Astron Argon

The Left & Right-Hand Paths

Do what thou wilt shall be the whole of the Law.

The controversial division of Magick into ‘Black & White Magick’ and ‘Left & Right-Hand Paths’ has in its controversy, degenerated into the propagation of a lot of confusion.  Different meanings have all but rendered these labels useless.  On the left hand; considered by the cultures of Europe and the Middle East to be the evil hand, the idea that this was connected to an approach to Magick generated a knee-jerk reaction in our culture.  The Magick had to be malignantly evil; and subsequently, on the right hand, the Magick had to be generously benign.  Yet, both forms of Magick belong the Occult, which is considered left-handed by our Judeo-Christian culture and faith in the scriptures for them was considered to be right-handed; indeed, righteous.

Overall, as in Hindu culture, the right and left hands become indicative of orthodoxy and heterodoxy; and so, the White and Black schools of Magick have seemingly generated a philosophical battleground.  The problem in our culture is that no matter which of the two schools one is aligned with philosophically, that school will be called the White school.  If one is Judeo-Christian oriented, one might follow the school of the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn (as founded by MacGregor Mathers); feeling the deeper meanings of the Judeo-Christian symbols connects to the ancient mythos.  And if one is a Thelemite, a mythos is adopted that transcends the Judeo-Christian orthodoxy; basing itself on the more controversial pseudpegriphic and apocryphic tradition that has always formed a subtext to canonized scripture.

In Tantric Hinduism, the Right-Hand Path works along orthodox lines that develops its ethical and moral codes from social convention; whereas, the Left-Hand Path finds that the breaking of this convention and its taboos offers one the opportunity to step outside oneself.  Though the Left-Hand Path remains controversial in Hindu culture, its practitioners are not separated out of society and labeled as evil-hearted in their nature.  The two paths ‘Dakshinachara’ (Right-Hand Path) and ‘Vamachara’ (Left-Hand Path) describe approaches to transcendence and enlightenment.  The Manichean division of the Universe into an absolute good and an absolute evil has no influence in Hindu science.  There was simply a tradition that was inculcated into the greater culture that determined the correct way to do things and there were those who belonged to dissident sects; themselves not being of any threat to the orthodoxy.

The confusion that arises when one tries to approach spirituality and religion in terms of the Right and Left-Hand Paths makes it difficult for the journeyman to make the ‘correct’ choice and is often set up in an initiatory test given by the Master to the Aspirant in the Western Mystery Tradition.  It was Madame Helena Petrovna Blavatsky (HPB) who after learning of the Left and Right-Hand paths in her journey through India, first introduced this dichotomy to the West; appending it with the idea of Black and White Magick.  But in Hindu culture, the breaking of societal taboos or the Left-Hand Path (the right hand path being ascetic and mediational) was expressed in religious ritual with sexual and ecstatic rites that included the drinking of alcohol and the eating of meat; as well as assembling in graveyards.  This was called the Vama-Marga or the ‘left-hand way;’ discussed throughout the writings of Kenneth Grant.

Occultism was flowering in early American culture, as some, including the American Transcendentalists of the northeast were searching for a non-European spirituality upon which to build this pioneering society.  And the Theosophical Society was founded by HPB in New York, which came to have an enormous influence upon both the American and the English Transcendentalists.  Instead of viewing the two paths as cultural and counter-cultural; the latter being a necessary and healthy expression for an evolving society, battle lines are drawn between what is considered to be socially constructive and that which was considered to be a threat to that establishment—‘the establishment’ normally derided by the counter-culture.

Hermetic Orders, such as the English Society of the Inner Light and the Golden Dawn not only adopted this duality; showing their alignment with the Black School of Magick but also found a place to dispose of their social prejudices being the elements of their psychic shadow.  Those of the Left-Hand Path were said to include particularly, homosexuals, Satanists and communists (Voodoo and African Americans were also a part of this in their American branches) who were considered a direct threat to society.  So that when Aleister Crowley was initiated and inducted by Mathers into the inner order of the Golden Dawn, an emerging rift in the order was brought to a head and the order splintered.  Crowley’s bisexuality was viewed by many to make him an unfit candidate for the greater mysteries.

Crowley himself used this terminology; but in a different manner and inaugurating another level of confusion.  He taught that the Black Brother was an Adept who failed the ordeal of the Abyss, yet a Black Brother could also be an Adept of the Black School.  And though he gave credulity to the Black School of Magick on the one hand, on the other, he derided the Black School as superstitious and waging a final war with the White School; a war between the forces of Superstition and the gnosis described by Nietschze.  The Black School of Magick is differentiated from the Black Lodge, which is an altogether different concept; but Crowley often conflates the two in his writings.

We do find Crowley stating in his writings that the Black Lodge holds no Adepts nor any person.  And so it is indeed that the Black Lodge is but the blind forces of nature created from the egregore of human thought held to a superstitious belief structure that resists the force of evolutionary change.  All one can possibly be is but a dupe of the Black Lodge.  And it is actually these blind forces that are building up the army of dupes actively upholding a Judeo-Christian society built on the darkness of ignorance, humility and cowering fear; though it be itself in its death throes.  The inauguration of the Aeon of Horus presents the vengeful Ra-Hoor-Khuit as the opposing force of enlightenment, courage and pride; symbolized by the Beast.

Crowley also states in his writings that one day, people will have to choose between Nietzsche and superstition; suggesting that social forces on two sides of the line; building up to one grand confrontation in his own eschatological prediction.  Nietzsche values the individual over society that he refers to as the herd; the individual being elevated to the status of ‘Overman’ who can see the true light of the Sun (described eloquently by the Beatles in The Fool on the Hill) and whom has escaped the ignorance, fear and superstition.  The struggle then is between the emergent individualism and a herd-minded society.

The essential difference in the orientation of spiritual and religious practices is summarized in Julius Evola’s description of the two forms of Tantra in his book: The Yoga of Power:

There is a significant difference between the two Tantric paths, that of the right hand and that of the left hand (which both are under Shiva’s aegis). In the former, the adept always experiences ‘someone above him’, even at the highest level of realization. In the latter, ‘he becomes the ultimate Sovereign’ (chakravartin = worldruler).

Society props up a hierarchy of clerics who preserve its traditions and determines its ethical and moral codes; whether as priests or government officials.  The godhead is then externalized and anthropomorphosized as someone to be feared, adored and placated.  Whereas the individual finds his own divinity and proclaims the virtue of liberty.  Joseph Campbell also recognizes the social-individual dynamic by describing the Right-Hand Path as the path of society and the Left-Hand Path as the path of the individual.  But he goes further to say that the Right-Hand Path keeps one connected to the world; able to live with dignity and respect.  But that ultimately, an evolving human being develops a sense of his individuality and begins to step outside the safe structures of society and into danger; choosing the way of the Hero who explores uncharted territory.

In Campbell’s worldview, the individual grows out of the herd-mind; but those who remain also have their own vital mythos that serves them in their own development.  For Thelemites, the latter are the ‘slaves’ that ‘serve.’  In other words, they belong to society and uphold our civilization that the few may rise up to the consciousness of the Overman.  But also, those of the herd-mind belong to the Black School of Magick where it is noted that faith can move mountains.  And for them, indeed, it can; ignorance being its own source of bliss.  This should not be categorically derided by the White School.  While it doesn’t serve us, it serves them within their own paradigm.  The only time we should protest is when their egregore steps on our toes.  And then we should fight with great vengenance…as brothers (cf. AL:III.59—”As brothers fight ye!“—and its commentary).

Love is the law, love under will.