LEFT HAND PATH SPIRITUALITY IN EMERGENCY PSYCHIATRY PART ONE – SELF DESTRUCTION AND INDUCED PSYCHIC (DI)STRESS
When a respected friend went MIA and turned up (finally) in rehab, this set some of us thinking. He is a gorgeous guy, talented, funny, unique, a lover of light and darkness who knows how to push the aesthetic boundaries in true Left Hand Path style. He is also alcohol dependent and we fear for his safety and survival.
There is no drive for orthodoxy or unity within Left Hand Path thinking. It follows that debate is intense and theology is poorly developed. There is no Aquinas to synthesise disparate views and there will never be a Council of Nicea. Occam’s razor has no place here – entities multiply like anything and are generally welcome. There are however common threads. The two most basic principles are autodeism (self development leading to becoming a God or Godlike) and antinomianism (opposing rules, undertaking transgressive behaviour and thinking against the grain). Both these principles map onto a life of rigorous reflection and increasing awareness.
Throughout the history of Left Hand Path spirituality, there have been two distinct and contradictory ways of looking at the incarnate or material world. One I will call the Consciously Indulgent, and the other the Transcendent.
The Consciously Indulgent, which is currently dominant, sees the world as a place of delight. It is our playground, where we take what we want and choose to indulge ourselves in whatever true and unique pleasures we make our own. We keep healthy and nurture ourselves, because we are our bodies. There is no heaven to go to when we die, and no discarnate soul. We make money and have children and buy nice things.The difference between the aware LHP practitioner and the common consumer of materialism is just that – awareness. The LHP practitioner understands human nature fully and uses ritual, the transgression of social norms, and the extending of aesthetic sensibilities in the happy partaking of life’s banquet. Groups that express these ideas are the Church of Satan as developed by Anton LaVey, and (with more sophistication and nuance) the Temple of Set.
A useful and well known example would be the Nine Satanic Statements of Anton LaVey. His first statement literally extols indulgence. LaVey sees the traditional Christian sins not only as natural expressions of our true carnal natures, but as pathways to self awareness. In his second statement, he exalts ‘vital essence’ or the power of living flesh over spirituality, which for him barely exists and scarcely matters.
More nuanced, is the attitude towards life in the material world expressed by Michael Kelly in his book Apophis:
The body and its elements are a part of our overall complex as a human being and the
Self aspires to its fullest manifestation. In Left Hand Path philosophy, the physical world is
not a dysfunctional prison from which the soul yearns to escape: it is the culmination and
manifestation of all the soul’s efforts towards Self-expression.
And again, with alacrity:
But for us, who revel in the pleasures of incarnate life, and who realise that the Desire
of the Self is to Play and to Love with ferocity, something incredible comes to pass. The
ego responds to our Self-Knowledge and Self-love and instead of slinking away as a
shameful thing, it awakens into joyous life….every single thing that affords us pleasure
and joy is a direct expression of our innermost True Self, and that every such act is a
direct channel to the Gods of Darkness.
The second way of looking at the incarnate world, the Transcendent, has its historical roots in Gnosticism and may in fact be much older. Crudely, Gnostics saw an all powerful divine source (Ein Sof in Kabbalah, for example) which is removed from any incarnation. ‘Underneath’ that, a creator being or Demiurge made the world and all that is therein. Creation itself sullied the Divine and allowed for evil. Creation itself may even be evil. The world is at best inconsequential and at worst is a trap. It serves only to limit and confine us. We can only develop true understanding or gnosis by breaking out of it. Life itself is to be despised. We acknowledge all relationships, including that with our own bodies, are fleeting and fundamentally unsatisfying to the few who have this gnosis. Self destruction and the more risky forms of transgression are legitimate methods of showing our contempt for the world and possibly hastening our transcendence of this material sphere. Groups that express these ideas are the Temple of the Black Light (ex Misanthropic Luciferian Order) with its avowed Chaosophist leanings, which sees final liberation as coming only from the destruction of the entire universe. In contrast, the very political Order of Nine Angles claims to ‘cull’ ‘mundane’ humans, practises physical rigours such as spending three months alone in the wilderness, and works to foment social chaos and war – thus an individual becomes immortal and takes a place in the ‘acausal’ or entirely metaphysical universe.
This quote typifies the particularly negative transcendence of the Gnostic approach. It is from Erik Danielsson of Swedish Black Metal band Watain, and the Temple of the Black Light.:
Let’s make one thing clear. The world you live in is hollow. It is plain and simple and
contains only matter. It does not itself possess anything of lasting value. The only way to
create something of dignity and true beauty in this world is by looking beyond its borders,
to search outside the mundane and enter a connection which lies beyond the safety of
established form, to step into the realm of liberated wilderness of untamed fire and of that
ancient chaos for which every true and potent artist is a mouthpiece. There is a great
abyss between this world and that place, an abyss which very few are able to cross. But
by means of magic and communication with the Divine there are ways to penetrate to
that vast darkness to that which lies beyond the borders of the world.
– Erik Danielsson, Watain, Opus Diaboli, 2012
Left Hand Path practitioners of either stripe adopt antinomianism and their praxis may look the same. The difference is in the intent. The Consciously Indulgent practitioner may use Tantric sexual methods, for example, in order to enhance body awareness, exploit others, stretch aesthetic boundaries, and have fun. The Transcendent practitioner may engage in the same behaviour, but the intent would be to shut down mundane awareness, engage in a kind of alchemical nigredo, and shuck off mortal forms.
Self harm and induced psychic distress has a place in the work of both types of practitioner. Most demonolatry requires blood. There is some limited benefit in risky intoxication in order to explore the malleability of consciousness. Sexual risk taking such as BDSM is a way of stretching aesthetic boundaries and experiencing sensations not sanctioned in ordinary society. Ritual practice often involves disturbing biorhythms and can put health at risk . These behaviours, while they may at times be socially deviant, are not compulsive or reflexive. They are part of the rigours of disciplined LHP work. Some are similar and no more outre than those practised in some Right Hand Path monastic traditions, or in martial arts for that matter. They display the practitioner’s willingness to keep pushing, and keep awake. Psychic and sometimes physical discomfort is a reminder that practice is indeed occurring and that growth is taking place. For the Consciously Indulgent, this is a pragmatic affair and there are exhortations to stay healthy and see it as a part of self development. For the Transcendent, self harm symbolises the recognition of the World-as-trap and the disgust that recognition of such evokes.
This brings me rather naturally to the subject of death. Both the Consciously Indulgent and the Transcendent practitioner aim to live for ever or to Remanifest in one form or another, either to remain in the current body, reincarnate in a chosen form, or to leave the physical realms altogether. Two juxtaposing life models serve us well. The first is the example set by Anton LaVey himself. He claimed he simply would not die, with the implication that he would physically live for ever. He died in fact in 1997, and I do not know what became of him after that. The second example is that of Jon Nodtveidt, frontman for the Swedish Black Metal band Dissection, and for the deeply transcendent, Gnostic-influenced Misanthropic Luciferian Order. Nodtveidt’s LHP convictions were as uncompromising as his music. Essentially he reformed Dissection after a lag in prison, made the overtly Luciferian and very accessible metal album Reinkaos,ended the band, and then killed himself. In an interview with BM journo Metalion, Nodtveidt talked about how the Satanist dies in a manner of his own choosing, in a state of strength and having accomplished everything, and how death transcends this earthly existence and is ‘the orgasm of life’.
From the point of view of my work in emergency psychiatry, inducing psychic stress especially through self destruction seems plain unnatural. And it is. I see people every working day who are engaging in self destructive thinking and behaviour. Most of them are suicidal or have attempted suicide. I have seem some outlandish forms of self harm including serious mutilations, without any suicidal intent but in order to relieve the most intolerable distress. The aim of these difficult and heart rending attempts. including suicide, is usually to alleviate stress and find comfort. My patients want to turn their heads off. They want to sleep and not dream. They want to stop their thoughts. They want help to do so because they have reached the very end of their ability to comfort themselves.
This is not to say that LHP practitioners are never subject to unbearable distress or never self harm or feel suicidal for the usual psychosocial reasons. I am sure it is possible to want to turn one’s head off and seek self deification at the same time. But magic is all about intent, and LHP magic is no exception. The goal of the LHP practitioner in inducing psychic stress is different from that of the distressed person self harming, despite its outward seeming. In emergency psychiatry, it pays to explore thinking and feeling processes fully. What were you thinking when….? And then what happened? And after that, what happened? And what was that like for you? What does this mean to you? What needs to happen now? It pays not to assume.
So is my approach to Left Hand Path spirituality Consciously Indulgent, or Transcendent? I came to the Path via a form of Muslim Neoplatonism and then the esoteric, pan-religious but completely Right Hand Path Via Negativa. Here is (Pseudo)Dionysius the Areopagite and you will get where I came from:
Supernal Triad, Deity above all essence, knowledge and goodness, Guide of Christians
to Divine wisdom, direct our path to the ultimate summit of Thy mystical lore, most
incomprehensible, most luminous, and most exalted, where the pure, absolute and
immutable mysteries of theology are veiled in the dazzling obscurity of the secret
Silence, outshining all brilliance with the intensity of their Darkness, and surcharging our
blinded intellects with the utterly impalpable and invisible fairness of glories surpassing
– Mystica Theologica
I was already of the understanding that the Divine is beyond ordinary human understanding, and beyond good and evil and social and aesthetic norms. I already yearned for Darkness. And you can’t get much more transcendent than old Dionysius the Areopagite.
Then I discovered Black Metal music, and with it Chaosophy and the sort of Gnostic Luciferianism of Dissection and Watain. It captivated me to think there was a way out of and above the entire universe, that you could tear your way out of the whole shebang merely by acts of Will. Self destruction seemed a small price to pay. I welcomed the chaos, and leaned into it.
At least conceptually. My actual practice, however, is much more embodied and less openly transcendent. I look after myself and encourage others to do the same. I try to tell the truth about myself. I feel happily alive in the intersubjective natural world and I enjoy my environment, and people, and especially my own amused and amusing head. I might conceptualise Transcendent, but my actions tell a different and less binary story. In my work, I understand better than before that the people I assess for risk and mental illness are fully human beings in a real material world, not just muddled spirits stuck in bodies. But also muddled spirits stuck in bodies.
The discussion about our glorious, alcoholic, self destructive friend led to some reflection about how far we would go in order to test our commitment. Would we undergo near death experiences? Would we flirt with, or seriously romance, suicide? The quotes below, from two practitioners who are demographically different, express the same attempt to straddle Conscious Indulgent and Transcendent strands of thought with regard to self destruction and induced stress.What they have in common is their dedication to self deification and being all they can be, in this world or any world. First, Logan, and then Beverly, have the last words:
Lots of food for thought here… The more we put on the line in our path to self deification, the more trans-formative it will be. You have to be uncomfortable and coming close to death is one way to do it. And some will die. It does not mean they are weak, it just means they died. Their energy could come back and try again or perhaps they have achieved self deification and did not need their body anymore. If we step away from the idea as death = failure or weakness, it does give near death experiences a whole new side to examine.
Trial – Self Care – Self Evaluation – Trial is the cycle. You put shit on the line, you come back and prepare yourself to do it again. As far as we know, for us, there is no limit to power. We have not even touched 1% of 1% yet.
i keep turning this around and over and over in my mind, self-deification by self-destruction. My first thought is that if someone dies, and it is the result of carelessness on his or her part, or some sort of accident, then the goal of self-deification wasn’t met. The goal is met through intent. So, if the same person, by intent, decides to drink alcohol to the point of nearly dying, and somehow grabs onto the energy of his near-death experience to fuel a working of magic, well, he may succeed in reaching his goal, maybe? For that matter, any of the methods in Apophis for pushing the limits of your body could be used in this kind of work. And like the rest of you, I am NOT advocating for doing this, not at all. But cheating death, could that be something that would put a person over an edge into the realm of the Gods? I mean, of old, only the Gods were permitted to hold the reins of life and death.
And there is one other thing crossing my mind right now, and right now,I want to flat-out say that I am NOT encouraging anybody to do this. But since the Gods hold the reins of life and death, like the Three Fates, for example, could a person choose to end his life as the ultimate antinomians act, and wrestle his death out of the hands of those Gods? In his own eyes, and in his own purpose, he would have won. And now he is in the place of the eternal, the Divine realm. My personal thoughts about suicide, well, they are complicated. I don’t advocate it as any kind of ultimate solution to a difficult life problem. Depression and other mental illness can be treated in a number of different ways, with no offense intended toward any of my fellow members here. I also have mental illness and I struggle with hanging onto life. As a way to end life in the case of a terminal and painful illness, who am I to judge? But as an act of intention, as an antinomian act, as a means to accomplish an ultimate act of will and self-deification, I think I see a kind of grand nobility in it
Picture credit: Mark Cocker, Rooks and Jackdaws flocking over Norfolk.