Some of you are already familiar with the terms and with the meanings behind them. For those of you who are not, this article was designed to provide a brief introduction to the concept of "Left Hand" and "Right Hand" paths.
Who Needs A Hand?
The concept of "Left Hand" and "Right Hand" paths originated in the Hindu Tantra, which is composed of two separate 'paths' - dakshinachara (Right Hand Path) and vamachara (Left Hand Path). Essentially, the difference is that in dakshinachara (Right Hand Path), the more "mainstream" Hindu religious practices such as meditation can be found; alternately, in vamachara (Left Hand Path), one encounters more "taboo" practices such as sexual rites and animal sacrifice, which diverge from traditional and accepted Hindu religious practices.
Besides the Hindus, the concepts of 'the left hand' and 'left-handedness' have been regarded as 'evil' and/or being symbolic of a rejection of traditional religion throughout many cultures.
Examples of Right Hand Paths and Left Hand Paths:
Right Hand Paths:
- Satanism - Symbolic & Theistic
An Illustration of Common Differences
In this segment, I will present several concepts followed by the common approaches to these concepts by both the Left and Right Hand Paths.
CONCEPT: The Self, The Person As An Individual.
- RIGHT HAND PATH: Typically regards the Self as spiritual in nature. However, a tendency exists to heavily separate concerns of the Ego from concerns of the True Will or Higher Self. Magick and acts for the purpose of self-attainment, self-gain and self-provision are generally viewed as indulgent, wasteful, selfish and in accordance with the desires of the Ego.
- LEFT HAND PATH: Typically regards the Self as worthy of worship and elevation. Concerns of the Ego and of the True Will are typically not separated, as they are regarded as one in the same. Magick and acts for the purpose of self-attainment, self-gain and self-provision are almost universally viewed as natural and are condoned and encouraged. The desires of the Ego are readily indulged in the belief that the Self is worthy of indulgence.
CONCEPT: The Divine, "God", Spirit
- RIGHT HAND PATH: Typically regards the Divine/God/Spirit as omniscient, transcendent and sentient. Relationships with a personal Deity are nurtured through worship, prayer and ritual. Divine guidance is sought for the understanding of the True Will. Divine aid is called upon in most common practices. The Ego is inferior to the Spirit or Higher Self and must be overcome for the soul to perfect itself through life experiences.
- LEFT HAND PATH: Sometimes regards the Divine/God/Spirit as omniscient, transcendent and sentient. May be Atheistic in approach to Deity with a pronounced emphasis on the idea of the Self, the Ego, as Deity incarnate. May often view the Self, the Ego, as part of a greater Source of Spirit, co-existing with sentient godforms and entities (Deities) - however, typically regarding the Self, the Ego, the Human Spirit to be equal to or greater than other sentient godforms and entities (Deities).
CONCEPT: Ethics, Dogma, Codes of Behavior
- RIGHT HAND PATH: Typically observes some form of dogmatic 'moral code' or system of ethics wherein the individual is expected, to some degree, to abstain from those activities, acts, behaviors and magickal workings which indulge the Ego or the individual in favor of more altruistic approaches. Often regards acts of indulgence as abetting the wasteful desires of the imperfect Ego. Typically holds to rigid ideals and societal expectations.
- LEFT HAND PATH: Typically denounces most forms of dogmatic 'moral codes' or systems of ethics which suppress the individual and/or the Ego. Commonly favors those activities, acts, behaviors and magickal workings which promote and condone the indulgence of the Self, the Ego. Generally believes that there is 'no such thing as a selfless act'. Does not regard the desires of the Ego as wasteful and/or deviating from any 'True Will' as the Ego is typically believed to be the same as the True Will, Higher Self. May or may not disregard rigid ideals and societal expectations.
CONCEPT: Obedience to a Higher Power or Will
- RIGHT HAND PATH: Generally adheres to some sense of inferiority to Spirit, The Divine, God, Higher Will. May or may not observe an obedience to the 'Will of the Universe' or to a pre-destined 'fate'. May or may not regard Deity, Spirit as being more aware of what is 'best' for the individual and for mankind.
- LEFT HAND PATH: Generally rejects adherence to any sense of inferiority to Spirit, The Divine, God, Higher Will. Typically regards the Self as 'Godlike' or 'equal to God', thus being the supreme authority in regards to the needs of the individual and of mankind. Commonly rejects obedience to any Deity.
CONCEPT: Retribution and Karma
- RIGHT HAND PATH: Typically accepts some idea of Cosmic Justice, Karma, Karmic Retribution, Threefold Law as a Universal and supernatural means of Divine law and order. Additionally, may or may not believe in the concept of polar opposites of 'positive' and 'negative', 'good' and 'evil'.
- LEFT HAND PATH: May or may not adhere to the idea of Cosmic Justic, Karma, Karmic Retribution, Threefold Law as a Universal and supernatural means of Divine law and order, although, if adhering to the concept, regards it as exoteric. Typically does not adhere to any concept of polar opposites of 'positive' and 'negative', 'good' and 'evil'.
CONCEPT: Happiness and Spiritual Fulfillment
- RIGHT HAND PATH: Generally believes that happiness and spiritual perfection, fulfillment come from 'good' and/or altruistic deeds. May or may not believe that true salvation/happiness/spiritual fulfillment is only attainable through transcendence of the material plane.
- LEFT HAND PATH: Generally believes that happiness and spiritual perfection, fulfillment are solely the responsibility of the individual in each lifetime. Typically discards the belief in salvation by means of 'good' and/or altruistic deeds which result in spiritual reward.
CONCEPT: Material Wealth and Indulgence
- RIGHT HAND PATH: Typically believes that material wealth and indulgences are solely 'fodder' for the wasteful desires of the Ego. Generally conforms to the idea of the material plane as being a place of tests and hardships, a place to learn from and to eventually rise above.
- LEFT HAND PATH: Typically believes that material wealth and indulgences are necessary for the happiness and contentment of the individual, the Ego as the individual is responsible for his or her own happiness and spiritual reward. Generally rejects beliefs that the material plane is a place of tests and hardships, a place to learn from and eventually rise above, instead adhering to the idea that life is what the individual makes it - that mankind is the master of his own destiny
The Use of Symbolism in Left Hand Paths
One of the first things that one may or may not notice about some followers and/or traditions of Left Hand Paths is the usage of 'inverted' symbolism.
Some quickly attribute the reasoning for the usage of this symbolism to nothing more than 'shock value'. A common (and erroneous) stereotype, for example, of a 'Satanist' will depict a young teenage boy, dressed in all black and chains and wearing an inverted pentagram pendant around his neck. It is true that many teens attempt to shock their parents and their peers by dressing outrageously and claiming to be 'Satanists'. Sadly, however, in the United States, there have been instances of such teens being involved in school shootings and other criminal activity, further tarnishing the reputation of Satanism and other Left Hand Paths.
Though the stereotype is inaccurate, the inverted pentagram is a real symbol used by Satanists and other followers of the Left Hand Path. This inversion is not an act of 'perverting' a 'good' symbol for shock value, but it is a meaningful symbol in and of itself.
The five points of the upright pentagram represent the power of Spirit (the topmost point) reigning supreme above the four Elements of Earth, Air, Fire and Water (the material world), which are represented by the remaining points of the pentagram. In this symbolism, we have the representation of the belief of many Right Hand Paths in Spirit transcending the flesh - transcending wasteful material desires and distractions.
In the inverted pentagram, we have just the opposite of this. The five points of the inverted pentagram represent the power of the four Elements (the material world) in domination over the power of Spirit (now the bottommost point). In this configuration, we are now representing the belief of those who follow the Left Hand Paths in the material world being a place of importance, indulgence, lessons and, ultimately, what the individual makes it. There is no need to strive for the obscure goal of spiritual completion by means of transcending the flesh when spiritual completion and true happiness can be had in this plane.
Alternately, many Satanists and other followers of Left Hand Paths use the symbolism of inverted crosses and other 'reversed' versions of traditional religious symbols as a means to represent non-conformity and non-adherence to Dogma, rigidity and the yoke of religious institutions.
In short, labels are just that. Labels. In the end, everyone is in charge of his or her own happiness and fulfillment. Spirituality is just one piece in that very large puzzle. What we choose to call ourselves matters not in the grander scheme of things. With titles come identity and with identity comes acceptance. We humans are social creatures by nature and by nurture. What we seek is belonging and kinship and safety. Groups, families, societies, cultures - all of these are answers to our ever-longing questioning of 'where do I belong?'.
What you believe should not matter to anyone but yourself. We do not exist to fulfill someone else's spiritual void. What you call yourself is completely up to you. "Am I a witch?", "Am I a Satanist?", "Am I a Presbyterian?". Only you can answer that. Though we will always seek to belong to something...somewhere, never label yourself for your friends. Don't label yourself for your family. Be true to yourself - and 'me' is the only label you can ever truly be proud of.