I'm looking for deities or mythological creatures that symbolize the universe in the aspect that it manifests as a duality (which is for example symbolized by the Yin/Yang), but as a fictional organism/spirit rather than a plain symbol, an example would be Eliphas Levi's Baphomet who is an organism of united polar opposites (female/male, man/beast, angel/demon, good/evil).

Do any deities or creatures like that exist apart from Baphomet?

  • 2
    Hello. The image was a bit large, and I think it was unnecessarily stealing focus from the question. Feel free to put it back in if you feel it's essential to the question, but please consider using a smaller version if you do.
    – yannis
    Feb 6, 2017 at 16:29
  • @yannis I agree, it was too large. Feb 6, 2017 at 16:43
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    ShivShakti and Ardhanaeshwara from Hinduism?
    – user1385
    Feb 11, 2017 at 10:51
  • It's a very long list. When I get a chance I'll post a few. (Great question, btw.) At a high level, a very fine scholar of the classics once related to me that the entirety of Greek Mythology could be understood from the perspective of the "unification of opposites." This is a common theme in paganism which tends to be preoccupied with generative cycles. These cycles, for the most part, require the unification of the opposite sexes. The I-Ching was the first formalization of this idea in binary code, but the principle is pretty universal.
    – DukeZhou
    Feb 14, 2017 at 20:47
  • @DukeZhou Nice summation, have you formed your list yet?
    – user3358
    Feb 19, 2017 at 3:01

1 Answer 1


Dionysus is a great place to start—Baphomet is almost surely based, in part, on this figure.

  • Dionysus is sometimes depicted as the "horned god", encompassing the human/animal binary.
  • Dionysus the "Dying/Resurrected God", representing the life/death binary.
  • Dionysus is depicted with feminine attributes (long hair, "eastern" grooming which was considered feminized to the Greeks) suggesting the male/female binary.

Regarding gender, it's notable that gender reversal were part of the Dionysian Mysteries, appearing in such forms as transvestism and the female maenads taking on masculine attributes such as strength, ferocity, and freedom to roam. The Bacchae of Euripides is a very important source work. (At its core, the play is a commemoration of the dismemberment and his subsequent resurrection of the god, but even the Wikipedia summary provides a good sense of binaries dealt with in the play, primarily the tension between intellect and instinct, but also the dual nature of Dionysus himself.)

Persephone is, in some sense, the female counterpart to Dionysus. She represents grain (body), where he represents wine (spirit).

  • Persephone is both Maiden and Crone
  • Persephone symbolizes both growing and dying ("Summer"/"Winter")
  • She has two names, Kore ("Girl") and Persephone ("Destroyer")

Graves translates "Persephone" as "Bringer of Destruction": "πέρσε" + "φονή", although the second word, with an omega for the omicron, "φωνή" relates to sound, thus Persephone can also be understood as "She who robs (people) of their voice" (i.e. death) and by extension, life, as voice requires breath, and breath is literally spirit in psuke, pneuma, and the root of the Latin "anima"

Persephone is sometimes considered the mother of the primal form of Dionysus, and/or the nymph Melinoe, however, the sources are cloudy, originating from the "mysteries", and can be considered corollary. Even so, the binary of infertile/fertile can be represented by possible status as mother.

Eros is also certainly in this category, being thought of, alternately, as both the oldest and youngest of the gods. In the philosophical conception of Aristotle, drawing on Hesiod, Eros the principle (love, desire) is said to be quite specifically the "origin" of "all things that exist". Thus Eros embodies a binary (oldest/youngest) and presides over the unification of opposites (generation through unification of the sexes). Hesiod was drawing on ideas that would now be understood as combinatorics.

These deities are understood to be liminal, although the current Wikipedia entry on liminal deities is quite limited in scope, being concerned only with deities who literally preside over thresholds, as opposed to deities who actually embody oppositional qualities which form the thresholds they straddle.

Loki is a distinctly liminal figure:

  • Loki is sometimes Asgardian and also part jötunn.
  • Loki is both benefactor and nemesis.
  • Loki can become female

Loki tricks the giant who builds the walls of Asgard, and becomes female to bear Sleipnir (Gylfaginning), but he also is responsible for the death of Baldur, and is the central agent of Ragnarök which is a transition.

Loki is "bright" in the sense of cleverness, but also "dark" in the sense of spite. (It's probably not random that his punishment involves venom, and it's also possible that his name partly derives from the Indo-European root for light.)

Those are my favorites, but embodiment of such binaries can be seen in:

Two faces. Represents past/future, as well as other transitions.

Part animal, part human. Remover or placer of obstacles (facilitating or obstructing transitions). Literally a guardian of thresholds in that, in some version, he stood guard by his mother's door and refused to allow Shiva entry.

Both vegetable and human. Intersection of the mind and nature. Crowley's "The Fool" [See below] references the Green Man, who is very specifically straddling the body of the image, which may be interpreted as the phenomenal world, and also incorporates horns and a distinctly animalistic visage.

Dionysus variant.

Both god and man. Gateway to salvation. The cross, or "crux" is a literal representation of intersection.

These are just a few, famous examples, but the concept of liminality is central to all such figures.

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    Super job! Thanks. Pleasing to see the Christ included. A mythology often neglected because its adherents tend to "hate" the suggestion that it is mythology. Perhaps, as both angel and demon, bringer of light and source of darkness, Lucifer belongs on the list as well?
    – user3358
    Feb 20, 2017 at 7:42
  • @GypsySpellweaver Lucifer is a great example. (It's not a subject where I have much academic knowledge, but you should think about posting an answer, since Lucifer, like Dionysus, certainly influenced Lievi's Baphomet.) I have a personal hypothesis that Loki strongly influenced Lucifer--Loki was the adversary, but also beloved for being clever and interesting (Paradise Lost). Loki was very close with the Sky Father before transgressing and being cast out. Like the Morningstar, he is the agent of an apocalypse.
    – DukeZhou
    Feb 20, 2017 at 19:37
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    What little this student has to add fits well in a comment, and your comment draws even more parallels than I saw, even knowing the material behind them. Any answer I could give would only detract from, not enhance, the information you've given.
    – user3358
    Feb 20, 2017 at 20:12
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    What's that last image of / for?
    – Mithical
    Jun 24, 2019 at 9:43
  • @Mithrandir The Fool card from the Thoth tarot deck. (Most information dense tarot out there, thanks in no small part to the artwork of Lady Frieda Harris.)
    – DukeZhou
    Jun 24, 2019 at 19:48

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