On Mathetic Purification

Put simply, mathesis is theurgy, literally “god-working”.  While this can mean several things, the sense I use it is in the sense of elevating oneself to the level of the gods and beyond to henosis, a mystical union with the Monad, the Source, the Good, the All, God, or whatever you want to call It.  The whole purpose of mathesis is to perfect the self both in body, soul, spirit, and mind, and in that sense it takes mathesis as one would a spoonful of medicine to encourage healing and health.  After all, in Agnosis we are trapped in a disease of ignorance, but it is by Gnosis that we begin the process of healing ourselves.  If we falter in Gnosis, we lapse back into Agnosis, much as one relapses into disease if one forgets to take their medicine or skips their physical therapy or exercise.  It’s hard, but it’s worth the effort.  The purpose of mathesis is seen in many Hermetic or Hermetic-related disciplines from the spiritual alchemy of the Rosicrucians to the theoretical kabbalah of the Jews, and to that end we have plenty of Work to do.

However, in order to engage in the practice of theurgy, we need to prepare ourselves for engaging with the gods and the forces of divinity.  This is no light task; while some people can just easily walk up to a temple and go “sup”, being on that casual level of entering into the presence of the gods is difficult.  Often enough, not only are we trapped in Agnosis, but we’re just simply too dirty to engage in their presence.  The gods, after all, hate miasma and flee it as we’d flee the plague, and we incur miasma in any number of ways.  Christians, similarly, have their notion of sin, which impedes the progress one makes to Christ and inhibits the spiritual medicine of the Eucharist.  In these traditions, as in many others, there’s a process of purification involved to prepare ourselves to walk more properly into the presence of the gods.  In the ancient Hellenic practice, one would lustrate themselves with khernips as well as living in a proper manner of piety as well as making the right sacrifices in the right way; in Christian practice, one would anoint themselves with holy water and holy oil, undergo confession and penance, and carry out good works in addition to partaking in the Eucharist.  Even the low-down dirty ATR I’m involved with has their purification and purging practices which need to be undergone before major initiations, if for nothing else than to prepare the body to receive something Bigger.

There’s a similar role that purification has in mathesis, as well.  During the ritual of initiation, one has to undergo the Mathetic Rule of Observance to help direct the body and mind to live in a proper way, and the ritual itself involves a cathartic freeing of the self from ignorance as well as purifying the scene with lustral water.  Add to it, one should always be spiritually washed before engaging in mathetic practices, hence the role of making and using khernips on a daily basis.  Even though the daily use of khernips helps raise our standards of spiritual hygiene and keeps us there, however, on occasion khernips simply isn’t going to be enough.  After all, sometimes a stain can be gotten rid with a cloth damp with water wiped once or twice, but sometimes it requires lye, bleach, and a lot more effort.  If we want to undergo the process of mathetic theurgy, then we need to make sure we’re in a suitable state at all times, or as often as we can, to engage with the forces of divinity, and if we’re in such a state that khernips itself doesn’t wash away our stains, then we need something stronger.

Thus, mathesis should have a heavy-duty purification ritual, something like a banishing ritual as used by magicians (e.g. the Lesser Banishing Ritual of the Pentagram/Hexagram) and something like a healing ritual (e.g. the Christian Anointing of the Sick) as used by other religions.  The question is, how would we formulate such a purification ritual?  To have one purify themselves is possible, though it’s preferred to have one already pure to perform the purification.  Since there’s no Matheteion or association of Mathetai set up just yet, a self-purification will have to do for the time being for those of us who want to engage in mathesis.  The idea and reason for a self-purification is the same; much as we call upon Hermes as mystagogue when there’s no initiator into mathesis for a candidate, we need to call upon a god to act as καθαρτης (kathartēs, purifier) for us in the stead of a human priest or purifier.  For that, instead of turning to Hermes, we call upon his half-brother Apollo, the unparalleled god of purification and himself the god of καθαρσις (katharsis, purification or purgation of miasma), which is accomplished through the ritual of καθαρμος (katharmos, the ritual of purification).

The role of Apollo here is pretty much straightforward.  As a solar god, he shines his light and burns away the darkness, dispelling shadows as easily as he does lies; he illuminates and enlightens, not only with his solar chariot or oracles, but even spiritually so, as lies and deceit incur a kind of miasma on ourselves.  Plus, he’s the father of Asklepios, the god of healing and healer of gods, men, souls, and heroes; Asklepios takes care of the physical body, while Apollo takes care of the spiritual self, and both tie in together holistically to ensure a proper life and lifestyle.  Moreover, Apollo concerns himself with the health and well-being of humankind, while Asklepios concerns himself with the health and well-being of individual humans.    However, Apollo is notably connected with katharmos, especially caused by murder, because he himself underwent purification as a result of killing the Python at Delphi before he set up his oracle there and so that he could be pure enough to do so and to purify others as Apollo Katharsios.  The Pythian herself, all her priests, and all her supplicators purified themselves in a similar manner to Apollo, by bathing in a special spring and suffumigation with barley.

One of the more dramatic instances of Apollo’s concern with the well-being of humankind via purification is the role he plays for Orestes in Aeschylus’ triology Oresteia; there, Orestes kills his mother Clytemnestra who had killed his father and her husband Agamemnon who himself had sacrificed their daughter Iphigenia.  Having incurred the miasma of killing his own blood (his own mother!), Orestes is pursued by the Furies to Delphi to be purified by Apollo, who himself had helped Orestes carry out the vendetta-driven matricide so as to finally put the generational curse of Pelops and Tantalus to rest.  By bringing peace back to House Atreides (yes, the same one in Frank Herbert’s Dune, no less, though there’s more drama going on there a few tens of thousands of years after this point in history), Apollo helps not only Orestes but also all of Greece by introducing, with Athena’s help, the jury trial.  A little convoluted, but that’s what you get for involving the Far-Shooter into things.

However, Apollo plays a special part in mathesis for us beyond having a significant mythologic role in Greek paganism.  Apollo, after all, is the half-brother of Hermes, and Hermes’ best friend after they made peace over the whole cow-stealing incident, and the two team up often enough in a godly bromance in many myths and practices.  However, looking at Apollo another way, we find that he’s claimed to be the father of Pythagoras of Samos himself, you know, the dude who founded Pythagoreanism, one of the core traditions that mathesis has.  And, as we all know, Pythagoras had a major spiritual hard-on for purification, issuing lots of vows and rules one should undertake to make sure they’re spiritually and mentally and physically fit enough for engaging in his philosophical and theurgic practices.  My own Mathetic Rule itself is based on his stuff, too, and helps one purify the body and mind slowly.  By calling on Apollo Katharsios in a ritual katharmos, however, we can further engage the purificatory practices of the god and of mathesis.

While I won’t yet release my ritual of mathetic katharmos, the idea is fairly straightforward.  First we undertake the Mathetic Rule of Observance for several days, at least one day but preferably four or ten depending on the level of miasma incurred, along with regular physical therapy or exercise to get the body working again in a proper way.  After this period, we take a special ritual bath; lacking water from the Castalia Spring at Delphi, we use a batch of khernips made especially for this purpose and in a slightly different way from our daily-use khernips, something that packs a powerful purgative and purificatory punch.  After undressing and physically cleaning ourselves off, this special khernips (as icy-cold as one can stand it) is poured over the body while prayers are said to Apollo Katharsios and while a special incense of bay laurel and other herbs and plants is burning to surround oneself.  After air-drying, one dresses in all white and spends some time in contemplation of their actions, especially those that incur miasma; this is sort of a devotional conversation-cum-introspection to dig deep as to why thekatharmos was needed in the first place and how one can live better so as to avoid the cause and need for it again.  Readings of the Delphic Maxims, Golden Verses of Pythagoras, and similar texts can have a calming and directive influence on the mind to inculcate a better life.  Based on the reason for miasma, a special offering might be made to Apollo to act as a type of payment, votary, or personal sacrifice so as to help one overcome the miasma fully both internally and externally.  In this way, we develop a holistic treatment of purification: physical fasting and hygiene, religious cleansing and purgation, and spiritual counseling and guidance.  Having a trained therapist or priest playing the role of kathartes in the stead of Apollo Katharsios would help, especially to offer one a confidential and objective opinion on things, though that’ll have to wait until there’re more trained mathetai to do so.

This katharmos ritual isn’t something to be undertaken lightly, and it operates in a different way than simple lustration with khernips (χερνιμμα, khernimma) or an energetic/spiritual banishing ritual .  Those latter two types of ritual wipe away the spiritual grime we accrue through our day-to-day actions, like dust on a mirror; we can’t help but incur miasma through our daily lives, though we’re naturally in a pure (ish) state that these rituals help us return to time and again.  These simple rituals, as well, can help one in getting rid of harmful or negative spirits that cling on for energy or emotions, and keep them safe from them for a time.  However, katharmos operates on a different level; there are things that make us so impure, so jarred, so off-balance that we can’t easily return to our natural state of purity through the normal means, or we have let our day-to-day minor miasmas congeal into something that dominates our lives and prevents us from taking the steps necessary on our own to help ourselves.  The fasting with the Mathetic Rule helps begin the process of change in the body, the cleaning of the body prepares the soul, the ritual bath purifies the spirit, and the counseling elevates the mind in a holistic manner that gives us a total reset in every level of our body.  The presence and blessing of Apollo Katharsios helps initiate these changes and sees them through, and while I wouldn’t consider this an energetic ritual, the changes made are such that the energies of the body (either in the vague sense of subtle forces or winds or in the sense of processes of change and action) are altered, redirected, and purified to resume working in a proper way.

Of course, by the same token, the katharmos ritual is pretty heavy-duty and not something one could do on a regular basis.  I mean, you could, but generally speaking it’s not needed unless you’re, like, murdering someone every week or your family is having a child every month. Mathetic katharmos is going to be a high-grade thing, several steps above the daily or pre-ritual khernimma.  As of right now, there’s little place for a middle ground between the two.  Either:

  • You’re fit for ritual.
  • You’re not fit yet but can become fit with khernimma.
  • You’re not fit yet and khernimma won’t help without katharmos.

Khernimma is the general cleansing ritual for mathesis, not quite a banishing but accomplishing many of the same goals.  Sprinkling khernips around a room can do the banishing as well as cleanse other people, which in the majority of cases is all that’s needed to ritually prepare a space; however, just as katharmos accomplishes what khernimma cannot, perhaps a heavy-duty banishing or exorcism ritual for a space or place can be called for in the future.  This would perhaps fall under a different god’s jurisdiction, say Ares or Zeus, since it’s less that the area needs to be purified and more that it needs to be emptied of spiritual malignance; the area would be purified just fine if the spirits there would let it happen, but the spirits must be removed first.  Katharmos, then, deals with the person, while khernimma can be used for people and places; perhaps a ritual for εκβολη (ekbolē, throwing out/banishment) could be written in the future for dealing with places or even things.

While Apollo makes sense and is definitely useful in calling upon for katharmos, I’m wondering whether there’s a way or even a reason to mix Hermes into this.  At first glance, that wouldn’t fly; purification is definitely associated with Apollo and Delphi, and Hermes swore an oath to never go near the houses of Apollo.  Then again, we’re not necessarily involving ourselves with making a temple of Apollo, just calling on him for his help, and since our work is heavily influenced and guided by Hermes, he should have some hand in all this.  Although we do find the occasional votive offering given to Hermes in sacrifice for healing or helping one out from a tight spot, the vast majority of votive dedications are nothing related to this, more often connected to gymnastics, wrestling, marketing, and the like.  However, two things come to mind about Hermes that I picked up on from the Hermes/Mercury conference earlier this year: Hermes both gives speech and takes it away (mentioned on day one), and Hermes is the god of banter, cajoling, and “heart-cutting” words (day two).

  • By giving his scepter to someone, Hermes bestows the power to speak; by taking it away, he takes away their ability to speak.  Hermes is the god of both speaking and silence, and has been known to silence or put to sleep any dangers to his travels and exploits so as to preserve himself.  Speech and travel are intimately connected in Hermes, as is knowledge and motive, and we have to experience the same as we travel along the Gnosis Schema.  If we fall off, our journey is stopped and we’d do best to shut up and stop getting ourselves into more trouble; the longer we hold onto that scepter of speech, the more we mislead ourselves, and the more evident it becomes that Hermes needs to take it back so we’re lead back to the path we should go on instead of the one we’ve found ourselves on.
  • Hermes is the god most closely associated with hilarious, vulgar, obscene, and disturbing humor, all falling under the word κερτομον (kertomon, heart-cutting).  While we don’t need to go to the level of Hipponax, such humor points out cruelly and pointedly our flaws, our pretentions, our pride, and anything that makes us hilarious to others as well as to the gods themselves (and seeing a god laugh isn’t usually a sign of benevolent mirth).  Without paying attention to the heckling, groaning, and popcorn-tossing vulgarity of the gods, and especially Hermes, we sometimes get wrapped up in ourselves and either blithely ignore the miasma we’re incurring or puff ourselves up in overmodest wailing of how terrible we are.  We need to lighten up without making light of our situation, and the best way we can do that is by cutting to the heart of the matter and telling it how it is, often with a bit of humor.

To that end, this mathetic katharmos ritual can be done for anyone as a stand-alone ritual as they need it, but mathetai would need another ritual to be done afterward to ensure that they’re brought back spiritually and gnostically to the place they should be at, letting Hermes reorient them to the Path they should be on and keeping them from getting lost any longer.  At that point, the caduceus of speech and gnosis can be spiritually “returned” or renewed back to the mathetes, entrusting them once more with the authority to continue on the Gnosis Schema.  Of course, all this should be coupled with a good dose of hilarity and good-natured poking fun at yourself; the best medicine is laughter, they say, and Hermes can definitely pull that off as the god of heart-cutting wise-cracking and snarky comedy.  In addition to the kathartes who’d carry out the katharmos ritual, there should be someone else there to make sure things don’t get too serious or too out-of-hand with the purgation while, at the same time, pointing out objectively and offensively what it was they did and how easy (perhaps) it is to not fuck up.  By shedding a candid, common light on the situation, Hermes can also help us reorient ourselves through blunt and snarky comments, which helps to bring a bit of realism to our lives and to our situations in general.  After all, every tragedy play in ancient Greece was followed up by a hilarious and crude satyr play to lighten the mood and make sure the audience wouldn’t leave the festival sour and dour.  Likewise, the mathetes shouldn’t leave the ritual without being returned to good health, good life, and good humour; if the mathetes feels worse off or guilty for having needed and undergone katharmos, then the ritual wasn’t worth it or it was done badly.  Hermes Kertomios can help us laugh at ourselves while being cruelly instructive, and can help jeer us back into the Work we need to be doing.

Making Lustral Water for Mathesis

I use holy water a lot.  Like, a lot.  I use a shotglass’ worth to cleanse off after taking a shower, I spritz myself with a spraybottle of the stuff (sometimes mixed with Florida water) first thing in the morning before meditation and before doing any ritual, I spray it around the house to do a quick cleansing of the airs, I wash off votary gifts for my altars before giving them to the gods, I mix it into omieros and other washes to give it a good kick of holiness, I pour some into the wash for laundry; you name the purpose and I probably already use holy water for it.  About the only thing I don’t do is drink it, and even then, I’ve been known to sprinkle holy water onto large batches of food for parties to bless people with without their explicit knowing (I mean, since it’s just salt water, it’s not like it leaves much of a taste).  As a ritual tool and supply, holy water is a must-have for magicians.  As for obtaining it, you could get it any number of ways: getting it from a Catholic or Orthodox church, taking some home from the local shul’s mikvah or temple, or even making it yourself.  I make my own using a combination of Catholic, Orthodox, and Solomonic techniques, based in part on Fr. Rufus Opus’ directions from his Red Work courses.  After a lot of experimentation, I make mine with plenty of sea salt so that it can keep for a good long while, even with a dash of hyssop or basil in it so that it doesn’t get all moldy inside.

Now, while I use my Christian-Solomonic holy water for pretty much everything, even filling small wearable containers to act as an amulet for protection, its main use is that of purification and spiritual cleansing.  In that regard, another name for it would be “lustral water”, or water used for lustration.  Lustration, in ancient Roman and Greek practice, was a purification ceremony, often to remove one of evil spirits, miasma, negative influences, and the like, and the term survives in any kind of purge or forceful removal of negative or detracting forces in a group or organization.  Lustral water, on the other hand, is any water specifically blessed or consecrated in some way to aid one in spiritual lustration, and its use can be seen in most of the world’s religions and practices.  Sometimes the lustral water was taken from a holy river or spring, and sometimes the water had to be prayed over or otherwise ritually consecrated.  And, yes, the ancient Greeks and Mediterranean peoples had their own holy water variants, which I want to talk about today.

In ancient Greece, lustral water was called khernips (χερνιψ), and the use of khernips for lustration was called khernimma (χερνιμμα).  There are several guides and tutorials to making khernips on your own, including a YouTube video by the author of the Hellenic reconstructionist blog Baring the Aegis (who has written about khernips several times on her blog, since apparently this is a source of confusion for people in Hellenismos).  The general idea is that you need to combine the elements in it which makes it able to purify a person or a place, and the process is fairly simple to produce:

  1. Procure an amount of clean water and fill a vessel, known as the χερνιβειον (khernibeion).  You might mix spring water with seawater, or just use clean tap water.
  2. Light dried herbs, a stick of incense, or a torch above the water and quench it in the water.  The herb can be verbena or laurel or something else, depending on the sources I’ve seen so far.
  3. Wash the hands with the water, then the face.  You might say “Χερνιπτομαι” (“Kherniptomai”), meaning “I wash with lustral water”.
  4. Sprinkle the area and all participants in the ritual with the khernips, saying “Εκας εκας εστε βεβηλοι” (“Hekas hekas este bebēloi”), or “begone, begone ye profane!”.  Alternatively, you could say “Απο απο κακοδαιμονες” (“Apo apo kakodaimones”), or “begone, begone evil spirits!”.

That’s basically it; the simplicity beats out my Solomonic holy water by far, though there is a trade off.  I’ve noticed that my Solomonic holy water definitely keeps its charge over a long period of time; I usually only need to make a large batch once every season, and I’m good to go even using liberal amounts of it every day.  Khernips, on the other hand, wouldn’t last as long, and it’s suggested to make it every day or before every ritual as part of the preparation and setup.  I can definitely see the argument for that, even if one produces a sufficiently large enough batch just for one day’s use, though it’s certainly different from what I’m accustomed to.

So, why wash off with khernips at all?  Given the simplicity of it, it’s not about physical hygiene; a brief rinse of the hands and face in a communal basin does not make you sanitary, nor anyone else for that matter.  There’re two major thoughts on the subject, and both relate to miasma, spiritual pollution.  Spiritual pollution happens; it’s part of being mortal and living a human life on this orb we call the Earth.  Birth, death, sex, masturbation, murder, lying, breaking vows, and the like are a matter of fact for everyone, often every day, and these wear on us and collect like dust on a mirror.  The gods despise and loathe miasma, being alien to it, and will not accept offerings from one tainted by miasma (at best) and could actively harm or curse the tainted one (at worst).  The two theories are that either the miasma is an internal, mental thing and khernimma relaxes us and frees us from the cares, concerns, and fears of the world and puts us in the right state of mind to counter the gods; the other is that miasma is an external thing and is on us whether we feel good about ourselves or not.  I contend that both are at play, but miasma is definitely (and especially according to the historical record) an external thing; we incur miasma by living, end of story.   We have a naturally pure state, but so does a freshly-made clean mirror; just as the mirror collects dust over time, we collect miasma just by being in the world.  It’s a thing.  We clean off with khernips and we’re good to go.  It helps to meditate briefly on being purified and collected and calm for the ritual, but that comes as a matter of course after one cleans off the miasma that’s already collected.

I’ve been thinking of making a mathesis-specific ritual for making holy or lustral water because…well, while my Solomonic holy water certainly works, it feels a little weird to use it when it comes to mathesis, like a bit of cognitive dissonance pulling on the mind.  It works, definitely, but I decided to try something simpler and more ancient-y than my Renaissance-European-Christian-Solomonic method, and if possible to develop a specific ritual that fits within the parameters of mathesis for my practice.  The simple method above, using laurel leaves (since laurel was a plant associated with Apollo, the god par excellence of ritual purity), works quite nicely, but why not be a little more original than that?  Besides, we can tie in the creation of khernips and ablution into our daily practice, too, and since I’ve been discussing the use of holy water or lustral water without explicitly describing a method for mathetai to make the stuff, I may as well do so now.

Taking a cue from Elani at Baring the Aegis, I’ve decided to work making khernips into my daily routine, making enough to last me for one day.  I make and use khernips as preparation for invoking and meditating on the Tetractys, as well as using it just before approaching Hermes Oneirodotes as I begin my process of winding down the night for bed.  However, I make a sufficient amount in the morning (you don’t need much) to allow for another lustration in case of a mathetic ritual at some point during the day, as well as to allow enough for others to lustrate themselves in case anyone else participates.  To create a simple style of khernips to carry out the khernimma, you will need:

  • One whole bay laurel leaf
  • A small amount of salt, preferably sea or rock salt
  • A measure of clean water (tap water works fine)
  • A wide, shallow bowl, preferably white
  • A lid or cover wide enough to cover the bowl
  • A clean dishtowel, preferably white

Pour out the measure of water into the bowl, then sprinkle in a pinch of the salt.  Light the tip of the bay leaf until it’s on fire, then quench it into the water.  As you do this, say:

For the sake of purity and becoming pure, be purified!

If you have a large or high-quality bay leaf, set the bay leaf aside; otherwise, you can just drop the whole leaf into the water.  If you save the leaves, they can be reused until they’ve burned down enough to be disposed of, preferably outside.

Scoop up some water with the right hand and pour it on the palm of the left, holding the left hand above the bowl so that the water drains into the bowl, then pour some more water onto the back of the left hand, wiping the hand off from the wrist down to the fingertips.  Repeat the same process with the right hand, pouring water onto the palm and then the back with the left hand.  Then scoop up water with both hands and gently wipe them off with the khernips, again from the wrist down to the fingertips.  Scoop up some more water and wash the face from the top of the forehead down to under the chin.  With hands and face still moist, say:

In purity, I cleanse myself and free myself from defilement.

Dry off with the cloth, wiping the hands downward from the wrist to the fingertips and the face downward from the forehead to the chin.  As you wipe off your hands and face with the water and the cloth, let go of your worldly concerns, your cares outside the work to be done, your fears, and all the like.  You’re now purified and fit to approach the gods and the mysteries.

If you need to use the khernips to purify the area, which I recommend before beginning any ritual in an area where ritual is not normally done or has not been done for some time, dip the fingers of the right hand into the water and sprinkle it around the ritual area in a counterclockwise fashion four times, saying:

Begone, begone, you profane spirits, you evil spirits, begone, begone!

Dry the hand off once more with the cloth.  At this point, if there are other ritual participants present, they should wash their hands and face in the same manner as you did after the area has been purified.  Cover the khernibeion with the lid and set it aside in a high place until it can be used later that day again to wash the hands and face and, if necessary, the ritual area, being sure to cover the khernibeion afterwards.  Fold the towel loosely, placing the bay leaves within a fold of the towel, and lay it across the khernibeion lid.  At the end of the day before retiring, uncover the khernibeion and empty it outside, preferably on a patch of earth or grass, but if this is not possible, dumping it in the sink respectfully will do.  The khernibeion and the towel for drying off should be washed at least once a month, preferably on unlettered days of the month.

To be fair, the use of bay leaves specifically isn’t something required here.  What makes khernips khernips is the use of three elements: salt, water, and fire, perhaps to represent the three realms of Earth, Sea, and Sky, or perhaps the three of the four elements (the fourth, Air, being represented by the actual words spoken in lustration).  If using up bay leaves isn’t to your taste, you might experiment using a cotton ball soaked in grain alcohol or wine, or better yet, a tincture made with purifying herbs.  Such a tincture (alcohol-based herbal solution) might be made from frankincense, bay laurel, hyssop, basil, and mint, all soaked in grain alcohol or high alcohol content rubbing alcohol; mine is made from basil, hyssop, and frankincense.  I take a cotton ball on some forceps or long tweezers, briefly touch it in the tincture, light it on fire,  gently waft ir above the surface of the water, quench it in the water, press all the remaining alcohol out against the bottom of the khernibeion, and boom.  The specific herbs used is icing on the cake at this point, I believe, so long as you have something on fire you can quench into the water.  If making such a tincture isn’t in your ability and you don’t like burning bay leaves, you might consecrate a batch of cotton balls and rubbing alcohol under Apollo just for this purpose and use those as a sort of sacred torch.

All told, even though I’ve made my khernips ritual a little more complicated than Elani’s or other Hellenists’, it’s still far simpler than my Solomonic holy water, and much more in tune with the general feel of mathesis.  I wouldn’t push the use of khernips for a heavy purification or cleansing ritual except as a preliminary to loosen what really needs to be scoured or blasted away; for that, I’d still rely on something stronger, like my Solomonic holy water.  Still, for basic meditation and approaching the mysteries, this mathesis-specific lustral water is definitely a tool I plan on using in the future.  Not to the extent of my Solomonic water, perhaps, but definitely for mathetic rituals.  Speaking of, if we tie in the use of khernips into our daily practice, then I expect it’d look something like this:

  1. Consecration of khernips and morning khernimma
  2. Invocation of the Tetractys and Tetractean meditation
  3. Meditation on the letter of the lunar date
  4. Daily grammatomantic divination
  5. Offering to the god of the lunar date
  6. Evening khernimma and disposal of khernips
  7. Invocation of Hermes for sleep and dreams
  8. Recollection of the day’s activities

However, given the simplicity and speed of making khernips (though it should be done thoughtfully and slowly enough for it to count whenever possible), then it’s not like one’s burdens are substantially added to.  I was already in the habit of purifying myself with a spritz of holy water perhaps mixed with Florida water, even just washing my hands and face in a similar way with khernips; I’ve noticed that some gods candles wouldn’t light until after I had cleansed myself accordingly.  Using khernips instead of my Solomonic holy water is a much better match for them, anyway, so I recommend its use for mathetic work.  Eventually, I may change the short prayers said over the khernips to using Greek or using barbarous words of power, but to start with, simple mystical commands work fine.

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Also, just one final note I’d like to tack on.  When I prepare a ritual bowl or vessel for something, like the khernibeion bowl for the khernipsI like to specially cleanse it out first.  It’s pretty simple, and it blasts everything out of it for use for pretty much anything, especially if it’s been used for another ritual and needs to be thoroughly “reset”:

  1. Take off all stickers, gunk, markings, etc. as much as possible.  Rubbing alcohol is your friend here, just make sure not to damage the vessel itself.
  2. Wipe it out with holy water (not khernips, but something stronger).
  3. If the vessel is sturdy and heatproof enough (i.e. metal, ceramic, etc.), pour in a small amount of 99% grain alcohol or denatured alcohol and set it alight.  If it’s not heatproof or sturdy for that, light a cotton ball soaked in the stuff and wave it around inside the container with a pair of pincers.
  4. Once the vessel cools down, turn it upside down and set a candle on top, then light it.  A tealight is fine, you don’t need anything bigger.
  5. Once the candle goes out, the vessel is ready for ritual use and further consecration if needed.

Colored Views

I recently saw someone on my Twitter feed post a sentiment along the lines of annoyance that people still use the term “white magic” to market or label things in the occult,   The annoyance stemmed, according to them, because the use of “white” to mean “pure” or “good”, and “black” to mean “impure” or “evil”, has significant racist underpinnings.  It got into a kind of mini-debate where I honestly don’t get what there is to be offended about the terms, and that this person wanted the language to change since clearly it has an impact on the occult community with notions of social racism and that the use of such terms acts as a shaming mechanism.

This person also has a Tumblr, and as my witful sister once said about people on that network, “I had no idea there were so many things to be offended about”.

The use of white to mean purity and black to mean impurity goes a long, long way back before the civil rights era or, as far as I can tell, the use of skin color for social discrimination.  Many color associations are ancient, if not instinctual to humans based on our own evolution, and many others are based on traditions and beliefs that go as far back as the beginnings of society itself.

  • The Bible, arguably a foundational document in Western culture, contains many uses of white and black.  The Asperges Me has the phrase “wash me and I will be whiter than snow”.  God separated the darkness from the light on the First Day of Creation.  There are many injunctions to keep pure with white clothes in the Old and New Testaments.  White is associated with innocence, sacrifice, and purity, a la Jesus as the Sacrificial Lamb.  Black and darkness are associated with evil, ignorance, demons, and the like.  (Just as a note, the people who wrote these books were decidedly not white.)
  • Ancient Greek religion considered white animals appropriate for the celestial gods and black ones for the underworld gods.  They also considered the black underworld to be the home of pains, Furies, tortures, and the like, while the white heavens were the home of the beautiful gods and Olympos.  Hades was considered to be a gloomy, dim, dark place for the dead, and Tartarus was said to be the darkest pit of them all for the most wicked.
  • Kali, a violent destroyer purger goddess in Hinduism, is portrayed with black or dark-blue skin, and whose name means “dark one”.  She, however, is often seen as a fearful figure, but has powers for a kind of hard-to-fathom cosmic good, as well.
  • Asian cultures often use white in funerary and purification rituals.
  • Yoruban mythology has the orisha Obatala, the King of White Cloth, good for purification, cooling down, and being detached from drama and pain.  Babalu Aye, the orisha of death and disease, has dark colors like black and purple.  (And these people, who are based in modern-day Nigeria, are most certainly not white.)
  • Cornelius Agrippa mentions that prayers and holy work should always be done with light present, and the Heptameron rituals offer a blessing to purify fire and incense for light and spirit to cast out any darkness or deception from the working area.
  • In ancient Egyptian thought, black was associated with Osiris, the god who died and was reborn, and also with fecundity and fertility, since it was the color of the fertile life-sustaining black soil that remained after the Nile floods each year.

These are only a very few examples I can pull off the top of my head, and I’m sure there are many more some of my readers can think of.

Why might we have had these associations?  Honestly, because we see them in the world.  White things turn black with dirt, grime, and mold.  Food that turns black from another color tends to indicate that the food has gone bad and may make one sick or die when ingested.  Corpses decompose and rot, turning dark colors, over time.  Diseases often leave black marks or sores.  Things that are consumed in fire become blackened and charred.  Metal becomes tarnished and dark.  Nighttime, a time of blackness, is when we cannot see easily and more things can more easily harm or kill us in the cover of shadow than in the daytime.   And so forth, and so on.  These color associations are as old as many others, such as red indicating life and vitality, blue indicating peace or wisdom, gold indicating nobility or wealth, and so on.  Does that make white better than black?  No.  Does that make black worse than white?  No.  They have different purposes for different ends.  Neither is better than the other, just as gold isn’t a better color than silver, or blue over orange.  They have different purposes according to their hue and saturation; that’s it.

Of course, that apparently didn’t matter to this one person.  Apparently, because it’s got such a long history and because it’s so entrenched in our symbolic languages, that’s all the more reason for us to stop using it entirely.  It’s apparently harmful, ignorant, and disastrous to people’s mindsets, and acts as a shaming mechanism to put people of color down.  This person linked me to a quote by Martin Luther King, Jr., on this:

Somebody told a lie one day. They couched it in language. They made everything black, ugly and evil. Look in your dictionary and see the synonyms of the word “black.” It’s always something degrading and low and sinister. Look at the word, “white.” It’s always some pure, high and. I want to get the language so right that everybody here will cry out, “Yes I’m Black and I’m proud of it. I’m Black and I’m beautiful”.

…and this quote didn’t really further their argument in any way I could see.  In fact, their argument (as little as they made before the discussion was ended and they rage-unfollowed me) didn’t seem to amount to anything more than “the use of white and black color symbolism is always racist, period”.   I assume, to expand on what they didn’t, that because we use the word “black” to describe people of African descent, all the associations of color we have with black automatically are transferred to them, so we should get rid of the associations, because all those associations are demeaning when applied to humans.  And, to an extent, I agree; calling someone impure, evil, ignorant, and the like is a dick move, even if they are those things.  But calling them those things by means of a color that kinda-sorta resembles the optical result of the melanin in their skin?  That’s even more of a dick move, because it ignores their actual state and misapplies the term itself entirely.  Beating this term and all its associations of ignorance, evil, and the like into their heads because they’re described with a black skin tone is racism, flat out, but that’s not a function of the color having those attributions.  That’s a function of the person being a racist and a douchebag.

To me, the MLK quote indicates that people do, in fact, use the term “black” to signify both evil and people of African descent at the same time.  MLK, as I understand him, wanted to break that association as applied to people.  As a Christian minister, though, he was surrounded with the color associations day in and day out, since it formed a lot of his ethics, religious background, philosophy; these things, however, are meant in a spiritual, metaphoric sense, not necessarily physical.  MLK doesn’t believe that those same associations should apply to people on the basis of their skin color, which is a physical attribute detached from spiritual color, and I agree with that.  Besides, as a magician, I find lots of uses for white and black that do, in fact, correspond to these spiritual meanings.  For purity and blessing and elevation works, I’ll wear white clothes; for cursing, underworld, or grieving jobs I’ll wear black ones.  This is something completely different from skin color; discrimination with skin color came long, long after the spiritual associations of the colors white and black.  This person thinks we should get rid of the color associations; why not, instead, get rid of the racism?

Do I think that the use of white and black in the occult can be bent for social discrimination?  Sure it can!  This would be to abuse the associations, however, and would make one equivalent to European colonists and slavetraders who thought that one with dark skin had “the mark of Cain” or was dumber or whatever.  One’s skin color has no effect on one’s propensity for magic, physical purity, or spiritual purity; it’s a non-issue.  To associate “black magic” with evil and also with black people is to do a disservice to the color itself; to think that black people are always up to no good is mere racism, outside of any occult meaning of the term, and to think that black people cannot do white magic is disastrously wrong on so many levels.  To use metaphysical associations of color to justify social and worldly racism is racism.  It’s just another tool racism can use to propagate itself, but it isn’t a function of the colors themselves.  And if you’re the one doing this?  You’re racist.  Cut that shit out.

Do I think we should use the terms “white magic” and “black magic” at all?  Hell no!  These terms are utterly stupid and fail to illustrate the nuances and fine gradations within the Work as a whole and individual workings.  A noble, magnanimous prayer for victory for one’s country in war necessarily prays simultaneously for the destruction, demolition, and death of the other country (cf. Mark Twain’s The War Prayer).  A working for justice for one who is harmed often harms the one who perpetrated it.  A ritual to kill someone in power often saves those that a megalomaniac leader would torture in turn.  Any particular ritual or working can affect the world in dozens, hundreds, myriads of ways, and to say that “this spell only does good” or “this spell only does bad” is flat-out wrong.  The use of these labels simply isn’t useful in learning, working, or dealing with magic, and should be abandoned.

Do I think the terms “white” or “black” have any use in magic?  Gods, yes.  I think you’ll find the use of colors well-written about on this blog, even in this very post, and white and black are no exception.

Do I think the terms “white” or “black” can be used as a shaming mechanism?  I…guess?  I mean, if you care about labels and descriptors applied by others so much that it forces you to do something or prohibits you from doing something, that’s your business.  If you care about results and getting work done, then it’s not going to matter so long as you actually make your plans and follow them through.  In other words, this kind of “shame” is beneath me and a waste of my time.  Worrying about how other people, with their itty-bitty tiny sliver of human perception seeing no more than an infinitesimal fraction of the cosmos, are going to label your workings when they’re not involved and operating with incomplete knowledge, is not going to help you.  Now, if you’re the one trying to shame others by using these terms, what the hell is wrong with you? It’s honestly none of your business to judge and shame others.  Everyone from Jesus Christ (“judge not, that ye be not judged”) to Aleister Crowley (“it is necessary that we stop, once for all, this ignorant meddling with other people’s business”) has said to stop worrying about what other people are doing and start worrying about yourself, your own actions, and your own will.  It does often happen that people are conditioned by other people using shaming mechanisms or reinforcement techniques and are actually affected by this; it’s shitty, and it happens.  Instead of breaking the associations, which are in fact helpful to have from both a magical and an evolutionary standpoint, why not instead stop using the shaming mechanisms to oppress others, and help those who are oppressed and conditioned to break out of that conditioning through philosophy, magic, and spiritual growth/healing?