Be the Bolt: Transforming Tarot’s Trump, The Tower

I’m gonna go out on a limb and say that The Tower is probably the single most feared and reviled card in the entire tarot deck. Although we’re supposed to take the high road and tow the party line that no Tarot card is inherently negative, and even when there’s no avoiding a negatively-polarized interpretation, we’re supposed to look for the silver lining, The Tower is probably the card that provides the strongest challenge to taking this “enlightened” perspective.

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The Significance of the Subjective

A few weeks ago, there was a post shared by numerous friends of mine on Facebook: A video showing the reactions of colorblind people upon seeing color for the first time, courtesy of a newly-designed pair of glasses. It was a commercial, but it was one of the most touching and heartwarming things I’d ever seen. That same evening, I’d watched an episode of a television show in which a character had their eyes gouged out, and it was one of the most horrible things I’d ever seen. I’m an avid music-lover–very few things bring as much pleasure to my life as music–but I’d still have to say that my sense of sight is the one I value most. I feel like there’s enough music inside of me that if I were to go deaf, I could stay sane by remembering the music I’ve heard and even imagining more, but I need my eyesight just to get things done. I need to be able to see where I’m going in order to move about freely. True enough, I live in fear of the day my eyesight starts going, because I have always felt a certainty that I will live long enough for that to be inevitable.

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No Left Turn: On Overcoming Right Hand Path Bias

This post has been previously published as a submission to Questing SET Digest, compiled by Judith Page and Don Webb, and appears here with only slight edits for grammar and clarification.

When it comes to spirituality, the path known by Setians (full disclosure: The author is not a Temple of Set member) as the Right Hand Path is so dominant in the world that relatively few people even know about the distinction between the Right Hand Path (RHP) and the Left Hand Path (LHP). Among those few who do employ this terminology, there is a startling lack of consensus as to just what those terms mean. I consider myself truly fortunate to have had a copy of Dr. Stephen Edred Flowers’ Lords of the Left Hand Path* enter my life, because Dr. Flowers did an amazing job of articulating and defining these terms before embarking on a truly edifying study of the Left Hand Path throughout history. Through this work, I was made aware of the Temple of Set and the writings of Don Webb, and these have furthered my understanding of the LHP and my place on it.


In consideration of the above, I felt moved to share some thoughts about my own transition from the RHP to the LHP. As is likely the case with many others who have discovered the LHP, the more I learned about it, the more I realized I was already instinctually trying to follow that path; I was only hindered by the RHP assumptions that dominated virtually every spiritual discussion in which I’d found myself. For me, learning about the LHP was more a process of validation and confirmation than one of outright conversion, and I write these words for the sake of others who might be in a similar position. I will first briefly outline a model of RHP and LHP tenets for the sake of discussion, and will then explore a few of the obstacles I’ve encountered in the path that led me from Right to Left (for those interested, this list can be applied to overcoming Vice #3 discussed in Don Webb’s Uncle Setnakt’s Essential Guide to the Left Hand Path*: Forgetfulness of Past Orthodoxies).


RHP and LHP Contrasted


The RHP and LHP are in agreement on an initial premise and depart sharply when it comes to how this premise is interpreted and acted upon.


The common premise between the two is that our sense of individual identity, and the living consciousness that suffuses it, are a “gift” from a source greater than ourselves. We part ways in our views of what this means for us as individual units of consciousness.


To one who walks the RHP, this free will and consciousness are gifts to be sacrificed or relegated to the service of the greater whole. Because it comes from a greater source, our possession of it is regarded as an illusion that must be destroyed. Many RHP-oriented thought leaders promote the idea that the purpose of existence is for the limitless and eternal Divine to explore itself through limitation in the forms that populate the universe; nonetheless, on the RHP, the highest good lies in transcending this illusory “game,” returning to a merger with said source. A negative filter is placed on the manifest universe, nurturing the notion that liberating oneself from this illusion and helping others to do the same is something of an act of mercy. To cling to this world, to keep the wheel of samsara turning, and
to cherish one’s existence are criteria for failure on this path.

To the LHP practitioner, this gift is to be treasured, valued, and cared for. On the LHP, individual merit has value, both to the Self and to the whole. This Selfhood may be recognized as illusory on some levels, but on other levels, it is stubbornly real, and this tendency can be turned to advantage. While the RHP practitioner may say, “The Divine is in all, so I will foster it in others before myself,” the LHP practitioner might say, “The Divine is in everyone, including me, and it’s up to me to make contact with and to nourish the Divine within myself.” Put another way, while the RHP tells us, “This is all a game. To grow and mature is to put it down,” the LHP tells us, “This is all a game. Let’s master it, and have some laughter and tears along the way.” To the extent that one’s Self is functional, effective and adept, one can achieve great things—so why not invest in the Self? It is a valuable vessel, well worth preserving and developing. To aspire to and achieve true excellence can also be a gift to the world. This sounds very arrogant to the RHP practitioner, but if it’s true, it’s true.


Obstacle 1: Morality


One of the major sticking points in coming to understand the LHP as a valid spiritual approach is morality. For reasons I only partially understand, there seems to be an unconscious association between central RHP tenets and morality that takes place as a part of one’s RHP indoctrination. Philosophically, the core concepts that the RHP takes as a given are equated with The Good, and if RHP indoctrination has been successful, all else is intuitively felt to be wrong. In my own case and likely due in part to my
Catholic upbringing, ideas that defy core RHP principles invoked feelings of guilt; and yet, they kept coming up for me. Certain teachers that appear RHP-oriented have overcome the obstacle of morality, and include in their teachings the idea that passions can motivate us just as readily as they can enslave us, that the world and its pleasures are to be enjoyed so long as we don’t make that our sole purpose in life—that there is good in the individual and in the world. Paul Foster Case comes to mind.


I noticed that while I am empathetic, generous, social justice-oriented and mindful of others, I can also be self-absorbed. I’m studying to become a counselor and can say I have helped many people with spiritual and personal crises—because I’ve been through many myself. I draw from experience. It truly does help me do what I love to do, which incidentally helps others, and so immersing myself in my experience and its meaning becomes a way that I can make all of these things fall into line. This is not
about arrogance and selfishness. This is about my spiritual, ideological and material concerns being organized around the Self, and becoming the best Self that I can, and about that benefiting everyone as long as I manage to execute it correctly. Try as I might—and I did, for years—I can’t bring myself to see this as a moral failing.


Obstacle 2: Absolutism


Even with morality overcome, there remain other philosophical matters that can entangle one struggling to veer from the RHP onto the LHP. For one, a degree of absolutism is built into the RHP, such that its motivating tenets are seen by many of its adherents as universal truths. They may cease to judge people who act in ways contrary to those principles, but still hold those people to be in error. This, combined with the motive of compassion, will often lead the RHP adherent to steer others back onto course when they have strayed. They wholeheartedly believe they are helping. In some cases, they may be, but in other cases, they may not be.


The dominance of the RHP can be explained in part by its successful integration of absolutism. Ironically, from a small set of agreed-upon tenets is born a staggering multiplicity of distinct doctrines, each with
different emphases, eccentricities and nitpicks—and yet, despite all this variety that falls within the RHP itself, it is exceedingly difficult for many on the RHP to even conceive of a variety that extends beyond the “Ring-Pass-Not” successfully established by RHP thought. For them to even conceive of a fully-formed and practicable philosophy outside of these boundaries is virtually impossible in such a state.


Thus, it’s very understandable that one shifting toward LHP alignment–even with the basic inclination, spirit and ability to think outside of the RHP box–might have difficulty successfully forging a map to get
them where they’re trying to go. Very, very few on the RHP are even acknowledging that other valid maps exist, much less offering to furnish copies.


The irony is that as I began to forge such a map for myself, it never even occurred to me to decry the maps offered by the RHP as false. It will never happen. In the same way that a Buddhist might respect a Sufi without embracing their practices, I know the RHP is meant for some, if not most people, just as well as I know it’s not meant for me personally. Because I do not attach moral or absolutist anchors to the LHP, I bless all walkers of the RHP on their journeys. If they can hold a conversation with me without disrespecting my values and alignment, there’s no problem. It’s called tolerance, and it’s bigger than many people seem to think.


Obstacle #3: Pragmatism


There are those on the RHP who move beyond a perspective hindered by either morality or absolutism, and yet they walk the RHP and recommend it to others for a simple reason: Pragmatism. There is no denying that in many ways, the RHP is the “safer” path. It is far easier to find guideposts on the path, that’s for sure. In addition, RHP philosophies tend to highlight altruism and compassion to such a high degree that it promotes practices that come with few if any spiritual risks while proscribing practices that require a certain degree of competence be reached before they are even embarked upon.

I’ve known a veritable RHP white knight who, when asked by friends and associates about paths that essentially amount to LHP tantra, said that they are valid, but warned them away regardless. He was an avid student of Blavatsky, who worked with Ceremonial Magic while teaching her Theosophical followers to avoid it altogether because she claimed that only the most spiritually advanced people could afford to risk using it without facing unnamed karmic consequences.


I can’t fault either of them for their basic reasoning. The only quibble I have is the tendency toward automatic assumption that inquirers into these matters best leave them alone. While steering people away from a course you don’t know they can handle is a compassionate act, it can also be a
presumptuous one. Given the social and religious injunctions set in place against practices like magic or tantra, I would think anyone asking honestly and openly about them has the potential to handle their nuances. It’s not for me to say one way or the other, however. I side with nurturing curiosity, even though the LHP can be risky. It’s not for the faint of heart; but I feel that it’s not likely to appeal to the faint of heart in the first place.


Given the difficulty and rigor of the LHP, deprogramming the knee-jerk moral and absolutist impulses still doesn’t always free one to walk it. Even after fully-assimilating the ideas that prove it viable, I for one
hesitated for a long time because I wasn’t sure I was cut out to actually succeed on the LHP. I finally proceeded on the assumption that nobody starts out prepared to succeed—on either path. The path itself is what shapes you.


Conclusion


You may notice a pattern forming, and it is that these obstacles to fully embracing LHP practice tend to be the same forces that result in the RHP’s widespread dominance. They are so fundamental to the RHP that even one with the will and resources to transcend them has their work cut out for them. The flip side to this is that if you manage to break each of these shackles, it probably doesn’t matter which path you walk; having done so will take one to spiritual places on either path that are inaccessible to those
who have not. This is one of the reasons the LHP is more difficult or treacherous than the RHP: While overcoming these barriers is an asset even on the RHP, it is by no means a requirement. It is, however, a requirement before one can fully engage in their LHP journey. It is my sincere hope that taking the time to write this will help others to Xeper.

*Both Lords of the Left Hand Path and Uncle Setnakt’s Essential Guide to the Left Hand Path can be purchased directly from the publisher, LodeStar.

Hermekate is back!

It may not look like it right now, but this blog is the product of a great deal of striving. What you see is effectively the third iteration of an idea that just won’t quit–the author can confirm that this is just the beginning, and has a strong feeling that the third time, as they say, will be the charm.

“Hermekate v1.0” began (or so it seemed to me) as a labor of love aligned solidly with the Right Hand Path. At the time, I was neck-deep in devotional Polytheism after a long stint as a Theosophical student, worker, writer and speaker. To be fussing around with magical rituals centered upon deities from long-dead cultures was already a “fallen” station from the stance of most Theosophists, but I was reaching out to the gods and goddesses because I felt that they themselves were calling me. I knew not where I was going, only taking the next steps that I thought they wanted for me, toward the fulfillment of a “destiny” that I understood but faintly. Every word I wrote was motivated at least in part by devotion to Hekate, whom I still respect greatly. The project was also very heavily influenced by the aspirations and opinions of my partner at the time, whose work I had thrown myself into, I now see in retrospect, purely for lack of sufficient spiritual volition of my own. The shoe fit well enough, but at the end of the day, it was borrowed all the same.

“v2.0” came about during a rather strained period. Having come to learn of the Left Hand Path (the definition and documentation of which lent credence to impulses I had always harbored within, but hammered down like a good little “spiritual” boy), the thrust of my writing had changed, along with the site design. Soon, ambitions for Hermekate had expanded beyond a mere blog, grown to include the above-mentioned partner, and the groundwork was being laid for the establishment of a “Temple tradition” that sought to incorporate the more devotional, Right Hand Path inclination of said partner with my own budding Left Hand Path emphasis. How surprised would the reader be if I confessed that this didn’t work out very well? The partnership imploded, spiritual aspirations along with it, and in the aftermath, I took the site down to help get some much-needed distance from the whole thing. I spent months considering what, if anything, I should do with the site. In the meantime, I cautiously began to reach out to others in the Left Hand Path community and, having broken away from the considerable gravitational pull of my former ties in the spiritual and occult world, spent some time putting one foot in front of the other in my mundane affairs and reflecting so as to learn more of my own natural trajectory now that I was free of the influence of former peers under the thrall of Right Hand Path bias. One obstacle that kept me from restoring Hermekate sooner was simply the momentum of the past: My emerging views rant contrary to much of what I had previously published, and I felt weighed down by a perceived need to reconcile my new thinking with my past thinking (ironically, my new mindset would say, “Fuck that noise, you don’t have to justify your past to anybody but yourself!”).

By the time I finally decided to start writing again, I found that my decision had been made for me: Since I had never bothered backing up my content and, in my apathy at the time, had allowed my hosting subscription to run out, all previous content was gone. I mourn the loss of some really good writing, but in the final analysis, I am thankful for the opportunity at a new beginning that this affords me. I see great meaning in how this all shook out: v2.0, in its vain attempt to synthesize emerging developments with contradictory material that came before, depended on maintaining ties with the material of v1.0. v3.0 requires no such contrivances. Now walking a stalwart, LHP walk, it only makes sense to start fresh anyway. It is what it is.

For the handful of readers who would know, I was in the process of publishing a (revised) series of posts examining the Left Hand Path Vices and Virtues as laid out in Don Webb’s Uncle Setnakt’s Essential Guide to the Left Hand Path when I closed down the site; for the one or two people who might have read the previous 1.7 or so rounds of the series, my apologies, but I refuse to stop short of finishing that shit. This means I will be taking one more crack still at revising the posts of which I still have copies, and totally re-writing those that I don’t have access to. It may be downright tedious at this point, but isn’t that life? Isn’t that what the LHP is about–getting back on your feet when you fall short of your goals, and persevering until your vision is made manifest (or Remanifest, as the case may be?) If you’re already read the previous iterations of the series, you can pick up again when I reach the Virtue of Moderation, which was next in line when I took my little “sabbatical.” Meanwhile, although I was focusing somewhat intently on that series before, I am going to take more time with them now, and will be publishing other content that I’ve had brewing in my head these past few months.

Welcome back to Hermekate, those who’ve returned; for those new to the site, I hope you stay tuned to see what comes next.

Xeper