What is It & How to Make It
Khernips are, at their most simple definition, a form of cleansing. Before you learn about khernips, you should first understand what “miasma” is. This is an important concept in Hellenic polytheism, as miasma needs to be cleansed before approaching the gods formally. It is both an act of respect to the gods and a way of separating the sacred from the mundane. It allows us to be closer to the Theoi and delineates the ritual space and time from everyday life.
So what is it? Miasma can be translated most simply as “pollution.” This pollution is collected throughout daily life by all mortals through contact with birth, death, sex, contact with bodily fluids, and (some believe) general negativity. It should be stressed that miasma is NOT the same or similar in concept to Christian sin. It is not something in need of forgiveness, or which means we are inherently bad. It is a natural part of mortal life; we need to cleanse it because the gods do not like coming into contact with these parts of mortality. We do so out of respect to them. (It should be noted that there can be exceptions, often based on a devotee’s relationship to their deity/deities or on the nature of the deity. For instance, Asklepios, as a healing god, may not mind being approached by someone who is ill.) Miasma need not be cleansed for less formal instances, such as casual prayers or some types of divination.
What are khernips?
Khernips are a traditional way of cleansing miasma before ritual or any other formal communication or contact with the Theoi. It is essentially ancient Greek holy water, though anyone can make it, not only priests. The word “khernips” can be translated as “lustral water.”
To make khernips, you first need a bowl or basin which is set aside specifically for this purpose. As it is going to be used in a religious manner, you don’t want to contaminate this sacred item. Next you will need clean water. This can be collected and filtered rain or snow water, bottled water, or tap water. You will also need: a clean hand towel; salt; a match, bay leaf, or other herb; a lighter (if using an herb).
Pour enough water into your bowl to wash your hands and mix in a pinch of salt. This is to simulate the ocean water that would often be used in ancient times, but can be omitted if need be. Once everything is gathered in place and you are ready to begin your ritual, light your match, bay leaf, or other herb and drop it into the water while saying “xerniptosai,” pronounced “kher-nip-TOS-aye-ee” and meaning “be purified.” Alternatively, you can use the English (or the translation in your native language) or ask one of the Theoi to bless the water; Hestia and Poseidon are traditional, but others may be petitioned as well.
You can also steep some herbs in water, strain, and use in place of plain water. Some people add essential oils, but caution is necessary as these do not dilute in water and can irritate or even burn the skin or eyes. You need not wet your hands completely either–simply dipping your fingertips is enough if you are already physically clean and are only cleansing ritually.
Once your khernips is mixed and blessed, wash your hands and face with it and then pat dry with the hand towel. You can also cleanse your eyelids, lips, and ears to symbolize preparation to see, feel, hear, and speak to the Theoi. Be mindful of what herbs, oils, or quantities of salt you’ve added, however, as you don’t want to irritate your skin or eyes.
Khernips can also be used for both indoor and outdoor spaces and altars. Mix as usual and sprinkle with either your fingertips or a branch (laurel or olive are traditional), or pour onto the ground for outdoor space. This ensures that your space and altar are ready for contact with deity as well. This is mainly needed when the space is new or has been used for another purpose since the last cleansing. It can also be done during each Deipnon if you wish.
Please note that khernips are not mandatory. According to Robert Parker, “Cleanliness is…not a special preparation for worship but a requirement for formal, respectful behavior” (Parker 20). They are traditional and can help a worshiper get into a ritual mindset, but they are not a requirement to worship the Hellenic gods, and cleansing was mainly used before more formal rites such as incubation, initiation into mysteries, and prophecy. So you need not worry about using them on a daily basis unless you so choose. There are several ways in which cleansing can be adapted for accessibility, such as using hand wipes/body wipes, using plain tap water, or hand sanitizer, to name a few examples. Another person can also assist you if need be. To add a more formal note, you can call upon Hestia or another deity for blessing, as you would with traditional khernips.
Robert Parker’s Miasma
Walter Burkert’s Greek Religion
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Hellenic Polytheism: Household Worship by LABRYS
Kharis: Hellenic Polytheism Explored by Sarah Kate Ishtra Winter
What is It & How to Make It