On Miasma in Heathenry and the Northern Tradition

Here’s a sneak peak at an excerpt from my forthcoming book on Miasma and Pollution. This is taken from chapter 1.

I’ve had push back from Heathens and other polytheists for using a term that is specific to Greek polytheism but miasma as a word exists in English and it is a perfectly serviceable word to express a concept of spiritual pollution that is common to nearly all polytheisms. If Heathenry did not have a concept of pollution and cleansing, it would be quite unusual amongst the family of Indo-European religious traditions to which it belongs. We know the Norse and Germanic tribes had clear ideas of the holy and where there is a sense of the holy there is likewise a sense of pollution as a matter of course.

Norse words pertaining to holiness and pollution include:

Helgan (f): sanctity,
Helga (v): to appropriate land by performing sacred rites, to hallow to a deity, to proclaim the sanctity of a meeting,
saurr (m): mud, dirt, excrement (defilement?),
saurga (v): to dirty, defile, pollute,
saurgan (f): pollution, defilement,
saur-lifi (n): lewdness, fornication, lechery. Its opposite is Hreinlifi, which means chastity. Hreinn is the opposite of saurr. It means clean, bright, clear, pure, sincere (as a noun the same word means reindeer, interestingly enough).
Hrein-hjartaðr (a) means pure of heart,
Hrein-látr (a): clean, chaste,
Hrein-leikr (m): cleanliness, chastity,
hrein-liga (adv) cleanly, with purity.
We also have Hreinsa (v): to make clean, to cleanse, to purge, to clear and hreinsan (f): cleansing.


Then there is the word vé, which means “holy place,” (shrine) and which is such a powerful and important concept that the three creator Gods (Odin, Hoenir, and Loður) may also be called Odin, Vili, and Vé.

So when Heathens complain that this is not relevant to Heathen practice, I strongly suggest they think again. It’s not just in the lore, but in the very language our ancestors spoke. (Thank you D. Loptson for your help in hunting up these etymologies).

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Posted on May 28, 2017, in Heathenry, Uncategorized and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 2 Comments.

  1. Thank you, Galina, and I am going to be ordering your book. I think as these polytheistic faiths are largely reconstructions that it is a positive thing to use the words that we understand, such as miasma. After all the Vikings traveled a lot and probably brought words of other peoples into their language as English is also a blend of many languages. I appreciate the ancestral words also. What is important is the ritual, routine purification if we are going to engage with the Gods and Goddesses that is simple respect. If we are working with energies this is also practical energy management of our own spiritual well being.

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  2. You and I were discussion Harner Shamanism, when you had to stop since it was so polluted. I have been pondering that aspect of pollution… What I came up with was irreverence to the holy and sacred, the lack of respect of the holy and sacred, and that it was so man-centered in that the Gods are creations of the mind and hence cosmic bellhops.

    Would you consider Moralistic Therapeutic Deism which permeates Harner’s to be pollution?
    From Wikipedia: A god exists who created and ordered the world and watches over human life on earth. God wants people to be good, nice, and fair to each other, as taught in the Bible and by most world religions. The central goal of life is to be happy and to feel good about oneself. God does not need to be particularly involved in one’s life except when God is needed to resolve a problem.

    If so, how does one purify the mind when in contact with it?

    Second question, is pollution the same for everyone? I have been able to critically read Harner’s stuff. Well maybe not, got bronchitis in the middle of it……. So there is my answer. But how to do you attempt to rebut this stuff or do you?

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