Left Hand Path Paganism
Before I realized my spiritual practices were those of the Left Hand Path, I had a pretty clear picture of what I believed LHP to be about. In that mental picture were inverted pentagrams, baphomet, and blasphemy against Christianity. I imagined a worship of oneself with total disregard for any higher power, and disdain for any who bent a knee to any so-called “gods”. Practitioners always wore hooded, black robes in my scenario of the mind, and occasionally made blood sacrifices.
Sheesh, was I wrong.
Left Hand Path is a rather broad term. All of the world’s religions can be broken down into either Right Hand Path or Left Hand Path, and each is defined by the ultimate goal of the practitioner. Usually (and for purposes of this writing will be defined as such) RHP seeks to dissolve the outer layers of individual personality and either merge with a greater consciousness, or dwell in an existence in which some being other than oneself is the focus of existence.
LHP, on the other hand, seeks to evolve the present self into the highest potential while retaining the isolate personality. In other words, one seeks to retain a unique, personal “I”, and become an entity of the highest caliber (usually seen as godhood or some equivalent) that is independent of any other consciousness.
Of course, this does not cover all LHP practices; any time one seeks to categorize something there will always be some component that defies classification. However, in my studies of LHP, especially in the West, this description portrays my findings accurately.
Paganism has its own flavor of LHP spirituality. In Pagan LHP, also known as Dark Paganism, one of the first things noticed are the gods who are venerated or worshiped. Whereas RHP has gods of love, LHP has gods of lust and passion. Where RHP has gods of peace, LHP has gods of justice. Loki, Kali, Hecate, and Hel are a few names one may hear whispered from the lips of the LHP adherent.
But why call on such forces? Why pray to such names?
While there are those who seek a reality in which all things are revealed in glorious luminance, there are those who brave the unknown darkness in order that they might discover for themselves the mysteries of the universe. Some choose to obtain enlightenment, sloughing off the mortal coil and choosing to be part of a collective bliss.
Others delve within, past the murkiness and slimy things that have never known light, in an effort to discover the core of their quintessential nature. Once found, this core can be cultivated and nurtured into evolution. Getting to this core, to which I have alluded, involves coming face to face with the most primal, and often frightening aspects of oneself and the universe. The dark gods aid us in working with such forces. They lead us through our terrors, and let us know that, as others have gone before, so too can we.
But doesn’t working with such beings and forces ultimately end in the seeker getting stuck somewhere in the mire and becoming demented? In truth, this does sometimes occur. Traversing the Left Hand Path takes a will of iron and an equally strong sense of identity. To know that you are not those things that hint at the sinister can be difficult, and at times the seeker becomes lost to the monsters, both within and without. However, this is not always the case. Like any other spiritual practice, the LHP traveler must have determination and discipline. Those who honestly pursue spiritual growth from going within can overcome the obstacles inherent in such a practice.
With all this talk of the self, one could speculate that the LHP seeker would have no interest in community, which has been a long sought after aspect of Paganism. While those on the LHP do have an egocentric worldview, it is not at the expense of community. The best way I can think to describe it is with an analogy of the human heart.
The heart pumps blood to all other parts of the body, providing the life giving fluid to even the tiniest pieces. Still, the heart pumps blood to itself first. Before that miraculous organ can fulfill its duty to the rest of the body, it must nourish itself, and can then go on to perform its function. Those on the Pagan LHP can be viewed in a similar fashion.
After nurturing oneself, the stress of daily survival diminishes, and one can go on to help and nurture others without the immediate concern of replenishing ones own vitality. The candle that is alight, fueled, and protected is the one most suited to spark others to life.
Let us not forget that LHP is not a specific tradition, but a means of traversing the spiritual path. If Paganism is generally concerned with community, then in general a Pagan LHP seeker will be concerned with community. Even if godhood were the goal of the LHP, that is not to say that one would not desire to be in a group of others who have attained such evolution. To desire independence, growth, and strength is not the same as desiring isolation.
Given that, in general, a Pagan LHP seeker desires some sort of community, it is a given that there must be some code of ethics and social engagement. After all, a community without some sort of order is chaos, and not community.
For a lot of Pagans, including non-Wiccans, the Wiccan Rede serves as the standard of conduct. “Harming none, do what you will” sums up the moral compass of many the Pagan practitioner. The Left Hand Path, however, favors personal codes of ethics, rather than adherence to a dogma. A LHP seeker could surely adopt the Rede for their own, but only if they made the conscious choice to do so, as it was congruent with their personal beliefs.
Many the RHP adherent prescribes himself to a specific doctrine because “that’s what followers of (insert religion) do”. Those on the LHP opt to follow guidelines because it is suitable to them and synonymous with what they feel at their core, rather than an attempt to fit into a religious system. This doesn’t mean that those on the LHP walk in some moral gray area. LHP, as I’ve said, is concerned with developing the core self.
If a person’s core includes ethics and morals, which are equivalent to those of society and provide for a harmonious existence, those ideals will only become richer and more defined. Those with sinister urges will eventually be weeded out, either by society or some would-be victim taking preventive measures against said urges.
It is, I have found, a matter of respect and harmony that serves as the basis for morals and ethics of many of those on the LHP (which does not take into account personality and essential beliefs which help shape personal conduct). It becomes a matter of live and let live. However, those on the LHP tend not to be keen on turning the other cheek when it comes to a matter of provocation.
Attack me, and my reaction will be with the mindset that you must be stopped and prevented from attacking again. That, of course, is not permission to go to extremes to prevent another attack. Many times the mere act of stopping an attack (no more, no less) is enough to halt another. It is these fundamentals that lead to the mentality that works to create a harmonious existence with those of the LHP: If I respect you, you will respect me. If I attack you, you may very well reciprocate that attack. If I allow you peace, you will grant me that same courtesy.
I have personally been told that the Rede is part of a nature-based paradigm. I disagree. The Rede is born of a human-based paradigm. Anyone who has ever seen a cat catch a mouse knows that nature is not always kind. It is not evil for a cat to kill a mouse, but from the perspective of the mouse it can be quite cruel. For that matter, weasels are widely known for killing chickens and not eating them. It would seem that they kill for the sake of killing.
That is part of nature’s paradigm, and in order for humans to live in peace, we have created our own paradigm. We agree to not chase each other down as the cat does to the mouse and torture each other. We agree to not sneak into the domiciles of one another, killing and leaving the body behind as does the weasel. These things do still happen, sadly, but we have agreed that there are consequences for such actions; consequences that include preventative measures. In short, we have agreed to create a paradigm to suit our function.
Let me point out that, in almost any scenario, it is left up to the individual to decide what is right and wrong. It is the individual who decides if some action falls within the guidelines of “God’s will”. It is the individual who decides if something is “harming none.”
LHP practitioners can be found in nearly any religion: The Buddhist monk who calms himself first, and then looks to aid others in finding their own calmness; the ascetic Christian who finds his calling while in the vastness of the unforgiving desert; the Pagan who develops his own code of ethics based upon his concepts of right, wrong, and harmony while praying to Saturn for inspiration. The LHP and Paganism are not incompatible as some, including myself, have thought.
Gone are the ideas of all black, blasphemy, and baphomet. These images are sometimes seen, it’s true, but not necessarily, nor even mostly. The LHP, in Paganism, is about seeing the gods as spiritual parents. Like our mortal parents, we can learn and grow and become as they have become.
We can do this, not only by looking for some colossal spotlight to point the way, but by seeking that single flame within. It is about developing the self to be all it can be, without the dissolution into another consciousness.
It is about taking personal responsibility, growing, and learning self-love so that such love may be shared.