Aromatherapy has been used for thousands of years by different cultures for various spiritual rituals. Some of the religions that have used these sacred oils and herbs in their ceremonies and daily practices are Buddhism, Hinduism, Judaism, Christianity and Islam.
In Buddhist temples throughout eastern Asia, incense is burned to honor deities and ancestors. Starting around the mid-5th century BC, as Buddhism spread across Asia, it incorporated the burning of different incenses, resins and woods that were available locally to help with meditation. Camphor is used in China to create rosaries and house sacred texts (or Sutras). In Tibet, Juniper Berries are used as incense to aid and induce a meditative state. Other oils of use include Pine and Sandalwood.
To honor the Trimurti (Brahma, Vishnu, and Siva), Hindus are instructed by the sacred text of the Vedas to burn fragrant woods, oils and sweet grass. Incense is also burned in times of prayer and worship. Some of the herbs and oils used in these practices include Benzoin, Camphor, Cassia, Cinnamon, Cypress, Ginger, Jasmine, Patchouli, Pine, Sandalwood and Vetiver. Essential oils and incense are also used to help the Chakras, so the mind, body and spirit can be in a balanced state.
In Exodus, God directs the Israelites to create anointing oil for blessing and purification that contains Cassia, Cinnamon, Myrrh and other herbs mixed in Olive Oil. This chapter also calls for an incense for the temple with Frankincense. The Masoretic Text (the collection of Hebrew scriptures) has several other instances where objects and people are anointed with oil to symbolize that they’re set apart. Cedarwood, Hyssop and Juniper are mentioned as being used to purify the body and spirit.
Frankincense and Myrrh are perhaps the oils most associated with Christianity, as they were two of the gifts brought to the baby Jesus by the three wise men. Adhering with Jewish customs, a woman in the chapter of Luke applied fragrant oil to Christ’s feet to show respect and humility. Incense is used in the Christian church to symbolize that prayers of the faithful are lifted up to heaven. In Roman Catholicism, priests place incense in a thurible and swing it in multiples of three (representing the Holy Trinity) as a symbol of purification.
Ritual bathing, or wuḍūʾ, is used in Islam as a form of purification and cleansing. Muslims wash their hands, face, feet and other body parts to ceremonially cleanse impurities before prayer (five times a day) or handling the Quran, and after partaking in activities that can cause impurities. Essential oils are sometimes added to the water for their aromatic or healing properties. Herbs have also been used throughout the years to help treat medical and physical ailments. Oils mentioned in the Quran, Ahadith and other sacred Islamic texts include Camphor, Calamus, Cedarwood, Frankincense, Jasmine, Marjoram, Myrrh, Neroli, Rose, Sweet Basil and Thyme.