A reminder that miasma is a heathen concept too

 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).

(Excerpted from my chapbook on miasma: With Clean Minds and Clean Hands)


About ganglerisgrove

Galina Krasskova has been a Heathen priest since 1995. She holds a Masters in Religious Studies (2009), a Masters in Medieval Studies (2019), has done extensive graduate work in Classics including teaching Latin, Roman History, and Greek and Roman Literature for the better part of a decade, and is currently pursuing a PhD in Theology. She is the managing editor of Walking the Worlds journal and has written over thirty books on Heathenry and Polytheism including "A Modern Guide to Heathenry" and "He is Frenzy: Collected Writings about Odin." In addition to her religious work, she is an accomplished artist who has shown all over the world and she currently runs a prayer card project available at wyrdcuriosities.etsy.com.

Posted on February 28, 2019, in Uncategorized. Bookmark the permalink. 5 Comments.

  1. In all honesty, using the term miasma never felt right to me because it isn’t a Norse term. The concept is found in every religion if we actually bother to look, but as someone who practices a Norse religion, I feel using Germanic words is another way to honor both the Holy Powers and the ancestors. It’s nice to actually see Germanic terminology for this. I’m going to start using these terms instead of miasma when speaking of purity and impurity.

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    • i think a lot of people get caught up in the terms, without looking at the concept. I tend to default to the Greek term, because my academic training was originally in Classics (i.e. Latin and Greek) but the concept and its attendant practices existed in our tradition too. I was happy to find the Norse terms as well. For me, miasma is simply a translation into Greek of the ON word saurgan.

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  2. So that’s where Tolkien got the inspiration for the name of Sauron. And a good way to remember the word Saurr.

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  3. Tolkien was a professor of Anglo-Saxon, Norse & Celtic Studies. ^_^

    And of course we have the terms (but this is a nice handy guide to see them all collated together!). These terms exist because the sagas are full of accounts about sacred space and the violating taboos thereof. Lots of stuff about not dirtying or defiling it with violence, blood (except that of the sacrifice), defecation, urination, etc. Even if someone is just reading the translation in English, it’s pretty damn obvious there was a cultural understanding of what was clean, and what wasn’t by the sheer amount of instances and references to it in the lore.

    I know in one of the saga accounts with Olaf Tryggvason in a temple (i know it could be one of so many, right?), we get the term varg i veum (wolf in the enclosure). Which is the term that would be used to describe someone who violated sacred space by bearing a weapon. I just can’t recall if the term was used solely for that, or would apply to other violations of taboo. So here we have a label for a person who has performed an act of miasma by defiling the sacred space.

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