Most people are familiar with frankincense and myrrh from the story of the Three Wise Men, or Magi, bringing gifts to Jesus. But what exactly are they, and why are they considered to have a special meaning? Here’s a look at the origins of the story, and what the substances are used for today.
We all know that one of the three gifts, gold, is a rare and precious metal, which still carries a high value today. It is the element of the kings, and it carries an aura of majesty, power, and influence. However, frankincense and myrrh are less obviously explained, and there is no single definitive theory as to their meaning or symbolism.
Frankincense is a hardened material known as resin, which is derived from the bark of the Boswellia tree. Oil extracts from the resin are used for aromatherapy, because the aroma is a pleasingly rich and complex mixture of pine and citrus, with a soft sweet overtone. The oil is also used as a balm for healing wounds, and it may have antibacterial properties.
The resin oil extract has been burnt for centuries simply for its pleasing fragrance, and was considered a fitting offering to God. Therefore, it is associated with sacrifice and holiness, and this is maybe why it has acquired a special significance in the biblical story.
Scholars at the University of Cardiff have even suggested that frankincense has medicinal properties and could be used to treat inflammatory conditions such as arthritis. In fact, there is evidence that it is still used as a herbal remedy in parts of North Africa, where the resin is a native product, so maybe it was symbolic of health and healing.
Myrrh is a similar substance; a gum-resin from sap extracted from trees native to north-eastern Africa and southwest Asia. It is brownish-red in colour, and when distilled, the oil is an amber shade. It has an established history as a traditional herbal medicine, used to soothe pain, treat open sores, and relieve infections.
It has a similar woody scent to frankincense, and can be very sweet, or have a stronger and more bitter overtone. Traditionally, it was used as an embalming ointment as well as a fragrance for funerals, and became known as a ‘holy oil’, connected to death. Therefore, myrrh may have had a special portent for Jesus.
Another theory is that the gifts were not intended for Jesus, but for Mary, as the healing properties of the incense could be used to help recover from giving birth, and the gold would allow her to afford a safe passage home. However, this is pure speculation, and should not be interpreted as factual in any way.
The truth is, that no one will ever know for sure why these products have acquired such a special significance in our culture. What can be said without any doubt is that the wonderful fragrances are enjoyed by millions of people every day, so if you are interested in trying frankincense and myrrh candles in the UK, please get in touch today.