ancient Pythagoreans, who discovered the shape’s unique properties and made it an important part of their teachings. In earlier times, this glyph was associated with the Goddess Venus, and represented female genitalia. Early depictions of Christ depict him as an infant within the vesica (In this context, it is usually referred to as a mandorla, meaning ‘almond shaped.’), which represented the womb of Mary, and often, the coming together of heaven and earth in the body of Jesus (part man, part god). As such, it is also a doorway or portal between worlds, and symbolizes the intersection between the heavens and the material plane.

The shape of arches in Gothic architecture is based on the vesica. The shape of the vesica pisces is derived from the intersection of two circles, the Pythagorean “measure of the fish” that was a mystical symbol of the intersection of the world of the divine with the world of matter and the beginning of creation.

To the Pythagoreans, the whole of creation was based on number, and by studying the properties of number, they believed one could achieve spiritual liberation. The vesica pisces was the symbol of the first manifestation, the dyad (reflection) that gaves birth to the entire manifest universe. Within the vesica can be found the triangle, the tetrad, the square, the pentacle, and many more polygons, making the vesica a true symbolic womb. Adding a third circle creates a triquetra representing the trinity; continuing the pattern generates an image of the “flower of life” or “fisherman’s net.”

Curiously, the New Testament story of the loaves and fishes secretly reveals the geometric formula for the fish shaped device, as does the story of the miraculous catch:

“Simon Peter went up, and drew the net to land full of great fishes, an hundred and fifty and three: and for all there were so many, yet was not the net broken. (John 21:11) ”

The construction of the vesica is also detailed in the Parable of the net. (Mathew 13:47-53)

This is little remarked upon by Bible scholars and usually ignored by Christian bible interpreters. You can read more about the hidden biblical symbolism of the Vesica Pisces here.

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Saint pictured within a mandorla Concealed vesica pisces in an Albrecht Durer engraving
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* According to St. Augustine: “the verses are twenty-seven, which is the cube of three. For three times three are nine, and nine itself, if tripled, so as to rise from the superficial square to the cube, comes to twenty-seven. But if you join the initial letters of the five Greek words which mean, ‘Jesus Christ the Son of God, the Saviour,’ they will make the word, that is, fish, in which word Christ is mystically understood, because he was able to live, that is, to exist, without sin in the abyss of this mortality as in the depth of waters.”

See also: Anchor cross, ichthys wheel

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Related Symbols:
Sheela-na-gigFlower of life
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