I want to be clear that there are a plurality of legitimate and authentic options about what the essential parts of ritual are within Greek Polytheism, and a plurality of opinions about how each of these things is carried out. Some differences stem from an affinity for a different region or era of Hellas, some stem from practicality or modern interpretations.
This post is about khernips, or lustral waters. It is my take on purification. It’s authentic and it works.
Meaning and Intention
Washing your hands before prayer or offerings is a fairly common feature in many Mediterranean traditions. Both traditional Jews and Muslims wash hands before prayer. The ancient Greeks washed the hands at the very least. The Kemetic faith includes, as I understand it, washing a great deal more than the hands and face in its preparatory rituals.
The ancient view, that there is invisible spiritual impurity which must be washed away, or that may be contagious, might not resonate with modern people. It smacks too much of a regional belief that plagues were caused by divine wrath (rather than viruses and bacteria) and an awareness that hygiene prevented the same. Yet, this does not suggest to me that the ritual, itself, should be changed.
Rather, I think it is both possible and important to give the ritual renewed meaning, and to set one’s intentions for hand washing in a way that makes sense.
Washing of the hands and face with khernips is a time to focus on letting go of those things which are bothersome or off-putting to the deities you will be calling. Each deity has their own pet peeve. Ares might be irked by cowardice. Apollon dislikes watching people pretending to be something they aren’t. Aphrodite dislikes a closed heart. You don’t have to sever these parts of yourself in perpetuity, but use hand washing as a time to purposely and consciously set them aside.
Purifying the space might be optional. I’ve heard it sad that outdoor spaces never need to be purified, and that miasma is caused by predictable things (like sexual activity or death), but I have a slightly different take. A place that used to be a brothel might need to be purified before one did a ritual for Athena or Artemis, but to Aphrodite, the place would be perfect and holy, just as it is. Likewise, a financial institution might need to be purified for Dionysos, but certainly not for Hermes, since financial stuff is holy to him. Conversely, just because you are squicked out by something doesn’t mean that the deity is. Don’t purify the space of something which is holy to the deity unless you are so discomforted by it that you can not safely participate in a ritual.
Choosing to purify or not purify a space, and being specific about what things you are purifying the space of, can be a way of showing deference to the sacred personalities of the gods, recognizing that they are distinct and different from one another, and that you have done your homework about what they value.
Ultimately, whether we are speaking of ourselves or our spaces, the purpose of purification is to remove the barriers between us and the deities or between the deities and our working space.
A fair number of people are concerned about harmful spirits invading their place of worship. This has never been a problem for me. I have heard it said that such spirits are attracted to raised energy, but I’ve never seen anything clambering over the walls to get into a Yom Kippur service at the local synagogue, nor have I seen any unwanted spirit approach while I was addressing a Greek deity. Generally, when I’ve been harmed spiritually, the cause has been other human beings, not so much metaphysical kakoi. However, if you are the sort of person who frequently finds themselves beset by harmful spirits, purify your space with the intention to remove any spirits who might harm a human being in advance.
Any method than removes unwanted influences can be thought of and used in the same way, method irrelevant. That said, let’s move on to how you do khernips.
How To Make It
You need three ingredients for khernips:
Fire is seldom seen without smoke, and seldom extinguished into water without creating steam. Thus, the combination of these three is the combination of the four elements, and, perhaps more importantly, a reconciliation between the three Kings of Greek mythology.
I like to use a wash-cup specifically for the purpose of hand washing, and a chalice or bowl for asperging. If you aren’t making a batch in advance, go ahead and just make your khernips in the container most convenient to your purpose.
Step One: Pour water into your container.
Step Two: Add a pinch of salt.
Step Three: Light something on fire. Literally anything. [Though try to pick something with a nice smell, if you have a choice]
Step Four: Extinguish the fire into the water. Say, “Be pure.”
How To Use It
For Yourself: Pour the kernels over your hands, and rub a little on your face. Then, dry off with a hand-towel.
For Your Space: Sprinkle your space.
And that’s it. You’re done. You can now move on to your libations, prayers, or whatever else you had in mind.