LEFT HAND RIGHT HAND PATH

An interesting set of cards today, on the question of a life’s path from a young sorceress.

Which path is more suitable for me: the left hand path or the right hand path?

In the parlance of magical discourse this question refers to what others have identified as black magic or white magic. I’m not so keen on making any such distinctions myself, as I see magic simply dealing with power, and not with the methods we devise to make use of this power. But I like to answer such questions for the sake of the structural contrast and symmetry that the cards often present us with.

As it happens, the cards today were quite blunt, yet in the final analysis one must make up one’s mind as to who is to call the shots on making the final decision to walk either this side or the other side of magical practice.

I did a three-card reading for each:

On the left hand path we found:

The Pope, Justice, the Devil

left-hand-path

On the right hand path we found:

The Lovers, The Magician, Judgment

righ-hand-path

How do we read these cards if we take the literal context of the question into consideration? It is as if the cards show an exact description of what we’re dealing with at hand:

Black magic belongs to the realm of the Devil.

White magic belongs to the realm of the Angel.

Or so they say.

Here, it becomes crucial to understand what the sorceress wants, to begin with: To be in cahoots with the Devil, and do what there is to be done in terms of pacts and bonds, or to mediate relations between the ambivalent subject (herself included) and the public?

Whereas the Devil invites us to the underworld, asking us to start with confronting our own demons, the Angel says, ‘all rise, and let us now hear the news.’

Whereas in the first example we clearly have a situation that requires a complete cut (Justice) with the dogma of the mainstream church (Pope), and enter a formal submission to the Lord of Darkness (Justice + Devil), the second example demonstrates a need to rise above the very idea of choice (Lovers) by tricking oneself (Magician) into believing that the sharing of higher learning is possible (Judgment).

Whereas in the first example, describing the left hand path, we are asked to consider giving up a pound of our own flesh and blood in exchange for magical knowledge (Justice cuts and weighs), the second example, for the right hand path, shows us that we are dependent on the community to acknowledge our magic. Moreover here, as the Magician is looking back at his options, we are meant to understand that he may not be aware of how much of that doubting of himself he ends up carrying into the new world, or new eon.

Whereas the first example may involve working with necromancy, the ancestors, or the spirit of the telluric forces, the last example emphasizes work with the celestial forces as received by the larger group. If the first example shows us the transmission of personal gnosis, the price being going down, the second example shows us the transmission of group mentality, the price being having to listen up.

SUITABILITY

Now, let’s go back to the question of suitability. Which one of these magical paths is more suitable for our sorceress?

Firstly, the answer to this question must be given in the preference for the particular practice that each of these three-card sequences describes ever so clearly. Secondly, the cards show us how agency is always in our own hands. If you’re ready to enter a relation of exchange – you pay for your magical lunch – then you can expect the Devil to do your bidding when you need it. In the last example, while you’re free to rise to the occasion or not, if you do, you’ll rely on the community to pay for your magical lunch, and then, well, be ready to serve, for as they say, there is no free lunch.

While the first example may be good for the solitary witch and work with individual power, the second may be good for the ones who like group power, and working with circles of people.

CULTURE

Now, let us make clear that these divisions are culturally determined, and that if we run when we see the Devil, then it is probably because of the irrational fear instilled in us all by the grand religions of the world, having an agenda that has little to do with what I like to call natural magic.

This being the case, one then needs to also assess to what extent one can live with the cultural labels and epithets that the society at large will be more than ready to bestow on what one is doing. It may well be a good idea in this sense to ask oneself: Why is working with the ‘Devil’ condemned, while working with the ‘Angel’ is consecrated? Which camp do I want to be in? The winners or the losers? Bear in mind that I’m still talking from the perspective of the society and what the society is ready to do to people who transgress the rules of the society. Now, this transgressive lunch ain’t too pretty, and history has it that good folks have been burned for a lot less than this discussion here.

THE THING ITSELF

I was quite grateful to the cards today for spelling out what is at stake in walking a particular path. I salute the courageous ones, if they go with the Devil, for they will have shown determination and a willingness to live with ‘the crazy.’ But I also salute the ones who choose the Angel, for they can also perform work that is needed in terms of how we negotiate our place within the larger community. And then I salute the ones who can do both, for they will have said: ‘Fuck it, I don’t give a flying fuck about what others think.’

I took a walk in the Swedish woods today with this question in mind, and how one can best help out the young ladies and gentlemen who would like to try their hand at magic. While stumbling quite by chance over a remote place featuring all sorts of horned gods, I also almost tripped over a stone that brought me for a second straight back to Romania, where I grew up. Zamolxis, I found myself whispering, and then wondered what it was that put me on that track.

Camelia Elias in the woods of Sweden
Camelia Elias in the woods of Sweden

Keep going, y’all. Sooner or later you’ll stumble over just the path that leads you to your truth.

§

Note on the cards: Jean Noblet Marseille Tarot (1650) as reconstructed by Jean-Claude Flornoy.

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10 Comments

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  1. Dear Camelia,

    I love the idea of this spread. Looking at the cards in pairs for left and right hand path, I have also seen this:

    Le Pape on the left hand shows a clear hierarchy of power. There is a teacher and students. You got the power, you use it. L’amoreux on the right hand has not got this hierarchy (as you say you need community), he gave up supremacy and sits in the crowd. The right hand path has to deal with everything on eye level. The left hand justice is heavily armed and slices her magic to size, weighing up what is needed. Le Bateleur on the right hand has laid down his arms and now tried many machinations to imitate the use of raw power. He now beguils and tricks the powers to work. The Devil on the left hand path has the angels wings and the mortals genitals, he has power in both worlds. Le Jugement has split the powers into heavenly and earthly, and the right hand path only offers a mediated connection, not a foot in each realm.

    So, as to the usefulness…the left hand path is for you if you are willing to deal in raw power and direct, full contact interaction. The right hand path introduces society and mediation for those needing safety and a tool-heavy, less willpowered way.

    • Dear Markus, what an exquisitely nuanced summation, and more, of what I was saying. Thank you.

      Indeed, that was also my feeling here, that what we’re talking about, the bottom line itself, is the willingness to explore raw power, or contrary, the wisdom to explore what can be done when mediation is the pay off. Many people see the Magician as, well, the Magician, but in truth, no Magician is better than the Devil. The Magician in the Tarot is the cultivated man, the con man, the quick strategist. He can get there, to the real power, but certainly not because he happens to be so clever. Powerful magic has little to do with our calculations. Powerful magic begins with an act of surrendering. Raw power à la the Devil is certainly not for everyone.

  2. Indeed! I was just finishing a novel by favourite author Garth Nix (Clariel, though the series starts best with Sabriel), where he has a right/left hand cosmology at work. In the beginning the strongest free magic beings created the Charter, organised and governed magic, the right hand path. They bind all but a few spirits and make the world orderly and safe. The charter is the structure and the tools of the magician. It uses symbols and connections to access power and is safe and mediated. Free magic is raw and willed directly. Very powerful but dangerous too. Turns out fiction is quite literally no fiction..:-)

    • Yes, raw power is dangerous when it lacks proper channelling. It is not for nothing that, say, the Vodouists allow for full possession only in a ritual, communal setting. As not everyone knows who will take over their bodies, with the consequence of loss of control over one’s full conscious and acts, who’s to prevent the embodied spirit from going amok? The last thing you need is the police at your door telling you gently, or not so gently, that now you’ll be locked up for a very long time.

      In other shamanic circles, there’s therefore a strong insistence on instructing everyone that one never lose foothold of ‘this’ world. One foot here, one foot there, but never both feet ‘over there’. As with everything, the art is in finding the good balance, and in knowing exactly what you’re doing, while you’re inviting raw power to take over. A contradiction in terms, all that knowledge that you must have in order to experience something very basic, but there you have it. So it goes with paradoxes. They are ever so exciting.

  3. A really wonderful reading, Camelia. Such symmetry in the two sets of cards, too. I really enjoyed it, as well as the end of the blog, where you talk about your walk in the woods:) Thank you!

  4. A very nice piece, Camelia!
    If found your insight – “…the second example, for the right hand path, shows us that we are dependent on the community to acknowledge our magic” – utterly convincing.
    I once advised a relative of mine to keep to the traditions after he had mentioned seeing ghosts or something like that. He was not convinced. “How, then, are you going to distinguish between a genuine experience and mere delirium,” I asked?
    He had no answer, and in my opinion he did get lost, not just spiritually but in the world of daily business too.

    Attempting to walk both paths at the same time must be confusing.
    There is a compelling series on the Discovery Channel, titled “Gold Rush”, where quite determined people search for gold in Alaska. They are completely oblivious to the environmental devastations they cause.
    One group has a habit of seeking divine reassurance by praying together. So, on the one hand they are trying to do business with the devil (getting a magical yellow substance from the underworld), on the other hand they crave the Lord’s blessing from above.
    Does it work? They seem to be the least successful group…

    • Good point, Walter, and thanks for your kind remarks. But you see, when I speak about commending the one who can do both, step on the left hand path with equal skill as he or she might step on the right hand path, I’m assuming already that the person in question actually knows what he or she is doing. Without that knowledge – whether arrived at by means of personal gnosis, books, or mentoring – there’s only one way to go, namely towards getting lost in the woods. Normally we don’t commend people for their acts if we see that they lack common sense. So I wasn’t talking about those here. As a general rule it helps to know what you’re good at. If you know that, then chances are that you will also know which path is for you. Discernment lies at the heart of self-knowledge.

  5. This is really intriguing. How does one use magic if they have never tried their hand at it before? I’d like to start.

    • In my work with people for magical awareness, when I devise tailored programs for each individual according to a set principles that work for me, I always begin with the telluric forces, as I know that these will work for them. ‘Know thy earth’, is my mantra here, for it is true that ashes go to ashes. Get a sense of the telluric first, and then see what magic comes to you.

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