If you are Hellenic or worship or work with any Hellenic deities or entities, then you should know about khernips. Khernips is one of the more simple but important aspects of Hellenic worship and ritual.
What is Khernips?
In Hellenism, there are certain things in life that create miasma, a sort of spiritual dirt if you will. It’s a normal part of being alive and everyone attracts miasma in much the same way that we get physically dirty just from existing in everyday mundanity. And like physical dirtiness, certain actions will attract more dirt or in the spiritual sense, miasma.
When attempting to commune with the Gods you are meant to purify yourself of miasma. They don’t want to be in contact with miasma, and so we need to cleanse ourselves and make sure we don’t offend them. Again this can be likened to physical dirtiness – when meeting with someone important, someone we want to impress or supplicate, then we need to be sure we do everything we can to not offend them. So we have a shower or bath, put on some deodorant, make sure we wash our hands and brush our teeth. We want to be clean and presentable and smell good when we are around other people. Well, it’s the same for the Gods – though it should be pointed out that miasma is more offensive to Them than any physical dirt is.
So we need to cleanse ourselves before rituals or anything that will potentially bring us into contact with the Gods. This is where khernips comes in. It’s a simple water, sometimes called lustral water, that is used for cleansing and purification. It can be used on people, animals, inanimate objects and, I suppose, even plants.
How to Make it?
Making khernips is extremely simple! So simple that honestly, even if you aren’t Hellenic, it’s a method you should consider using for any of your usual cleansing rituals and tasks.
All you need is a bowl of water, a tiny fragrant twig or leaf and lighter or some other flame. You light the twig/leaf on fire, let it burn as much as you can and then drop it into the water. When you drop it you can say a quick prayer or small hymn to a purification deity or use the simple single word, “Xerniptosai” pronounced, “zer-nip-tos-aye-ee” – which means “be purified”.
So very easy isn’t it?
What to Use?
There are only two ingredients in khernips but those two things come in many different forms. Water is fairly easy, potentially you can use any water at all, even tap water. Though you may prefer to use another type of water – and perhaps the water you use will be dependent on the ritual. Ocean water, home-made salt water, spring water, river water, lake water or any other type.
But what plant you burn is perhaps a bit more difficult to determine. Potentially you could use any plant on the planet, and considering how many there are, that leaves a lot to choose from. To make the choice you would need to consider various things.
What is the ritual about? What is available to you? What plants are good for cleansing? Which plants are most fragrant, especially when burnt? Which ones burn well?
Herbs and plants used for cleansing and purification are probably the best bet. Cedar, pine, thyme, bay leaf, birch, dandelion leaf, eucalyptus, lavendar, oak and rosemary are good cleansing or purifying plants, and many of them are readily available, depending on where you live of course.
Personally I like to use eucalypt, Australia is full of the stuff and I always have some gum leaves sitting on my altar and shrine. Plus it smells awesome!
On Tumblr I once saw the suggestion of simply using a match and dropping the match stick in the water. Now I suppose this technically fulfils the requirements for making khernips, but I wouldn’t suggest it except when you have little to no choice. I have, in a pinch, used the end piece of wood from stick incense. But that’s a rare thing indeed and was before I started keeping gum leaves everywhere.
Another I would consider using as well would be the stem from a grape. The reason here is simple, grapes are a big deal in Hellenism, wine is a big part of many of our rituals, so a grape stem would be a great generic khernips ingredient in my opinion.
How and When to Use Khernips
Khernips should be used before every ritual and formal prayer. Of course we may not be able to use it when doing a basic impromptu prayer, but whenever we try to commune with the Gods, we should try to use it.
For Hellenic rituals, the creation of and use of khernips is almost part of the ritual itself. Setup your altar space for the ritual, set a clean bowl of water on the altar or shrine and create the khernips as the beginning of your ritual. Once it is made, you use it to wash your hands, sprinkle it on yourself, your head and face especially – and also over your altar and/or shrine. Then you get onto the main parts of the ritual.
So it’s pretty easy to use – you just sprinkle it over whatever you want cleansed. You could also place things into the khernips if you wanted to cleanse small things, like crystals or jewellery. But if you do that, don’t go using that khernips on yourself afterwards.
And that leads to when you can use khernips outside of ritual. It’s a cleansing water, used for purification so you can potentially use it at any time and for anything. On a personal level you should use it any time you are feeling spiritually ‘dirty’, I would suggest any time you are feeling muddled and confused, or just weird. And of course any time you go through a miasmic experience.
Khernips is easy to make and easy to use, it only takes a few minutes really. And it is one of the more important aspects of Hellenism and connection to the Hellenic deities. So there isn’t really any reason you shouldn’t be using it.