history & culture

In Norse mythology, Tyr (pronounced Tiw in English) the God of War has his right hand bitten off by the wolf Fenrir, thereby becoming a lefty. Tyr is described as ‘being excellent in all manners of justice, fair play and right action’. It is his name we now use for the third day of the week, Tuesday (Tiw ‘s Day).

The Incas of Central America revered left-handed people.  One of their early kings was left-handed, Lloque Yupanqui.

The Ancient Romans invented the handshake. By extending the right hand, which most soldiers used to hold their weapons, it showed they had no intention of harming the other person. This was only a custom until Julius Caesar made it law. Caesar was left-handed and he wanted to keep his stronger weapon-hand free while shaking hands. This gave him an advantage if he met a secret enemy!

In the Bible, God separates his flock to the right and to the left:
“All nations shall be brought before him and as the shepherd separated the sheep from the goats, so will he do with them, placing the sheep on his right and the goats on his left. The King will say to those on his right: ‘Come, blessed of my Father. Take possession of the kingdom prepared for you from the beginning of the world’..Then he will say to those on his left:  ‘Go, cursed people, out of my sight to the eternal fire which has been prepared for you by the devil and his angels ‘. (Matt 25: 32-34, 41)

The Devil is depicted in most early paintings as being left-handed.

In Buddhism, the left-hand path is to be avoided, the one on the right to be followed. This is the path to Nirvana.

Archaeologists have shown that left-handers have made up about 10% of the population for over 5,000 years. The evidence has been shown in their tools and artworks.

In Medieval times, women with moles or marks in their left side were ‘proved’ to be guilty of witchcraft.

In ancient Egypt, entering a home with the left foot first was believed to be good luck.

In the 19th and early 20th Centuries (even as late as the 1960s and 1970s), children were often beaten to force their use of the right hand. Others had their left hand bandaged or tied behind their back.

In many African, Middle Eastern and Asian cultures today, the left hand is still considered to be ‘dirty’ or ‘the bathroom hand’.  This is also because they use their right hand for food preparation and eating.

It is a common practise among some African, Jewish and Asian cultures that the left hand is to be solely used for anything judged dirty. It is thought inappropriate to use the left hand for giving, receiving or eating, for pointing at something or when gesticulating in some way. It is culturally imperative to use the right hand to perform these acts.  More importantly, it was the basis of good health to distinguish between the two hands.

The ancient Celts, whose priests and priestesses worshipped nature, viewed the left-hand side as sacred, the source of all life.

The Zulus of southern Africa would pour boiling water into a hole in the ground and place the child ‘s hand into the hole, packing earth around it. The left hand would be so scalded that the child could no longer use it.

An Italian proverb is that the left hand is the hand of the heart.

The Mohave Indians in America encouraged their children to use their right hand because left-handers were not liked and people made fun of them.

The Zuni tribe in North America regard left-handed people as a sign of good luck. They believe that the right side of the body represents impulsiveness but the left side represents contemplation and wisdom.

Eskimos viewed left-handers as sorcerers.

A Japanese proverb tells that a left-handed child may grow up to be a genius.