There’s a new thing happening that I haven’t seen, in which people with chronic physical or mental health issues feel that they are excluded from polytheism by the concept of “miasma.” Now, I must say at the outset that while I educate myself on original practices as best I can, I am ultimately pro-eclectic and all about adapting to both modern human reality and what I am told by the spirits and deities I work with. I must also say that miasma per se is not a topic I have delved deeply into, although I have other forms of spiritual and ritual purity. All of that said, here’s my thoughts.
I think it’s important to remember that ancient urban polytheism was also state religion. We’re not used to thinking this way since the divorce of church and state, for all that some kinds of Christians try to get the kids back together. So when we look at things like rules that tell people to stay home from rituals if they’ve been recently bereaved, are menstruating or have given birth, one of the things we’re really seeing is a list of ways to get out of jury duty. Maybe women who gave birth a few days ago don’t feel like schlepping out for obligatory sacrifices and ritual dancing, you know?
Another factor is what was understood at the time about hygiene. Sickness and close association with dead bodies fall under this heading. Insofar as miasma relates to the possibility of spreading disease, of course our ancestors wouldn’t want it up in the middle of shared ritual. Now – did they also believe that there was a certain amount of ill luck attached to the sick and bereaved that they likewise didn’t want spreading? Maybe so.
Do we believe that? In most cases, I would say no. Do we believe that the Gods themselves are too pure to willingly touch the sick and bereaved? I certainly don’t. In fact, I think those circumstances are some of the most likely times for us to reach out for Them in private. I also believe that Gods most connected to purity are so pure that rather than being contaminated by any pollution we humans can create, They “contaminate” pollution itself with their purity. This power has been ascribed not only to Jesus, Mary, and a number of saints, but also to Tara, Kwan Yin, Oshun, and Ezili Freda, and that’s off the top of my head. For that matter, if the Gods cannot clear away impurity then who can do it better than the Gods?
Now it is also true, at least in what I would call “high woo” or Working ritual, that certain sets of mind will make it less likely that we can reach the energies and spirits to whom we want to attune ourselves. But that has more to do with other factors, like our own current behaviors and thought patterns. These are the sorts of things that ritual purification is meant to clear away from us, and I think that step is so universal because it is genuinely important, both to us and to our ritual preparedness.
So my take on the subject is, I feel, a commonsense one. Do you have a contagious disease? Stay home from group ritual. Are you physically dirty? Wash up and put on clean clothes before you go to group ritual, out of respect if nothing else. Have you recently been through something physically or mentally that leaves you feeling hollow and indifferent toward going to ritual? Handle your self-care in the way that makes the most sense for you as an individual. A chronic condition? Exactly the same! Sometimes public ritual won’t be what feeds you, and if that’s the case, stay home and do a private observation. Other times you’ll want or need it on some level, in which case you should find a group that welcomes you and go, observing the same opening purifications everyone else needs, because everyone has their own petty sins, hurts, and grumbles to set aside when approaching the Divine. No one mortal is perfect. Never let anyone convince you otherwise.