The concept of purification--katharmos--is linked to miasma: ritual pollution. I have written about this before, most notably here, and here. A summary of the content of those links, and then we'll get to the act of purification.

Within Hellenic practice, miasma describes the lingering aura of uncleanliness in regards to a person or space through which contact is made with the Gods. Miasma occurs whenever the space or person comes into contact with death, sickness, birth, sex, excessive negative emotions and bodily fluids. It also comes from a lack of contact with the Hellenic Gods. Not the actual acts of dying, sex and birth cause miasma but the opening up of the way to the Underworld (with births and deaths) as well as contact with sweat, blood, semen, menstrual blood and urine pollutes us. Miasma is an incredibly complicated and involved practice and it's often misunderstood. The most important things to remember about miasma is that it holds no judgment from the Gods, and that everyone attracts miasma. It's a mortal, human, thing.

The practice of purification is called katharmos (Καθαρμός). The process of katharmos is elaborate because it not only involves the physical but also the emotional, mental and spiritual. Katharmos is devotional. It not only helps you get in a ritualistic mood, it prepares the room and your body for it. Even if you do not understand the use, it's a vital part of Hellenistic worship, and I encourage everyone to practice it.

Tomorrow at dusk, the new year starts. It is also the start of a new Olympiad--the four year cycles with which the ancient Hellenes measured time. I want to start this year in a state free of miasma, and to do this, I will spend the whole of Hene kai Nea cleansing my body and mind. There are various ancient ways to go about this, and today, I wanted to share some of those. Many of these, I have written about before so there will be some copy/pasting.

Fasting is a very ancient phenomenon. In fact, an original starting date cannot be given. Fasting is the act of voluntarily withholding food from your body for a longer period of time than you would normally be without it. I have fasted in the past, finding it a very useful tool for purging my body, clearing my mind and regaining focus on the things that matter. Regulars fasts have been proven to be very healthy, if you do it right. There is a method to fasting, and it depends greatly on the length of the fast. A fast is a cathartic tool because it cleans up the toxins in our organs and blood. It's a natural purge. Fasting also strengthens the will, and allows us to focus on something other than meals and snacks. It frees us up to pursue intellectual endeavor, and that process is also part of katharmos.

Bathing is a way to rid the outside of our bodies from toxins and dirt. Any miasmic substances like blood and seamen are washed away. Bathing also has the added bonus that it simply makes you feel clean. It's a mental purifier as well a physical purifier, and while men were encouraged to take their baths in cold water, us women were allowed to luxuriate in hot water and wonderful steam. For those not blessed with a bath in their homes or the ability to take a 'spa day', a nice long soak in the shower works perfectly well as well.

Khernips are the traditional way to cleanse yourself from miasma. Khernips is created by dropping smoldering incense or herb leaves into (fresh and/or salt) water (preferably sacred spring water or sea water). When throwing in the lit item, one can utter ‘xerniptosai’ (pronounced 'zer-nip-TOS-aye-ee') which translates as ‘be purified’. Both hands and face are washed with khernips. The vessel holding the khernips is called a khernibeionas (Χερνῐβεῖον). For my video tutorial on how to prepare and apply khernips this, go here.

Beyond the practical, there is a large mental component to katharmos. It means leaving behind negativity, worry, pain and trouble before getting in contact with the Gods. The ancient Hellenes were there for the birth of Buddhism. Several philosophers, such as Pyrrho, Anaxarchus and Onesicritus, are said to have accompanied Alexander in his eastern campaigns. During the months they were exposed to Indian philosophy and Buddhist teachings. Pyrrho (360-270 BC) eventually returned to Hellas and became the first Skeptic and the founder of the school named Pyrrhonism, whose teachings also included a lot of Buddhist thought.

The Stoics also practiced forms of meditation, aimed at living in the present moment. It is clear that ancient meditation had very little to do with chakra's, mindfulness and other modern conventions. 'Contemplation' is perhaps a less confusing term to use to describe the practice the ancient Hellenes would have considered meditation. This removes the modern sphere of influence from the phenomenon. Meditation was a way of centering, a philosophical tool to become a better person, and many philosophers practiced it. Meditation is a purifier, because it strengthens the mind, and removes negativity from it. It's centering ability it also highly desired for the purpose.

Honestly, I don't think I have ever come across scholarly work demanding abstinence before ritual. Mikalson in 'Ancient Greek Religion' does mention that intercourse led to 'pollution' (miasma) and that a bath was required before entering a temple after intercourse as a form of katharmos. That said, abstinence can have the same mental effect as meditation and fasting: a strengthening of will, and a focus on the task at hand without 'primary' needs being fed all the time. Logically, it would also serve one well, to keep the mind free of sexually explicit thoughts simply to make more time for religious ones.

Especially in the case of (religious) transgressions, sacrifice was an essential tool. Murder, for example, required the sacrifice of a sheep to Zeus Meilichios, and on the Deipnon, a dog could be sacrificed to Hekate. With that dog, all miasma would be lifted from the people in the household, and the actual household became pure. In fact, the Deipnon tradition--even without the dog--can be considered a cleansing rite. For more on this, read here.

As animal sacrifice is often undesired, impractical or even illegal in modern times, Hellenists find ways around it, by way of coconut sacrifice, wax figurines or any other number of practices including non-animal but authentic Hellenic sacrifices like first fruits or grains.

This Hene kai Nea--starting at sundown today, and lasting until sundown tomorrow, I will refrain from eating. I will take in only water and light vegetable stock. Before sundown, I will eat a light meal of bread and olive oil to have a base, but that is it. I will abstain from sex and everything associated with it, and focus on ritual bathing, meditation, and ritual. I will sacrifice my Deipnon dog again. By tomorrow evening I hope to be entirely cleansed and centered so I can take part in an extended Noumenia ritual on wednesday, 3 PM my time, where the Moirai, Kronos, Rhea, Zeus the Savior and Athena the Savior are honored on top of the regular household deities. You are welcome to join. Until then, I will be enjoying my fast, and the preparatory work.