This is the third post in a series on Cleansing & Purification. As this series has unfolded, we’ve taken a detailed look at what ritual pollution and miasma are, the value of ritual purity, and the effect that ritual pollution has on a witch’s practice. We also discussed what activities are specifically miasmic to a witch and how to recognize the signs and symptoms of miasma. In this post, we’ll look at the subtle differences that exist between cleansing and purification techniques, elucidating those differences through examples of common applications so you can tell when one is more appropriate than the other.
In the witch’s bag of tricks, cleansing and purification are fundamental techniques that provide essential supplementation for the primary aspects of our craft. They are go-to techniques that help us to prepare for intense spells and magick, fix problems, and make up the bulk of magickal hygiene. Frequently, these terms are used interchangeably because they perform similar functions and can often be achieved through very similar procedures. Fair warning that this will be a rather technical and nuance-filled post.
Both cleansing and purification serve to remove something that is unwanted from a person* and/or space. Of course, this is on an energetic level only. Cleansing and purification are spiritual methods for removing spiritual energy. They cannot remove anything physical from your life.
Cleansing and Purification CANNOT:
That said, cleansing and purification do differ slightly in function and, thus, in what they are able to achieve.
Cleansing vs Purification
In every witch’s practice, the need to remove energy is a fairly standard practice. Unwanted energy residing in our homes, an object, or ourselves can produce undesirable effects both in our everyday lives as well as within our magickal practices. It can serve as a distraction or even as an interference. Cleansing techniques and purification rites are how we remove that energy so we can get on with whatever it is we need to get on with; as witches, there’s always work to be done.
One of the simplest ways to understand the difference between cleansing and purification is by looking at the level of removal they perform. Cleansing is maintenance. It’s akin to the everyday cleaning you do to keep your home from becoming a complete disaster. Purification, on the other hand, is the deep cleaning. It’s the once a week (when you remember it?) cleaning that gets the grime out of the corners, the weird black stuff out from inside the windows, and takes care of the weird smell emanating from the furniture.
Cleansing is a surface washing, purification gets the stank out.
The Right Means for the Right End
Although cleansing gets the most attention in the magickal community, it is both grossly overused and misused. Cleansing is not an instant fix for any problem you may have; see the above list for a reminder. Like any magickal or spiritual technique, its use is limited -but this is exactly what allows it to be so effective.
Cleansing will not wipe the slate clean. It cannot remove every last trace of energy from an object; this is not its function. But it will remove any excesses that do not naturally exist within or emanate from that object. For example, if you have a piece of silver jewelry set with semiprecious stones that you wear daily, cleansing will remove any energy built up within the silver and stones but it will not remove the intrinsic energies that make those minerals so metaphysically appealing in the first place. Cleansing cannot remove or change the nature of something.
Of particular importance to witches is the effect that cleansing has on spirits. While it can chase out transient spirits -those that have wandered into your home and are apt to wander their way back out- cleansing cannot get rid of spirits that have latched onto you or someone you live with nor can it remove spirits who have called your house their home for longer than you can (but, then again, neither will purification because this is not its function, as well.)
To further elucidate the differences between cleansing and purification and to demonstrate their most effective uses, here are 3 common problems for the witch and which technique affords a more appropriate -and effective- solution.
A frequently discussed concept within the magickal community is that of “negative energy.” Over the last few decades, it’s been easy to see the way that the metaphysical concepts of energy being positively or negatively charged has been warped, with positive and negative being falsely equated with good and bad***. This is problematic in that it is not only blatantly incorrect but because it also forces an established morality (and contextual worldview) onto something (energy) that is inherently neutral and into the framework of something (witchcraft) that leaves the determination of morality in the hands of the individual.
What does this have to do with cleansing or purification? Well, you can’t get rid of something that doesn’t exist. But, nonetheless, those symptoms of “negative energy” -however erroneous and misleading the term is- are still indicative of a problem in need of solving.
There will be times when the energy in your home feels off. It feels stuffy or stagnant, or you just feel restless and distracted. In terms of an object, it can feel heavier or make your skin feel crawly when you touch or hold it. In these instances, a cleansing is the perfect means to clear out the excess energy that has accumulated within your home or that object. In the case of your home, this energy can accumulate due to visitors, a layout and arrangement of furniture that doesn’t encourage energy flow, heavy magick use, illness or death within the home+, an improperly warded home, and numerous other reasons.
A cleansing will effectively remove this excess and unwanted energy without disrupting the presence of your familiar spirits, affecting your wards, or otherwise affecting long-term spell work. Note, however, that cleansing your home will not correct whatever may have caused the energy imbalance, simply that it removes the excess so that equilibrium can be more easily obtained.
In the first article in this series, we took an in-depth look at what ritual pollution/miasma is, what causes it, and how many cases of miasma naturally correct themselves with time. (In the second article, we noted discussed how to recognize miasma in yourself.)
But for those moments where ritual pollution cannot only be removed through time (such as is the case with illness and death of a loved one,) purification is in order.
Ritual purification has a more penetrative effect than cleansing and it is also more comprehensive. It reaches in, scrapes the gunk off, and leaves whatever is being purified just that -pure, without spiritual pollutants or contamination. This is a desirable state to be in prior to divination, spirit communication, and offering libations to the Gods.
Purification for the purpose of removing miasma can also be spiritually therapeutic. If there are larger spiritual concerns going on, such as possession or attachment, soul loss, or a curse++, regular purification can help to minimize damage and make the work of correcting that concern more manageable.
Unwanted Spirit Presence in your Home
This is a more complicated issue, as it always is when we’re dealing with other than human people. Not every spirit that we encounter in our homes needs to be removed, but sometimes our home warding won’t be as tight as it needs to be and a spirit will enter our home that causes problems. These spirits may be transients, they may have been attracted by your witchcraft+++, or they may have been sent to you by someone else, such as a Deity, another spirit, or another witch (note that this is not common but it does happen -especially as witchcraft becomes more mainstream and more people dabble without knowing what they’re doing.)
In the case that a spirit causing issues, a cleansing may be enough. But this only works for low-level spirits and transient spirits. Remember, though, that a cleansing -no matter what materials you use- is akin to wiping down the counters. It doesn’t provide targeted results and it won’t get rid of something/someone that doesn’t want to leave or is anchored to the home or to someone within the home. In these instances, a purification won’t do anything but clear the space about the spirit.
The most likely solution is a banishing; as this is comparable to getting out the bleach and scrubbing the counters. A banishing is targeted, focused upon getting that specific spirit out. However, if the spirit is attached to someone within the home, then that banishing, too, is not enough. This requires an in-depth assessment of what is going on in order to determine the right course of action. There are levels to this, the level of the situation must be assessed so that you respond appropriately. You don’t use the big guns to kill a fly, but a fly swatter will also do nothing to help you fend off a bear. Be aware, be prepared, and act accordingly.
The differences between cleansing and purification are subtle and when put into practice, those distinctions can be imperceptible. Many of the techniques used to cleanse can be used to purify, and vice versa. This is one of the few instances in magick where intent does matter, as it is through the thoughts you hold that you shape the energy you are using to perform the cleansing or purificatory action.
In the next post in this series, we’ll look at simple yet effective ways to cleanse and purify so that you can assess your situation and apply the most effective method for your needs.
*And by “person” I am absolutely also referring to animals. No, I will never call my dog or angry rabbit my “furbabies” but they are very much people. If we, as witches, can comfortably refer to and include even lower level spirits as people, we can certainly include animals who clearly demonstrate more personality and moral fiber than some humans.
**Karma is the energetic consequence of actions you choose to do. There is no such thing as good karma. There is no such thing as bad karma. Karma just is. Nearly all actions result in karma. The goal is not to collect good karma but to not create any karma.
***For more on this see Intention is NOT Enough.
+As we covered in the first article in this series, What is Ritual Pollution?, death and illness naturally create ritual pollution (a state of miasma.) These are situations where time is the most effective means of clearing that miasma, however, cleansing the home can be helpful in order to facilitate that natural process and minimize the degree of miasma contracted by others (remember, ritual pollution effects spiritual health as much as germs and pathogens affect our physical health and often the two -physical health and spiritual health- are related, as does our mental/emotional health relate to our physical and spiritual health.)
++Curses of this strength and magnitude are not common. I don’t care what the internet told you. Not everyone who thinks they can curse are actually able to do so worth a damn. Anyone that does truly have that capability understands the consequences of any magick worked -and you would really have to piss them off to warrant such an attack. This just doesn’t happen that often. Yeah, witches are throwing curses around more frequently thanks to social media (seriously, stop posting photos of your altar) but most of these curses are such garbage that if your home is warded and your familiars are well fed, you may never even know you were cursed. The weak attempt bounces off or gets eaten by your spirits before even entering your awareness.
+++Because magick sends out ripples in the spirit world, other beings see those ripples and some decide to follow them to the source. Some spirits will do this because they are curious, some because they’re hungry, and some because they’re assholes and want to have “fun.”
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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.