No Opposites, merely Creative Variances
“The truth is balance. However the opposite of truth, which is unbalance, may not be a lie.”
The Theory of Polarity maintains that all activity, all manifestation, arises from the interaction of pairs and complementary opposites – by Pagan standard this is not a conflict between “good” and “evil”, but more of a “creative variance”.
The prototypical example of this philosophy is the well-known Yin-Yang symbol. One side is black with a white dot in it, and the other side is white with a black dot in it. Most people believe that this represents opposites, but it actually represents the concept of polarity. The dark and light sides are polarities that need to be balanced – the “two sides” are constantly changing and merging, thus becoming part of each other and each other. There is no absolute dark or absolute light.
Polarity and duality are, however, not the same concept.
Duality refers to the physical separateness of related yet opposite modes of being. Classic examples are the duality of the positive and negative electric charges, winter and summer, male and female, etc. And as a part of this law of duality, everything is defined by its opposite. The entire physical world is based on duality – it could not possibly exist without this principle because there can be no creation without an apparent separateness.
The concept of polarity, on the other hand, is the essence of the underlying unity of these dualistic pairs, so to use it to express any form of separateness – such as claiming to be following the Right Hand- or Left Hand Path – is missing its true nature. Polarity may be the cause of duality, but understanding it as a single phenomenon actually makes it the unifying principle of dualism. Separate but united. Polarity is the primary reality – duality is the experiential result.
To try and make some sense of this, we have to look at what dualism really is: a philosophy that sees the world in terms of polarities, or “complementary opposites”. There are two major ways in which this can function.
The one we see the most is the dualism inherent in most monotheistic religions, which has been described as “combative dualism”, in which the world is divided into two opposing principles, which are eternally locked in combat for dominance – good versus evil.
The other form of dualism, the one basic to much of contemporary Paganism, as well as some Eastern religions, is a holistic or complementary dualism, in which the two principles complement rather than oppose each other – the god and the goddess.
Primarily, “good versus evil” or “light versus darkness” has become the scale in an attempt to define human behaviours and actions, and to categorize them in such a way that people can somehow know what actions fall where on that “scale”. The biggest problem with this has been that no one can agree on which actions belong where.
Contemporary Paganism has, for the most, adopted a worldview based on monism, where duality is more often perceived as aspects of an encompassing whole. Monism describes this worldview, in which all matter ultimately emerges from or reduces to the same substance or principle of Being. Dualism, on the other hand, describes, for example, the Christian worldview that recognizes god as distinct from his creation.
This polarity of light/dark in Pagan thought is thus not the same as the dualism of good/evil, but rather associated with such complimenting principles such as creative/destructive, external/internal, attracting/repelling, clarity/mystery, active/passive, solid/flowing, static/dynamic, masculine/feminine, order/chaos, etc.
The moralistic connotations that are opposed upon the light/dark dualism by traditional Western thought simply do not apply under the monistic approach (do not confuse “monism” with “monotheism”).
THE QUESTION OF EVIL
“Well! Evil to some is always good to others.” – Jane Austen
Unlike the monotheistic religions that predominate much of society, most of contemporary Paganism does not have, on a theological level at least, a polarized concept of good and evil
The ancient polytheistic religions, from which many Pagans draw their inspiration, had a multiplicity of deities, representing many different facets of nature and human behaviour. Certainly there were deities in many ancient cultures which dealt with what could be termed the “darker side” of existence – war, death, disease, chaos, vengeance, etc – but these were not generally regarded as “evil” in the sense that the devil is by Christians.
This is further brought out by the tendency of modern Wiccan theology to consider the many gods and goddesses of mythology as aspects of one God and one Goddess, who are in turn seen as the male and female aspects of the All-Divine, sometimes referred to as The All or The Source. However, this leaves many polytheists in a rather awkward position, theologically, morally and personally, when it comes to dealing with the harsher side of life represented by those deities. Pagans may not consider their “domains” to be evil as such, but neither do they consider them to be exactly desirable.
For many contemporary Pagans, the Wiccan Rede, for example, serves as the standard of conduct. “Harm none, do what you will”, sums up the moral compass of many practitioners. And because of this, many Pagans, especially Wiccans, are too often accused of, “being blinded by the light”, whilst ignoring their “dark side”. This has led to the so-called “reclamation of darkness”, to much confusion. The reality is that, just as it is indeed true that light can be blinding, those who suddenly concentrate on the “darkness” may find themselves equally blind.
Questions regarding suffering and evil can best be understood as two separate issues, even if they are related. Suffering, or the experience of pain is an experiential reality, whereas evil is an abstract concept. “Evil”, defined as a metaphysical principle that causes suffering or harm, is more problematic than suffering – for while suffering can be documented, evil, as a metaphysical principle, cannot. Evil, therefore, is a matter of faith, and among Pagans no articles of faith are universally held – not even on the question of evil. Therefore, while some Pagans might choose to believe in the existence of metaphysical principles such as “good and evil”, many argue that such principles are useless, and prefer terminologies such as “positive and negative”, or “order and chaos”. But this substitution of terms is almost pedantic, if not even doctrinaire.
LEFT AND RIGHT… AND LOST
“There’s an alternative. There’s always a third way, and it’s not a combination of the other two ways. It’s a different way.” – David Carradine
The terms Left-Hand Path (LHP) and Right-Hand Path (RHP) are a dichotomy between two supposedly opposing philosophies found in some Western esoteric traditions. In some definitions, the Left-Hand Path is equated by some with “malicious magic” and the Right-Hand Path with “beneficial magic”.
LHP and RHP are rather broad terms, and if one wishes, then all of the world’s religions can in fact be “broken down” into either RHP or LHP – when in reality each of these “paths” is defined by the ultimate goal of the practitioner.
It is said that the LHP favours personal codes of ethics, rather than adherence to any form of dogma. In more recent definitions, which base themselves on the terms’ origins amongst Indian Tantra, the RHP is seen as a definition for those magical groups which follow specific ethical codes and adopt social convention, whilst the LHP adopts the opposite attitude, espousing the breaking of taboo and the abandoning of set morality – ultimately for many both are said to have the same goals.
There is no set definition of what comprises the Left and what comprises the Right. Early contemporary proponents of these terms, such as Madame Blavatsky, believed that they could be essentially equated with the terms “black magic” and “white magic” – terms which are equally off the mark.
Positive and negative are sides of the same coin,” it is often claimed. But what exactly does this mean? To start with, and in my opinion, this a false dichotomy. A false dilemma or dichotomy (also called black-and-white thinking) is a type of logical fallacy that involves a situation in which only two alternatives are considered, when in fact there are additional options. In this case the so-called Middle Hand Path, which in turn is a fallacy in itself.
The problem is that “LHP, RHP and MHP” are offered as alternatives – there are no “ors”, only “ands”, as it is about the whole, not about partition.
The historian Dave Evans studied self-professed followers of the LHP in the early 21st century, making several observations about their practices: “They often reject societal convention and the status quo, which some suggest is in a search for spiritual freedom. As a part of this, LHP followers embrace magical techniques that would traditionally be viewed as taboo, for instance using sex magic; and they often question religious or moral dogma, instead adhering to forms of personal anarchism.”
Aleister Crowley further altered and popularized the term, and muddied it even further to some extent, in certain occult circles, referring to a “Brother of the Left-Hand Path”, or a “Black Brother”, as one who failed to attain the grade of Magister Templi in Crowley’s system of ceremonial magic.
In 1975, Cults of the Shadow was published, in which the author, Kenneth Grant, a student of Aleister Crowley’s, explained how he and his group, the Typhonian Order, practiced the LHP. Grant took the term back to its roots amongst eastern Tantra, stating that it was about challenging taboos, but that it should indeed be used in conjunction with the RHP to achieve balance.
But there seems to be a serious and ongoing misunderstanding of what the LHP entails within contemporary Paganism. And this confusion is not necessarily among RHP practitioners. Many “Dark Pagans” use so-called Dark Gods, Dark Magic, etc. However, by classifying their path, practices, magics, etc, are they not in fact returning to the teachings of duality? (and the same holds true for those professing to follow only the RHP)
Separating left from right in this context weakens, and is even contrary to the Pagan point of view of “two sides of the same coin”. And, surely, even when Pagans anthropomorphize nature into something good and loving, they deny its very All-encompassing Nature.
However, the terms LHP and RHP are theoretical constructs without definitive objectivity. Nature is Nature. Magic is magic. Although the terms left hand, dark, right hand, light and white/black are often blamed on Christian doctrine, the truth of the matter is that these terms, when referring especially to spirituality and magic, are for the most an invention of contemporary Pagans, and an invention which is especially used by the “followers” of the LHP.
Just as the RHP has its share of “fluff bunnies” and fundamentalists who “just don’t get it”, the LHP has its share of “bluff bunnies”. In a LHP, where there is more emphasis on individuality and less concern for what others think, it is very easy to loose perspective of goals and slip into delusions of grandeur and arrogance.
Instead of seeking self-empowerment from within, followers are in danger of seeking self-empowerment by the reactions they get from others. Hence claims of being misunderstood and even feared by those who do not share their views. Well-known Dark Pagan and author, John J Coughlin refers to this as the “Asshole Effect”.
He writes: “The asshole effect is when individuals on a left-hand path get full of themselves to the point that they think they are more than they are; that their needs must always come first, regardless of what reason may show. Such people assume that to be on the left-hand path means to be an asshole, and since they do not care what others think, they continue down this road of illusion, assuming that they have mastered their path and themselves by the mere act of looking down on others. In reality they have fallen on the wayside. What they have begun to foster is not their true self, but their illusion of what they think they are.”
“Perhaps after getting our ass kicked a few times we figure out that the problem is not always with the rest of the world, but sadly many more take this hostility as a sign they are on the right track. Instead of seeking self-empowerment from within, they seek self-empowerment by the reactions they get from others.
“So to those that say “who cares?” every time they step on people’s toes, remember that when someone steps back harder or when you find yourself alone when life randomly presents a snag in your plans.
“Being in a left-hand path is not about being a prick, it’s about mastering the Self. Sure some may still think you are an asshole either way, but pissing off a few people who don’t understand and pissing off everyone you encounter are very different things. The first is inevitable; the other is just pain stupid.”
There can be no doubt, however, that followers of the RHP are guilty of their own version of the “asshole effect”. “Both sides” are blinded by their own propaganda (in this case it comes in the shape of “half-truths”).
INTENT IS THE COLOUR
“Colour is black and white put together.” – Unknown
Arthur Edward Waite, in his book on ceremonial magic, discusses “black magic”, and states that the differences between “white and black magic” are surface and verbal. In the preface, Waite discusses “the good and evil side of the arts”, stating that “the two aspects dissolve into one another and belong one to another in the root that is common to both”.
Light and Dark, white and black, etc, are rather simplistic and vague terms, which do not convey a lot of information about the subject beyond moral judgment. In fact, it could be said that these terms themselves divide magic into polarized categories which are rather arbitrary and relative.
One aspect of magic, which many people appreciate, is the emphasis on the balance between different aspects of life – the balance between light and dark is often cited as an example. But, the whole dichotomy between light and darkness, good and evil, etc, is a rather a nonsensical concept.
Magic is neither positive nor negative, white of black, good or evil. It merely is. The “power” does not lie in the “type” of magical energy, it lies in the intent of the person utilizing it as there is only one “type” of magical energy. It is the intent of the person which is negative or positive, the energy itself simply is. The conditions we attract/manifest/create are just conditions, and the only good/bad, positive/negative thing about them is what we assign to them.
Intent is a deliberate course of action (desire, for example is subconscious). Intent is thus the single most important facet of working magic, and can be said to “determine” the “colour” of not the magic but of the practitioner.
MAINSTREAMING AND CONFUSION
“By all means, let’s not confuse ourselves with the facts!” – Unknown
Being raised in a society based on dualism we as Pagans still have a habit to want to break things down into components. A good example of this is that many Pagans use the dualistic imagery of light (good) from Western thought in association with the word “Witch” to reclaim it from the negative association of darkness (evil), However, by doing these Pagans unconsciously alter the polarity of light/dark in Pagan thought to fit this imagery.
When accusations of fluff fly, Wicca is more often than not in the firing line. But such accusations against Wicca are actually based on pure ignorance regarding this religion – and also on the failure to understand the difference between Wicca and neo-Wicca.
Due to the fact that Wicca is primarily a mystery religion, where the central teaching is traditionally done at an initiatory level, rather than given out to the general public, most of the early books on Wicca were not how-to manuals, but rather works aimed at the general non-Wiccan public. And as such they tended not to go into a whole lot of depth about Wiccan cosmology, theology, etc, because those who were really interested would find all that out when they joined covens and found teachers of their own.
This, however, back-fired, as no one could have dreamed that Wicca would experience a runaway popularity. All of a sudden, thousands of people wanted to get involved in the Craft, but had, in most cases, no access to any kind of traditional coven. So, for the most, they started practicing solitary or with a group of equally inexperienced friends, using whatever scraps of ritual they could find in the books that were available. And then things simply got worst. These people began publishing books of their own, and birthed a whole new generation of wanna-be Wiccans.
Now we have an entire generation of “Wiccans” whose concept of that religion is entirely, or almost entirely, based on 101 information – lack of depth, a huge overemphasis on goodness and niceness, and complete unfamiliarity with the key teachings of traditional Wicca.
Additionally, as Paganism became more mainstream in general, less attention was a given to any formal study and practice. This is still having drastic results, especially when mixed with New Age influences that strip away the cultural context of various beliefs and negative associations, to provide a more palatable, trendy form, which is geared for the ill-informed masses.
Normally, when one begins to study and practice a Pagan religion, a shift in his or her worldview of dualism in spirituality to monism takes place. However, this shift in worldview can only occur through practice and experience as it takes time and effort – two things many unguided novices and unqualified teachers fail to realise or acknowledge.
As a result, what has been happening in the Pagan community is an influx of people taking its symbolism and mysteries out of the context of monism and translating them to fit their own context based in dualism – light and dark become opposed, and polarities are thrown out of balance as anything associated with darkness or light are claimed but somehow also disowned.
Scarier is the fact that many self-made (neo-)Wiccans simply are not aware there is anything beyond the surface, and hammer on the right to self-identify as Wiccans. And those who do have some kind of traditional lineage and training have now become a minority, and are silently weeping in the darkness (and perhaps that too is a problem as they should perhaps get involved in correcting this imbalance).
Balance and harmony have been, and are still being, colour-coded by those who have been blinded by the light avoiding darkness and by those who are stumbling around in the darkness avoiding light. And this too has left much of Paganism in a never-never-land, with fewer and fewer able guides/teachers willing to remind contemporary Pagans that all activity and all manifestation arise from the interaction of pairs and complementary opposites.
Ours is a Path of Integrated Oneness.
“Laundry is the only thing that should be separated by colour.” – Unknown
– Left-Hand Path and Right-Hand Path in Spirituality/ Belief Systems
– What is Dark Paganism? by John J. Coughlin
– Out of the Shadows: An Exploration of Dark Paganism and Magick by John J. Coughlin