"I dare not make a drink-offering to Zeus with unwashed hands; one who is bespattered with blood and filth may not pray to the son of Kronos." [1]


Hǽrnips - (Chernips or Lustral Water, χέρνιψ. Etym. χείρ, "the hand" + νίπτω, "I wash.")

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

Ἰφιγένεια: First I would cleanse them with ablutions pure.

Θόας: In fountain waters, or the ocean wave?

Ἰφιγένεια: 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 (πῦρ αἰθήρ).

Hǽrnips is placed near the altar in a vessel called a hærniveion (chernibeion, χερνῐβεῖον) or an ydrána (hydrana, ὑδράνᾱ). Sometimes hǽrnips is sprinkled with a wisp (aspergillum) called a pærirrandírion (perirrantêrion, περιρραντήριον), to purify or dedicate something or someone.


Using hǽrnips is symbolic of the Aithír or Water washing away míasma (μίασμα), pollution. Its use may seem similar to the basin of holy water found near the door of Catholic churches, but hǽrnips represents ritual cleansing, whereas the Christian holy water has more of a connotation of a blessing. In our tradition, the use of hǽrnips 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 Asklîpiós (Asklêpios, Ἀσκληπιός) at Æpídavros (Epidaurus, 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 hǽrnips 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 hǽrnips. 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." [7]

How to Obtain and Use Hǽrnips in Ritual

How do we acquire hǽrnips, what is the tradition? 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, clean tap-water is sufficient. In our tradition, we improvise.

Light a candle and dedicate this candle to Æstía (Hestia, Ἑστία). Now, obtain fire from the Æstía-candle using a toothpick, a thin craft stick, 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 hǽrnips!"

You may also drop a pinch of salt into the water to represent the Fire-Aithír which is the possession of mighty Íphaistos (Hephaestus, Ἥφαιστος), and say a similar prayer.

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 hǽrnips, 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 hǽrnips 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 hǽrnips 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 hǽrnips, I purify my body, my mind, and my soul. I wash my hands and my face, a time-honored custom performed before approaching the happy, deathless Gods. Hærníptomai! (Be purified!)"

The Use of the Pærirrandírion

For special purification, hǽrnips may be sprinkled from a pærirrandírion (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 hǽrnips; such a pærirrandírion 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 Catholic or Orthodox Churches in their services.

Concluding Remarks Concerning Hǽrnips, Pollution, and Purification

It is worth repeating that, although we perform this little ritual, using hǽrnips is not magic; it cannot "wash away your sins," so to speak. The use of hǽrnips 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.

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 can be seen in the essays against superstition by the philosophers Thæóphrastos (Theophrastus, Θεόφραστος) and Ploutarkhos (Plutarch, Πλούταρχος). 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 modern practice. You should be clear in your mind that the Gods are benevolent and highly evolved beings; they are not petty, requiring us to do the absurd.

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 hǽrnips 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 hǽrnips and such pollution requires a different conversation.


[1] Ἰλιὰς Ὁμήρου 6.266-268, trans. Samuel Butler, 1898.

[2] Ἰφιγένεια ἐν Ταύροις Εὐριπίδου 1191-1193, trans. Robert Potter, 1780.

[3] The saying of Aristagóras (Ἀρισταγόρας), that salt is impure (because little sea-creatures die and are caught there), is absurd: Ἠθικὰ Πλουτάρχου· Περὶ Ἴσιδος καὶ Ὀσίριδος Section 5.352f.

[4] Περὶ ἀποχῆς ἐμψύχων Πορφυρίου, Book 2, Section 19, trans. Thomas Taylor, 1823.

[5] Φαίδων Πλάτωνος 67b; trans. Benjamin Jowett 1892.

[6] See Σοφιστὴς Πλάτωνος beginning at 226d, where he discusses how purification is a separation of the better from the worse.

[7] Ἔργα καὶ Ἡμέραι Ἡσιόδου 724-726, trans. Hugh G. Evelyn-White, 1914.

Please visit this page: Glossary of Miasma and Purification in Ancient Greek Religion.

The story of the birth of the Gods: Orphic 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.

This logo 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 Apóllôn (Apollo, Ἀπόλλων). It (here) represents the bond between Gods and mortals and is representative that we are the children of Orphéfs (Orpheus, Ὀρφεύς).

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The story of the birth of the Gods: Orphic 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.

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