As fallout from the Many Gods West comes through on social media a major discussion focus right now is Miasma. Miasma has been a discussion point within Hellenic Polytheism for as long as I can remember and my memory is only restricted to the last sixteen years I’ve been a Hellenic polytheist.
Most of these discussions occurring now (the ones I’m aware of) are taking place on personal facebook pages so I cannot reference them. But some are going to lengths to mock the concept. The source of contempt is because some folk expressed that the MGW would be miasmic after the shit storm of banning a key and well know polytheist from the event for publishing satire. Because people have expressed that it was miasmic this has led others to accuse the concept as being ‘sin-like’ and used in the same manner to assert authority… Whatever. (Politics)
Personally I think miasma is a ‘advanced’ topic and one that should be reserved for priests and serious partitioners. Suffice to say I believe a layman partitioner can survive just performing basic khernip washing before going before the gods and need not think about it much unless required.
Anyway, what is miasma?
I’m currently involved in a study group where we have been discussing miasma this is one of definitions of it I wrote:
“Miasma is a spiritual pollution that prevails all, it is not a ‘evil’ thing, but a matter of fact. I really like the allusions that Carl Kerenyi provides in his introduction of Dionysos: Archetypal Image of Indestructible Life, where Kerenyi discusses the differences between the two Greek concepts of life – Bios and Zoe. Accordingly both forms of life exist and are interconnected, but one means living death (aka rot) – bios, the other means living immortality – Zoe. Bios is what we live in, whereas Zoe is the memory of our lives after death. To me Miasma is bios, the rotting force of life, whereas the divine is pure Zoe – eternal life. If we surround ourselves in miasmic (bios) we become dissociated from the divine (Zoe).”
Miasma is therefore something we incur in life, everyday life. From being ill, overhearing hubris, being exposed to things that affect us emotionally, being exposed to certain death situations, going to weddings, having sex, giving birth, breaking a taboo etc. Miasma also generates in areas, buildings, objects – so it’s not just a human thing. But something that lingers in the environment.
I strongly suspect that miasma is related to transition and change too. When I underwent an initiatory experience last year I was thrown about quite a bit in terms of miasma, I’m actually still recovering from it. Also I personally practice ritual hair cutting as a form of cleansing whenever I move house or go through serious life transitional states. (The hair cutting is UPG.)
So we also see it is a personal thing, how it affects people is dependent on the person.
It is also levelled in ‘grades’ certain things that are miasmic may have higher or lower grade, e.g. a death of a close relative is extreme miasma and requires months of mourning to overcome.
What are the effects?
Depends, most people describe feeling dirty, slimly, depressed, impeded in some way in their devotion. It is a disconnection from the divine in some sense.
So how do you avoid it / clean it?
There is nothing we can do to truly avoid miasma, we are living beings in a constant state of rot. No amount of purity can strike it from our lives. Basic cleansing of miasma include Khernips (blessed holy water). But things like fasting, forced marching (walking), music, art, ritual, expression etc., can counter it too. It really depends on the circumstances.
So now I’ve gone over the basics I will answer some questions that have been asked.
Why do weddings cause miasma?
This is really an issue with our current culture. Our views on death are extremely limited.
Marriage was synonymous with a funeral, likewise was initiatory mystery tradition. Marriage, funeral and initiation were all linked.
It was an act of killing off one identity and creating a new one, especially for the bride. These traditions still continue today, it’s just we forget their meaning. But they usually include name changing (in fact if we examine every traditional aspect of the modern marriage ceremony it has direct parallels with The Eleusinian Mysteries.) The Eleusinian Mysteries was itself a ‘re-enactment’ of the marriage of Kore to Haides – the death of Kore and rebirth of her as Persephone.
That is why marriage causes miasma. We are witnessing the death of the maiden to become a woman.
What if it is a same-sex wedding or no names are changed?
Name changing is an example only. In general however marriage is a recognition of a union in terms of social, civic and religion- (though the latter is subject to the folk involved.)
The process, regardless of sex, is a transition of identity. When we move from one state to another we generate miasma.
(Point of note here, we have one example of a Dorian ritual in Crete which is similar to same sex marriage. Where the younger boy would undergo an initiation like ceremony.)
Does menstruation cause it?
This is contentious but I’m of the opinion no, it doesn’t. There is next to nothing in terms of classical sources linking menstruation to miasma. It appears it was not regarded as anything more or less than any other bodily function. A lot of people nowadays assume it would because other cultures have taboos against women, but the Greeks appear different.
That said, a woman ill from the effects of menstruation may be regarded as miasmic, but that is a result of sickness, not the actual period.
Do abortions cause miasma?
I’d say it’s safe to assume it does, but the whole area is grey. I mention this question as we have an example of how this was cultic dependant. Ancient Greeks seem pretty okay with abortion in general, at least from what we know. But there was a cult of Dionysos that forbade women from entering a temple if she had an abortion. It prescribed ritual cleansing akin to what a murderer would have to perform to be cleansed of their crime. It looks like this was a particular cult taboo. Which illustrates what generates miasma, what effects it has and means of cleansing is cultus specific.
(Update) More questions:
What about killing in war?
Generally, justly defending your nation and home does not generate miasma, in some circumstances it can counter it and may be seen as a form of devotion. Murder was one of the worst crimes to commit and temples would expel murderers – but there was a clear difference between defending and murder in ancient times (we share similar beliefs now.)
Does blood cause miasma?
Depends. This is an complex subject – blood is the essence of life and is extremely sacred. It can generate miasma. But it can also be used in devotion. This question is so complex I will only keep it brief here.
So animal sacrifice? Handling meat?
In an ideal situation our meat should be always be ritually slaughtered by trained polytheist priests, i.e., animal sacrifice. This meat is blessed and goes through a process of spiritual cleansing, it is also examined both physically and spiritually with auspice reading. If there is any miasma generated from the slaughter it is counteracted through the ritual process.
We live in a new situation today, one that the ancients obviously didn’t think about, so the subject of handling meat is up to us to determine. My opinion is yes, meat brought from the supermarket is miasmic. Ideally prayers and blessings should be given to the meat.
Walking through graveyards?
If it is done respectfully I see no problem here, if any miasma is picked up it is no different any other everyday action. Paying respect to the dead is cathartic and healthy.
Anyway, I’ll wrap this up here. If you have more questions feel free to leave them in the comments I’ll update if they come.