Of smoke and unguents
DOI link for Of smoke and unguents
Of smoke and unguents book
In ancient medical practice, materia medica could be taken through various means. It could be digested orally, taken as tea, stuck in various orifices of the body, or burned. Plant resins, such as storax, frankincense, and myrrh were part of a common repertoire of medicinal substances regularly employed in health regiments. Frankincense and myrrh resin are still regularly used in much the same way – burned as incense – however, the medical implications of this practice are often lost on the contemporary lay viewer. Looking at both the historical and contemporary practice, this chapter investigates the use of incense in Orthodox Christian liturgical practice. Its widespread use in the liturgy was introduced, at least in part, as a general health policy concerning the purification of air against airborne disease. Contemporary interpretations of incense, however, tend to emphasise the health of the soul rather than the health of the body. The chapter proposes that the permeable nature of the human body allows such substances – which can easily penetrate through bodily orifices – to hold great importance for the health of both body and soul.