The Devil Is In The Details
What Is Left Hand Path and What Is Satanism?
As I mentioned above, I’ve been sitting on this topic for a while. It’s a controversial one and I know it will cause some kneejerk reactions so I’m going to try to give it the best overview I can. To do that, I talked to Jezebel Pride, a member of the Minnesota Left Hand Path Community (formerly part of the local Satanic Temple) and the organizer of the Left Hand Path Recovery Group. (It should be noted that I spoke to her at the beggining of this year.) I will also be using Stephan Flower’s book Lords of the Left Hand Path* along with a few other sources.
So let’s start out with some definitions. The Left Hand Path has various definitions depending on who you talk to and what their backgrounds and biases are. Pride defines it as “searching for enlightenment from an internal source.” Flowers says “The left-hand path considers the position of humanity as it is; it takes into account the manifest and deep-seated desire of each human being to be free, empowered, independent actor within his or her own world.” (Flowers 8) The Left Hand Path can cover everything from Satanism to Setians to Neo Pagans (depending on their beliefs to Nordic Heathenism to Tantric Buddhism. There’s “no real specific dogma,” says Pride.
Meanwhile the Right Hand Path “search[s] for enlightenment from an external source,” according to Pride. Flowers expands on this: “Humanity is to seek knowledge of the law and then apply itself to submitting to that law in order to gain ultimate union with … God, or with Nature. … When this is completed the individual self will be annihilated; the individual will become one with the divine or the natural cosmic order.” (Flowers 8) This covers most theistic religions.
Magic-wise Chas Bogan sums this up nicely in his book Keys of the Conjure: “Following the ways of creation aligns you with nature. It utilizes inherent energy. You are working with the world to create change when your actions follow the natural order. Spells that work with creation tend to be more positive works, what in occult phraseology is said to be of the right-hand path. As one of its definitions, the word right also means correct. The term right-hand path, therefore, reflects a prejudice: since most humans are right-handed, it places virtue in normality. (Left-handed people have even faced persecution for their difference, including being labeled as witches.) Accordingly, acts going against the natural order are said to be of the left-hand path. These directional terms are used to differentiate between work performed for benefit versus destruction.” (Bogan 29)
Satanism has a long history of being used as scare tactics as far back as the 1500s. “Although heretics of all kinds were considered to be at least indirectly in league with the Devil, it was not until the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries that widespread ‘Satanism’ or ‘witchcraft’ was suggested by the force of orthodoxy (Protestant or Catholic). Not surprisingly, this is a time when we also find little in the way of true left-hand-path practice.” (Flowers 133) In fact, despite the witch trials (or perhaps because of them) and despite Aleister Crowley calling himself the Great Beast because his name enumerated to 666, the first Satanic church seems to have only appeared in the 1960s.
The Church of Satan was started by Anton LeVey in 1966 in San Francisco. It was never officially designed as a church because LeVey believed churches shouldn’t be tax exempt. Instead, it was designated as a business with LeVey as the sole proprietor. He ran it until his death in 1997. He was influenced by a lot of concepts including Might is Right, S & M, and carnival theatrics/psychodramatics which he put into play with the black mass ceremonies and the way he presented himself to the world. This kind of “fascination” or “non-ritual or manipulative magic” he considered to be a “lesser magic” in itself. (Flowers 298-374)
These days, Pride says, they’re not a favorite of the LHP/Satanic community as they are elitist and expensive. This isn’t much of a surprise as LeVey believed strongly in the survival of the fittest, going so far as to support eugenics. That said, contrary to popular images of Satanism, he was also highly against animal sacrifice and any harm to children. Much like the other groups we will discuss in this article.
The Temple of Set
The Setians, known more formally as the Temple of Set were started in 1975 by Micheal A. Aquino, a student of LeVey and former high ranking member of the Church of Satan. The Temple follows a lot of the structure of the Church, but takes a slightly different direction by following the Egyptian god Set instead of LeVey’s idea of Satan (as the true god who was, in turn, a form of Nature). It is one of the few occult organizations where the leader stepped down in his lifetime (though Aquino would retake the position several times as old leaders left or demoted themselves). The Temple of Set was caught up in the Satanic Panic of the eighties, where Aquino was accused of molesting children, however, the charges were dropped when it was proven he was not even in the places where the alleged assault took place. (Flowers 375-427)
The Church of Rational Satanism
This church was founded in 2009 by Lee Banks in the UK and Pride characterizes it as ninety percent science, ten percent esoteric and picking up speed in the occult community. The church defines the 90-10 divide as “the 90% is the natural pragmatism that reigns and represents the Rational Satanists way of life, and the 10% which is set aside for Ritualistic means and actions that hold no practical applicability in the 90% of your everyday life.” They bill themselves as “one of the most adaptable and progressive philosophical systems out there that all can connect to.” Unlike the Church of Satan and Temple of Set, they do not have a hierarchy and are very individualistic.
The Satanic Temple
The Satanic Temple is an activist group and defines its mission as “to encourage benevolence and empathy among all people, reject tyrannical authority, advocate practical common sense and justice, and be directed by the human conscience to undertake noble pursuits guided by the individual will,” according to their website. They’re the ones advocating separation of church and state by petitioning to get Baphomet statues put up next to Christian ones in front of government buildings and to be allowed to perform Satanic prayers to open government meetings as theistic prayers are. Pride calls them the “new kids on the block” as they were founded in 2012 in Salem, MA. They are not strictly religious or LHP and see Satan as “symbolic of the Eternal Rebel in opposition to arbitrary authority, forever defending personal sovereignty even in the face of insurmountable odds. Satan is an icon for the unbowed will of the unsilenced inquirer… the heretic who questions sacred laws and rejects all tyrannical impositions. Ours is the literary Satan best exemplified by Milton and the Romantic Satanists, from Blake to Shelley, to Anatole France.” They are also currently threatening to sue Netflix for unauthorized use of their Baphomet statue in The Chilling Adventures of Sabrina.
I hoped this helped you understand the basics of LHP and Satanism. These are far from all the Satanic groups/traditions out there, I skipped a few including Diabolism, Luciferianism, and the Temple of Satan which was started by LeVey’s daughter and seems to be defunct. If you’d like me to do a more in-depth exploration of these topics or Satanism in general, shoot me an email. I’m always open to topic suggestions.
*Yes, I know this book is problematic. See below.