Book review: Lords of the Left Hand Path by Stephen Flowers

As a new week dawns I’d like to share with you the latest book I’ve read, Dr Stephen FlowersThe Lords of the Left Hand Path: A History of Spiritual Dissent.

After a recommendation from a friend I decided to track down a copy of this book and give it a read.  I got my hands on the older Runa Raven edition from 1997 (2nd edition).  I recommend tracking down Runa Raven Press book, especially if you have an interest in Runes and the Germanic. Sadly Runa Raven has closed down but as at writing this post, their titles can be found on Amazon and Book Depository for a good price (and ebay if you enjoy selling your kidney to purchase a book). ‘Lords of the Left Hand Path’ has recently been re-released as a new edition.  The new edition has an Eve inspired hand and snake on its cover (see picture) as opposed to the old big black book edition with the Seal of Runa on the cover (perhaps we can discuss this symbol another day).  I’m assuming there isn’t a huge difference between the two editions, but if there is I’ll come back to this post and update on any differences once I’ve read the new edition.

As the title suggests, the book takes us on a road trip that travels from the East (Hindu/Buddhist tantra practices), through the Middle East and Hellenistic region, then its growth in Europe from the Dark ages up until today (or in this case the 90’s), with a focus on the groups and individuals that help shape what is commonly called the Left Hand Path.  To the best of my knowledge there isn’t another book on this topic that goes into as much detail. Its focus is only up until the 1990 so it would be interesting if Dr Flowers covers anything that’s happened in the last 20 odd years (not that we need a review of the hundreds of ‘online’ satanic movements now floating around…).

The usual (modern) suspects are here you may expect in a book on the more notorious side of magical history, such Aleister Crowley, HP Blavatsky, Austin Osman Spare and Anton LaVey. But Dr Flowers does an excellent job of explaining how these more modern figures have been shaped by the past two thousand plus years of spiritual (and political) heretical thinkers.

Dr Flowers uses the following criteria to determine if a person or group would fall under his definition of a Lords of the Left Hand.
Deification of the Self (which is made up of Self-deification, Individualism, Initiation and Magic) and antinomianism.  By this it is meant that the “practitioners think of themselves as ‘going against the grain’ of their culturally conditioned and conventional norms of ‘good’ and ‘evil.’” In addition to the ideas of antinomianism, Dr Flowers adds, “the practitioner of the left-hand path is not a criminal in the usual sense. He or she is bound to break the cosmic laws of nature…Although beyond good and evil, this path requires the most rigorous of ethical standards. These standards are based on understanding and not on blind obedience to external authorities.” (P. 4).

A chapter that I found particularly interesting was on Karl Marx and the Communist movement.  I’ve not previously seen either Communist or Fascists political thought to be very welcoming to the basic principle of the Left Hand. However Dr Flowers does a great job of demonstrating how the early thinkers such as Karl Marx was influenced, and has influenced, occult thinking. In the same vein Hitler and Nazi Germany are examined and much of the Nazi occult mythology are shown to be just that, myths and not based on any real evidence.  In fact, Dr Flowers demonstrates that this extremist political movement had more in common with Right Hand Path religions.
Also the chapter on G. I. Gurdjieff and P. D. Ouspeusky were very enlightening.  Both these figures (who probably wouldn’t call themselves members of the Left Hand Club) are very influential in modern thoughts and practices but I’ve never sat down and read about their backgrounds and histories until now.

Dr Flowers review of the Hellenistic period and Gnostic sects are also excellent, which isn’t surprising if you’ve ever read his “Hermetic Magic.” Another must read for anyone interested in magic from this time period.

The book finishes with a discussion of the Temple of Set and Dr Michael Aquino.  Short of Dr Aqunio’s own public writings, this is one of the most detailed accounts of the early histories, structure and cosmologies on the Temple I have come across.

All in all this is a very enjoyable book and I’ll track down the latest edition to see if it has changed much in the past 15 years.  At times the book can feel like reading a history text book (after all Stephen Flowers is an academic as well as a LHP practitioner (p xiii)), but I recommend this book for anyone looking to dig deeper into the roots of the modern Left Hand Path tradition.

Now to start reading next week’s book….

Hail to those who would be the future’s next Lords and Ladies of the Left Hand Path!

Svartvargr

(Flowers, Stephen. 1997. “The Lords of the Left Hand Path: A History of Spiritual Dissent.” Smithville: Runa Raven Press)

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