An aspergillum (less commonly, aspergilium or aspergil) is a liturgical implement used to sprinkle holy water. It comes in two common forms: a brush that is dipped in the water and shaken, and a perforated ball at the end of a short handle. Some have sponges or internal reservoirs that dispense holy water when shaken, while others must periodically be dipped in an aspersorium (holy water bucket, known to art historians as a situla).
An aspergillum is used in Roman Catholic and Anglican ceremonies, including the Rite of Baptism and during the Easter Season. In addition, a priest will use the aspergillum to bless the candles during candlemas services and the palms during Palm Sunday Mass. At a requiem, if a coffin is present, the priest will sprinkle holy water on the coffin. The aspergillum can be used in other manners where sprinkling of holy water is appropriate, as in a house blessing, in which the priest might bless the entry to the home. The name derives from the Latin verb aspergere 'to sprinkle'.
The form of the aspergillum differs in the Eastern Orthodox Church. In the Greek Orthodox Church the aspergillum (randistirion) is in the form of a standing vessel with a tapering lid. The top of the lid has holes in it from which the agiasmos (holy water) is sprinkled. In the Russian Orthodox Church the aspergillum is in the form of a whisk made of cloth or hair. Sometimes, sprigs of basil are used to sprinkle holy water. In some of the Oriental Orthodox Churches, no aspergillum is used, but the priest will pour holy water into the palm of his right hand and throw it on the faithful.
Leviticus Chapter 14
- “3. ‘And the priest goes out of the camp and the priest looks, and beholds that the sore of the leprosy of the leper is healed.’ 4. ‘And the priest commands, and takes, for the one healed, two unblemished live birds, cedar wood, Coccus scarlet, and hyssop.’ 5. ‘And the priest commands, and slaughters the one bird in a pottery vessel upon living water.’ 6. ‘He takes the live bird and the cedar wood and the Coccus scarlet and the hyssop and dips them and the live bird in the blood of the bird slaughtered upon the living water.’ 7. ‘And sprinkle seven times upon him purified of leprosy, and he is purified, and sends the live bird upon the face of the field.”
- “Of the cedar wood, hyssop, clean bird, and scarlet wool or fillet, were made an aspergillum , or instrument to sprinkle with. The cedar wood served for the handle, the hyssop and living bird were attached to it, by means of the scarlet wool or crimson fillet. The bird was so bound to this handle, as that its tail should be downwards, in order to be dipped in the blood of the bird that had been killed. The whole of this made an instrument for the sprinkling of this blood, and when this business was done, the living bird was let loose, and permitted to go whithersoever it would.” Adam Clarke, 1831, vol. I p. 529
- “Verse 5. Over running water] Literally, living, that is spring water. The meaning appears to be this; some water (about a quarter of a log, an egg shell and half full, according to the rabbins) was taken from a spring, and put in a clean earthen vessel, and they killed the bird over this water, that the blood might drop into it…” A. C. I p. 529
- “The unusual ceremony in 14:2-9 reflects a primitive idea that linked physical illness with a winged evil demon, which had to be exorcised for health to be restored. The priest, as sole arbiter in the matter, met the persons outside the camp. If he appeared to be healed, the priest ordered him to slay one of two clean birds and mix its blood with spring water…Taking the other bird, a piece of cedar, some red yarn, and a sprig of hyssop, the priest immersed them all in the water and blood, sprinkled the man seven times to purify him, and then released the living bird. The lustral waters drew their purifying powers from being both fresh and reddened by the bird’s blood. Since the color red had an inherent power to frighten evil spirits, this was likely the significance of the crimson yarn, colored by dyestuffs derived from insects… Both the cedar and the hyssop (the latter actually a form of caper , true hyssop not being found in Palestine) were used for sacred aspersions… It is possible that the yarn bound the hyssop sprig to the cedar to form an aspergillum (Cazelles) although the text is not so explicit and they are evidently not so arranged in Num [Numbers] 19:6. The release of the bird symbolized the departure of the evil spirit.” The New Jerome Bibilical Commentary p. 70
Aspergilla are also used in modern paganism, particularly to cleanse a ritual area in Wicca, as part of a spell, or during a Wheel of the Year festival in contemporary Witchcraft. Lunarized water, saltwater, or rainwater are most typically used.