Thursday 21 March 2013

Mercy and Judgement, Rules and Transgression: A Look at Left and Right Hands

I addressed this some in my post, Cup of Life, Cup of Death: The Two Hands of the Poisoner, and have touched on it in other posts, but I'd like to talk about it directly.

There is some confusion on the terms "left hand path" and "right hand path" due to misunderstandings of the terms.  Ultimately, the terms refer to India Subcontinent practices, not to the Pillars in Kabbalah.  The conflation of the two is actually contradictory.

The term in India refers to transgression.

Right hand paths are those that keep the restrictions, denying in order to break from the illusion we live in and escape the reincarnation cycle (another thing that causes confusion, as Western thought most often sees reincarnation as a good thing, but in Buddhism and the religions the West call Hinduism, reincarnation is a trap to be escaped).  There are others, but the Vedic traditions are the most popular right hand paths.  Those that follow the Vedas, the written rules, basically.

Left hand paths take the opposite approach, breaking free from the cycle through transgression.  A set of practices that break the rules to break the illusion, seeing the rules as the framework that binds us into the illusion, and transgression as the way out.  The most common left hand paths are the Tantric traditions (which is about far more than sex), which follow a set of Tantras, actions or practices, which are a sequence of deliberate violations of the Vedic restrictions, some traditions symbolically, some literally.  But we also have those traditions that go a step further with the eating of rotting human corpses or living in piles of dung.

Now that's the same application in the West.  Right hand path is used to refer to rule-based religions or traditions that seek to be good and follow what is generally seen as acceptable by society.  Left hand path is used for religions or traditions that transgress either the rules of a given right hand path or of accepted society.

But it gets confused, as the Kabbalah Pillars have been conflated with these.  Because of the masculine nature of the Right Pillar and the feminine nature of the Left Pillar, people assume any path that is matriarchal or worships a female entity must be left hand and all left hand paths are matriarchal and worship the feminine.  And that any right hand path is patriarchal and worships the masculine, and that any path meeting those must be right hand.  But there are notable examples that contradict this.

Part of the confusion stems from the use of the words, "right" and "left".  It's important to note the the India use of the words is from the Sanskrit words and is Indo-European in understanding, where as the Kabbalic use is from the Aramaic words (the language the Zohar is written in) and is Semitic in understanding.

The Sanskrit term translated as Left Hand Path is वाममार्ग, Vāmamārga.  वाम, vāma does mean left, but more literally means in an opposite or different manner, contrary, or perverse.  It also means beautiful or pretty or splendid, and also hard or cruel.  मार्ग, mārga, means passage, path, route, way, journey, walk, search, course.  The Sanskrit term translated Right Hand Path is दक्षिणमार्ग, Dakṣiṇamārga.  Literally it means "southern course".  दक्षिन, dakṣiṇa, means south but also right.  This dual definition makes sense if you stand facing the sun at sunrise.  South is to your right, north is to you left, the opposite of dakṣiṇa, opposite of south.  Consider that India is at the south end of Asia. All of Asia is to the north.  The English word north is of Germanic origin, a people on the north part of Europe, with most of Europe to the south.  North comes from *ner ultimately, a Proto-Indoeuropean word meaning left, but also below.  Standing facing the rising sun, the north is one the left, hence the name.  In India, the land people live in is south of the mountains, north of the mountains is other, opposite, different, vāma.

In Hebrew and Aramaic, right hand is יָמִין, yamiyn, and left hand is שְׂמֹאל, semowl.  Yamiyn means right hand, the direction right, and south, for the same reason dakṣiṇa means south and right.  Likewise, semowl means left hand, the direction left, and north.  Yamiyn comes from יָמַן, yaman, meaning to choose the right, go right, use the right hand, be right handed.  Yaman is likely connected to אָמַן, 'aman, to support, confirm, be faithful, to support with an arm, to carry a child.  It has the sense of the bare arm used to hold a child, the left being covered with cloth, and in the the sense of swearing an oath or making an agreement, with the right hand reached out, the left hidden.  We see similar in semowl, which is likely related to שִׂמְלָה, simlah, meaning wrapper, mantle, covering garment, garments, clothes, raiment, a cloth.  It could be argued that the idea of the right hand being used for agreements and the left hand concealed relating directly to the Sanskrit idea of the left being contrary and the right being that which is normal.  But this ignores the fact that the Zohar refers to the right hand as יד הגדולה, the great hand, and the left hand as יד החזקה, the strong hand.  They are considered the two hands of G-d, though the Zohar refers to a third and fourth hand as well.  This contradicts the idea that the right hand is that which is agreeable and good and the left hand the opposite and evil.  The symbolism is different.  The revealed hand, the right, is the one stretched forth in agreement, but the concealed hand, the left, holds the knife of judgment, which becomes the sword of fire at the gate to the Garden, swinging in all directions.

The other source of confusion comes from Lilith in the Zohar coming from the Left Side.  We focus on her as transgressor, so assume the Left Side in the Zohar is transgressive, as with Left Hand Path in India.  This, however, is not the case.  There's a second term also used, the Other Side, which does refer to evil and transgression.  But it is not the same as the Left Side.  Other Side is אַחֵר שְׁטַר, sitra achra or shetar 'acher, sitra meaning side, achra meaning other or different, very much the sense of vāma.  Lilith came from the Left Side in the Zohar.  Sammuel might be from the Right, though the similarity between his name and semowl is striking, the two words sharing the same Hebrew letters.  But in the Zohar, together they lead the Other Side, Lilith as the Serpent and Sammuel riding on her back.  Lilith is from the Left Side, so she finds comfort after Adam and Eve are kicked out near the sword of fire that flashes all directions, Geburah manifest, that guards the Garden.

The Left Side is defined by its centre, Geburah, and the Right Side by its centre, Chesed.  Judgement and Mercy.  The Left Side is not transgression and allowance, it's judgement and restriction.  It is the rules and their consequences.  The Right Side is not rules and denial, it is mercy and expansion.  The Left by itself restricts and denies all.  The Right by itself expands and allows all.  Just the opposite of left hand vāma and right hand.dakṣiṇa.

So conflating the two concepts of left and right just brings confusion.

~Muninn's Kiss

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