Traditions & Plant Based Scent

Traditions & Plant Based Scent

Plant based aromas and scents have featured for millennia in many if not all religious practices and ceremonies. In particular, purification rituals using these fragrances, have been a widespread phenomenon in many cultures through the ages.

Relics of such practises from biblical times are still found in the present-day, during rites of passage ceremonies such as baptisms, confirmations, weddings and funerals. The presence of white flowers, such as lotus blossom which was harnessed for its sweet-smelling properties and spiritual cleansing, or the burning of incense was to ensure safe passage during such times of transition. For instance, the ancient Egyptians used plants and plant resins (burned as incense), to purify people and their temples as way of allowing closer and greater commune with the spiritual world.

Incense burning provided both a pragmatic function such as having antifungal and parasite repellent effects, as well as the more spiritual and esoteric functions. The concentrated scent of incense, with calming and sedative properties, can create a hypnotic-like trance like states, which may have aided religious practitioners to mediate with their gods. Incense played a central role in ancient Egypt (as well in many other cultures and civilisations) as the embodiment of life, inducing fertility, and rejuvenation. Their use of Myrrh and Frankincense (as a symbol of divinity) in purifying rituals for instance, found favour in later Christian practices and beliefs - despite an initial rejection of such practices as being idolatrous. So important were these fragrances to the Egyptians that they worshipped several related Gods, including Chesmou, the deity of perfume production and Nefertum, the god of incense.

Hyssop, (Hyssopus officinalis), an evergreen herb of the mint family, is mentioned in the Bible as having purifying properties and is used by modern day perfumers for its aromatic leaves and flowers – as well as being used for its flavour in foods and as a medicine. In ancient Greek culture and practice, Amaranth, Myrtle, and Polyanthous were regularly used for funeral rites and ceremonies. Moreover, (Greek) sage was the main regional plant used in all human rites of passage - symbolising the human life cycle and that death was not an end. In Europe it tended to be Rosemary and in India, particularly for Hindus, it was Basil.

Written by Dr Joe Hinds (MSc, PG Dip, DPhil) on behalf of Menteath

Author of Ecotherapy: Theory, Research and Practice 

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In this thought-provoking book, Jordan and Hinds provide a comprehensive exploration of this emerging area of practice. Divided into three parts, the book offers a unique examination of a range of theoretical perspectives, unpacks the latest research and provides a wealth of illuminating practice examples, with a number of chapters dedicated to authors' own first-hand experiences of the positive psychological effects of having contact with nature.

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