The Christmas mystery of frankincense & myrrh

Ever wonder, why gold, frankincense and myrrh -- why were those the gifts given to the Christ Child? Our Christmas carols make reference to them. The Bible makes several references to them, especially frankincense, mentioned over 2,000 times. If the wise visitors to the stable were so wise why these somewhat seemingly useless substances. The gold yes, always a nice gift, but why not gems, clothing, money for college! After all this child was born into poverty. And why these three in combination? Why not gold and silver, or herds of goat or sheep? Something a little more tangible.

Frankincense is a gum resin from the bark of the Boswellia tree that grows native in Somalia, China, Ethiopia, and Southern Arabia. It is easily extracted by making a deep incision in the trunk, below which a narrow strip of bark is peeled off. Over the following weeks a milky juice exudes and eventually hardens in the air.

Myrrh, another gum resin, exudes from the branches of the sturdy but small myrrh bush native to Southern Arabia, Somalia and Ethiopia was well. The thick pale yellow liquid turns reddish-brown as it dries and hardens to the air.

So why give an infant gum resins from trees? With further study into this Christmas mystery, it turns out frankincense and myrrh were two of the most powerful and highly prized substances of the ancient world. Frankincense translated, encens, meaning incense, and franc meaning luxuriant. Myrrh, widely used and celebrated in perfumes of ancient Greece, was also known for its healing properties. The term perfume had a much broader application and was used to treat battle wounds and promote healing and reduce inflammation. Their value was such that it had considerable influence on the economy of certain countries and was often the cause of political dispute or war.

Although ''perfumes'' have been relegated to the dressing table as scents, frankincense and myrrh remain powerful gifts of healing from the natural world. Ignored today as healing agents despite their comprehensive use in ancient civilizations, these wonderful essential oils are still used today as they were so long ago in perfumes.

Not much has been written about the medicinal virtues of frankincense since the 18th century. It is often said to possess the same properties as myrrh. Of course, with the advent of modern medicine and technological advances, little or no attention is given today to these gems as anything but perfumes.

And what of gold? Well, of course it spends and is still an international currency. But taken internally in its elemental form, it helps with memory, attention and insomnia.

Frankincense and myrrh are documented to be helpful in a number of ailments. They have natural antifungal, antibacterial and antiviral properties. The world was plagued with many terrible diseases during Christ's time, including Hansen's Disease and Scrofula. What better gift to give to the century's greatest healer than the essential oils of frankincense and myrrh known to be effective against these two great killers. What are Hansen's Disease and Scrofula? Leprosy and Tuberculosis. Not such a mystery after all!

Till next time, Rebecca.

Uploaded to The Zephyr Online December 15, 1999

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