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The Vacuum - Issue 16 - Satan spacer The Vacuum - Issue 16 - Satan
What is the Goat Connection?
by Neal Alexander
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It is a sad index of our capacity for wilful misunderstanding and perverse prejudices that within Western culture and iconography the noble goat : bearded grass-cropper, climber of ziggurats - is commonly associated with nameless infamy, occult practices and, perhaps most of all, the Devil himself. What is the Devil connection? The problem can be traced back to the New Testament Gospel of Matthew, in which Christ prophecies the Final Judgement in the following terms: 'When the Son of Man shall come in his glory, and all the holy angels with him, then shall he sit upon the throne of his glory: And before him shall be gathered all nations; and he shall separate them one from another, as a shepherd divideth his sheep from the goats: And he shall set the sheep on his right hand, but the goats on the left' (Matthew. 25. 31-3). Continuing the Judaic tradition of figuring God as a good shepherd, this simile (tending towards allegory) neatly dispatches all goats to endless perdition and a long association with Old Scratch. However, the Bible typically represents Satan in the form of a serpent or a dragon, and it is principally through the folkloric beliefs of the Middle Ages that the Devil assumes some of the physical characteristics of our much maligned friend, the goat.
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As Jeffrey Burton Russell - who has the slightly dubious distinction of being a world authority on 'diabology' explains, the medieval Devil's appearance 'varied even more widely than his name', but often crystallised in the form of a serpent, goat, or dog. Typically depicted as monstrous or deformed, the Devil gradually became conflated with a number of pagan 'horned gods', whose bestial appearance fitted the bill for what is essentially 'the principle of evil made flesh'. These included the Babylonian bull-god, Nimrod; the Celtic god of the hunt, Cernunnos; and, most importantly, the Greco-Roman pastoral deity, Pan, who combined the attributes of man and goat with an incorrigibly lascivious nature. In medieval engravings and reliefs the Devil is frequently portrayed as a sort of satyr, with cloven hooves and the torso of a man, his Dionysian capacity for disorder and revelry indicated by his huge erect phallus. Sex and evil are, of course, a favourite Christian dyad, and elderly gentlemen who have the audacity to retain an interest in making 'the beast with two backs' are commonly known as 'old goats'.
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The modern association of goats with the Devil is, however, perhaps more closely associated with the mysterious figure of Baphomet, the Sabbatic Goat Lord who was supposedly worshiped by the Knights Templar between the twelfth and fourteenth centuries. That 'Baphomet' is probably a corruption of 'Mahomet'(Mohammed), and the accusations of heresy were likely fomented by King Philip IV of France as a means of disbanding and destroying the order, does not seem to have prevented this myth from growing in popularity and lurid detail over the years. In his 'Witches Sabbath' (c.1821-1823), the Spanish artist Francisco Goya explicitly draws on the diabolical connotations of the Baphomet figure, representing Satan as a Black Goat Lord surrounded by a group of seated women who are offering him their dead infants. Why they are doing this exactly is not entirely clear, although it's probably safe to say that something very sinister is going on and that the goat is in the thick of it.
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This depiction probably influenced the French occultist Eliphas Levi (pseudonym of Alphonse Louis Constant) who, in the mid-nineteenth century, was responsible for popularising what is now the most recognisable image of Baphomet: a seated, hermaphroditic figure bearing wings, a goat's head and cloven feet, with a flame projecting from its forehead and a caduceus at its groin. As Levi understands it, the Baphomet figure is radically ambiguous, uniting the principles of male and female, good and evil, darkness and light, heaven and earth, besides signifying fertility and embodying the four elements. Crucially, this figure was plagiarised by Pamela Coleman Smith and adapted as the basis for the Devil trump card in Arthur Edward White's 1910 Tarot pack; as a result this image became definitive for many who were ignorant of the greater symbolic significances attached to Levi's image. Even more significant, however, was Anton Szandor LaVey's adoption of Levi's 'Sigil of Baphomet' as the master icon of his Church of Satan (founded in 1966) and as the cover image for his highly controversial book, The Satanic Bible (1969). The sigil, which consists of an inverted pentagram containing a goat's head and enclosed within two circles, is widely recognised as an icon of Satanism, not only because of LaVey's initial appropriation but also through its reproduction by countless dodgy metal bands. Not the least of these was Newcastle-based 'black metallers' Venom, whose debut album, Welcome to Hell (1981), bears a nearly identical icon in red on a black background. In this way, embarrassing rockers and sullen teenagers everywhere promulgated the notion that goats were in some way intrinsically diabolical ; 'In League with Satan' as Venom eloquently expressed it ñ or were at least to be recognised as a symbol of evil. This pervasive prejudice has meant that sheep continue to smirk smugly in their broad green fields, secure in the knowledge that their woolly goodness and docile obedience guarantees them a place in the cloud pastures of a Christian heaven. Goats, by contrast, are ornery, bolshy; they act the goat, so to speak, and probably have good cause to do so. But as our Billy has it, them sheep can just go to hell.
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