April marks a sacred time in most of the world’s religions.
Muslims enter Ramadan to renew their spiritual focus through fasting. Judaism observes Passover, in remembrance of the Israelites' journey out of Egypt. Vaisakha marks the Sikh and Hindu new solar year. Theravada is the New Year observed in Buddhism. The Celtic pagan calendar marks Ostara, a precursor to the Christian celebration of Easter.
There’s something so beautiful about this time. Trees leaf up, lambs appear and bees come out of their hives. You can feel Earth’s sexual energy building towards the climax of the summer. Perhaps more than ever, we sense the sheer majesty of something more, orchestrating life around us.
Humankind’s relationship with nature transcends religion; a chance to hear the whisper of the divine through the trees. And yet, paradoxically, the same plants often appear in many different religions. It seems to attest to nature’s ability to act as a vessel for the voice of God.
Indeed, mankind has used plant fragrances to commune with the divine, since the dawn of time. Ancient religions associated particular fragrances with the idea that certain deities were near. The Egyptians believed that rose was the embodiment of the goddess Isis. In Hinduism, we see Holy Basil used in prayer. The plant is considered to be the embodiment of the goddess, Lakshmi.
The Loving Intention of Fragrant Smoke
In Ancient Greece, the idea was taken further. Fragranced smoke was associated with aeros. On one hand, we might think of the god Eros, with his bow and arrow, shooting people to make them fall in love. However, aeros also means “loving intention”.
It was believed there were rules surrounding interactions between mortals and deities. That any interaction must be at the mortal’s behest. This seems rather unusual until we consider this was probably one of the foundation ideas of prayer. We ask the deity to interact, and indeed that they might sometimes even intercede at our request. So, the deity is perceived as always patiently waiting for aeros, the loving intention of the fragrance that says “I have a desire to interact”. That message is carried through aromatic altar offerings
Eros’s mother, Aphrodite, was venerated using fragranced oils.
So, the conversation with the deity is opened. What follows then, is the nature of the story. And the plot of the tale is written through the choice of certain plants.
It was with this idea that we created our spiritual bliss set of essential oils. When times of stress overwhelm you, and you can no longer hear the voice of peace, these are the essential oils that can help you.
Since Myrrh has an intimate association with Aphrodite, with the idea of the sacred feminine and Venus, perhaps we should start there.
One myth tells of how the beautiful Greek god Adonis was born after Aphrodite had cursed his mother, and she had been turned into a Myrrh tree. Adonis was a rising and dying god, often associated with chests of myrrh.
Myrrh is perhaps the best example of aeros, where the energy of its smoke is sacred, devout, but also most certainly, heavy with desire. Desire to be king, to be reverent, to be close.
Myrrh appears as an ingredient in many sacred oils used to anoint both priests and kings, and it is mentioned more times than any other plant in the Bible. It was likely one of the scents in the olive oil burned in the menorah in Hebrew temples. There are some schools of thought who suggest that myrrh might also have been an ingredient of another sacred ingredient, stacte.
We should be clear that these would not be essential oils, as distillation would not be discovered until several thousand years later. Instead, resins were steeped in vegetable oils and left out in the sun.
Desire of The Goddess
Where Myrrh is quintessentially linked with rituals of the most serious nature, the Bible also betrays its more sensual aspect in the many times it appears in the Song of Solomon. Perhaps the loveliest is from 5:13
His cheeks are like beds of spice, towers of perfume. His lips are like lilies, dripping with flowing myrrh.
So romantic, and within it, we can see the sheer sense of devotion.
We wonder too if the songstress’s lover may have been wounded somehow since myrrh is antiseptic and is helpful for healing cuts and abrasions.
Verse 1:13-16 takes us deeper, expressing that desire to draw someone deeper into you, to want to consume them with all your being.
A bundle of myrrh is my beloved to me,
That lies all night between my breasts.
And indeed, for women, myrrh is a uterine tonic, hence we recommend not using it during pregnancy.
Myrrh is often used in combination with Frankincense. where Frankincense is the masculine energy of the sun. Myrrh is associated with feminine energy. It is a common ingredient in Tibetan Buddhist incense.
Yielding and Acceptance
The essence of the divine feminine is yin, passive, receptive, yielding, and moist. When we want to reduce anger, cool tempers, or be more accepting of something, then feminine oils like rose, geranium, and myrrh help.
The Christ Child, of course, was given myrrh as one of the gifts of the magi. According to the gospel of St Mark, he was also offered myrrh steeped in wine on the cross but refused it. We can only ponder on the motivations of the kindness of these strangers.
Perhaps even at the moment of his conception, the Magi recognized him as king, and the soldier with the sponge thought His father might speak to him.
April brings the Jewish festival of Passover which is associated with bitter tastes, and we often hear of the “bitter taste of myrrh”. Whilst taking the essential oil orally is not recommended, chewing myrrh is used as toothpaste in many countries.
Myrrh comes mainly from Northwest Africa, so unsurprisingly, it is also treasured in Islam. According to the hadith of Muhammad, the prophet instructed his people to "Fumigate your houses with mugwort, myrrh, and thyme."
As described, Frankincense and myrrh often make up a holy duo. The loving element of beauteous venus channeled through the fragrance of myrrh. Frankincense, the sun, energy, conscious thought the nurturing and driving source of the planet. Accordingly, in Arabia, Frankincense is referred to as the King of Oils.
Cross-culturally, frankincense is seen as a marker of the boundary between sacred and profane. Censers of the resin are swung in Catholic churches to bring the pray-er closer to God. In some African cultures, fires of frankincense are burned at the edges of graveyards. Visitors of graves walk through the smoke to purify themselves after contact with the dead.
Frankincense slows the breath, and calms thought processes, moving us from ordinary life, into the spiritual realm. Alpha waves of everyday business change under the care of frankincense to soften and slow to spiritual theta.
Frankincense may be the earliest incense we have records of. An inscription from the temple of Queen Hatchepsut demonstrates its use there as early as 1500 BCE. Indeed temple carvings show her surrounded with frankincense and myrrh, which had to be imported in huge amounts from the Land of Punt. As yet, we have no clear understanding of where Punt would have been, but perhaps what we call Yemen now where much of the incense, or Luban, as they call it, derives from.
Of every essential oil, perhaps Cedarwood is the best at getting rid of negative thoughts. It brings a sacredness to life, where things feel more hopeful.
Again, across many nations and cultures, cedar has an association with deities being hidden inside, or the spirits of ancestors being contained within.
In Egypt, most temple doors were constructed as a means of keeping the holy in, and the rest of the world out. This may have come about because of a myth where Osiris was tricked by his brother Set, and the god of the underworld was sent off down a river in an inlaid cedarwood coffin. Eventually, the coffin would smash into a cedar tree, which grew around it, entirely encasing the god in it.
Valerie Ann Worwood describes a cedarwood personality as someone for whom life seems to come easily. Charmed somehow, and indeed this is the feeling that cedarwood essential oil brings as if the gods are always on your side.
This idea of being somehow blessed may have derived from how robust the trees are. Cedarwood planks are very long and straight, allowing men to create soaring temples to the gods. Ships made of cedarwood seemed to protect sailors because they were incredibly water-resistant. Temples, such as Solomon’s great Temple in Jerusalem, may have seemed to have been given special protection from the elements, not just from water, but also from decay and destruction of insects. Termites, ants, and woodworm, all despise cedarwood, as do snakes, reptiles, and rodents.
Sacred Interactions with The Brain?
Recent research shows there may be much more going on with cedarwood than we had previously perceived. This is best understood through knowledge about cannabis.
Research in the 1960s first uncovered that our bodies contain an endocrine system that responds to cannabis. Primarily made up of two receptors CB1 and CB2, the endocannabinoid system is involved with almost every process in the body.
The CB1 receptor has many functions to do with memory, appetite, and pain, but it also modulates the psychoactive component of THC when people smoke marijuana. When people have sensations of feeling closer to God, or things tasting much “muchier”, or colors being far more intense, this is executed through the CB1 receptor.
Science now reveals that inhalation of cedarwood also activates these same Cb1 receptors, as well as the CB2 receptors that mediate immunity, inflammation, and pain.
The “Holy Wood” was a sacred medicine of the Incas. It is still used by curanderos in rainforests today for its ability to ground, quieten and restore positivity.
Shamanism posits that humans are not the only animate species. That all species, from plants and animals to rocks and trees have their own living life force. We share the Earth in equality.
Palo santo is revered because the spirit of the tree remains long after the tree has fallen. As the tree decays on the first floor, the spirit of the tree grows stronger. The heartwood darkens, and the fragrance that speaks to the human increases in volume.
Smoking Palo Santo wood is often used as a fumigatory before a more intense ceremony takes place. Smudging cleanses the aura before the teacher plant, ayahuasca, is drunk, and asked to speak. Palo Santo is said to encourage creativity and open a deeper connection with the spirit world.
You may often find your perception of the plant changes throughout your prayer, or indeed from day to day. Most people say it smells like pine needles and lemon (high levels of limonene would suggest that’s true) however other people describe a licorice scent.
It was said Cypress trees surrounded the healing sanctuary of the ancient Greek god Aesclepius. There, people would come to be healed through medicine and dream incubation. His disciples would sleep together in the sanctuary, surrounded by a room full of snakes, in the hope that Aesclepius might visit them in their dreams, giving them insights into their turmoil and salves for physical afflictions.
Often, seekers would be looking for communication with loved ones. Dreams that brought them momentary last conversations of things they regretted they had not said. Cypress has a long-standing association with ancient funerary practices but also growing in cemeteries and graveyards.
Where most spiritual oils calm and slow the mind, cypress focuses it. It allows you to concentrate on specific threads, or to revisit parts of dreams to allow you to mine more information from them.
Just as a good night’s sleep should be refreshing, cypress most certainly is. It seems to be connected to flow somehow and indeed is very useful for urinary tract infections or excretory problems, where the body just will not let waste products go.
Cypress is like a breath of fresh air when energy is stagnant, stuck or outdated.
Where the connections to grief should now be obvious, cypress also says goodbye to outdated scripts, giving us the strength to move on.
Vetiver has few associations with deities as such. More, it is the deep sense of tranquility it brings that is revered. Further, if there ever was need of proof of gods moving on Earth, then the way this oil is currently being used ecologically, does betray a sense of protection.
Where most plants have sprawling roots that spread outwards, vetiver roots plunge, down, down, down. As far as 8 meters down. As they go, they encourage ground water up to the surface. So in parts of Asia, vetiver is planted around fruit trees, to encourage better harvests for farmers in some of the poorest places on Earth.
Vetiver plants are now often planted along coastlines, and around places of large scale construction. Their roots anchor the soil, preventing erosion and cliff sides falling into the ocean.
The roots are also capable of phytoremediation. Drawing nutrients from the Earth, they are capable of cleaning the soil of heavy metals and even nuclear waste.
Vetiver essential oil is thick, dark and heavy. Taking ages to even get out of the bottle, it slows the mind. Slows the breathing. It brings about a deep, deep, deep sense of calm.
Vetiver is a sanctuary from chasing minds and rushing anxiety. It takes you to the quiet place deep under the surface of the Earth.
And so, with the seasons of sacredness upon it, we’d encourage you to experience your oils with a different sense than at other times. Perhaps, consider what the Shaman would say. “What does the plant know? What can I perceive from it that I cannot discern from a book? What is this brother or sister of our planet trying to share with me, and what can I learn from it?
To experience your own interaction with the divine, why not treat yourself to the Spiritual Bliss that accompanies this article.