Mark of Cain? The Stigma of the Left Hand

In western culture, a general ignorance or misunderstanding of the human mind – especially its unconscious or irrational aspects – had led to our tendency, throughout history, to place value judgments where they don’t belong. Positive associations cling to “white”, “day”, “light” and “right”, for example, and negative associations adhere to “black”, “night”, “dark” and “left”.

The left hand – and those who favor it – has been the object of superstitious fear throughout the ages.

Within Christian religion, this prejudice has its roots in the Bible. Consider the Vision of Judgment by St. Matthew, Chapter XXV:

“Before him shall be gathered all nations, and He shall separate them one from another, as a shepherd divideth his sheep from goats. And He shall set his sheep on his right hand, and his goats on his left.” After describing the kindness shown by God to those on the right, the passage continues: “Then He shall say also to them on the left hand, Depart from Me, ye cursed, into everlasting fire, prepared for the Devil and his angels.”

In the Talmund, the Prince of Demons, Samael, derives his name from the Hebrew se’ mol, which means, “left”.

Let’s look also at the etymology of the very word. In Old English “left” or “lef” means “weak” and “worthless”. The Anglo-Saxon root “lyft” translates to “weak” or “broken”.

The Oxford Dictionary includes, among its meanings for this adjective, the following: crippled, defective, characterized by underhanded dealings, ill-omened, inauspicious and sinister.

Within the ancient system of Tarot cards we have the Devil, Le Diable, pictured with a sword in his left hand.

Witches’ Sabbats involved walking “widdershins”, which is contrary to the sun’s path. Facing magnetic north, this would be to the left, counter-clockwise.

Then consider the old superstition of propitiating Satan by throwing salt from one’s right hand over one’s left shoulder – the Devil’s direction.

The sign of the cross is made with the right hand – the last movement going from left to right. To give a blessing with the left hand has always been considered blasphemous, and was made part of the Black Mass.

The psychologist Carl Jung believed that we have a collective prejudice for the right hand caused by “the rightward movement of our writing”. He added: “The right is ruled by conscious reason. The left is the side of the heart, the emotions, where one is affected by the unconscious.”

After Jung’s time we had, finally, the findings of modern science in regards to the two hemispheres of the brain. The right hemisphere – which relates to the left side of the body – is associated with imagination, non-linear and/or metaphorical thinking; it is the very raw material of art and inspiration.

And so it is to be hoped that the artist can embrace a more inclusive vision of reality than what we have, for the most part, inherited thus far. A picture that transcends distinctions; that creates expressions that are “beyond good and evil” as the philosopher Nietsche would have said.

And then let’s give the poor maligned left hand a little due respect!

Seth Mullins is the author of “Song of an Untamed Land”. Visit his complete blog at []

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Published in: on May 17, 2010 at 5:49 am  Leave a Comment  

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