These questions on spiritual pollution are from here. They seem to mainly be directed toward the issue of miasma which exists in some religious traditions. The Other People do not refer to our spiritual pollution as miasma but instead simply call it pollution or spiritual dirt.
Does your tradition recognize pollution, and how is it handled?
Spiritual pollution in the Otherfaith is largely tied to shame. Shame hinders our devotions, drawing our minds into mazes that we can’t escape. Shame also appears often in the stories of our spirits, causing hesitation during key moments or outright driving them to suicide in worsening situations. (Corliss and Grace are two examples of spirits burdened by some form of shame, and the Clarene is referred to occasionally as bearing ‘innumerable scars’ from the weight of shame on her when she lived among humans.)
The most common way of ridding shame in the People’s stories involves drowning – being completely submerged and taken in by the water. Salt water is seen as restorative whereas fresh water, especially river water, is cleansing. Water you can drink purifies your system. Sea water, other bodies of salt water, and artificial pools are usually better for healing and resting after purification. Pollution is certainly seen as something that must be stripped away, as the results of leaving it un-addressed have unpleasant consequences.
Being overwhelmed with shame makes us feel less. It strips us of who we are, whittling us down, and the People are very much about pride. Shame diminishes not only the individual but the collective, the group, the community. This is in concrete ways that we see affecting our communities, especially silencing, but for the People it is also a spiritual concern. Shame is sticky, and when we carry it with us without speaking of it and without taking steps to clear ourselves of it, we may stick it to others.
Shame is not simply a pollutant or ‘evil’, however. The People stress contemplation, a sacred reflection with the spirits, in which the evaluation of shame and other trauma happens. There will be things we are ashamed of, and if our acts fall outside the People’s ethics, shame would be seen as a reasonable and sensible reaction. Shame stemming from ‘bad thoughts’ or one’s innate personality, however, would be seen as something to be stripped away. The former type would require apologies or actions to mend the ethical transgression before a cleansing could occur.
There are also individual pollutants relating to specific gods and spirits. Android and robotic spirits (the most common of which the People interact with being the Aletheia and Alice lines) consider humans that are bleeding or even slightly covered in bodily fluids (spit, vomit, etc.) to be unclean. the Laetha, our fire god, demands certain parts of the body to be shaved and/or covered before being approached as a dedicated devotee. A butcher or similar worker would need to cleanse before approaching the Ophelia, as the consumption or preparation of consumed meat is repugnant to her energetically. One who works with human bodies in funeral services would also need to cleanse themselves before interacting with the Laetha and her spirits.
The gods and spirits of the People may also ‘smell’ the quality of a person and if they align with that spirit’s preferences or focuses, and if a person does not they may be avoided.
Is pollution only relevant in certain circumstances (i.e. when entering sacred space and dealing with certain gods) or is it something that needs to be dealt with across the board, including in our regular, daily lives?
Regarding shame-based pollution, daily cleansings are best – in the form of showers, baths, and the washing of ones hands. If one has established a shrine at which to give offerings daily or consistently, that Person’s hands should be washed before touching the shrine or offerings. Washing of the hands while simply repeating the Litany of the Four Gods (found here) can help clean away the normal pollution we gather throughout our day. A shower or bath, either at the start or end of your day, with an emphasis on rubbing off the pollution, perhaps while saying a prayer to the gods, would also be a simple daily way to help stay spiritually clean.
There are certain instances where one would approach the gods when otherwise physically unclean, however. This may be for certain holy days or celebrations for the gods. As an example, one might approach the Dierne while covered in sexual fluids and/or sweat, as such an appearance would be in accordance with her divine focuses. You might offer up any dirt, blood, or other grime to one of the appropriate gods before washing it off. Usually, physical cleanliness is tied with spiritual cleanliness, as in many religious traditions.
At other times, a Person may need to take more extreme measures to cleanse themselves before stepping before one of the Four Gods or their spirits. During ceremonies specifically for the Laetha, for example, parts of the body must be shaved of hair, and hair must be covered or tied up. Other ceremonies require specific baths and scents for a Person to wear before they can proceed. Still, there are some ceremonies where one simply approaches a spirit to be told whether they are spiritually clean enough or not to undertake a certain task. There may be restrictions on whether someone bleeding or menstruating could step before the Clarene during certain holy days, since those are repugnant offerings to bring in her presence.
In practice that most of the People and those interested in us would encounter, specific cleansings would be tied to the Six Praises (found here). I hope to go further into spiritual pollution in the Otherfaith as we explore our devotional life as Other People.
What ritual technology does your tradition have for dealing with this, and what do you think someone just starting out should do and know about this?
The only published technology we have is the Closing Ceremony, a serious ritual meant to severe ties an Other Person has to the gods and faith in situations of abuse. There has been small posts published around the internet on cleansing in the Otherfaith, but they are very dated and need to be reviewed. The shake-up in our faith in May and June has caused us to restructure quite a lot of this religion, so much of our ritual technology is in process or shared as-needed.
There are some important notes for a newcomer to make about spiritual pollution in the Otherfaith. God- and spirit-specific pollutants are quite a different matter from our shame-based pollution. The former can be stripped away completely until you come into contact with the pollutant again. Shame-based pollution is seen as part of who we are, something we will spend our whole religious lives addressing and washing away. We rub away one layer to reveal another. The Four Gods themselves do this, and they are not without shame or pain. Instead, the purpose of spiritual purity when it comes to shame is to honestly address who we are. Contemplation is vital to spiritual purity in the Otherfaith. We must sit with ourselves and the gods to know where to clean next.
And at times, we will need to take a break from cleansings. Sometimes the gods will push us hard to address our issues, to come before them as bare as we can, whereas other times we may be blanketed in shamefulness. The most recent holy day, the July Apotheosis, is essentially a month dedicated to understanding the pain and horror of the Dierne. It is about her shame and fear. And every year we give honor to this, even though we view it as spiritually icky. Every year, we are collectively cleansed with her as she becomes a god.
So the goal of cleansing our shame is not to become perfect beings who are never ashamed or afraid or influenced by others. It is to slowly separate from us that which keeps us from honestly living our lives with our gods and with those around us.
Is pollution physical or strictly spiritual? Is this even a useful dichotomy to entertain?
The Other People do draw a line between physical and spiritual pollution, but only to an extent. Physical pollution often varies more on the specific spirits one is around. Daily cleaning is encouraged as proper hygiene is an important part of the faith and sacred to many of our gods.
The usefulness of such a dichotomy lays solely in the specific religious tradition. For the People, some landscapes that are physically ‘polluted’ may be incredibly spiritually sacred. Others that are physically polluted may also be spiritually polluted and cover those who visit with that pollution. And again, some places that are seen as ‘pristine’ physically may be spiritually toxic to the People or to certain types of work we engage in.
There are, of course, physical elements to our spiritual purity. This is especially obvious with the robotic spirits, as said before, who want little to do with human mess.
What are some of the consequences of paying too little or too much attention to it?
The spirit Mircea is a good mythic example of both problems. The dying brother-star to Pallis, he takes no steps to actually address his problems or his pollution. Instead, he frets over what will happen to him because of it while never taking firm action. When he finally does act, it is to strip a god down from their divinity in the hopes that the stolen divine energy will purge him of the pollution.
Considering that his story ends in Pallis spearing his heart out, it obviously does not work as he hoped.
Mircea is an extreme example, though. For an individual Person, the over-emphasis or ignoring of spiritual pollution is likely to end up offending one spirit or another along the way. If you are spending more time cleansing than speaking with the gods themselves, that is a problem. There has to be a balance between the doing and the cleaning up. At the same time, ignoring pollutants may mean you step before a god when you really shouldn’t, and even as lax as the Four Gods are to their current and possible devotees, it’s still rude.
Over-focus on shame pollution can result in endless contemplation without action, and it may end up fueling more internal shaming. This is why it’s better to set a time to contemplation that sort of pollution and not to go outside of it except in very special circumstances. Treating the contemplative time as a general check-in can also reduce stress surrounding the issue.
Ignoring this type of pollution can result in constant slips outside of the People’ ethical behaviors. It may also result in unacknowledged biases and fears influencing your life, as well as being an asshole all around if you refuse to look at yourself critically. Acknowledging that you’re carrying around this sort of pollution but not taking any steps to address it (which really can be as simple as conscientiously and prayerfully washing your hands) can also result in you spreading that pollution to others you are around and not being able to connect with the gods very well. As much as the Four Gods extend their hands to us with patience, taking a moment to check in with yourself and wash off spiritual gunk is a courtesy that they won’t just turn a blind eye to being ignored or forgotten.
Thank you for reading. ‘of the Other People’ is a site dedicated to the Otherfaith, a modern polytheist religion. You can find more about us here and here. You can contact us here if you have any questions or would like to get involved.