Hermes is “good to the benevolent, evil to the malevolent;” the Christ appears as an angel to angels, as a demon to demons, and as a man to men. Śiva and His Śakti appear in deep meditation, mild affection, and disturbing violence. It seems that the God we worship on Sunday is the very Devil on Monday. If you don’t believe me, ask poor Job!
There can be no doubt that the same Divinity which lovingly creates and tenderly preserves also destroys without mercy. Such is the view from within this very realm of contingency, and it has made many an atheist of believer and maltheist of devotee. But why are we moderns so morally outraged by such a situation? Our world of free will limited — or, more precisely, guided — by causality is ontologically incapable of the sort of “perfection” which we have decided it ought to display; we thus make ourselves blind to the very real perfection which inheres God’s creation.
Perfection, however, is neither perceived nor attained to by ignoring conflict and suffering, but by making ourselves capable of experiencing them with open eyes, responding to them deliberately, and, eventually, coming to see them from within, as transmuted iron becomes gold.
We modern esoterists tend, just as our predecessors the world over, to be drawn to the uncanny just as much as to the holy. I am as much a listener of goth, death rock, and black metal as I am to Buxtehude, Desprez, and the many bhajans. Śaivas purify themselves with strict moral precepts and meditate to know the Light Transcendent as the very Self of each soul, and smear dust, ash, and grave dirt upon their naked bodies; both acts point in the same direction, however differently they appear. I worship the God of Love and Light as the same as the God of ghosts, imps, and devils, for God is the God of all, and not just of the sanctimonious few. If this were not so, of what use were the Incarnation, Ministry, Crucifixion, and Resurrection of Jesus?
Occultists of the West have, from the late 19th century on, mistaken “right-handed” practice with salvation and “left-handed” with diabolism. Crowley took this error a step further in first identifying the two, and then claiming the schizophrenic result to be the selfsame “Middle Way” of Lao-tze and the Buddha. This misunderstanding — an eruption of shallow moralism in reverse — has not always been in the West, and is quite contrary to the philosophies of Hinduism, Buddhism, and Taoism often invoked to support it.
Śiva appears in formal manifestation as both Rudra the howling god of dissolution and tears, and as Sadaśiva the mild and loving Revealer and Savior. Jung spoke of Hermes both as the Devil himself — as in the first part of the legend of Emperor Julian “the Apostate” — and as salvific psychopomp. Kabbalah displays the forces of Mercy and Severity (or Justice) as the highest forces below the Abyss of the Uncreate. It is a sore mistake, however, to take this as a doctrinal statement — as if “evil” were as good as “good”. Rather, it is a distinction purely of methodology.
On the standard form of the Tree of Life diagram (above), the Kabbalist places Gevurah on the left and Gedulah (Chesed) on the right, at the fifth and fourth descending positions, respectively. From the perspective of the exoteric onlooker or, indeed, the student of esoterism just entering the Way, this suggests what we tend to experience: in this universe, Severity is a bit closer at hand than anything resembling Mercy and — being on the left — comes to resemble the forces of evil which batter the just, unjust, innocent, and guilty alike. But the same numerology which places Gevurah in the fifth place — closer to the tenth place from which the uninitiated mind views the world — also displays the Mercy of Gedulah as prior to Gevurah’s Severity; that is, Mercy is closer to the Center than Severity and, so, more essential.
More information is revealed when we “humanize” the Tree. More to the point, we must not so much project the Tree upon ourselves (as is often suggested in modern occult sources) as project ourselves into the Tree. The Tree of Life diagram is not reversed, as in a mirror, but “faces” us directly. As such, we must turn around and, as it were, “back into” the Tree. When we do so, we find now that Severity takes the right hand and Mercy the left! Here is a key to comprehending the relationship between right-hand Yoga and left-hand Tantra. The goal of Yoga is achieved through strict morality and transhuman discipline; the goal of Tantra is come to by discipline and morality, certainly — Tantra is not the hedonistic libertinism portrayed in popular books on “sex magic” and “the ultimate orgasm” — but lightened and redefined according to motherly tenderness (a portion of the reasoning behind the Tantric focus on devotion to Śakti-Devi rather than Paraśiva). The Kali Yuga — or Iron Age, in Western terms — in which we are now living is characterized in part by a general difficulty of seriously engaging in spiritual practice; in His mercy (!), God Śiva has thus made it easier to attain Him, and so we have the various Hindu bhakti movements, Tantra, Mahāyāna Buddhism, the Christian sacraments, Islam — in short, all of the means of “salvation by faith” rather than by “works” or “gnosis”. By this measure, the church-going Christian is as much a practitioner of the Left-Hand Path as the Tantrika making sacrifice of a goat and symbolically smearing himself with the menstrual blood of the Goddess!
Of course, there is no “pure” path open to us; the Yogi and the Gnostic pray at churches and temples, partake of sacraments, and beg for the grace to go on day by day, just as the bhakta and the faithful Christian votary demand more essential moral changes in themselves and greater discipline of concentration during worship. In the Kabbalist’s Tiphareth, we see the admixture of method. This is not Crowley’s childish bouncing back-and-forth any more than it is a tepid puddle left when fire and ice try to merge; neither is it the Buddha’s Middle Way (which resembles, in its classical form, nothing so much as right-hand Yoga). Rather, it is a recognition that, as the sun shines on one and all, so too are the means of liberation delivered upon the whole world in a myriad of forms suitable to humanity’s innumerable temperaments. It is thus that Śiva demonstrates to us His love regardless of our missteps, thus that the Perennial Philosophy blazes forth the world over, no matter the outward conditions, and thus that Faivre says, “Wherever Hermes passes, religious tolerance prevails.”