Postmodernism and Miasma IV: for Cass

(Featured Photo: Misogi, a Shinto purification ritual, at Shiratama Waterfall, Japan. Photo by James Arendt).

Over on Fang, Fur and Bone Cass has offered her thoughts concerning our present discussion on Postmodernism and Miasma.

To that end, when I attempt to have a discussions about those differences, I’m doing so in an attempt to challenge and further myself rather than to convert someone to my way of thinking or prove the opposing belief incorrect. That’s a useless waste of my energy and time.

Haitian Vodou ceremony, Saut d’Eau
(photo by Steve Winter for National Geographic)

This is exactly what should happen in Polytheistic traditions.By definition there will be wide variance between the practices of individual Polytheists: debate and discussion helps everybody to clarify their theology. Even if we don’t find common ground, we all come away with a clearer idea of our own beliefs and how we arrived at them. And who knows, maybe we will discover places where we were in error.  There’s no One Right Way of doing Polytheism, but there is certainly no shortage of wrong ways.

Cass says of my first post on the subject:

I think this is a very well-spoken and valid argument about the existence of miasma. So why don’t I hold it to be a part of my practice and worldview? Simple. The entire premise is based on the idea that the world is full of spiritual pollution and the Postmodernist, Christian holdover from pre-conversion is affecting ones ability to look at the world from a polytheist perspective so therefore, that needs to be changed. Personally, I don’t disagree, though I do find the anti-monotheist dialogue disturbing. (That’s not a value judgement of those that are as people, it’s just my perspective on the matter, especially as a Heathen.) With that, the premise itself starts to fall apart when someone, like myself, doesn’t have those holdovers.

Growing up in a Monotheist culture, I’m not sure how any of us can avoid internalizing many of its preconceptions. One of the biggest comes to us by way of Manicheanism: the idea that the material world is inherently corrupt and corrupting, and that we should instead focus our attention on spiritual things. (Thank you so much, St. Augustine!)  For Polytheists the material world is holy too — and that includes things that we look upon as “filthy.”  The Romans had shrines to Cloacina, Goddess of the Sewers: Japan has the Kawaya Kami, spirits of the toilet, while in China we find Tzu-Ku-Shen, the Violet Lady of the Latrine.

Coin honoring Cloacina


We are not saying that the world is a stinking heap of rotting filth. What we are saying is that spiritual cleansing and purification is as necessary as bathing and grooming, and that this concept has been lost with the rise of a philosophy which prioritizes impurity over purity. (I would add further that it has deleterious effects which go well beyond affecting one’s ability to look at the world from a polytheist perspective: a look at much of what passes for “art” in the modern world will show you just how badly this has skewed our ability to recognize Beauty and the transcendent).

I don’t reject “purity” as something to rebel against, I just define it differently. Just as I believe that the world is in an absolute tailspin, but I don’t think of it as polluted (outside of greenhouse gases and spilled oil tankers and all that environmental jazz) because life is cyclical. Things grow, die, and change. And just as I will eventually grow old, die, and maybe be turned into a pile of ash- so will the world. It may sound apathetic, but survive at all costs is the core of my theology. (That’s a gross minimization but bear with me as I’ll be addressing it this weekend.)

I’m not sure how this bears on “we should wash ourselves spiritually as we do physically, and avoid polluted places, people and situations as much as possible.”  Perhaps I should note that pollution is not the default state of things.  We needn’t go walking around on eggshells worrying about the filthy, filthy world we are cast into.  (Indeed, Galina Krasskova’s first post on the subject included warnings against “scrupulosity” or obsessive anxiety about one’s cleanliness). To riff on Cass’s commentary, the world is a clean flowing stream and miasma the sewage dumped into the water. We clean the stream by filtering that sewage or by redirecting it to a sewer or cesspit where it can be properly contained.

The things I can actively change or alter? Those have nothing to do with my gods because I believe in self-reliance above all else. To that end- it is staying up with my hygiene, eating healthy, exercising, not participating in things that would harm my body or mind- if I do those things, it’s not because it would please my gods to do so, it furthers my survival and ability to function. And that is what they are concerned about, my well-being is ultimately irrelevant so long as it does not impede my ability to serve and fulfill the role I’m given. So I don’t pray when I brush my teeth in the morning, why? Because my gods don’t care.  And while, yes, I can agree that if I don’t brush my teeth or put deodorant on in the morning, it’s going to make the world look at me funny; it’s not an all encompassing change that will affect me for weeks after I realize the infraction and rectify it.

I have no idea how Cass’s Gods feel about her dental hygiene, but I would strongly affirm that spiritual cleansing is good for one’s survival and ability to function. I don’t want to get into divine proscriptions or commandments: in Polytheism one finds only a very few universal “thou Shalts” and “thou Shalt Nots.”  But again the idea of spiritual uncleanliness or pollution appears in every culture I’ve encountered to date, as do actions or rituals intended to remove said impurity.   As to her comments about deodorant, the problems associated with miasma generally dissipate once the miasma is removed.

Cass goes on to discuss her Sami heritage and “sin-eating.”  This is a topic that deserves a blog post in itself and I hope to provide that tomorrow.  For now, thanks to everyone who has contributed to this ongoing discussion and remember: the Gods are real, the Gods are many, the Gods are here.

One thought on “Postmodernism and Miasma IV: for Cass

  1. Hooray for discussions and dialogues! Thank you for offering your commentary and rebuttal. I’ve so enjoyed being able to stretch my brain and explore these concepts thus.

    Liked by 3 people

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