A History Of How The Left Hand Became Associated With Evil And The Devil

Left-handers have it harder than righties. Not only do they have to face scissors that won't cut and the pain of writing for long periods of time in a spiral notebook, but they also have to contend with a long history of stigmatization. Left-handedness has historically been regarded as the mark of the devil, and during the Salem Witch Trials, it was considered the sign of a witch

Although attitudes toward left-handedness have changed over the past 50 years, laws against preferring the left hand existed as recently as the 1970s. For as long as movies and media convey that the devil sits on the left shoulder, the idea that left-handedness is evil will be present in the culture. 


  • The Ancient Celts Valued Left-Handedness For Its Advantage In Combat
    Photo: Sebastian Münster / Wikimedia Commons / Public Domain

    The Ancient Celts Valued Left-Handedness For Its Advantage In Combat

    The ancient Celts came to celebrate left-handedness because they realized the benefit it could provide in combat. The Kerr family of Scotland treasured the characteristic after it gave Sir Andrew Kerr a leg up in a sword fight circa 1513. The Kerrs even built their castle specifically for left-hand use.

    Kerr taught his sons and armed guards to hold their swords and axes in their left hands because he believed it gave them an advantage against their enemies.

  • In Roman Augury, The Left Was Considered Favorable

    In early Rome, augury was the practice of divining messages from the gods based on the movements of birds. Augures, or priests who performed augury, assigned significance to the direction birds flew.

    In Greek culture, birds that flew from the right were considered positive signs from the gods, but Romans believed the opposite. Roman augures marked templums, or sacred spaces in the sky. If a bird flew into the templum from the left, it meant the gods approved. Flying in from the right or from behind meant they disapproved.

  • Inca and Maya Cultures Viewed Left-Handedness Positively

    In Inca culture, left-handedness was associated with good deeds. The name of Inca chief Lloque Yupanqui means "left-handedness." People admired him for his goodness.

    The ancient Maya similarly viewed left-handedness with favor. The Maya term for left is dziic, which is derived from dziicil, meaning "soldier" or "brave." 

  • The Left Became Associated With Femininity And Inferiority

    The left has historically been associated with femininity, which eventually came to represent weakness or passiveness. Right-handedness, which has always been more widespread and dominant, came to be associated with masculine traits that conveyed power. In ancient Greece, for instance, the right side was linked to strength and virtue.

    Many religions, including Hinduism, Jewish Kabbalah, and Christianity, all make the same association between gender and handedness.

  • The Bible Associated The Right With Being Blessed

    Both subtle and apparent moral associations are made with the left and right sides in the Bible. For instance, Jesus sat at the right hand of God, while the archangel Gabriel was said to sit at the left.

    In the Book of Matthew, Jesus - in a shepherd metaphor - is said to allow only those to his right side into heaven upon his return to Earth:

    When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, then he will sit on his glorious throne. Before him will be gathered all the nations, and he will separate people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. And he will place the sheep on his right, but the goats on the left. Then the King will say to those on his right, "Come, you who are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world."

  • The Spanish Inquisition Sometimes Slew Left-Handed People
    Photo: Francisco Rizi / Wikimedia Commons / Public Domain

    The Spanish Inquisition Sometimes Slew Left-Handed People

    During the Spanish Inquisition, left-handedness was associated with witchcraft and people who didn't practice Catholicism. Lefties were condemned and sometimes even slain.