"...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.


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.

The story of the birth of the Gods: Orphic Rhapsodic Theogony.
We know the various qualities and characteristics of the Gods based on metaphorical stories: Mythology
Dictionary of terms related to ancient Greek mythology: Glossary of Hellenic Mythology.
Introduction to the Thæí (the Gods): The Nature of the Gods.
How do we know there are Gods? Experiencing Gods.


[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.

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.

The logo to the left is the principal symbol of this website. It is called the CESS logo, i.e. the Children of the Earth and the Starry Sky. The Pætilía (Petelia, Πετηλία) and other golden tablets having this phrase (Γῆς παῖς εἰμί καὶ Οὐρανοῦ ἀστερόεντος) are the inspiration for the symbol. The image represents this idea: Earth (divisible substance) and the Sky (continuous substance) are the two kozmogonic substances. The twelve stars represent the Natural Laws, the dominions of the Olympian Gods. In front of these symbols is the seven-stringed kithára (cithara, κιθάρα), the lyre of Apóllohn (Apollo, Ἀπόλλων). It (here) represents the bond between Gods and mortals and is representative that we are the children of Orphéfs (Orpheus, Ὀρφεύς).

PLEASE NOTE: Throughout the pages of this, you will find fascinating stories. These narratives are known as mythology, the traditional stories of the Gods and Heroes. While these tales are great mystical vehicles containing transcendent truth, they are symbolic and should not be taken literally; a literal reading will frequently yield an erroneous result. The meaning of the myths is often concealed in code. To understand them requires a key. For instance, when a God kills someone, this usually means a transformation of the soul to a higher level. Similarly, sexual union with a God is a transformation.

The story of the birth of the Gods: Orphic Rhapsodic Theogony.
We know the various qualities and characteristics of the Gods based on metaphorical stories: Mythology
Dictionary of terms related to ancient Greek mythology: Glossary of Hellenic Mythology.

SPELLING: uses the Reuchlinian method of pronouncing ancient Greek, the system preferred by scholars from Greece itself. An approach was developed to enable the student to easily approximate the Greek words. Consequently, the way we spell words is unique, as this method of transliteration is exclusive to this website. For more information, visit these three pages: 

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