Understanding Miasma, Ritual Pollution, & Ritual Purity
This is the first post in a series looking at Cleansing & Purification. Throughout this series, we’ll be exploring the concept of ritual pollution, how to recognize ritual pollution and miasma, the similarities and differences between cleansing and purification, and wrap it up with simple and practical -yet highly effective- means of remedying miasma and achieving ritual purity. In this first post, we’ll take an in-depth look at what ritual pollution is, what is uniquely miasmic to the witch, and the effects of miasmic on one’s practice.
A common idea found in numerous religions is that of ritual pollution. This is the concept that there are certain activities, situations, actions, and biological functions that can leave one in a state of impurity, impacting one's ability to perform certain religious functions and rites. Often, there are certain prescriptions given to rectify this state, i.e. purification rites that must be performed or a certain time period that must pass for the state of ritual pollution to correct itself.
Within the context of witchcraft, the concept of ritual pollution becomes especially relevant as so much of the work we do as witches naturally leaves us in that state of ritual pollution -in a state of miasma. Although this condition is a natural consequence to much of the work we do, it can also negatively impact other areas of our work.
What Causes Miasma?
What causes miasma varies based upon cultural context, as well as the Deities and spirits you work with. For this reason, what is miasmic or causes ritual pollution for one person may very well be a non-issue for another. Generally, miasma results from any activity that necessitates crossing a liminal place or that puts you in contact with the Underworld. Miasma also results from situations and activities that, from a modern perspective, are unsanitary and leave you “dirty.”
Here are a few examples, from a variety of religions, that cause ritual pollution:
In this way, we see the idea of cleanliness very much tied into the concept of ritual pollution and ritual purity from the ancient’s perspective. But this point of view remains valid. After a long day at work, you wouldn’t prepare and serve dinner for your family without washing your hands first, so why should you present offering to your Gods and spirits with similarly dirty hands?
Many of these examples are of very ordinary biological functions which serves to further exemplify how miasma is a natural part of our lives. We will each experience ritual pollution countless times. In truth, we may naturally go from being in a state of miasma to a state of ritual purity numerous times throughout a single day.
Miasma inducing activities also include pretty normal situations that leave you emotionally overloaded. For example, an argument can leave you overwhelmed with emotion, unable to focus and properly gather energy. This is a state of ritual pollution, one that is blatantly temporary and can easily remedy itself with time. In a similar vein, exposure to certain types of movies or books and even watching the news can leave you in a state of miasma. This shows us that activities that leave our minds and emotions inappropriately focused for any sort of spiritual work leave us spiritually unclean.
Another great -and too true- example is social media. Think about how often you read something, maybe a meme posted on twitter, or post on facebook, or blog by a writer you’ve never read before, and it sticks in your mind, leaving you frustrated, sad, or even pissed for the rest of the day. For you, these things were miasmic not because of any inherent value or judgement associated with those posts, but because of the effect that they had on you. They left you unable to effectively engage in spiritual activities without taking steps to bring yourself back from that mental, emotional, and spiritual place that you were taken to.
In a future edition to this brief series on Cleansing & Purification, we’ll look at how to go about remedying ritual pollution, as well as discussing out some states of miasma naturally remedy themselves.
What is Miasmic to the Witch?
Witches are traditionally and historically spirit workers: we walk the space of liminality, working with a wide of varieties of spirits, in order to be mediator between the physical and spirit world. Not every aspect of our work leaves us ritually polluted, but many do. Remember that ritual pollution is a naturally occurring part of our lives. In other words, it’s really not a big deal. It’s consequential to very normal parts of our lives and, as witches, it’s a natural consequence to some of the work we do. No big deal. As with any other aspect of witchcraft, we address the problem and move on because we’ve got further work awaiting our attention.
This makes what is miasmic to the witch more complicatedly addressed, as many of those situations and activities are generally remedied through time for non-witches. Complicated doesn’t mean difficult, however. What it does mean is that if your practice frequently involves activities that naturally leave you miasmic, you may find subsequent work (especially that does not naturally leave you ritually polluted) being negatively impacted.
These are some witchcraft specific activities that naturally result in ritual pollution:
Additionally, there may be unique activities and situations that are miasmic for you because of the Gods and spirits you have relationships with. Speak with your Gods and spirits to identify if there are any activities, situations, and such that are best avoided by you due to the detrimental effect they have on your practice. However, take care with your words so that you do not invite any limitations upon yourself from your Gods and spirits, such as them creating boundaries for you as part of your devotion and relationship with them (e.g. them asking you to no longer cut your hair, to no longer eat meat, to resume eating meat, to get a tattoo, to avoid wearing certain colors, or to begin regularly ingesting or smoking certain herbs as part of your practice.)
Remember, that ritual pollution or miasma is not bad. Rather, it is a natural spiritual consequence to certain activities. As spiritual workers, this necessitates additional vigilance on our parts to note and address these states in order to be more effective with our work.
Likewise, ritual purity is not inherently good. As with ritual pollution, it is just another natural state that we sometimes exist in. However, ritual purity has desirable benefits to our work as witches, especially when our work frequently includes those activities that leave us ritually polluted. Doing the work to remedy miasma and attain ritual purity reduces further interference for our work. It allows us greater focus and efficacy -which means stronger and faster results for magick, stronger and clearer communication with spirits, and greater depth and clarity in divination.
In the next installment of this series, we’ll look at the signs and symptoms of miasma and how to recognize ritual pollution in yourself and others.
For less than the cost of a cup of coffee, you can choose a topic for me to write about each month and support my writing, too! You can also get early access to articles, free copies of all my books, and free subscription to the Be a Local Witch email course
Throwing the Bones
Whether you're struggling with something spiritually or in everyday life, bone divination can highlight areas where focus is needed and identify alternative ways forward.