purification, in religion, the ceremonial removal of what the religion deems unclean. The usual agents of purification are water (as in baptism), bodily alteration (as in circumcision), and fire. The origin of purification rites is a matter of dispute, but frequently the necessity for purification may result from violation of taboo or from defilement incurred while participating in critical events of life, such as childbirth, puberty, marriage, bloodshed or war, and death. The ancient Hebrew rites are described in the Bible, as in chapter 19 of the Book of Numbers. Candlemas commemorates the purification of the Virgin Mary after the birth of Jesus.
The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2012, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.