Right Hand Path and Left Hand Path as Cooperative Systems
by Sir Stephen E. Flowers, Ph.D, Grand Master Emeritus
Originally published in Rûnarmâl-II, available from Lodestar Press. Reproduced with permission.
When we look at the terms Right Hand Path and Left Hand Path we see that in my works the distinction and the words and phrases in question occur only rarely and then mainly in the the context of Lords of the Left Hand Path, which is of course a study of the practice of the Left Hand Path throughout history. Historically these terms, or ones akin to them, do occur in ancient times, especially in Eastern thought. By Eastern I mainly mean India and ideologies derived from India. In these schools of the East the Right Hand Path/Left Hand Path distinction is overtly made and discussed in such terms. It is here that the origin of the philosophical use of the terms lies.
First we must define what we mean by Right Hand Path and Left Hand Path. Here we do not have to go into esoteric works so much to define them, if we just look at Mircea Eliade’s book entitled Yoga we see them defined in terms of Right Hand Path and Left Hand Path distinctions in yogic practices. Left Hand Path being the Vāmamārga and the Right Hand Path being the Dakshinachara or Dakshinamārga. So what do those Sanskrit words mean and what do they imply?
Very simply put the Right Hand Path is the way of union. This is the union of the soul of the individual with the higher or greater law or entity or god if you will (or nature, if you wanted to extend it to other theologies). It is the way of the union of the self with something other than the self. Conversely the Left Hand Path—the Vāmamārga—is the way of non-union, wherein the self remains independent of the laws and mechanisms of nature, of god, or whatever greater matrix of law or organization one might posit. So it is the way of independence of the human soul or self—the psyche—from the matrix of these other laws or organizations.
In the normal consensus of most people’s way of thinking, and certainly in the 19th century and following, there arose an increasing animosity between the Right Hand Path and the Left Hand Path as ways of going about spiritual practices. One is intrinsically evil, that being the Left Hand Path, and one intrinsically good, being the Right Hand Path. Those distinctions remain implicit especially in Western monotheistic culture. In the East it was more a matter of suspicion perhaps of the Left Hand Path to a certain extent, but certainly they—the practitioners of the Left Hand Path—were not totally demonized or ostracized. It was seen as merely another tool in the “toolbox” of various spiritual endeavors.
So it was an alternate way, one which might be disagreed with or not followed—but not something characterized as intrinisically evil or something that needs to be eradicated. So at the inception of these terms there was a kind of symbiosis between the two and not the extreme antipathy between them characteristic of the mindset which also gave rise to things such as the Theosophical Scoecity in the late 19th century.
We all recognize, or people might recognize who are spiritual practitioners of any sort, that there is some sort of utility of Right Hand Path techniques and philosophy to the practitioner of the Left Hand Path. That is, the Right Hand Path is an easier Path to follow, an easier Path in which to get results because you are enmeshed in the substance wthin which you are trying to get results—within you own body, within your own physical environment, etc. So it is easier.
For example, in the philosophy of the Temple of Set, Right Hand Path techniques or technologies are referred to as White Magic as opposed to Black Magic which is the technique of the Left Hand Path. The Left Hand Path is precisely defined as the subjective approach to the subjective universe by Dr. Michael Aquino. Because Right Hand Path techniques or White Magic are often useful to the practitioner of the Left Hand Path this means there is intrinsically no moral prohibition to using Right Hand Path techniques for the practitioner of the Left Hand Path. However, the reverse might not always be the case.
Historically the Left Hand Path is necessary—or some element of Left Hand Path philosophy and practice in the world and in society is necessary—to the continuing existence of the Right Hand Path consensus. This is because without the Left Hand Path and its pratitioners no evolution or any substantive change in anything would ever take place because one would never for a moment be able to step outside the mechanism in which they find themselves enmeshed. They could never “think outside” of the proverbial “box.” Therefore they would never question any of the laws of their universe in which they exist, they would never question or deny or turn against or cause a revolution against any of the prevailing laws or regulations, either morally, or physically, or anything else. It would eternally be the case of thinking: “If man was meant to fly he’d be given wings,” or whatever kind of platitudes that are typical of the pop culture of a Right Hand Path mentality. Human culture would be very much like an anthill.
Ideally, in the absolute Right Hand Path universe all would know their places, everyone would do his role, there would be no questions asked. Whereas in an absolute Left Hand Path universe, if everything went in the other direction, there would be utter chaos and absolute disorder. There would be no sense of cooperation, no basis for cooperation between and among people because they would be practicing and implementing Left Hand Path philosophy far in excess of their philosophical or Initiatory ability to deal with the ideas and so chaos would ensue.
Therefore in reality a cooperation occurs so that each extreme rather tempers the opposing impulse. This is true and present in the life of an individual and the spiritual path of the individuals and it is also present, of course, in societies and collective bodies of individuals.
The Right Hand Path mentality is to a great extent necessary for the continued existence of the Left Hand Path practitioners because some sort of law-based, conformist state is to a degree necessary for human survival as far as the masses are concerned. There must be laws, regulations, and so forth for cultural stability. If one looks at society as a pyramid with the majority at the bottom and the few at the top, the lower you go on a sociological scale, the more the conformist mentality is to be expected. Moreover this forms the basis of an orderly economy. Whereas the Left Hand Path, where we find the individualistic dreamer and thinker or magician who is someone more at the top of this sociological pyramid and at the end of the spectrum, also has its role in the overall health of a society.
At one end of this spectrum is the absolutely free and enlightened individual; the other end is the absolutely bound and conforming collective of individuals. In the terminology of the Left Hand Path in the East they use the metaphor of the “bound” man and the “unbound” or liberated man. The ideal of the Eastern Left Hand Path is that of absolute freedom—the absolute freedom of the individual soul or psyche from enmeshment in the laws and regulations of this organism that is more vast than the individual soul or psyche.
In the Initiation of an individual we can see that the two Paths, and the two impulses, work in a way—or can work in a way—which is cooperative. They can work together almost like a single process. Here we are reminded of the alchemical principles of Solve et Coagula. You start with a coagulated state in which Initiates initially find themselves and this state needs to be transformed—so says the individual or so determines the individual—so they set out on a path of Initiation. This coagulated state must be dissolved.
Initiates must separate and step back from the laws, rules, regulations which govern them, they must question them, they must question themselves and how they came to be the way they are and the laws and regulations which were imposed upon them at different times, consciously and unconsciously, and dissolve some of these bonds so that they can feel what it is to be independent in a free and fluid state, unbound by these rules and regulations and laws. They discover that changes can be caused to occur. But if they merely continue to exist inactively in this new state they find that no proving ground is provided for these changes. Therefore what is needed is that the initiate must reenter a state of being bound by the rules and regulations of human society, but now they interact in and within those laws in a new way, a way by which they retain knowledge gained from the Initiatory experience. These can occur at a time in which there are periods of oscillation between these states of being bound, free of restraints, and then being once more bound to constraints. Here lies a mystery of the valknútr.
This is something that when consciously applied in a magical and Initiatory way is quite extraordinary, but it is analagous to things that everyone undergoes or should undergo in the process of simply growing up. For example, an infant is very much bound by laws and rules and regulations and is happily so bound. They like to stay in their little cribs, they drink their milk from their mothers, and just have very basic needs. But then they go through the so-called Terrible Twos where a kid loves to say “no” to everything, they learn how to refuse and say “no” and get a great sense of independence of their beings from the way the higher forces—the adults in their lives—want them do do things. Then adolescence, of course, is a grander version of the same thing. So these periods of being unbound by laws and rules and regulations upon the psyche are the times and pyschic spaces—if you will—in which transformation takes place. That’s when there is a separation.
The analysis of the rites of transformation by Arnold van Gennep indicates that people undergo rites of separation where they separate from the normal society, then they transform in this special environment (or a lodge or woodland clearing or whatever the initiatory space is—a ritual chamber of some kind), and then they undergo rites of reintegration back into society, so that society as a whole gains the benefits of the transformations that these people make in their lives. This is the way the process was intended to work. But in a world that is constantly assigning good and evil to every polarized contrasting pair, attitudes such as “Oh, rites of integration are good but rites of disintegration, or separation, are bad, and certainly rites of transformation are bad because who are you to change, unless it is a change to make you even more conformist than before,” are certain to arise.
Thus we see that sociological situations that formed some aspects of our culture led to misunderstandings of how these two poles of human activity, which we are conveniently characterized Right and Left Hand Path, actually function in a healthy integral and authentic society or culture.
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