The substance and tone of the following article, while not strictly holiday-season specific, nevertheless dovetails nicely with the import and essence of this time of year. My discussions of cedarwood, carrot seed, lemongrass and angelica oils are integrated into a narrative concerning faith, nurturing via food and reciprocal soul-to soul relation not only between two people but between an individual and God.
My father was an artist and two of his paintings adorn the walls of my office where I sit and write this article. One of my favorites of his paintings was the one depicting an old Jewish woman wearing a headscarf and in the process of lighting two Sabbath candles set in chased silver candlesticks. I clearly remember those candlesticks because they were the very ones my maternal grandmother (whom my brothers and I called Bubbie; “bubba” is Yiddish for grandmother) used every Friday night for all of her adult life. Being of 19th century Eastern European vintage and burnished to golden silver by decades of polishing, those candlesticks resonate with the echoes of a vanished world.
That painting hung on the wall of Bubbie’s kitchen for as far back as I can remember. As a boy, I would often gaze at it as I sat at her kitchen table waiting as patiently as I could for her oven door to finally open, and shortly thereafter, for a plate of warm cookies, cake or pastries to be placed in front of me. I have never tasted food as delicious and seasoned with love as my Bubbie’s.
Somehow I knew from an early age that the woman portrayed in my father’s painting was observing the Sabbath in a shtetl. As a child, I had often heard the old folks, who in the early 1900s had landed at Ellis Island, describe their difficult lives in these towns that were inhabited by Jews in the Pale of Settlement in Russia, Poland and Romania. The play/movie Fiddler On the Roof is a depiction of shtetl life. The Holocaust resulted in the disappearance not only of the vast majority of Eastern European Jews but of the shtetls as well.
Despite the ornate candlesticks, the woman pictured was certainly poor as her candlelight cast shadows on earthen-colored walls insufficiently stout to keep out either the winter cold or the relentless hostility. Nevertheless, the old woman’s faith remains unquestionable and her face is illuminated as if from within.
Cedarwood Oil And Faith
Cedarwood carries the energies of ancient faiths. The Atlas cedar (so-called because it is a native of the Atlas Mountains of Algeria and Morocco) is a close relative of the Lebanon cedar (Cedrus libani), which is referred to many times in the Bible. The Atlas cedar is a majestic, pyramid-shaped evergreen conifer that can grow to a height of 165 feet. In ancient times, cedar was a revered structural wood and was traditionally used in the construction of large buildings such as temples.
The Torah makes numerous references to cedarwood as the following examples will demonstrate:
Cedarwood was a central structural element of King Solomon’s temple. This is referred to in 1Kings 6:9: “So he built the house and finished it; and he covered the house with beams and planks of cedar.”
Ezekiel 17:22-23: “Thus says the Lord God: ‘I will also take a sprig from the lofty top of the cedar and set it out; I will pluck from the topmost of its young twigs a tender one and I will plant it on a high and lofty mountain.
On the high mountain of Israel I will plant it, that it may bring forth boughs and bear fruit and become a stately cedar. And birds of every kind will nest under it; they will nest in the shade of its branches.'”
In aromatherapy, cedarwood oil is used in certain cases of: nervous tension; anxiety; nervous debility; insecurity; loss of will; poor concentration; deep-seated fear; anger. On a spiritual level, cedarwood oil is considered useful for: disconnectedness; inability to hold firm in the face of life’s challenges; alienation and destabilization due to persistent stress; inability to meditate; loss of spiritual focus.
The soul nature of cedarwood is shaped in part by its strong relationship with the kabbalistic Tree of Life vessel of Keter. Keter is the highest vessel on the Tree of Life. Keter is the point of interface between the Infinite and emanated creation. It is completely hidden from rational consciousness and conception as it is imbued with the quality of infinity. For this reason, Keter is referred to as ayin: “nothingness.”
Keter is the superconscious source of faith. The power of faith emanates from the hidden juncture where the human soul clings to its Divine Source (i.e., Keter). It is this connection that imbues the soul with its eternal quality. This is the basis for the verse from Deuteronomy 4:4: “You who cling to God, your Lord, are alive everyone of you this day.”
The 18th century Hasidic master Rabbi Nachman of Breslov offers this wisdom concerning the subjugation of subjective thoughts and development and deepening of one’s faith in God as ultimately being the fundamental pathway of spiritual healing: “When things are very bad, make yourself into nothing. Close your mouth and your eyes and you are like nothing. Sometimes you may feel overwhelmed by evil thoughts, finding it impossible to overcome them. You must then make yourself like nothing. You no longer exist, your eyes and mouth are closed. Every thought is banished. Your mind ceases to exist. You have nullified yourself completely before God.” This effort toward self-nullification as a product of faith is related to Keter’s identification with ayin: nothingness.
A Grandmother’s Love and “I and Thou”
I wonder what ever happened to that painting hanging in Bubbie’s kitchen. It disappeared from the wall shortly after Bubbie, born in 1893 in a Polish shtetl, died. Who knows what happens to prized possessions when a family, like a fast-rising tide, rushes into the vacuum created by the passing of a matriarch. I like to think that Bubbie took the painting with her when she crossed over. Perhaps it hangs now on her kitchen wall on the other side.
I’ll find out when my time has come and I am once again sitting in Bubbie’s kitchen—its windows fogged by oven heat drifting over cool glass—and waiting for her to proudly serve me a piece of her legendary honey cake. Because the first thing she always did when I walked through the door was to bring me something to eat that she had just baked.
Although she could read Yiddish and Hebrew, she had never attended school, and even after more than 40 years in America, could barely speak English. Thus, I doubt if she had heard of Martin Buber, whose philosophy of dialogue plays such an important foundational role in the theory and practice of Spiritual PhytoEssencing.
Buber’s philosophy of dialogue elaborates the concept that only when an individual’s “I” (the aspect of one’s soul which is singular and eternal) acknowledges and cares for the “I” of another during interactions, is the encounter infused with spirit and full presence of being. Accordingly, one’s “I” recognizes another’s as “Thou.”
Bubbie’s desire to nourish her grandchildren had nothing to do with the popular cliché of the overbearing Jewish mother commanding her offspring to “Eat, eat!” It would have taken somebody whose Yiddish was vastly better than mine to explain Buber’s ideas to Bubbie. Nevertheless, her materializing almost instantly with a dish of fresh cookies as soon as I stepped through the front door was her way of saying, “Ah my grandchild, so it is Thou.”
In turn, my “I” always spoke “Thou” to Bubbie when, after the first bite of one of her incredible rugelach or walnut cookies, I would honestly say: “Bubbie, you are the best cook in the whole world.” Those words would make Bubbie beam like a 5-foot tall lighthouse and brim with happiness. I miss her and often think of her.
Carrot Seed Oil and Maternal Love
Carrot seed oil is one of the leading oils for the theme of nurturing maternal love. The theme of trophorestoration (a trophorestorative is an agent that helps restore optimal nutritional status of tissue) runs throughout its profile and is the mechanism that underlies its value in the amelioration of the various symptoms and conditions for which it is used.
Of course, carrot seed oil cannot be used as a nutritional source, nor is it the equivalent of carrot juice. However, as an essential oil represents the element of higher consciousness of the plant, it is a mirror that reflects awareness of a plant’s characteristics and processes, and serves as a repository for its bioenergetic fingerprints.
The carrot has long been popularly perceived as a symbol of nutrition. Carrot juice is the “king” of the raw juices. Dr. Norman Walker, perhaps the greatest authority on the therapeutic use of raw vegetable juices, felt that carrots had a normalizing effect on the whole system. He encouraged nursing mothers to drink carrot juice to enrich their milk. Carrot seed oil is considered potentially useful for increasing production of breast milk.
One of the major themes of the carrot seed oil individual is: I am under great stress and emotionally conflicted but if I achieve security and receive nourishment (both emotional and physical), I will be okay.
Carrot seed oil is a specific for the interface of the Tree Of Life vessels of Binah-Understanding and Chesed-Loving kindness.
Binah, the prototype of the wise mother, is the seat of understanding, judicious restriction and objective judgment as well as the full expression of the creative power of femininity. Binah is viewed as the “mother” of the seven vessels on the Tree of Life that are arranged below her. This vessel shapes the higher light she has received, like a mother forming and guiding her offspring. Each of the lower seven vessels correlates with a day of creation, hence Binah is essentially the “Mother of the Universe,” because the divine light processed and channeled to the lower vessels by Binah facilitates the growth and development of the physical world.
Chesed, alternatively translated as Loving Kindness, Benevolence, or Grace, is associated with unconditional giving, undisciplined extension of oneself, unlimited kindness, total altruism, the ability to feel deeply and give generously while remaining free of expectations. In its completely ungoverned state, it generates the outpouring of benevolent grace without regard to the merits of the recipient. It is the idea of giving of oneself totally. The inner essence of Chesed is ahavah, or love. When Chesed is fully operational, it enables the individual to freely connect to others with unconditional love and benevolence.
The presence of the full quotient of a harmonious blend of guidance and nurturing in mothering requires that Binah’s guidance be tinctured with, and thus modified by, the unconditional love and benevolence of Chesed. Mother love that is an harmonious blend of Binah and Chesed is unconditional, it does not have to be earned. On the other hand, when mother love is adequately infused with Binah but is deficient in Chesed, the judgment quality in Binah becomes autonomous and the feeling the mother communicates to her child more closely resembles control than love. Carrot seed oil’s seamless interface of Binah and Chesed helps an individual to overcome deep-seated pain and obsessive anxiety about security and vulnerability due to a deficiency of either Binah or Chesed, or of both these influences.
The Master Of The Good Name
One of the books I have been studying over the last year is one by the great 20th century philosopher Martin Buber entitled Tales Of The Hasidim.
Given the title of the book, if it weren’t for who authored it, I may not have considered studying it. I am only mildly religiously observant and inclined toward spirituality rather than religiosity. However, given my Eastern European Jewish lineage and the fact that Buber’s philosophy of dialogue is a very important influence in how I practice and approach life, I decided to explore the work.
While many of the anecdotes and folk tales have a distinctly religious import, the entire book is deeply imbued with a palpable awareness of, and connection to, spirit and the higher world that is universal in relevance.
Buber himself was neither Hasidic nor particularly religious (although born into an observant Jewish family he broke with Jewish custom to pursue secular studies in philosophy). However, he felt that the anecdotes and folk tales about the 18th century Hasidic masters were a repository of rare spiritual and mystical insight. Accordingly, over the course of forty years, he collected, compiled and edited these anecdotes and tales, recasting them in his own words.
One of the central points of this article is anchored by a quote by Rabbi Pinchas of Koretz, an18th century Hasidic master. Before presenting that unique spiritual insight, it is important to provide a little background.
Eighteenth century Hasidism was a far different movement than it is today. The movement originated in Eastern Europe at a time when Jews in the shtetls were experiencing great persecution.
Hasidism was founded by Rabbi Israel ben Eliezer (1700-1760), a poor orphan from the Ukraine (or possibly Poland or Romania) who, as a young man, traveled among the shtetls tending to the sick and the poor.
Ultimately, he spent a formative period in his life in seclusion in the mountain forests, during which time he gravitated toward mysticism. When he returned to society, he taught that God is everywhere; not only in synagogues and that the earth is full of His glory.
This is one of the primary differences between modern Hasidism and the movement in the 18th century. The smaller shtetls were often surrounded by wild Nature. Thus, the spirituality of many of the 18th century Hasidim was intricately entwined with the natural world. It was common practice to meditate and pray deep in the forest and perform ritual ablutions in the streams that coursed through them.
Rabbi Israel ben Eliezer was a spiritual leader who helped rescue the Eastern European Jews from utter despair at a time when their situation appeared hopeless and their future bleak. Orphaned as a young boy and raised as a community charge, he grew up in grinding poverty. Yet he somehow became a fount of optimism who taught that God wants humans to approach Him with joy and gladness.
Eventually his reputation as a mystical master became such that he was referred to by the people as the Baal Shem Tov, Hebrew for “Master of the Good Name.” He was said to have gained an understanding of the Shem Hamphorash (the hidden name), the true name of God.
The Baal Shem Tov believed that the highest form of prayer was maintaining a consciousness imbued with joy and happiness. He encouraged exalted singing and dancing and held that a good deed was worth more than adherence to all 613 Mitzvoth (principles of law and ethics, sometimes referred to as Mosaic Law, contained in the Torah or Five Books of Moses). The rabbi also taught that the ignorant yet humble have a much better chance of enjoying the World to Come than the learned but arrogant.
Lemongrass is one of the oils I would include if I somehow was transported back through time and was asked by the Baal Shem Tov to prepare a custom blend for him.
In aromatherapy, lemongrass oil is considered to exert the following actions: antidepressant; circulatory stimulant; digestive stimulant; immunological stimulant; lymphatic stimulant; autonomic nervous system regulation; reconstituent after illness; sedative.
Lemongrass oil is considered useful for: irritability; nervousness; stress-related symptoms; poor concentration. On a spiritual level, lemongrass is thought to help increase the projection of personal power and promote inspiration and wise judgment.
In Spiritual PhytoEssencing, lemongrass oil is considered to have an association with the color yellow and the themes of gold. Thus, it has a particularly profound relationship with the sun, and lemongrass oil’s character and actions are in large part an embodiment of this relationship.
The lemongrass type has a similarly strong relationship with the sun. Accordingly, the symptom picture of the homeopathic remedy Sol (prepared by saturating milk sugar with sunlight) can be used to expand our understanding of the dynamics of the soul nature of the Baal Shem Tov’s appeal to the downtrodden, persecuted shtetl Jews.
In this reference, the relevant Sol symptoms include: excitement and anxiety; anxiety when approached; very sensitive; easily frightened; depression; sensitive to change; polarity of decisiveness and restlessness; indecision; needs to get up a little more courage to get on with her life; delusion of being pursued; slightly paranoid when they are drained and at a low ebb; disorientation; insomnia from mental excitement; dreams of being lost; dreams of travel; dreams of family, house and/or food.
Yellow is considered to have the following psycho-spiritual properties: uplifting; arouses optimism and cheerfulness; reassuring; counteracts doubtful feelings, fear, anxiety, nervousness; aids in the development of inner power, self-esteem and a balanced outlook in life; promotes open-mindedness and the ability to express one’s feelings; brings wisdom and adherence to high ideals to one’s actions; recharges the aura and thus helps protect against psychic attack.
In Spiritual PhytoEssencing, lemongrass is considered to be one of the “gold oils.” Anthroposophical science holds that gold harmonizes and balances polarities and is a specific for: fear of death; depression; depression associated with self-reproach; support of the soul buoyancy within the earthly realm; assuaging older persons who have held on to their bodies too long and cannot find access to their spirit. Gold is thought to: guide the process of incarnation of the higher soul into the tissues; support the quality and direction of thinking; strengthen the creative soul forces and help preserve their freedom; give one a firm hold on the earth while preventing excessively strong bondage to it.
I and Thou and Angels
Rabbi Pinchas of Koretz was a disciple of the Baal Shem Tov who once remarked of him, “A soul such as that of Rabbi Pinchas comes down to this world only once in 500 years.”
Rabbi Pinchas taught (excerpted from Buber’s Tales Of The Hasidim): “Every human being has a light in heaven. When two of them meet, the lights fuse, and a new light shines out of them. This is called a begetting and the new light is an angel.”
Clearly, this observation can be directly correlated with Buber’s philosophy of dialogue and its central concept of the I-Thou relation which holds that only when two individuals interact from the core of their souls and each acknowledges the uniqueness and validity of the other is a human relationship illuminated by spirit.
The same can be said of a blender’s relationship with each of the essential oils he or she is working with. The Kabbalah teaches that the soul ultimately comes to rest in the blood, and it is via this medium that all the cells of the body become ensouled. Similarly, an essential oil is the most concentrated transport medium of a given plant’s soul.
In Spiritual PhytoEssencing the focus is upon the soul rather than the body (which is the garment that enclothes, and an expression of, the soul). In other words, the essential oil blender reaches beyond the vessel to the light that sustains it. Within this framework, when the soul of an individual engages with the soul of an essential oil, this is a “begetting,” and a new light shines out of the point at which their souls intersect.
We have now come full circle regarding my reference at the outset to the holiday season. It is inarguable that, in this modern era, the holiday season has become primarily about the vessel rather than the light. Indeed, the frenzied, virtually meaningless consumerism seems to have forsaken the vessel as well and drawn the holidays into a void of illusion.
The restoration of meaning and true spirit to the holiday season requires that all our interactions be reframed within the context of soul-to-soul relation, of receiving rather than taking. These holidays should be a time of continuous begettings and opportunities for lights to fuse and create angels.
One of angelica’s key signatures is its botanical name: Angelica archangelica. In various religious traditions, including Judaism, Christianity and Islam, an archangel is a powerful angel that leads many other angels, but is still loyal to a deity. Gabriel, Michael and Raphael are examples of archangels found in Judaeo-Christian mythology. For many centuries, angelica has had a reputation as a plant with magical powers of healing and psychical protection that derive from angelic sources.
On the psycho-spiritual level, angelica oil is thought to: help restore emotional balance; exert a grounding effect for persons prone to anxiety; help release negative feelings from traumatic events; help access protection from the spiritual realm; strengthen the aura; reduce mood swings; restore incentive and a feeling of emotional balance; invigorate a tired mind and a flagging heart.
Angels (which are said to be exceptionally tall—and angelica is a very tall plant growing to a height of 6 feet) are thought to be heavenly messengers, but lacking the free will of humans. In other words, they are completely submissive to God’s will.
In Genesis 28: 10-13, Jacob’s ladder dream is described: “He had a dream; a ladder was standing on the ground and its top reached toward heaven, and God’s angels were going up and down it. Suddenly he saw God standing over him.”
Angels are seen as messengers between the heavenly and earthly realms, and calling on angels is a means of plugging into the infinite resource of God’s energy: The Energy that maintains creation at every moment. The rungs of the ladder also represent the levels of the spiritual world that can only be bound together when they are standing on earth.
Rabbi Shoni Labowitz in Miraculous Living writes: “God works through angels, and angels work through stars and planets…As the human is to the soul and the soul is to God, so too are angels to the stars. They are the soul of the stars and work in harmony with all things. Whether you are moving forward or backward, up or down, in or out, there is a tandem movement supporting and encouraging your growth, assisting your service, and implementing your union and reunion with God, in all worlds of existence.”
Kabbalistic astrological philosophy maintains that in order to exert any influence on the physical realm, angels must bind themselves to physical objects such as the heavenly bodies. Therefore, the planets and stars represent linkage points between the spiritual and earthly realms. Thus, it is not the stars or planets that influence humans, but the angelic forces which are bound to them.
This kabbalistic association between angels and the heavenly bodies has made a deep impression upon me. Sometimes after darkness falls when I go outside to get another armload of firewood or to call the cat inside on a cold night, I stop and gaze up at the stars sprinkled across the sky above the forest and try to see beyond the twinkling eons-old lights to the angels that sustain their projection.
This is supposed to be the time of year for lights and stars. Perhaps, if the volume of the din is finally muted and the blinding glare of artifice filtered out and replaced by “I-Thou” soul-to-soul relationships, the holiday season can be restored as a time of begetting and new lights.