The Devil has cloven hoofs … what is all that about?

First of all, what is a cloven hoof, sometimes called a divided or split hoof or a cleft hoof? It is a hoof split into two toes (digits or claws). They are found on mammals such as cattle, goats, deer and sheep. So why, in some folklore, has a cloven hoof been associated with the Devil, and in particular, the goat?

We probably have all heard the sayings … old goat, get my goat, scapegoat, amongst others. Even the bible (Matthew 25:31-33) seems to have a poor opinion of the goat: “the Son of Man … will separate the people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. He will put the sheep on his right and the goats on his left.” We also know that anything left meant bad, evil and also devilish. The poor, innocent goat then sounds like it was condemned to hell.

Then there was the Greek deity, Pan; half man, half goat, with cloven hooves, hairy legs, nasty horns, a big goatee beard and protruding genitals. Pan was also, conveniently, a pagan, and gods of one age have often been turned into the demons and devils of the next.

1920px-Sir_Peter_Paul_Rubens,_Pan_Reclining,_possibly_c._1610,_NGA_56608

When the early Christian artists wanted to portray the Devil, they seized on the bulging sexual organs of the goat-like figure of Pan … god sent, so to coin a phrase. Clearly this image would have embodied a significant dose of wickedness to use for their illustrations – in their paintings, protuberant male sexual organs, positioned near a female, would not have needed any captions!

There is also the Baphomet, a deity that the Knights Templar were accused of worshipping. Knights Templar, the Order of Solomon’s Temple or Templars, were a Christian military organisation that existed during the Middle Ages. They were officially endorsed by the Roman Catholic Church around 1129 and they rapidly grew in membership and power. Templar knights, in their white mantles bearing a red cross, were highly skilled fighters during the Crusades in the Holy Land. But after the war was lost and with rumours of secret initiations and idol worship, many Knights were arrested in France, then tortured and burned at the stake.

The name of Baphomet appeared in trial manuscripts as a pagan idol during the 14th century Inquisition of the Knights Templar. All of this was subsequently incorporated into mystical and occult traditions. It came into English usage in the 19th century and was associated with occultists, such as Aleister Crowley and Eliphas Levi’s ‘Sabbatic Goat’, which contained binary elements that represented the ‘sum total of the universe’, e.g., male and female, good and evil, etc.

Eliphas Levi’s Baphomet

Eliphas Levi's Baphomet
The 19th-century depiction of a Sabbatic Goat, created by Éliphas Lévi (Dogme et Rituel de la Haute Magie, 1856).

Whilst Eliphas Levi was not a devil worshipper, there are many who would want to call all occultists such. As untrue as this might be, Levi’s Baphomet has become one of the most common symbols of devil worship, and Crowley, most certainly was believed to be performing devilish acts.

So the goat, with cloven hoof, has repeatedly been used and associated with evil. That is about as close as we can get to the origins and reasons behind this very strange relationship between the poor goat and the horrible entity known as The Devil.