Frankincense and Myrrh - The Gift from the Magi


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The symbolism of the gifts of Frankincense and Myrrh in the context of Western Spiritual Traditions

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Frankincense and Myrrh - The Gift from the Magi

  1. 1. . The Gifts from the Magi An Ancient Mystery of Frankincense and Myrrh Christoph Streicher, Ph.D. Amrita Aromatherapy, Inc.
  2. 2. The Story (Excerpts from Matthew 2:1-11) 1 Now when Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea behold, wise men, astrologers, from the east came to Jerusalem, asking, 2 Where is He Who has been born King of the Jews? For we have seen His star in the east at its rising and have come to worship Him.
  3. 3. 9 … they went their way, and behold, the star which had been seen in the east in its rising went before them until it came and stood over the place where the young child was.
  4. 4. 10 When they saw the star, they were thrilled with ecstatic joy. 11 And on going into the house, they saw the Child with Mary His mother, and they fell down and worshipped Him. Then opening their treasure bags, they presented to Him gifts – gold and frankincense and myrrh.
  5. 5. <ul><li>This is how the story goes. </li></ul><ul><li>Many of us are familiar with this story. We </li></ul><ul><li>heard it for the first time as children. </li></ul><ul><li>If you haven’t heard it, perhaps it is because </li></ul><ul><li>you come from a different religious </li></ul><ul><li>background. </li></ul><ul><li>I enjoy reading scriptures </li></ul><ul><li>from other religions. You </li></ul><ul><li>might enjoy reading this story. </li></ul>
  6. 6. But this story is completely out of context. It is basically unbelievable, and does not fit the culture into which Christ was born. Whenever you read something in ancient literature that does not seem to make sense, most likely there is a very profound meaning to it.
  7. 7. What struck me when I read the story again a few years back, is the 2000 years before the birth of Christ, since the time of Moses, Israel had the task and the mission to establish monotheism. The old Testament is about the elected people, the chosen people who have their own, one God. And then along came the astrologers.
  8. 8. It seems to me the Old Testament is about asserting Monotheism over the Polytheistic beliefs that coexisted with Monotheism in the people of Israel for a number of centuries.
  9. 9. <ul><li>The whole history of the Old Testament is about </li></ul><ul><li>asserting Monotheism over the Polytheistic beliefs </li></ul><ul><li>which coexisted in the people of Israel for many </li></ul><ul><li>centuries. </li></ul><ul><li>Monotheism, by nature is completely different from the </li></ul><ul><li>other religions of that time, which were all Polytheistic. </li></ul><ul><li>You read over and over in the Old Testament that </li></ul><ul><li>there was a tendency for the Polytheistic religions to </li></ul><ul><li>take over. </li></ul>
  10. 10. Finally, by the birth of Christ, Monotheism was well established. The astrologers from the East arrived out of nowhere and they were welcomed even though they related to gods like Mars, Venus and Jupiter. The standard of the Jewish culture at that time was that one does not talk to non Jewish neighboring tribes.
  11. 11. A Jewish person would have said, “Who do you think you are? Go back where you came from.” But instead they are called wise men – an absolute conundrum.
  12. 12. So why is this story about gold, Frankincense and Myrrh in the New Testament, and what does this have to do with aromatherapy?
  13. 13. Polytheistic religions like that of the Greeks have a whole assembly of Gods: Zeus with his thunderbolt, Poseidon, Demeter, and so on. In this kind of world view, everything has its own spirit: the wind, the ocean and the earth.
  14. 14. Each particular aspect of nature has its own being. Each form and character are different as they take on attributes of the sun, the earth, thunder or forest.
  15. 15. In this particular world view, God is in everything. God assumes different forms and appears under various names and intentions, with different personalities and genders.
  16. 16. There are even good and evil gods. The whole variety we see in nature is reflected in beings who represent the different qualities of nature.
  17. 17. By contrast, all monotheistic religions talk about singularity. Monotheistic religions say the spirit is out there somewhere, far and remote, like the cloud that guided the people of Israel through the desert.
  18. 18. <ul><li>It is the oneness, and it doesn’t have </li></ul><ul><li>anything to do with what we know as </li></ul><ul><li>the world of appearances. </li></ul>
  19. 19. <ul><li>It’s interesting to look at the </li></ul><ul><li>characteristics of these two </li></ul><ul><li>different approaches. There are </li></ul><ul><li>remarkable differences both at the </li></ul><ul><li>surface level and in the deeper aspects. </li></ul>
  20. 20. <ul><li>For example, Monotheistic religions </li></ul><ul><li>that promote this concept of </li></ul><ul><li>singularity always have a founder, </li></ul><ul><li>a charismatic personality who </li></ul><ul><li>embodies its spirit. </li></ul>
  21. 21. <ul><li>Monotheistic religions are </li></ul><ul><li>exclusive: “This is the truth, and </li></ul><ul><li>this always will be the truth, and </li></ul><ul><li>basically everyone has to follow it </li></ul><ul><li>and believe it.” </li></ul>
  22. 22. <ul><li>In contrast, the polytheistic religions </li></ul><ul><li>accept there are natural differences. </li></ul><ul><li>In varying climates and regions there may be </li></ul><ul><li>different gods. </li></ul><ul><li>The Greeks had no problem that the </li></ul><ul><li>Egyptians had a somewhat different </li></ul><ul><li>mythology. </li></ul>
  23. 23. <ul><li>The New Testament story tells of </li></ul><ul><li>wise men, representing Polytheism, </li></ul><ul><li>who traveled from the East to worship </li></ul><ul><li>Jesus, who was born into a Monotheistic </li></ul><ul><li>tradition. </li></ul>
  24. 24. <ul><li>When we look closer, we see that these two </li></ul><ul><li>different concepts originated in very different </li></ul><ul><li>geographical conditions. Monotheistic </li></ul><ul><li>religions come from the desert, all of them, </li></ul><ul><li>without exception. </li></ul>
  25. 25. <ul><li>When the people of Israel left Egypt, </li></ul><ul><li>Moses had to keep them 40 years in the </li></ul><ul><li>desert to ingrain monotheism in them. </li></ul><ul><li>Later on these 40 years were reduced to 40 </li></ul><ul><li>days. Elijah spent 40 days in the desert </li></ul><ul><li>before he took on his life’s mission. </li></ul><ul><li>Jesus spent 40 days in the desert before he </li></ul><ul><li>took on his life’s mission. </li></ul><ul><li>Mohammed spent a considerable amount of time in </li></ul><ul><li>the desert. </li></ul>
  26. 26. <ul><li>Polytheistic religions come from the forest, </li></ul><ul><li>because in the forest the forces of nature </li></ul><ul><li>are very tangible. </li></ul><ul><li>These religions originate from humans </li></ul><ul><li>relating to nature in a mythological way. </li></ul>
  27. 27. <ul><li>So we have these two different </li></ul><ul><li>concepts: </li></ul><ul><li>On one side there is the desert, the Spirit, the </li></ul><ul><li>singularity that is considered pure Spirit. </li></ul><ul><li>And on the other side, we are talking about </li></ul><ul><li>nature as experienced in the forest. </li></ul>
  28. 28. <ul><li>It could be said that Spirit is the masculine </li></ul><ul><li>energy and Nature the feminine. </li></ul><ul><li>With masculine and feminine we don’t </li></ul><ul><li>mean man and woman; </li></ul><ul><li>I am referring to the masculine and </li></ul><ul><li>feminine in each of us. </li></ul>
  29. 29. <ul><li>Nature’s direction is descending. </li></ul><ul><li>Descending means being grounded, having </li></ul><ul><li>earth connections, living with earth, living </li></ul><ul><li>with nature, being guided by the different </li></ul><ul><li>forces of nature. </li></ul>
  30. 30. <ul><li>On the other side, the search for Spirit is </li></ul><ul><li>ascending. </li></ul><ul><li>It is the search for clarity, wholeness, </li></ul><ul><li>connectedness with oneness. </li></ul>
  31. 31. <ul><li>Monotheistic Polytheistic </li></ul><ul><li>Desert Forest </li></ul><ul><li>Singularity-pure Spirit Nature </li></ul><ul><li>Purusha Prakriti </li></ul><ul><li>Masculine Feminine </li></ul><ul><li>Ascending energy Descending energy </li></ul><ul><li>Clarity Mystery </li></ul><ul><li>Wants to be right Wants to be happy </li></ul><ul><li>The High Priest The Shaman </li></ul><ul><li>Western Medical Science Herbalism, Aromatherapy </li></ul>
  32. 32. <ul><li>All our Western traditions come out of </li></ul><ul><li>monotheism. </li></ul><ul><li>Plato and Aristotle are completely on the </li></ul><ul><li>side of singularity. </li></ul><ul><li>Western medical science, with its emphasis </li></ul><ul><li>on isolating single chemicals, is definitely in </li></ul><ul><li>line with this tradition. </li></ul>
  33. 33. <ul><li>On the other hand is the tradition of </li></ul><ul><li>herbalism, where the picking of leaves is </li></ul><ul><li>decided based on the phases of the moon, </li></ul><ul><li>where illnesses are considered </li></ul><ul><li>misalignments with the soul, and where bad </li></ul><ul><li>luck is a consequence of misalignment with </li></ul><ul><li>the gods. </li></ul>
  34. 34. <ul><li>Sometimes these two harmonize and </li></ul><ul><li>sometimes they clash. The clash </li></ul><ul><li>between the completely male-dominated </li></ul><ul><li>church and the witches who were burned at </li></ul><ul><li>the stake is such an example. </li></ul>
  35. 35. <ul><li>The witches had their way of creating health. </li></ul><ul><li>This clash was not all that different from </li></ul><ul><li>the conflict between Western medicine and </li></ul><ul><li>alternative medicine these days. </li></ul>
  36. 36. <ul><li>When we keep this background in mind, we </li></ul><ul><li>are in a better position to understand the </li></ul><ul><li>underlying beliefs and different positions </li></ul><ul><li>people take, even if they themselves are not </li></ul><ul><li>aware of their position. </li></ul>
  37. 37. <ul><li>Let’s go back to the desert for a moment. </li></ul><ul><li>Have you ever meditated in the desert? </li></ul><ul><li>It’s amazing what meditations are like there, </li></ul><ul><li>how silent, how undisturbed you are. </li></ul>
  38. 38. <ul><li>The experience of such meditations may </li></ul><ul><li>culminate at a certain point in the experience </li></ul><ul><li>of what some people call the inner fire. </li></ul><ul><li>It is symbolized in many of the mythologies </li></ul><ul><li>as the heatless, smokeless fire. </li></ul>
  39. 39. <ul><li>Remember the burning bush? </li></ul><ul><li>No, not our previous president. </li></ul><ul><li>It was Moses’ immediate experience of God </li></ul><ul><li>in the desert. </li></ul><ul><li>Remember the Pentecost event? </li></ul><ul><li>Forty days after Easter, the Holy Spirit in the </li></ul><ul><li>form of flames descended on the apostles’ </li></ul><ul><li>heads. </li></ul>
  40. 40. <ul><li>There is this element of heat and fire in the </li></ul><ul><li>desert. It is as simple as that. </li></ul><ul><li>The desert cultures an inner </li></ul><ul><li>experience symbolized by fire. </li></ul>
  41. 41. <ul><li>. </li></ul><ul><li>In the New Testament, Jesus was asked “What about the witches?” </li></ul><ul><li>He replied, “the fire will purify them”. </li></ul><ul><li>Some people felt justified to put </li></ul><ul><li>them on the stake, but the idea was </li></ul><ul><li>that the inner fire would purify them, </li></ul><ul><li>that nothing is as purifying as that </li></ul><ul><li>inner experience, symbolized by the </li></ul><ul><li>smokeless, heatless fire. </li></ul>
  42. 42. <ul><li>Frankincense , like Myrrh , grows in the </li></ul><ul><li>desert. </li></ul><ul><li>Bedouins go into the desert and </li></ul><ul><li>make cuts into these bushes. The bush </li></ul><ul><li>may not have seen water for a year, but </li></ul><ul><li>whatever liquid or humidity is remaining </li></ul><ul><li>runs out and then dries. </li></ul><ul><li>These resins contain an extremely </li></ul><ul><li>concentrated form of that inner heat, which </li></ul><ul><li>cultures the singularity of consciousness. </li></ul>
  43. 43. <ul><li>That quality of singularity of consciousness </li></ul><ul><li>in Frankincense and Myrrh is the most </li></ul><ul><li>concentrated form of the quality of the </li></ul><ul><li>desert. </li></ul><ul><li>They culture the experience of the inner </li></ul><ul><li>fire, the experience of pure spirit. </li></ul>
  44. 44. <ul><li>This is where the ancient story reveals its mystery. </li></ul><ul><li>The Astrologers bring the symbols of oneness and </li></ul><ul><li>wholeness to the future exponent of Monotheism. </li></ul><ul><li>In turn, they are welcomed and acknowledged. </li></ul><ul><li>Not only do two cultures meet but also two </li></ul><ul><li>completely different world views. </li></ul><ul><li>This meeting point sets the stage for Christianity to </li></ul><ul><li>unfold. </li></ul>
  45. 45. <ul><li>Both Judaism and Islam have held it against </li></ul><ul><li>Christianity that the teaching of the Holy </li></ul><ul><li>Trinity is actually a departure from </li></ul><ul><li>Monotheism. </li></ul><ul><li>I think they are certainly right. </li></ul><ul><li>Here the ground has been laid for the union </li></ul><ul><li>of two extremely different spiritual </li></ul><ul><li>approaches. </li></ul>
  46. 46. <ul><li>Aromatherapy, as an off-shoot of herbalism, </li></ul><ul><li>has Polytheistic origins. </li></ul><ul><li>Examples of aromatherapy companies with </li></ul><ul><li>names that reflect those origins are </li></ul><ul><li>Woodspirits, Gaia Herbs, 3 Goddesses, Apollo </li></ul><ul><li>Day Spa, Athena Aromatherapy, Earth </li></ul><ul><li>Wisdom and Shakti’s Enterprise. </li></ul>
  47. 47. <ul><li>But Frankincense and Myrrh oil coming from </li></ul><ul><li>the desert are now part of any aromatherapy </li></ul><ul><li>collection. </li></ul><ul><li>Why are Frankincense and Myrrh used by an </li></ul><ul><li>herbal tradition? </li></ul>
  48. 48. <ul><li>I believe the answer lies in the </li></ul><ul><li>understanding of our current times. </li></ul><ul><li>Two profoundly different paradigms are </li></ul><ul><li>coming together to form a new </li></ul><ul><li>understanding of life. </li></ul>
  49. 49. <ul><li>Just as alternative healing is gradually being </li></ul><ul><li>recognized by Western medicine, so is a new </li></ul><ul><li>spiritual understanding dawning, one that </li></ul><ul><li>generates a holistic awareness of </li></ul><ul><li>both traditions. </li></ul>
  50. 50. <ul><li>What happened more than 2,000 years ago </li></ul><ul><li>appears like a promise to unite cultures and </li></ul><ul><li>philosophies and to bridge deep </li></ul><ul><li>spiritual differences. </li></ul><ul><li>Some decades later, Christ will tell the </li></ul><ul><li>story of the Compassionate Samaritan </li></ul><ul><li>(Luke 10:33), pointing out, that a non- </li></ul><ul><li>Jew can be a good person. </li></ul>
  51. 51. <ul><li>It seems that the promise is being </li></ul><ul><li>fulfilled in our time. </li></ul><ul><li>Aromatherapy is but one example </li></ul><ul><li>of this union of opposite values. </li></ul>
  52. 52. <ul><li>This spiritual union, presented 2,000 years </li></ul><ul><li>ago as an idea and direction in which </li></ul><ul><li>human development could go, is now </li></ul><ul><li>becoming a reality in such completeness </li></ul><ul><li>and profundity as never before. </li></ul>
  53. 53. <ul><li>My definition of aromatherapy is to create </li></ul><ul><li>physical, emotional, social and spiritual </li></ul><ul><li>well-being. </li></ul><ul><li>Frankincense and Myrrh are very </li></ul><ul><li>purifying. They have many applications for </li></ul><ul><li>physical health, but the most profound </li></ul><ul><li>aspect of these oils is not their healing </li></ul><ul><li>properties but their impact on </li></ul><ul><li>human consciousness. </li></ul>
  54. 54. <ul><li>A much more complete lecture on this topic, </li></ul><ul><li>“ Aromatherapy and Higher States </li></ul><ul><li>of Awareness”, </li></ul><ul><li>is available on CD. </li></ul>
  55. 55. To learn more about the uses of essential oils and the values of aromatherapy, visit Or email us anytime at [email_address] Thanks, Christoph Streicher, Ph.D.