Evidence for the use of essential oils goes back thousands of years, at least as early as ancient Egypt. Yet in the past few centuries, for much of the world they’ve shifted from standard tools for health and spiritual wellbeing to being considered unscientific at best, and satanic at worst.
The truth is, their properties haven’t changed and remain undeniable. What has changed is the lens through which we look at the world. After the Protestant Reformation in 16th century Europe, new churches discarded the ritual tools and art forms traditionally associated with spiritual communication. They also vilified and executed the very same women who used these oils – the charmers, healers, and midwives, as witches.
As Europeans increasingly colonised the world, witchcraft ceased to be condemned as a crime, and was re-labelled a delusion. Spiritual tools became “superstition” to be collected by avid folklorists and anthropologists, as curious cultural oddities from by-gone days. Science grew up, but scientists continued to seek legitimacy in their field and avoid ridicule for wasting time on superstition, leaving tools like essential oils very poorly studied in comparison to other medicines.
The irony, of course, is that so many of those medicines are plant compounds. The bias is simply this: if it’s newly discovered by a man, it’s good to study. If it’s ancient and part of what was traditionally women’s work (magic, transition into life, transition into death, healing etc), it’s “woo-woo” and forget it if you want a career.
Even as a child, I had an innate understanding that the inherent biases in the world weren’t serving people. I’ve lived my whole life anaphylactic to nuts. I even had a severe reaction when my heart stopped and blood pressure dropped completely, to the pinprick test that places the tiniest amount of an allergen under the skin. Traces of nuts (to which I’ve had many very severe reactions) can cause anaphylaxis at under 40 parts per million. How could it be, that essential oils, tried and tested, experienced and refined over centuries and in some cases millennia, were not believed to have any power for good?
On a lifelong spiritual path, I first met the Baptist church around the same time I was seriously exploring oils. I soon saw how the two supported one another, with deeper meditations and prayers facilitated by oils. But even as I was pointing out that frankincense and myrrh were two of the three gifts given to Jesus at birth, the leadership of the church thought I was profoundly dangerous. Called a witch, I was offered the choice to submit to exorcism or leave the church. And so I left.
Since then, I’ve continued to explore oils and how they support the spiritual path, helping to anchor us into real change. No longer confined by the church or university (truly the church of education), I now recommend them to my clients. Inside academia, the culture is gradually changing, too. We’re finally seeing the recognition of the medicinal powers of oils like black pepper. Perhaps spiritual studies will one day follow.
Here are 4 of the multiple layers of amazing properties essential oils carry that promote real change
1) Their physical properties, emergent from how their biology interacts with ours. These effects are essentially medical, just like those of any drug.
2) Their relational properties, that are emergent from our life story. Bergamot is an incredible, uplifting and joyful oil for me – not only because that’s a physical property of citrus oils, but because it reminds me of these green jelly sweeties I adored as a child. Scents and flavours have a tremendous power to take us back into memories and past emotions. Why not use that to your advantage and go to your happy places?
3) Cultural properties, emergent from their use throughout time and the energy of the beliefs built up around them. This is especially the case for ancient oils like frankincense. Having this powerful history around any artifact grants it a unique relationship with us that’s informed by centuries of meaning-making.
4) Powerful vibrational frequencies act upon us in unseen, metaphysical ways. These frequencies may be low and grounding (like basil oil) or high and expansive (e.g. rose oil). Everything in the entire universe has a unique vibrational frequency, including all DNA. Everything in the universe is responsive to other vibrations. Susan Alexjander has even worked closely with scientists to translate some of nature’s vibrations into music. You can listen to her Sounds of the Universe here, including interpretations of the vibrations of DNA and black holes.
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