The Left-Hand Path
Last Updated: 21 Nov 2015The term Left-Hand Path (LHP) originates from Hindu Tantra:
'Tantra is a set of esoteric Indian traditions with roots in Hinduism and later Buddhism (which is a separate Dharma formed from Hinduism). Tantra is often divided by its practitioners into two different paths: dakshinachara and vamachara, translated as Right-Hand Path and Left-Hand Path respectively. Dakshinachara consists of traditional Hindu practices such as asceticism and meditation, while Vamachara also includes ritual practices that conflict with mainstream Hinduism, such as sexual rituals, consumption of alcohol and other intoxicants, animal sacrifice, and flesh-eating. The two paths are viewed by Tantrists as equally valid approaches to enlightenment. Vamachara, however, is considered to be the faster and more dangerous of the two paths, and is not suitable for all practitioners. This usage of the terms Left-Hand Path and Right-Hand Path is still current in modern Tantra.'
Vamachara is not an undisciplined, 'orgy' type approach, but in a general sense contains more rules than Dakshinachara. In order to indulge in these earthly pleasures in such a manner so that they lose their power and hold over karma, one must approach it with the utmost discipline. An undisciplined approach would result in increased psychological addiction and ill health, which is not the desired outcome or goal.
The term Left-Hand Path was first used in Western occultism by Helena Blavatsky (the founder of Theosophy - pictured above) to describe sex magic. Aleister Crowley further popularized the term 'Left-Hand Path', referring to a "Brother of the Left-Hand Path," or a "Black Brother," meaning one who failed to attain the grade of Magister Templi with the AA (through fear and/or not letting go of the ego). Throughout modern history, many cultures have regarded the left-handed path as evil. This tendency can be seen in the etymology of words such as 'sinister', which means both "left" and "unlucky" in Latin. The left hand has often been used to symbolise the rejection of traditional religion.
Modern usage of the term Left-Hand Path often refers to those belief systems and religions that see themselves as diametrically opposed to mainstream religions, the 'darker' religions, choosing often to use inverted symbols, such as inverted cross and inverted pentagrams (e.g. Satanism). Examples of those religions and groups that label themselves as following the 'Left-Hand Path' including Theistic Satanism, Polytheistic Satanism, LaVey Satanism, Setianism (The Temple of Set and its sub-groups), Luciferianism, Gnostic Luciferianism, Dragon Rouge, Ordo Templi Orientis (Typhonian), Dark Paganism, Demonolatry, and Left-Hand Path Hinduism (i.e. Aghoris and Vamachara).
The Dragon Rouge logo is shown below. Notice the inversion of the triangle inside the circle. Dragon Rouge also uses a symbol similar to the Unicursal Hexagram of Thelema combined with a Chaos Magic symbol. The Typhonian O.T.O. is said to have influenced both Setianism and Dragon Rouge.
Dragon Rouge's web site is listed below. They are one of numerous LHP groups active today.
Some simply define the Left-Hand Path as being 'immersion' and the Right-Hand Path as being 'abstinence'.
It could be generally stated that the Left-Hand Path in Western Occultism is generally used to describe Satanism in its various forms: Luciferianism (containing elements of Satanism), LaVey Satanism, Theistic Satanism, Polytheistic Satanism and Dark Paganism (arguably almost identical to Polytheistic Satanism in many cases). It could be argued that Luciferianism and Gnostic Luciferianism could not exist without drawing on the archetype of Satan to some extent.
Baphomet is not infrequently used to represent the Left-Hand Path. It could be argued that Thelema and Chaos Magic in general also represent the Left-Hand Path. There are many different pagan religions and magical practices and Traditions that embody many aspects of the Left-Hand Path, for example, Freemasonry, The Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn, Rosicrucianism, Wicca etc. Some of these orders and religions (theoretically) display some arguably Right-Hand Path characteristics, for example, the universal brotherhood or Thelema and Freemasonry, white magic within certain branches of Wicca, etc. Thelema is however hugely more Left-Handed than Right-Handed. Freemasonry, depending on the branch and exact esoteric practices engaged in, is usually slightly more Right-Handed than Thelemic orders, given its charity work etc. This clearly depends on the Lodge, and some Lodges are definitely not Right-Handed in any way.
Quoting from Wikipedia:
'Left-Hand Path belief systems generally share the following properties:
- The conviction that individuals can become akin to gods, usually through spiritual insight.
- The conviction that there is no such thing as a selfless act. Fulfilling one's desire is acknowledged to be selfish, at the least reaping an individual sense of satisfaction. Altruism is considered self-deception, created and fostered by conventional religions.
- An exoteric interpretation of concepts like karma, divine retribution, or the Threefold Law, resulting in flexible rather than rigid codes of morality.
- The conviction that the individual is preeminent, and that all decisions should be made with the goal of cultivating the self (though not necessarily the ego).
- The conviction that each individual is responsible for his or her own happiness, and that no external force will provide salvation or reward actions which do not advance one's own happiness in this life.
- The conviction that the forces of the universe can be harnessed to one's personal will by magical means, and that power gained and wielded in such a manner is an aid to enlightenment, to self-satisfaction, and to self-deification.
- A Platonic view of deities as "first-forms." If deity is perceived as having consciousness, then all relationships with the deity are in the form of a partnership, or an alliance which does not require subservience. Some practitioners of Left-Hand Path belief systems summarize this concept with the statement that "prideful deities like prideful partners."'
The Left-Hand Path could be considered to be about philosophy, wisdom and illumination (illuminism). It is often associated with hedonism, sex, gratification of the senses, dark magic, excesses in many areas of life, materialism, apathy, pride, contrarianism, a desire for self-power, and drug use; sometimes power over others. It often embodies the concept of Nietzsche's Power to Will. Self-actualisation is not exclusively reserved for occultists, but is a philosophy adopted by capitalists, artists, those interested in personal development, etc. The left-hand path is sometimes described as including the merging elements, or the unifying elements, where the activation of the Self is seen to be more powerful than the sum of its constituent parts. Occult ritual in the Left-Hand Path is seen as the most powerful tool of self-actualisation, above psychological tools such as Neuro-Linguistic Programming and other explorations and tools for streamlining, growing and enhancing one's experience of the Self.
Whilst Satanism is often considered the embodiment of the LHP, there are other expressions of the LHP which are considered as 'higher forms of wisdom', e.g. Gnostic Luciferianism. Here, the self is still the purpose behind the philosophy, but it does not dwell on the concepts of Survival of the Fitness and Strength, but focuses on 'higher' goals of self-fulfillment, intellectual illuminism, gnosis, and light and dark principles.
It is of course in many LHP private and secret groups, often those of an 'extreme' nature, the goal to further the self as much as possible, in monetary, power and influence terms, above all else. Such goals are best served by covert membership and 'old boys networks'. Membership is often only granted to those who are considered to have attained a certain level of wealth and power. This being considered a true measure of their worth in occult terms, in other words being able to manifest in material terms their Will in their own life; how educated they are in the occult and how many books they have read are not considered to be as important or relevant if they cannot apply it and change the world around them according to their Will. Such goals are rarely best served by 'false altruistic notions' of improving society through openness and education, but merely doing what they can to further their own ends above all else. This is more an attribute of Satanism, the most materialistic form of the Left-Hand Path. Gnostic or Luciferian groups may share some of these elements, but on the whole their main pursuit is intellectual furtherment and wisdom, of course which should be applied to one's own life, but materialistic goals are balanced with others, be they intellectual, spiritual or artistic, and indeed may not feature at all.
Critics of the Left-Hand Path argue it is/adherents can be (to varying degrees): excessively narcissistic, glutinous, selfish, materialistic, worthless, empty, emotionally stunted, soulless, heartless, childish (teenage knee-jerk philosophy), thinking one knows it all, taking oneself far too seriously, controlling, lacking a sense of humour, devoid of natural joy, emotionally distant/repressed, antisocial/unsociable/lacking in social skills/unfriendly, tactless, rude, foul mouthed, devoid of 'conventional' etiquette, impolite, lonely, isolated, morally bankrupt, emotionally naive, tendency to use people (sucking up what they need form them like a sponge) and give little back in return (unless one enjoys intellectualising and talking about a certain subject), often depressed or dealing with crippling personal/psychological issues, cramped with excessive negative core self-beliefs hidden away with a layer of 'strong, self-oriented' beliefs, hollow, culturally backwards, clueless, social misfits, lacking in empathy and consideration for others, left brain biased (excessively reliant on rationalisation and ego-control), excessively and addictively dark, morbid, negative, cynical, excessively reliant on black magic, gratuitous goth/death/demon imagery fixated, chaos magic and malicious magic compared with other forms of magic, self-actualising on a very low (knee jerk) level, never satisfied, requiring something to be in opposition to (i.e. rebellious, adversarial - a perverse rejection of norms for the sake of it to superficially increase self-esteem) rather than representing the true self as it wants to be, extremely sharp in some areas but veering towards 'insanity' in others, tendency towards extreme right wing political persuasions (in some individuals), representing a shallow form of self-esteem with no real solid foundation, promoting an unhealthy reliance of alcohol, drugs and the 'buzz/entertain me' mentality (lack of gratitude), and often resulting in massive, overinflated egos. These examples may reflect an unsuccessful attempt to follow the 'true' Left-Hand Path. Some critics of the Left-Hand Path regard it as the path of darkness, seeing certain specific Right-Hand Paths as the path of light. Indeed some adherents of specific mainstream religions may see other mainstream religions as being paths of darkness and containing some Left-Hand Path elements to varying degrees.
Some people argue that the Left-Hand Path attracts people with character flaws, bullies, those who treat others badly, those with addictions, those with disrespectful and negative childish attitudes by default, and that the path does little to actually encourage more positive traits or really work on the core negative traits. Their character flaws and toxic personalities are represented in some LHP systems as being illumination and are further reinforced, depending on the extent of self-deception. This is ironic as the LHP is supposed to be the opposite of self-deception. The LHP appears to pander to those who aspire to greatness, and such individuals often tend to have overinflated senses of their own importance or intellectual capabilities or their knowledge, logic or wisdom - when in absolute terms they are often nothing special and 'dress up' their thoughts to make them sound deeper than they really are. Many people are attracted to the LHP as it has a 'dark' and 'adversarial' image, which is perhaps in part on account of the gratuitous 'gothic'ness and obsession with 'dark' imagery. Those who fancy themselves as misunderstood or 'dark' may well find it attractive - for a while.
Some LHPs do have some more worthwhile attributes and draw on Eastern philosophies where being a bully, excesses or nurturing the ugly side of one's ego are not generally seen as very wise. It of course depends on the individual and what the person chooses to focus on and what sources they draw from. What their movitation to taking up the LHP is and what their intentions are. Some LHP groups breed conformity in mentality (e.g. the Church of Satan) whereas others much less so or the opposite. Some consider that following the LHP helps to grow their character, and it is about the Will and the self, and whilst some adherents do appear to be more direct, no nonsense and rational in their thinking, they are often distinctly lacking in personality, character and wit, something that presumably a system for developing the self should have at the top of the list.
Part of the reason why those who follow the Left-Hand Path may seem self-absorbed is because often they are following that self-oriented side of their character, and much of the occult work is by definition self-oriented and intensely introspective and as such may in some instances come across as selfishness or being short or even an 'asshole'. Indeed, in some circles, being a bit of an asshole is actively encouraged!
It is not unknown for followers of the Left-Hand Path, and indeed occultists in general, to suddenly and without warning cut people out of their lives, or to withdraw from social contacts and friendships indefinitely or for periods of time. If such an individual sees something as non-productive or counter-productive to the self or the self's goals and desires and needs, then the predisposition is to cut it out with little regard for pleasantries or social etiquette, or one's past history for example. An occultist may 'go into hiding' or a period of introspection as he may be over-sensitive to external stimuli that perhaps others do not perceive. After a 'cooling off' or readjustment period, the person may return to his old self. Or indeed, may simply keep being himself, but cut people out in this manner as he goes along, perhaps taking on new acquaintances or activities that seem to meet his needs or perceived needs at the time - which may well be cut out after a time of no longer serving a purpose for him or when he has 'got his money's worth', feels no need for them any longer or tires of them (perhaps gets to know them properly and his initial vision or projection of who he thought they were is shattered by reality). This may be perceived by others as antisocial, rude and selfish behaviour of course!
Followers of the LHP often cite the concept of the Jungian Shadow as a justification or reason for their lifestyle. Whether this is a primary or secondary reason may vary from individual to individual and may not always be known to the person also. For a discussion of the LHP and the Jungian Shadow, please see the Jungian Shadow and the Occult page.
It would be incorrect to assume that all occult practice is of the Left-Hand Path. The sub-category of the occult that is normally associated with the Left-Hand Path and Adversarialism in general tends to be daemonology (invocations involving demons, aka Goetia), rituals involving the Luciferian and Satanic and other related archetypes or deities, Enochian magic and destructive/malicious/predatory magic. It is in general about personal power and embodying archetypes, literal or symbolic of power and 'darkness'; and anything occult practice that increases the sensation of the 'self' and independence from all others. Of course LHP practitioners often wish to embody archetypes of stillness and calm, but this is not really in the realm of the occult but in elements taken from Taoism and Buddhism.
Other forms of magic are not exclusive to the LHP, involving Tarot (and their relatives Oracle Cards), divination, automatic writing, palm reading, astrology, chaos magic, invocations involving other, less 'dark' deities (those not about just power but other archetypes and emotions), and sex magic are practised by Neo-Pagans and others. Some of these practices are a form of Theurgy, from the Hermetic magical tradition. The preference for these different practices differs according to different LHP practitioners, but sex magic is usually quite universally practiced, probably because it is most immediately enjoyable! Some LHP practitioners however consider some of these other practices perhaps a little too 'new age' or lacking in 'power of the self' or the ability to enhance the one's sense of power directly.
It should be noted that from around 3000 BC up until perhaps the 19th Century, there was no separation of astronomy and astrology as we know them today, but they were one and the same. All famous historical astronomers were astrologers and sometimes even priests. They combined the scientific study of the stars and the visible universe with 'non-scientific' predictions based on the movement of the planets within (i.e. in front of) different constellations (corresponding to astrological symbols and representations of animals). Now that the two disciplines have become separate, we should perhaps consider the two. Many Left Hand Paths promote science, knowledge and wisdom as the ultimate goal. Is the pursuit of astrology still valid? As for many it is considered historically outdated and no longer a science as it once was? Well this comes down to whether one believes it is literally true or not. But presumably those who study astrology should pay equal attention to astronomy, rather than focus more on astrology and have little grasp of the cutting edge of astronomy or even the basics. No astrologers of old would have been so ignorant! They did not have the luxury of all the tools available today. Should modern astrologers be so unscientific?
White magic and spiritual healing magic is not generally in the domain of the LHP and is practised usually by Wiccans or other 'white' magicians, witches or pagans, often involving the Horned God (Pan) or other less malevolent deities. Clearly the practice of magic is intended to change the individual, and some believe change one's surroundings or others. The intent behind the magic is often what differentiates it from 'white' or 'black/dark'. Those who practice 'white' magic or the more common forms of Wicca also claim to be evolving their psyches and developing the Self, which followers of the LHP also claim, but the 'white' practitioners tend to avoid malicious or 'dark' ritual as they believe it is spiritually damaging, whereas 'dark' magic practitioners simply believe it is an expression of the Self or a way of exploring/developing the Self. Intent and goal is clearly important. LHP practitioners perhaps regard White Magic often as comical as it is more about others than just the Self, which is the goal of the LHP.
It should be noted that the term 'occult' derives from the Latin 'occultas' for clandestine, hidden or secret, and is used to mean 'knowledge of the hidden'. It is sometimes used interchangeably with 'magic' or 'esoteric' although the former use is perhaps not strictly correct. The occult can therefore be used to refer to the types of 'magic' or 'astral' described above, but also to prayer, visualisation (the law of attraction), NLP, altered states of consciousness, dreams, exploring the Jungian Shadow and psychoanalysis, existentialist art, books or cinema, philosophy, and perhaps even fantasy/role playing. In short, it can simply refer to exploring the (subconscious) mind through various forms and methods, aside from actual rituals or rites, astral 'travel' etc. Some say that the 'occult' would not exist without the subconscious mind, although clearly, life would not be possible without it! Of course, there are many ways to explore the subsconscious mind and the hidden. Clearly, God is 'hidden' and could be termed as 'occult'. Certain aspects of prayer indeed use principles of visualisation and practices that some Wiccans would call magic. Indeed, some Wiccans might class visualisation and attraction type exercises as 'empty prayers' i.e. they are not 'aimed' at God. Indeed, occultists, the term generally used for those that explore the whole of the occult, as they perceive it, with particular emphasis on ritual as a tool for (self?) exploration, like to think that psychology and philosophy is part of their domain by default, and that anyone who has an interest in these areas is therefore an 'occultist' - but this definition therefore associates them with the astral. This is perhaps grossly unfair to hijack the term in this manner, or rather to automatically associate it with areas that do not necessary have meaning to a given individual or are deemed completely different. There are a number of disciplines that have been 'hidden' over the centuries, including the law of attraction and hermetic philosophy, and they are early forms of psychoanalysis and personal development. They could be classed as 'the occult' but whether they are superior forms of psychology exploration to the more modern forms, or just variations on a theme (mixed in with a little 'symbolism', 'ancient narrative and myth', 'superstition', 'mumbo-jumbo' and/or 'dealing with evil spirits or the Devil'), is up to the individual to determine.
The shared influences between the (political) far right and various Left-Hand Paths are discussed on the Satanism and the Far Right page. This is not to say that adherents of the LHP are automatically Neo-Nazis, as there are clearly conceptual differences (rights of the individual vs interests of the collective), but that they both draw from many shared philosophies.