Wednesday, July 31, 2019

A note about "the sinister path"

I have the entry for lesser magic basically written, but due to Terminus and other things consuming my attention in recent weeks, haven’t yet had time to finish off a few things related to it. 

I don’t like the prospect of then having only one entry for July though, so here’s a more-compact-than-my-usual-topics topic that I thought I’d dash off a few words about: the meaning of “right” and “left” from a spiritual rather than political perspective, and why, due to contemporary politics, I use different terms these days when I am talking about spiritual matters myself – namely, the potentially-pretentious-sounding wording of “the sinister path.”

* * *

In occult spheres, there has long been a convention wherein “right” and “left” have meanings along the following lines:

A right-hand path religion is one in which:
  • There is a tendency to focus on otherworldly realities (e.g. “God,” “the soul,” etc.) in such a way that earthly things are implied to be of minimal importance in comparison and/or possibly even considered “evil” as such
  • The ethical life is other-oriented, strongly emphasizing altruism while implying that most ethical problems are ultimately caused by selfish egotism, and aiming to expand the moral community (i.e. to whom do we have obligations?) in an ever-broadening direction
  • Practices mostly aim at taming and overcoming the self via submission to authority, rule-following, austerity, etc. – an orientation that might be termed pious

A left-hand path religion, by contrast, is one in which:
  • Disjunction between this world and that which is otherworldly is denied, typically resulting in a more this-worldly view that elevates the material, the bodily, sexuality and femininity more so than is often found in right-hand path religions
  • The highest ethical calling is to be true to oneself and to develop one’s own capacities to the furthest extent possible, at the same time as setting some limits on the moral community (e.g. caring more about one’s own than about random strangers) is seen as “natural” vs. caring about everybody equally as “unnatural”
  • Practices are frequently antinomian, i.e. reject authority, break from tradition, intentionally violate taboos, etc.

This distinction need not be understood as an absolute dualism, as I do think many religions can be argued to have a mixture of traits, especially if heretical denominations are included and so forth.  However, from a Satanic perspective, the vast majority of religions that have ever existed would count as being right-hand path, in terms of leaning more toward that definition than toward the definition of the left-hand path.  The various denominations of Satanism then constitute, via their opposing values, the left-hand path. 

Now, I think there are actually pretty solid reasons for identifying “right” and “left” in this way.  If you look at mythology, folklore, etc. the world over, there are strong recurring themes of “right = good/orderly/the majority” vs. “left = bad/chaos/the minority,” as well as widespread superstitions against left-handed people, etc.  Ignorant and counter-productive as those kinds of superstitions obviously are, I think they can nonetheless be understood inasmuch as humans are typically i) right-handed and ii) fearful of chaos (as, I would argue, all organisms actually are to some extent, since chaos is a threat to survival via imposition of unfamiliar conditions, etc.).

Moreover, even though I myself am a left-hand path practitioner, I actually do not think it’s a viable path for society as a whole and would likely have terrible results if attempted on that level.  The optimal human situation, in my view, consists in a secular society wherein most people will freely choose something resembling a right-hand path (with non-religious forms elevating abstract utopian ideals like “peace” or “equality” in place of “God” etc.) but a minority are nonetheless left at least somewhat free to follow a left-hand path and to thereby act as “Devil’s advocate.”  This arrangement maximizes social stability while at the same time allowing dissent and enabling constructive criticism of society when such is called for.  Hence, again, the “right” and “left” designations make sense in connection with handedness: one may work better for the performance of a number of specific tasks, but from a general perspective, you are still better off with two hands rather than just one.

Contrast all of this to where we get political “left” and “right” from: “these assholes sat on this side during the French Revolution, whereas those assholes sat on the other side.” - ooh, so profound! *sarcasm*  Political “left” and “right” are thus, in a certain obvious sense, completely arbitrary.  Further muddying the waters, one can argue that because many left-hand path practitioners, as antinomians, are basically libertarian, they can be plausibly classified as politically-right, vs. inasmuch as the political-left tends to be more collectivist than the political-right, the political-left’s ethos is more akin to right-hand-path religiosity (i.e. other-oriented + moral-community-expanding) than it is to left-hand-path religiosity (i.e. self-oriented and moral-community-contracting).  To say that the two sets of classifications thus do not play nicely with one another would be an understatement.

Now, from an academic standpoint, I feel completely justified in using the occult terminology of “right-hand path” and “left-hand path” because, as I argued above, I think it makes more sense and is less arbitrary than the political use of left and right.  Put another way, politics does not “own” these terms and in my perfect world, we would not act as if it does. 

However, in the imperfect world we are instead stuck with, many parties have become so rampantly obsessed with politics, and so insistent that political considerations must always be first-and-forefront, that I’ve come to feel like it would be a real swimming-upstream-exercise to both use “left-hand path” in the religious sense, and be often criticizing far-left-wing politics, without confusing readers of this blog – especially if said readers may not themselves be of an occult background.

To then address the final issue: why use “sinister path” as a replacement for “left-hand path”?  Because i) “sinister” comes from Latin for “left”; ii) the same Latin word also has the connotations of “inauspicious, unlucky, etc.” - i.e. see above re: "left" in folklore; iii) certain Satanic denominations already use this designation on the apparent basis that they think it sounds badass, and while there are many things in the specific denomination I am thinking of that I definitely do not agree with, this is one matter on which I think they are on pretty solid ground. :)