The Left Hand Path and Dark Workings in Magick
I have decided its time to discuss the topics of negative magick, dark workings, justifiable retribution, personal ethics and integrity and the left hand path, generally. We have skirted around this issue by discussing tangential issues, so I thought that we should tackle it head on.
“Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.” - so says the New Testament of the Bible, in what is called the Golden Rule. It would seem logical and ethical to assume that this rule should be adopted into everyone’s life. Then there is the Wiccan Rede - “Eight words hath the Wiccan Rede, An it harm none, do what thou wilt.” If the world were a perfect place and people acted in a proper and ethical manner, then these two sayings would be indispensable and part of the expected behavior for all. They are, instead, guidelines or suggested ideals for model behavior. I won’t go into discussing the Christian maxim that one should turn the other cheek when assaulted rather than strike back, because I am not a Christian and because I don’t believe that it works. Certainly, Mohandas Ghandi and Martin Luther King used techniques of civil disobedience that relied on nonviolence in order to take the moral high ground in civil disputes. This does not apply when dealing with individuals. Unfortunately, we live in a cruel world that doesn’t forgive stupidity and seems to reward the rapacious and the ruthless. Most of us just want to get along and live our lives in relative peace and prosperity, but there’s always someone or a group who makes that difficult.
I also don’t subscribe to the classification of “white” or “black” magick, since the intention is what motivates the spirits, power or the mind, depending on the theory of magick employed. Magick is, therefore, neutral - the intention is what can be judged as either good or evil. I don’t even like using those terms since they are couched in morality, which is determined by one’s religious beliefs. Since I am pagan and a witch, my definition of good and evil will not be quite the same as how a Christian, Jew or Muslim would define them. In fact, to many people, any magickal working is illicit and unsanctioned, meaning that it is likely to be considered “evil.” If we throw away the terms white and black magick and good and evil, what do we have left to guide us in the labyrinth of right and wrong actions? The answer to that question is that we have our ethics, which is a body of rules and boundaries that we use to guide and judge our interactions with others.
I could easily write a book on ethics, and the truth is that they are, by nature, fluid, changeable, context sensitive, practical and used in a case by case manner. That means that no rule is absolute and that all boundaries are voluntary. These rules are established by necessity and built up by experience, usually from making mistakes and acting in an unethical manner. Most of these rules are based on common sense and many of them are backed up by actual civil laws and social responsibilities. Everyone has a collection of rules that they abide by and many know the rules that govern a modern society. However, when it comes to working magick, a new set of rules must be determined, since there is little in society that can guide one in these practices. These rules have to be developed by the individual practitioner, so it’s really a waste of time for me to attempt to list them here like a collection magickal Ten Commandments. However, I can discuss a few common sense rules that I try to use when working magick.
I basically live by the ethic that one should live and let live - in other words, don’t try to fix every problem or right every wrong. There’s just too many of them even in an ideal existence. Instead, carefully and strategically choose your battles and then play to win. If someone is minding their own business and peacefully following the direction of their life, who am I to either interfere or get involved, unless of course that person is breaking civil laws or interfering with my personal business. If one avoids getting involved when someone is committing a crime, then it becomes a matter of aiding and abetting, for which one can get in almost as much trouble as the one who is the primary perpetrator. There is such a thing as civil responsibility, however poorly that is perceived in the present time.
So with that being said, I think that most will agree that my ethics aren’t much different than the average person’s. Where I might draw a softer boundary is that I try not to judge people or situations unless I have all of the facts. If someone has lots of tattoos and dresses and affects an attitude like a “hood”, I will reserve judgment on them until they actually do something offensive. After all, I may look just as strange, weird or disagreeable to them. Being a witch and a pagan has made me sensitive about judging people too quickly, since it’s been done to me all too many times.
All of this is pretty much logical and sensible and many would agree with it. Where I part company with many is on the subject of magick. You see, I don’t believe in turning the other cheek when someone aggressively goes after me or seeks to do me harm. Same goes for my loved ones, family and friends. I will use whatever means I have to protect myself, my family and loved ones. In such a mode I could even be defined as being absolutely ruthless, and I will use magick and whatever other means I have to protect myself, my associates and my interests. So that means I won’t turn the other cheek when someone seeks to smite me. I also have a number of magickal rites and tools at my disposal if such a thing is required. There are negative spirits, negative planetary aspects, negative intentions to imprint magickal energy and harmful psychological ploys that can be used, if they are warranted. Because these things can be used for good as well as ill, they can’t be labeled “black magick.”
However, I have found that a dispassionate examination of the situation before deciding on a plan of action is required. I also believe that whatever I do, I must be fully justified, not only to myself, but to the Deities that I serve as well as to my friends and family. Doing something that my close associates would disagree with or greatly frown upon, not to mention going against the expectations of my spiritual alignment with the Godhead, would be quite foolish, perhaps even self destructive. Possessing over three decades of magickal knowledge forces me to be cautious and to use a dispassionate and objective perspective if I were to use magick to harm others in order to protect myself, since I could probably do a lot a damage. The right degree of force and the correct mechanism requires some pretty sober thinking and certainly can’t be adequately done while angry. For this reason I can count on one hand the number of times that I have used harmful magick to protect myself.
I know some folks who delight in using negative spell work to settle petty scores and to get revenge for minor infractions. I find that behavior unethical and really unnecessary. Often, the most severe thing that I might do is cut myself completely off from someone who is using me or habitually lying to me about his or her motives. Sometimes doing nothing but letting someone else's stupidity, greed and avarice work against them is the right action. We also need to know when to use the legal system to redress injustices and pursue civil litigation. But the only way to properly judge this kind of situation is to do so when not angry or emotionally compromised.
Then there is the topic of diabolism. This topic involves one’s spiritual alignment, which is another way of asking what aspects of the Deity does one personally relate to? Some magickal practitioners don’t have any spiritual alignment, but many do. It’s often joked about that one man’s god is another man’s devil. Yet because I don’t believe in good and evil, it would be illogical for me to consider someone who is worshiping a different deity than me as either categorically wrong or evil. In other words, if someone is worshiping Satan, I wouldn’t consider that person to be essentially evil. This is because there is no entity named Satan in my spiritual pantheon and because paganism tends to embrace all gods from all religions as valid. I also don’t personify the light and darkness as good and evil; they are both an equal part of the natural world. To me light is knowledge, revelation and manifestation - darkness is the mystery, place of transformation and hidden (occult) knowledge. But some folks personify light as good and darkness as evil, and they take sides, as if it were some kind of sport.
However, Christians, who do believe in a spiritual hierarchy that places Satan as an evil adversary of God, would consider a worshiper of Satan to be evil. Satan is an entity that has a prominent place in the Christian spiritual hierarchy and anyone who claims to worship him is taking on all of that cultural and spiritual baggage whether they realize it or not. The same is true of demons and other spirits who are aligned in an adversarial role with the Christian God. Judaism and Islam have the same spiritual perspective as Christianity when considering spiritual adversaries, they just don’t give them as much power and importance. In Islam, Satan is a caricature, a buffoon, since he apes the prophets and mankind, but has no wisdom or understanding of God - he is a deceiver and the lord of lies. In Judaism, Satan is actually Samael, the chosen adversarial advocate of the Lord. Demons are considered by Jews to be unredeemed spirits who must submit to the power and authority of God.
What this means is that if someone wants to worship Satan or any other dark godhead that has a negative role and reputation in another religion’s spiritual pantheon, then they will have to deal with all of the cultural prejudices associated with that godhead. I believe that taking on an adversarial role is exactly what might motivate someone to worship the devil. It would certainly have a shock value and an impact on other people’s opinions and expectations, especially in the U.S., which seems to be forever embroiled in sectarian differences and prejudices. Some have written a great deal about how adopting a diabolical spiritual path and alignment is completely legitimate and just another perspective amongst many. Perhaps they are correct, but their Christian neighbors will neither agree nor respect their choices in how they worship.
A secular society is supposed to allow everyone the freedom to worship as they see fit, but that still doesn’t stop people from being prejudiced against those who are either different or selectively contrary. To be a proponent of the left hand path is to take on the whole social system and all of its collective spiritual values. Some may glorify in this avocation, others may find it a way to empower themselves, to build a reputation of being dark and basically negative - as opposed to nice and wholesome (the cultural norms). However, to engage in an adversary relationship with your native culture is to also inadvertently mine the rich strata of xenophobia, alienation, hatred and self-loathing. Being always against what everyone else is for takes a certain kind of mind-set, and it has its costs. A lifetime of dealing with massive amounts of cognitive dissonance will eventually defeat someone, since there is little chance of turning the world’s opinion around to one’s personal spiritual beliefs.
So it’s for this reason that I believe that followers of the left hand path, particularly those who espouse forms of Satanism, are ultimately twisted, warped, alienated and forced to either change (and conform) or become society’s great losers. Anton LaVey, the head of the Church of Satan, did not die a rich and powerful man, mourned by a nation of followers. He died in obscurity and poverty, much to the chagrin of his few remaining followers and contrary to his legend. It’s interesting to note that he had avowed in his writings fascist pronouncements of being in alignment with the power elite. That kind of cozy relationship with powerful men was more the kind that a fundamentalist Christian preacher might have than the head of the Church of Satan. So followers of the left hand path are much more likely to be on the outside of the corridors of power, if they happen to make their beliefs public. As a friend of mine put it, “Just how much real power do LHP magickians get? What happens to them in the end? Do they stay devoted to the infernal powers or do they move on? If they move on, how is their mental state - are they capable of functioning within society?” These are brilliant questions, yet they are ones that I can’t answer, I can only ponder them.
Then there is the issue of whether or not one should magickally deal with obviously negatively aligned spirits, such as devils and demons. I have been criticized as being too alarmist about current trends in the dealing with goetic demons. I myself have performed evocations of these entities and have found a constructive use for them. I also know other magicians who have used them in a balanced and constructive manner, while others would never have anything to do with them. Obviously, I believe that making use of these entities is not quite the same as forming a bond with them, something that I would never do.
I make a distinction between those entities that I treat as part of my personal and religious godhead and those entities that are not a part of that godhead. As I have pointed out previously, all spiritual entities, whether aligned or nonaligned, merge to form a union of all spiritual being. Godheads are different than spirits, though, where the one is worshiped and the other is summoned or commanded and constrained. There is a big difference between them, and from a personal perspective I would never confuse the two. So for this reason, I would find myself in agreement with the Renaissance magus: to give worship to God and to command the spirits from a position of superior power and authority. Even if the entity that I am dealing with is in an exalted position, such as one of the super-archangels (Seraphim or Cherubim), I will still empower myself to command that entity into appearance. I will also seek to control the magickal operation from beginning to end. I won’t give up my personal invested authority or power nor surrender myself or my will except to the Deity. I see the Holy Guardian Angel as a personal representation of the Deity, a microcosmic reflection of myself, or the God/dess Within, so I may also surrender to that entity. What this means is that I will not give offerings, worship or devotion except to the Deity. I may honor other spirits, such as ancestors, demi-gods, heros and heroines, but I will only give devotion and worship to the Deity.
That being said, I also believe that others who may do something different, such as worship Satan, devils or demons had better define their spiritual hierarchy in such a manner so that these entities are actually gods, or there will be some serious problems to deal with. They should also conduct themselves in such a fashion that they retain control over what they are doing when working magick or things will go terribly awry. What our culture believes and accepts as true creates powerful trends, thought forms and even defines what’s good and evil, whether we like it or not. As a witch and pagan I have had to deal with this issue for many years, but I at least am witnessing some changes in the culture and the beginning of acceptance. Those who espouse a diabolical magickal system are not so lucky and have to deal with the consequences of taking on the entire cultural religious system and ultimately not succumbing to its forces. I wish them luck, but the odds are definitely against them.