It seems like one of the absolute hardest things about Hellenismos to truly understand for new (and experienced) practitioners is miasma. It's especially difficult to understand in regards to a work situation that involves events that traditionally cause miasma. Let's see if I can shed some light today.

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 comes into play whenever a 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. 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 ancient Hellenes washed their hands as a precaution before ritual and then attended rites every single day.
I recently recieved a message from a reader who works both in the obstetrics wing and the morgue--both fields which could, judging by the above discription, carry heaps of miasma--who was worried that in his line of work, there was no way to avoid miasma or any way to ever get clean. It made me realize I need to really lay out the mechanics of miasma better--because I doubt this reader ever incurs miasma beyond the 'level' of, say, an office worker or gardener. I'm going to try to explain.

After a lot of research into the workings of miasma, I have come to the conclusion that true, practice stopping, miasma is linked to distraction. Anything that takes your mind off of the Gods during ritual can be considered miasmic. For example, the ancient Hellenes agreed that murder caused miasma but only once other people became aware of the fact that you had committed an act of murder. As such, if you were exiled and you travelled to another town where no one knew what you had done, in essence, you were not miamic to the rites and people around you.

Death, birth, and life treathening illness are traditionally miasmic because they are linked to the Underworld; souls travel to the Underworld during death and (especially in ancient Hellas,) the threat of death and the Underworld hangs over births and over those close to dying. It is important to note here that soldiers--who murdered people for a living!--were not believed to incur miasma. With modern psychological discoveries, I'd dare to contend that, but I'll get to that. Now, not the actual acts of dying, childbirth, being ill or even engaging in sexual relation cause miasma. If it did, soldiers and babies would not only carry miasma but perhaps even be a source of it--and neither were considered to be either.

If you take a look at the events that cause miasma, you can see they are all events that are very emotional. The (imminent) death of a loved one, the birth of your (grand)child, making love to your significant other--these are events that take up our thoughts not only during but after the events. They linger in our minds. These events even have an influence on our hormones; they literally change our brain chemistry for a while. The ancient Hellenes did not know that, of course, but they knew that these events were impactful.

When we are involved, mentally, with these events, we can't practice arete; we can't be our best. We are too absorbed with another human or ourselves to give our full attention to the Gods. That, in a nutshell, is miasma. Miasma occurs when we are too absorbed with human affairs to give our very best to the Theoi. This does not mean that any involvement with death, or birth, or sex, or anything else that traditionally carries miasma causes miasma for the practitioner.

Conciser miasma as throwing a stone in a pond; the closer you are to the point of impact, the more you will be affected by the resulting waves. Please note that I am talking about being emotionally affected; all the physical stuff is handled with water and soap. Some examples:

- If you or a loved one are dying, well, you can't get closer to the point of impact than that. You're going to be affected. The people who love you are going to be affected. The waves of a death reach very far.

- If you've just had a baby and you are worrying about being a good parent, about the health of the baby (in ancient Hellas, especially, children often died in the first days of life) and just generally extatic, it's going to be hard to focus on a rite that focusses on the opening of the first wine barrels of the season, for example, or placating Poseidon to send calm seas so trade can pick up again. Yet, the ripples might extend to the parents of the new parents but probably not too far beyond that circle--except if the baby cries through the entire ritual, but that's a whole different ball game.

- Everyone who has ever made love to a person you are so very in love with knows how hard it is to focus on anything but that other person the day after. The impact of that, however, is not going to be felt by anyone but the two people involved and that kind of miasma can be cleared by a good shake of the head, a shower and ritual katharmos.

Now, there are people--like the author of the message--who are professionally involved with events that traditionally carry miasma. In general, these people will be close to the point of impact physically--namely the people they take care of--but far removed from the point of impact emotionally. This is their job, they have perhaps a dozen patients or clients a day, maybe more, and while they give the best care they can while at work, once the day is done, they drive home and return to their own life. For these people these traditionally miasmic events aren't miasmic beyond the regular, every day occurring, type of miasma. Just like the soldiers of ancient Hellas, they are trained not to be emotionally affected by the job and in general they are not.

Of course you will always want to practice katharmos--the practice of purification through, for example, applying khernips. We all occur miasma, after all. And there are always those special cases that slip right past the training. I have been in health care, I know that sometimes you really connect with a person you take care of. When something happens to them, you take that home. Those people and their situation linger in your mind--and that, as we have seen above, is miasma. At that point you will have to consider to either sit out the ritual or take some extra steps to shake these throughts and regain focus for the Gods at least for the duration of the rite.

Remember I said that I dare to contend that (ancient) soldiers didn't occur miasma while performing their job? With our renewed understanding of the psychological burden of warfare and the legitimization of PTSD, I dare say that soldiers can most certainly incur miasma while performing their job. It's all about the psychological burden, after all, just like a doctor when (s)he loses a patient or a mortician when (s)he has to bury a child. A very dear friend of mine and a fellow Hellenist practiced faithfully every day while he battled cancer and never once felt like he could not give 100% to the Gods. Illness does not have to mean miasma at all, as long as your focus is not on it.

I cannot stress enough that miasma is not negative; it's human. And we are all human. The Gods created us as humans and They fully accept our nature in this regard. All They ask is that we try to live up to arete while we engage with Them. So while professionals dealing with miasmic events are more 'at risk', so to speak, of incuring miasma they do not incur miasma by default. And even if they do incur miasma, it's taken care of by katharmos, just like the rest fo us. So please rest assured.