And Who is Nyx?

She the mother of contradictions
The mother of Life and Death
The mother of Love and Strife
The mother of Light and Darkness
The mother of Friendship and Deceit
and Night Herself is the mother of Day.
She is the mother of the “dark”
The mother of Fears
The mother of Doom and of Criticism
The mother of Distress
The mother of Aging
and of Fate
and the Stars
She is the lynchpin of the Kosmos,
the order of the Theoi
that emerged from the death of Khaos
a phoenix of black flame

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[What’s That?] Miasma

So, Dver made this recent post about miasma, and I want to repeat something from it that seems very much worth repeating:

“Someone explained it to me once as a way of ensuring that we were fully engaged in worship; if we just experienced death, or birth, or even sex, our minds were probably occupied with ideas related to that and we weren’t giving our due respect and attention to the gods.”

That might seem like a nice thought, that once again makes it all about us and our internal landscape, but it has little basis in historical evidence. Miasma is not about how we feel about things. It’s a spiritual pollution, a FACT that happens regardless of our feelings. That spiritual pollution is anathema to many of the Hellenic gods. You may not like that, but it doesn’t change anything. Many of our gods tend to put a lot of distance between Themselves and the stink of mortality – which is most stinky during transitional times like birth and death. If it was just about our preoccupation, then there’d be no taint of miasma if someone close to you, but who you cared nothing for, died – but that’s not the case.

That’s one of those modern notions that just never sat well with me, because it just doesn’t follow logically.

This seemed like a minority notion about seven / eight years ago, when I first got into the community, and now seems a very close second to that disinfo of “miasma = lacking personal hygiene” that seemed to really take off with Pope No-Life and His Talking Butt-Plugs about five years ago. The idea that “miasma is that which distracts us from the gods and” seems pretty popular now, and I have to agree that it really lacks historical basis.

Now, I’ve probably just kind of passively went along with that in the past –in fact, I’d say my post about menstruation really does give a passive permission to the notion that miasma is at least sometimes about how we feel, when that just doesn’t fly with the history.

Miasma is spiritual pollution. If it’s there, it’s there whether we “feel it” or not. Your feelings may also be giving you a false positive –in other words, Judeo-Christian indoctrination about how your menses is dirty when (pardon the pun) bleeds over into your own personal feelings doesn’t suddenly give you a taint of miasma, nor will cramps and headaches. Your feelings might also give a false negative –maybe you’ve just had sex and now all your thoughts are on Aphrodite, or Eros, or Dionysos, well, unless you’ve been given a pass on that, too fucking bad, break out the khernips before approaching that shrine.

In general, the rules about what does bring miasma is pretty specific, almost absurdly so. If you’re a devotee, spouse, or slave to a certain deity, you may get a pass on some things, but not others, and you may have some additional taboos (one woman I know who is devoted to Artemis has been forbidden by her goddess from marrying, and though sex seems permitted, I get the impression that she needs more than a sprinkling before entering the temple room), but chances are still good that, if worshipping in an historically accurate Hellenic context, you’re still not going to be allowed to scrap all pollutive taboos.

Furthermore, what survives concerning miasma seems to at least mostly concern temples and public shrines, which are regarded as homes for the Theoi here on the face of Gaia. It’s also easy to interpret Hesiod’s taboos from Works & Days, as an extension of what counts as miasma for household worship –which makes sense, as the hearth basically functions a shrine to Hestia.

“Blood on the hands” or contact with blood is pretty much one that everyone agrees is miasma, but not all blood was the same, historically. Animal blood clearly was not a pollutant to the temples, or else there wouldn’t have been so much animal sacrifice —the mystery cults that maintained bloodless sacrifices being a noted exception, but the thing is, they are an EXCEPTION, not a part of the general inclusion. Furthermore, it takes more than just some khernips to wash out the stench of a murder from your soul, though getting your own blood on you (and maybe a co-workers, at most) the every-day abrasions from work in the fields, or at a tavern, or so on, as best as I can tell from what I’ve read, various ritual cleansings at the entrance of the temples probably took care of that –but if you lost a leg in battle, or a scythe accident or something, you obviously needed to heal to a sufficient degree first, and likely needed a more intense ritual. Killing in self-defence or in battle probably required a bare minimum at a temple of Ares (I gotta admit, i just don’t know much about this one), but to worship at a shrine to Eirene, you might need to do more than that before you had properly cleansed yourself. That said, as I’ve said before, there are apparently no historical taboos against menstruation in Hellenismos. If some-one tells you there were/are, they’re full of shit.

Sex, childbirth, and death also carry spiritual pollutants, in general, but there are exceptions. In some regions of Hellas, if a woman died in childbirth, it was standard practise to sacrifice the clothes she wore at the time at the local temple of Artemis / Eileithyia —this flies in the face of the general convention, but again, is an exception. The fact that funeral processions were a big thing in Hellas, and a pretty widespread practise, may seem to fly in the face of the conventional miasma associated with death, but the procession and funerary rites were outside the temple, and I can’t help but think that it’s a sort of ritual enactment of the soul’s journey via Hermes Psychopompos, one of few Theoi that aren’t believed to shun the dead. Miasma, again, is typically a taboo to temples and shrines.

Illness was also generally considered miasma to most temples, but it was common for people with certain kinds of sicknesses to leave an offering at shrines to Asklepios.

Lastly: Miasma has nothing to do with personal hygeine. I really have no idea where that little bit of disinfo started, but it needs to stop, like, yesterday. (ETA – 16 April 2013) OK, so upon reading a bit more, I seem to have a fair hypothesis on wher this confusion might stem from. See, for centuries, there was this belief that “poisoned air”, or similar, caused sickness; around the 19th Century in the UK, maybe as early as the 18thC (CE, of course), this collection of practically worldwide belief of “bad air = cause of certain diseases, like cholera” became colloquially known as “miasma theory”, in a similar manner that the worldwide phenomenon of spirit-workers became known as “shamanism” or animal guides as “totemism”. This re-purposing of the word “miasma” basically took it out of a spiritual context, and in the 19th and early 20th Centuries, the “poison air” hypotheses basically became replaced with the current “germ theory”, that is, diseases caused by foreign bodies, from the bacteria on unwashed hands to an assortment of vira. “Miasma as disease theory” has NOTHING to do with the spiritual miasma of ancient Hellas, and conflating the two is no less ignorant than nonsense like “Artemis and her consort, Apollon”, or something. (/ETA)

The act of ritually washing the hands and face before entering the temple, or before approaching the household shrine, has practically nothing to do with bodily cleanliness. Khernips is all about a physical ritualisation of spiritual clean-up. It’s preparation of the soul through a ritual on the body. At some temples, you wouldn’t even get a personal khernips bowl, an image popularised via dramatisations on The History Channel, but sometimes a priest or even a neokoros would just toss water, or do other purfication rites on people in the procession into the temple –yes, even people who’d clearly just finished up some manual labour and couldn’t make it to the baths in time. If miasma was simply about “personal hygeine”, then surely these temples were committing great blasphemies, non? Of course not, don’t be silly. Logically, if the ancient Hellenes knew the religion better than the average nub on the Internet, then clearly those temples knew what they were doing with regards to miasma.

Now, you’re certainly free to say “I don’t care about religious reconstruction, this is all irrelevant to me”. On the other hand, if you DO care about reconstructed practise, you can’t just go picking and choosing which rules of miasma you like and which ones you don’t —reconstruction is about rebuilding from existing evidence, and you need a fair knowledge and understanding of the evidence before you can evaluate whether or not it applies to your practise. When you know what does and does not qualify religiously as miasma (pro tip: I’ve only given the most common situations and a few exceptions), only then at some later stage can you really evaluate the subject.

To recap:

Miasma has nothing to do with what’s on your mind, or whether or not you feel spiritually prepared enough to approach the Theoi. Miasma, if present, will exist regardless of what’s on your mind, and regardless of how you feel about it.

Miasma has nothing to do with your personal hygiene. Miasma is spiritual pollution. Rituals to cleanse miasma are there to ritualise the cleansing of ordinary pollutants from ourselves before entering ritual space. The fact that the most common of such rituals is to wash the hands and face (and sometimes feet) still doesn’t make it about personal hygiene, and the fact that we just washed ourselves is merely a byproduct of the spiritual cleansing.

Miasma rules, as they existed in ancient Hellas, mostly pertained to temples.

Miasma rules were not monolithic in ancient times, there is no reason to see them that way, now.

Certain devotees might have more or less taboos, similar to (though not necessarily the same as) miasma; this is a matter between them and their gods.

If you don’t care about historical accuracy, religious reconstruction, etc…, you’re perfectly welcome to scrap the idea of miasma altogether —but if reconstructed practise *is* important to you, then it really makes no sense to pick and choose.

Honey badger don’t give a shit about your miasma.


(ETA on 27 July 2014)
Cos this has been recently referenced in places, I figured I’d take advantage of this opportunity to inform people reading this for the first time that I’m raising funds for my upcoming move back to the Ann Arbor/Ypsilanti area.

I’m also giving away Heathen goddess prayer cards.

[PBP2013] Gaia-Kybele

So, I had this idea to make this great new post, but for the most part, i’ve already said a lot of perfect things in this older post. Here, let me quote you something:

Many modern Pagans and Polytheist have this ridiculously romanticised vision of “nature” and the “natural world”. This idea that an untamed forest is a place of kindness, that the planet will just “give” everything needed to Herself and the creatures that live on Her surface. They forget that Gaia throws tantrums — or, if those fits are acknowledged, it’s always with the adage that “we humans deserve it” — forgetting the ill impact these fits have on other living things. While Gaia tends to eventually sort out Her droughts, and blights, and hurricane devatstations, these events still have impacts on plant life, animal life, human life, and even Her own face. It seems only logical to me that Gaia and Kybele are the same soul — They’re clearly a Goddess of opposites.

The bits before and following that bit are pretty good, too, though some of the latter portion has changed in the nearly two years since I wrote it.

Here are some other interesting bits that I’ve found:

  • According to Theoi Project (and implied in Burkert’s Greek Religion, by lack of any real index points for Gaia, properly), there was very little in the way of Gaia worship that was clearly indistinguishable from Demetre, or other Goddesses.
  • Gaia’s sacrifices, in ancient times, included black animals; more typical of Khthonic deities than Olympians. If you’re of the (thankfully not apparently all that widespread) opinion that Khthonoi are “spooky” and Their worship should be avoided, think about that —and the above fact.

Also, here’s a lovely fragment from later antiquity, but not necessarily irrelevant, as it seems to be in line with Boeotian tradition:

Suidas s.v. Ge (trans. Suda On Line) (Byzantine Greek Lexicon C10th A.D.) :
“Ge (Earth): Since the earth is a seat of every city, as, supporting the cities, her image is that of a tower-bearer.”

Athene & the Elephant

(This just sort of came to me a couple days or so ago, and so I wrote it down. As best as i can tell, I can’t connect it to ancient ideas and [dare I say?] beliefs, so take this as you will. Though, by sheer coincidence, just before posting this, I took a chance on a search for ‘elephant athena”, and found this –interesting, eh?)

Hermes watched carefully as Alexandros of Makedon followed his own gilded thread of fate into India, and just then, Athene peered over His shoulder.

“Ah, my sister, I was just watching, wondering if he was going to make it. It is better than a play, to me.”

“The Dread Sisters are never wrong, though. I hear that even if They ever are, They have ways of fixing it so that only the Protogonoi would know, and few Olympians would ever suspect.”

“It’s still fun to watch, when I haven’t anything better to do. It’s like the mortals with their mythology, telling Our stories, even the same way, and knowing how it’s going to end, well, watching it on stage is different from knowing the outline of the plot.”

“Fair enough, dear half-brother.” She took down Her helmet and adjusted a pin holding her hair together. “So, when Our people make contact with the Hindu people, they’re going to make some associations.”

“When will they learn that other gods are individuals?”

“They feel it’s complimentary, Hermes. ‘The Gods of Hellas are the Gods of civilisation,’ ergo, even civilised people outside of Hellas worship the same Gods, just with local names. Or so goes the logic, at least.”

“This political turn is starting to bore me. Which animals only previously know to the Hindu people do you want?”

Without hesitation, Athene pointed to the elephant.

“Oh, that’s not what I expected. I mean, the owl is stealthy and patient, and it hunts. That pachyderm is big and tramples the foliage, and all it eats is foliage. It was also relatively easy for them to tame.”

“This is all true, but it’s certainly the wisest creature on this continent, after mankind.”

“And you say so, because?”

“It’s tamed because it wanted to be. It’s big, but only violent when provoked beyond reason, because it knows that’s the only time it needs violence. In the wild, when it is allowed to behave naturally, it is the only beast that truly knows to honour the gift of life the gods have given all tribes of man and beasts –just look.”

Athene pointed Hermes to a small tribe of elephants in the jungle, carefully having laid a burial mound over their matriarch, now stood vigil. Infants of the pack wailed -like Greek women at a funeral. Each animal waited its turn to take a little water before returning to the three day vigil among the elephant burial grounds. She then pointed out another pack of elephants outside a small village in Africa, in a region of the continent yet unexplored by Hellenes; the village had just been visited by a fearsome storm, and a man and his dog who had been unshielded by a house, lay dead, and the elephants covered him with a burial, out of respect.

“It’s a simple form of religion,” the grey-eyed and unowned one pointed out, “but for a creature so far from man’s genetic material, they have been granted the wisdom to know the gods, and so not only do I favour them, but I believe our father will, as well.”

“But what gods do they honour?”

Athene thought for a moment, and then suggested, “they clearly honour the gods of the earth, and of intelligence. They cannot speak the names of these gods, so they could never ask the gods their names. They know only some basic vocabulary of any language of man, so formulating a question on paper or in the mind is outside their abilities. They therefore honour whatever gods will accept them. The Hindu people treat them with honour, so those amongst the Hindu honour Hindu gods. Those there, amongst the Maasai, if the elephant is tame, it worships the Maasai people’s gods. Why should they be any different from human beings? There are several species of elephant, with dozens of tribes, each.”

“You were able to see all that?”

“Of course. My vision is finely attuned to scouting out the wisest creatures, and the wisdom of these creatures is like the brilliance of the sun when compared to the twinkle of a star.”

“Stars are really whole galaxies, just as the humans see them from Gaia, you know?” Hermes pointed out.

Athene slapped the back of His head in that sisterly way, and said, “I know that. It’s the metaphor that’s important —and you know that, too,”

Demetre and the Palace of Kadmos

When I C&P’d that section at the beginning of the first of my posts about Demetre, I was immediately reminded of my first post about Ares.

Kadmos and the Ismenian Dragon.

In that first segment, it seems that legend has it that Kadmos’ legendary palace became Thebes’ first temple to Demetre, which suggests that —assuming Thebans did, in fact, habitually syncretise Demetre with Erinys Telphousia— that while Kadmos’ task earned Ares’ wrath, it was still within the will of Demetre. This also solidifies my thoughts on Demetre as a Great Mother of Civilisation and sustainable urban planning. It also speaks to the kind of mother She truly is: While She certainly has Her loving and nurturing aspects (as should be obvious), She’s also pragmatic and realises that sometimes sacrifices must be made for the greater good, and sometimes what She has begotten is standing in the way of progress and must be eliminated.

While Her rural associations are impossible to escape, so too are Her urban aspects, as I noted before. Likewise, just as much as She values tradition, She also wills progress.

I’m now reminded of a bit from Edith Hamilton’s Mythology, suggesting that while every other deity in the Hellenic pantheon was borderline useless to Man, it was Dionysos and Demetre, agricultural deities, who stood alone in being beneficial. As problematic as Hamilton’s dismissal of other deities is, I can certainly see some similarities between the two, especially in Their domains of “opposing” values somehow united in harmony through Their guidance.

This comes back around to Kadmos, who (modern scholars argue) was initially a unique Boeotian cult hero, and later was syncritised with a Phoenician adventurer. From that story, the still-later symbolic mythology arose of Kadmos inventing the alphabet and introducing people to agriculture (further linking Kadmos and Demetre), and also becoming wedded to Harmonia, which is argued to symbolise the union of an “Eastern” love of learning with a “Western” love of beauty. How Kadmos’ mythology truly developed is lost to time, but the symbols clearly reiterate a union of apparent opposites, and also closely associate the hero with Demetre. Considering this, it therefore makes perfect sense that his palas was soon converted to a grand temple to Demetre.

Now, the archaeology only debatably confirms some of the folk beliefs about Kadmos, including the origin of the alphabet coinciding with the founding of Thebes. The Phoenecian alphabet wasn’t introduced to Hellas until after the estimated date for the Trojan War. While the modern Hellenic alphabet is clearly descended of Phoenecian script, a far older text, called “Linear B” amongst those who study these things, is on tablets that have been found in a disproportionate abundance in and around Thebes, and so this may coincide with Herodotus’ relaying of Kadmos’ founding of Thebes, and bringing his knowledge with him, as significantly pre-dating the Trojan War. Unfortunately, few symbols of Linear B, at best, resemble any form of the Hellenic alphabet known today, but clearly the Linear B writing system was widespread throughout Thebes.

Considering that this became widespread in Thebes from a most-direct origin of the palace of Kadmos, again, this seems to symbolically reiterate the associations of Demetre with Civilisation and urban development —no civilisation in Earth’s history, living or extinct, has ever developed cities without a system of writing. By this, we can infer that writing is also sacred to Demetre; oral tradition is too easily manipulated and can be problematic in its attempts to learn history. After all, the Cyrenaic school was on to something in pointing out that the only true source of potential knowledge we can have is experience, but they were also sceptical of this knowledge in that we cannot truly know the experiences of everything that led up to what we experience; thus oral history seems especially superficial. To gain a better understanding, if not true knowledge, of history, we can learn from the paper trails (and, in this modern era, other recordings) of what happened; this experience is, too, superficial, but has greater potential for understanding than oral traditions alone. Again, we see Demetre as a Goddess of balancing Tradition and Progress in a harmonious and sustainable whole.

I conclude that Kadmos was, thus, most likely a unique Theban hero later syncretised, and that this Theban hero, in all the feats attributed to him, was doing Demetre’s Work on Gaia’s face. Though the alphabet he introduced did not stand the tests of time, we cannot blame because a slightly younger script managed to flourish and Theban pride attributed it to him, anyway; the exacts become less important when the intention still manages to flourish.

Hearts, the Baby Virus, and Butts

Silphion was an herb popular in the ancient Mediterranean for both its flavour and its medicinal qualities, aiding in ailments such as cough, sore throat, indigestion, warts, and (argueably most popularly) as either a contraceptive or an abortificant (likely the latter). The exact species is unknown to modern people because it was said to have been virtually extinct by the time of Nero, with Pliny reporting that one of the last stalks was given to the Emperor as a curiosity. Some anthropologists with a speciality in related fields suspect that silphion was of the genus Ferula, possibly a relation to “giant fennel” (not a true fennel) or wild carrot. According to some legends, it was a gift of Apollon.

Silphion was important to the economy of Cyrene, in Libya, so much so that a stylised silphion seed-pod was minted onto Cyrene’s coins at one time. The extinction of Silphion was said to have been a major component in the decline of Cyrene, for clearly even the gifts of the Gods must be used wisely, in moderation and under the assumption that no matter how abundant at any one time, immoderate exploitation of these divine gifts will render its amount finite.

Despite the clear record that suggests the classic “heart shape” dates as far back as Cyreniac coins depicting a stylised silphion seed-pod, the Catholic church is very insistent of otherwise, stating that the symbol of two arching curves joined at the underside in a symmetrical down-facing point originated with Saint Marguerite Marie Alacoque’s vision of “the sacred heart of Jesus, depicting such a symbol encircled in thorns and with a flame spurting up from its cleavage. Unfortunately, Marguerite Marie Alacoque didn’t exist until the 17th Century, and there is a clear record of this symbol dating long prior.

The implications of the stylised silphion seed-pod / classic “heart shape” being associated with romantic love and sexual desire is that with its use as an abortificant, it promoted the notion of sex for pleasure and and expression of intimate longings. Personally, I also find it no small coincidence that siliphion was an economical staple of Cyrene, the philosophical seat of the school of Aristippus of Cyrene, or Cyreniac Hedonism —Hedonism being named for Hedone, the Goddess of pleasure and delight, and as a mythological daughter of Eros, Her pleasures are most often seen as the sensual1 delights. This shape thus belongs to Erote Apollon Anteros —or perhaps, considering the fate of siliphion, Apollon Anteros-Dysdaimon?

…but people, being either ignorant of older associations with the symbol, or simply unsatisfied with it as an explanation, have suggested alternate origins for the symbol for centuries:

To the het men and Sapphic women who read this blog, onsider this my Secular Valentine's Gift to you; I'm not likely to post random full-frontal female nudity again.

It’s the cleavage of breasts.

It’s a stylised vulva.

It’s the pubic mons.

It’s the stylised buttocks of Aphrodite.

Or, simply: It’s a borked-up drawing of the heart organ of the human body, nothing more.

These are great explanations, and some of them have more prominent fans than others (feminist writer Gloria Steinem seems a fan of the vulva/public mons hypothesis, and included it in an introduction she one wrote to The Vagina Monologues; the writers on ABC sit-com The Big Bang Theory seem fond of the “stylised buttocks” idea, and inserted it as semi-random trivia spouted by the character Sheldon Cooper). That’s the great thing about symbolism, it doesn’t need an historical basis to ring true for a person, if you feel with your soul that it represents a thing, and this thing can connote these meanings, then it does, and no-one can tell you differently, except perhaps if the discussion steps outside the personal and steps more into the context of cultural and historical facts.

It’s still a powerful symbol, and like many symbols in our lives, far more ancient than most people are aware of.


1: Not necessarily sexual, but this is often the implication.

Good news for Hellenic women and “teh dredded m00nbl00dz”

It’s not miasma.

I’ve reasoned this before, but didn’t feel arsed to citing a source before.

Today, I was looking through old threads in a LiveJournal community, and came across a thread discussing this topic, and some-one in the comments said they could cite quotes from Walter Burkert on this, that menstruation ≠ miasma. I had Greek Religion literally sitting in front of me as I came across that, so I decided to look it up.

Interestingly, the index contains no reference words to “menstruation”, so I decided to search Google Books for this keyword, and there is very little. Indeed, the most direct reference is AN ENDNOTE. The note is to the following passage on page 78:

The Indo-European word for sacred, hagnos29 is defined and narrowed down in Greek through its opposition to defilement, mysos, miasma. The conception of specifically cultic purity is defined by considering certain more or less grave dislocations of normal ife as miasma. Disturbances of this kind are sexual intercourse,30 birth,31 death, and especially murder. … Curiously, the hagneia may even involve a prohibition on bathing: the contrast with everyday life or some future act of cultic purification is more important than obvious cleanliness.

That last part included for what should be painfully obvious reasons.

Endnote #31 references a German essay (“Die Gebrauche der Griechen nach der Geburt”) and summarises:

Menstruation is understood — even medically — as purification (katharsis); the cult take notice of it only insofar as a number of priesthoods are expressly reserved for older women.

I was able to find the original German essay, but since I don’t read German (and only have the vaguest comprehension of spoken German in art films) I relied on Google’s translation abilities, and needless to say, Google borked it up good, so I’m going to take Burkert’s summation of this as it is. After all, Greek Religion was originally published in German, and with English being a Germanic language, this arrangement of nouns and such is not something that can be easily borked in translation by a human translator. So, yep, menstruation is the vag washing its hands, as it were.

So, there you have it: Menstruation is not, Not, NOT “miasma”, and anybody who says it is obviously hasn’t even cracked open what’s generally regarded as a definitive text for Hellenic reconstructionists — or perhaps just never read it thoroughly, or is just too stupid to understand what he read.

And for those of you who didn’t gather from the last part of the quoted passage, “ritual purification” isn’t merely approaching the Theoi with a physically washed body — indeed, ritual purification varied by cult, so while mainstream poleis cults had khernips stations at the front of the temples for suppliants to douse their hands and faces before entering the main area, this is but one example of what hagneia entails.