Over the centuries, customs, religions and habits have made sure that the left hand is almost universally damned and unwelcome. Only very recently has the use of the left hand been accepted as more ‘normal'. We have picked a selection of items that make the point.
- In popular folklore in many cultures around the world, the Devil, or the local equivalent, is always left-handed (look at paintings and illustrations and extracts from religious texts). The custom of throwing spilled salt over the left shoulder originates here as well, it is to placate the devil to your left and avoid bad luck.
- Throughout most of Christianity, good stuff happens on the right and bad on the left! One count reveals over 100 favourable references to the right hand. Virtually all references to the left hand are unfavourable. In the parable of the sheep and the goats, the sheep on the right side inherit the kingdom of heaven, but the goats on the left are cursed and sent into everlasting fire and punishment.
- The ancient Greeks regarded the left side as inauspicious and unlucky and the Romans later took up the same view. The Greek word for left, ‘skaios' came to mean ‘ill-omened' and ‘awkward' as well.
- An account of certain African tribes in 1906 describes what they do to left-handed children. They poured boiling water into a hole in the ground then thrust the offending hand in and wedged it down with earth. This tended to damage the hand and discourage the child form using it.
- Until fairly recently (and still, sometimes, today) children using their left hand to write with were strongly dissuaded, by having the left arm tied behind their back, by having the left knuckles hit with a ruler or other suitable punishments. We are probably the first generation that does not include many thousands of natural left-handers who write with their right hand!
We had an email from a lady in Swaziland, South Africa, in response to this article and you can see her story about being physically punished for using her left hand here.