I see that people are fighting about miasma again. (Wow, y’all really like being spiritually dirty, don’t ya?) As usual, there seems to be some significant misunderstandings about what miasma is and is not so here’s my basic run-down, again.
Miasma is a semi-corporeal substance which collects along the margins of life and is easily transferable – essentially an invisible sticky film of mortality. It can arise from within us, from our thoughts and activities or we can “catch” it by coming into contact with others, as well as objects and places that are coated with it. It is a morally neutral substance and should not be conflated with harmatia or the Christian concept of sin. Indeed many of the things that transmit it – birth, sex, death, intense emotional and psychological states – are not only natural and necessary parts of life, but seen as social goods in their own right. Miasma is an issue because it is contrary to hagne or holiness, meaning that portion of the divine which is remote from us. Too much miasma also negatively impacts our perceptions, health and luck.
Suppose you covered your body from head to toe in an adhesive tar and then took a stroll through a lovely park and the winding streets of your city. By the time you reached home how much stuff do you think you’d have picked up, stuff that would normally have just floated past you? That’s exactly what it’s like when you’re in a state of miasma and when enough of it builds up you often find yourself feeling dull, sluggish, apathetic, disconnected, depressed and generally ill even if you don’t have definite symptoms.
More succinctly, miasma breeds malaise. It is not life, but the byproduct of life and for this reason it is opposed to purity; the divine flows, but miasma does not. Being impermeable it cuts us off from the Gods and the things associated with them.
Not only for what it does to us, but because it is so highly contagious the responsible thing to do is be aware of your state of purity and take regular steps to cleanse and remove miasma from yourself.
If you’d like to know more please check out Robert Parker’s Miasma: Pollution and Purification in Early Greek Religion and my writings about pollution and cleansing at the Bakcheion.