Caricature of “Lord Byron, the Satanic writer” by George Cruishank, 1820.

Paint It Black

What is the ‘Lefthand Path’?

Mitch Horowitz
11 min readJun 19, 2022


In attempting to annex four regions of Ukraine, Vladimir Putin announced in a speech of September 30, 2022, “The repression of freedom is taking on the outlines of a ‘reverse religion,’ of real Satanism,” claiming that Western liberal outlooks on matters like gender identity amounted to a “denial of man.”

The baleful misuse of Satanism in polemics is now playing out on a geopolitical scale. It is bigoted, inaccurate, and dangerous. In this essay, first published June 18, 2022, I consider the actualities of what the despot called a “reverse religion,” and what it means in the lives of seekers, including my own. — MH

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Our spiritual pursuits in the West frequently derive from the Abrahamic traditions — Judaism-Christianity-Islam — and from variations of Vedic, Taoist, shamanic, or Buddhist teachings. At a turning point in my search about five years ago, I found these expressions, in both traditional and esoteric iterations, unsatisfying, at least of themselves.

I sought a more self-driven path. One of attainment, proteanism, and self-expression. Although I did not embark on my search with this intention — or with resistance to it — I found that my approach came to coalesce with what is sometimes called the lefthand path.

The lefthand path is an ethical and spiritual outlook that could be described as “My Will Be Done.” This concept is, I believe, a more honest philosophical antonym to the Scriptural invocation “Thy Will Be Done,” which is often invoked with the same meaning covertly or, just as often, unconsciously.

We wish to attain — broadly defined — and hope that our strivings comport with those of a Higher Power, or what I call a Greater Force.

The term lefthand as I use it here is rooted the Vedic Sanskrit vamachara (“left-handed attainment”). Its widespread use in the West originated with occult chronicler Madame H.P. Blavatsky in volume I of her arcanum of esoteric history and philosophy, The Secret Doctrine (1888). See the detail immediately below for the popularization of the upside-down pentagram in connection with lefthand philosophy.



Mitch Horowitz

"Treats esoteric ideas & movements with an even-handed intellectual studiousness"-Washington Post | PEN Award-winning historian | Censored in China