John the Baptist as a Baphometic Wild Man

The following is an excerpt from Baphomet: The Temple Mystery Unveiled, by Tracy R. Twyman and Alexander Rivera.

Briefly we mentioned before the figure of Oannes, the sage with a fishtail who came out of the sea each day to teach rude humanity the civilized ways. Interestingly, it seems that some comparative mythologists have connected this character to none other than John. We first became aware of this because of a throwaway line from Robert Graves, who wrote in The White Goddess: A Historical Grammar of Poetic Myth that:

Oddly enough John the Baptist seems to have been identified by early Christian syncretists in Egypt with the Chaldean god Oannes who according to Berossus used to appear at long intervals in the Persian Gulf, disguised as the merman Odacon, and renew his original revelation to the faithful.

Searching for more information on the subject, we discovered what early twentieth century Viennese writer and historian Richard Eisler wrote in Orpheus The Fisher. They appear to imply that John was actually a reincarnation of Oannes! As the text states:

We should not hesitate even to presuppose that the same syncretism of John and Oannes, which seems so natural with Neo-Babylonian Gnostics [the Mandaeans], existed also among the more immediate Jewish followers of the Baptist, seeing that . . . influence of the Babylonian belief in ever new incarnations of the primeval Oannes—Berossus knows as many as six such reincarnations in past times. . . .


Another passage from that same book by Eisler says even more:

I am fairly convinced that the rapid propagation of John’s ideas, and especially the spreading of his fame into the low-lands of South Babylonia, has indeed a good deal to do with the striking resemblance of his traditional name to that of the primeval Babylonian fish- and fisher-god, the teacher and lord of all wisdom.

So we have an alleged etymological connection between Oannes and Ionnes (John’s original Greek name), as well the association with fish and water symbolism that both figures have. John is associated with fish not only because of his baptisms in the river, but also because his namesake is the prophet Jonah. You will recall that this hero from the Old Testament spent three nights inside of a sea creature, variously called either a “fish” or a “whale,” that Jewish legends and cabalists unanimously link to Leviathan.

Another piece of evidence cited by Eisler to prove his point connecting John and Oannes was that the latter reportedly ate nothing when he was above the ocean’s surface giving mankind lessons in wisdom, just as the former reportedly ate nothing but locusts and wild honey. If we analyze John in what Robert Graves would call a “mythopoeic” manner, we see that John’s purported itinerant lifestyle (living in the wilderness, eating bugs, wearing a hair shirt, ranting and raving in public like a lunatic) connects him with the archetype of the “wild man” discussed in the previous chapter, including the figures of Pan, Puck, Dionysus, Hermes, and the Green Man.


The hair shirt, symbol of John the Baptist in Christian Iconography, from the book Our Christian Symbols

In the Catholic liturgical calendar, John’s feast day falls on June 24th, also known as “Midsummer’s Day” (or to modern neo-pagans, “Litha,” embracing an Old Saxon term). This is most certainly a day in which the Wild Man is celebrated. Falling on or around the Summer solstice, this is when the Green Man-related character known as the “Oak King” would be venerated in the British Isles, before paganism was completely stamped out. It was Midsummer Night, on which Shakespeare invoked Puck in his famous play. Midsummer Night was also called the “Honey Moon” night in Britain because it was considered the best time to harvest honey. Of course, honey is something we can connect with John. This connection was not missed by Tobias Churton inThe Mysteries of John the Baptist: His Legacy in Gnosticism, Paganism, and Freemasonry, where he wrote:

The solstice coincides with what used to be called the “honey moon,” the origin of our costly nuptial abandon. . . . A marble figure attributed to Leonardo’s workshop, now in the Kaiser Friedrich Museum, Berlin, depicts a youthful John the Baptist gracefully gazing at a honeycomb held in his left hand (an allusion to John’s wild honey diet; Mark 1:6). One wonders if this Midsummer link to honey may have informed the traditional idea of Masons as “busy bees.”

Taking the iconotropy a step further, Churton connects the honey to Dionysus and thus, Dionysus to John, via Leonardo da Vinci, who painted and drew many images of John. After analyzing several of those, Churton writes this:

Underlying the ambiguous and arguably pagan inspiration of Leonardo’s John is the existence of a similar work, thought to have been painted between 1510 and 1515 by a follower of Leonardo from a drawing by the master. The painting has a dual identity. It is known both as St. John in the Wilderness and as Bacchus, the god of religious ecstasy, wine, and intoxication.

. . .

[The painter] chose to add vine leaves to the figure’s head and leopard spots to John’s hairy loincloth. A vine wreath added to the Baptist’s former staff transformed it into a Bacchic thrysus, Dionysus’ sacred staff borne by his wine-intoxicated followers. According to Euripides, the thrysus dripped with honey. . . .

Although it may seem strange to connect a prophet known for abstaining from wine with the very god of the vine himself, Churton is definitely onto something. He also talks about “John’s role here as one incarnating the divine Hermes, the psychopomp leading the soul upward through the waters to a higher life. . . .” Churton suggests that the baptism in this Gospel might actually be secretly hinted at as having taken place in the Underworld, with the river Jordan symbolically representing the rivers of Hades that one must travel to get from the realm of the living to the realm of the dead. He writes:

Symbolically, the “ferryman” may then be seen as John-Hermes. Hermes, remember, was seen in Hellenistic tradition as a “psychopomp”: literally a guide of souls through the darkness of death to the other side, the herald of another world attainable only through death.

As Churton points out, many others have connected the figure of John to that of Hermes before:

Less than a decade before Leonardo painted his late masterpiece . . . German artist Conrad Celtes . . . produced a woodcut wherein . . . the Greek god Hermes appeared as a straight stand-in for John the Baptist. . . . Celtes simply hooked into the idea of Hermes as the divine messenger and made the identification of John-Hermes by reference to the . . . understanding of John the Baptist as revered “forerunner” or herald of Christ: the one crying in the wilderness.

The most famous statue of Hermes by Giovanni da Bologna (which, according to Edith Hamilton’s Mythology: Timeless Tales of Gods and Heroes, is what makes him the most recognizable Greek god to modern people) shows him pointing a finger up to the sky in the same manner that John the Baptist is often shown doing, particularly in Renaissance art. However, he has several times also been depicting with his other hand pointing downward towards the Earth, just like Eliphas Levi’s depiction of Baphomet, doing what we will call the “As above, so below” pose.

John the Baptist by Leonardo da Vinci

The reason why St. John’s Day is near the summer solstice is because Luke 1:36 tell us that Mary’s cousin Elizabeth was already six months pregnant with John when Mary conceived Jesus. Since Jesus was born on Christmas (ostensibly), near the winter solstice, putting John’s birthday on Midsummer Night just made sense. In Freemasonry, both John the Baptist and John the Evangelist are considered their two main patron saints. The Evangelist’s feast day in on December 27th, while the Baptist’s, as we know, is on June 24. It has been quite common historically for Masonic lodges two have mandatory meetings scheduled twice a year on the feast days of the “two Johns.” During Masonic initiations, an illustration is used called the “Masonic point within a Circle.” It shows the two Johns standing astride a circle with a dot in the middle, possibly representing the orbit of the Earth around the sun, with the solstices, represented visually with pictures of the two Johns, on either end. In this Masonic icon, the Baptist is always shown in the Baphometic “As above, so below” pose described above, wearing his hair shirt.


Masonic symbol of the Point Within a Circle with the Two Johns, with the Baptist depicted as the Wildman in the Baphometic pose


Modern depiction of John in Baphometic pose


Eliphas Levi’s depiction of Baphomet

John the Baptist’s feast day is on his birthday, which is unusual for a Christian saint, since they are usually honored on the anniversary of their martyrdom, and John’s story ended just as badly as those of other saints. But there is a date fixed for that event, which happens to be August 29th. Tobias Churton points out that this coincides with the time of wheat and barley harvest in the western world. This would have been around the time that the traditional English folk song “John Barleycorn” (famously performed by the band Traffic on their fourth album, John Barleycorn Must Die) would have been sung. This creepy tune talks about killing and dismembering the title character in a seemingly sacrificial manner that appears to be connected to harvest rituals, and he may have been named “John” with the beheaded Baptist in mind. The connection seems close enough for Churton to definitively write:

The beheading of John became linked to a profound archetype, rooted in ancient conceptions of the head of wheat and barleycorn being severed to fulfill the promise of life and abundance for the people. . . .


Bacchus, a.k.a. John the Baptist by Leonardo

Interestingly, the time in which churches celebrate the “Baptism of the Lord” (January 19th for the Orthodox, and the first Sunday following January 6th for the Catholics) is close to the time (January 20th) when the sun enters the house of Aquarius, the water-bearer.

There is yet another pagan “Wild Man” entity that Churton saw fit to connect with John the Baptist: the aforementioned Pan. To hear him tell it, the waters of the sacred Jordan may have actually been the waters of Pan. He mentions that there was a sanctuary and sacred spring dedicated to Pan called Paneas, issuing from none other than Mount Hermon (where the Watchers landed on Earth from Heaven, according to The First Book of Enoch). He says it may have been the source of the river that John used to baptize people:

We must presume that John the Baptist would have come to Paneas also. How could he not? For in his day, a giant spring used to gush from a limestone cave whence the waters wove their way down to the Huela marshes, thence southward. According to Josephus, this mighty spring was held to be the source of nothing less than the living waters of the holy River Jordan: “Now the fountains of Jordan rise at the roots of this cavity outwardly; and, as some think, this is the utmost origin of Jordan” (Wars 1:21:3).

So by linking John to this half-goat fertility god, Churton presents what can obviously be construed as yet another symbolic link between the Baptist and the idea of Baphomet. The other obvious link, besides the fact that the Templars revered him, is that his head was severed, and the Baphomet idols purportedly used by the Templars took the form of a severed head or skull. The idea that the Baphomet head might have been John’s is written about in almost every nonfiction book ever penned about this dark chapter in the Templars’ history.

John’s connection with Freemasonry is interesting. Of course, it is assumed to have been absorbed from the Templars. Tobias Churton points out that, before the Grand Lodge of London completely took over and homogenized the craft in the eighteenth century, there was a time during which the members of lodges who had not yet been incorporated were known cryptically as “St. John’s Men.” It was clear at the time that the St. John they were referring to was the Baptist. However, after the Grand Lodge takeover, Churton notes that the Masons began celebrating John the Evangelist as well, and he seems to think they did this to muddy the waters and make it hard to tell which John was really special to them. He quotes from the famous Sloane Manuscript, a fifteenth-century collection of texts on file in the British Museum, which contains a script for a Masonic ritual in which the candidate must state that the first Masonic “word” was “given” at “the Tower of Babylon,” and that the first Masonic lodge, back then, was called the “Chapel of St. John.” So here we have John and the origins of Freemasonry connected to the Babylonians, and perhaps an echo of their priesthood’s initiation into the rites of Oannes, the memory of which may have been later transposed onto the figure of the Baptist.

This brings us to the next noteworthy quotation, from The Cauldron & the Grail: Ritual Astronomy & the Quest for Enlightenment, by Hank Harrison. Here he talks about the Greek rites of Eleusis, an offshoot of the Dionysian cult, and how they would drink hallucinogenic intoxicants proffered to them by Pluto, the lord of the underworld, who would then transform into a “man-fish” like Oannes and reveal to them secret, sacred wisdom:

In the rituals of Eleusis, as enacted at the height of Athenian power in the Greek Golden Age, it was crucial that Pluto entice Persephone in her human form into a state of expanded consciousness. She must see more in order to understand the mystery. To do this Pluto has her drink a psychotropic substance from a special goblet, the Kykion—another proto-Grail. Pluto then transforms himself into Iakchos—an anthropomorphic man-fish who performs a passion play, based on ritual astronomy. This is not a strictly Atlantic ritual. Clearly the man fish can be traced to Vishnu and the Vedic scriptures. But the Atlantic contribution is also apparent, especially in the transformation process and in the fact that the audience becomes an intrinsic part of the mystery. At Eleusis the spectators sing hymns to the man-fish, a figure who shows up fifteen hundred years later in the Grail literature as the Fisher King. Only Iakchos can return the maiden Persephone (essentially the vessel of the Grail) to the world of light and only the Fisher King can reveal the Grail secrets to Perceival.

Of course Oannes is linked to John, as we have established, and “Iakchos” brings to mind “Jack,” a common nickname for men named John, as well as “Bacchus,” the Roman term for Dionysus. In some versions of the above-mentioned rite, it is Dionysus himself who is transformed into “Iakchos” or “Iacchus.”

. . .


Persephone baptizing an initiate at the ancient Rites of Eleusis.

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