Left Hand, Right Hand

I hear a lot of equivocating about the “Right-Hand” versus the “Left-Hand” paths in the metaphysical community.

This is very deeply rooted in Occidental occultism, and very much tied to the white/black magic dichotomy. And of course, we all know that the Right-Hand path is better, and that White Magick is better, right?

After all, you wouldn’t want to be accused of being a Satanist, would you?

But what does all of this really mean, anyway?

Save me, Wikipedia!

In more recent definitions, which base themselves on the terms’ origins amongst Indian Tantra, the Right-Hand Path, or RHP, is seen as a definition for those magical groups which follow specific ethical codes and adopt social convention, while the Left-Hand Path adopts the opposite attitude, espousing the breaking of taboo and the abandoning of set morality. Some contemporary occultists have stressed that both paths can be followed by a magical practitioner, as essentially they have the same goals.

Okay, so we have all that, but still, what does it mean? How does it translate into what people really do?

The way that I conceptualize this is simple: the Right Hand Path represents service to something greater than yourself. The Left Hand Path represents self over service.

And both have their problems.

On the Right Hand …

I’ve been dealing with my own ideas of service and surrender a bit lately. By nature, I tend to give of myself to others and seek to serve something greater than myself. Oddly enough, I fought this for several years of my life, and have trouble settling in on an institution or a movement to serve. Things come out much more abstract, and that means frustration and feelings of being lost.

Where this gets me the most is my personal relationships. I will give of myself to excess, often to my detriment, and will subordinate my own goals and needs to those of others. This can range from not speaking of my emotions to actively sabotaging or abandoning a project I have invested great energy into.

I’m working on this, and I’ve made a lot of progress. But my first reflex is still to ask “what can I do to help you?”

My fear is that I might be susceptible to the right Noble Cause should it come around. If I devoted myself completely to any Cause, I have the potential to become a terrible and fanatical force. Awareness of this helps a lot, but I still worry that someday I might fall to this impulse.

I despise tyrants, because I have the potential to both be and follow one. But what is a Scorpio to do?

And on the Left Hand …

After my divorce, I put all available energy into my ego. The empathic shields went up super-strength, I pushed all emotional connections away, and I treated people like dirt. I was overly impressed with myself, my friends could barely stand me, and I was an all-around unpleasant person to deal with.

Oddly enough, it improved my success with women for a time. Just not the kind of women I was interested in keeping around.

It was kind of a new thing, not having to justify my impulses and desires. I felt wronged and entitled, and lorded over everyone. I did what I wanted, and got people to go along with it.

I thank the gods I’m not that asshole anymore.

The impulse to eschew all morality comes with a certain level of magical talent. I think that’s why some orders impose strict training regimens and ethical codes: because we eventually figure out that doing magic means being able to get away with shit. And since we’re already going against society’s religious codes, why not the rest of them? Why not just get what we can? We have the power — why aren’t we justified in using it?

Even most Left Hand Path movements have some manner of ethical code, the most famous being the Eleven Satanic Rules if the Earth. Most rules of these type center on not bothering people who haven’t bothered you, but leave a lot of wiggle room for what constitutes “bothering.”

If the extreme of the Right-Hand Path is fanaticism, the extreme of the Left is sociopathy. Going too far down the road of viewing people as resources to use to your advantage can take you to a dangerous place. And with magic at your disposal, manipulating people can be easy, efficient, and fruitful.

But that doesn’t discount the value of putting your own interests first. We all have goals we want to achieve, as well as indulgences and pleasures that help keep us centered and grounded. And it can be easily argued that you can’t help others if you’re not in a good position yourself.

Can I Be Ambidextrous?

I don’t have any tattoos yet, but I have a plan for how I want to get them. On my right arm, I want representations of the things I serve. Those can be gods, traditions, ideals. On the left arm, I want representations of my indulgences, the things I do for myself to keep me motivated and focused. This will be were I have the logos of my favorite bands and video games and other nerdery.

There will be representations of different types of magic on each arm. Because different magic works towards different ends.

But I rely very heavily on both to keep me going. I’ve been focusing too much on how I tend to define myself based upon my relationships and who I serve, and ignoring how much my personal interests and goals define me as well. And neither one really works without the other.

And as I am better focused on what goals and interests enable me to serve others in the manner I want to, the better I seem to do in life. And magic is about functioning better in life, isn’t it?

Grasp life with both hands.



2 responses to “Left Hand, Right Hand

  1. Pingback: Left Hand, Right Hand | Practical Pagans

  2. *virtual applause*

    I’ve referred to myself as magically ambidextrous before, so that kind of amused me. Unintentional quotes aside, you did a pretty good job of summarizing the key differences between the two paths. I’ve never been one to stick to a binary when there were other options to be seen (or created out of whole cloth.) There’s a reason, I suspect, that all of my various resident entities are line-crossers, rule-breakers and edge-walkers. Sometimes I think that learning to break out of the binary thought patterns that plague Western thought might be the single most important task for anyone… not for any magician, or pagan, or witch or whatever… just for anyone.

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