Lords of the Left-Hand Path, Dr. Stphen E. Flowers. Inner Tradition, Rochester, VT, 2012. 499 pages. $24.95
review by J.S. Kupperman
Dr. Stephen Flowers, also known to many by the pseudonym “Edred Thorsson,” promises a look at the left-hand path “under the lens of reason.” Lords of the Left-Hand Path promises the an objective and academic discourse on the left-hand path, ethical/spiritual/magical systems that understand themselves to operate contrary to universal and social order in order to make the individual personality immortal. Perhaps due to the antinomian nature of the left-hand path, of which Flowers is an avowed practitioner, Lords of the Left-Hand Path almost completely fails to live up to its promise.
The very beginning of the book, the preface to the new edition of the text, it becomes clear that Lords is presented in a way that is anything but objective. Instead, Flowers represents the left-hand path from the view of the practitioners. Flowers is himself such a practitioner, having been involved with both the Church of Satan and the Temple of Set before fully establishing a left-hand path version of Germanic paganism. This view is not, in and of itself, necessarily a bad thing. Examining how practitioners view themselves can be extremely valuable. Unfortunately, as Lords of the Left-Hand Path is presented as an academic ethnography and history, the usefulness of Flowers approach is greatly undermined.
That there are significant problems in Flowers interpretation of the histories of the left-hand path, in both the east and the west, is clear early on. The problem is not that Flowers presents the left-hand path, in regards to the right-hand path, as the truly correct form of spirituality. This is expected when presenting views subjectively rather than objectively. The problem is not that he defines the East as Indo-Iranian and the West as stemming from the Middle East and Egypt. The problem is that he immediately polemicists these distinctions through the language of 19th century bigotry and anti-Semitism, making the East, which he presents as the source of true spirituality, Aryan, and the West, which only has true spirituality through what it gained from the Indo-European invasion, as “Judeo-Christian,” by which he means Jewish-influenced religion.
Flowers’ presentation of Aryan-derived religion as being superior to just about everything else is highly problematic, both historically and philosophically. That this view influenced his interpretation of history and philosophical literature becomes obvious fairly quickly. For me this was not quite as obvious in the chapter on Eastern religion, which focuses a great deal on tantra in Hinduism and Buddhism. What was obvious was Flowers’ reliance on Julius Evola, whose racialist and racist views are well known, as well as Mircea Eliade, whose works are highly outdated and filled with methodological errors. Evola, especially, is a primary source of Flowers’ interpretation of tantric and Vedic texts.
The section on the history of the left-hand path in the West was far more problematic. It is here that Flowers proclaims Plato a Lord of the left-hand path. This is based on a few decontextualized passages from the Republic. Flowers interprets the Republic in such a way as to suggest it advocates the role of the philosopher-king as a physically immortal ruler. That the Socratic dialogues repeatedly places the role of the soul, with its connection to the universal Nous, or divine intellect, over the physical world, that they show the physical body to be a trap for the soul that diminishes its powers and activities in every way appears to be unknown to Flowers
The presentation of Greek religion in general, as well as the respective roles of Judaism and Christianity, is difficult and filled with re-reinterpretations. If these reinterpretations were limited to explaining how the left-hand path views these traditions then there might be value to them. However, this does not appear to be the case. Instead, Flowers presents these views as historical. He also fails to connect the Titans with their Indo-European equivalents, the Hindu Asura, the Irish Formori or the Germanic Jotunn. There is evidence in the Vedas that the Asura originally represented divine reality before the Sura created and organized physical reality and human society. Such an ideology could easily be employed in the left-hand path and be used to support the LHP as being prior to the right-hand path. This is important as Flowers frequently misinterprets deities to support his view. This is very clear in his presentation of Odin as an antinomic deity. That Odin’s primary role in the Eddas is in the creation and preservation of divine and physical order is ignored.
This represents only two chapters of Lords of the Left-Hand Path. These foundations feed into the rest of the book, which examine specific traditions Flowers identifies as participating in the LHP. There may be some useful information in these sections, it is difficult to tell. Portions of his discussion of the Gnostics relies more heavily upon the writings of heresy hunters than Gnostic scriptures, which while frequently antinomian, are only so in regards to human social order, not divine order or humanity’s place within it. On the other hand, important figures from modern LHP organizations, such as Michael Aquino, the founder of the Temple of Set, were involved with the writing of the book. This only makes things more difficult, however, as it whether or not any particular view is historical; Flowers’ or the actual perspective of a given tradition is obfuscated by the material in Lords’ founding chapters.
While Lords of the Left-Hand Path purports to give an unbiased report of the history of the left-hand path the books accomplishes almost anything but this goal. Instead it is a testament to racialist and racist historical revision in a way many readers of Flowers/Thorsson have already come to know. The reader of this book will not gain a deep insight into the LHP. They will instead gain a deep insight into Stephen Flowers’ version of the LHP, the representativeness of which, vis-à-vis, the left-hand path qua the left-hand path, is almost utterly obscured by the personality presenting it.