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Botanical: Boswellia thurifera
With strong associations with the Sun, frankincense has been used to give honour to solar deities. It was a powerful and valued herbe of the ancients. Its use during the times of the Old Testament is well documented by ancient Hebrew. The ceremonial incense of the Jews was compounded of four 'sweet scents', of which pure Frankincense was one, pounded together in equal proportion. It is frequently mentioned in the Pentateuch. Pure Frankincense formed part of the meet offering and was also presented with the shew-bread every Sabbath day. With other spices, it was stored in a great chamber of the House of God at Jerusalem.
Frankincense and the oil produced from it has been known for its healing powers and its ability to improve communication with he creator in the Middle East for thousands of years before it was made a gift of to Christ by the Magi. There are over 52 references to it in the Bible. Egyptian records show a great many references to it including its use in cosmetics, perfumes and as an embalming agent. The Chinese used it as part of a treatment for leprosy. Grown predominantly on the Somali coast and parts of the Arabian Peninsula.
Frankincense has also been associated with Apollo and Adonis. The Romans expanded their use of this incense beyond that of the temple, giving it significance at political occasions as well. In addition, it was used with the Chaldean priesthood and burned by the Babylonians to invoke Baal, their solar deity.
It remains an important herbe throughout those countries along the eastern end of the Mediterranean. In Egypt it is heated and blackened. The sticky, black substance it used cosmetically (kohl), with which the Egyptian women paint their eyelids, is made of charred Frankincense, or other odoriferous resin mixed with Frankincense. Frankincense is also melted to make a depilatory, and it is made into a paste with other ingredients to perfume the hands. A similar practice is described by Herodotus as having been practiced by the women of Scythia and is alluded to in Judith x. 3 and 4. In cold weather, the Egyptians warm their rooms with a brazier whereon incense is burnt, Frankincense, Benzoin and Aloe wood being chiefly used for the purpose.
According to Herodotus, Frankincense to the amount of 1,000 talents weight was offered every year, during the feast of Bel, on the great altar of his temple in Babylon. The religious use of incense was as common in ancient Persia as in Babylon and Assyria. Herodotus states that the Arabs brought every year to Darius as tribute 1,000 talents of Frankincense, and the modern Parsis of Western India still preserve the ritual of incense.
Frankincense, though the most common, never became the only kind of incense offered to the gods among the Greeks. According to Pliny, it was not sacrificially employed in Trojan times. Among the Romans, the use of Frankincense (alluded to as mascula thura by Virgil in the Eclogues) was not confined to religious ceremonials. It was also used on state occasions, and in domestic life.
Interestingly, frankincense has also been linked with Demeter and several lunar goddesses, believed capable of bringing forth the soul and compassion of the feminine nature of the Universe.
Frankincense has been highly esteemed in the western Judeo-Christian religions, used in many of their ceremonies. It remains a primary ingredient for ceremonial mixtures within the Roman Catholic Church, carrying on an ages-old tradition. There is no fixed formula for the incense now used in the Christian churches of Europe, but it is recommended that Frankincense should enter as largely as possible into its composition. In Rome, Olibanum alone is employed: in the Russian church, Benzoin is chiefly employed. The following is a formula for an incense used in the Roman Church: Olibanum, 10 OZ. Benzoin, 4 oz. Storax, 1 OZ. Break into small pieces and mix.
Pliny mentions Frankincense as the antidote to Hemlock.
Frankincense is used for ritual primarily as an incense. It is one of the best herbes for an offering or sacrifice due to the nature of its harvest. A special knife is used to make a cut into the bark of the tree. When the sap oozes out, it dries into tear-shaped beads which are gathered and processed for the market. It has been used at many of the solar festivals, and is particularly used at Beltane, Lammas and Yule.
This resin may be burned or infused in a light tea, making ideal fare for studying the Sixes of the minor arcana. Frankincense shares an affinity with topaz. Either will enhance the power of the other. This resin is suited for the consecration of wands and of other ritual items associated with self-will, self-control and the disciplines of one's ego. It is of particular use for those with Leo planets, although some slip into an illusory state of mind and perceive it enhancing the ego, rather than placing you in humble admiration of all which is divine.
The history and the combination of feminine and masculine energies lend frankincense a singular place among Magickal Herbes. It represents the divinity's ability to move into manifestation.
Frankincense is often associated with ritual workings to bring success. However, this use of frankincense will only be of benefit when the practitioner is balanced both in the spiritual and in the mundane daily life.
Of value in ritual, it assists the conscious mind in maintaining focus and generates a sense of reverence and respect for the larger world of spirit and the stunning beauty of the manifest Universe.
Frankincense has a cleansing quality within your astral self, bringing purification to your spiritual being but also providing protection for those who walk in the world of spirit when taking their astral journeys.
Some use it to clean chakras, especially the Third Eye. It is fabulous for smudging yourself, your animals, and your home when you are the target of negative magick. The fragrance is very relaxing and gives one a feeling of wholeness and wellness.
Traditionally, frankincense has long been burned for freshening the air and deterring household insects, but what is most interesting are the ways in which its use can benefit several aspects of physical and psychological health. Although many recommendations in the past have been based on anecdote, there is mounting clinical evidence to suggest that frankincense could, and should, be a consideration in the treatment in a range of issues. It could be said to offer support for body, mind and spirit too.
Frankincense for the Mind
First and foremost frankincense is known for its strengthening action on the nervous system. In cases of exhaustion, debility, anxiety and tension it soothes and calms the senses and when sense of perspective is dwindling its rejuvenating properties can help to regain balance and mental clarity. The most effective way of experiencing the uplifting properties of frankincense essential oil is to add a few drops to an oil burner.
Frankincense for the Body
As an ingredient in topical skincare preparations including lotions, moisturisers and serums, frankincense has gained credibility in treating ageing skin and wrinkles, reducing scar tissue and improving the appearance of superficial damage. Its antiseptic and astringent properties make it a helpful addition to the management troublesome wounds and ulcers, but only under the strict supervision of an expert practitioner. In many mucous conditions, including bronchitis, laryngitis and coughs, frankincense can have a soothing effect on the membranes. It is particularly good if stress or anxiety exacerbate symptoms because of its psychologically calming effects.
Frankincense for the Spirit
Frankincense is great for lifting the spirits if you ever feel weighed down by life's challenges. The spirit needs time and space to thrive and frankincense can help with this. According to Susan Curtis, Director of Medicines for Neal's Yard Remedies, in her book Essential Oils (published in 2007), frankincense is ideal for people who live at high speed, yet long for a harmonious lifestyle in which they can make more time for creative and spiritual pursuits. She explains how using frankincense can "help you to reprioritise your life and to concentrate on those areas that will bring you greater satisfaction and happiness".
For thousands of years frankincense has been used during meditation. It encourages a deepening and a slowing down of the breathing and aids concentration and focus, thereby helping to instil a sense of inner peace.
When I started writing this, it was sunny and warm with delicious scents in the wind. When I finished writing this, it's been cold wet and windy; go figure ...what else would spring be like?