“Two roads diverged in a yellow wood, and I—
I took the one less traveled by,”
And that was the leftward-branching path.
In his book “Lords of the Left-Hand Path,” author Stephen Flowers defines the term “Left-Hand Path” as “the path of nonunion with the objective universe,” “a state of self-imposed psychic solitude,” “[a]n eternal separation of the individual intelligence from the objective universe” (pp. 32-3). Flowers sees the LHP as a kind of movement of rebellion centered on the self in opposition to a universal reality identified with God and Nature that would demand of the individual intelligence permanent union with the larger reality and total annihilation in the process.
The modern-day Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints (LDS) also teaches that individual personality or “intelligence” is an essential trait of each person and is uncreated, co-eternal with God the Father, and persisting for all eternity:
“29 Man was also in the beginning with God. Intelligence, or the light of truth, was not created or made, neither indeed can be.
30 All truth is independent in that sphere in which God has placed it, to act for itself, as all intelligence also; otherwise there is no existence.” (Doctrine & Covenants 93:29-30)
The difference, of course, is that the LDS view of eternal unique personhood requires the individual to remain subject to some degree of divine fiat. God the Father may not have created the intelligence that lies at the root of each personality, but He is responsible for the disposition and organization of that intelligence, as well as its ability to act for itself. The so-called Book of Abraham from the controversial canonical LDS work The Pearl of Great Price depicts God as telling the patriarch Abraham that He rules over all intelligences:
“21 I dwell in the midst of them all; I now, therefore, have come down unto thee to declare unto thee the works which my hands have made, wherein my wisdom excelleth them all, for I rule in the heavens above, and in the earth beneath, in all wisdom and prudence, over all the intelligences thine eyes have seen from the beginning; I came down in the beginning in the midst of all the intelligences thou hast seen.” (Abraham 3:21)
In the Book of Moses from that same canonical work, the LDS mythos has Satan appearing before God in the premortal realm to propose himself as the instrument for carrying out God’s eternal plan for the salvation of humankind on earth. Satan’s proposed method of doing so, however, would usurp the sovereignty of God and defy His plan, not by freeing human beings from divine control but by substituting another ruler in place of God, namely Satan himself, and by depriving humanity of the agency God intends for them. Satan would give humans no choice in whether or not to accept salvation: each and every soul would be compelled to do so. Jesus, by contrast, simply accepts that the will of the Father is paramount and His plan will be accomplished on His terms. For this reason, Satan was not selected by God to carry out humanity’s salvation, while Jesus was:
“1 And I, the Lord God, spake unto Moses, saying: That Satan, whom thou hast commanded in the name of mine Only Begotten, is the same which was from the beginning, and he came before me, saying—Behold, here am I, send me, I will be thy son, and I will redeem all mankind, that one soul shall not be lost, and surely I will do it; wherefore give me thine honor.
2 But, behold, my Beloved Son, which was my Beloved and Chosen from the beginning, said unto me—Father, thy will be done, and the glory be thine forever.
3 Wherefore, because that Satan rebelled against me, and sought to destroy the agency of man, which I, the Lord God, had given him, and also, that I should give unto him mine own power; by the power of mine Only Begotten, I caused that he should be cast down;
4 And he became Satan, yea, even the devil, the father of all lies, to deceive and to blind men, and to lead them captive at his will, even as many as would not hearken unto my voice.” (Moses 4:1-4)
Satan is portrayed in Mormon tradition as being so thorough in his seeking to deprive individuals of free will that his actions in the Garden of Eden are said to include depriving even the serpent who led Eve astray, and many other serpents besides, of agency and individual will to action!
“6 And Satan put it into the heart of the serpent, (for he had drawn away many after him,) and he sought also to beguile Eve, for he knew not the mind of God, wherefore he sought to destroy the world.” (Moses 4:6)
A traveler on the LHP will accept no such ruler, admit no higher will, or acknowledge any greater source of value than those she manifests from herself alone. Since human society presents us with a never-ending sequence of would-be rulers, governors, police of various stripes, controlling deities, and the like, walking the LHP becomes a ceaseless act of protest, a perpetual antinomianism.
In French, when you want to describe students who act out or vigilantes who take the law into their own hands, you use the expression faire la loi “make the law,” as in ils croivent qu’ils peuvent faire la loi, “they think that they get to make the law.” Each left-hander also naturally abrogates this role of personal law-giver to him- or herself. There is no following the model of the ancient city of Athens, Greece, entreating a legendary sage like Solon to come provide a legal code and then retreat away to the east, allowing citizenry and government to grapple with its implementation.
In this sense, the LHP is all about divergence, which, as we all now know in the wake of Veronica Roth’s bestselling trilogy of young-adult science fiction books made into hit movies starring Shailene Woodley and all called Divergent after the first book/movie, is a matter of not fitting neatly into a role or mold imposed from without. It is perhaps appropriate that actress Woodley got herself arrested on October 10, 2016—Indigenous Peoples’ Day—while in protest of the Dakota Access Pipeline in North Dakota. She carried her character’s dauntless divergence with her all the way back into the real world, where she naturally ran afoul of an actual law—quite appropriately, a law against trespassing.
Transgression of law and order can be great fun, and legal transgressors are easy to admire and idolize, especially in the United States, with our mythic veneration of lone-wolf, rugged individualists. There is a glee in opposing overwhelming authority, like a latent childhood memory of overstepping the bounds of parental control. The Homeric Hymn to Hermes, dated sometime in the seventh or sixth centuries BCE, depicts its divine laudandus as a playful trickster toddler who sneaks out of his crib at night and steels cattle from his half-brother, the god Apollo, embodiment of many of the values of stratified civilization and order, as well as the light the of sun. When Apollo finds out and confronts Hermes, only to have a stonewall of denials erected in his furious face, he takes the offending youth to Mount Olympus for Zeus to judge. There, even as Hermes swears up and down that he would never lie or steal and couldn’t have taken the cattle anyway, as he’s only a babe, he gives his parental judge a sly wink. Of course Apollo wins the right to reclaim his stolen herd in the wake of Hermes’ all-but-admission of the crime, but the younger god has one more trick in store for his older brother. He has beguiled the ropes harnessing the animals so as to form a net that only he can magically open. To loosen the net, Hermes plays his lyre and sings a song of theogony that so impresses Apollo that the elder half-brother trades his freshly reclaimed cattle for the marvelous instrument! The lawless Hermes is fun indeed. With his wily actions and keen sense of cunning, Hermes clinches his role as divine patron not only of thieves, but of traders as well. It’s no mean irony that the god in charge of stealing is also the one set over trade: now there’s a dichotomy of purpose worthy of a Trump cabinet pick!
However, constant opposition to law solely for opposing’s sake rings hollow and can lead to incredible philosophical contradictions. For instance, American political science professor George Michael’s 2006 book The Enemy of My Enemy: The Alarming Convergence of Militant Islam and the Extreme Right profiles the numerous connections and even specific instances of cooperation between radical right-wing racist extremists in Western countries and militant Islamist extremist groups like Al Qaeda, Hezbollah, Hamas, and Egyptian Islamic Jihad. One common thread uniting these otherwise extremely unlikely bedfellows is shared hatred for Western capitalist societies and governments, coupled with the desire to destroy them.
One formerly violent political radical profiled for Michael’s book is David Myatt, who is alleged in Jacob Senholt’s Political Esotericism & the convergence of Radical Islam, Satanism and National Socialism in the Order of the Nine Angles to have been the individual who founded and inspired the radical Order of Nine Angles under the assumed pen-name of Anton Long, a charge which Myatt denies. I’ve written about the ONA and its agenda of terrorism in service of a eugenic campaign to recreate society in its own image here. Myatt himself eventually converted to Islam (or at least Islamism), but has now rejected that path as well in favor of embracing his own self-styled Weltanschauung which touts compassion, empathy, and self-development. Myatt calls his newly created philosophy pathei-mathos, after the phrase from the ancient Greek playwright Aeschylus’ Agamemnon that refers to learning from personal experience and suffering. The phrase provides yet another verbal echo appearing to link David Myatt’s writings under his own given name to those published online and via vanity press by the ONA under the pseudonym of Anton Long. Moored by nothing more substantial than his desire to destroy the law and order he knew by experience from growing up in England, Myatt was able, at different points in his life, to champion both Neo-Nazism-cum-white supremacy and radical Islamism, two clusters of philosophy and ideology that most would usually regard as entirely inconsistent and at loggerheads with one another. Perhaps it’s fitting, though, that a champion of lawlessness for its own sake should prove philosophically incoherent and inconsistent.
Similarly hollow ring the calls for LHP transgression in the form of simple sexual amorality or immorality. One recent post in a private online LHP group I belong to began with the cheeky rhetorical question: “Indulgence instead of abstinence… or was it the other way round?” The author concluded the post, in which he argued for increased self-knowledge of the limits of one’s personal morality via transgression of those limits through participation in “gangbangs” and other “hedonistic acts” and “dirty secrets,” with the continued feigning of aporia:
“What is the point here? Who knows. [sic] Perhaps I’m missing a simple thing that was so present in my initial days of meeting Satanism. Plain and simple sin without frills. The Satan without all the intellectual discourse and worship. The beast incarnate. The raw human nature without pretention [sic].”
This dewy-eyed Satanist’s Jeremiad about by-gone days of simple sexual sin drew numerous comments from other group members regarding their fondness for kink and feelings of umbrage at being made to feel ashamed of their proclivities and fetishes over the course of their lives. When I inquired about the word “gangbang,” voicing concern that, to me, the term is akin to gang-rape and not at all something I would want to do “for the experience or fun of it,” even if just simulated for titillation’s sake, replies came fast and furious to the effect that all members of the “kink community” know that a “gangbang” is a consensual group sex activity, while “gang-rape” is the proper term for one that is not, and no one should judge or look down on others for wanting to indulge in “rape play” anyway, as I seemed to be doing.
Quite apart from what I regard as the utter gaucherie and rather unpleasant philosophical antinomy of turning the heinous, violative act of rape into something I would ever label “play” (some nice, consensual BDSM is good, though!), I come away from a post like that wondering what’s the point? If you harbor kinky, fetishistic desires and have been made to feel guilt and shame for them over the course of a closeted upbringing, then sing loud the blasphemies of your Black Mass, fire up a sexual anti-bonfire of the vanities and exorcize those demons for once and all. Afterwards, though, you’ll probably want to come to the realization that simple sexual indulgence can never comprise the whole of a LHP. For, if not, what would be the point? My wife and I have enjoyed—and continue to enjoy—some sexual kink as well, finding it fun, exhilarating, and invigorating. But then comes the moment of climax; the soft, cuddly denouement; maybe a nice post-orgasmic snooze; and we eventually get up, get dressed, and re-enter the world.
When it comes to matters of true sexual immorality—that is, not just consensual kink, but the unhallowed ground of real mortal sin—my wife and I are no saints there either. When we met and began dating, she was still married to another—a member of the Armed Services no less, who was, at that time, deployed to the Middle East. I knew all of that when I first invited her over to my apartment for an elaborate meal I had planned as a deliberate seduction, and I didn’t feel the least bit bad or guilty about it either. I had seen what I wanted, felt sure she wanted it too, and danced gleefully all over society’s bullshit guilt-trips regarding adultery and whatever duty I owe as a patriotic American to servicemen in deployment. Neither did I shy away when her Army Ranger husband returned from Iraq, hacked his wife’s emails to find the evidence of our lengthy electronic correspondence, and then contacted me to request a man-to-man, face-to-face “chat.” I left my regular appointment with the hospice patient I was then assisting, purchased a six-pack of Guinness Stout in bottles, and rolled up at the house the Ranger shared with two others of his Regiment, marching right on in to face whatever music would be playing inside with nothing more than my wits, my mouth, and the booze as possible tokens of safe passage. What I knew for sure throughout all of this craziness was that my wife was done with that marriage before she and I ever met. She had decided as much to herself the moment her then-husband departed for that fateful tour of duty. The only new determination that clicked when she met me was who would be the next love interest of her life, and boy am I grateful that it did!
The only sexually transgressive thing I can think to do out there in the real world these days is to have a threesome with my wife, begin an open marriage, or just plain cheat on her. And while the first two of those options are simply possibilities we’ve never fully explored, I’m fairly convinced that the third holds nothing but massive potential for fucking up the best thing I’ve ever had the pleasure of experiencing in this life, a constant source of renewal and energy, not to mention the relationship that anchors both my shared, harmonious home life and the only nuclear family my kids have ever known. Sex is fun. Kinky consensual sex can be really fun. But self-destructive or promiscuous sex that interferes with a decade-plus-long relationship two people have built together and used to anchor not only their own lives, but those of their children as well, is—well—just plain stupid. The frisson of adultery in the early days of my relationship with my wife was pretty fun, I must admit, but we’re done with that now. It’s past. I’ve moved on. At any rate, life has to involve more than just matters of sexual pleasure, doesn’t it, no matter how transgressive or tame?
So, LHP as total lawlessness leads to philosophical absurdity and LHP as total licentiousness leads to aimless pleasure-seeking and possible self destruction. What’s left for the would-be left-hander to cultivate? We can probably all agree that part of the lure of the LHP in general, and Satanism in specific, is, to quote the words of none other than the ONA, “the frisson, the dangerousness,” the feeling of being “genuinely heretical and dangerous” and not caught in “[a] tame Satanism, devoid of charism [sic] and so lacking in dangerousness that it cannot via pathei-mathos now inspire the necessary self-knowing and the resultant self-honesty” (pp. 13-4). Danger. Danger! Relinquishing of the Good Guy badge and embracing the Bad Boy image! That’s what we want, right?
One way of seeking such is, as one poster to the online forum I mentioned earlier put it: “Death to the weak, wealth to the strong!” Cue the rolling of eyes. I covered the slavery and ultimate nihilism inherent in this kind of view in my last post. There’s danger aplenty down that road—sure enough—but it’s not the liberating kind usually associated with the LHP. Besides, all-consuming lusts for power and wealth have plagued the politics of religious organizations and secular factions for the entirety of human history. If the Right-Hand Path involves total union of the individual with a culturally-determined larger reality identified as God or simply Natural Law that shapes and controls customary human interactions, then power-lust must be a part of it, because human societies and their members have been caught up in fighting each other over money and dominance for as long as humans have existed.
Indeed, the very first author in all of recorded world literature to be recognized by name, the Akkadian poet and priestess known simply by her Sumerian title Enheduanna (2285-2250 BCE), literally “High Priestess of the Sky God An,” relates in her work exalting the goddess Inanna how a native Sumerian rebel named Lugal-Ane drove her into exile from her post as an official in the Sumerian city of Ur where she was tasked by the Akkadian administration with keeping the local populace in check through the use of religion. In her work, Enheduanna depicts herself as forsaken by the sky god she serves, and she offers a prayer to Inanna to intercede with An on her behalf, telling him how the rebel has unseated Enheduanna and defiled the temple of An and asking him to help the priestess drive the rebel out. Eventually, as it turns out, Enheduanna is successful in her struggle against the usurper Lugal-Ane. Enheduanna was apparently a skillful theologian and propagandist for both ancient Mesopotamian religion and the Akkadian regime ruling over Sumer, effectively blending Akkadian and Sumerian mythologies and carefully crafting divine cults to steer the allegiance of the people.
Buying in to the prevailing, pan-cultural narrative of dominance through both naked force and the potent blending of politics and religion is nothing new, nothing radical, and more than a little bit conformist. The RHP doesn’t just consist in swallowing submissive religious ideas and practices that the wealthy and power-hungry employ to subjugate the herd. It also entails the impulse to join in yourself in shaping and using those same ideas for the domination of others. Whether you’re oppressor or oppressed, the whole tired, elaborate game of oppression itself, with its violation of sovereign wills and inviolate bodies, is the sum total of the RHP, the prevailing narrative of most of human history. It is from this path that we must now diverge.
In seeking to discover a profound and enduring way of walking the LHP, it behooves us to return to the mythos of Satan himself, to the image of the rebel angel opposing his maker and championing an ideal of freedom from constraints imposed by the factitious circumstances of creation. Unlike the Satan of myth, we humans don’t just have a single, overarching creator God to oppose, but hundreds of thousands of years of evolutionary pressure that have shaped us as a species for pro-sociality. Let’s face it: a single average human out in the open, naked and alone, can be a pretty weak and insignificant thing. A group of humans in such circumstances, however, that can cohere and act with concerted effort and shared purpose toward mutual survival becomes a formidable force indeed. Our evolution has left us modern humans with neurophysiological traits adapted for survival in close-knit groups, and our shared cultural evolution has tended to accentuate and even exaggerate those same traits.
If you read neuropsychologist Michael Gazzaniga’s 2011 book Who’s in Charge?: Free Will and the Science of the Brain, social psychologist Ara Norenzayan’s 2013 book Big Gods: How Religion Transformed Cooperation and Conflict, and cognitive scientists Steven Sloman’s and Philip Fernbach’s 2017 book The Knowledge Illusion: Why We Never Think Alone, you come away with a healthy appreciation for the fact that humanity’s evolutionary strength has always lain in our pro-social nature and behavior. When we know we’re being watched, whether by actual authorities in human form or imagined divine ones, we self-police our behavior in order to make it more cooperative and group-oriented. Research on the relationship between the size of the neocortex—that area of the brain responsible for higher-order processes like sensory perception, cognition, spacial reasoning, and language—and average social group size among primates has shown that humans typically socialize within an active group of around 150 to 200 individuals, and this average size is limited primarily by the brain power required to process all the social relationships and obligations within and among those 150-200 people. When we engage in abstract moral reasoning, we tend to make quite different judgments depending on whether the lives at stake in any given scenario belong to members of our accustomed social circle or to individuals outside of our circle of acquaintance. Own-Race Bias, by which we distinguish nuance in and correctly recall the particulars of facial features belonging to those of our own race at higher rates than those of other races, has an actual neurophysiological basis. So also does our tendency to dehumanize in thought, word, and deed those who do not belong to our in-group. Studies have shown that activity patterns in the medial pre-frontal cortex of humans viewing photos of members of social out-groups who elicit disgust differ in no meaningful way from the pattern elicited while viewing photos of inanimate objects like rocks. We are, in effect, wired for small, tightly knit groups with which we associate relatively positive affective states like pride, pity, and envy and within which we tend to operate according to a relatively high moral standard over and against all other groups with which we associate negative emotional states like disgust of the sort usually reserved for cockroaches and toward which we have little qualm about behaving with utmost ruthlessness. It’s no wonder that the Rwandan genocide of 1994 played out to the sounds of Hutu Power broadcasters at the Radio Television Libres des Milles Collines (RTLM) radio network broadcasting calls of “kill the cockroaches,” by which they meant to target members of the Tutsi ethnic group. Former Neo-Nazi and author of the 2015 book Romantic Violence: Memoirs of an American Skinhead Christian Picciolini has said that most people become radical extremists out of a desperate and damaged need to belong to an in-group:
“I think ultimately people become extremists not necessarily because of the ideology…I believe that people become radicalized, or extremist, because they’re searching for three very fundamental human needs: identity, community and a sense of purpose. If underneath that fundamental search is something that’s broken—I call them potholes—is there abuse or trauma or mental illness or addiction? [sic] In my case, many years ago, it was abandonment. I felt abandoned, and that led me to this community.”
David Myatt has likewise written about how adherents of extremist groups are driven by “a distinct and a prideful sense of identity” bolstered by a strong “us” versus “them” mentality, as well as the “propensity toward impersonal hatred” of those judged to belong to the latter and not the former. Myatt observed that his extremist goals “fulfilled a need; they gave a sense of identity; a sense of belonging; a sense of purpose….”
We humans are also pro-social in the way that we store and access information about the world around us. For this purpose, we don’t tend to just rely on our own paltry-to-meager intellectual capacities and memories, but rather make extensive use of other people’s mental capabilities in vast, interconnected communities of knowledge. Consultation of records such as books, artworks, and photographs, as well as face-to-face consultation of experts and community members respected for their knowledge, both serve to expand our own knowledge bases when we face a novel or challenging problem. When thinking about any such issue, we tend not to adequately distinguish that knowledge which we ourselves command from that commanded by and available from our wider community. As a result, individuals usually suffer from what has been called the illusion of explanatory depth (or, more simply, the knowledge illusion): that is, individuals believe that they themselves command the finer details of knowledge which actually resides only in their knowledge community and not in their own heads. Individuals who personally command the scantest amounts of information usually tend both to rely most heavily on their communities of knowledge and to insist most forcefully on the correctness and truthfulness of that knowledge, even in the face of disconfirming evidence. In essence, such individuals are never voicing their own considered opinions, arrived at in consultation with available evidence and appropriate standards of proof and reliability. Rather, they serve as mouthpieces for their knowledge community, repeating the pronouncements of those regarded within their community as expert and authoritative. When you challenge or criticize community knowledge aped in this way, you are seen as, in effect, criticizing and challenging the authority of the entire knowledge community. The opinions voiced in response become ever more entrenched and trenchant, no matter how rational and persuasive the counter-arguments you offer. As frustration at the situation rises, tempers—and fisticuffs—flare.
Finally, social psychologist Leonard Martin, with whom I had the privilege of working as an undergrad on his research into the theory of Terror Management, has pointed to how the top-down evolutionary pressure exerted by the widespread adoption between ten and eight thousand years ago of a sedentary, agriculturally based lifestyle occasioned a radical shift in religious belief and worldview among human populations. Belief systems rooted in the delayed return necessary to justify the practice of founding one’s sustenance on growing and tending crops arose, concomitant with the Just World hypothesis, the idea that the world will work out according to plan so long as one adheres to prescribed behaviors. The aim of life was seen as working hard here and now for the vague promise of a hoped-for return at some future point, assuming none of a host of factors well outside of the individual’s control (like weather patterns and the behavior of pestilent species like locusts and crop-destroying fungi) turned out badly. With so little control over what happens and so little immediate feedback or fulfillment for all the toil of growing crops in the stratified societies that rose in large number around the same time, the individual has little choice but to externalize hopes and fears in deities or godlike states that promise justification for or at least cessation from one’s labor and suffering. This belief, in turn, is useful to the burgeoning state in order to justify lives of servitude, which are further enforced by wedding ideas about divinity to those about secular authority and enforcement, as in the work of Norenzayan discussed above. Now gods or divine laws of karma not only guarantee a vague and hoped-for future reward so long as one successfully suppresses the innate desire for immediate gratification of bodily and emotional desires, but they also watch the individual and punish transgression of the prescribed path. The world is seen as a source of scarcity, where resources are hard-won through intensive labor and self-abnegation and must be hoarded and jealously guarded. Individual patterns of behavior now become the property of the larger state and the business not only of the punishing/justifying deities or divine laws, but—more critically—of the secular authorities and even fellow members of the society. All of these social elements have a vested interest in acting coercively toward the individual to ensure compliance with the delayed-return arrangement. Moreover, Martin’s and his colleagues’ research has shown that, so long as individuals remain caught in this delayed-return type of worldview and lifestyle, they experience acute senses of the pointlessness of life and the need to search for meaning. On the other hand, once individuals can return to a more immediate-return method of living and believing about the world, their felt need to exhaustively scour their experience for some sense of “meaning” diminishes or even goes away altogether. In a way not too dissimilar to Mihaly Csikszentimihalyi’s concept of “flow,” immediate-return fulfillment brings on a quieting of the egoistic inner child’s perpetual importuning tantrum, with its ceaseless wailing refrain: “Is this all there is? Is there nothing more for me?”
While the traits our shared evolution has engrained within us as a species have proven helpful over the course of our history, we humans can now see that, in the modern world, they come with incredible, and even crippling, drawbacks. In an environment of numerous small bands all in stiff competition for survival with limited technological means, the patterns of belief and behavior encoded in our neural wiring and enshrined in our cultural systems like delayed-return, Big God-style religion serve well to guarantee the health and relative safety of some bands at the expense of others. But around 1825, the global human population reached the threshold of one billion for the first time. It took just one hundred more years to double that number. From 1925 to today, the human population of the planet has surged to in excess of seven billion. Combined with massive globalization, these figures mean that, more likely than not, in most areas of the world you’re constantly rubbing up against not just total strangers, but individuals who differ signally from you in skin tone, cultural heritage, mother tongue, culinary preferences, religious practices, you name it. Moreover, given that the Legatum Prosperity Index, which tracks material and psychological conditions of prosperity in 149 of the 195 nations of the world, has found global prosperity to be at its highest point in the past decade, there’s not a lot of necessary, out-and-out competition for survival among all these people from vastly different backgrounds. Under these conditions, many of the traits inculcated in us by our evolutionary “maker” are not simply no longer adaptive, they’re outright maladaptive.
In an overpopulated, globalized world where the conditions of survival are ever more guaranteed and our technological means have increased to the point where we run the very real risk of being capable of completely destroying the ecosystem on which we all depend, traits and patterns of behavior that drive us humans into small, fractious bands that are relatively well regulated and moral within but cutthroat as hell toward out-groups are probably no longer the best way to go. Even the price we must pay as members of an in-group—being constantly coerced as to behavior and intimate decisions over personal, bodily conduct—are proving too great. There’s a reason so many new studies and polls are finding that, around the world, individuals are forsaking traditional religions and religiosity in droves. There’s also a reason religions have been reasserting themselves in recent years, pushing an agenda of increased presence in public life through both simple visibility in the public eye and greater dominance in politics and religion-based legislation. Sociologists of religion talk about this phenomenon in terms of a cancellation of the “secularist truce” often foisted on religion in modern Western societies, whereby religion and religious practice are increasingly relegated exclusively to the private sphere. In the Satanic Bible (pp. 46-54), Anton LaVey talked about “a new Satanic Age,” evidence of a shift in the modern society he was familiar with toward increased levels of carnality and increased willingness to cast off the pretensions and trappings of traditional religious piety with its never-ending shame and guilt for indulging bodily appetites and lust for the pleasures of life in the here and now. The rise and propagation of the Prosperity Gospel idea within religions in the US (Ross Douthat, Bad Religion: How we became a Nation of Heretics, chapter 6: Pray and Grow Rich), in emerging economies like Brazil (Alex Cuadros, Brazillionaires, chapter 5: Prosperity Gospel), and even within popular Buddhism in Thailand in the form of the Dhammakaya movement, provide additional testimony of this tendency toward privileging immediate over delayed returns in the modern world. LaVey cast his observations and the original Church of Satan movement in terms of a reaction against the history of Christendom, but modern Satanism and its LHP can be understood equally well, and perhaps better, in terms of reacting to the much older and more deeply engrained human pattern of delayed-return belief systems based in sedentary, stratified societies centered on agricultural activity:
“For two thousand years man has done penance for something he never should have had to feel guilty about in the first place. We are tired of denying ourselves the pleasures of life which we deserve. Today, as always, man needs to enjoy himself here and now, instead of waiting for his rewards in heaven. So, why not have a religion based on indulgence? Certainly, it is consistent with the nature of the beast” (The Satanic Bible, p. 54).
Yet merely throwing off the yoke of traditional religion and reclaiming a worldview based in immediate-return and feedback in the here and now is only part of the equation. What theistic Satanist Diane Vera called “evilists” and proponents of radical, so-called “exeatic” living like the ONA have done is to go no farther than the casting off of the modern reflexes of pro-sociality. Inspired by ideas of the likes of Ragnar Redbeard, they imagine a more pristine, former libertarian state of human life, one without large, pluralistic states and governments pushing diversity and engineering human moral behavior toward total strangers. Ultimately, though, such movements seek the same dominance and control over others’ wills and bodies as any repressive regime. A thorough-going left-hander must also rebel against the even more ancient and more deeply engrained human tendencies to form tribes around some sense of exclusionary shared identity—be it geographic, racial, or otherwise—in the first place. For the formation and maintenance of such tribes proves as coercive as any large-scale stratified agricultural state, requiring that we allow our duty or obligation to the authority of the small group or band to countermand our own self-worth and self-governance. It also requires that we take our cues for behaving toward members of both the in-group and out-groups from the dictates of tribal leadership, however diffuse, rather than our own, inner moral calculus.
The circumstances of human life on this planet are simply no longer tribal in the exclusionary, proprietary, and embattled sense. We can, of course, all still make recourse to shared identity with others and revel in that sharing, but insisting on it as a source of legitimation for the denigration, brutalizing, and maltreatment of others is what is still plaguing human life with abuse, assault, rape, torture, unjust imprisonment, and open war. With so many people and so many different possibilities for dividing and subdividing shared identities, almost everybody now knows personally and cares for someone who has been damaged by the constant strife among and between “tribes.” And farming out to the dictates of group-think one’s complex sense of obligation (or lack thereof) to both in- and out-groups is just another example of the drive toward externalization characteristic both of the Neolithic Revolution in delayed-return religious worldviews and of the sort of thinking that LaVey self-consciously opposed:
“ALL religions of a spiritual nature are inventions of man. He has created an entire system of gods with nothing more than his carnal brain. Just because he has an ego, and cannot accept it, he has to externalize it into some great spiritual device which he calls “God”. God can do all the things man is forbidden to do—such as kill people, perform miracles to gratify his will, control without any apparent responsibility, etc.” (The Satanic Bible, p. 44).
Delayed-return, Big-God religions (and this includes even non-mainstream things like Wicca, folks!) have always traded in divisiveness. From the Ur-separation in thought between humanity and the gods—or at least some godlike, preferable state, level, or manner of being—proceeds a second primal separation between purity, a prerogative of the divine, and defilement, a concomitant of the earthly condition. From these antitheses follows a slew of successive, ever more finely grained and exclusive divisions within human and animal spheres between clean and unclean, favored and disfavored—to the extent that one might think of the act of division and separation as the core human religious activity. Finding a critical difference between things and driving a separation between two otherwise like items has always been, and will always be, the way meaning is created: semantics requires differentiation. But this basic semantic modus operandi in religion is taken much, much farther than simply discovering the meaning of experience. It is used as a means of driving wedges between human beings and between humanity and the rest of the animal kingdom, wedges used not just to classify different groups, but to justify dominance of one group or species over another.
The original act of God in Genesis, creation, was followed immediately by a series of acts of separation: night from day, waters above from waters below, human from animal, male from female. In the prior Mesopotamian creation myth of Marduk, the hero god slew the sea monster Tiamat—prototype of the Biblical Leviathan and a monster whose Akkadian name is directly cognate with the enigmatic Hebrew term tehōm meaning roughly ‘deep’ found in Genesis 1:1—and then cut up the body of the sea serpent and separated out its pieces to bring order to creation. Marduk also enacted the first calendar, the primordial means of divvying out and apportioning that slipperiest of natural phenomena: time itself. To this day, the ceremony of havdalah, Hebrew for “separation,” marks the symbolic end of Shabbat and Jewish holidays, delimiting the boundary between sacred and profane time, space, and concentration. Think too of Herod’s Temple in Jerusalem, with its elaborate system of courts of ever increasing exclusivity. First came the the outer court, where almost anyone, including foreigners, could enter. Next, one passed into the Court of Women, open to all Jews both male and female, but not foreigners. Even lepers could enter here, though they were specially cordoned off in a particular section of the court. Then came the Court of the Israelites, where only Jewish men could enter and lepers were forbidden. After that, one continued on to the Temple sanctuary itself, where only priests could go. Finally, the ultimate inner sanctum of the Temple complex was the Holy of Holies, permitted only to the High Priest after ritual purification and only then on the holiest of holy days, the Day of Atonement, Yom Kippur. The Oracle at Delphi had a secret central sanctuary as well, the adyton, a term which literally means “inaccessible,” into which suppliants to the oracle were forbidden entry. There the Pythian priestess sat alone, mounted a tripod set over a sulfurous fissure in the earth, holding laurel leaves and a vessel of spring water while awaiting divine communication from Apollo. When she entered her trance and began prophesying for the petitioner, she would call out her pronouncements to the chamber above. Systems of religiously based social segregation belong in this discussion too, like Hindu castes, dating ultimately back to tribal distinctions in the Rigveda during the second millennium BCE. Even that supposed exemplar of a religion that is usually thought to be more a rational, psychological philosophy than a traditional religion—Buddhism—rests on a recognizable series of critical separations of this sort: samsara from nirvana, sukha (joy and pleasure) from dukkha (pain and suffering), the sangha from lay folk, and, as Peter Masefield argues in his controversial 1986 book Divine Revelation in Pali Buddhism, the ariyasāvaka, or one who has heard the Buddha’s teaching from an authorized source of instruction, from the puthujjana—from the Pali word puthu related to the root prthak meaning to be separate or apart—or those who are not only pagan in the sense that they remain trapped in pleasure seeking and older patterns of life and worship, but who are also predominantly of indigenous and non-Aryan cultural origins. One proposed etymology for the English word witch connects it with an old West Germanic term *wikkon, itself related to the Gothic term weihs, ‘sacred,’ and derived ultimately from the Proto-Indo-European root *weik, meaning, yet again, ‘to separate’ or ‘divide,’ which is precisely what a modern practitioner of Wicca does when casting a circle, forming a sacred sanctuary about him- or herself within which to work magic, free from the contagion of the mundane world outside. For yet another ancient example of this phenomenon in action, check the About page of this website. For now, let me just say: I could go on, but you get the belabored point.
Liminal cases—ones that push up against the boundaries of such acts of separation and division—always present the greatest danger to religion conceived in these terms. People who “think big” and thus begin abrogating the prerogatives of the gods, men and women who flout sexual propriety in pursuing their pleasure, people who feel and express non-binary gender identities, even animals like bears that regularly walk on two legs and thus blur the lines between human and beast. These elements at the thresholds and boundaries threaten the stability and neatness of the order, both religious and social, and require special treatment of one sort or another, from linguistic taboos against pronouncing the name of the species—the Proto-Slavic term for bears was *medvjed, meaning “honey-eater”—to discriminatory treatment or even outright attempts to erase the offending element from existence altogether. What Anton LaVey gave birth to in the 1960s is a religious movement—ultimately a family of religious movements—practically founded on the idea of acting out of place, or rather on a program of systematically destroying the notion that there was ever any legitimate idea of place or pigeonhole circumscribing the limits of possible human action or human potential to begin with. Satanists and walkers down the LHP embrace the liminal and seek to cultivate it, believing that in defying traditional categories and the mental process of categorization in this way altogether lies true personal power.
We have to resist the tendency to react with disgust in the face of otherness. And that means all otherness, whatever other is to you and your frame of reference. We need to fight the concomitant tendency to quarantine people into sanitized categories of thought, characterizing groups as hermetic wholes. We know that individuals join groups, and that groups strive to forge coherent, group identities and ideologies. Yet when we dissect such groups to find this coherent, corporate identity or ideology, we find only individuals and individual practices, some closer to the supposed ideal and some farther away. Groups and group behavior are the aggregate of individual choices and behavior. The putative corporate party-line is a Platonic ideal, a notion that only ever exists in the human mind, with its penchant for clarity and consistency, two qualities usually sorely lacking in the messy real world. Plenty of intelligent people make the mistake of bisecting religions, for instance, into two, not-so-harmonious camps of theory and practice, arguing that religions can and should be characterized and judged by either their ideal doctrines or the messy, on-the-ground practices of adherents alone, when in reality both are crucial. The ideal inspires but must be instantiated and negotiated by real people living in real time. Just because someone belongs to a given group and pledges allegiance to a certain ideal does not mean that the ideal is either the sum total of that individual’s identity or even necessarily a reliable guide to his or her actions in the world. Numerous self-identified faithful Catholics in the Andean highlands of Peru still offer prayers to Pacha Mama and Pacha Tata, the indigenous Quechua characterizations of the sacred earth and sky, respectively.
In their 2017 book Option B: Facing Adversity, Building Resilience, and Finding Joy, Sheryl Sandberg and Adam Grant note that two natural human reactions prove equally stifling to those facing tragedy and adversity in their lives. One is the so-called “Mum Effect,” the natural tendency of people to feel put off by another’s misfortune, as though afraid it might somehow befall them as well. As a result, people tend to refuse to acknowledge others’ misfortune in conversation. Acquaintances and friends of the one suffering avoid speaking of the affliction, and the sufferers themselves feel the need to remain silent as well, lest their talk of unpleasantness upset those with whom they interact. The other stifling reaction involves talking, but in a way that reduces the highly particular plight of others to an assumed sameness of experience, a putative shared common human experience that effaces the uniqueness of the individual’s peculiar suffering or, perhaps worse, substitutes for the sufferer’s unique experience the tale of the plight of some other individual known to the speaker, as if to say to the sufferer: “See? You don’t have it so bad.” This latter reaction usually assumes that the sufferer merely needs to be enlightened as to some secret for overcoming tragedy that the speaker somehow possesses by virtue of his or her personal experience with adversity as opposed to that of the individual currently suffering through it. Sandberg and Grant talk in their book about another author, Emily McDowell, who battled cancer and soon got so sick of people trying out both of these tacks with her that she decided to write a series of empathy cards to help folks work through and around these common pitfalls. Three really great ones read:
“I promise never to refer to your illness as a ‘journey.’”
“I wish I could take away your pain. Or at least take away the people who compare it to the time their hamster died.”
“When life gives you lemons, I won’t tell you a story about my cousin’s friend who died of lemons.”
People desperately need to feel unique and individual, even as they seek friendship and support in groups. Nowhere is this desire felt more acutely than in the experience of grief. Recognizing and honoring each individual sufferer’s uniqueness forms an important part of the healing process.
So this all sounds like a lot of academic, intellectual mimblety-mumblety. Think back to the person who posted in the online LHP forum and lamented all the “intellectual discourse” in lieu of good ol’ simple sin. Where’s the vaunted danger the ONA so fetishizes? What could possibly be dangerous in all of this?
Well, in opposing ourselves to the “maker” of our shared human evolution, we’re turning our backs on a strategy for survival that has worked for humanity for thousands of years, on a social strategy that has anchored complex stratified civilizations since the Neolithic Revolution. If we do this, we counter our own neurophysiologically wired tendencies to see others—that is, those who really embody the concept of otherness—as less than ourselves: less noticeable, less distinguishable, less worthy, less human. We lose our own tribe in that primal, exclusive sense, with its safety in numbers and promise of protection from any and all outside comers. We lose an automatic place in the world provided simply by the fact of our births. We lose the blithe ability to continue relying on others’ significant mental capacities in lieu of insistence on our own learning, our personal mental efforts to master as much as possible. In this last sense, we in effect play a losing game from the beginning: there is no way a single individual can learn and master all the complex knowledge needed to operate in the world, but that won’t stop us from trying. A true walk down the LHP demands self-reliance to the highest degree possible. When it comes to knowledge communities, it at least behooves us not to take the opinions of those with whom we surround ourselves at face value, but always to question and vet them by our own, considerable rational standards. And this tendency runs the risk of damaging the harmoniousness of social relations. My wife is forever scolding me for “ruining” things with my constant insistence on critical dissection, on delving deeply into backstories and forgotten arcana to find that the modern narrative is somehow un-nuanced and overly simplistic. I refuse to let the beautiful lie stand, however attractive. We’re having a bit of this out right now as I express my new-found fondness and excitement for Peter Masefield’s highly controversial work on early Buddhism, mentioned earlier.
There is danger aplenty in all of this, and it’s not the bullshit, thrill-seeking danger of simply acting as a social misfit or sexual deviant, but consists in actively resisting the very bases of human society to begin with, in order to craft new patterns of human behavior and interaction, a brave new world where there are no tribes in any other than the purely recreational sense, where radically atomic individuals relate to one another solely as radically atomic individuals, each one completely unique and both deserving and demanding completely individual treatment in thought, word, and action. There are no elaborate codes of morality in the sense of behavioral obligations to other members of society: merely the single ethical principle of absolute sovereignty of individual will and inviolability of individual bodies. From that principle stems the sole moral duty, which is really not a moral duty per se at all, but rather a principle of rational self-interest: don’t violate any mature person’s sovereign individual will or inviolable physical body. If and when someone does violate that principle, act swiftly and definitively to re-establish the equilibrium by removing the threat to everyone’s sovereignty of will and inviolability of body. Does this mean you might at times have to violate a sovereign will and a physical body? Yes, indeedy: the violator’s. You must temporarily betray your highest ethical principle and the sole moral duty of the LHP for the purpose of re-establishing the positive principle of non-violation of wills and bodies. Call it the paradox of tolerance, or simply chock it up to that old math trick of two negatives multiplying in force to equal a positive. Papa LaVey addressed this issue as well:
“The question arises, ‘Who, then, would be considered a fit and proper human sacrifice, and how is one qualified to pass judgment on such a person?’ The answer is brutally simple. Anyone who has unjustly wronged you—one who has ‘gone out of his way’ to hurt you—to deliberately cause trouble and hardship for you or those dear to you. In short, a person asking to be cursed by their very actions” (The Satanic Bible, p. 89).
If you truly want to become your own god (The Devil’s Notebook, p. 20), you must be your own maker—or shall we say re-maker? The blind forces of our evolution have shaped us as a species for one mode of living and survival, but if we possess any truly ingenious trait, it lies on our capacity for flexibility and adaptability, to mold ourselves or our environments (or both!) in the service of something we ourselves conceive of as a worthy goal. Beyond the empty extremities of licentiousness and lawlessness for their own sake lies the hallowed ground of true rebellion, and in the pursuit of attaining to that holy spot we encounter the only true and absolute danger we can imagine: rebelling against self in pursuit of self, turning our backs on thousands of years of human behavioral engineering in order to find a new pattern all our own.
There’s a good reason Satanists and left-handers have always encountered opprobrium, hatred, and group violence throughout history, and it’s got nothing to do in reality with playing the tired old game of usurping others’ authority over self and grinding their bodies into the dust. It is those illusory fears which so exercise the imaginations of traditional religionists and stoke the fires of piety and revulsion against “the other.” That’s the reason LaVey declared Satan “the best friend the church has ever had, as he has kept it in business all these years!” Self-declared Satanists who champion those aped aims are as right-hand as any embodiment of the RHP ever was, from “Hitler’s Pope” Eugenio “Pius XII” Pacelli to Billy Graham to Evangelicals’ newly appointed political messiah in the US, Mr. Donald J. Trump. I can’t stop laughing with derision at one Instagram account that recently followed me whose name includes the word “Salvatrucha,” a moniker which recalls the violent criminal gang that originated in Los Angeles, California, and includes members of mainly Central American, largely Salvadoran, origin. The account presents an equal mixture of Satanic and anti-social, gang-like imagery, together with unabashed and persistent support of the Trump administration: Trump who pledged in July of this year “to destroy the vile, criminal cartel MS-13 and many other gangs,” by which he meant Mara Salvatrucha, which often goes by the abbreviation MS-13. Inconsistency and incoherence. That particular IG account is private, by the way, so you’ll have to request to follow in order to see it in all its glory. By this, I can only understand that the owner feels ashamed of either the presumed anti-social nature of his content or his own latent awareness of the risibility of his contradictions.
The true divergence of the LHP turns away from group squabblings and internecine spats over land, wealth, or dominance. Honoring the individual means honoring all individuals. Leonard Martin and his colleague Steven Shirk argue that modern foraging societies characterized by an immediate-return worldview and mindset value autonomy and the importance of individual perspective to the point that they acknowledge every individual’s interpretation of events as valid, no matter how much discordance exists between them. This doesn’t mean that all viewpoints are equally accepted, merely that individuals’ rights to hold a divergent perspective are not coerced away. Individuals think whatever and however they chose, and the group remains little more than a loosely knit cabal of shifting and changing allegiances for mutual self-interest. There is little in the way of concerted, group planning. Such groups don’t formalize external concepts of right and wrong, and they prize idiosyncratic knowledge gained through personal experience and not handed down from others. For these and other reasons, such societies tend to be highly egalitarian and anti-authoritarian in outlook and operation, and even to engage in a reverse dominance hierarchy whereby individuals who seek to coerce or lord it over others are cut down to size with scorn or ridicule. Some individuals exercise more influence by virtue of their surpassing skill in some domain or other, but that influence is born out of the degree to which their actions impress others, and not because they seek to impress themselves on others. In many ways, these traits represent ideals of the LHP and Satanism, as I understand and value them.
The danger of the LHP lies in rejection of an overarching narrative of pro-social human behavior and development that has been in place for more than the last ten millennia. It lies in seeking to supplant that narrative with a new story that holds better potential for fostering the success and fulfillment of individual humans in a radically self-altered modern world. LaVey spent a lot of time touting the development of artificial humans, but his visions of tinkerers in workshops laboring over metal or rubber automata didn’t even come close to realizing the true revolutionary potential inherent in his ideas.