Between Worlds: Sacred Aromatherapy and the End of Life

Between Worlds: Sacred Aromatherapy and the End of Life
with Navoya Zminkowska, Anarres Certified Aromatherapist

For modern society the process of dying and death itself has become a taboo. It occurs mostly in overcrowded hospitals and thought to be a consequence of failure of their craft. There still exists a shadow of fear related to the subject, and because of this the emotional as well as spiritual needs of dying people are ignored.

In contrast to this collective denial, there is growing hunger for understanding this very basic matter that relates us all. We can see the hospice movement taking part in public education; many organizations and groups are popping up. The dialogue begins here.

Dying is a part of living. It is a fact of life, and we are merged totally in this flow.
In death we are just shedding our layers off. We are growing within our essence.

Our human mind is a powerful tool, but it can create distortions and we can find ourselves in the pool of fear and other negative feelings. Letting them go is what allows us to completely embrace the process, and to open ourselves up for love.

There are different ways to help people on this journey. Sacred aromatherapy can be a very important tool in the healer's medicine bag. It can help with emotional struggle, ease some physical symptoms, and contribute to our centeredness. It can help to open our perception and to face the unknown.

What is aromatherapy? There are many ways to describe this beautiful art of healing. One of them is the definition from the article, “Practical Aromatherapy for the Spirit,” written by Tracey TieF, whom I have had the pleasure to study under. She explains aromatherapy as “the use of essential oils, plant resins, hydrosols and oil infusions for the healing of the mind, body and spirit.”

Why sacred? In many traditions on this planet, everything both alive and not alive is regarded as sacred. Everything is understood in the context of the wholeness of the entire universe. Everything from rocks to human beings carry higher intelligence. Everyone and everything is connected to each other. Stephen Harrod Buhner, in Sacred Plant Medicine: The Wisdom in Native American Herbalism, says sacred would be “a deeper and more meaningful reality that we experience in our day-to-day lives.”

For millennia people have been using aromatic smoke in ceremonies, shamanic and religious practices for many reasons, including purification of negative energies, communication with divine, burials and healing. The aromas were well known to have incredible effects on humans, can be presently explained as brain responses to scents.
Our sense of smell, scientifically known as the olfactory system, is connected to the limbic system and to the amygdala, where we also produce emotions, and it is believed by some that this part of the brain is not aware about the concepts of time and space.

An essential oil is a volatile element of a plant, which is an integral part of aromatherapy, and obtained by steam or hydro-distillation. The essential oils that are not derived through these processes are citrus oils, which are mainly cold pressed from fruit peels.

The term “essential oil” comes from alchemists in the Middle Ages searching for the “elixir of life.” Through the distillation process they obtained “oils,” which were not really oils, but in those times everything that was separated from water was considered oil. It was believed that this oil was “essential to life,” or life essence.
Life essence of the plant.

So how can essential oils help during the “transition time?” As we know already, our sense of smell is connected to the amygdala. Molecules of essential oils are very small and can penetrate the brain-blood barrier, easily reaching the emotional center in our brain. Because of this, oils’ aromas can become a catalyst for our emotions.

During the last stage of life people can experience a lot of anger, resentment, fear and other heavy emotions. Aromatherapy can help to relax those emotions and allow a deeper perception, and allow the possibility for healing and forgiveness, and to help come to terms with unresolved life dilemmas.

We can go deeper. We can go to the place where our consciousness meets the sacred and where the dance with divine begins. To do so we need to rely more on our intuition to guide us in aromatics. Some will call this method a “Contemplative Aromatherapy,” or as Tracey describes, in “Practical Aromatherapy for the Spirit,” “Magical Aromatherapy.”

In respect to the process and a dying person, the healer needs to be very aware and humble. For many Native Americans the healer is only a helper. They are a holder of the space in which healing can occur. It is hard to predict what might happen during this journey. Despite the unpredictability, the healer can create experiences, and gain vital information for the future. A lot of knowledge has been accumulated in this way in the history of human kind, and now science is slowly able to match its discovery with ages of wisdom.

We are a very complex species, and we often need complex solutions. In support of each of our uniqueness, we might choose slightly different medicines and different essential oils. Sacred aromatherapy can be based on many wisdoms, and the healer can create their own style always in constant alteration to the needs of the person seeking help, and with cooperation to the life force itself.

What would we face at the end of life? I already mentioned strong emotions like anger or fear. There can be a lot of grief and resentment, and a lot of confusion. This can be residual of a mental shadow clouding our pure consciousness. In the presence of death, we face everything we have learned to know, and everything have frown to believe. Our knowledge about life is a fabric woven by personal experience, teachings from others, and ultimately a great mystery.

Essential oils in Ayurveda, a philosophy and medicine with Indian roots, are understood as a Prana (life) force of plants. This is why essential oils can contribute so much in the voyage for healing, and why they can help to obtain more clarity and balance. Essential oils, as believed in many philosophies, can help us find a way to our higher self, and help us face to unknown with more courage and an open heart.

Materia Medica for the End of Life

Bergamot Citrus bergamia Top note

Bergamot essential oil is cold pressed from the rind of the small and green citrus fruit.
It is native to South Asia and introduce to parts of Europe in about 16th century.
Bergamot name derived from the city Bergamo in Lombardy where the oil was first sold.

Bergamot EO
has incredible ability to elevate mood
realise fear and emotional pain
helps to relax and let go
helps with anger, frustration and irritability
shoots nervous tensions and anxiety
helps with aggression, frustration and grief
provide courage and trust
assist with realise negative thoughts

Cedar Leaf, Arborvitae, Thuja Thuja occidentalis Top note

Native to North America, called Tree of Life, and considered as a sacred tree and the gift to humanity by some Native Americans like Ojibwa culture.

Cedar Leaf EO
helps with communication and of healing of the soul
it is calming and grounding
helps to obtain spiritual trust
gives courage
evokes ancient wisdom
bring clarity
helps with passing through suffering

Cypress Cuppressus sempervirens Top note

It was used extensively in ancient Egypt to make sarcophagus. The name comes from island Cypress where the tree was worshiped. In Greece was used it for sculpturing statues of gods and the word sempervirens in Greek means -lives forever. In many cultures cypress is connected to death and resurrection.

Cypress EO:
good for real life transitions and changes
helps in wholeness and balance
helps to cope and accept
calm and center
helps to take people out of sorrow
known for regenerating of the inner soul
symbol of immortality in death
supports meditation and reflection
helps faster to recover from the losses
calming and sedative
helpful for shock and trauma

Elemi Canarium commune Middle note

"The name Elemi is derived from an Arabic phrase meaning 'above and below', an abbreviation of 'As above, so below' and this tells us something about its action on the emotional and spiritual planes. Native to Philippines.

Elemi EO:
helps in trauma
reduce stress
calming and clarifying
support meditation
stimulate nervous system
promotes harmony
centers the mind for spiritual and emotional balance and development

Frankincense Carterii Bowellia catterii aka Olibanum Base note

Called as well “Milk of the Tree”. Frankincense comes from North Africa and has been known for millennia for its healing powers. Used for religious ceremonies for purification and reconnection with the divine.

Frankincense EO:
elevate spirit
purify atmosphere
facilitate meditation and connect with inner self
nervine and sedative properties
antidepressant and relaxing
elevate spirit
support rising issues from unconsciousness and help them to let go
helps for transition
helps with trauma and fear
protect us and give us courage for the journey
clear our energy fields

Geranium, Egyptian Pelargonium graveolens Middle note

Geranium comes from South Africa but known in Egypt, Morocco and Spain.

Geranium EO:
promotes inner peace
it has regulating effects on the nerves system
it is very uplifting
calms and restores emotional balance
encourages communication and connection with others
strength the etheric body
helps with negativities in the mind and stress
easy frustration and irritability
helps to connect to our emotions

Myrrh Commiphiora myrrha Base note

Myrrh comes from the resin of a tree that grows in North Africa and has been sought for millennia for religious ceremonies, embalming of mummies and purification.

Myrrh EO:
believed that can open doors to the other realms
good for meditation and healing sessions
fortifies nerves
has restoring effects on the mind and a spirit
amplified spiritual awareness
purify and cleanse energies
strengthen the etheric energy of aura
enhance spirituality

Neroli Citrus aurantium amara Base note

Neroli essential oil is produce from orange blossoms and a name for that oil comes from Anne Marie Orsini duchess of Braccianoand princes of Nerola Itali who first time in 17th century introduce that fragrance.

Neroli EO:
has a power to relief from anxiety, distress, anger and depression
has balancing effect on the mind and a soul
is uplifting and relaxing
good for emotional heart
helps with emotional harmony
release from denial and emotional pain

Palo Santo Bursera graveolens Base note

Palo Santo tree is in the same family as Frankincense and Myrrh, and grows between South Mexico to Peru around the Equator. The biggest production of the oil comes from Ecuador. Palo Santo means Holy Wood or Holy Stick. For many nations of Central and South America it is regarded as a highly sacred tree. Used for purification of the negative energies and cleansing the spirit.

Palo Santo EO:
strengthen the mind and uplift the spirit
antidepressant qualities
good for concentration, calmness and relaxation
called as a spiritual purifier
facilitate meditation and prayers

Rose Rosa damascene Base note

When we say – “Smell the roses” we have in the mind – maybe slow down, relax enjoy the moment, heal. Call also a flower that bears and by some a Queen of Oils. Highly regarded and highly prized.

Rose EO:
well known to help elevate depressive moods and support positive ones
helps with stress, anxiety and nervousness
helps to elevate grief
supports clarity
gives peace of mind
helps to heal broken hearts and other emotional wounds
brings sense of well-being
promote love
helps with emotional re-opening

Spikenard Nardostachys jatamansi Base note

It is a flowering plant from valerian family used for a healing and ritual purposes. Grows in Nepal, North India and China but known as well in Middle East since biblical times and often called nard probably from the name of ancient Syrian city Naarda (possible town in modern Iraq, Dohuk). Spikenard essential oil is obtained from underground stems of the plant.

Sikenard EO:
has incredible calming effects
it has ability to help to heal worries and other mental habits
very grounding
good for anxiety
it can induce deep sleep
helps during the dream time to release subconscious trauma
very good for transition from life to death
good for grief

Vetiver Vetivera zizaniodes Base note

It is a tall grass grooving in India, Sri Lanka, Indonesia and Haiti. Vetiver essential oil is distilled from roots of the plant and called an “oil of tranquility”.

Vetiver EO
supports nervous system
is very sedative
grounding and balancing for the mind
reduces stress
cools irritation and promotes comfortable state of the mind
purifies energy
boosts intuition

Carriers Oils

Castor Oil Ricinus communis

Castor oil is produce from the beans of perennial, flowering castor plant native to South Mediterranean and East Africa. Castor oil, among other properties, is known to support healing of the wounds, open sores, abscesses and bruises.

Olive Oil Olea europaea

Olive oil comes mostly from Mediterranean and Middle East and is extracted from the olives of the olive tree. In ancient times considered as a symbol of healing and strength. In old Greece used to treat muscle fatigue. Very healing for the skin.

Coconut, Fractionated Cocos nucifera

It is produce by process of fractions of the whole coconut oil where some fatty acids (12 – carbon chain) are removed, which makes this oil stay liquid. Coconut fractionated is still caring similar properties to regular coconut oil but is very easily absorbed by the skin and not greasy. Very good in my opinion to use in blends for diffusers (Tracey says to use only water and essential oils in diffusers, but fractionated coconut oil will wash out of sheets, so is useful for massage and for bath oils.)

Enriching oils

Calendula (Marigold) infused oil Calendula officinalis

Calendula oil is made by cold infusion of the calendula flowers, wherein whole flowers are immersed in a sunflower carrier oil for about six weeks. It is very soothing and healing for the wounds. Can be used after radiation or surgery. Never use oil on the open wounds. (Tracey says never use on a wound deeper than it is wide.)

Sea Buckthorn oil Hippophoe rhamnoides

Comes from the trees or shrubs native to Europe or North Asia. Oil is produced from barriers of that plant. Absolutely healing for a wounds and burns.

Tamanu oil Calophyllum inophyllum

Tamanu tree is native South East Asia but also found in Australia and East Africa. Tamanu oil comes from the inside of the kernel of the fruit from that tree. Considered very healing for many wounds and sores present on the skin of the dying person.

Navoya is a Thana Doula and student of Mayan cosmology with Mayan Guatemalan Elder Nana Maria. Navoya is graduating as an Apprentice of Anarres Natural Health, completing her Aromatherapy Certification. Contact her at Navoya AT gmail DOT com