The History of Anointing With Oil

The love affair with aromatic and medicinal substances of oily texture smeared on the body has ancient origins. Although the word anoint has been part of the English language only since c. 1303 A.D., historical records show human beings engaged in the act of either anointing or being anointed since the times of Ancient Egypt.

The word to anoint derives from Old French enoindre “to smear on” and from Latininunguere “to smear.” Interestingly enough, the title Christ is derived from the Hebrew Messiah and means literally covered in oil or anointed. According to the Bible Dictionary, the words anointanointed, and anointing appear in more than 300 Spirit-inspired Bible verses, including 22 New Testament Scriptures. In the Scriptures, three kinds of anointing are distinguishable: 1) For consecration and inauguration; 2) For guests and strangers (I wasn’t too far off from the Scriptures); 3) For health and cleanliness.

Many cultures around the world used anointing both in religious and secular settings. The indigenous Australians believed the virtues of a dead person could be transferred to survivors if they rubbed themselves with his or her intestinal-fat. Similarly, the Arabs of East Africa anointed themselves with lion’s fat in order to gain courage. In Greek mythology the sea nymph Thetis anointed her mortal child Achilles with ambrosia in order to make him immortal. (In a variant of the myth, Thetis dipped him in the waters of the River Styx but failed to dip the heel by which she held him). Among the Jews, kings were anointed with olive oil in token of God’s blessing upon them. Buddhism incorporates anointing rites in ritual practices, especially for statues representing Divine powers. Butter, ghee and yak fat along with perfumed waters are often used for anointing in the Hindu religion. Anointments are also part of certain Hindu monarchies’ enthronement rituals, when blood can also be used (New World Encyclopedia, 2009).

Ancient Egyptian papyri contain formulas for hundreds of spiritual as well as physical uses of oils. It is estimated that Egyptians had to travel far to obtain certain aromatic substances and that they would go to great lengths to do so. Many of the recorded documents show men being anointed by appointed officials for the purpose of being recognized as leaders of some sort. Temple walls depict Pharaohs being anointed with oil by the Gods and husbands being anointed with oils by wives, (Joni Keim Loughran and Ruah Bull, Aromatherapy Anointing Oils: Spiritual Blessings, Ceremonies, and Affirmations, 2001).

Throughout history, most of the iconography seems to depict mainly men in the act of being anointed by other men who were usually specially appointed officials. We might be concluding that through anointing men were empowering men. One famous exception is Mary Magdalene anointing Jesus. Like many exceptions though, this might turn out to be more of a rule. Recent anthropological research uncovered a unique golden shrine in the tomb of Tutankhamun at Thebes. In her book “Golden Shrine, Goddess Queen: Egypt’s Annointing Mysteries”, Alison Roberts describes this artifact as being richly adorned with intimate scenes of the young king and his wife Ankhesenamun. The artwork stunningly reveals the queen’s goddess power in ancient Egypt’s royal cult of the sun. In a radical new interpretation, the Goddess Queen shows vitally important divinization rituals. Performed each new year to restore cosmic unity, these feminine rites transformed the pharaoh, renewing his rulership and enabling him to fulfill his pivotal role in creation as Egypt’s anointed king. Far from disappearing once Egypt came under Roman rule, these New Year rites evolved into the Christian anointing mysteries, as recorded in the canonical gospels. The book also explores their continuity in the alchemically inspired Gospel of Philip from the Nag Hammadi cache of secret writings. This vital Egyptian influence has remained veiled and forgotten since the early centuries of Christianity, (2008).

History shows us that anointing was both a masculine and feminine art. It has been and continues to be practiced widely for a variety of reasons using different substances all with the same purpose: to make us Divine.

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