Sacredness of Essential Oils in Ancient Egypt
The use of Essential Oils in Ancient Egypt dates back to the earliest period of their civilization. Archeological excavations of the first dynasty found burial sites with jars that stored perfumes and ointments. There is evidence from 27th to 22nd century BCE (period otherwise known as the Old Kingdom of Egypt) that kings had specialists in charge of their oils and ointments. The oils and ointments were kept in special chambers. The walls of these chambers had art engraved on them depicting the preparation process of ointments, and certain oil recipes.
Because of favourable weather conditions crops and plants were abundant in their versatility in the wilderness and in cultivation. The more exquisite the plant and its scent was, the higher was the value of the oil derived from it. Scented oil was an item of luxury, and the item associated with the divine. It was a possession of nobility, the ruling class, pharaohs, and even of the gods. Oils played an important part in Ancient Egyptian mythology. Osiris’s mother used it to heal her son’s private parts. Sacrifice rituals included oils, along with cosmetics, food, clothing, and other gifts to the deity. Thus, those who wore scented perfume demonstrated their distinction in society, their vicinity to the deity. The scent of the perfume was usually sweet, since the base for most of them was Moringa oil.
Aside from connotations to deity, religious practice, burying rituals, and the luxury item of nobility, oils in Ancient Egypt were used for many other purposes. Cosmetics and make-up had mineral origin. Moreover, oils were very widely used in medicinal purposes, such as healing wounds with Acacia oil, as an example. Ancient Egyptians understood that certain oils had healing and therapeutic effects upon penetrating the skin. Additionally, Ancient Egyptian surviving poetry describes the use of scented oils in seduction, as well as in intimate encounters between lovers (Manniche 1999).
Between 2000 and 1500 BCE there is plenty of archeological evidence that jars with scented oils were carried across Ancient Egyptian cities. Starting around 1500’s, oils became part of the trade with Mycenaeans. The jars with ointments and scented perfumes were taken around the Mediterranean on the trade ships. Egypt is considered to be the birthplaces of distillation process of essential oils. Although, the first successful distillations in Egypt were accomplished with turpentine and camphor (Guenther, 2013).
Aristotle, Ancient Greek philosopher, was the first to describe the basic principles of distillation process. This was further elaborated on in centuries to come. Ancient Greeks described plants, their properties in a lot more concise and elaborate manner. Further, when these writings were passed on to the Arabic culture, they expanded greatly on medicinal properties of plants. Elaborate use of oils seems to have always played an important part of every civilization. And our modern world, full of technological and scientific advancements, is not an exception. The sacredness that was ones associated with oils in Ancient Egypt transitioned into a well-informed appreciation of this naturally derived, and truly magical in its capacity substance.
Guenther, E. (2013). The Essential Oils-Vol 1: History-Origin in Plants-Production-Analysis. Read Books Ltd.
Manniche, L. (1999). Sacred luxuries: fragrance, aromatherapy, and cosmetics in Ancient Egypt. Cornell University Press