Essential Oils – Early Medicine Was Bound-Up With Magical Practices


Early cultures did not distinguish between the physical and spiritual realms-they were bound-up together. Medical practice was done by the shaman or medicine man or woman and thus integrated with spirituality and magic. Cures required a combination of physical remedies, spells and prayers. An example of this comes from the Old Testament found in the book of Leviticus (Lev.14:15-18). This is an account of anointing with oil to restore the leper to the community. This is not a purification rite but the conveying of life as is suggested by the anointing of the head. The entire rite indicates that the formerly ostracized person is now accepted once more into the life of society. The priest was to take cedarwood oil and put some on the tip of the right ear, (a reflex point to release guilt). Then he put oil on the thumb of the right hand and the big toe on the right foot which are both reflex points for the brain and pineal gland-the center of the body’s communication systems and the place where emotional memory is stored.

Early Egyptian Medicine

Their medicine dates back to prehistoric times and originated with the mythological deities. The priests and priestesses of these divinities prepared remedies along with incantations and evocative prayers. Actually they were quite skilled in pharmacy which was supposed to be transmitted by the goddess Isis who then communicated this to the priests and priestesses. The Egyptian Papyrus Ebers manuscript written about 1552 B.C.E. in the time of Moses and before the exodus of the Israelites from Egypt contains numerous formulas for compounding various remedies and how to use them. Fumigation with fresh herbs was a principal remedy and preventative measure in the treatment of disease not only for the Egyptians, but also for the Babylonians and Hebrews. Aromatics common to all these cultures include saffron cannabis oil, galbanum, cannabis or Indian hemp, mastic, frankincense, myrtle, myrrh, cumin, coriander, cypress and balm of gilead (believed to be balsam fir).

Early Greek Medicine

Most cures however involved a combination of physical remedies, spells and prayers. Spices and herbs were not only physical remedies but also “charms” or “magical drugs” which could influence the mental disposition of the patient and provide a medium through which psychic healing could take place. In the ancient Greek culture, the cult of Asclepius is a prime example. Early Greek medicine was part mythical, part historical. Asclepius, the mythical son of Apollo and Coronis was the god of medicine who was worshipped by both the Greeks and Romans. The cult combined magical or primitive therapeutic methods such as incantations, offerings and exorcisms with a more empirical approach which looked for an overall psychological effect.

The priest-physicians, known as Asclepiades, practiced healing in these Asclepian sanctuaries. Central to their practice was the belief that curing the body primarily meant re-activating the person’s primary life-force. The sick came to the temple where first, sacrifices and prayers were offered. Then the sick underwent a period of seclusion during which their dreams were recorded and interpreted by the priest-physicians. These gave insight into the cause and the cure of the person’s affliction. Recipes for the therapeutic fragrances and incense which were used to enhance the psychological state were recorded on tablets and hung on the walls of the temples. When we stand back with the perspective of history, we see this as a forerunner of modern psycho-therapeutic practice.

Want to know more about essential oils and how they can help us stay healthy? Consider becoming a certified clinical aromatherapist. The Institute of Spiritual Healing and Aromatherapy teaches classes throughout the United States on aromatherapy and energy healing.

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