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Author Topic: Is a Pagan, left-hand path religion possible?  (Read 3809 times)

Kaio

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Is a Pagan, left-hand path religion possible?
« on: May 20, 2015, 09:00:26 pm »
I'm starting from Stephen E. Flowers' concepts of right-hand path and left-hand path¹:

 
Quote
The right-hand path answers this question [what is the way in which this conscious, free soul is going to relate to, or seek to interact with, the objective universe or the universe as a whole] simply by saying that the subjective universe must harmonize itself with the laws of the objective universe (...). Humanity is to seek knowledge of the law, and then apply itself to submitting to that law in order to gain ultimate union with the objective universe, with God, or nature. The right-hand path is the path of union with universal reality (God or Nature). When this union is completed the individual self will be annihilated, the individual will become one with the divine or natural cosmic order. In this state the ego is destroyed as "heaven" is entered or a nirvanic existence/non-existence is "attained". This is clearly the goal of all orthodox Judaic/Christian/Islamic or Buddhistic sects.
The left-hand path (...) takes into account the manifest and deep-seated desire of each human being to be a free, empowered, independent actor within his or her world. The pleasure and pain made possible by independent existence are seen as something to be embraced and as the most reasonable signs of the highest, most noble destiny possible for humans to attain - a kind of independent existence on a level usually thought of as divine.


 I do not completely agree with these definitions; I don't know whether every single right-hand path religion sees ego and/or individual identity destruction as desirable and/or unavoidable as well as I don't know whether every single left-hand path religion sees divinization as desirable and/or unavoidable.
 In spite of this, Flowers' concepts can be useful; they reminded me of how religion differs from magic according to Durkheim. Flowers' idea of right-hand path is very similar to Durkheim's idea of religion as well as Flowers' idea of left-hand path is very similar to Durkheim's idea of magic.
 According to a Durkheimian understanding of magic it, unlike religion, doesn't promote unity and identity in a group of human beings; it doesn't have an underlying notion of group and can't be a basis a group can be built on.

 I think there are reasons why some people consider adhering or adhere to a left-hand path religion and one of them can be a non-optimal relationship of the human being at hand with most other human beings around him/her/them. OTOH this human being can miss the fulfillment a right-hand path religion encompasses.
 Is a Pagan, left-hand path religion possible?

¹ Flowers, Stephen E. Lords of The Left-Hand Path: A History of Spiritual Dissent. Second edition. Smithville: Rûna-Raven Press, 1997. P. 2.
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Re: Is a Pagan, left-hand path religion possible?
« Reply #1 on: May 20, 2015, 09:59:42 pm »
Quote from: Kaio;175207
I'm starting from Stephen E. Flowers' concepts of right-hand path and left-hand path¹:

 

 I do not completely agree with these definitions; I don't know whether every single right-hand path religion sees ego and/or individual identity destruction as desirable and/or unavoidable as well as I don't know whether every single left-hand path religion sees divinization as desirable and/or unavoidable.
 In spite of this, Flowers' concepts can be useful; they reminded me of how religion differs from magic according to Durkheim. Flowers' idea of right-hand path is very similar to Durkheim's idea of religion as well as Flowers' idea of left-hand path is very similar to Durkheim's idea of magic.
 According to a Durkheimian understanding of magic it, unlike religion, doesn't promote unity and identity in a group of human beings; it doesn't have an underlying notion of group and can't be a basis a group can be built on.

 I think there are reasons why some people consider adhering or adhere to a left-hand path religion and one of them can be a non-optimal relationship of the human being at hand with most other human beings around him/her/them. OTOH this human being can miss the fulfillment a right-hand path religion encompasses.
 Is a Pagan, left-hand path religion possible?

¹ Flowers, Stephen E. Lords of The Left-Hand Path: A History of Spiritual Dissent. Second edition. Smithville: Rûna-Raven Press, 1997. P. 2.

 
This might not be the answer you were looking for, but the best advice I can give is to ignore it. This 'left' v 'right-handed' path stuff comes from a particular social and political context which, depending on the faith, may have little or nothing to with it. It is much better to understand each religion with reference to its own context than try to shoe-horn it into an alien dualistic dichotomy which maybe completely irrelevant.

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Re: Is a Pagan, left-hand path religion possible?
« Reply #2 on: May 21, 2015, 05:08:07 am »
Quote from: Kaio;175207
I do not completely agree with these definitions; I don't know whether every single right-hand path religion sees ego and/or individual identity destruction as desirable and/or unavoidable as well as I don't know whether every single left-hand path religion sees divinization as desirable and/or unavoidable.

 
Seconding Yei's response.

This perspective has far more to do with ceremonial magic, than with pagan religions; even those pagan religions that have a strong CM influence often don't fit into either category (and when they do, they're as likely as not to be LHP under these definitions).

While it's certainly possible for a pagan religion to be LHP according to these definitions, for the most part the RHP/LHP construction is irrelevant.

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Re: Is a Pagan, left-hand path religion possible?
« Reply #3 on: May 21, 2015, 09:53:24 am »
Quote from: SunflowerP;175219
Seconding Yei's response.

This perspective has far more to do with ceremonial magic, than with pagan religions; even those pagan religions that have a strong CM influence often don't fit into either category (and when they do, they're as likely as not to be LHP under these definitions).

While it's certainly possible for a pagan religion to be LHP according to these definitions, for the most part the RHP/LHP construction is irrelevant.

Sunflower


Also, "left-hand path" vs. "right hand path" was originally appropriated from Hindu Tantric practices, wherein "left hand" practitioners indulged in taboo behaviors on purpose as a way to achieve transcendence by breaking societal norms. (at least that's how I understand it.
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Re: Is a Pagan, left-hand path religion possible?
« Reply #4 on: May 21, 2015, 01:04:45 pm »
Quote from: Redfaery;175230
Also, "left-hand path" vs. "right hand path" was originally appropriated from Hindu Tantric practices, wherein "left hand" practitioners indulged in taboo behaviors on purpose as a way to achieve transcendence by breaking societal norms. (at least that's how I understand it.

 
For what it's worth, that's also my understanding/recollection.

It is also worth noting, though, that using the meaning in Western ceremonial stuff, in which the left-hand path is about individual development and power, that of course left-hand pagan paths are possible, because they exist. (Pagan forms of theistic Satanism; QED.)
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Re: Is a Pagan, left-hand path religion possible?
« Reply #5 on: May 21, 2015, 05:23:06 pm »
Quote from: Kaio;175207

 I do not completely agree with these definitions; I don't know whether every single right-hand path religion sees ego and/or individual identity destruction as desirable and/or unavoidable as well as I don't know whether every single left-hand path religion sees divinization as desirable and/or unavoidable.


Yeah, I'd go further then that and I say I think he's wrong.

I can't speak for Islam or Buddhism, because I'm not familiar enough with their theology.

But I think it's highly debatable that all orthodox Christian sects see union with God/annihilation of the self as the end of their path.  It certainly is the case in some sects.  Catholicism in particular sees Heaven as union with God.  But much Protestant theology talks about believers dwelling alongside God and each other.  They do talk about there no longer being separation from God, but they also see people in heaven as having new perfected bodies, which suggests that individual identity is still there.

It's even more problematic when you look at the practice of Christian sects as they exist on Earth.  Where would the Puritans fit in?  Because these days, they're pretty Orthodox as historical sects go and are a significant influence on modern Protestantism.  But one of the reasons they arose was as a reaction to the attempt to impose uniformity in the Anglican Church.  They believed that the Godly should have the right to choose what church to attend and to impose discipline and decide the precise form of worship themselves, rather than having it decided by a Church hierarchy.  How does that fit into the RHP/LHP dichotomy?  Because in many ways that's a position that's all about individual identity.

It's debatable whether Christianity as a whole fits into his description of the Right Hand Path.  With Judaism, I think he's just incorrect and doesn't really understand orthodox Jewish theology.

Firstly, despite the insinuation, Jewish theology generally doesn't have that much to say about the nature of the afterlife.  The Torah doesn't even mention it directly at all.  In general, Jews believe in an afterlife but there's no agreement on what it will be like; it's a subject of much speculation.  So any attempt to draw definite conclusions about "orthodox Jewish sects" and their view of the afterlife is doomed to failure.

Even more importantly, the concept of Judaism as the "struggle with God" is absolutely central to orthodox Jewish theology.  So much so that there's a strong possibility that orthodox rabbis put God on trial for abandoning the Jewish people in Auschwitz.  (For a long time that story was assumed to be apocryphal, but Elie Wiesel said in 2008 that he was there so I'm inclined to believe it happened).

That just doesn't fit with the whole RHP description Flowers is giving at all.  I think he's trying to force his view of a Christian theological framework where it simply doesn't fit.
 
Quote
Is a Pagan, left-hand path religion possible?


Yeah, absolutely.  In two main ways:

1.  If you're looking for a Pagan religion that sees independent existence as the highest form of actualisation, I see no reason why that wouldn't be possible.  It's just a matter of finding a religion/pantheon that's compatible with.  There's nothing inherent in religion that suggests the annihilation of the self is an automatic element of it.

2.  If you're looking to be a Left Hand Path Pagan, it's simple enough.  Say you're Left Hand Path.  That's it.  Whatever meaning it may or may not have had in the past, these days it's merely a badge of subcultural identification and is entirely down to self labeling.  It's like being a "hippy" or a "goth".  You just have to identify yourself with the tribe.  It's also worth noting that pretty much nobody calls themselves Right Hand Path these days.  I mostly agree with others that it's obsolete and not a particularly useful concept, but if you find value in it there's nothing stopping you using it.
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Re: Is a Pagan, left-hand path religion possible?
« Reply #6 on: May 25, 2015, 12:55:55 am »
Quote from: Darkhawk;175236
(...)

It is also worth noting, though, that using the meaning in Western ceremonial stuff, in which the left-hand path is about individual development and power, that of course left-hand pagan paths are possible, because they exist. (Pagan forms of theistic Satanism; QED.)

Quote from: Jabberwocky;175240
(...) Where would the Puritans fit in? (...) How does that fit into the RHP/LHP dichotomy?  Because in many ways that's a position that's all about individual identity.

It's debatable whether Christianity as a whole fits into his description of the Right Hand Path.

 I don't know, but I think Flowers' definitions can/could work more like Idealtypen, i.e., I think he himself can/could think that some religions/spiritualities may have characteristics of both right-hand path and left-hand path as he defined them.

Quote from: Jabberwocky;175240
Yeah, absolutely.  In two main ways:

1.  If you're looking for a Pagan religion that sees independent existence as the highest form of actualisation, I see no reason why that wouldn't be possible.  It's just a matter of finding a religion/pantheon that's compatible with.  There's nothing inherent in religion that suggests the annihilation of the self is an automatic element of it.

2.  If you're looking to be a Left Hand Path Pagan, it's simple enough.  Say you're Left Hand Path.  That's it.  Whatever meaning it may or may not have had in the past, these days it's merely a badge of subcultural identification and is entirely down to self labeling.  It's like being a "hippy" or a "goth".  You just have to identify yourself with the tribe.  It's also worth noting that pretty much nobody calls themselves Right Hand Path these days.  I mostly agree with others that it's obsolete and not a particularly useful concept, but if you find value in it there's nothing stopping you using it.

 I think it can be useful to try to describe how I currently understand right-hand path religions and left-hand path religions.

 When I think about right-hand path religions, I think of religions that accept the world as it is and whose practitioners either don't want to change the human society they live in, or don't want to change their position in the said human society. Or both. This seems to be the case of at least several traditional Pagan religions because they promote unity and identity in a group of human beings; they have an underlying notion of group and can be a basis a group can be built on.  
 Left-hand path religions seem to have to do at least with changing a human being's position in the human society he/she/they lives although the way the said human society itself works seems not to be questioned at least in the context of some left-hand path religions.

 Maybe the reason why I asked whether a Pagan, left-hand path religion is possible or not is more understandable now.
« Last Edit: May 25, 2015, 12:59:20 am by Kaio »
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Re: Is a Pagan, left-hand path religion possible?
« Reply #7 on: May 25, 2015, 02:13:21 am »
Quote from: Kaio;175361
I think it can be useful to try to describe how I currently understand right-hand path religions and left-hand path religions.

 When I think about right-hand path religions, I think of religions that accept the world as it is and whose practitioners either don't want to change the human society they live in, or don't want to change their position in the said human society. Or both. This seems to be the case of at least several traditional Pagan religions because they promote unity and identity in a group of human beings; they have an underlying notion of group and can be a basis a group can be built on.  
 Left-hand path religions seem to have to do at least with changing a human being's position in the human society he/she/they lives although the way the said human society itself works seems not to be questioned at least in the context of some left-hand path religions.

 Maybe the reason why I asked whether a Pagan, left-hand path religion is possible or not is more understandable now.

 
As I tried to point out before, dividing complex religions into binary categories is a highly dubious activity at best. The categories themselves present a serious case of false dichotomy. Not to mention that these categories come from a particular view and historical context which is not appropriate for most polytheistic religions. This is especially true of Reconstructionist religions, whose origins lie well before the concepts of 'left' and 'right' handed paths. These religions exist nowhere in your dichotomy.

Now, I could be wrong about this, but way you have presented your understanding implies that you believe that a 'Pagan' religion must follow a certain criteria to be called 'Pagan'. Ignoring the dubious nature of the term 'Pagan' there are so many of these religions with different origins, principles, beliefs, myths, and deities, that the criteria presented make no sense.

So if you want a definite answer here it is: Yes 'left-handed' paths can be 'Pagan' because the 'handedness' of the path is not the criteria for being 'Pagan', and is often not relevant to many which are 'Pagan'.

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Re: Is a Pagan, left-hand path religion possible?
« Reply #8 on: May 25, 2015, 07:57:21 am »
Quote from: Yei;175365
So if you want a definite answer here it is: Yes 'left-handed' paths can be 'Pagan' because the 'handedness' of the path is not the criteria for being 'Pagan', and is often not relevant to many which are 'Pagan'.

This. The Right-handednes and Left-handness of occult/religious paths is an arbitrary classification that is entirely in the eye of the beholder. It's much like the difference between dark magic and light magic in the Harry Potter books -- entirely arbitrary and in the eye of the beholder.
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Re: Is a Pagan, left-hand path religion possible?
« Reply #9 on: May 25, 2015, 12:11:52 pm »
Quote from: Kaio;175361
I don't know, but I think Flowers' definitions can/could work more like Idealtypen, i.e., I think he himself can/could think that some religions/spiritualities may have characteristics of both right-hand path and left-hand path as he defined them.

 
I would hope that most religions have characteristics of both, because otherwise they would be too simplistic to function in a complex world.
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Re: Is a Pagan, left-hand path religion possible?
« Reply #10 on: May 29, 2015, 03:01:32 pm »
Quote from: Yei;175365
(...) This is especially true of Reconstructionist religions, whose origins lie well before the concepts of 'left' and 'right' handed paths. These religions exist nowhere in your dichotomy.


 I think that it's not because the idea of right- and left-hand paths is generally newer than the Reconstructionist religions that they can't be employed to think about the said religions.
 Upthread I said:

 
Quote
When I think about right-hand path religions, I think of religions that accept the world as it is and whose practitioners either don't want to change the human society they live in, or don't want to change their position in the said human society. Or both. This seems to be the case of at least several traditional Pagan religions because they promote unity and identity in a group of human beings; they have an underlying notion of group and can be a basis a group can be built on.


 Most Reconstructionist religions promote unity and identity in a group of human beings because, from a sociological viewpont, most of them are reconstructed forms of religions that themselves were one of the bases of the respective societies they are associated with. It remains true even if/when they are practiced by solitary individuals because one says one is a (ethnic adjective) Reconstructionist even when one practices the said religion by oneself. It means that the underlying notion of group is present in Reconstructionist religions. And magic, that can be regarded as the left-hand path element in many of the religions Reconstructionists try to reconstruct, was generally frowned upon and/or illegal.

Quote from: Yei;175365
Now, I could be wrong about this, but way you have presented your understanding implies that you believe that a 'Pagan' religion must follow a certain criteria to be called 'Pagan'. Ignoring the dubious nature of the term 'Pagan' there are so many of these religions with different origins, principles, beliefs, myths, and deities, that the criteria presented make no sense.


 Indeed, I think "Pagan" remains a meaningful label to this day. Maybe somewhat loose, but still a meaningful one. Otherwise it would have been replaced already.

Quote from: Yei;175365
So if you want a definite answer here it is: Yes 'left-handed' paths can be 'Pagan' because the 'handedness' of the path is not the criteria for being 'Pagan', and is often not relevant to many which are 'Pagan'.


 The left-hand path (as defined by Flowers) seems to have more to do with magic than with religion in a Durkheimian sense, as I said upthread. (And here I'm assuming "Paganism" is a somewhat loose group of religions.) And religion (also in a Durkheimian sense), that has more to do with the right-hand path (also, as defined by Flowers) than with the left-hand path, is often traditionally opposed to magic. This is why I asked whether a Pagan, left-hand path religion is possible.
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Re: Is a Pagan, left-hand path religion possible?
« Reply #11 on: May 29, 2015, 03:38:58 pm »
Quote from: Kaio;175207
I'm starting from Stephen E. Flowers' concepts of right-hand path and left-hand path.


I'm only familiar with these terms from Tantra, where they don't have this definition at all. Left-hand Tantric sects use methods considered scandalous by the mainstream, but they still have the same spiritual goals as the right-hand sects.

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Re: Is a Pagan, left-hand path religion possible?
« Reply #12 on: May 29, 2015, 07:13:25 pm »
Quote from: Kaio;175545
I think that it's not because the idea of right- and left-hand paths is generally newer than the Reconstructionist religions that they can't be employed to think about the said religions.


Its not just that the idea of 'handed' paths is new, its also that they come from a specific cultural context which presumes a dichotomy.

Quote
Upthread I said:

Most Reconstructionist religions promote unity and identity in a group of human beings because, from a sociological viewpont, most of them are reconstructed forms of religions that themselves were one of the bases of the respective societies they are associated with. It remains true even if/when they are practiced by solitary individuals because one says one is a (ethnic adjective) Reconstructionist even when one practices the said religion by oneself. It means that the underlying notion of group is present in Reconstructionist religions. And magic, that can be regarded as the left-hand path element in many of the religions Reconstructionists try to reconstruct, was generally frowned upon and/or illegal.


Ok, massive oversimplification. Ancient societies cannot be divided or reduced to a simple category. What about religions that valued personal glory? Or wealth? Or social advancement? Or high levels of individualism in thought? Whole societies cannot simply be reduced to 'left' or 'right' handed, because their understandings of value systems do not necessarily group social values in the same way. Not to mention all the religions where magic and mysticism play an important role.

We can use examples. How do you reconcile the idea of 'right' handed religions with say ... the nordic love of glory and personal valour? Or the Roman love of social climbing and amassing personal wealth? Or the Olympics in Greek culture? The Olympics were a religious festival, but dedicated totally to individual achievement and personal gain. Or my own religion where one of the most important gods, Tezcatlipoca, included sorcery among his portfolio. Moctecuzoma even kept a retinue of sorcerors on his staff.

Quote
Indeed, I think "Pagan" remains a meaningful label to this day. Maybe somewhat loose, but still a meaningful one. Otherwise it would have been replaced already.


Just because it persists does not make it good. It has survived largely because there are no other viable alternatives. I would expect that, should Polytheistic religions grow, they will cease to refer to themselves as 'Pagan' and simply call themselves by their own name. I think that worshippers from the Germanic religious groups even prefer the term 'Heathen' to 'Pagan'.

Quote
The left-hand path (as defined by Flowers) seems to have more to do with magic than with religion in a Durkheimian sense, as I said upthread. (And here I'm assuming "Paganism" is a somewhat loose group of religions.) And religion (also in a Durkheimian sense), that has more to do with the right-hand path (also, as defined by Flowers) than with the left-hand path, is often traditionally opposed to magic. This is why I asked whether a Pagan, left-hand path religion is possible.


Several people have given you an answer. Let me ask you a question: Why does Flower's opinions matter? What makes his definition of 'handed' paths viable, effective, or even applicable, for you?

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Re: Is a Pagan, left-hand path religion possible?
« Reply #13 on: May 30, 2015, 08:09:30 am »
Quote from: Yei;175553
Its not just that the idea of 'handed' paths is new, its also that they come from a specific cultural context which presumes a dichotomy.


It's not really new, it's from Tantra. As far as I can tell, Western occultists borrowed the term but changed the definition.

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Re: Is a Pagan, left-hand path religion possible?
« Reply #14 on: May 30, 2015, 06:16:29 pm »
Quote from: Gilbride;175566
It's not really new, it's from Tantra. As far as I can tell, Western occultists borrowed the term but changed the definition.

 
Indeed. But I was referring solely to its use in Contemporary Pagan context.

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