It’s not unusual for me to cross paths online with folks who think Theistic Satanism “isn’t left-hand-path.” Unfortunately, I do think Satanism and theism sometimes come together in way that resembles a right-hand-path religion. This post will discuss what that looks like… and also what it doesn’t look like. i.e. Can a Satanist be both a theist and left-hand-path?
Introduction: left-hand path vs. right-hand path
Upon consideration, I would say for me, there are three main criteria for distinguishing left-hand path vs. right-hand path forms of spirituality. Though they differ and are distinct from one another, I do think they all have relevance worth considering.
The first distinction is: right-hand path spiritualities have conventional practices, left-hand path spiritualities have transgressive practices.
I get the impression this is a definition familiar in esoteric circles. The right-hand-path yogi achieves enlightenment via scriptural study, holy austerities, and serene, controlled forms of meditation or prayer. The left-hand-path yogi achieves it via forbidden heresies, obscene overindulgences, and bizarre, ecstatic rites offensive to ordinary people.
It should be noted that there is a relativistic aspect to this distinction. i.e., what was shocking and hence left-hand-path in Crowley’s day may be considered tame and hence right-hand-path today.
Criterion 2: outer vs. inner
The second distinction is: right-hand path spiritualities orient the believer toward something external to themselves, left-hand path spiritualities orient them toward something internal.
The right-hand path is thus characterized by bowing down to higher supernatural beings and begging them to perfect oneself. The left-hand-path, by contrast, rejects the idea that we’re inherently inadequate and empowers us to make ourselves divine.
This sort of “right-hand says ego bad, left-hand says ego good” distinction is typical in mainstream Satanic circles. The cynic notices that it allows such Satanists to call themselves “transgressive” without doing much to offend today’s society. I personally am not bothered by this though, as the kind of secular-liberal humanism such Satanists are devoted to actually is transgressive by the standard of traditional religious values. It is also, I would argue, heretical to any earthly ideology that demands identitarian investment in the herd, contra individualism.
This brings me to other related facets of this distinction. Ethically, does the religion say you should be altruistic, or that it is OK or even good to be selfish? Does it only permit prayer for “nice” things? Or does it authorize the use of magick for selfish and destructive purposes? These are recognizable, though, as just further variants on the outward-oriented vs. inward-oriented theme. That all forms of Satanism then manifest as inward-oriented on multiple fronts seems noteworthy in defining “left-hand-path.”
Criterion 3: otherworldly vs. this-worldly
The third distinction is: right-hand path spiritualities say that we should pay attention to transcendent realities at the expense of the actual existing world; left-hand path spiritualities say we ought instead to find our ultimate fulfillment immanent in this world.
I get the impression this is the distinction least-well-supported by general usage. It is, however, one that makes sense to me via both my LaVeyan past and my background in religious studies. What do all major world religions have in common? Fixation on an otherworldly horizon and conviction that human life is inadequate without orientation toward that. How is Satanism different? It rejects that and says “live for yourself, today!” instead.
Now, I would never advance this distinction as exhaustive of right-hand path vs. left-hand path. Reason being, many tribal/pagan forms of religious belief would qualify as “left-hand-path” by such a definition. Insofar as such religions focus on prosperity here and now, yet still entail sucking up to the gods for favors, I would say they are still right-hand-path.
The thing is though, when I decide who are my true allies among left-hand-path walkers, this is a factor I strongly consider. My commentary on the first tenet of the Tenebrous Creed speaks to this – i.e., while I do think Anti-Cosmic Satanism has given us some great black metal lyrics, I can’t say I’m a fan of it otherwise.
While my third criterion here may thus be a somewhat idiosyncratic factors vs. other peoples’ definitions, I still think it is worth noting.
How these criteria play together
As one may surmise from how I put things above, it’s actually the second criterion that I consider most salient. Left-hand-path spiritualities, to me, are those that revolve around the attainment of one’s own flourishing and self-evolution.
The third criterion’s significance is that it tends to complement the second when present. Insofar as a religion is this-worldly, it’s less likely wringing hands about the human condition while kissing deities’ asses. Vs. insofar as a religion is otherworldly, the more likely it asks you to sacrifice quality of life amid prostituting yourself to the gods.
As for the first criterion, I think it only really tracks what people perceive as left-hand-path. That’s all well and good if the whole point of your form of “Satanism” is just trying to scandalize onlookers. I personally think though that this is 90% juvenile and unimportant.
Yes, there are initiatory trials and other specific change-making scenarios in which transgression is the sine qua non – and that is part of the left-hand path. On this point, we Niner-adjacent types tend to agree.
But if a religion has such things, yet orients its believers toward serving the will of a deity, a historical dialectic, etc., rather than self-development and the achievement of aeonic goals that oneself is willfully invested in? I would say it’s RHP.
I would also say that it’s at this point that we see Theistic Satanism’s problems come into view.
Why see Theistic Satanism as right-hand path?
Now, I think it’s pretty plausible to say that Theistic Satanism has few difficulties fulfilling the first criterion. Surely it is transgressive to be venerating what other religions have long called demons and performing rites in their name. Even if the modern West doesn’t persecute such behavior as past societies did, it’s still obviously and trivially “not normal.”
Why then do some claim Theistic Satanism is not a good representative of the left-hand path? Because of the second criterion.
In other words, one observes some (not all, as I’ll further clarify later) Theistic Satanists doing such things as…
- Praying to Satan such that, if you replaced all references to “Satan” with “God/Jesus”, it would still make sense.
- Posting cutesy, generic-sounding “affirmation” memes with some demon’s name tagged onto the bottom as said advice’s supposed source, rather than letting this shallow “wisdom” stand on its own if it is really so “wise”.
- Insisting “dark” entities “care about” us in a clingy tone suggestive of inability to get through life without supernatural assurance.
- Grounding ethical “shoulds” – whether of the warm-and-fuzzy kind or the edgelord-warrior-wannabe kind – in the supposed will of Satan, instead of in the actual conditions of human life.
- Using “Satan saved me” discourse instead of “Satan inspired and empowered me to save myself”.
- Talking like Gnostics, i.e. life on earth is terrible and we ought to try to “escape” with Lucifer’s divine help.
… and one then concludes: this is no self-empowering inward-turned spirituality.
Rather, it is the same “alas, the human condition!” -type bullshit as other religions, just with a cheap gothic facade.
I don’t blame anyone who thinks this kind of Theistic Satanism is not LHP, “not real Satanism”, or generally “lame”.
The important thing to grasp, though, is that not all Theistic Satanism operates this way.
How can Theistic Satanism nonetheless be a left-hand path?
It’s one thing to have encountered Theistic Satanism in the forms I just described and then dismissed it.
It’s quite another to declare that all Theistic Satanism must be inherently RHP purely because it believes in external entities. This being the more common angle I think I am encountering online.
To folks who think this way, I gotta say: look, I get it: odds are strong that you yourself were brought up in an Abrahamic context; perhaps you in turn reacted against that in an atheistic direction; I can see how that would shape your negative assumptions about theism.
Here’s the key thing to grasp, though: the move from “gods exist” to “I am obligated to put myself in a servile relationship toward said gods” is itself a RHP move! Vs. in actual fact, believers can have a variety of relationships with their gods. Worshiping a god, especially if out of a sense of human inadequacy, certainly typifies the RHP. But if you can’t imagine more egalitarian relationships with supernatural beings, I’d argue the problem is your own lack of imagination – not the whole entirety of Theistic Satanism that you probably have never even bothered to educate yourself about.
Myself as a left-hand-path Theistic Satanist
I can best illustrate my point by reflecting on my own experience.
As a Satanist, I adhere to a number of recognizably left-hand-path principles. Foremost here being, I put energy not into lamenting human frailties, but into seeking my own apotheosis. Sometimes this is via practical self-development, other times through ritual magick that includes transgressive elements. Under no circumstances, though, would I call myself a “servant” or “slave” of any power outside of myself.
At the same time though, I do believe in the existence of acausal beings. Among these are the Nekalah, Dark Gods with whom I have a close relationship. This relationship, however, is based not on the taking of orders, but on mutual collaboration. There are things I want in life for myself; such things match up at certain junctures with the nature/goals/etc. of these entities; they therefore act as my allies, and I as theirs, in such circumstances.
My commitment to pursue this trajectory of mutual co-evolution – i.e. by virtue of which I consider myself a Tenebrous sorcerer – can be understood readily as a commitment to myself, even if it is at the same time a willing commitment to my allies. Yes, the Dark Gods occasionally intervene in such a path in a way that destroys the sorcerer’s ego. But their end in doing so is not to force self-abnegation, but to clear obstacles to self-actualization.
They thus support me becoming my own god – i.e., the central key point of the second criterion of “left-hand path.”
Some may point out that what I just described is less “Theistic Satanism” and rather, “a Satanist who is also a Theist.” I see no reason, though, why a Theistic Satanist could not walk a very similar path. A path characterized by rejection of RHP fretting about being “good” or “normal,” carping about human inadequacies, and/or whining about the difficulties of the material world. A path instead characterized by the embrace of transgressive beliefs and practices, optimistic development of all one’s innermost capacities, and enjoyment of life instead of ascetic negativity.
What is central to this claim is to understand that whether to believe in a god and whether to bow down slavishly to that god are separate questions.
Again, I do not blame anyone brought up in RHP-dominated culture for just not having realized this before. And I also admit that some Theistic Satanists are embarrassments in this regard.
But let’s at least abandon the simplistic notion that having any relationship with external supernatural beings is inherently RHP. Because so long as the Satanist has agency in the relationship – i.e. is pursuing their own agenda with the entity’s support, instead of pursuing the entity’s agenda – I just don’t see what’s so anti-LHP about such a situation. Far more anti-LHP, I would think, to imagine that relationships of subservience are the only possible relationships a human can have with an acausal being!
Counter-points? Quibbles with my definitions? Other thoughts? Whatever the case, let me know in the comments.