Essential Oil Myths: Oils are Witchcraft
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Have you heard that using essential oils is practicing witchcraft? Are you concerned about getting into this whole essential oil “thing” for fear people might think you are a witch or that you might be going against Biblical beliefs?
A Few Definitions:
Let’s define a few terms first. This will help understand some of the debate.
Witchcraft: “the use of sorcery or magic”3; “communication with the devil or with a familiar”3; “…an innate ability to project malice…”2; involving “…spontaneous acts like threats, impulsive curses, scowls, piercing glances (the ‘evil eye’), gestures, and physical contact (touch or blows), or even just malicious thoughts. Most of the acts associated with witchcraft were thus overt…”2
Sorcery: “the use of power gained from the assistance or control of evil spirits especially for divining”3; magical harm (maleficium)2; “…the deliberate use of rituals to cause harm…”2; “…sorcery involved incantation, ritual curses, symbolic gestures, magically potent objects, and potions, which were often used surreptitiously, such as a spell recited or a ‘puppet’ (what we would call a ‘voodoo doll’) mutilated in private, a bone hidden under a threshold, or poison mixed in a gift of food.”2; “…[malicious] thoughts, like most [acts associated with] sorcery, were covert.”2
Magic: “the use of means (as charms or spells) believed to have supernatural power over natural forces”3; “the art of producing illusions by sleight of hand”3; “…the art of using spells to invoke supernatural powers to influence events.”1
The Cause of All the Concern:
During the times of witch hunts and persecutions (around 1400 to 1775 A.D.)2, a lot of attention was brought to the practices of witchcraft/sorcery. Many testimonies cited use of oils, ointments, & potions by the accused witches. The herbs & plants used for the oils in these concoctions are many of the same herbs & plants we use today to make essential oils (including perfume grade oils you might find at the local supermarket and pure unadulterated oils known as Young Living Therapeutic Grade™). There are also at least 58 verses found in the Bible that mention witchcraft/sorcery and many of those verses speak against the use of witchcraft/sorcery.4,5,6,7,8,9,10,11,12,13 The most notorious passages are Deuteronomy 18:9-13 (“When you enter the land the Lord your God is giving you, do not learn to imitate the detestable ways of the nations there. Let no one be found among you who sacrifices his son or daughter in the fire, who practices divination or sorcery, interprets omens, engages in witchcraft, or casts spells, or who is a medium or spiritist or who consults the dead. Anyone who does these things is detestable to the Lord, and because of these detestable practices the Lord your God will drive out those nations before you. You must be blameless before the Lord your God.”) and Galatians 5:19-21 (“The acts of sinful nature are obvious: sexual immorality, impurity and debauchery; idolatry and witchcraft; hatred, discord, jealousy, fits of rage, selfish ambition, dissensions, factions and envy; drunkenness, orgies, and the like. I warn you, as I did before, that those who live like this will not inherit the kingdom of God.”).15 A combination of these two things (the use of oils in witchcraft practices and the warnings of using witchcraft in the Bible) has led some people to believe that the use of essential oils, for any reason, might be the practice of witchcraft or sorcery.
Debunking the Myth:
- Plants have existed since creation. The use of witchcraft has been discovered in prehistoric cultures dating approximately 30,000 years ago.1 Although interesting, neither of these points conclusively supports the theory that the use of essential oils and witchcraft are exclusively linked.
- In ancient cultures, witchcraft may have involved beneficial magic (for healing) or may have involved maleficent magic (to produce harm).1 “Popular myths such as that of the Lady of the game – who, it was commonly believed, taught witches to employ herbs for healing various maladies…”2 It is clear that herbs and potions were used in beneficial magic for healing purposes. However, beneficial magic was not the type of magic feared by most ancient cultures1, including Hebrew and Greek cultures of Biblical times. Furthermore, during the sixteenth century witch trials, the “accused [witches], often semi-professional cunning women, confessed to…healing with herbs and prayers…”2 “In theory almost anyone could be suspected of witchcraft, but in practice certain types of people were particularly likely to be. One such group was…‘cunning folk’, whose activities performing beneficent magic – healing rituals… – were thought to involve techniques and powers that could be used for malign purposes as well.”2 In history, there is generally a distinction in descriptions between practitioners of beneficent (such as ‘cunning folk’) and maleficent (i.e., witches, sorcerers) magic.
- The ancient Hebrew/Greek meanings of the words for witchcraft used in the above Biblical passages from Deuteronomy & Galatians are shown below.16 From none of these definitions could one conclude, without a doubt, that using essential oils is practicing qecem,`anan, kashaph, or pharmakeia, as used in the context of the verses. The use of pharmakeia, meaning ‘drug’, at the time this passage was written clearly represents a substance known to poison or induce hallucinogenic visions, as opposed to the meaning of the word ‘drug’ today that includes pharmaceuticals meant for healing purposes.17English | Hebrew/Greek | Strong’s Definition
- divination (Dt 18) | qecem | a lot; also divination (including its fee), oracle:—(reward of) divination, divine sentence, witchcraft.
- witchcraft (Dt 18) | `anan | a primitive root; to cover; used only as a denominative from H6051, to cloud over; figuratively, to act covertly, i.e. practise magic:— bring, enchanter, Meonemin, observe(-r of) times, soothsayer, sorcerer.
- sorcerer (Dt 18) | kashaph | a primitive root; properly, to whisper a spell, i.e. to inchant or practise magic:—sorcerer, (use) witch(-craft).
- witchcraft (Gal 5) | pharmakeia | from G5332 [pharmakeus: from φάρμακον phármakon (a drug, i.e. spell-giving potion); a druggist (“pharmacist”) or poisoner, i.e. (by extension) a magician:—sorcerer.]; medication (“pharmacy”), i.e. (by extension) magic (literally or figuratively):—sorcery, witchcraft.
- Herbs, plants, and essential oils have been used throughout history for the purpose of promoting wellness, cleaning, spiritual rituals, etc. in ways and by people that are not linked to witchcraft. This specifically supports the theory that, although herbs & oils are used in witchcraft practices, the two are not intrinsically tied together (you CAN have one without the other).
- “The earliest document relevant to early…witchcraft is the canon Episcopi (c. 906).”2 The intent was to discredit the self-proclaimed witches that spoke of using ointments and flying through the night to special meetings with the devil. Instead, the canon stated that the women were sleeping and using hallucinogenic ointments, which created the illusion of flying through the night. The use of hallucinogenic plants was widespread in early modern Europe, and not limited to the practices of witchcraft.2
- “The first legitimized documentation of herbal remedies begins with the Sumerians in ancient Mesopotamia (present-day Iraq), who lived more than 5000 years ago. They carved recipes on clay slabs, or tablets, that included drug preparations referring to more than 250 plants.”14
- “Around 2500 B.C. the first Chinese herbal, Shen Nung Pen T’sao ching, was written by Emperor Shen Nung…documenting 365 herbs.”14
- Use of essential oils in Ancient Egyptian times was evidenced by the Papyrus Ebers (c. 1550 B.C.).14
- Essential oils have been used in religious ceremonies, to support wellness, and in cosmetics throughout history including: Mesopotamia (3500 BC), China (3000 BC), Egypt (1470 BC), Egypt (1330 BC), Macedonia (345 BC), Israel (0 AD), Italy (100 AD), Persia (1000 AD), France (1930 AD), France (1980 AD), & USA (1985 AD).18
- The use of essential oils is Biblical.
- 33 species of essential oils and/or aromatic plants were mentioned in the Bible.15
- There are over 250 specific mentions and hundreds of indirect or general mentions of essential oils and/or aromatic plants in the Bible.15
- Frankincense and Myrrh essential oils were gifted to baby Jesus by the three Wise Men (Matthew 2:11).15
- God instructed Moses to create the “holy anointing oil” in Exodus 30:23-24. This mixture contained Myrrh, Cassia, Cinnamon, Calamus, & Olive Oil.15
- The act of anointing with oil is found throughout the Bible.15
- Esther had to complete twelve months of beauty treatments, including six months with oil of myrrh, before she could be brought before the king and was eventually crowned queen (Ester 2:12).15
- Jesus was anointed with Spikenard while in Bethany at the home of Simon the Leper (Mark 14:3) and by Mary six days before the Passover (John 12:3).15
- Jesus was offered wine mixed with Myrrh (which he refused) before his last breath (Mark 15:23).15
- Health & wellness is Biblical.
- Jesus gave authority to his disciples to go out to all the nations and heal the sick, among many other commands (Matthew 10:1, 8).15
Conclusions & Other Comments:
While there is clear evidence that essential oils have been used throughout history in the practice of witchcraft, there is also clear evidence that essential oils have been used throughout history for other purposes by everyday people. This clearly proves that the two are not intrinsically tied together – you CAN have one without the other. The passages mentioned in the Bible warning of the use of witchcraft do not clearly state the use of essential oils is forbidden. The intent of the word pharmakeia and the meaning of the word in context at the time the passage was written clearly points to using witchcraft and hallucinogenic drugs to invoke spirits as the actions to heed warning. Again, the intention of your actions is known by God. Furthermore, the Bible specifically cites use of essential oils in religious ceremonies, normal everyday life, and as part of the story of Jesus. As noted in the definitions at the beginning, maleficent magic using essential oils and herbs was meant to cause harm; the intention of your actions is key. Beyond a shadow of doubt, with the intention of anything but the maleficent acts defined by witchcraft, sorcery, and magic at the beginning, the use of essential oils does not equate to practicing witchcraft. Feel free to jump on into this oil “thing” and rest assured you are not going against Biblical teachings.
1Greenwood, Susan. The Encyclopedia of Magic & Witchcraft: An Illustrated Historical Reference to Spiritual Worlds. London: Lorenz Books, 2001. Pages 10, 12, 58. Print.
2Levack, Brian P., ed. The Oxford Handbook of Witchcraft in Early Modern Europe and Colonial America. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2013. Pages 5-6, 34, 53-54, 112-113, 264, 323, 569-570. Print.
3“Witchcraft” Def. 1, “Sorcery” Def. 1, “Magic” Def. 1 & 3. Merriam Webster Online, Merriam Webster, n.d. Web. 23 May 2016.
4“Witch”. The Holy Bible, King James Version. Bible Gateway, The Zondervan Corporation, L.L.C., n.d. Web. Retrieved May 24, 2016, from www.biblegateway.com. Search results include: Exodus 22:18, Deuteronomy 18:10, 1 Samuel 15:23, 1 Samuel 28:3, 2 Kings 9:22, 2 Chronicles 33:6, Micah 5:12, Nahum 3:4, Galatians 5:20.
5“Sorcery”. The Holy Bible, King James Version. Bible Gateway, The Zondervan Corporation, L.L.C., n.d. Web. Retrieved May 24, 2016, from www.biblegateway.com. Search results include: Acts 8:9.
6“Wizard”. The Holy Bible, King James Version. Bible Gateway, The Zondervan Corporation, L.L.C., n.d. Web. Retrieved May 24, 2016, from www.biblegateway.com. Search results include: Leviticus 19:31, Leviticus 20:6, Leviticus 20:27, Deuteronomy 18:11, 1 Samuel 28:3, 1 Samuel 28:9, 2 Kings 21:6, 2 Kings 23:24, 2 Chronicles 33:6, Isaiah 8:19, Isaiah 19:3.
7“Familiar spirit”. The Holy Bible, King James Version. Bible Gateway, The Zondervan Corporation, L.L.C., n.d. Web. Retrieved May 24, 2016, from www.biblegateway.com. Search results include: Leviticus 19:31, Leviticus 20:6, Leviticus 20:27, Deuteronomy 18:11, 1 Samuel 28:3, 1 Samuel 28:7, 1 Samuel 28:8, 1 Samuel 28:9, 2 Kings 21:6, 2 Kings 23:24, 1 Chronicles 10:13, 2 Chronicles 33:6, Isaiah 8:19, Isaiah 19:3, Isaiah 29:4.
8“Divination”. The Holy Bible, King James Version. Bible Gateway, The Zondervan Corporation, L.L.C., n.d. Web. Retrieved May 24, 2016, from www.biblegateway.com. Search results include: Numbers 22:7, Numbers 23:23, Deuteronomy 18:10, 2 Kings 17:17, Jeremiah 14:14, Ezekiel 12:24, Ezekiel 13:6, Ezekiel 13:7, Ezekiel 13:23, Ezekiel 21:21, Ezekiel 21:22, Ezekiel 21:23, Acts 16:16.
9“Diviner”. The Holy Bible, King James Version. Bible Gateway, The Zondervan Corporation, L.L.C., n.d. Web. Retrieved May 24, 2016, from www.biblegateway.com. Search results include: Deuteronomy 18:14, 1 Samuel 6:2, Isaiah 44:25, Jeremiah 27:9, Jeremiah 29:8, Micah 3:7, Zechariah 10:2.
10“Observer of Times”. The Holy Bible, King James Version. Bible Gateway, The Zondervan Corporation, L.L.C., n.d. Web. Retrieved May 24, 2016, from www.biblegateway.com. Search results include: Deuteronomy 18:10, Deuteronomy 18:14.
11“Enchanter”. The Holy Bible, King James Version. Bible Gateway, The Zondervan Corporation, L.L.C., n.d. Web. Retrieved May 24, 2016, from www.biblegateway.com. Search results include: Deuteronomy 18:10, Jeremiah 27:9.
12“Charmer”. The Holy Bible, King James Version. Bible Gateway, The Zondervan Corporation, L.L.C., n.d. Web. Retrieved May 24, 2016, from www.biblegateway.com. Search results include: Deuteronomy 18:11, Psalm 58:5, Isaiah 19:3.
13“Magic”. The Holy Bible, King James Version. Bible Gateway, The Zondervan Corporation, L.L.C., n.d. Web. Retrieved May 24, 2016, from www.biblegateway.com. Search results include: Genesis 41:8, Genesis 41:24, Exodus 7:11, Exodus 7:22, Exodus 8:7, Exodus 8:18, Exodus 8:19, Exodus 9:11, Daniel 1:20, Daniel 2:2, Daniel 2:10, Daniel 2:27, Daniel 4:7, Daniel 4:9, Daniel 5:11.
14Pursell, JJ. The Herbal Apothecary: 100 Medicinal Herbs and How to Use Them. Portland: Timber Press, 2015. Pages 20-22. Print.
15NIV Archaeological Study Bible: An Illustrated Walk through Biblical History and Culture. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2005. Print. Specific Citations – Deuteronomy 18:9-13, Galatians 5:19-21. Aloes/Sandalwood (Santalum album) – Numbers 24:6, Psalms 45:8, Proverbs 7:17, Song of Solomon 4:14, John 19:39. Anise (Pimpenella anisum) – Matthew 23:23. Balm (Commiphora opobalsamum) – Genesis 37:25, Genesis 43:11, Jeremiah 8:22, Jeremiah 46:11, Jeremiah 51:8, Ezekiel 27:17. Bay (Laurilus nobilis) – Psalms 37:35. Bdellium (Commiphora africana) – Numbers 11:7. Calamus/Cane (Acorus calamus) – Exodus 30:23, Song of Solomon 4:14, Isaiah 43:24, Jeremiah 6:20, Ezekiel 27:19. Cedarwood (as oil) (Cedrus libani) – Leviticus 14:4, Leviticus 14:6, Leviticus 14:49, Leviticus 14:52, Numbers 19:6. Cedarwood (as aromatic lumber) (C. libani) – II Samuel 7:2, II Samuel 7:7, I Kings 5:8, I Kings 6:9, I Kings 6:10, I Kings 6:15, I Kings 6:16, I Kings 6:18, I Kings 6:20, I Kings 6:36, I Kings 7:2, I Kings 7:3, I Kings 7:7, I Kings 7:12, I Chronicles 14:1, I Chronicles 17:1, I Chronicles 17:6, I Chronicles 22:4, II Chronicles 2:3, Song of Solomon 1:17, Song of Solomon 8:9, Jeremiah 22:14, Jeremiah 22:15, Ezekiel 27:24, Zephaniah 2:14. Cedars (as living aromatic trees) (C. libani) – Numbers 24:6, Judges 9:15, II Samuel 5:11, I Kings 4:33, I Kings 5:6, I Kings 5:10, I Kings 7:11, I Kings 9:11, I Kings 10:27, II Kings 14:9, II Kings 19:23, I Chronicles 22:4, II Chronicles 1:15, II Chronicles 2:8, II Chronicles 9:27, II Chronicles 25:18, Ezra 3:7, Job 40:17, Psalms 29:5, Psalms 80:20, Psalms 92:12, Psalms 104:16, Psalms 148:9, Song of Solomon 5:15, Isaiah 2:15, Isaiah 9:20, Isaiah 14:8, Isaiah 37:24, Isaiah 41:19, Isaiah 44:14, Jeremiah 22:7, Ezekiel 17:3, Ezekiel 17:22, Ezekiel 17:23, Ezekiel 27:5, Ezekiel 31:3, Ezekiel 31:8, Amos 2:9, Zechariah 11:1, Zechariah 11:2. Cassia (Cinnamomum Cassia) – Exodus 30:24, Ezekiel 27:19, Psalms 45:8. Cinnamon (Cinnamomum verum) – Exodus 30:23, Proverbs 7:17, Song of Solomon 4:14, Revelation 18:3. Coriander (Coriandrum sativum) – Exodus 16:31, Numbers 11:7. Cumin (Cuminum cyminum) – Isaiah 28:25, Isaiah 28:27a, Isaiah 28:27b, Matthew 23:23. Cypress (Cupressus sempervirens) – Genesis 6:14, Isaiah 41:19, Isaiah 44:14, I Kings 9:11, Song of Solomon 1:17. Dill (Anethum graveolens) – Isaiah 28:25, Isaiah 28:27, Matthew 23:23. Fir (as an aromatic lumber) (Abies alba) – II Samuel 6:5, I Kings 5:8, I Kings 5:10, I Kings 6:15, I Kings 6:34, I Kings 9:11, II Chronicles 3:5, Song of Solomon 1:17. Fir (as living aromatic trees) (Abies alba) – II Kings 19:23, II Chronicles 2:8, Psalms 104:17, Isaiah 14:8, Isaiah 37:24, Isaiah 41:19, Isaiah 55:13, Isaiah 60:13, Ezekiel 27:5, Ezekiel 31:8, Hosea 14:8, Nahum 2:3, Zechariah 11:2. Frankincense (Boswellia carteri) – Exodus 30:34, Leviticus 2:1, Leviticus 2:15, Leviticus 2:16, Leviticus 5:11, Leviticus 6:15, Leviticus 24:7, Numbers 5:15, I Chronicles 9:29, Nehemiah 13:5, Nehemiah 13:9, Song of Solomon 3:6, Song of Solomon 4:6, Song of Solomon 4:14, Isaiah 43:23, Isaiah 60:6, Isaiah 66:3, Jeremiah 6:20, Jeremiah 17:26, Jeremiah 41:5, Matthew 2:11, Revelation 18:13. Galbanum (Ferula gummosa) – Exodus 30:34. Henna/Camphire (Lawsonia inermis) – Song of Solomon 1:14, Song of Solomon 4:13. Hyssop (Hyssopus officinalis) – Exodus 12:22, Leviticus 14:4, Leviticus 14:6, Leviticus 14:49, Leviticus 14:51, Leviticus 14:52, Numbers 19:6, Numbers 19:18, I Kings 4:33, Psalms 51:7, John 19:29, Hebrews 9:19. Juniper (Juniperus osteosperma) – I Kings 19:4, I Kings 19:5, Job 30:4, Psalms 120:4. Mint/Horse Mint (Mentha longifolia) – Matthew 23:23, Luke 11:42. Mustard Seed (Brassica nigra) – Matthew 13:31, Matthew 17:20, Mark 4:31, Luke 13:19, Luke 17:6. Myrrh (Commiphora myrrha) – Genesis 37:25, Genesis 43:11, Exodus 30:23, Exodus 30:34, Esther 2:12, Psalms 45:8, Proverbs 7:17, Song of Solomon 1:13, Song of Solomon 3:6, Song of Solomon 4:6, Song of Solomon 4:14, Song of Solomon 5:1, Song of Solomon 5:5a, Song of Solomon 5:5b, Song of Solomon 5:13, Matthew 2:11, Mark 15:23, John 19:39, Revelation 18:13. Myrtle (Myrtus communis) – Nehemiah 8:15, Isaiah 41:19, Isaiah 55:13, Zechariah 1:8, Zechariah 1:10, Zechariah 1:11. Onycha (Styrax benzoin) – Exodus 30:34. Pine (Pinus sylvestris) – Nehemiah 8:15, Isaiah 41:19, Isaiah 60:13. Rose of Isaiah (Narcissus tazetta) – Isaiah 35:1. Rose of Sharon (Cistus ladanifer) – Song of Solomon 2:1. Rue (Ruta graveolens) – Luke 11:42. Saffron (Crocus sativus) – Song of Solomon 4:14. Shittah/Acacia (Acacia arabica) – Exodus 25:5, Exodus 25:10, Exodus 25:13, Exodus 25:23, Exodus 25:28, Exodus 26:15, Exodus 26:26, Exodus 26:32, Exodus 26:37, Exodus 27:1, Exodus 27:6, Exodus 30:1, Exodus 30:5, Exodus 35:7, Exodus 35:24, Exodus 36:20, Exodus 36:31, Exodus 36:36, Exodus 37:1, Exodus 37:4, Exodus 37:10, Exodus 37:25, Exodus 38:1, Exodus 38:6, Deuteronomy 10:3, Isaiah 41:19. Spikenard (Nardostachys jatamansi) – Song of Solomon 1:12, Song of Solomon 4:13, Song of Solomon 4:14, Matthew 26:7, Mark 14:3, Luke 7:37, John 12:3. Terebinth (Pistacia terebinthus) – Genesis 35:4, Judges 6:11, Judges 6:19, Joshua 24:26, II Samuel 18:9a, II Samuel 18:9b, II Samuel 18:10, II Samuel 18:14, I Kings 13:14, I Chronicles 10:12, Isaiah 1:30, Isaiah 6:13, Ezekiel 6:13. Wormwood (Artemisia judiaca) – Deuteronomy 29:18, Proverbs 5:4, Jeremiah 9:15, Jeremiah 23:15, Lamentations 3:15, Lamentations 3:19, Revelations 8:11a, Revelations 8:11b.
16“Deuteronomy 18; NIV” and “Galatians 5; NIV”. Blue Letter Bible. Retrieved June 2, 2016, from https://www.blueletterbible.org/.
17Brace, Robin A. (2005). Sorcery in the Bible, Pharmakeia and Modern Medicine: Any Connection? Retrieved June 2, 2016, from http://www.ukapologetics.net/pharmakeia.html.
18Essential Oils: A Timeline. Young Living Essential Oils. Retrieved June 2, 2016, from https://www.youngliving.com/blog/essential-oils-a-timeline/.
Key Search Terms: Witchcraft, Sorcery, Bible
Learn more about the author Emilie Garrelts here.