The Left Hand Path

By Vexen Crabtree 2002 Feb 24

What are left-hand-path religions, where does such terminology come from, and why is left-handed frequently associated with such negative things by traditional world religions?


1. Left Hand Path in the West

Book CoverSatanism is not a white light religion; it is a religion of the flesh, the mundane, the carnal - all of which are ruled by Satan, the personification of the Left Hand Path.

"The Satanic Bible" by Anton LaVey (1969)
Book Of Lucifer 3:paragraph 30

The Left Hand Path is solitary, individualistic, personal, based on self development, self analysis, self empowerment. Altruism is materialistically equated as long term selfishness. I think all forms of Satanism are considered Left Hand Path, even Devil Worship and inverse Christian-Satanists are Left Hand Path, although they are frequently considered deluded. Frequently called "evil" and "dark" by non Satanic religions, the followers of the left hand path often have had to remain in the darkness or face severe persecution from the religions that ironically call themselves "good". This is testimony enough that the image of the purely "good" icons is a veneer; a non-truth.

Features of LHP philosophies frequently include:

Freethought, Individualism and moral relativism
Left Hand Path philosophies all have an emphasis on freethought; not dogma or strict systems. The "rules" in LHP religions are frequently merely "guidelines". The same attitude is applied to all knowledge, including that of the knowledge of reality and morals. Subjectivism and relativism are almost universally assumed amongst followers of the left hand path.

Personal Belief, not Universal
Left Hand Path philosophies do not claim that they are the best religion for all people and frequently claim they are only a valid religion for some people. "Satanists are born, not made" LaVey. Satanism and the LHP is striking for the lack of missionizing. This is probably the result of the admission that no religion, philosophy or belief system is suitable for all people.

Book CoverThe term 'Left-Hand Path' has become an umbrella term of self-designation used by certain contemporary ritual magicians and is usually taken to incorporate practitioners of Thelemic magick (beginning with Aleister Crowley), Tantrik magick, and Chaos Magick (inspired by both Crowley and the magickal techniques devised by the occult artist Austin O. Spare, 1886- 1956). The notion of the Left-Hand Path is derived from the Tantric term vama-marga ('left-path'), i.e., the Left-Hand Path in Tantrism. [...] Its usage represents a deliberate attempt by Left-Hand Path magicians to transcend the outmoded and value-laden dichotomy of 'black' versus 'white' magic [...] because it is held to reflect the 'moronic oversimplicity of the Judeo-Xtian distinction between good and evil'.

"Left-Hand Path Ritual Magick" by Richard Sutcliffe
In "Pagan Pathways" by Graham Harvey & Charlotte Hardman (1995) [Book Review]1

Kennet Granholm writes on the features of left-hand-path religions in his chapter in "Contemporary Religious Satanism" by Jesper Aagaard Petersen (2009)4:

2. How the Terminology Entered the West

The beginnings of the usage of the term in the West is unclear, but some theories are that it entered Western thought via either Helena Blavatsky and the Theosophists or via the Tatar Invasions.

2.1. Helena Blavatsky and the Theosophists

Madame Blavatsky and the Theosophists brought many Hindu, Buddhist and Indian mores to the West, massively influencing Western occultism, magical thought, New Age religion and exposing the West to many 'new' religious ideas.

The origin of the term Left-Hand Path can be traced back to the form of Indian religion called Tantra, where a distinction between various traditions is expressed in the terms Vamamarga [the left wat] and Dakshinamarga [right]. [...] The popularisation of the terms can probably be attributed to Helena Petrovna Blavatsky of the Theosophical Society, who used them in her work The Secret Doctrine [1888].

Kennet Granholm
In "Contemporary Religious Satanism" by Jesper Aagaard Petersen (2009)4

John Smulo adds:

The use of this term in Tantra certainly predates its use in Satanism. However, the term LHP is used in a different sense in this context. Tantra practitioner Dinu Roman writes, "Tantra is also called Vama Marga, i.e. The Left Hand Path, due to the fact that women, who are of lunar influence, negative polarity or the left, play an essential role in this Science."

Wild believes that Helena Blavatsky, co-founder of the Theosophical Society, was influential in the promotion of the term. He writes, "These self-denying paths are labelled the Right Hand Paths - a term that has its origins in the work of Blavatsky, who labelled magical practices that she liked as Right-Hand Path, and those she disliked as "immoral" as Left-Hand Path. Occultists after her picked up this habit, especially Crowley, who helped the word come into general 'occult subculture' use. The term is probably derived from Indo-European Tantric practices, which have filtered into the modern Western folklore survivals, an example is left as 'sinister' in heraldry (and handwriting)."

John Smulo

2.2. Tatar Invasions

There is an alternative belief that has some following in the various Satanic communities. That "it entered into the west - where black/white magic started to be used - due to the Shamanist Tatar invasions"Anon.

3. Left Handed People have been Shunned across the World

3.1. The Righteous Right, and the Satanic Left

Book CoverThe left has become nearly universally shunned. The right has been associated with all things good and pure whilst the left has been shunned as unholy, evil and relegated to inferiority [Gregory 1987, Gooch 1984]. Although Gooch says that "the left is universally unlucky in the classical world", in "The Oxford Companion to the Mind" by Richard L. Gregory (1987) the author says that "this symbolism has pervaded nearly all cultures (except the Chinese)".

"Ancient Greeks and Romans regarded the left side as inferior and profane, and in medieval times use of the left hand was associated with witchcraft" [Gregory 1987]. In New Zealand the Maoris considered the right side to be godly, representing life; the left side is dedicated to demons and the devil, representing death. Muslims believe good spirits speak into peoples' right ears, but evil spirits speak into the left. In medieval Europe the Devil is drawn with its left hand outstretched. Amongst North American Indians the right represents bravery and virility but the left signifies death and burial. In China you must eat with the right hand. The Nuer people of Africa, the Dutch Indies local native populations and many other old cultures bind the left arm to put it out of use 'for long periods', especially in the young and with left-handed people. Throughout the African continent the right is good and the left is evil. In some places wives should never touch their husbands' face with their left hand. The same patterns persist in South America: The right is good, is life, is divine but the left is female, bad, evil and morbid. Pythagoras set out in his Table of Opposites that the right hand side, male; lightness, was the opposite of the left hand side that was female, and darkness. Schools until recent decades used to "correct" (meaning: 'with the right') left-handed pupils.

Catholic Schools until surprisingly recently used to punish those who dared write left-handed because they were presupposed to be working for the devil - such children were "corrected" - a word which itself means "with the right".

3.2. Christianity and Islam

Book CoverIn Judaism and Christianity the right side of the body represents the first stage of Creation, daytime, consciousness, Adam, Man and active power. The left represents the second stage of Creation, Earth, matter, right, Eve, Women and receptivity. In alchemy, the right and left hands reflect conscious and subconscious actions, the active and passive. Right symbolizes solar and left lunar.

"1000 Symbols" by Shepherd, Rowan and Rupert (2002)

In the Koran and the Christian Bible the elect and God's favourite sit on its right hand side, and the damned on its left. In the Gospel of Matthew the author has Jesus place God's followers (the sheep) on its right and the goats (non- followers) on its left hand side (Matthew 25:33). The Catholic Church held for over a thousand years that being left handed made you a servant of the Devil and that anything left-handed was evil. [Gooch, 1984] Muslims forbid the touching of any holy scripture with the left hand. Jesus sits on the right hand of God. In pictures of the Last Judgement the Christian God shows his disciples their new heavenly abode with his right hand, and points with his left to hell. The Left Hand Path, therefore, being the demonic, the diabolical and the Earthly path to Hell.

3.3. Etymology

The word 'left' in many languages is associated with evil, trouble or the devil. In Latin 'left' comes from 'sinister'. The same pattern repeats in many cultures and societies.

Left is Bad: The Greek root "dexter" that gives us the word "dextrous" (skilful) means "on the right", and occurs in Indo-Iranian, Celtic, Lithuanian, Slavonic, Albanian, Germanic and elsewhere. "Left-handedness generates endless nicknames, which right-handedness never acquires. [...] The standard word for left also always means something totally derogatory. 'Left' itself (from Old English lyft) means 'weak, worthless, womanish'. Italian mancino means 'dubious, dishonest', French gauche means 'awkward', Latin sinister is English 'sinister' [...] Among the Nyoro in Africa, for example, 'left' means 'hated', and in Japan [it] means 'crazy'" [Gooch, 1984]

Right is Good: "Right" apart from "dextrous" variously means direct, erect, erection, correct, regal, royal, regiment, rights, forthright, upright, dignity, decent, decree, doctrine and so on.

3.4. Exceptions

It is not completely universal that left has been inferior to right. In Eastern symbolism, left (Yang) is male and right (Yin) is female.

When an Emperor faced South to receive homage for his subjects, the sun was on his left, which was therefore the superior side. In Japanese Shintoism, the ropes (Shimenaw) that demarcate a sacred place are twisted to the left because it is considered to be the lucky side.

"1000 Symbols" by Shepherd, Rowan and Rupert (2002)

4. The Left is Feminine, Lunar, and Sexual

Stan Gooch highlights the fact that in the vast majority of cultures, from every continent from Africa, Asia, Australasia, Europe and the Americas, the the "left" is normally associated with femininity and the "right" with masculinity. This is despite the fact that more males are left-handed, but let's not let mere facts interfere with the superstitious religions of the world, eh?! The reasons for this association are lost in time. Gooch points out that because the left hand is frequently weaker than the right that this might have lent itself to the comparison to womankind.

The left has also frequently been associated with the lunar sphere - therefore with the night, the bad and uncanny spirits of the world, and with devilry. Most religious traditions have involved either sun-worship or nature-cycle symbolism: The sun makes the crops grow and is good, and the moon represents dark, hard times, and is clearly Satanic.

"Tantra practitioner Dinu Roman writes, "Tantra is also called Vama Marga, i.e. The Left Hand Path, due to the fact that women, who are of lunar influence, negative polarity or the left, play an essential role in this science"5

A "left handed whore" was a Roman term for masturbation3. "Left" has had sexual connotations in many ancient cultures including Hindu and Buddhist thought.

5. Causes of Lefty Phobia

Being Left Handed has, for some reason, become associated with devilry and bad luck. Superstitions that differentiate between left and right always consider the left to be bad, unfortunate, cursed, poisonous and satanic and the right to be good and pure [Gregory, 1987]. Perhaps it is merely a form of xenophobia, a kind of fear based on occasional subconsciously perturbing physical movements of those that are left handed.

5.1. The Dirty Left Hand

Part of the reason for the distaste of the left hand has to do with the sanitary habits of early man and of the Arab world. As the right hand is biologically our dominant hand, the left hand was used to clean ourselves after defecation. As such, food is not handled with the left hand, it is an offence to offer to shake someone's hand with your left hand. In the Arab world when text (representing God) was holy, it could not be touched with the left hand. It is not only Eastern thought that contains these feelings towards the left. It appears to be really quite universal, appearing in most religions and cultures the world over. Early Native American mothers would tie their babies' left arms to make them righthanded, matching the customs of some Catholic schools during the Dark Ages (and beyond). I do not know if the sanitary methods of the Native Americans also lend themselves as an explanation, if not, then the search for the reasoning behind the Earth-attachment of the Left goes on! But we see that there is a potential basic biological/anthropological reason why the left hand is unclean, and this no doubt has been given religious interpretation from time to time.

This ultimately primitive source of the avoidance of the left hand has lent itself, over time, to a richer and more abstract symbol of anything taboo or bad symbolized by a left hand path, taken by those who are naturally inclined (left handed), of a rebellious persuasion, or who are foreign and strange. These three attributes have suited rather a large number of non-mainstream thinkers, Satanists promote the label willingly. We are of the left hand path... luckily Western sanitation means this is no longer an actual health risk!

5.2. Left Handed Excellence

Left handed people are disproportionately gifted (as well as handicapped & insane), "one is struck by the quite outstanding contributions of 'lefties', academically, artistically and in all branches of sport. In many cases they are the very by-word of excellence, that is, they are the oustanding individual in their particular fields, as the following brief list of left-handers shows: Beethoven, Michelangelo, Leonardo da Vinci, Goethe, Nietzsche [...]" [Gooch, 1984]

5.3. The Occult

Stan Gooch points out that there is a high incidence of the left-handed amongst practitioners of many occult arts and proposes that part of the reason for the historical dislike of left-handed people is that they are noted for their uncanny skills and unnatural talents. These provoke fear and distrust in more normal people, hence the motivation to ostracize them.

But, there is a potential misunderstanding here. It may be that the cause-and-effect is the other way around. In the same way that if society punished ginger-haired people for being naturally anti-social, then those people would be made anti-social. It could easily be that because everyone associates left-handedness with a certain mystique and darkness that those people who are left-handed come to think of themselves in those terms and therefore take greater interest in occult and supernatural matters, as a matter of self-fulfilling prophecy.

6. The Biology of Left Handedness

According to most experts, about 90 percent of the world's population is right-handed. Of the remaining 10 percent, about half are "strongly" left-handed. Which is to say, in about 5 percent of people, the right hemisphere is dominant and controls language.

Almost twice as many males as females are left-handed. And according to British psychologist Marian Annett, more than twice as many artists, musicians, mathematicians, and engineers are left-handed as would be expected by chance. [...] About 10 percent of left-handers suffer from language disorders and reading disabilities, while only 1 percent of right-handers do. And recent studies suggest that left-handers are three times more likely to suffer severe migraine headaches and certain types of autoimmune diseases than are right-handed people.

According to Harvard neurologist Norman Geschwind, the cause for left-handedness may lie in testosterone, the male hormone. Geschwind believes testosterone slows the growth of the left hemisphere, thus favoring greater development of the right. "Consequently, males end up right-handed less often than females.

"Understanding Human Behavior" by James V. McConnel (1986)6

This underlying biology allows us to understand the way in which left handedness has been treated in history. Women have always been said to be more talented in the supernatural; is this perhaps due to the genius and artistry associated with left-handedness? Also, apart from the occult significance, the increased incidence of migraines and allergies (etc) would have also lend themselves to interpretation, in our superstitious past, as the afflictions of demons, and of the devil, on both women and left-handed people.

7. Conclusion

Left-hand-path religions are concentrated on individualism, freethought, intelligence and outstanding abilities and gifts. The term "left hand path" may have entered the West's vocabulary from the East via either the teachings of Helena Blavatsky and the Theosophists or from the shamanist Tatar invasions. Conversely, "Right-hand path" religions concentrate on the symbols of goodness, of the sun, of herd mentality and submission to god(s) and religious authority. Satanism is one of the few left-hand-path religions, and proudly so.

The word "sinister" comes from the Latin word for the left. In nearly all languages the etymology of words and saying associated with the left are negative and fearful. The Left is frequently associated with femininity due to its monthly cycle, therefore with blood, and also with night-time and darkness. It is feared. The Right therefore has always represented the Sun, and in most religions that includes God, therefore pitting the female, dark, Satanic, lunar left against the solar, Godly, male right. The association of the left with diabolism, devilry, outstanding talent, psychic abilities and the right with goodness is so ancient it defeats investigation, but perhaps has a basis in some of the biology of left handedness. Christianity and Islam and all other major religions and cultures ostracize left-handers. It may result from the sanitary habits of societies and peoples in pre-modern times who used their left hand to clean themselves after defecation because the right-hand is normally the dominant hand, and it may also result from lefties being better represented amongst the freaks, geniuses and gifted people of the world. In either case it seems that the phobia of strange left-handed people lives on in our language and culture. This fear, in Satanism, is faced and accepted full on without the guilt-ridden barriers that other religions erect.

Read / Write Comments

By Vexen Crabtree 2002 Feb 24
http://www.dpjs.co.uk/lefthandpath.html

Links:

References: (What's this?)

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The Bible (NIV). The NIV is the best translation for accuracy whilst maintaining readability. Multiple authors, a compendium of multiple previously published books. I prefer to take quotes from the NIV but where I quote the Bible en masse I must quote from the KJV because it is not copyrighted, whilst the NIV is. [Book Review]

Gooch, Stan
The Origins of Psychic Phenomena: Poltergeists, Incubi, Succubi, and the Unconscious Mind (2007). My references are to the original edition published as "Creatures from Inner Space" (1984, hardback) by Rider & Company, London, UK. The edition linked to here is published by Inner Traditions 2007; information retrieved from Amazon UK on 2007 Dec 14. [Book Review]Chapter 11 is on left-handedness. Some relevant citations by Gooch come from the following sources (original reference numbers intact):

65. Robert Hertz, 'The Pre-eminence of the Right Hand: a Study in Religious Polarity' in Rodney Needham (111)
111. Rodney Needham, 'Left and Right', University of Chicago Press, 1973

Gregory, Richard L.
The Oxford Companion to the Mind (1987). Oxford University Press, Oxford, UK. Quotes from 1987 reprint.

Harvey, Graham & Hardman, Charlotte
Pagan Pathways (1995). First published by Thorsons 1995. All quotes taken from Thorsons 2000 edition. [Book Review]

Quote 1: From an essay by Richard Sutcliffe. From the preface: "Richard Sutcliffe is a PhD research scholar currently engaged in research connected with the Department of Anthropology at the University of Sydney, Australia, and Univerity College, London. He is currently conducting fieldwork in the Pagan and Magickal subculture in Britain with particular emphasis on the role of mythopoeic imagination in magick."

LaVey, Anton. (1930-1997)
The Satanic Bible (1969). Published by Avon Books Inc, New York, USA. Anton LaVey founded the Church of Satan in 1966.

McConnel, James V.
Understanding Human Behavior (1986). Hardback 5th edition. Originally published 1974. CBS College Publishing, Holt Rinehart and Winston, New York, USA.

Nietzsche, Friedrich. (1844-1900)
On the Genealogy of Morals and Ecce Homo (1887). Translation by Walter Kaufmann published in 1969 October by Random House, Inc. The Amazon link does not link to the same version that I have quoted from.

Petersen, Jesper Aagaard
Contemporary Religious Satanism (2009). Hardback. An anthology. Published by Ashgate Publishing Limited, Surrey, UK.

Shepherd, Rowan & Rupert
1000 Symbols (2002). Published by Thames and Hudson Ltd.

Footnotes

  1. Harvey & Hardman (1995) p110. Added to this page in 2002 Nov.^
  2. 2003 Nov 05: Appended quotes from "1000 Symbols" by Shepherd, Rowan and Rupert (2002).
  3. History's Bias: Also lists many other sayings and terms associated with left handedness.^
  4. Kennet Granholm PhD, "Embracing Others than Satan: The Multiple Princes of Darkness in the Left-Hand Path Milieu" in Petersen (2009) ch.6 p87-89. Added to this page on 2010 Nov 24.^^
  5. John Smulo.^
  6. McConnel (1986) p39.^

© 2013 Vexen Crabtree. All rights reserved.

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