I have lamented before that the practices most essential to our faith are the ones hardest to reconstruct; in general, these practices were so widely known that they were hardly recorded at all, and in many cases--today's topic especially--they left very little (if any) archeological evidence. Khernips, or lustral water, was exactly that--water--and unfortunately, the mixture did not survive to modern times.

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.

As far as basic information goes, artwork has told us that khernips was often applied just outside the temenos, with hands being washed in a bowl or water poured out of a jug while the supplicant washed their hands. The water was collected from a moving source of water, which could be a natural spring, a river, or even the sea. Moving water was considered sacred, and often viewed as an extension of the body of a stream/river/sea God(dess).

Recently, I was tagged in a Facebook discussion on khernips, which basically came down to 'are you allowed to prepare khernips in advance to use when needed?'; this was especially tied to travel kits and other temporary altars. Armed with that question, I decided to do a bit of investigating.

As with anything concerning miasma, most books on ancient Hellas and/or Hellenic religion don't mention khernips at all, or under a synonym. As with miasma, I am going to assume this is because the evidence of its existance is so flimsy besides a resounding 'it was used and important'. My rather vast collection of scholarly material is silent on any details beyond the basic information already provided. As such, I am forced to speculate based upon what I know.

Personally, I tend to mix tap water with sea water into a large vessel from which I take a measure every evening to use throughout the day. I drop the smoldering firebrand (a match when traveling, a bit of burning wood or herbs when home) into the measure poured our, not the vessel itself. So, in short, I prepare the base in advance but the actual mixture on the spot. I only use one measure one day, after that, I dip it out onto the earth and replace it with a fresh batch before my evening rituals.

As for preparing the water in advance; I'm not sure what the added benefit would be; even in a travel kit, a box of matches is easy to carry and you would need them as well for a candle and/or sacreficial fire. That said, I have noticed that the chemicals produced when setting something on fire actually impact water and if left out long enough--even when covered or contained, micro-organisms naturally in the water and added to it by the fire eventually start to multiply, causing the wayer to pollute. I tend to switch out the water in my portable shrine kits before going on a journey or change it while gone.

Do I think storing khernips ahead of time is possible? Yes. Is it the most desirable option? No. For me, preparing khernips before my ritual is as much a part of the ritual as tossing barley groats, singing the praise of the Gods and sacrificing with them. After a lot of research into the workings of miasma, I have come to the conclusion that miasma is linked to distraction. I'll speak of that more soon, but for now, let me suffice by saying that following the same ritual steps ever day is a wonderful way to get in a ritual mood; repetition literaly deminishes miasma. If only because of that, I am in favor of preparing khernips fresh every ritual or at least every day.

Image source: here.