E is for Essential Oils
“Your perfume comes to me, O Netjeru.” (1)
Priestesses richly adorned,
Anointed with myrrh, perfumed with lotus,
Their heads garlanded with wreaths,
All together drunk with wine,
Fragrant with the plants of Punt,
They danced in beauty, doing my heart’s wish,
Their rewards were on their limbs. (2)
Today I learned, as I was doing some research for this article, that the practice of anointing in many religious traditions could include substances like butter (!) and milk. I think those two items could make wonderful Kemetic anointing substances (and certainly awesome offerings), considering that such products were probably delicacies in ancient Egypt. However, for this post I’m going to talk specifically about essential oils.
One of the reasons I think essential oils can become such a lovely part of religious practice is because of their properties as far as bringing buried memories to the fore. Scent is tied inextricably to memory. If we need to evoke a certain mood, feeling, or experience, the use of essential oils can be a fantastic way to tap in to the subconscious. We can also use essential oils as powerful conditioning tools to change our state of mind, to inspire certain emotions and banish others. In fact, some studies have been done with essential oils and war veterans suffering from PTSD. By associating safety with a pleasant scent, smelling the scent in question during a flashback can ameliorate the effects of that flashback. (1)
Therefore as ritual practitioners we can likely use this same phenomenon to help put us in to a religious frame of mind when it comes time to do work at our altars or when we feel like simply honoring our gods, spirits, and ancestors. I find that a lot of deities tend to have certain colors associated with them. This could easily extend to smells as well, so that a given scent might evoke a certain deity’s presence. In Kemetic practice we might go so far as to treat our deity icons similarly to how they were treated in antiquity, washing the icon, clothing it, feeding it through food and water offerings, and anointing it. These were practices done by the priesthood and not every Kemetic desires to recreate these, but for those who do, the oils you choose for anointing can signal your brain that it’s time for devotions. It can help you open your mind and heart to whatever deities or spirits you’re hoping to commune with. Several deities in Kemetic tradition are associated directly with perfumes and ointments, Bast perhaps being the most recognizable, but it’s my suspicion that almost all of them appreciate them.
It need not be limited to Kemetic practice, however. In Celtic paganism traditions flowers come up quite a bit. I recently found out I’m not the only person to associate the Morrigan with roses, for example. It’s always an odd moment when you find someone else with your UPG…SPG? How many people do you need to agree before it’s SPG? Anyway, the point is you could easily use any number of flower scents to evoke these deities. Almost anything you can imagine, you can get in an essential oil. I have an oil burner on my altar, so you need not even use these oils as anointing oils. You can certainly burn them too, in place of or supplementary to incense. Perhaps your ancestors come from a farming tradition. An oil with the smell of fresh hay can transform your ritual space in an instant. I still remember one year BPAL put out a scent based on the toymaker from the Nutcracker. A woman wrote in to tell the owner how it had brought back strong memories of her beloved grandfather, and what a gift that was. That’s the power scents can have over us.
As I’ve said, my favorite oils come from the Black Phoenix Alchemy Lab. (they have some great Asatru related oils up right now, under the Limited Edition tab).However, the same people also run Twilight Alchemy Lab, which is for ritually charged oils. I don’t like to use the TAL items, though. I don’t always like to use things that have been charged by someone else, and there is less emphasis on the scent notes in the TAL oils. Check them both out and see what you prefer, though. Go in peace!
FYI, playing fairly fast and loose with citations here because this isn’t an academic paper (for example I made a footnote even though APA wouldn’t be structured like this) but the citation(s) listed are still in essence correct.
(1) Reidy, Richard, Eternal Egypt, pg. 245
(2) Tomb of Wennefer M. Lichtheim, Ancient Egyptian Literature, Vol. 3. p.56
(3) Abramowitz, E. G., & Lichtenberg, P. (2010). A new hypnotic technique for treating combat related post-traumatic stress disorder: A prospective open study. Intl. Journal of Clinical and Experimental Hypnosis