Satanism & Left-Hand Tantra Addendum: Lucifer and Dark Gnosis

Anointed am I
Exalted on a course to man averse
Cloven-hooved my footsteps be
The self withdrawn
Expanding as the rays of death illuminate
The bridge and the path to the waters of Ain

~ “Waters of Ain” by Watain

It must be said that there are indeed those who use satanic imagery and terminology to point to something far deeper and, it may be said, far higher. It is fairly well known at this point that “Lucifer” means “Light-bringer”, a symbolic title which has been applied to nearly every savior-figure, at one time or another. There are even “Christian Luciferians” who apply the title to Jesus. This is done, of course, not in a sense of irony, but from a Gnostic standpoint; if the Prince of Darkness holds sway in this world — functioning as the “god of this world” — the being of Light who came within the cosmic system to show us the way out is surely the Lucifer, by whatever other name we choose to call him. The satanists who take this tack rarely use such Christian imagery, however, but instead draw from Kabbalah, Tantra, Voudou, Quimbanda, and other non-Christian modes.

These satanists may more accurately be called Chaoists — not in the sense of the popular “chaos magic”, but in that they hold Chaos to be higher or more essential than Cosmos. Very often, this is an overly literal understanding of the aforementioned systems of inspiration. In Kabbalah, our cosmic system does indeed emanate from Chaos, but Chaos is not therefore anti-cosmic. Tantra equates Chaos with Nature, the primordial matter and energy of which all universes derive their substance. In both cases, Chaos is not “supreme”. It is a material from which something may be shaped in order that it might perform a function. The “consciousness of Chaos”, whom in Tantra we call Sakti, Kali, Durga, in general ” the Goddess”, is co-eternal with the One Being, Siva, and exists in non-dual relation with Him.

When we speak of Sakti destroying the universe, or else of Siva dissolving the universe, this is not because we find the universe to be of zero value. This is where overly literal thinking causes trouble. There is certainly an inherent tension between Cosmos and Chaos, but only for so long as they remain conceptually separated. This tension is a dynamic one; it is what allows for anything to exist at all. But that existence is contingent. Kabbalists and Tantrikas do not pretend that it is essential rather than apparent.

To say that the act of creation was a mistake may be a helpful metaphor, but it is not (and cannot be) literally true. It only points to the deeper truth that our entrapment within that creation is the result of an error which clings to us. In Saivism, we call this error anavamala, or “the bondage of atomism”. It is the error which arises by the soul’s assumption that it is distinct from other souls and from the Primal Soul whom we call God. It is true, in a sense, that the soul has its own identity, but it has its identity only and ultimately in relation to God. So, the creation of a world in which we are forced into relationships with other souls and “inanimate” matter is hardly a mistake, but it is made necessary by a mistake. The universe is the grit-filled tumbler which polishes us clean of the patina of “separateness”.

The use of satanic imagery may be a useful tool for shocking oneself awake, but only if that person is already on the verge of waking up. Otherwise, it tends only to bolster a sense of division by making the individual feel justified in combativeness, or else plunged into depression over a sense of “entrapment”. These images are not native to Tantra, and the methods which often accompany them are generally not compatible with it. That said, such adaptations have been made, but they are, for the reasons explored in Satanism & Left-Hand Tantra, very rarely useful in the actual process of becoming free.

Satanism & Left-Hand Tantra

The leading misconception about Tantra among non-occultists is that it is all about having explosive sex. But that’s not what I’m writing about, today. The leading misconception about Tantra among occultists is that it is “Left-Hand” means the same thing among Eastern practices as Western. In other words, Tantric practices among Saivas and Saktas are often equated with satanism. There are a lot of problems with this interpretation, almost entirely based in the very different approaches to the broad notion of religion.

At its worst, satanism is a sincere worship or veneration of some notion of embodied evil. I shouldn’t have to go into much detail concerning how silly this is, but it may at least be helpful to point out the fact that Dharmic traditions do not generally even consider evil to be an absolute or archetype. To worship it, then, would not occur to them in the first place. Asuras and other “demonic” entities do make appearances in Dharma, but they’re nothing more than souls living out very different sorts of lives than ourselves. If they are evil, they are evil because of their thoughts and actions, not because of some immutable moral essence.

At best, satanism is an intentional mythologizing of selfish instinctual urges. These satanists — often, though not always, associated with or inspired by Anton LaVey’s “Church of Satan” — interpret Satan and the various other devils and demons of Abrahamic mythology to be personified symbols of their own egos and desires, the various rituals and ceremonies built up around them merely costumed metaphors. A friend of mine once described this form of satanism as “Ayn Rand in a robe” and, as far as sharp summations go, I could do no better.

Both of these “satanisms”, and the gradients between them, are basically nothing more than adolescent rebellions against the norms of the prevailing societies in which they occur. When a person’s notions of religion are based more or less in the Abrahamic traditions, and that person feels constrained and in need of a thorough break from those traditions, their options tend to be just as limited by the surrounding religious environment. Rebellion against the Judeo-Christian God is as simple as inverting the Judeo-Christian script, but that script is still binding!

Those tantriks who take to the especial worship of Kali — by no means the only option, but certainly the one best known of in the West — are not worshiping a demon, do they see themselves as making a pact with the devil, nor as merely turning Vedic Brahmanism on its head. They are practicing a tradition sufficient to itself, without needing reference to an adversary. More, they don’t necessarily believe themselves to be opposed to other sects and approaches. There is no denial of a God of Light; in fact, Saktas tend to see themselves as taking the most congenial route to the Light by way of the comfortable darkness of the merciful and loving Divine Mother. While many “orthodox” Christians might call this satanic, that only points to the paucity of interpretive frameworks they have to draw from and not to any accuracy in the judgment.

Another Tantric tradition often equated with satanism, usually by occultists who think this isn’t a bad thing to be equated to, are the Aghoris. These are a sect of wandering Saiva ascetics who, in an effort to become supremely detached to the ephemera of this world, occasionally perform such acts as meditation atop the greasy ashes left after funeral pyres, using human skulls as begging bowls or even objects of worship, seemingly severe acts of self-abnegation, and so forth. The apparently dark and unkempt visages of the Aghoris and their macabre ritual tools seem to be sufficient for most occultists to brand them as Left-Hand in a similar vein as satanism.

This brings us to the central problem: semantics. Both Dharmic and Western traditions make use of the terms “Right-Hand” and “Left-Hand”, more or less. (The Sanskrit term vama, sometimes used similarly to our “sinister” to mean both left-handed and untrustworthy or wicked, can also mean beautiful, agreeable, refractory, and a number of other nuanced meanings, so using it interchangeably is not always the wisest translation.) The Western traditions, however, do not seem to have a clear or consistent definition of the terms. I have seen the dichotomy put in any number of ways, from the relative position of their focus on the kabbalistic Tree of Life, to the simple “good versus evil”, to the partisan claims that one side is more “free” or more “legalistic” than the other. In Dharma, the definitions are much more, frankly, defined and technical.

In the first place, Tantra itself is not all “Left-Hand”; there are Right-Hand forms of Tantra, and it might sound odd to say so, but some of the most extreme forms of Saiva Tantra which look so sinister to Western eyes, with naked wandering ascetics covered in funereal ash and carrying tridents, lean more toward Right-Hand practice than Left-Hand. The big difference between the two is how they put “the five Ms” into practice. The five Ms are: madya (wine), mamsa (meat), matsya (fish), mudra (parched grain), and maithuna (sex). These are all strictly limited or entirely forbidden to Hindus of the Brahmin varna and, thus, to temple priests and monks; they take on special significance in Tantra not because Tantra seeks merely to annoy and undermine Brahmins, but because Tantra practitioners seek to transcend the categories of “clean” and “unclean”. “Aghori”, the sect mentioned previously, takes its name from “aghora”, meaning “not terrible” or “not repulsive”. An Aghori, then, is “one who is not repulsed” by anything.

Among Tantrics, these five substances have become symbolic of various processes of Yoga, thus:

  • wine becomes intoxicating knowledge;
  • meat becomes the control of speech (and, by extension, thought);
  • fish becomes the pranic channels of Ida and Pingala;
  • parched grain becomes concentration and meditation;
  • and sex becomes samadhi, or total absorption.

The major distinction, then, between the Right-Hand and Left-Hand forms of Tantra is precisely how these symbols are enacted. In Right-Hand Tantra, they are purely symbolic, with the terms used almost as poetic glosses in descriptions of practical methods of Yoga, while in Left-Hand Tantra, they are used quite literally, albeit as ritual sacraments. Neither one is necessarily right or wrong; they are just different modes of accessing the same states. In neither case are they mere excuses for license, as is generally found among Western “Left-Hand” groups. And, to add to the subtlety of Dharmic understanding, it is somewhat rare for an individual practitioner to take an all-or-nothing approach to the five Ms; instead, any given practitioner might, for instance, abstain from the literal consumption of intoxicants and red meat, but may eat fish, parched grains, and forgo celibacy. The practitioner’s lineage of initiation is a factor, here, as is that practitioner’s own practice and sense of right action.

That last concept of “right action” cannot be left dangling. Some modern practitioners of Tantra have adopted something like the Rabelaisian “Do what thou wilt” as their prime ethical dictum, just as have Western followers of Aleister Crowley’s religion of Thelema, who are also often called “Left-Hand”. In genuine Tantra, however, the “thou” is interpreted more as “Thou”; so “Do what Thou wilt” becomes more an invocation than a dispensation for license. Perhaps if Crowley had understood it thus, he would not have beaten every wife and lover he had and died a penniless heroin addict.

So in Tantra, unlike in satanism and Western Left-Hand occultism, morality grows from devotion rather than rationalizing what we already want to do, which brings Tantra — of either dextral orientation — into a stronger resemblance to the teachings of Jesus Christ than of Crowley or LaVey. Those who wish to claim that “all paths lead to the same destination” are ignoring, intentionally or not, the fact that not all tools are equally efficient, and not all “solutions” are intended to address the same “problems”. Equally, similar terms from different contexts are not necessarily cognate.