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PURIFICATION

Online Encyclopedia
Originally appearing in Volume V22, Page 661 of the 1911 Encyclopedia Britannica.
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PURIFICATION, in the study of comparative religion, may be defined as the expulsion or elimination by ritual actions and ceremonies from an individual or a community, a place or a dwelling, of the contagion of a taboo (q.v.) or ritual pollution, which is often conceived of as due to the presence of or haunting by an unclean spirit, and having for its effect disease, pain and death. In the higher religions the idea of purification has slowly developed into that of ethical liberation from sin and guilt. This development involves a distinction between the outward act and the inner act or motive, which we do not find even in the relatively advanced codes of the ancient Jews or of the Athenians of the 5th century B.C., for in both of these the taboo or guilt of homicide was the same whether accidentally or wilfully committed. It is part of this development that contrition, remorse and repentance come to be recognized, together with merely ritual acts, such as baptism and sacra-mental meals, as a condition of regaining the lost purity or status. The ethical ideal of atonement and purity of heart is at last attained when, as in the Society of Friends, all ritual acts are abandoned as indifferent to moral progress. The dross of the primitive taboo still encumbers the conscience in churches which insist on outward ritual performances as an element in holiness or moral perfection and purity. The tendency of civilization is more and more to antiquate them as obstacles rather than aids to the formation of character. In most primitive societies the chief sources of ritual pollution are birth, death, bloodshed, blood, especially menstruous blood. Numberless other things are or have been taboo among different peoples, such as trees, colours, foods and drinks, persons, places, seasons. Persons and things brought even involuntarily into con-tact or association with these are tabooed, and only recover their normal condition by some rite of purification or catharsis. Such rites operate by the transference elsewhere of the stain or impurity contracted. Very generally the impurity is due. to the haunting by an unclean spirit or ghost, who must be driven off by exorcists invoking the name of a more powerful and clean spirit, which usually enters the thing or person possessed in place of the unclean. On this side rites of purification may become rites of consecration. In lower civilizations disease and madness are held to be caused by evil spirits which are similarly expelled ; and on this side purificatory rites develop into the medical art. It must be borne in mind that a drug was originally not a substance succeeding by dint of its chemical properties and physical reactions on our bodies, but a talisman or charm taken internally and succeeding by reason of its magical properties. Among the methods of purification used widely among different races and in various religions, the following may be enumerated, though the list might be indefinitely extended. 1. Piacular sacrifices, often recurring annually, intended to renew the life of the god in the worshippers. " Without shedding of blood there is no remission of sins " (Heb. ix. 22). 2. Vicarious sacrifice, whereby the guilt of an individual or of a clan is transferred into an animal, like the Jewish scapegoat, which is forthwith destroyed or sent over the frontier. 3. Washing or sprinkling with water, as a rule previously blessed or exorcised; or with the water of separation (i.e. water mixed with ashes of a red heifer). 4. Washing with gomez, or urine of the sacred cow. 5. Anointing with holy oil. 6. Smearing with the blood, e.g. of the passover lamb or of a pig; or by actual baptism with the blood of an ox as in the Taurobolium (see MITHRAS). 7. Fumigation with smoke of incense used at sacrifices, the incense itself being the gum of a holy tree and gathered with magical precautions. 8. Rubbing with sulphur or other lyes. Use of hellebore, hyssop, &c. 9. Burning with fire objects in which the impurity has been confined. 10. Sprinkling with water in which the cross has been washed (used for flocks and fields in Armenia). II. Evil spirits are expelled by invocation of the name of a being more powerful than they, and by the introduction of a clean spirit. 12. By fasting. 13. In the old Parsee religion the drugs or demons which infect a corpse can be driven off by the look of certain kinds of dogs. 14. An impure contagion may be removable together with hair, nails or bits of clothing. Hence the use of the tonsure and the custom of shaving the head in vows. 15. Houses may be purged of evil spirits by sweeping them out and masquerading current at the period of Purim are directly derived with a broom, or by many of the cathartic media above enumerated for purification of the person. 16. By use of salt. 17. By celibacy, virginity and abstention from sexual intercourse. 18. By confession or expulsion of the evil in speech. 19. By spitting and blowing the nose in order to evacuate devils harbouring in the head and throat. 20. By spittle, as in the baptismal rite of the Latins. 21. By passing between fires or jumping through fire. 22. By sitting or standing on or wearing the fleece of a holy animal. 23. By beating and stinging with ants, by branding, tattooing, knocking out of teeth. 24. By circumcision and other more serious mutilations. In many of these rites the old man contaminated in some way is put off and the mystic is reborn. This idea of rebirth is especially prominent in the blood-bath of the Taurobolium (No. 6) and in Christian baptism (q.v.); also in the initiatory rites of various savages who even make a pretence of killing their boys and bringing them back to life again. (F. C. C.) from the general period of licence allowed at the Sacaea festival of the Babylonian New Year. Even the fact that this latter was celebrated on the first of Nisan, or a fortnight after the Jewish date for Purim, is confirmed by the Book of Esther itself, which states that " In the first month, which is the month Nisan, they cast Pur, that is, the lot, before Haman " (Esther iii. 7-ix. 26). The change of date may have been made in order not to conflict with the Passover on the 15th of Nisan. The connexion that has been suggested between the names of Mordecai and Esther and those of the Assyrian deities Marduk and Ishtar would be a further strong confirmation of the proposed etymology and derivation of the feast (see ESTHER). Going still further, J. G. Frazer connects Purim with the whole series of spring festivals current in western Asia, in which the old god of vegetation was put to death and a new human representative of him elected and allowed to have royal and divine rights, so as to pro-mote the coming harvest (Golden Bough, 2nd. ed., vol. iii. p. 154 seq.). The death of the god, he suggests, is represented by the Fast of Esther on the 13th of Adar, the day before Purim, while the rejoicing on Purim itself, and the licence accompanying it, recall the union of the god and goddess of vegetation, of which he sees traces in the relations of Mordecai and Esther. There may possibly be " survivals " of the influence of some such celebrations both on the Book of Esther and on the ceremonies of Purim, but there is absolutely no evidence that the Jews took over the interpretation of these festivals with their celebration. Nor is there any record of royal privileges attaching to any person at the period of Purim such as occurs in the festivals with which it is supposed to be connected by Frazer. His further suggestion, therefore, that the ironical crowning of Jesus with the crown of thorns and the inscription over the Cross, together with the selection of Barabbas, had anything to do with the feast of Purim, must be rejected. The connexion of the Passion with the Passover rather than Purim would alone be sufficient to nullify the suggestion. However, it is practically certain, both from the etymology of the word Purim and from the resemblance of the festivals, that the feast, as represented in the Book of Esther, was borrowed from the Persians, who themselves appeared to have adapted it from the Babylonians. This is confirmed by the fact that the Book of Esther contains several Persian words and shows throughout a familiarity with Persian conditions. This renders it impossible to accept Haupt's suggestion that Purim is connected with the celebration of Nicanor's Day, to celebrate the triumph of Judas Maccabaeus over the Syrian general Nicanor at Adasa (161 B.c.) on the 13th of Adar, since this is the date of the Fast of Esther, and, besides, the Second Book of Maccabees, which refers to Nicanor's Day, speaks of it as the day before Mordecai's Day (2 Macc. xvi. 36). If, as seems probable, the earlier Greek version of the Book of Esther was made about 179 B.C. (Swete, Introduction of the Old Testament in Greek, p. 25), this suggestion of the connexion of Purim with the Maccabean period made by Haupt and, before him, by Willrich, falls to the ground. At the same time it is difficult to understand why Jews in Palestine and Egypt should have accepted a purely Persian or Babylonian festival long after they had ceased to be connected with the Persian Empire. One can understand its adoption during, or soon after, the reign of Cyrus, whose policy was so favourable to the Jews, and it might easily have become as popular among them as Christmas tends to become among modern Jews. When the exiles returned from Babylon they probably brought back with them the practice of keeping the festival.
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