UPDATE: On Monday afternoon, we received the following response from Neil Mello in New Bedford Mayor Jon Mitchell’s office:

“An unknown person or persons breached the fencing and left behind the item in question. City workers remove items that private parties sometimes attempt to place on public property, and that’s how it was handled in this case – it was removed by city workers.”

NEW BEDFORD — A depiction of the Gnostic figure Baphomet was placed among the holiday decorations in New Bedford’s Clasky Common on Sunday, but removed later on in the day.

The occult icon appeared in the park early Sunday in the northeast corner of the park, a wooden creation leaning up against the “Frosty’s Ice Fishing” shack in the spot where two wooden snowmen are depicted ice skating.

Tim Weisberg/Townsquare Media
Tim Weisberg/Townsquare Media

It was removed shortly after 6 p.m. Sunday, according to a witness who snapped a photo while walking her dog in the park. Multiple sources say it was removed by the City of New Bedford’s Department of Public Infrastructure, but that has not been confirmed as of this writing.

Courtesy Jessica Bregoli-Sparling
Courtesy Jessica Bregoli-Sparling

The winged goat-like figure was seen with a torch between its horns, along with the caduceus symbol, and two fingers on each hand pointing outward – the right hand toward the sky and the left hand toward the ground. Although it had a star between its eyes, it was not depicted in the traditional pentagram fashion usually found on Baphomet iconography.

Decorations at Clasky Common are put up by one of two entities: either the DPI or students from Greater New Bedford Voc-Tech, who create some of the displays. Because of its placement, it appeared that this piece was something someone had snuck into the display.

We spoke to several sources who stated that the artist who created the Baphomet piece did not wish to be identified or comment as to why it was placed there, but that it was done for inclusivity and not with malicious intent.

We reached out to a city spokesperson to find out who removed the Baphomet display and for what reason, but have not yet heard back – although it is important to note that among the many holiday decorations at Clasky Common, there is nothing overtly religious such as a manger scene, menorah, Star of David or any crosses.

Who Is Baphomet?

Despite its goat-like appearance, Baphomet is not a representation of Satan or the devil. It is a hermaphroditic creature designed to represent the duality in all things but how those differences can co-exist in peace and harmony.

According to Brittanica.com, “the first known mention of Baphomet was in a letter written in 1098 by Anselm of Ribemont describing the Siege of Antioch during the First Crusade. Anselm stated that the Turks ‘called loudly upon Baphomet.’ Most scholars believe that the word refers to Muhammad, the founder of Islam.”

The traditional depiction of Baphomet came about from an 1861 book by French occultist Éliphas Lévi, and was later adopted by British occultist Aleister Crowley for his “Gnostic Mass.”

The BBC once published a thorough breakdown of the symbology present on Lévi’s Baphomet, and on the New Bedford version, it’s safe to assume the few symbols included stood for much of the same meaning.

The torch of knowledge between its horns represented the ability of the soul to rise above the material and continue the quest for truth and wisdom. The caduceus represents the ability to have duality without conflict, and how we should embrace our differences. The two fingers of each hand pointing, one upward and one downward, are believed to represent the phrase “As above, so below,” indicating harmony among all things.

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What Baphomet Means for New Bedford

New Bedford artist Jessica Bregoli-Sparling walks her dog in Clasky Common and was delighted to see Baphomet on Sunday morning.

“Baphomet represents balance, order and harmony between humans and animals, humankind and nature,” Bregoli-Sparling said. “In these uncertain and tumultuous times, especially with the holidays approaching, Baphomet is a symbol of goodwill, equality and peace for all.”

“I think it's only fair given the amount of attention given to Christian holidays,” she said.

Local artist Frank C. Grace of Acushnet has worked with the Satanic Temple in Salem, photographing the Baphomet statue there in what has become one of the more iconic images of it.

He said often the appearance of Baphomet is to offer balance to other religious iconography, such as when a large statue was commissioned to stand opposite a public display of the Ten Commandments.

“The reason they usually put it up is just a statement of religious rights, so if there are other religious icons in the park and the place is governed by the state or city, then they put him up as an equal rights kind of thing,” Grace said.

Lucky Cabral, a local witch who owns and operates Sanctum Folklorica in downtown New Bedford, said she spent the day online calming fears and educating people as to who Baphomet is and what the figure represents.

“At first it was very disheartening, because it’s really just fear of the unknown, which is a big thing,” she said. “But throughout the day, it’s been such an amazing, beautiful discussion on all fronts as people learned who Baphomet really is.”

Cabral said she personally “doesn’t like the Baphomet hype” because the symbol has been used as a political weapon rather than what it was originally intended to represent.

“I do wholeheartedly agree with Éliphas Lévi’s intent behind his drawing of it representing universal balance everywhere,” she said. “It’s so key that it was applied to a holiday display that was basically Christianity and the myths of Santa, and it’s time we got everybody represented.”

“There’s a little fire, and I’m hoping everybody roasts marshmallows around it and sings ‘Kumbaya,’” Cabral said.

A Future Appearance for Baphomet in New Bedford?

The Baphomet appearance has led to Cabral and Bregoli-Sparling having discussions about a potential all-inclusive holiday display in the city in the future.

“I want a giant circle standing in front of all of these different depictions of what the season means to people, and I want the people holding hands,” Cabral said. “I want to prove it’s possible to be human during this season, that it’s possible for everyone to love each other.”

“All are free to practice what they want, but also free to love their fellow man,” she said.

Holiday Decorations at New Bedford's Clasky Common

We took a stroll around Clasky Common in New Bedford to check out some of the holiday decorations before the lights came on and the crowds arrived. Fans of Edaville Railroad in Carver may recognize a few of these displays.

Behind the Scenes at Edaville in Carver, Massachusetts

We combed through the attic and climbed through the storage area and the attic at Edaville, everyone's favorite holiday-themed amusement park in Carver, Massachusetts to find some of the vintage decorations from the visits of our youth that are still kept on the grounds as well as in our hearts.

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