Blog Archives

More On Our Cleansing Protocols

I live in a small religious community. We are a small House of four devotees at various stages of training and experience and we are setting down the seeds of what we hope will grow into a proper, sustainable temple and religious House complex. It may take us years to realize this dream, but we are well on our way. As such, we’re always looking for ways to improve and, if possible, streamline our regular cleansing and purification protocols, just as we’re always trying to find ways to deepen our prayer practices. I’ll write about prayer at another time (though I think it’s the single most crucial thing anyone lay or specialist can do) and today I want to add more to what I’ve previously touched on with regard to cleansing. 

In addition to everything else we do, we have selected one night each week to do divination for the week, divination for other questions and issues that might arise, and more serious and more intense cleansing rituals. One important part of that is uncrossing. This is a conjure and hoodoo term (I got my start with conjure and I’ve studied and practiced it for years. I’d moved away from it for awhile, but lately I realize how foolish that was) for a cleansing that removes any curses, hexes, or other malefica thrown at one. So much of what rare fragments of conjure that I learned as a kid was about keeping the home free of negative spirits. Then as an adult when I really studied it (instead of just doing what my grandmother herself had done by rote – she hadn’t realized that her spiritualist aunt was also a conjure woman), I discovered how proactive in keeping spiritually clean and bringing luck and peace to a home some of these practices really allowed one to be. (Hoodoo itself is a blend of Afro-American, Native,  Scotch-Irish, English, German, practices all smooshed together – it’s eminently practical and what I learned from my grandma has a PA Deutsch feel to it as opposed to what I learned later from active practitioners). 

So, on that night, we take massive cleansing baths: varieties of salt, beer, milk, khernips, various herbs, flowers, honey powder, vinegars…in any combination thereof, depending what we feel needs to be cleansed and how we wish to fill the space that has been cleansed (nature abhors a vacuum. I always do a blessing after a cleansing). Usually I like beer, salt, and khernips OR milk, salt, and khernips. Those without tubs can pour the blend over their head and bodies while standing in the shower – this is actually a bit more traditional. 

Then, we do a cleansing with stalks of specific herbs, partly as an uncrossing and partly as blessing. I’ve been quite taken with this blend for some time now: hyssop, basil, rue, and marjoram. One might also add mint. We grow all of them in the herb garden. One of us will pick the largest stalks of each we can find and collect them together like a bouquet. Then, we take turns, sweeping it over each other’s [clothed] bodies, slapping the plants over them like a babushka cleaning herself in a Russian bath house. This is done in a downward motion. At the end, the plants are burnt (or taken out into the trash immediately and outside the house. Burning is better). 

Before the div, we make offerings and tend all the shrines, and then after all the cleansing work, we spend time in prayer. More and more, cultus to Askr and Embla has been growing as an essential part of recentering ourselves. Finally, at least once a week we have a full spectrum of protection, exorcism, purification, and blessing prayers that we do. The full rota takes about an hour, sometimes a little more. 

Our weak spot is that our home is cluttered but little by little we’re addressing that as we can (bookshelves are at a premium!). I wrote this mainly to give readers some sense of how seriously we take cleansing protocols and also a glimpse of how they can be integrated, relatively easily, into one’s devotional life. I’ll close by sharing one prayer in that rota that I note above. Feel free to use it, but please do attribute it me. 

Prayer of Purification  

Hail to You, Oh great good immortal Gods, Mighty Brothers Odin, Hoenir, and Loður,

Sovereign Powers over all the Worlds, Unyielding Conquerors in the face of evil, You Who made all creation, setting into place the orbits of moon and sun, crafting and honing the bones of Ymir into the beauty of Midgard, Who wrought the Nine worlds by will alone, and sacral vision, You Who ward and protect Your children, hear my prayer. 

Odin, Sig-Father, unafraid of sacrifice, Who blessed Ask and Embla, and every human after with breath and soul, Who brings healing when all other healers have failed, I beseech You now to stand as healer to my soul. 

Hoenir, Who infused Ask and Embla and every human after with sense and intellect, bless my mind that it may remain free of the fury of the Unmaker. Turn my mind to You and the works the Holy Ones have made. Always. 

Loður, Who blessed Ask and Embla and every human after with life and warmth and feeling, increase my love and devotion to the Gods a thousand-fold, until my prayers are a raging inferno burning away anything unholy. Fill me with the fire of devotion. Always. 

I beseech You, oh Great Good and Glorious Gods, render powerless, banish, and expel every diabolical power, presence, and machination; every evil influence, malefica, or evil eye, and all actions aimed against Your faithful servant (NAME). Where there is envy, jealousy, hatred, and malice, grant us instead an abundance of victory, benevolent blessings, endurance, and piety. Oh dear Gods, Makers of all the Worlds, Who love us faltering human beings as fathers love their children, I pray that You extend Your wills, that You reach out Your powerful hands, and come with mighty arms and focused power to our aid. 

Help us, weapons-wise Allfather, cunning and clever Skyfarer, and Mighty Marsh Lord, help us Whom You have so carefully crafted. Send angels and disir and good but fierce helping spirits to watch over us, and to protect us body and soul. 

Keep at bay and vanquish every evil power, every servant of the Enemy, every poison, malice, or malefica invoked against us by corrupt, envious, and bitter people. Free us from oppression that we may serve You in gratitude and joy. You are our shield and buckler, invocation to You the weapon in our hand, Your blessing our preservation and salvation from harm. Whom should we fear? Who is as powerful as You? Under Your gaze, I shall ready myself for battle. Under Your gaze, and in the solace of Your protection, I shall gird my spirit as I prepare to engage the foe. Let my hands, my will, my words, and my soul never falter and let my mind ever be turned to You, and the works You have so carefully wrought. ALU.

On Pollution and Miasma in Heathenry

Affiliate Advertising Disclosure  

Every so often this topic rears its head again, because you know, it goes against our modern sensibilities that our religion should be occasionally inconvenient. I’ve heard people opining that “miasma” and “pollution” are Greek terms and have no purchase in Heathenry, a pathetic piece of sophistry that ignores the concept in favor of pedantically parsing terms. These are usually the same people who feel that offering so much as a teaspoon of water is so inconvenient as to be oppressive (cue hand to brow and vaporous gasping) and triggering. I could say more on that, but I’ll digress. What I will emphasize is that pollution and purification are absolutely terms of play in Old Norse.

There are numerous terms that might be translated as ‘purification,’ ‘pollution,’ or ‘miasma’ in Old Norse. This is because like most traditions, our ancestors had a sense of what was correct and safe in holy places. Any time you have a sense of sacred space (which we know just from the Sagas that the Norse had), the corollary is – whether written or not—a sense of what constitutes proper behavior within those sacred areas. This implies not only an understanding of spiritual pollution but also of the contagion of the holy. So, I’m going to get right to the point. Pollution and miasma were far, far from alien concepts to pre-Christian Heathens and the language itself bears this out.

Since Heathen Field Guide is talking about his here, and mentioned that he was having difficulty finding appropriate ON terms, I thought I would repost the ones that I have collected (and much thanks to D. Loptson for helping to compile this list). Most of the terms are laid out in footnote one of my book on miasma: “With Clean Minds and Clean Hands.”

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 , 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.

footnote 1 from With Clean Minds and Clean Hands: Miasma – What it is and How to Treat it

 I’ll add a final note. When we talk about pollution in this sense, it’s not a commentary on anyone’s worth. It is not equivalent to “sin.” Even with miasma, in most cases it’s a matter of certain situations having natural consequences and that’s neutral. For instance, I may go to the cemetery to put flowers on my grandmother’s grave. It is, within our traditions a moral good to care for the dead and visit graves. It also puts me in a state of miasma because of the contact with the dead. The solution is to do a cleansing when I return home before I engage with any other sacred thing. Easy enough to manage. This is all about being aware that Gods and spirits are real and that engaging with them affects us in ways we may not be able to see, but ways that nonetheless matter. Likewise, in relation to the Holy Powers, our actions matter too and we should, if we are rightly ordered in our minds, hearts, and spirits, want to be spiritually and energetically clean when we approach Them, or just in general, particularly since miasma and spiritual pollution can attract more pollution, up to and including illness and calamity depending on how much accumulates. It can also block our spiritual discernment. So do a fucking cleansing once in awhile you filthy animals. And don’t forget to wash behind your ears.

The Glamorous Life of a Spirit-Worker

Once every quarter, I and my assistant (and any students or apprentices that I may have at the time) do a head cleansing. I learned this from my time working in ATR houses, and also in spiritualism. It’s a way of cleansing and then nourishing or “feeding” the Ori, the spirit of one’s head, that part of us which in my tradition is called the gythia or godhi(grammatically feminine and masculine respectively, after the ON word for priest) and which represents our soul’s connection to the Gods (1). Give how much pollution we deal with on a regular basis, and the press of our secular work, and just work-life balance, plus the struggles inherent in any active spiritual life, it’s a nice time to clear away the dreck and reset ourselves. It’s also messy as hell. 

Without going into too much detail, I combine white substances (2) like coconut milk, regular milk, honey or honey powder, white fruits, white flowers. I sometimes add certain herbs. I mash it all up and ask for Heimdallr’s blessings on it. Then I smear a healthy cup of the goo on a slice of bread, slap it on my crown, i.e. the top of my head, tie on a headwrap securely (3), and usually put a towel around my shoulders in case of leakage. Then I sit in prayer for a couple of hours, after which, I wash it off and go about my business (traditionally, I was taught it’s best to leave it on for twenty-four hours, which means sleeping with it on my head, but I have never done that). Usually we do this on the equinoxes and the solstices,  but with everything going on, we forgot to do it this past March.

So, I’ll share with you a moment of hilarity that ensued today as we did this. Because of how drippy this mixture can be, it’s easiest to have someone else put it on your head and assist with tying the headwrap to keep it all secure. So, I was helping my assistant Tatyana. Unlike my head, which I shave to honor the dead, she has thick, waist-length hair. As a result, she needed a bit more preparation than I for this cleansing. I helped her pin her hair back and poured a cup of the cleansing mixture on a slice of bread. She was trying to position herself so that I could most easily put it on her crown. She leaned back and I, being a woman of action ha ha, slapped it right down on the top of her head. There was only one problem. She moved just as I was putting it down, and I, in my exuberance, used way too much momentum. She came within a quarter of an inch of getting a face full of cleansing mash. It didn’t help that we were laughing our asses off through the whole thing. She had it not just on her head, but all down one side of her face and in her ear too. (I just read this out loud to her and she said, “I am very clean.” with a grin and a double thumbs up). The saving grace of this practice (other than that it really does effect a spiritual restoration of the head) is that the mixture smells really nice. 

You know, it’s been a hell of a year all around and I think we could all use a good laugh now and again. Laughter itself can be apotropaic. So, I hope y’all had at least a chuckle reading this. I know that spirit work can seem strange, weird, sometimes a little frightening, sometimes wonderful and filled with ecstatic devotion. It can be all of that and more. But you know,  sometimes it’s nothing more than the absurdity of coconut milk and other assorted ingredients dripping out of one’s ear. 

Enjoy your weekend, folks. 

Notes: 

  1. This is the part of our souls always in connection with the Gods, as opposed to Vè, which means holiness or holy place and is also the name of a soul-part that represents our reservoir of holiness, something that may be cultivated and strengthened by prayer, devotion, and aligning ourselves properly with the Gods. My assistant today said, “so the gythia/godhi part is like PVC tubing that leads to the Gods and through which They can pour holiness?” and…yes, as a description that’s good enough for government work, as the saying goes.
  2. White dress is sort of like a spiritual biohazard suit and using white substances carries the same associations of purification. Plus (and this is my personal theory), using different types of milk represents nourishment, milk being one of the first substances a child takes. It’s nourishment on the most primal level. The honey, fruit, and flowers represent sweetness. Nature abhors a vacuum so after cleansing, it’s important to fill that space with something good. 
  3. I usually cut a length of white linen and use that, discarding it after. I’m not generally one for wasting cloth, but this is my one exception to that rubric.