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Life is tough. Nuns are tougher.

Sunday, May 23, 2010

LIttle Left Handed Devils

Sister, here is something that has come up among our catechists and a question from someone on another forum has brought it to mind to find an answer. Left handed kids tend to do the sign of the cross with their left hand. Is that okay? Should we be correcting them?

I have an old ruler I can loan you, if that helps.

I'm not going to say outright that it's not okay. I'm sure Jesus doesn't particularly mind which hand anyone uses for anything, contrary to the efforts of many an old nun.

Why do Catholics have a history of shunning left handedness? It's not rocket science. The left hand was associated with the devil, so people who were left handed were guilty by association, as though their handedness was a sign that they were evil.

The list of devil associations with the left hand is long. Satan uses his left hand to 'baptize'. Witches greet Satan with the left hand. The very word "left" comes from the old English word "Lyft" which means "weak, worthless".

In many cultures, the left hand is used...let's just say, to clean oneself, and leave it at that. So the left hand was considered unclean. It would be the utmost in discourtesy in some cultures, even today, to offer someone your left hand in greeting and friendship.

These cultural roots are old and deep. No wonder the old nuns were running around with their hair on fire trying to 'cure' lefties.

It is always news to people that a lot of old nuns were actually quite superstitious. They believed in curses and people who were cursed. Perhaps they believed all of that in a "Jesus vs. the devil" sort of way, but there's no getting around whacking the knuckles of left handed kids because they might be left handed because of the devil was superstitious.

I think a lot of the old nuns might not have even questioned why they were whacking the knuckles of left handed kids. Old nuns love conformity and the "Palmer Method" really only works if you're right handed.

But after all is said and done, I would encourage the kids to use their right hands when making the sign of the cross. Do you let them put their left hand over their hearts for the "Pledge of Allegiance"? Do you not teach them to shake hands with other people with their right hands?

Supposedly, the real reason we shake hands with our right hands is because that freed the left hand to be ready with the sword if the hand shake didn't work out so well. Whatever. I'm sure it had more to do with the left hand being literally unclean in so many cultures.

We don't care anymore why we shake with the right hand. That's just the way it's done.

The Sign of the Cross is made with the right hand. That's just how it's done.

If you're Roman Catholic, you touch your head, your heart, your left shoulder and then your right shoulder. If you are Eastern Orthodox, you touch your right shoulder first.

As I said, I'm sure Jesus doesn't really care much. But don't pass up the opportunity to teach little kids left from right by using the Sign of the Cross.


Katherine said...

The word 'sinister' is actually the Latin word for 'left-handed', 'right-handed' being 'dexter' in Latin, whence 'dexterous'. It is a connection of very long standing, as you rightly point out, Sister.

ArchAngel's Advocate said...

Could it also be that "left" in Italian is "sinistra", which sounds like "sinister"?

Anonymous said...

Um, pretty sure you switched Catholics and Orthodox there. Latin Rite Catholics go left to right, not right to left.

Fr Paul Johnson said...

"If you're Roman Catholic, you touch your head, your heart, your right shoulder and then your left shoulder. If you are Eastern Orthodox, you touch your left shoulder first." ???

Great article but I think this final bit needs looking at.

Good blog, though. I'm lovin' it.

Anonymous said...

Did you mix up Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox? I'm pretty sure I've been doing it left shoulder, right shoulder for 10 years (convert) now.

Robyn @Leave the Lights On said...

Sister, I'm Roman Catholic, and I learned to touch the left shoulder first, then the right shoulder!

JP said...

A linguistic note:

The Latin word for 'left' is 'sinister'.

Also, do not some other Christian groups (I'm thinking Eastern Rite or Orthodox) Cross with their left hand? Am I mistaken?

If that is the case, Latin Rite using their right hand is a characteristic of our belief set.

Will Duquette said...

Ummm... Every Roman Catholic I know touches their left shoulder first when making the Sign of the Cross.

Anonymous said...

I was tidying up the Catholic Club box of stuff at school (holy cards, rosaries, pamphlets etc.) and I found an interesting item at the bottom of the box. An entensive search of the web told me it's called a "Religious Detente" I'm not sure if it's a relic. It's about the size of a dime, crochet around the edges, with leather and clear plastic encasing the tiniest saint medal of Our Lady, a few tiny photos and some other paper items I can't make out. Anyways, I'd like to know what it is and what it's used for. Do you know?

Sister Mary Martha said...

The devil made me do it.

Feisty Irish Wench said...

Of my 4 children, at least 2 are lefties. The baby remains yet to be deciphered for a while, but I think she's a lefty too. My dad's hand was tied behind his back in school, and he has atrocious handwriting.
Oddly enough, the one right handed child is the one that's giving us a serious run for our money. I'm becoming friends with St. Monica because of it ;)

Cathy said...

Actually, you shake hands using the right hand to prove you DON'T have a sword in your hand. People used their dominant arm for the sword, the nondominant for the shield.

Julie M. said...

My daughter is 3 and she's been an obvious lefty since infancy. But she didn't have any trouble learning the Sign of the Cross with her right hand. She holds up her left hand and says, "This hand is for eating," and then holds up her right hand and says, "but this hand's for praying."

Interestingly, my mom thought it was wrong of me to force her to make the Sign of the Cross right-handed, but I checked with my brother, who is a lefty as well, and he makes the Sign of the Cross with his right hand. So my mom must have changed philosophies at some point!

Monica said...

I learned with my right, but instinctively use my left if I have a kid on my hip or something like that. If Jesus does care I'm in big trouble.

Catholic Bibliophagist said...

Hey, don't be too hard on the nuns! In the old days teachers at public schools also used to punish lefties and try to retrain them to be right-handed.

Katney said...

My husband says he walked into first gradet eh first day (no kindergarten) looked around, look at Sister, and knew he'd better use his right hand despite the fact that his left seemed natural. His handwriting is atrocious.

When our son't oldest daughter turned out to be a lefty, my son thought it odd because he thought "there aren't any lefties in either side of the family." When he said that to me my response was

annitapieroni said...

My point of view... the sign of the cross means when the north pole (forehead) changes to south pole (heart), Earth will start rotating the opposite way (left to right or right to left)... As an esoteric astrologer I still need to decipher the right direction we should pray for evolutionwise

Anonymous said...

Sister Martha, I hope you don't mind..I took the liberty of using your "Sign of the Cross" diagram in my post. The diagram links back to this page. Please let me know if you don't approve..and don't spare the ruler.
Thanks, God Bless.

Pope Saint Martin I

Anonymous said...

Sister, your lovely little diagram is now at http://ourlordandsaviourjesuschrist.blogspot.com/
Thanks again. God Bless

Anonymous said...

I think you all need to read it again... she CLEARLY says that ROMAN CATHOLICS touch their shoulders from left to right and EASTERN ORTHODOX touch their shoulders from RIGHT to LEFT

Unknown said...

I think your explanation of shaking with the right hand so the left could hold the sword is backward.

Most warriors would be right handed and thus hold their sword in the right hand, the left hand held the shield. Shaking with the right allowed you to protect yourself by having your shield ready in the left hand. Or that's what I was told in Boy Scouts where we were told to shake other scouts left handed to show we trusted one another enough the drop our non-existent left handed shields.