You don't get oils much more steeped in religious and spiritual history than resin oils, and Myrrh is prime amongst them. Used since antiquity by the very first civilisations, resin oils, particularly frankincense and myrrh, were considered more valuable than gold. In fact, while myrrh is the focus of this blog, in researching it I found that you can't really talk about myrrh without also mentioning the other resin oils, frankincense in particular - they are inextricably tied together throughout the ages.
Myrrh trees are found in the desert, and the resin has been an ongoing, integral part of life since ancient times. Cultures such as the Assyrians, Babylonians, and Egyptians prized myrrh above all other tradeable goods, such as valuable spices and woods, precious stones and gold. The deeply sacred scent was woven into everything these ancient cultures did, from perfumery and flavouring, to medicinal healing, to ritual, spiritual and burial practices. It was a key ingredient in every incense made, and was burned at big festival and events, creating a scent memory for all those attending. In Christianity, by being a key ingredient in incense (along with frankincense), the ubiquitous scent would have had an instant effect on people when used in churches, the scent being universally used in this way would have triggered an immediate association with contemplation, reflection and spiritual connection.
Myrrh, like Cypress, has been used to support with significant life transitions, including from life into death. The ancient Egyptians are famed for their obsession with their own death and afterlife. Pharaohs prepared for it their entire lives, gathering vast stores of wealth and building incredible structures to house it, and themselves, in for eternity. It is known that they used myrrh in the embalming process, an extraordinarily significant and sacred act - such was the value of myrrh to this civilisation. In practical terms, Lavabre (2020) explains why Myrrh was used in ancient embalming - "Putrefaction cannot take place in the desert. The air is too dry and the heat too intense. Burseraceae (the botanical family to which myrrh - and frankincense - belong) condense the desert energy and therefore have strong antiputrescent effects on corpses".
We see this connection too in being a part of the gift presented to baby Jesus. Myrrh is symbolically seen to represent 'the sacrifice and embalming of Christ' (Holmes 2019), and was a significant gift of honour, considering its costly and prized status at the time.
Resin oils come from desert trees. The resins ooze from cuts in the trees in order to seal the wound and protect it from disease. We see nature's inherent, timeless intelligence used here, and resin essential oils have been used for centuries as wound healing, anti-bacterial, antiseptic agents - the exact actions it performs on the wounds of the tree from which it comes. Being from arid lands, it is warming and drying and thus useful to help treat open, wet wounds such as ulcers that won't heal, as well as being useful for skin inflammation and mature skin (if only it would preserve our skin for the eternity promised to the pharaohs!). It has been used as a wash for mouth ulcers, and as an expectorant and anti-inflammatory for respiratory conditions. Please note, at this stage the recommended advice is for it not to be used in pregnancy or lactation - it has been classed as an abortifacient even since ancient times, and as we know, these wise civilisations had a deep understanding of plant medicine and many of their uses, and contraindications, still apply today.
On the energetic aspect of myrrh (and frankincence!), and how it is a powerful tool in meditation, Lavabre (2020) says that in the desert, 'everything is reduced to essentials. The contemplation of the endless petrified waves of the sandy dunes inspires one to go beyond the always-changing waves of one's own mind and connect with bare infinity and eternity. The powerful comforting scent of myrrh or frankincense carried by the burning wind of the desert gently soothes one's deepest wounds and gives one further inspiration in meditation'.
We can see by this that it is not only physical wounds that can be healed by this ancient resin. It is a timeless oil, used for eternity, used to preserve for eternity, and used to contemplate eternity.
Battaglia, S. The Complete Guide to Aromatherapy, 3rd Ed, Vol. 1, 2018. Black Pepper Creative Pty Ltd.
Holmes, P. Aromatica, Volume 1. (2019) Singing Dragon.
Lavabre, M. Essential Oils and Aromatherapy Workbook. 2020. Healing Arts Press.