Sunday, 17 February 2013

walking the left-hand path

'Vama Marga' literally means, 'The Left Hand Way' in Sanskrit. Beneath the Asian umbrella of Tantric practices, 'left-hand methods' involve anything which breaks societal taboos or seeks out methods which embrace the unorthodox and the traditionally unacceptable. When Madame Blavatsky translated the Sanskrit phrase in the 19th century, she was really seeking to make a clear distinction between dangerous black magic and beautiful white magic. This phrase, 'left-hand path' was easy to pedal as something unpleasant or evil, since Europe was already steeped in superstitions regarding left-handedness anyway, due to beliefs surrounding this Bible passage:

    And he shall separate them one from another,
    as a shepherd divideth his sheep from the goats.
    And he shall set the sheep on his right,
    but the goats on his left.
    — Matthew 25: 32-33

I myself am actually left-handed in a literal sense and have been jokingly called 'sinister' by some of my more well-read friends. The Latin word 'sinistra' originally meant 'left' but took on meanings of 'evil' or 'unlucky' by the Classical Latin era, and this double meaning survives in European derivatives of Latin, and in the English word, 'sinister'. Blavatsky got her way and the 'left-hand path' quickly became associated with all things not-so-nice. But this is really a grossly skewed interpretation of the original Sanskrit intention with this term. Since the Tantric belief was that all things in the material realm are really physical representations of the world of godhead, it was reasoned that there was nothing that could possibly be ungodly or unacceptable in spiritual practice. The left-hand path encourages emancipation from what I will call 'consensus reality' in an attempt to loosen the shackles which limit consciousness and understanding.

Many people have questioned why the term 'left-hand path' is even necessary, since magical and ritual practice shouldn't have to be defined or split into two distinct styles. Personally, I feel that the term is actually one which is filled with renewed intrigue, optimism and hope. But more importantly, I think the term is a very poetic way of defining something which does deserve a label to simplify and amplify it. My path is very different from that of a witch who sits beneath the Wiccan umbrella, for example, and certainly different to the path of anyone who has embraced a specific set of ideas or practices above all others. My path is different from that of a dualist. My path is different from the path of someone who is black and white about morality, who thinks that drugs are nothing but a futile and illegal escape route or who thinks that their pathway is the only pathway towards god. My path may seem fickle, ridiculous and even dangerous at times. I embrace the power of paradigm shifts, ego deconstruction, enthoegens and the use of belief as a tool rather than as an absolute. I have my own, highly individualised ideas about magic and I feel that my most important tool in practice is not discipline but creativity. I mix systems, traditions and pantheons. I digest what tastes good and spit out what doesn't. I relate to Satanic ideas but also to notions of karma and being pure of heart in your workings. I believe that we believe one thing from one moment to the next and, if that's a prevalent part of the human condition, it should be reflected in chaotic and 'schizophrenic' practices which blend together into all the colours of who we are as an individual.

I think there's a certain degree of responsibility which comes along with using the term 'left-hand path' to describe your practice. For one, you need to be prepared to elucidate, as I'm attempting to here. You can't let people drop anchor at imagining that you're a practitioner of 'black magic'. The whole point of using the term, for me at least, is to demonstrate the lack of belief in levels or types of magic. The idea that only certain intentions within the circle can be 'good', 'pure' or 'worthy' is an alarmingly Christian idea - the kind of idea which imposes an explicit morality. In spirituality, as in all areas of my thinking, I am largely a moral existentialist, working on the idea that morals are the result of time frames, inner transformations, cultural indoctrinations and the knowledge that every situation differs from the last one.

In chaos magic there is a belief that everything is permitted. This doesn't mean that we should use what we use in a surge of shallow self-interest. Nor does it mean that we should think of ourselves as merely primal beings in some kind of magical survival mode. We can appreciate and profoundly value any system that we use and we can learn any system inside out, even if it takes years - we just don't think any system is the 'be all and end all' and we know that we're always free to travel on to another one. For me, 'left-hand path' means a number of important things. It means unorthodox. It means 'mish-mashed'. It means highly creative and individual. It means 'everything is holy'.