Another reader question today--or a few actually--on khernips! For those of you not in the know, khernips are the traditional way to cleanse yourself from miasma. It's 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.

"Do you know if it's possible to make khernips without burning anything? I'm going back to a college dorm room at the end of the summer and we aren't allowed to burn anything inside. Do you have any general advice about practicing in college and how to deal with a lack of space or a roommate?"

Before I get to my (personal) answer, let me share a bit about why we apply khernips. 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 the process not only involves the physical but also the emotional, mental and spiritual. It historically starts with a bath (or shower, in modern times). Step two is the preparation and use of khernips. 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 greatest barrier in understanding miasma and katharmos, to me, is our modern frame of mind. On the one hand, we know too much about personal hygiene, about the human body and about science as a whole, on the other hand religion in general has become something separate from life in general. As a result, we colour ancient Hellas with our 'hygiene brush'. Secondly, not everyone has faith, our society does no longer revolve around it, and as a result, we--as modern religious people--struggle for a mindset of simple, all-encompassing, unquestionable worship. There might be a few remnants of 'Original Sin Thinking' lodged in there as well.

We all incur miasma, every single day of our lives. It has nothing to do with sin, shame or guilt. Miasma is a consequence of living. We breath, make decisions, come in contact with others, and along the way, we become too human--for lack of a better term--to petition the Gods. The divide between the purity and cleanliness of the Theoi and our human mortality and imperfection, keeps us away from Them. Miasma is not about being physically dirty, although that is a part of it, and katharmos is not about becoming physically clean, although that is a part of it as well.

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. I live a very busy, hectic, life, and most of my labour is mental. I get to work in the garden on occasion, but between work, a large number of projects, and the blog, I do most of my work with my brain and fingers, behind a computer screen. That means that I'm behind this thing at least 11 hours a day; usually longer on three or four days a week. By the time I get off of the computer at night, my back hurts, my head is swimming, and I'm exhausted. I perform my night time rituals before heading to bed. As soon as I start preparing for them, my mind clears. When I wash my hands, the tension drains out of my body, when I wash my face, the frantic pace of my brain slows down. I wash my face three to six times, depending on how stressed and distracted I am. By the time I'm done, I feel calm and relaxed, and I have room in my head and heart to address the Theoi as They should be addressed.

Note that I'm not dirty at all, so technically do not need a washing, but mentally, I'm sullen, distracted. I'm not in the right frame of mind to address the Theoi. If I were to do so without washing, I would be focused on my work, on tomorrow, on the pain in my back, on my exhaustion. After washing, I feel powerful, pious. I feel like the best version of myself, who comes to the Theoi with achievements under her belt, provided by the Theoi. I feel blessed. It's felt like this for me from the first time I prepared khernips and washed myself with the lustral water.

Khernips is important, and it's important they are properly prepared, but in the large scheme of things, I feel it's more important you actually perform the ritualistic motions without a specific part of it than skipping it altogether. So, no, you can't make khernips without dropping something smouldering in, but that doesn't mean you can't wash before ritual and improvise a little. Drop herbs into the water and wash with that, drop essential oils in it, if you don't have herbs. Find something to make the water special, and then use it to cleanse yourself.
As for dealing with dorm rooms and roomies, I've written two posts in the past: 'Baring the Aegis: Tips for practicing with limitations', and 'Baring the Aegis: Practicing under the care of naysayers', where you will find some tips for that. Enjoy college, and may Athena's wisdom guide you.