Pre-eminence of the right hand.

The “whirling” dervishes, disciples of the Islamic brotherhood of the Mevlevi (Konia, Turkey). In the course of their ancient whirling dance whose steps, taken backwards, take the Cosmos back to the moment of its creation, keep the arms outwards with the right hand turned towards the sky to receive the energy from God and the left one turned downwards to send it to the earth.

With the paper “La prééminence de la main droite. Étude sur la polarité religieuse” (1909) Robert Hertz was the first anthropologist to assert that in western tradition the right hand (and the right side of the body) enjoys a superiority compared to the left, which is strongly supported and guaranteed by sanctions. On the contrary, the left hand suffers a sort of interdiction that makes it virtually unusable. For Hertz “the preference of the right hand with respect to the left does not depend on anatomical or physiological factors, but it is a cultural trait that is achieved through learning “.

schemi gestuali
The main gestural postures found in Prehistoric Iconography: 1- the gesture of the cosmic man (worshipping), with the arms turned to the sky; 2- the gesture of the whirling dervish, with the right hand turned upwards and the left downwards; 3- The cross-shaped body of the universal man, with horizontal arms and palms facing forward; 4- the gesture of the chthonic man with the arms turned to the earth.

The right or left part (of the body, of the ceremonial space, horizon, etc.) as the above and below, are anthropological, cultural and cosmological categories. Every human culture conceives and divides physical space according to oppositional and bipolar principles which corresponds – according to Hertz – an ancestral opposition between the sacred and the profane. In function of this pre-judice, which is also found in the most ancient languages, the right hand was cultivated, trained to accomplish all the important tasks in any field of man’s life; on the contrary the left has been intentionally disregarded, kept completely inactive, methodically hindered in its development.


Decorated vase of the Koros Culture, 5500 bce (from Raczky, 2009). A human figure is placed in a space covered by numerous cupmarks  inside two zigzagging vertical elements. M. Gimbutas interpreted the zigzagging motif as a symbol linked to water, while R. Dufrenne thinks it’s a Vedic symbol of lightning, an attribute of the atmospheric god Indra. The human figure is portrayed in the gestural posture of the dervish dancer, the right arm bent upwards, the left downwards. if we think that the hand turned upwards is the right hand, as in the case of the dervish gesture, the anthropomorph applied to the vase is facing outwards. 

The most immediate figurative document is the decorated human figure on a vase of the Koros culture (5th millennium bce). The sense of this posture is made clear by the dance of the Whirling Dervishes, during which each dancer extends the arms horizontally outwards, with the palm of the right hand turned upwards and the left one downwards. budda chiama pioggia2

The gestural pose of the dervish is assumed also  by the Thai Buddha calling for rain. 

Among many ancient cultures to the right side is associated the idea of life, to the left death; the right represents the high, the superior world, the sky, while the left is related to the underworld and the earth. Because man’s position in space is neither indifferent nor arbitrary, also the human body cannot escape the law of polarity to which all things of the world must necessarily be subjected.

gottarelli direzioni2
In the dialectics of the polarities the positive value does not always correspond to the right and the negative to the left. For example, in Etruscan cosmology the ritual orientation is based on an absolute reference system (the circle of the horizon) and on the direction assumed by the body of the officiant: a) Generally in the orientation towards the East the left (Sx) is favorable and the right (Dx) unfavorable; b) with respect to the “solar” system, with orientation to the South, the left is favorable and the right is unfavorable; c) towards the “polar system”, with a north orientation the right is favorable and the left is unfavorable. (From: Gottarelli A., Contemplatio, Templum solare e culti di fondazione, 1998-2013, Te.m.p.l.a., Bologna.)

Autore: Gaudenzio Ragazzi

(English). My name is Gaudenzio Ragazzi, a long time ago I graduated in Philosophy with a master in History of Theater. To realize my thesis on the "origins of dance", a theme that still today boasts only two or three specialized researchers in the world, I became a scholar of Prehistoric Iconography. In the last thirty years I have not been able to escape the responsibilities of life. So, after the death of my father, I led the family artisan company that produces tailored shirts. A few years ago I decided that it was time to resume my studies and complete the research I had started as a young man (that nobody else had yet completed). Good luck Gaudenzio! Mi chiamo Gaudenzio Ragazzi, molto tempo fa ho conseguito la laurea in Filosofia con specializzazione in Storia del Teatro. Sono diventato uno studioso di Iconografia Preistorica per realizzare la mia tesi di laurea sulle "origini della danza", argomento che ancora oggi vanta nel mondo solo due o tre studiosi di una certa levatura. Negli ultimi trent'anni non ho potuto sottrarmi alle responsabilità della vita. Così, dopo la morte di mio padre, ho guidato l'azienda artigiana di famiglia che produce camicie su misura. Alcuni anni fa ho deciso che era arrivato il momento di riprendere i miei studi e di fare da vecchio quello che non ho potuto fare da giovane (e che nessun altro nel frattempo aveva completato). Buon lavoro Gaudenzio !


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