Myrrh: From Birth to Death and Everything In-Between


Myrrh Tree

On entering the house, they saw the child with Mary his mother; and they knelt down and paid him homage. Then, opening their treasure chests, they offered him gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh. [Matthew 2:11, NRSV]

When most people are asked what myrrh is, the typical response is “That’s one of the three gifts given to baby Jesus by the wise men.” Yet, if you asked these same people why he received such a gift, they haven’t a clue. Myrrh is a tree resin that is an ingredient in incense, oils, perfumes, and medicine. Earliest uses of myrrh include the Egyptians who embalmed mummies with it and traditional Chinese medicine where it is valued for helping to cure circulatory problems, arthritis, and uterine tumors.

Myrrh also has a rich history in the Judeo-Christian community. Exodus 30 lists myrrh as the first ingredient in a recipe for anointing oil that was used to consecrate the tent of meeting (tabernacle), ark of the covenant and all ritual tools used in this sacred space. It is also mentioned in Psalm 47 as an ingredient in the “oil of gladness” that is used to perfume the robes of the groom in a royal wedding.

In addition to its use for consecration and purification, myrrh also has a seductive/erotic side which is reflected in an adulteress’ invitation in Proverbs 7:17—”I have perfumed my bed with myrrh, aloes, and cinnamon. Come, let us take our fill of love until morning; let us delight ourselves with love.” Or perhaps, more provocatively, Song of Songs 1:13—”My beloved is to me a bag of myrrh that lies between my breasts.”  Cue the Barry White music!!!

It is also interesting that myrrh appears at three pivotal moments in the life of Jesus: at his birth which I already mentioned, while hanging on the cross (Mark 15:23) where Jesus was offered wine mixed with myrrh, and after his death (John 19:30-40) where his body was wrapped in a mixture of myrrh, aloes and linen cloth.

Modern Wiccans attribute similar qualities to myrrh.  According to Witchipedia, “Myrrh resin may be burned as incense for purification, exorcism, protection and healing.”  In The Element Encyclopedia of 5,000 Spells, Judika Illes says “Burn myrrh to ease and illumine a person’s transition between life and death.” She also suggests you “Burn myrrh as incense in the bedroom to stimulate erotic dreams, if you’re sleeping solo.”

My go-to guy, Scott Cunningham, warns that myrrh should not be used if you are pregnant.  He also says that when burned, myrrh “purifies the area, lifts the vibrations and creates peace.”  It also “aids meditation and contemplation.”

A good DIY tip when preparing the resin for incense is to use a coffee or spice grinder that is dedicated to magical use.  Myrrh is very hard resin and is nearly impossible to crush with a mortal and pestle.  Trust me on this!  The coffee grinder is the way to go.

Finally, to answer the question “Why did baby Jesus receive myrrh as a gift?,” the answer should be fairly clear.  The Magi, i.e. the magicians, would have used myrrh to consecrate sacred space and sacred people.  It was their way of honoring the One they had been led to by following the astrological signs in the sky.

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About David Taliesin

My name is David Taliesin. I'm an writer, teacher and retreat leader who explores the connections between Christian and Pagan Spirituality. E-mail me with any personal comments you'd like to share and I will do my best to answer them. You can also contact me through my Facebook page
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2 Responses to Myrrh: From Birth to Death and Everything In-Between

  1. hocuspocus13 says:

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