The following is an excerpt from Baphomet: The Temple Mystery Unveiled by Tracy R. Twyman and Alexander Rivera.
. . .This brings us to the famous alabaster “Ophite Bowl” found in Syria and dated from the third to fifth century. According to Kurt Rudolph in Gnosis: The Nature and History of Gnosticism, there is actually a controversy over whether this relic belonged to the Ophites, as the ritual depicted inside seems Ophitic, or if it came from the mysteries of Orpheus, as the inscription on the outside of the bowl seems to imply. Either way it is pertinent to our inquiry, as both Orphism and Ophitism seem to have contributed to the stream of tradition that may have eventually influenced the secret practices of the Knights Templar.
Let us consider what we see depicted inside of this bowl. We see a serpent surrounded by sixteen naked initiates arranged in a circle, each making an obscure ritual hand gesture towards the snake as if in veneration. Ewa Osek remarks on the Ophite bowl in “Hermes’ Tablet (Nonnus D 41.343-44): An Allusion to the ‘Orphic’ Gold Leaves?”
Delbrueck and Vollgraff, who examined this bowl in the early 1930s, excluded the possibility of forgery. They maintained that this was an alabaster copy of the metal original, both (copy and original) impossible to date more precisely than to AD 300–529. “The special importance of the bowl”—the scholars claim—“lies in the fact that it is, so far as we know, the only representation of a cult-scene . . . from the jealously-concealed Orphic mysteries.” This led them to the conclusion that the radiant snake, pointing at the omphalos, had to be Phanes, the Orphic god of the sun. Hans Leisegang (1955), who saw the vessel in question a few years before them, supposed it was associated with the cult of the heavenly serpent worshipped by Gnostic sects (Ophites, Sethians, Naassenes) as well as by the Orphics, who sang their Bacchics to honor Phanes, envisioned as dragon.
The image of the winged serpent in the center of the bowl brings to mind the caduceus, the double-snaked staff of Hermes. Note that the snake here is coiled, much like the Hindu yogic “kundalini serpent,” which is said to be “coiled” energy hidden dormant within the human spinal column. It is “released” when the devotee has done yogic practices or spiritual meditations to manipulate the subtle energy centers (called “chakras”) along the spine. This may be connected to the “Nagas” of Kashmir, which were likely the Hindu equivalents of the Ophite Gnostics, venerating Hindu, Buddhist, and Jainist “Devas,” or deities who were depicted with the lower bodies of serpents. The concept of the kundalini is very similar to how the Naassenes allegorized the serpent as a presentation of the spinal column combined with the pineal gland (the “third eye”) within the brain. As reported by Hippolytus (The Refutation of All Heresies):
. . . They adduce the anatomy of the brain, assimilating, from the fact of its immobility, the brain itself to the Father, and the cerebellum to the Son, because of its being moved and being of the form of (the head of) a serpent. And they allege that this (cerebellum), by an ineffable and inscrutable process, attracts through the pineal gland the spiritual and life-giving substance emanating from the vaulted chamber (in which the brain is embedded). And on receiving this, the cerebellum in an ineffable manner imparts the ideas, just as the Son does, to matter; or, in other words, the seeds and the genera of the things produced according to the flesh flow along into the spinal marrow.
The imagery in the bowl has been taken by most writers on the subject to represent the sacred orgies celebrated in secret by the Ophites, as described by Epiphanius. In The Panarion (1.37.5:5-5:8), he wrote that the Ophites held a Eucharistic ceremony which included kissing snakes.
And therefore these people who possess the serpent’s portion and nothing else, call the serpent a king from heaven. And so, they say, they glorify him for such knowledge and offer him bread. For they have a real snake and keep it in a basket of some sort. When it is time for their mysteries they bring it out of the den, spread loaves around on a table, and call the snake to come; and when the den is opened it comes out. And then the snake—which comes up of its own accord and by its villainy—already knowing their foolishness, crawls onto the table and coils up on the loaves. And this they call a perfect sacrifice. And so, as I have heard from someone, not only do they break the loaves the snake has coiled on and distribute them to the communicants, but each one kisses the snake on the mouth besides—whether the snake has been charmed into tameness by some sort of sorcery, or coaxed by some other act of the devil for their deception. But they worship an animal of that sort and call what has been consecrated by its coiling around it the eucharistic element. And they offer a hymn to the Father on high—again, as they say, through the snake—and so conclude their mysteries.
This ritual sounds exactly like the depiction of a ritual found by Joseph von Hammer-Purgstall, also on a ceremonial bowl that had been discovered on a former Templar property. In that image we see naked men and women kissing snakes on the lips. Similar bowls, along with images from cups coins, and the walls of cathedrals, also depict children, and animals such as dogs, bears, and camels, involved in what Hammer-Purgstall interpreted as ceremonial rites of bestiality and pederasty. They show women suckling snakes to their breasts, and blasphemous acts, like a naked woman using a water pitcher to put out the candles on a menorah, to represent extinguishing the light of the Judaic god and tradition. If these were truly ritual practices borrowed from Gnostics sects, it could explain what Justin Martyr meant, in a passage that will be quoted in the next chapter, when he spoke of the “upsetting of the lamp” as a deed that certain heretics had been accused by their enemies of doing (1 Apology 26).
Another counterpart to the Ophite/Orphic ritual seen in the bowl is the so-called “Gnostic Mass” of the OTO previously mentioned. This ritual—which culminates in an act between a priest and a naked priestess on top of an altar, obscured from view by a curtain—involves the congregants performing the exact same hand signal as those seen in the Ophite bowl. This is made with the left hand raised, with flat palm, above the head, and the right hand placed flat over the heart. The OTO calls this “the Hailing Sign of the Magician,” and it can also be found in Duncan’s Ritual of Freemasonry, where it is called “the Sign of a Fellow Craftsman.”
Ceremonial bowls were used throughout the ancient world for conjuring, and even trapping, spirits. They were also used to collect fluids, such as blood, baptismal water, and Eucharistic wine, used in rituals. Magical or holy bowls and cups also appear quite frequently in mythology. The most well-known to the Western audience is that of the Holy Grail, which is a mythic item tied directly to the Knights Templar. In the Grail stories, the knights who guard the holy relic are depicted in ways that make it quite clear they are Templars, and in Wolfram von Echenbach’s version of the tale (Parzival), he called them that explicitly. But what the Grail is, and the origin of the myth, has been debated for centuries.
Perhaps the most interesting connection in regards to our present inquiry has to do with the alleged “Baptism of Wisdom,” seemingly the best translation of the name “Baphomet,” and according to Joseph von Hammer-Purgstall, the name of an Ophite Gnostic ritual that the Knights Templar engaged in to conjure Baphomet. In The Corpus Hermeticum’s fourth chapter, the “Discourse of Hermes to Tat on the Mixing Bowl or the Monad,” Hermes explains that the Father of all didn’t give Nous(mind, intelligence, or wisdom) to every person born in the world. Rather, he put it in a “mixing bowl” which he sent down from Heaven, intending for humans to compete with each other for access to it, along with a herald to proclaim to us below:
Immerse yourself in the mixing bowl if your heart has the strength, if it believes you will rise up again to the one who sent the mixing bowl below, if it recognizes the purpose of your coming to be.
All those who heeded the proclamation and immersed themselves in mind participated in knowledge and became perfect people because they received mind.
After hearing this, Tat understandably pleads: “I too wish to be immersed, my father.”
This Hermetic discourse is mentioned by Hammer-Purgstall himself in reference to the Baptism of Wisdom, which he describes as a “Baptism of Fire.” Here is a translation of Hammer-Purgstall’s words (from the first-ever English edition, soon to be published with commentary from Tracy R. Twyman):
Let us now take a look at the place in Hermes Trismegistus . . . where God sends a messenger with a bowl full of “Mens” [“wisdom”, or “mind”], where perfected souls tending towards gnosis are ordered to immerse themselves. Other patristic authorities [discuss] the mystical baptism of the Gnostics, and various words distorted out of Hebrew and other languages are adduced, of which one is [the Greek] “basema.” What wonder, therefore, if “baptism” was changed into “Baphen,” just as “Metin” [was changed] into “Meten.”
It was amazing to us when we stumbled upon this passage in The Corpus Hermeticumwhile researching the subject of Hermes for the purpose of writing this book. It was especially amazing considering that one-half of our team, Tracy Twyman, spent decades researching the subject of another sacred vessel, the Holy Grail, and had even written a book about it (The Merovingian Mythos and the Mystery of Rennes-le-Chateau, 2004), and has been writing about the subject of Baphomet for just as long, but somehow had never taken any special notice of this passage. We discovered it about the same time that we learned about the Ophite bowl, while studying Gnosticism. What was really strange was that as we found out from further reading, both the subject of the Ophite bowl and the Hermetic bowl of Mind popped up repeatedly in several very obscure references we were looking at. Emma Jung, writer and wife of Carl Jung, wrote about both topics in her book The Grail Legend, actually comparing and connecting the two. She said:
Think of that vessel filled with nous (understanding and consciousness) which is mentioned in The Corpus Hermeticum and which, as Hermes taught his pupil Thoth, was sent from heaven to earth so that men, plunging into it, might understand the purpose for which they were created. A vessel of this kind also played a part in the Gnostic mystery celebrations of late antiquity. In Hans Leisegang’s study, “The Mystery of the Serpent,” an illustration is given of a bowl that appears to have originated in an Orphic community. On it sixteen naked men and women, in reverential and worshipping attitudes, stand around a coiled and winged serpent, the symbol of the Redeemer and Son of God in the Orphic Gnosis. . . . In this bowl the Logos-serpent is clearly being worshipped by the initiates.
In the same section she mentions several other holy cups or bowls, including a tradition from Ibn Malik that God gave Mohammed a special green goblet of light “for thine enlightenment.” She also talks about a vision by the third-century Gnostic alchemist Zosimos of Panopolis, who, she says, “saw an altar in the form of a shallow bowl in which men in torment were being cooked and thereby sublimated into a state of spirituality.” Mrs. Jung pointed out that Zosimos himself, had in his own writings, mentioned the bowl of Mind from The Corpus Hermeticum, “in which he advises his soror mystica to immerse herself.” On this topic her husband once wrote that this bowl was “a font or piscina, in which the immersion takes place and transformation into a spiritual being is effected.” The transformation, however, is described as a very bloody and horrifying process. From Zosimus:
And when I had heard the voice of him who stood in the altar formed like a bowl, I questioned him, desiring to understand who he was.
He answered me in a weak voice saying, “I am Ion, Priest of the Adytum, and I have borne an intolerable force. For someone came at me headlong in the morning and dismembered me with a sword and tore me apart, according to the rigor of harmony. And, having cut my head off with the sword, he mashed my flesh with my bones and burned them in the fire of the treatment, until, my body transformed, I should learn to become a spirit. And I sustained the same intolerable force.”
And even as he said these things to me and I forced him to speak, it was as if his eyes turned to blood and he vomited up all his flesh. And I saw him as a mutilated image of a little man and he was tearing at his flesh and falling away.
The decapitation and dismemberment process described here reminds us of the decapitation of John, and the ritual dismemberment of both Dionysus and Orpheus, as celebrated in their respective mystery cults. The vomiting up of one’s own flesh sounds like something out of the movie Hellraiser. What we are talking about is the alchemical process of spiritual sublimation, the nigredo, wherein all things are dissolved into blackness—what St. John of the Cross called the “Dark Night of the Soul.” It might also be what Jesus and John the Baptist both referred to as the “Baptism of Fire.” For many Gnostics, Hermeticists, and alchemists, this is a personal process of self-transformation through meditation, ritual, and various processes designed to dissolve ego awareness. We do not deny, however, that some may have also performed ritual sacrifices or other dark deeds with the purpose of soul transmutation.
In the case of modern Aleister Crowley acolytes, it may involve both. Above the Ordo Templi Orientis there is a secret inner circle is called the “Argentum Astrum” (the Silver Star), consisting entirely of people who have gone through a ritual called “Crossing the Abyss.” It is supposed to be a form of ego death, after which the initiate is “reborn” as a master magician. The idea is that the self is dissolved in the “Abyss” of primordial chaos. Normally, this sort of experience either kills or at least mentally destroys the average person, and they are never the same again. But a true master, they say, can go through this, burn off the dross of his false self (the common ego), and come out retaining his true self (the super-ego). He then realizes his “True Will” or personal destiny.
This is analogous to being dissolved in the Hermetic bowl and retaining your true self, thus being able to recognize “the purpose of your coming to be.” It is something not for the weak, but only, like with the Hermetic baptism, “if your heart has the strength, if it believes you will rise up again.” This concept of “crossing” or “immersing” yourself in the Abyss, a process which only the elect few are able to pass through still whole, is also related to a repeated theme found in mystery cults in which a soul (either after death, or during the transformation of an initiation ritual) is offered two cups. One brings forgetfulness of the previous life (filled with water from the river Lethe [“forgetfulness”] which flows through Hades), while the other allows he who drinks it to retain his memory even after death or transformation, and on into the new life or new form. The Gnostic Pistis Sophia talks about “Adamas,” in this source the equivalent of Hermes, and someone described as “a receiver of the Little Sabaoth [the Lords of Hosts]” offering these two cups to recently discarnate souls:
And there comes Ialouham, the receiver of Sabaoth, the Adamas [ie, Hermes] who gives to the souls the cup of forgetfulness, and he brings the water of forgetfulness and gives it unto a soul [and it drinks it], and it forgets all things and all places unto which it had gone. Afterwards there comes a receiver of the little Sabaoth . . . and he himself brings a cup filled with understanding and wisdom, and sobriety is found in it, and he gives it to the soul and they cast it into a body that will not be able to sleep nor to forget, because of the cup of sobriety which is given to the soul, but the body will lash the soul’s heart continually to seek after the mysteries of the Light.
In support of spiritual baptism and tincture of fire were the sculptured bowls at the feet of our idols, and full of fire, so that it might become well-known how that mystic rite should be administered. A double representation of the same thing is brought to view. The first is of an infant (which means a neophyte Gnostic) be placed by Mete at the pedestal to this bowl; the other of a boy of this type standing over a flaming bowl.
In the same text he also talks about the concept of the two vessels that one can drink of after death, writing that there is “a double bowl [that] pertains to souls; the one part, oblivion, leading to generating (Greek, geneseos), the other part to Sophia, to wisdom.”
When one thinks of a bowl or a vessel containing wisdom, one obvious connection to make is with the image of the human head, the cup that holds the brain, the presumed organ of mind and, as Plato, Socrates, and later Descartes would have said, the “seat of the soul.” Talking about the vessel used in alchemy, Emma Jung wrote:
The “Liber quartorum,” a Latin translation of a Sabean text, emphasizes that the vessel is “like the work of God in the vessel of the divine seed (germinis divi), for it has received the clay, moulded it, and mixed it with water and fire.” “This,” says [Carl] Jung, “is an allusion to the creation of man, but on the other hand it seems to refer to the creation of souls, since immediately afterwards the text speaks of the production of souls from the “seeds of heaven.” In order to catch the soul, God created the vas cerebi, the cranium.”
So if a person’s head is the cup or bowl that contains his mind, then could this Hermetic vessel, this cup of “universal mind,” be thought of as a giant “universal” head? Well actually, yes! In regards to this notion, the previously-mentioned work from Berossus (or from Alexander Polyhistor, supposedly quoting Berossus) contains a passage supposedly written by Oannes that is really worth reproducing here:
There was a time in which there existed nothing but darkness and an abyss of waters, wherein resided most hideous beings, which were produced of a two-fold principle. There appeared men, some of whom were furnished with two wings, others with four, and with two faces. They had one body, but two heads; the one that of a man, the other of a woman; and likewise in their several organs both male and female. Other human figures were to be seen with the legs and horns of a goat; some had horses’ feet, while others united the hind quarters of a horse with the body of a man, resembling in shape the hippocentaurs. Bulls likewise were bred there with the heads of men; and dogs with fourfold bodies, terminated in their extremities with the tails of fishes; horses also with the heads of dogs; men, too, and other animals, with the heads and bodies of horses, and the tails of fishes. In short, there were creatures in which were combined the limbs of every species of animals. In addition to these, fishes, reptiles, serpents, with other monstrous animals, which assumed each other’s shape and countenance. Of all which were preserved delineations in the temple of Belus at Babylon.
The person who presided over them was a woman named Omoroca, which in the Chaldean language is Thalatth, in Greek Thalassa, the sea; but which might equally be interpreted the moon. All things being in this situation, Belus came, and cut the woman asunder, and of one half of her he formed the earth, and of the other half the heavens, and at the same time destroyed the animals within her (or in the abyss).
All this was an allegorical description of nature. For, the whole universe consisting of moisture, and animals being continually generated therein, the deity above-mentioned took off his own head; upon which the other gods mixed the blood, as it gushed out, and from thence formed men. On this account it is that they are rational, and partake of divine knowledge. This Belus, by whom they signify Jupiter, divided the darkness, and separated the heavens from the earth, and reduced the universe to order. But the animals, not being able to bear the prevalence of light, died. Belus upon this, seeing a vast space unoccupied, though by nature fruitful, commanded one of the gods to take off his head, and to mix the blood with the earth, and from thence to form other men and animals, which should be capable of bearing the air. Belus formed also the stars, and the sun, and the moon, and the five planets.
Since the cosmos is a sphere—a head, that is—and since there is nothing material above the head (just as there is nothing of mind below the feet, where all is matter), and since mind is a head which is moved spherically—in the manner of a head, that is—things joined to the membrane of this head ([in which] is the soul) are by nature immortal.
This head symbolism may even figure into one of the epithets of Hermes Trismegistus, “Poimandres” (originally taken to be Greek in origin) thought derive from the late Egyptian peimentere, meaning “Mind of Re” (the sun god), which could also mean the “head of Re.” From the description above, it is as if we should view this primordial cosmic head as a ceremonial bowl as well, in which elements are mixed to create the brew of divine gnosis in which initiates seek to be baptized. It seems worth noting here that in some of their rituals, Freemasons drink out of ceremonial chalices made from (or made to look like) human skulls inverted. The symbolism seems appropriate for a Templar-derivative order, and now we know for sure what it means.
With these symbols—the bowl and the head—some of the seemingly divergent aspects of this secret doctrine of Gnosis come into clearer view. The head is the cup. The cup contains wisdom. He who is immersed in the wisdom of the cup dies to himself, and is reborn. The Baptism of Wisdom is not for the faint of heart. It is the wisdom of death. The head, especially as a skull, represents both wisdom and death. This cup or bowl, although it be a cup of chaos, of the Abyss that tears one’s soul apart, is also overflowing with the greatest revelation of insight achievable by man—if you can stand to drink of it. When Jesus’ disciples asked to be allowed to sit by him in Heaven, he asked them, in Mark 10:38 (KJV):
Ye know not what ye ask: can ye drink of the cup that I drink of? and be baptized with the baptism that I am baptized with?
It should also be noted that one is not necessarily “reborn” from the baptismal waters in exactly the same form as one’s initial birth. There are many allusions in sacred writing comparing it to being “dyed” like a colored egg at Easter. One takes on the coloring of whatever one is immersed into, and changed forever. In the apocryphal The Gospel Of Philip we are told:
God is a dyer. As the good dyes, which are called “true,” dissolve with the things dyed in them, so it is with those whom God has dyed. Since his dyes are immortal, they become immortal by means of his colors. Now God dips what he dips in water.
Another word for this is “tincturing.” The connection between tincturing and baptism was implied when Friedrich Nicholai wrote about the Baphomet of the Templars. Peter Partner, in The Murdered Magicians, tells us that “Nicholai maintained that Baphomet was a composite of two Greek words meaning “colour” (or by extension ‘baptism’) and ‘spirit.’” This describes the Baptism of the Holy Spirit that John the Baptist talked about as a tincturing process. This corroborates the “Baptism of Wisdom” interpretation of the name of Baphomet as well, since the Holy Spirit and Wisdom (Sophia) are considered to be identical or connected concepts in Christianity as well as in other mystical traditions.
The Mandaeans, whose baptism rite is called “Seboghatullah” (“Immersion in the Divine Mystery,” quite similar to the term “Baptism of Wisdom”), also compare it to being dipped in dye. Historically, there are two colors of dye that have been considered next to sacred because of their association with royalty. Tyrian purple, made from the excretions of sea snails, was extremely expensive and highly prized. In Acts 16:14, Paul converts and baptizes a very wealthy woman named Lydia who is described as a “seller of purple,” referring to this dye. The dye made those who touched it in its unprocessed state reek of rotting fish. (Because of this, the Jewish Talmud grants the right of divorce to women whose husbands take up the dying trade after marriage.)
After the Crusades, the use of the purple dye for royalty was supplanted in Europe with that of the scarlet-colored kermes vermilio (crimson), made from the mashed bodies of a certain species of locust that lived in the Kerm Oak in the Mediterranean. It was also made into a red liqueur called “alchermes” that was popular as an aphrodisiac until the twentieth century, when knowledge of its origin with bugs became widespread. According to Robert Graves, Jesus was actually clothed in a scarlet robe of kermes when he was crowned with thorns by soldiers in Matthew 27:27-30. Usually this incident is interpreted as a humiliating mockery, but some, like Graves, have suggested that the symbolism in the details all corresponds to the actual anointing of a king. Graves writes in The White Goddess:
St. John the Baptist, who lost his head on St. John’s Day, took over the oak-king’s titles and customs, it was natural to let Jesus, as John’s merciful successor, take over the holly king’s. . . . The scarlet-oak, or kerm-oak, or holly-oak, is the evergreen twin of the ordinary oak and its Classical Greek names prinos and hysge are also used for holly in modern Greek. It has prickly leaves and nourishes the kerm, a scarlet insect not unlike the holly-berry (and once thought to be a berry), from which the ancients made their royal scarlet dye and an aphrodisiac elixir. . . . Jesus wore kerm-scarlet when attired as King of the Jews.
The oak . . . gives the kirmis (Fr. Kermes), which, in the Gay Science, has the same significance as Hermes, the initial consonants being interchangeable. The two terms have an identical meaning, namely Mercury. At any rate . . . kirmis (Arab girmiz that which dyes scarlet) characterizes the prepared substance. . . .
. . . Open, that is to say, decompose, this matter. Try to separate the pure part of it, or its metallic soul as the sacred expression has it, and you will have the kirmis, the Hermes, the mercury dye which has within it the mystic gold, just as St. Christopher carries Jesus and the Fleece is hung on the oak, like the . . . kirmis, and you will be able to say, without violating the truth, that the old hermetic oak acts as mother to the secret mercury.