Many people find the image on this poster a little creepy. It's supposed to be.
It's even more startling when you see it in person - it's about 4' x 3' - and it's the first thing you see when you walk into the reading room for the Library and Archives new exhibition, Freemasonry Unmasked!: Anti-Masonic Collections in the Van Gorden-Williams Library and Archives.
The arresting goat-headed image on this poster is Baphomet, an invention by Éliphas Lévi (1810-1875) for his 1856 book, Dogma and Ritual of High Magic. Anti-Catholic writer Léo Taxil later incorporated Lévi’s Baphomet figure into an elaborate hoax which falsely linked Freemasonry with devil-worship. Taxil, whose real name was Gabriel Antoine Jogand-Pagès, sought to publicly embarrass the Catholic Church, which was traditionally opposed to Freemasonry, by winning their sympathy through his anti-Masonic hoax and then revealing it all to be an outlandish lie. Although shown here wearing a Masonic apron, Baphomet has no association with Freemasonry.
This poster was printed by Edward Ancourt & Co., a Parisian firm that today is well-known for having printed many of Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec's posters. The poster is an advertisement for an anti-Masonic book written by Leo Taxil, entitled The Mysteries of Freemasonry Unveiled. The French text at the top of poster translates to "At all the bookstores and newspaper shops." The text below the image indicates that the book was sold in parts ("livraison") - a common way of publishing books in the late nineteenth century. As a lure to get book-buyers to purchase the book, the publisher indicates that the first part is free ("La 1.ere livraison est gratuite..."). The French word for "free" - GRATUITE - is hard to miss.
The Curse of Baphomet, pictured here. In this booklet, Chick uses a quote that has been falsely attributed to well-known Freemason Albert Pike (1809-1891) that “Lucifer is God.” Léo Taxil made the quote up in the 1890s. Taxil's fabricated Pike quote has been repeated many times in print, and a quick web search reveals that this fabricated quote has made the leap from books to websites.
If you're interested in learning more about anti-Masonry, be sure to check out the annotated bibliography available at our website. One book that appears on that bibliography, Is It True What They Say About Freemasonry?: The Methods of Anti-Masons, is available in its entirety online. The authors, S. Brent Morris and Arturo de Hoyos, do an excellent job exploring the source of many anti-Masonic claims, including both the fabricated Albert Pike quote and Baphomet.
Les Mystères de la Franc-Maçonnerie Dévoilés par Léo Taxil [The Mysteries of Freemasonry Unveiled by Léo Taxil], ca. 1886, Printed by Edw. Ancourt & Co., Paris, France, Chromolithograph on paper.
National Heritage Museum, Van Gorden-Williams Library and Archives, A2000/80/1, Museum purchase. Photograph by David Bohl.
The Curse of Baphomet, 1991, Published by Chick Publications, Ontario, California
National Heritage Museum, Van Gorden-Williams Library and Archives, Vertical Files.