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ABLUTION, a ritual washing destined to secure that cere monial purity which must not be confused with the physical cleanliness obtained by the use of soap and water. (Lat. ablutio, from abluere, "to wash off.") Indeed the two states may conflict, as with the 4th century pilgrim who boasted that she had not washed her face for 18 years for fear of removing the baptismal chrism. In the Catholic Church the ablution is the ritual washing of the chalice and of the priest's fingers after celebrating mass ; or the wine and water used for this purpose. The purport of ablutions is to remove the supposed stains contracted by contact with the dead, with childbirth, menstruous women, murder, almost any form of bloodshed, persons of inferior caste, dead animal refuse, leprosy, madness and disease. In general, water, cows' urine and blood of swine are the materials used in ablutions. Of these water is the commonest, and its efficacy is enhanced if it be running, and still more if a magical or sacramental virtue has been imparted to it by ritual blessing or consecration. In the Atharva-Veda, vii. 116, a remedy for fever is to tie to the foot of the bed a frog, bound with red and black thread, and wash down the patient so that the water of ablution falls on the frog, the magician praying that the fever may pass into the 'frog, which is forthwith re leased. In the old Athenian Anthesteria the blood of victims was poured over the unclean. A bath of bulls' blood was used as a baptism in the mysteries of Attis. The water must in ritual wash ings run off in order to carry away the miasma or unseen demon of disease ; so the early Christians used living or running water, which the baptizer must pour over the head of the baptized per son so that it runs down his body. Similarly the Brahman takes care to wipe the cathartic water off from head to feet downwards, that the malign influence may pass out through the feet. The same care is shown in ritual ablutions in the Bukovina and elsewhere.

Water, fire, spices and sulphur are used in ritual cleansings (Iamblichus on Mysteries, v. 23), as being specially full of the divine nature. But in all religions the cathartic virtue of water is enhanced by means of suitable prayers and incantations. Ablu tions are usually cathartic, that is, intended to purge away evil influences (KaOccipay, to make tosteapos, pure). But things and persons may become taboo, that is, so holy as to be dangerous and useless for daily life, through the mere infection of holiness. Thus in Syria one who touched a dove became taboo for one whole day, and if a drop of blood of the Hebrew sin-offering fell on a garment it had to be ritually washed off. It was as neces sary for the Hebrew priest to wash his hands after handling the sacred volume as before. Christians might not enter a church to pray without first washing their hands. Tertullian (c. 200) con demned this as a heathen custom; but it was insisted on in later ages (Sozomen, vi. 6) and is a survival of the pagan lustrations or rEptppavriipta. The same custom prevails among Mohammed ans. Porphyry (de Abst. ii. 44) relates that one who touched a sacrifice meant to avert divine anger must bathe and wash his clothes in running water before returning to his city and home, and similar scruples in regard to holy objects and persons have been observed among the natives of Polynesia, New Zealand and ancient Egypt.


R. Smith, Religion of the Semites; John Spencer, Bibliography.-W. R. Smith, Religion of the Semites; John Spencer, De legibus Hebraeorum ritualibus (Tubingae, 1732) ; Hermann Olden berg, Die Religion des Vedas (1894) ; Jul. Wellhausen, Reste arabis chen Heidentums (=Skizzen and V orarbeiten, iii., 2nd ed., 1897) ; Art. "Clean and Unclean," Hastings' Bible Dictionary and Jewish Edcyclopedia, vol. iv.; J. G. Frazer, Adonis, Attis, Osiris (1906) ; Joseph Bingham, Antiquities of the Christian Church, bk. viii. ; D. A. Mackenzie, The Migration of Symbols (1926). (F. C. C.)

water, ritual, wash, blood and cathartic