The Ceremonial and Therapeutic Use of Aromatic Substances
In pilgrimage shrines around the world aromatic substances have been used for both spiritual and healing purposes for more than 5000 years. Scriptural and textual sources indicate that they were considered an important part of religious rituals in ancient China, India, Persia, Egypt and Greece. For example, the earliest scriptures of Hinduism, the Vedas, discuss several hundred aromatic substances, codifying them for both liturgical and therapeutic practices. Likewise, the Egyptians as long ago as 3000 BC used secret combinations of herbs, incenses and oils to supplicate the gods, expand spiritual consciousness and address various ailments. The Greeks (who received much of their esoteric and scientific knowledge from the Egyptians) believed there to be correspondences between various fragrances and both physiological and psychological problems. Assorted fragrances were used to treat such conditions as anxiety and depression, and to stimulate artistic creativity, meditative concentration and romantic love. Writing of the ancient science and practice of aromatherapy, one scholar explains that…
the profound therapeutic effects of essential oils derive from more than their pleasant fragrance. They have vital electromagnetic properties and vibrational energies that invigorate the mind, the soul, the body's energy, and thus their functioning. When oils known for their sedative or antidepressant capacities are administered, endorphins and enkaphalins (neurochemical analgesics and tranquilizers) are released. This has been demonstrated by hospitals in Oxford, England, where essential oils of lavender, marjoram, geranium, mandarin, and cardamom have replaced chemical sedatives. These and other oils relax people, lower blood pressure, increase mental acuity, normalize body functions, reduce stress, and even act as aphrodisiacs. (17)
Regretfully, the current state of knowledge regarding the spiritual and therapeutic use of aromatic substances is a pale shadow of that known in deep antiquity. While scientists are able to demonstrate that our sense of smell is thousands of times more acute than our other senses and that it is also sensitive to thousands of different chemical compounds, they know little of the practical wisdom of the ancient sages concerning scent. That wisdom, however, is not entirely lost. Modern day visitors to pilgrimage shrines in Hindu, Buddhist, Christian and other lands are still exposed to traditional combinations of aromatic substances.