ritualistic use of aromatherapy has been practiced in some shape
or form for over 4000 years. Archaeological evidence found throughout
the world shows that although our distant ancestors did not possess
the means to distill essential oils, they had discovered the magical
properties of aromatics. Seated around their campfires they noticed
that when certain woods, herbs and berries were burning those
who inhaled the smoke experienced mystical journeys, visions and
healing. Believing that the Earth Goddess provided them with all
of their needs they would gradually refine this casual accident
into a ritual, using perfumed smoke to communicate with, to appease,
and receive blessings directly from their Gods. Few written records
exist to tell us which plants these ancient people employed, but
fossil remains in coal deposits point to Artemisia, Cedars, Junipers
and Sage being the likely candidates for this early 'incense.'
Americans still value the sacred properties of this group of plants,
and we honor an ancient tradition each time we 'smudge,' using
smoldering herbs to cleanse auras and sacred space.
Chinese and Ayurvedic medicine with their unbroken traditions
spanning almost 5000 years, herbal smoke is used as a cure for
sickness of the respiratory system and to purify the air in sickrooms.
Western herbalists still prescribe herbal cigarettes containing
Coltsfoot and Elecampane for the relief of Asthma and Bronchitis.
By 2000 BC Ayurvedic practitioners had compiled over 8000 healing
is a legend from India which may be the earliest record of the
collection of an essential oil. It tells of a Kashmiri noble who
observed, while boating on the fabled floating gardens, "a
film of aromatic oil on the surface of the lake," and he
commanded this oil (said to be Rose) to be collected, and stored
for the use of his court.
can only surmise that the steam generated by the heat of the sun
on the water dissolved fractions of oil from the blooms, which
condensed back onto the surface in the cooler parts of the day.
This may be a fanciful story, but the fragrance of the Rose and
its profound effect on the senses has made it one of the most
sought after oils in history.
know from the tombs and papyrus of ancient Egyptians that the
ritual use of aromatics played a vital role in their existence,
from birth to death, and beyond. A manuscript, possibly 6000 years
old, tells of "fine oils and choice perfumes" and of
incense burned in the temples, sending messages of love to the
Gods. Men and Women wore cones of perfumed beeswax on their heads,
which literally bathed the wearer in healing, uplifting scents
as the wax melted in the sun.
Pharaohs spent fortunes importing plants and aromatics such as
Frankincense, Myrrh and Cedarwood from Africa; Spikenard, Cinnamon,
Cloves and Sandalwood from India. Cleopatra is said to have drenched
the sails of her barge with oils of Cinnamon and Cedar as she
sailed to greet Mark Anthony, who she then seduced on a bed strewn
with Rose petals.
death, Styrax, Frankincense, Galbanum, Cinnamon and Myrrh were
used to purify the bodies of nobles during the ritual of mummification.
When the process was complete, but before the mummy could be sealed
in the tomb, precious unguents and incense were employed in the
'opening of the mouth' ritual, performed to reawaken the senses
of the deceased person as they began their journey through the
the Egyptians, this knowledge of magic and medicine passed to
the Greeks and the Romans. Hippocrates of Asclepios is credited
with being the founder of modern medicine, and his fellow countryman
Dioscorides is associated with the compilation of the first written
'Materia Medica' in 87 AD. Greek physicians served in the armies
of Rome, and it was the Romans who carried these precious works,
now translated into Arabic, to Constantinople in Turkey and the
Great Library of Alexandria in Egyptopening the door to
such student was Abu Ali al-Husayn ibn Abd Allah ibn Sina, a brilliant
Arab physician. Frustrated, perhaps by the unpredictability of
herb harvests, he began experimenting with the process of distillation.
(It is widely believed that earlier cultures knew of the process,
but without metal stills and suitable non-permeable vessels to
store the distillates in, the process was largely ignored.) Avicenna
it seems was not hampered by these limitations and he is credited
with successfully producing the first true essential oil circa
journey for aromatherapy from then to the present was far from
smooth, particularly in the Western world where, in the 16th and
17th centuries, those who practiced 'whychcrafte' were hounded,
tortured and roasted alive by the clergy as 'Devil Worshippers'
and more recently, with the advent of 'modern' medicine, the use
of herbs and essential oils is often dismissed as 'an old wives
tale.' Indeed, the secrets of this ancient science may have been
forgotten altogether had it not been for a French Chemist/Perfumier,
Renee-Maurice Gatefosse. An accident in his laboratory resulted
in a badly scalded hand. Desperate to ease the pain he plunged
his hand into a vat of Lavender oil. The pain quickly subsided,
and his hand healed rapidly with little or no scarring. Intrigued,
he began to reexamine the healing properties of plant oils. His
research lead to the publication of the first scientific paper
on the subject, and with its publication in 1928 the word 'aromatherapie,'
entered into the vocabulary.
how, you will ask, does all this connect with ritual aromatherapy,
and what is ritual? For most of us the commonest 'ritual' is the
act of worship: Is it pure coincidence that in churches throughout
the world Frankincense and Myrrh are burned to induce the quietness
of mind required for prayer and meditation? That we 'smudge' with
Sagebrush and Cedar to clear away negative energies from our person
and our homes? That in many European countries the aroma of Garlic
is still used to protect homes and villagers from evil spirits?
(Which is doubly interesting, as Garlic is renowned for its powerful
antibiotic propertiesDo we perhaps still perceive illness
as demonic possession?)
yoga and meditation, where the goal is often the union of the
'self' with the 'higher self' and ultimately the 'higher consciousness,'
we learn the importance of the Chakras, and how, by anointing
the chakra points on our bodies with sacred oils we can unblock
the channels along which Qi or Kundalini (vital energy) flow.
Behaviorally, we are following the ancient traditions of China
and India where man is viewed philosophically as in integral part
of the continually changing process of nature, calling upon the
spiritually connecting properties of Sandalwood (Santalum album),
Agar wood (Aquilaria agallosha), and Buddha Wood (Eremophilla
mitchelli) to aid our journey into the realms of cosmic understanding.
biblical Spikenard (Nardostachys jatamansi), of which it is said
Mary Magdalene anointed the feet and person of Jesus at the last
supper, possesses energies so powerful that they can ease the
fear of death itself and has found a place with those involved
in hospices working with those on the threshold of transition.
the Therapeutic Aromatherapist, the process of healing is a very
special kind of ritual, where one seeks not only to heal, but
to involve the subject directly in the conscious act of healing.
During consultation, the trained therapist will be guided by information
and intuition to the seat, or root, of the 'sickness.' Experience
has shown that so many 21st century maladies are caused by the
immense emotional pressures that we are subjected to in the modern
world; that global pollution, in virtually everything we eat and
breathe, further depletes the immune system to the point where
our body can no longer, naturally heal itself; and that simply
suggesting an analgesic to hide the pain is not a solution. Once
the condition of the subject has been evaluated as a 'whole,'
the therapist can begin to select the oils indicated as most helpful
to that condition, and advise the subject as to how the properties
of those oils may be employed in rebalancing body, mind and spirit
so that natural healing becomes possible.
if not all of us, at some time during our earthly lives, will
actively participate in those two most ancient of rituals; that
of seeking, and securing a mate, and the most sacred act of creation.
In the first ritual we will seek to make ourselves suitably attractive
both physically and emotionally to another. We will preen our
bodies, don our finest raiments, and anoint our bodies with scented
unguents (which will usually contain components which are, or
mimic, pheremonesthose mystical aromas that arouse the senses
in the presence of a prospective partner). In the very act of
putting on your 'perfume' you are unconsciously following a time
honored ritual of 'connecting - par fume' (by smoke). If we are
successful in this quest, then sexual union and the act of creation
may well follow. Sometimes, even when we are suitably matched,
psychological pressures (the most usual cause of sexual dysfunction)
may dull the spontaneity or actuality of that moment, and we may
seek recourse in the form of yet another ancient remedy, the aphrodisiac.
Remember Anthony and Cleopatra on their cloud of Cinnamon and
Roses? Napoleon Bonaparte and the Empress Josephine reputedly
had different tastes when it came to the pleasures of the boudoir.
That is, so history has it, until he procured a bottle of Egyptian
Jasmine which cured her 'headaches.'
is intriguing to consider that, perhaps, as we pursue the quest
for a miracle elixir which will enable us to live forever, their
is the possibility that we are simply reenacting the ritual brought
to its zenith by the ancient Egyptians.
closing, I ask you to meditate on this thought: Despite the fires
which destroyed the libraries of Alexandria, the pograms of the
witchfinders in medieval Europe and the incalculable loss of knowledge
that has perished with Aboriginal peoples worldwide, the ancient
lore pertaining to the use of aromatics has survived virtually
intact. Is the Earth Goddess reminding us that we are active players
in the greatest of all ritualslife itself?
Peter O'Rourke 2000
O'Rourke BSc trained as an herbalist and aromatherapist in England,
where he was a practicing consultant for 20 years. Peter now
resides in Venice, Florida. He is a consultant aromatherapist,
teacher, and producer of 'Open Sky' Aromatherapy natural remedies.
Peter O'Rourke - Open
(941) 497-6636 or eMail: firstname.lastname@example.org
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