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The terms Left-Hand Path and Right-Hand Path refer to a dichotomy between two opposing philosophies found in the Western Esoteric Tradition, which itself covers various groups involved in the occult and ceremonial magic. In some definitions, the Left-Hand Pathis equated with malicious Black Magic and the Right-Hand Path with benevolent White Magic. Other occultists have criticised this definition, believing that the Left-Right dichotomy refers merely to different kinds of working, and does not necessarily connote good or bad magical actions.
In more recent definitions, which base themselves on the terms' origins amongst Indian Tantra, the Right-Hand Path, or RHP, is seen as a definition for those magical groups which follow specific ethical codes and adopt social convention, while the Left-Hand Path adopts the opposite attitude, espousing the breaking of taboo and the abandoning of set morality. Some contemporary occultists have stressed that both paths can be followed by a magical practitioner, as essentially they have the same goals.
The Right-Hand Path
The Right-Hand Path is commonly thought to refer to magical or religious groups which adhere to a certain set of characteristics:
- They adhere to social conventions and avoid taboos.
- They divide the concepts of mind, body and spirit into three separate, albeit interrelated entities.
- They adhere to a specific moral code and a belief in some form of judgement, such as karma or the Threefold Law.
Esoteric groups that could be considered to be RHP include Theosophy, as well as various Neopagan religions such as Druidry, Wicca, Kemetism, Celtic Neopaganism, Slavic Neopaganism, Germanic Neopaganism, Nova Roma, Hellenic Neopaganism and the Rada cult of Haitian Vodou, certain traditions of the Ecclesia Gnostica Catholica, or the Gnostic Catholic Church. Right-Hand Path Tantra (Sanskrit: Dakshinachara) is also included. The occultists Dion Fortune and William G. Gray consider non-magical Abrahamic religions to be RHP, although the term is rarely used outside of magical societies such as Fraternity of the Inner Light and Ordo Templi Orientis. Other RHP traditions include most of Taoism, Hinduism, Buddhism, Shinto, and all other Dharmic religions. Many groups and beliefs of the New Age Movement, particularly those based on self-help psychology, consciousness research, and many traditional religions and doctrines can also be considered RHP.
The Left-Hand Path
The historian Dave Evans studied self-professed followers of the Left-Hand Path in the early 21st century, making several observations about their practices:
- They often reject societal convention and the status quo, which some suggest is in a search for spiritual freedom. As a part of this, LHP followers embrace magical techniques that would traditionally be viewed as taboo, for instance using sex magic or embracing Satanic imagery. As Mogg Morgan wrote, the "breaking of taboos makes magick more potent and can lead to reintegration and liberation, [for example] the eating of meat in a vegetarian community can have the same liberating effect as anal intercourse in a sexually inhibited straight society."
- They often question religious or moral dogma, instead adhering to forms of personal anarchism.
- They often embrace sexuality and incorporate it into magical ritual.
Under these definitions, various esoteric groups, often with widely differing beliefs, could be considered to be followers of the LHP. These include various forms of Satanism, such asLaVeyan Satanism as well as Theistic Satanism. Other Western LHP philosophies include Setianism, the Typhonian Order, Luciferianism, some beliefs of the New Age movement,chaos magic, Feri, magicians involved with demonology, as well as groups like the Dragon Rouge, and the Order of Nine Angles. The Petwo cult of Haitian Vodou reflects the LHP ethos. Several eastern philosophies could also be viewed as adhering to the LHP including forms of Taoism, forms of Hinduism such as Aghoris and Vamachara, forms of Buddhismlike the Drukpa Lineage and Bön.