Lately, I’ve had a few people ask me about my interpretation of the left-hand path vs right-hand distinction in the occult. And so I figured this would be a good thing to write about because it’s such a nebulous and sometimes confusing topic. Though I’m not the end-all, be-all authority on this topic, I have a decent amount of things to say about it. So, I hope this article clears up some of the confusion about the topic.
Left-Hand vs Right-Hand Path: What’s the Difference?
For me, the left-hand path vs right-hand distinction is ultimately about what resonates with you and what you need in life. It depends on who you ask, but I’m impartial to a position like that of Michael Aquino. (Though he’s far from the only one that holds this position. Even Nietzsche argues this position without labelling it as such in The Birth of Tragedy: the Apollonian is the LHP and the Dionysian is the RHP.)
Michael Aquino argues that you can be LHP/Set-creative or RHP/neteru-harmonious. In other words, you can be harmonious with the demiurge or nature (neteru are the principles of nature, Aquino argues this to be something like the gods as Platonic forms) or whatever you want to refer to the natural world as, or you can seek to be a full creator, i.e. to become a god of sorts (this is what E.A. Koetting is getting at with Become a Living God). It’s like becoming one with reality vs. creating your own path. For Aquino, this is a big issue after death because then “the Gift”, i.e “awareness of isolate self-consciousness” can be fully actualized in a way it cannot on this plane of existence (Aquino, MindStar 2016, 74). But it also has a lot to do with how you live your life today because someone looking to be Set-creative will likely be branching out on their own and looking to explore things regardless of moral traditions, orthodoxy, and mores of the time.
I find this to be accurate across traditions because if you look into the opposing traditions, you’ll see this repeated. For instance, the qabalah is a path to become one with “God”; the qliphoth is a path to become separate from this universe and to deify in “universe b”. (Though, ironically, many scholars of the qliphoth would argue that it’s universe a. I think a case can be made that it’s either, but the stronger case is that the qliphoth is universe a. I really need to write a few articles on the qliphoth…)
And for clarity, the right-hand path is that one focused on orthodoxy, tradition, and oneness with the spirit of the world. Most Christians, Wiccans, neo-pagans, Buddhists, and the like consider themselves RHP. This is why they often act as if they’re the holy side, but any scholar of history can tell you that some of the worst atrocities in history were caused by upholding the status quo. And in a rather literal sense, RHP is the path of conservatism. So, this is something to think about: if you’re interested in personal enlightenment, you’re at least left-leaning.
Not surprisingly, this is also relatively similar to politics in a literal (not just labelling) perspective: those that are conservative seek to uphold orthodoxy and those that are “adversarial” seek to live how they believe one should. (This is one more reason to distrust the Democrat vs Republican divide as when thought of this way, many conservatives live on either side of the division as do many “adversarial lights”). And thus, there are likely many more people on the LHP than think they are. (I’ve always believed “lightwork” or helping others to ascend or heal to be a LHP endeavor for this reason.)
But this is really the position in the Western esoteric tradition. From an Indian perspective, their origin, it’s a little different.
Left-Hand vs Right-Hand From an Indian Perspective
In the Indian esoteric traditions (where this distinction comes from), to be righthand path is to be orthodox to be left-hand path is to be heterodox/contrarian. This is a simplification of the idea, but mostly encompasses it. To follow the Vāmamārga is to seek Vāmācāra or the attainment or enlightenment that comes from the left-hand path. It’s unknown exactly why it’s left, but one theory is that because Dakṣiṇa (which means “south”), the right-hand path, would be to the right if one were facing the sunrise/east. Ironically vāma means, “pleasant, agreeable, loveable” as well as left.
Though, there is some debate whether or not the word should be vāmā, which means, “woman”. This would make quite a lot of sense in regard to LHP traditions in the West as so much of the left-hand path is about women, women’s empowerment, “dark moon” deities, and the power of sexual intercourse. Likewise, I think you can see the seeds of the adversary, which is a staple of LHP occultism in the Western tradition. (Interesting brief article about this on Wikipedia.)
The Advesary and the Left-Hand Path
The “adversarial current” is a moniker people often use for the left-hand path. Likely because the adversary is prevalent in pretty much every discussion of the LHP. Many magickians have argued that “the devil” is a description for the adversary, which has a few forms including the trickster.
So, this would make Loki and Prometheus too demonic, devilish characters. Both of them would play games and lie to the other gods. And Prometheus was punished for giving us fire and the ability to wield it. This was the role of the Watchers/Nephilim too: they were teachers. And this was one of the things that made them fallen. (Though, of course, it depends on who you read as other sources say they’re the offspring of angels and humans, etc.) Odysseus too, a human trickster, could be considered a paradigm example of a left-hand path practitioner.
So, suffice it to say that the left-hand path is about being adversarial. This doesn’t mean that you’re necessarily in a fight with others, but rather that you don’t really fit the existing paradigms well. And that you’re into carving your own path. This is like I was saying above about being Set-creative on this plane too…
Aquino writes, “The LHP is based upon the principle of isolate-self consciousness – “the Gift of Set” (awareness of self-isolate consciousness) – and its exploration, exercise, and maximization. It seeks to evolve the initiated human form from self-aware animal to a god. … Every individual exercise of will, of choice, of discretion, and above-all of creation is a manifestation of the Gift. Any thought, expression, or action which is not the product of objective universe-stimulated instinct flexes the Gift” (Aquino 2016, 164-5).
In other words, to be on the LHP is to be aware that your consciousness is an isolate being that has an existence beyond the world at large and to act in ways that are beyond the teachings of the objective world itself is to use this gift. To make this point banal, Set is the neteru that helps you to realize your own individuality. His nature is that of the separateness itself.
The Left-Hand vs Right-Hand in Jewish Mysticism
In Jewish mysticism, particularly qabalah, the right-hand pillar is the pillar of mercy, the left is the pillar of judgement/severity (meaning to interpret and to sever from, not about rudeness, harshness, or intensity). The right-hand is about forgiveness and becoming one with the world, the left-hand is about freedom, separation, selfhood.
This is pretty much the same as the above, but there’s one interesting addition. The middle pillar between the two is compassion, which is what would happen when one is balanced: to be able to judge/notice separation and be solitary, yet to forgive and accept things as they are would be the path of compassion in a rather literal sense. To find balance is to be centered. Maybe there’s a value to both?
Right-Hand vs Left-Hand and What You Need
I also think there’s another concern: what you need. If you’re a rather selfish person or someone who’s focused on selfhood, then RHP is a good way to go because it’s the balance you need to be centered. This is likely why many people in AA find the Christian God to be such a needed attribute in their lives.
However, if you’re a rather giving, selfless person, LHP is a good way to go because it will help you to focus on selfhood rather than constantly surrendering self to the world (again, helping you to find a center). While I’ve always been somewhat drawn to LHP and demonic symbolism, I find myself in the latter camp. I made the conscious decision to go LHP after considering the ways that my life was limited by my own lack of agency. Though I was willful, I often surrendered my will to “the greater good” or overly gave to others thinking it my place in life.
Is Left-Hand Path Magick Just For Adepts?
No, left-hand path magick is not just for adepts and anyone could start on the LHP if they wished. However, LHP is generally more open to advanced practitioners in my opinion. If you don’t understand the Western occult tradition, LHP will only speak to you so much. Not to say that one couldn’t start there; however, without a basis in the traditional teachings and the Abrahamic traditions, there’s so much missed symbolism.
For instance, the qliphoth has been revolutionary to me; however, would it have spoken to me so much if I hadn’t studied the qabalah and the bible quite a bit? Probably not. While I do think it’s getting at spiritual entities that predate Judaism, Judaism is one take on the religions of the Ancient Near East, which is the seat of culture and in many ways the first recorded understandings of religion humans have. So, whether or not you agree with the them, there is something primordial to the Judaic teachings. (Full of blinds, I’d say.)
Left or Right: Must You Choose a Side?
A lot of people think you need to choose a side. I don’t think it’s necessary to choose unless you want to and often a middle path is probably the better answer. Balance is key to many things in life. Though, ultimately, you’ve probably already made a “decision” of sorts based on how you practice and how orthodox you are…
I think of myself as a heavy left leaning centrist. I’d definitely say I’m far more LHP, but if I’m honest, I’d recognize that I’m not a full creator on this plane and thus am limited by the tenets of the objective universe and because of this, I’m still unable to actualize full Set-consciousness on this plane.