Hanging A Left

This is a tale that plays out on many levels. It centers around a pivotal event that proved to be a turning point for me on my journey from right hand path servitude to left hand path certitude. Its contents have ramifications for those who follow certain deities, for those who engage in a magical practice centered on their own will, and for those who lie somewhere in the middle. I’ll honestly say that some of my own long-held convictions about the universe around me were challenged and tantalized by what unfolded one bizarre and auspicious night, but also by what could have unfolded in the days that followed.

First, some background: I’d been out of a job for quite a while. It had been about 14 months since I had held a serious job, my previous gig having been at an industrial laundry in Norway. I’d been living there, at the very threshold of the Arctic Circle, because I’d been married to a Norwegian. My most recent U.S. job working for The Theosophical Society in America* had been decent, but I’d only had it because I was a local volunteer who was in the right place at the right time when they needed someone to fill the recently-vacated position. I had no college degree, and that job had been largely administrative (I’m still waiting for the awesome public speaking experience I gained at the T.S. to pay off on the job front).

For those familiar with the dichotomy of the left hand and right hand spiritual paths, the Theosophical Society skews decidedly right-hand. At that point in my life, I’d been trying very hard to fit into the right hand path mold, possibly a reaction to the excesses of a prolonged adolescence that had stretched into my second decade on Earth. I’d thought it noble to be chipping away at my ego and striving for ascetic homeostasis while working hard against those pesky emotions and desires that constantly got in my way. I must have done a pretty good job, because before long, I was giving talks for the T.S., managing their official online social network, which I had created, and participating in a mentorship program geared towards preparing the next wave of the Society’s leadership. My conscience gnawed at me every day because the shoe just didn’t fit. I got into debates in online forums with old-timers about the validity and safety of magical practice, and while certain fanatics associated with these discussion groups leveled accusations that various undesirables were “dugpas” and “shammars”–basically, black magicians—I felt guilty, wondering when I might be outed as one myself.

In the spirit of keeping this post short (and because I’ve covered a lot of this ground elsewhere), I’ll just say that my life’s journey had brought me all the way to Norway, where I lived for about 2 ½ years, back to Chicago, from there, to California, to Albuquerque, and back to Chicago again. Along the way, I had parted from the future the T.S. had in mind for me, fallen in love with a devotee of Hekate and other Dark Goddesses, and taken my first steps onto the left hand path as a result (I’d been pretty left-leaning in my youth, but I didn’t know about these paths at the time, so back then, it was much less of a conscious choice between alternatives).

I’d been searching for full-time work for so long that I was completely demoralized. I did some freelance work in the meantime, but it didn’t really bring the Benjamins I needed. I had just recently landed an interview after a recruiter found me and said I seemed perfect for the job, but had been turned away. My standards lowering, I started submitting resumes for whatever job I thought I might have a chance at securing.

I finally got a call back from what seemed to be an up-and-coming company with plenty of room for growth and advancement, and I was getting pretty excited as the interview day approached. The evening before my interview, I ironed my suit, printed out extra copies of my resume, put them in a nice Coach attache case procured from a thrift store, and went to bed.

I tossed and turned, quite nervous about the interview. I lay in bed for a couple of hours, and at some point, I felt Hekate’s presence. As I turned to lay on my back, she began to guide me through a series of visualizations to lay an astral blueprint for a positive outcome in my interview. In the preceding days, I had come up with an idea for a magical practice that involved treating my phurba, the tool I preferred to use in place of an athame, as a living ally or familiar (interestingly, it would be over a year before my studies revealed that in their indigenous Himalayan context, each phurba is, in fact, regarded as a direct embodiment of the deity, Phurba). The theory was that when my will felt sufficiently galvanized toward a given objective, I could whisper it to my phurba as an oath, which I would have no choice but to do my utmost on a mundane level to carry out. The spirit of the phurba would aid me, but I would have to remain resolute and do my part. Soon after conceiving of the technique, I brushed it aside as a pipe dream—self-doubt was an issue for me, you see—and I’d grown wary of oaths anyhow.

Well, after the visualizations, Hekate asked me: “Do you trust in this? Do you believe me?”

When I answered in the affirmative, she pressed: “Would you speak this into being, then, as an oath to your phurba?”

Shit. A challenge. I so wasn’t expecting that.

I said yes and immediately got out of bed, picked up my copper phurba from Hekate’s shrine, got on my knees and spoke to the phurba’s three snarling heads. I vowed to go in the next day with confidence and certitude, say all the right things and mean them, to apply myself relentlessly and to boldly face every challenge they offered me. I had an “aha” moment as well, in which the recognition that my getting this job would deny someone else the opportunity morphed into the realization that I did not need to wed this goal to any altruistic purpose, and I articulated this firmly and resolutely as it came to me: “My own success is reason and purpose enough,” I relayed to my wrathful phurba familiar. “I am worth it. I deserve happiness and success. I will take by storm what is rightfully mine. I am here on this plane to learn and gain experiences, and this is one of them, as well as the means to further experiences. Such is my birthright.” This may seem trivial coming from the mouth of someone who calls himself a magician with a straight face, but that’s why I spent so much time earlier relating my experiences in The Theosophical Society. It can’t be stressed enough how much I’d let the group’s ethos of rigorous self-abnegation and service get into my head, and undoing all of that indoctrination has been a long, gradual journey. This was a crucial step for me. I’d known intellectually for some time that the ideas behind the words I had just spoken were true, but that was the moment of a defnite shift in actually internalizing them and holding them in my heart—standing rooted in them.

I felt an outpouring of mirth from Hekate in response to this. She was glad to see that I had finally taken this turn. I’d come a long way from the conflicted divorce refugee who’d knelt before her in the mud long before in Albuquerque and I knew that she would never ask something like that of me again, because I had finally gotten the message. You see, as part of that dedication ritual, Hekate demanded that I renounce my then-patron deity of Shiva. At the time, still lodged firmly on the right hand path, I thought of this as a test of loyalty. In retrospect, I now see it as a lesson in both antinomianism and sovereignty. If I could renounce Shiva, I could renounce her, and that turned out to be the hidden lesson all along (I told you Hekate Phosphoros was Luciferic!) Step one: Renounce Shiva for Hekate. Step Two: Renounce Hekate for The God Within. I should be kneeling before no gods at all, and Hekate would know she had taught me the lesson when I stopped kneeling to her.

No Gods, No Masters

Just after finishing speaking this oath to my phurba, I performed a threefold gesture I had devised to recognize Hekate. Immediately after this, three things happened simultaneously:

  1. I stated aloud, “So mote it b–”

  2. In the very middle of the word “be,” my cell phone rang.

  3. The clock struck midnight—that most liminal of times between one day and the next.

The phone call was from some random Arizona number, and when I answered, nobody responded. I said “Hello?” a couple of times, and whomever it was hung up the phone.

I had my job interview the following afternoon. I had left for it in plenty of time, but traffic was horrendous, and I knew I would be running late. Growing ever-more agitated in my car, I felt a brief brush from Hekate, telling me not to worry because I was assured this job, and my tardiness would not be an issue. As is customary for me when receiving such good news from voices in my head, I was inclined to dismiss this particular message as wishful thinking. I pulled out my phone and called ahead, letting the receptionist know I would be arriving late.

In retrospect, the large, dingey stain on the carpeted floor at the very entrance of this office should have been my first sign that things were not as they seemed, but I somehow filed that away as I took my seat in the waiting room. Yes, this office had a waiting room (that probably should have been another red flag). Another candidate soon arrived, long hipster hair neatly slicked back, carrying a leather-bound day planner, and seated himself opposite me. For a while, I actually juxtaposed this guy’s professional appearance with the stain on the floor and felt a fleeting sense of ambiguity that was soon washed away by my own nervousness. Before long, I was called forth and escorted into an office for my interview.

The man I faced immediately put me at ease for some reason, even though I could tell he was intentionally throwing up false signals to put me off-guard, using a mix of humor and apparently-self-deprecating-but-actually-pompous rhetoric to make things murky for me. Knowing that a place of uncertainty was exactly where he wanted me, and feeling a rapport with this fellow trickster, I took it all in stride, chuckling and smiling confidently like I’d done this a million times before. I have to admit that he was one of the most articulate people I have ever met, and I’ve met some really good speakers. He was initiating a subtle verbal duel, and I met his every sneaky turn with aplomb.

Finally, he told me that he was impressed with me, and that he didn’t do this very often, but he was going to take me on as a personal protégé (I bet he gave everyone the same spiel). I was to start the very next day, during which I would shadow another employee to get a sense for how things were done there. I went home to celebrate this success. Hekate had apparently been right: The job was mine, hook, line, and sinker. Something kept me from being in the moment and fully celebrating this victory; I’d been jobless for months, facing deep despair over my financial and professional disempowerment, and that was all apparently at an end—but this had felt too goddamn easy. I kept thinking about that big stain on the floor, right in front of the receptionist’s desk—the first thing people would see on entering the office—and how that seemed okay with them.

I was told to report the next morning to a different floor in the same building, where I would be introduced to the person I was to shadow all day. After meeting my “staff psychopomp,” I was brought to a large room filled with people dressed in suits, Nirvana’s “Smells Like Teen Spirit” blaring over a P.A. system. I was introduced to various “movers and shakers,” including a woman about my age who’d called Nirvana “Rage Against the Machine.” Oh, god. What had I gotten myself into?

See, this job turned out to be door-to-door sales, and this was the morning’s little pep rally, meant to fire everyone up for a day of hittin’ the streets. I’d been told we were doing good work, selling people on solar power, but this? This didn’t feel like a noble mission. This felt like a religious revival in a tent in the middle of some field. This was way too culty for my tastes, but somehow, the people around me were really amped up to be there. I was apparently the only one who thought something might be wrong.

We were soon sent out to our respective territories—taking public transportation at our own expense, I might add—and I would begin my grueling 8-hour day of listening to my guide say to people, “Hi, my name is ______, and I’m steppin’ out about the electric.” Not one person was happy to see us, though my guide had been given an official-looking badge to make people think he actually worked for their power company. He unabashedly asked people to go grab their electric bills so he could show them how he would save them money. Most people slammed their doors in our faces. The only person who let us into their domicile was also complaining the whole time about how we were bothering her and interrupting her day; she’d only acquiesced because he’d flashed her his silly badge.

At lunch, he whipped out a sheet of paper detailing the path of advancement in the company (a pyramid scheme), which of course hinged on how successful one was in getting people to switch over to a different, ostensibly environmentally-friendly power company that would bless them with low rates for a year before restoring them to pretty much the exact same levels they were at before. In theory, I’d advance through the levels as I proved my sales acumen, eventually being granted a territory of my own to oversee and, as I imagined, a group of impressionable pawns to direct to “step out about the electric.” Every single one of these levels above the very first rung held some bullshit, bloated title like “Executive blahblahblah.” At being presented this, I called my would-be work buddy out on how hokey it all sounded. He stuttered, having nothing at all to say in response. He was clearly in over his head, and his explanations told me he had also clearly drunk the Kool-Aid himself, but was critically questioning it all in his mind for the first time upon hearing the slightest bit of reasonable resistance to this pyramid scheme from me (this was his first job outside of a grocery store).

After our afternoon rounds, we headed back to the office, to the same assembly space where we’d gathered that morning, for a follow-up rally to celebrate the day’s victories. My guide had told me that not only was this done morning and night every day, but that everyone routinely gathered at a nearby bar and hung out all night. These people seemed to do nothing but sleep outside the company of their co-workers. They worked Saturdays, by the way—actually the prime day for sales, since that was when folks tended to actually be home to hear our bullshit.

After the rally, we went upstairs to the office where I’d originally interviewed. I sat in the waiting room, alternating between staring at that ugly stain on the floor and watching through an office window as my guide nervously reported to the CEO that I had some deep reservations about staying with the company. Observing the concerned look on his face, I then realized that the man I’d interviewed with wasn’t making me his protégé because he thought I had promise—it was because he could tell I had some actual critical thinking skills, and he would need to keep a close eye on me. Well, he was right.

I was soon called into the CEO’s office, where he asked me about the concerns I had raised at lunch, and I frankly told him what they were. He rattled off some admittedly well-crafted responses meant to allay my concerns, I told him I would think about it, I left, and emailed him the next day to tell him I wasn’t interested in the job.

This, I think, was a “Dweller-at-the-Threshold” experience on my own particular left hand path journey; when we take serious strides on our initiatory paths, experiencing a quantum leap into a new level of understanding, we’re often confronted with a test of principle as a sort of “final boss” to the previous level. If we succeed, we enjoy and explore the new vistas that have been opened up to us. If we fail, we get put through the same ordeal over and over again, either for the rest of our lives, or until we get the point and take a crucial step as proof-of-concept.

In my case, the test hinged on whether or not I had truly developed a level of self-worth that could overcome my ingrown tendency to tow party lines and endure sacrifices that got me nowhere while advancing the causes of others. The night before I interviewed, I vowed to my phurba that I would henceforth hold enough self-respect to take what was mine; what I did not explicitly state, but what I was given the opportunity to prove to myself, was that sometimes, this means rejecting an opportunity to take something that wasn’t really for me, but was being offered to me anyway.

Many people have a perception of the left hand path as one of ruthless self-advancement to the detriment of others; this stems from a misguided inversion by right-handers wherein the excessive selflessness of the right hand path is mistakenly translated into an excessive selfishness on the left. Nothing could be further from the truth.

Had I made the grave mistake illustrated above, the “appropriate” response, having come to understand the shell game at work in this dysfunctional company, would have been to jump in, learn to play potential customers like a fiddle, and aim to reap the financial benefits of taking advantage of impressionable people to add to my own wealth. I would have done this in a lowly, parasitic way at the behest of lowly, parasitic overlords who were making more money off of me than I would ever see from them.

Contrary to what many right-handers say, the left hand path is not inherently predatory. Just because a person doesn’t spend every waking moment looking for ways to advance the collective doesn’t mean they actively abhor it, nor that they have something against contributing meaningfully to the advancement of others. We simply know that we have it within ourselves to reach new heights of which we would otherwise fall short if we were to prioritize everyone around us over that vision for ourselves. Though it may not always be apparent, in so doing, LHP practitioners often succeed in raising the bar of whatever their field of endeavor, and this inescapably elevates everyone. If I can do it, you can you do it—and we can do more still—right?

In keeping with this ethic, I knew I could not countenance taking this job, even as a means to an end, because at the end of the day, the whole thing was totally inane. Not only would joining the ranks of this exploitive company needlessly dupe others out of opportunities and resources that might have gone towards bigger and better things, but I myself would be settling for an ultimately meaningless form of self-advancement that would never unlock deeper and greater vistas of self-knowledge and discovery. I would be grabbing hold of a shallow and purposeless path to riches, while failing to challenge myself and grow in substantive ways.

I chose instead to tell this company to get bent—and before long, I found a much more meaningful job that actually aligned with my inner values while providing challenges that had me suffering anxiety attacks every morning until I rose to the occasion.

Paying the bills isn’t everything.

*I shouldn’t single out The Theosophical Society as the only Right Hand Path group of influence on me; there are many occult organizations based on Right Hand Path values–most of the more notorious ones, in fact. They would all have you believe that the RHP is the only valid path and that deviations are a result of your own self-delusion. To them, it’s RHP or it’s evil.

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