The Devil and Greta Garbo

As my students floated through their post-Savasana haze this evening, I was approached by Lindsay, a regular student of mine, who wanted to know why we roll over onto the right side of the body when coming back into a seated posture after the deep relaxation of Savasana. I had my suspicions from an anatomical standpoint, but those quickly took a back seat to what I found when I came home and did some research, and what I found brought me back to a subject I had written about years ago.

As both the left and right sides of the body are each respectively attributed with feminine/Shakti and masculine/Shiva energies (in addition to being connected to the sun and the moon, “Hatha” yoga being the composite word bringing Ha, or lunar, and Tha, or solar energies together), when we roll over onto the right side of the body, we let the left, or feminine/lunar/Shakti side dominate in all its therapeutic glory.

What I love about teaching is that I learn from my students, and this evening was the perfect example of this. But the information I found brought me back to an essay I had written years ago regarding the left and right sides of the body, and how throughout history the left side of the body was attributed to the feminine energy, along with being associated with the devil. So I figured I’d re-print that essay here…such a fascinating topic, all thanks to Savasana (and Lindsay 😉 )…

I was recently taking the bus from Stansted Airport to Heathrow Airport in England, and as the bus turned at the off-ramp, I noticed a sign on the side of the highway instructing slower drivers to drive in the left-hand lane. The instructions were repeated below the English text in French, and further down, in Italian, and one word from the Italian text caught my eye and has kept me thinking ever since. The Italian word for “left” was written as “sinistro”, and all of a sudden I was wracking my brain for all the information I’d ever absorbed about the mythology and history of the left side of the body, and more specifically, left-handed people. I found it odd that the Italian translation for the word denoting a side of a determined area had a dark, even evil connotation to it. I swore that when I got back home I would delve into this subject, so here is the fruit of that endeavour.

It seems that in most of recorded history, the devil has been attributed with not only being left-handed, but with baptizing his victims with his left hand. As a result, most people over the past couple of millennia have associated the left side of the body, and more precisely, the left hand, with evil.  Superstitions grew rampant regarding the left side of the body as best depicted by the classic image of a person battling their conscience – the angelic aspect was always nestled on the right shoulder of the person, the demonic aspect perched on the left shoulder.  In biblical times, salt was a prized staple to have in a household, and if by some horrible twist of fate some salt spilled on the floor, it was believed to be akin to sacrilege, and therefore customary to then throw a pinch of salt over one’s left shoulder as the spilled salt was being cleaned up.  The intention behind this act was commonly believed to blind the devil so he couldn’t see the transgression, but another line of thinking was that the thrown salt simply kept him at bay.

One of the most famous lefties in history, Julius Caesar, created most of the right-handed customs that exist today (the handshake, for example) because they freed up his left, weapon-brandishing hand to be ready for combat at any given moment. This line of reasoning also served as the basis for driving on the left side of the road in the United Kingdom and some of its colonies.  Driving in the left-hand lane is rooted in the UK’s often-violent medieval feudal society where the majority of people were right-handed.  Being right-handed, it made sense to keep a weapon at the ready as people passed each other on their respective right sides.  Similarly, jousting knights would charge at each other, passing each other’s right side with lances pointed in battle.

Studies released in recent years suggest that 10% of the world’s population is left-handed and that being so inclined is rooted in a recessive gene passed down by one’s mother.  Based on Dr Chris McManus’ book “Left Hand, Right Hand”, two left-handed parents have a 26% chance of having a left-handed child, while two right-handed parents have a 9% chance of having a left-handed child.  A mixture of one right-handed and one left-handed parent have a 19% chance of producing a left-handed offspring.

A survey conducted by the Left-Handers Club (www.lefthandersday.com) has found some interesting tidbits:  left-handed musicians will have more of an uphill battle trying to find instruments for lefties, and once found, they will pay a great deal more money for said instruments.  Lefties also have more of a challenge when at a bank teller station or a post office counter, as they are set up for right-handed people.  Conversely, lefties are also more inclined to have a greater aptitude for expressing themselves, generating ideas, and composing stories due to a greater facility with words.  They are also more creative, open-minded and non-conformist compared to their right-handed peers.  Those who work on a computer are able to type and use the computer mouse at the same time, and are more adept with the standard “QWERTY” keyboard, as the keyboard was “originally designed to slow down right-handed typists”.

There’s a whole other world of information pertaining to this subject available to those in search of it, and it’s all fascinating.  Check it out, and in the interim, I’ll leave you with this list of famous lefties, some of which definitely fall into the aforementioned creative, idea-generating category:

Drew Barrymore, Aristotle, Joan of Arc (who was accused of being left-handed, but that may have been solely for the purpose of persecuting her as a witch), Charlie Chaplin, Jack the Ripper, Peter Ustinov, Brad Pitt, Oprah Winfrey, Marilyn Monroe, Sarah Jessica Parker, Nicole Kidman, The Boston Strangler, Gary Oldman, Greta Garbo, Woody Harrelson, Ronald Reagan, Colin Powell, Helen Keller, Whoopi Goldberg, and the list goes on and on…

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2 thoughts on “The Devil and Greta Garbo”

  1. Thank you so much Bram for taking the time to answer my question – and to learn so much about the body. I just wish i could brag about being left handed.

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