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POLLUTION AND PURIFICATION

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"...with hands unwashed I dare not pour libation of ruddy wine to Zeus; nor is it in any way possible for a man to make prayer to the son of Cronos, lord of the dark clouds, all befouled with blood and filth." [1]


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Khǽrnips - (Chernips or Lustral Water; Gr. χέρνιψ, ΧΕΡΝΙΨ. Etym. χείρ, "the hand" + νίπτω, "I wash.") 

Khǽrnips is clean, symbolically pure water from which to wash ones hands before ritual or entering a temple. Traditionally, khǽrnips is spring water or ocean water. 

Iphiyǽnia (Iphigenia; Gr. Ἰφιγένεια): First I would cleanse them with ablutions pure.
Thóas (Θόας): In fountain waters, or the ocean wave?
Iphiyǽnia: All man's pollutions doth the salt sea cleanse. [2]

Ocean water contains salt, which in itself is purifying [3], and which symbolizes the Fire-Aithír (Αἰθήρ). 

Khǽrnips is placed near the altar in a vessel called a khærniveion (chernibeion; Gr. χερνῐβεῖον) or an ydrána (hydrana; Gr. δράνᾱ). Sometimes khǽrnips is sprinkled with a wisp (aspergillum) called a pærirrantírion (perirranterion; Gr. περιρραντήριον), to purify or dedicate something or someone.



Purification

Using khǽrnips is symbolic of the Aithír or Water washing away míasma (Gr. μίασμα), pollution. Its use may seem similar to the basin of holy water found near the door of Catholic churches, but khǽrnips represents ritual cleansing, whereas the Christian holy water has more of a connotation of a blessing. In our tradition, the use of khǽrnips is the general means of simple purification: katharmós (καθαρμός). The ritual of washing hands is mostly symbolic; it is indicative of a change in attitude, as expounded in the oft-quoted phrase engraved over the entrance to the sanctuary of Asklipiós (Asklepios; Gr. Ἀσκληπιός) at Æpídavros (Epidaurus; Gr. Επίδαυρος):

"Into an odorous temple, he who goes
Should pure and holy be; but to be wise
In what to sanctity pertains, is to be pure." [4]

On one level, we wish to be in an appropriate state when approaching the Gods through ritual, so we literally want to be physically clean and show due respect to the Gods, but ultimately, the act of washing hands is symbolic of attaining a type of purity which cannot be secured by the act alone. Nonetheless, using 
khǽrnips is a skillful tool to help us change our attitude. At the very least, we try, we attempt to be pure of heart, even if we cannot quite accomplish this change; our intention is to leave the profane behind. 

"For the impure are not permitted to approach the pure." [5]

Purification is a type of separation (διάκρισις) [6] of the profane from the sacred; therefore, we generally do not conduct ritual until we have washed with khǽrnips.

"...and we ourselves fix boundaries to the sanctuaries and precincts of the Gods, so that nobody may cross them unless he be pure; and when we enter we sprinkle ourselves, not as defiling ourselves thereby, but to wash away any pollution we may have already contracted." [7]

It is inappropriate to approach the Gods when we are unclean, in body or soul:

"Never pour a libation of sparkling wine to Zeus after dawn with unwashen hands, nor to others of the deathless Gods; else they do not hear your prayers but spit them back." [8]


Khǽrnips literally cleanses our body and helps us to mentally purify our soul, but it has limitations:

"Religious water is potentially effective in even the tiniest quantity; certain crimes, on the other hand, not all the rivers on earth could wash away." [9]



How to Obtain and Use Khǽrnips in Ritual

How do we acquire khǽrnips, what is the tradition? Distilled water, although very pure, is not quite appropriate. The ideal water would be that which is obtained from an unpolluted, flowing spring or from the ocean in an area where the water is clean. If these are unavailable, use bottled spring-water. If you cannot afford bottled spring-water, tap-water is sufficient. In our tradition, we improvise

Light a candle and dedicate this candle to Æstía (Hestia; Gr. Ἑστία). Now, obtain fire from the Æstía-candle using a toothpick or similar; this flame represents the Fire of Life, the possession of the Goddess. Extinguish the fire in the water saying a simple prayer, something like this:

"Come Queen Æstía, Goddess of the Hearth. Remember the offerings we have given to you in the past and make this water khǽrnips!" 

You may also drop a piece of ocean-salt into the water to represent the Fire-Aithír which is the possession of mighty Íphaistos (Hephaestus; Gr. Ἥφαιστος). 

If you have a nice container, you can make and store khǽrnips for future use, or it can be made right before each ritual.

Once you obtain the khǽrnips, pour it into a suitable vessel (ydrána) and wash your hands and face before beginning ritual. If there is more than one participant, it is better that one individual pour the khǽrnips from a pitcher (ὑδρία) or a ladle ( ἐτνήρυσις) over the hands of each person, having a large receptacle to catch the spillage; this will assure that the khǽrnips is clean for each member of the congregation.

Again, a simple prayer may be recited by each participant to help keep in mind the true purpose of the practice:

"With this khǽrnips, I purify my body, my mind, and my soul; I wash my hands and my face, a time-honored custom performed before approaching the Blessed, Deathless Gods. Khærníptomai! (Be purified!)"


The Use of the Pærirrantírion

For special purification, khǽrnips may be sprinkled from a pærirrantírion (a wisp) directly on the object(s) or person(s) who is to be purified; a branch of laurel, purifying in itself, may be used to gather and sprinkle the khǽrnips; such a pærirrantírion is the most traditional and would be ideal, or a branch of olive or pine or any tree would also be appropriate; alternately one could use a brass aspergillum such as those employed by the Catholics or Orthodox in their services.




Concluding Remarks Concerning Khǽrnips, Pollution, and Purification

It is worth repeating that, although we perform this little ritual, using khǽrnips is not magic; it cannot "wash away your sins," so to speak. The use of khǽrnips is an act of piety and should not be an expression of superstition or pretense; it simply represents the change of heart you are attempting to actualize, to be your best for the Gods. And it is valuable to point out that the idea of pollution should be approached with a rational mind. It is easy to develop an unbalanced and paranoid view concerning pollution, feeling that we must constantly be washing our hands or doing some other purificatory practice. But this is superstition, illogical, and neurotic. In ancient times, such an unreasonable approach was not uncommon, as the philosopher Thæóphrastos (Theophrastus; Gr. Θεόφραστος) characterizes in his essay on superstition:

"He would seem to be one of those who are for ever going to the seaside to besprinkle themselves; and if ever he see one of the figures of Hecate at the crossroads wreathed with garlic, he is off home to wash his head and summon the priestess whom he bids purify him..." [10]

One should be clear in one's mind that the Gods are benevolent and highly evolved beings and they are not petty, requiring us to do the absurd.

There are many types of míasma described in antique literature and it must not be assumed that simply because an idea was believed in the ancient world, that it is logical and correct and must be observed in one's modern practice. Míasma is generally of two kinds, one more serious than the other. Firstly, there is the míasma of physical inappropriateness; in other words, we avoid doing ritual in a filthy state of body. Secondly, and much more significant is the míasma of the soul; we avoid doing ritual with an angry mind (as one example) which is not well-meaning. The use of khǽrnips deals with both types of míasma; we wash ourselves and make ourselves physically suitable for ritual while simultaneously the act should remind us to put away dark thoughts and approach the Gods with a pure heart. All of this is designed to help us place the profane behind and enable us to enter divine space. 

Concerning míasma of a more severe nature, in the case, for instance, of someone who has committed a serious crime, such an act requires purification that lies beyond the efficacy of khǽrnips and such pollution requires a different conversation.



GLOSSARY OF KHǼRNIPS, POLLUTION AND PURIFICATION

Ænayís (enages; Gr. ἐναγής, ΕΝΑΓΗΣ. Adjective.) to be under a cursepolluted, in a sacrilegious sense or as related to murder. The word is an adjectival form of ἄγος. Cf. Ágos.

Agneftírion - (hagneuterion; Gr. ἁγνευτήριον, ΑΓΝΕΥΤΗΡΙΟΝ) place of purification.

Ágnisma - (hagnisma; Gr. ἅγνισμα, ΑΓΝΙΣΜΑ. Noun.) a purification.

Agnismós - (hagnismos; Gr. ἁγνισμός, ΑΓΝΙΣΜΟΣ. Noun.) purificationexpiation.

Agnistǽos - (hagnisteos; Gr. ἁγνιστέος, ΑΓΝΙΣΤΕΟΣ. Verb.) to be purified.

Agnistís - (hagnistes; Gr. ἁγνιστής, ΑΓΝΙΣΤΗΣ. Noun) he who performs the purificationthe purifier.

Agnízoh - (hagnizo; Gr. ἁγνίζω, ΑΓΝΙΖΩ. Verb.) purify, wash, cleanse by water, consecrate

Ágos - (Gr. ἄγος, ΑΓΟΣ. Noun.) Ágos is a particular type of míasmaguiltcurse, and danger, connected with sacrilege, violating the sacred. Ágos is a type of pollution which is beyond the human realm and places one under divine curse, therefore, it is connected with sacredness, but in a negative sense; one is under the "protection" of the deity to whom you have offended.

Aspergillum - See Pærirrantírion.

Aspersorium - The aspersorium is a situla, a bowl for dipping a pærirrantírion into in order to replenish the internal sponge with khǽrnips.

Diákrisis - (diacrisis; Gr. διάκρισις, ΔΙΑΚΡΙΣΙΣ. Noun.) Plátohn (Πλάτων) in Σοφιστής (The Sophist) at 226d calls purification (καθαρμός) a type of division (διάκρισις).


Stranger: There is no name for the first kind of separation; of the second, which throws away the worse and preserves the better, I do know a name.

 

Thæaititos (Θεαίτητος): What is it?

 

Stranger: Every discernment or discrimination of that kind, as I have observed, is called a purification.


And again at 227d:

Stranger: Do we admit that virtue is distinct from vice in the soul?

 

Thæaititos: Certainly.

 

Stranger: And purification was to leave the good and to cast out where is bad?

 

Thæaititos: True

 

(both trans. Benjamin Jowett, 1892.)

We can say that there are two basic divisions of purification, that of physical cleansing, on the one hand, and on the other we have the purification of the soul, that which casts out or separates vice and leaves virtue (ἀρετή).

Enagis - See Ænayís.

Katharmós - (catharmus; Gr. καθαρμός, ΚΑΘΑΡΜΟΣ. Noun.) purification, purifying ritual of the Mystiria. 

Katharós – (catharos; Gr. καθαρός, ΚΑΘΑΡΟΣ. Adjective.) clean, unsoiled, pure, unpolluted.

Kátharsis - (catharsis; Gr. κάθαρσις, ΚΑΘΑΡΣΙΣ. Noun.) cleansing from pollution, purification; Stoic cleansing or conflagration of the universe by fire.

Khǽrnips - (chernips; Gr. χέρνιψ, ΧΕΡΝΙΨ. Noun.)  water for washing the hands, esp. for use before doing religious ritual.

Kheiróniptron (cheironiptron; Gr. χειρόνιπτρον, ΧΕΙΡΟΝΙΠΤΡΟΝ. Noun.) a bowl for washing hands.

Khærníptomai - (cherniptomae; Gr. χερνίπτομαι, ΧΕΡΝΙΠΤΟΜΑΙ. Verb.) washing hands with khǽrnips, sprinkling with khǽrnips to purify or dedicate. This word can also be used as an exclamation while washing one's hands or sprinkling khǽrnips on a person or a thing: “Khærníptomai!” i.e., "Be purified!"

Khærniveion - (chernibeion; Gr. χερνιβεῖον, ΧΕΡΝΙΒΕΙΟΝ. Noun.) The khærniveion is a vessel to wash hands. Cf. Khǽrnivon.

Khǽrnivon - (chernibon; Gr. χέρνιβον, ΧΕΡΝΙΒΟΝ. Noun.) Χέρνιβον is the Homeric form of the word χερνιβεῖον. Cf. Khærniveion.

Lustral Water = Khǽrnips. The English word lustral is an adjective meaning “ceremonially purifying.”

Miarós - (Gr. μιαρός, ΜΙΑΡΟΣ. Adjective.) defiledritually impure, morally repugnant. It is interesting to note that μιαρός can be used as an adjective simply meaning “ugly,” and that the opposite of ugly is beautiful.

Míasma - (Gr. μίασμα, ΜΙΑΣΜΑ. Noun.) pollution, esp. ritual pollution.

Pærirrantírion - (perirranterion; Gr. περιρραντήριον, ΠΕΡΙΡΡΑΝΤΉΡΙΟΝ. Noun.) A pærirrantírion is an aspergillum, a whisk with which to sprinkle khǽrnips. The word can also be used to refer to the aspersorium, the basin of khǽrnips itself.

Prostrópaios - (Gr. προστρόπαιος, ΠΡΟΣΤΡΟΠΑΙΟΣ. Adjective.) literally “turning towards,” suppliant for purification who “turns to” a God (in antiquity sometimes to a king) to free him/her from pollution.

Salt-water - (Gr. ἁλμυρός ὕδωρ, ΑΛΜΥΡΟΣ ΥΔΩΡ) Salt represents the Mystic FireSalt-water represents the Fire-Aithír (Aether; Gr. Αἰθήρ). This is why (clean) salt-water is appropriate for use as khǽrnips.

Situla - See Aspersorium.

Water-Fire-Aithír - In Orphic literature, the three elements, Water-Fire-Aithír, have the characteristic of being συνεχής, i.e. continuous and all three are often implied when saying Water (Ὕδωρ). (This in contrast to Earth [Ὕδωρ], the mæristí ousía, the divisible substance), Therefore, when Orphéfs says that all things consist of Earth and Water, he is also saying that all things consist of Earth and Water-Fire-Aithír. Cf. Ýdohr.

Ýdohr - (Hydor; Gr. Ὕδωρ, ΥΔΩΡ. Noun.) Ýdohr is Water, one of the two basic material kosmogonic substances. Ýdohr has the characteristic of being μεριστή, i.e. divisible. Cf. Water-Fire-Aithír.

Ydrána - (hydrana; Gr. ὑδράνᾱ, ΥΔΡΑΝΑ. Noun.) basin for khǽrnips.

Ydría - (hydria; Gr. ὑδρία, ΥΔΡΙΑ) The ydría is a pitcher. If there is more than one person taking part in ritual, one individual may pour the khǽrnips over the hands of each participant with an ydría so that the water is clean for each person. A large receptacle may be used to catch any spillage.



NOTES:

[1] Ὅμηρος Ἰλιάς 6.266-268, trans. A. T. Murray, revised by William F. Wyatt, 1924. We are using the 2003 edition entitled Homer: Iliad Books 1-10, LCL 170, published by Harvard Univ. Press (Cambridge, MA USA and London, England UK), where this quotation may be found on p. 295.

[2] Εὐριπίδης (Euripides) Ἰφιγένεια ἐν Ταύροις (Iphigenia in Taurus) 1191-1193, trans. Robert Potter, 1780.

[3] The saying of Aristagóras (Ἀρισταγόρας), that salt is impure, is absurd:

"To consider salt impure, because, as Aristagoras has said, when it is crystallizing many minute creatures are caught in it and die there, is certainly silly." 

(Πλούταρχος Ἴσιδος καὶ Ὀσίριδος [Isis and Osiris; Gr. Περὶ ] Section 5 [352f]. Trans. Frank Cole Babbitt, 1936, in the volume entitled Plutarch's Moralia in Sixteen Volumes, Vol. V, published by William Heinemann [London, England UK] and Harvard Univ. Press [Cambridge, MA USA]. We are using the 1969 edition where this quotation may be found on p. 15.)

[4] Πορφύριος (Porphyry) On Abstinence From Killing Animals, Book II, Section 19, trans.Thomas Taylor, 1823.

[5] Πλάτων (Plato) Φαίδων (Phaedo) 67b; trans. Benjamin Jowett 1892.

[6] See Πλάτων (Plato) Σοφιστής (The Sophist) beginning at 226d, where he discusses how purification is a separation of the better from the worse.

[7] Ἱπποκράτης (Hippocrates) Περὶ ἱερῆς νούσου (The Sacred Disease) 55-60, trans. W. H. S. Jones, 1923. We are using the 1967 edition entitled Hippocrates II, Loeb Classic Library 148, Harvard Univ. Press (Cambridge MA, USA) and William Heinemann LTD (London), where this quotation may be found on pp. 149–151.

[8] 
Ἡσίοδος (Hesiod) Ἔργα καὶ Ἡμέραι (Works and Days) 724-726, trans. Hugh G. Evelyn-White, 1914.

[9] Miasma: Pollution and Purification in Early Greek Religion by Robert Parker, 1983, Clarendon Press (Oxford, England UK), p. 227.

[10] Θεόφραστος (Theophrastus ) Ἠθικοὶ χαρακτῆρες (Characters) 16.14 Δεισιδαιμονίας (On Superstition), trans. J. M. Edmonds, 1929, in the book entitled The Characters of Theophrastus, published by William Heineman (London, England, UK) and G. P. Putnam's sons (New York, NY USA) where this quotation may be found on p. 83.


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