Spikenard Oil

by Helen Jackson

Humankind has valued aromatic oils for their healing qualities since the dawn of civilization. These dense, rare substances have been a critical part of medicine and spiritual worship in many cultures across the world. Because creating essential oils necessitates having a large amount of plant material, the final product has always been extremely valuable. In no other body of work is this more visible than in the Old and New Testaments. In the Bible, aromatic oils signified devotion, wealth, medicine and humility. Whether looking at the use of cinnamon to anoint sacred objects used in worship, to the three kings offering Jesus gifts of frankincense and myrrh, oils have had a special niche in Jewish and Christian cultures for centuries.

Steam distilling essential oils is a modern process that necessitates sophisticated technology and access to large amounts of water, two things that were unavailable in Biblical times in the Middle East. The oils we read about in the Bible were probably herbal infusions, where an aromatic plant is soaked for a long time in a more abundant oil, such as olive oil. While the exact substances may differ between what we use today and what was available 2,000 years ago, these oils still held the same cultural importance we attribute to medicinal oils. Spikenard, cassia and the other herbs mentioned in the texts were valued because of their inherent healing qualities and because they were hard to find. No matter how these oils were created, obtaining essential oils was not an easy endeavor.

We find about twelve essential oil plants listed in the Bible: juniper, myrtle, spikenard, frankincense, myrrh, galbanum, cinnamon, cedar, cedar and sandalwood, hyssop and cypress. One part of the puzzle that is unclear to modern scholars is whether all these plants were used as essential oils or if they were herbal plant remedies. Regardless, the Bible certainly makes reference to the Jews and Christians using these plants for anointing and also for medicine. There are varying interpretations of how many healing plants mentioned in the Bible were used for medicinal or sacred purposes. However, contemporary aromatherapy still recognizes these oils as important ingredients in the essential oil repertoire, and it is clear humankind has valued these plants for thousands of years.

The aromatic plants of the Bible reflect the dryness of the Middle East. These plants can survive harsh climates and little rainfall. Fortunately for humankind, this unforgiving environment has given birth to many of aromatherapy’s most well-loved plants. The oils of the Bible come from a variety of plants, most of which are hardy, desert-dwellers. Cinnamon is a bark from an aromatic tree that curls once it is removed and dried. Sandalwood, cedar, cypress and juniper are also all trees or shrubs found in the Mediterranean region. Historically, they were used for wood as well as medicine, aromatherapy and incense. Frankincense, myrrh and galbanum are resins derived from the barks of trees. They are often burned directly, also used in incense and retain their aromatic qualities for a long period of time. Modern aromatherapy often uses frankincense and myrrh for their abilities to connect us to higher planes of awareness. The frequently mentioned hyssop is an aromatic plant with purple flowers that is widely cultivated for use in cooking and herbal medicine. Myrtle, a flowering short tree or shrub, is a common aromatherapy plant as well that grows wild in these dry climates. Finally, spikenard, also called nard in the Bible, is a plant that is native to the Himalayan region of Asia. It was imported to the Middle East and used as an expensive perfume.

When searching for Biblical references to medicinal plants, the Old Testament is the place to begin. Myrrh, one of the first oils to be referenced, can be found in Exodus 30:23-29. After wandering in the desert after their escape from Egypt, the Israelites, led by Moses, were asked by God to have an anointing oil made for the ritualistic objects in the Tabernacle in the Wilderness. This portable altar was carried as the Israelites roamed for forty years in the desert. The oil, which was made from olive oil, cinnamon, cane and myrrh, was used to transform the ritual implements into sacred instruments. The process of anointing both humans and objects can be found throughout the Bible as an act of faith and worship.

The birth and death of Jesus both contain references to aromatic oils as offerings. Matthew 2:11 recounts the arrival of the magi at the time of Jesus’s birth in Bethlehem. Following a guiding star, these kings arrived where Mary had just given birth and offered the baby frankincense and myrrh, oils which are still used today to induce spiritual awakenings. During Jesus’s life, he was anointed with oil of spikenard on two different occasions, once by a woman who broke a jar and poured it over his head and once by Mary Magdalene. Mary, who had purchased the spikenard with her life savings, anointed Jesus’s feet and rubbed the oil in with her hair. In each instance, the bestowal of oils were a gift of great worth.

The oils found in the Old and New Testaments are still important substances in contemporary aromatherapy. We use them to access meditative states and to heal the body of physical ailments. Because of the Biblical reverence for these beautiful plant medicines, these oils have retained their cultural value and continue to be cherished across the world. Aromatherapy is a fairly new natural science, but the medicines we revere are ancient. Through studying how these essences were used in past generations, we enhance our understanding of the intricate relationship between spirituality, human life and the natural world.


The ancient Spikenard and Exodus holy oil has healing properties. Biblical researches mention holy oils were administered by Moses to protect the Israelites from the plague. In further research, claims have been made that these blessed oils have immune stimulating and antimicrobial properties.

There have been studies at the Eastern Washington University using a Frequency Monitor (CFM) measuring the frequency of Spinknard and Exodus holy oils and the effect on the human body and it’s frequency when placed on the body.

Spikenard and Exodus holy anointing oils are for special use. I have used them blessing me with the sign of the cross on my forehead and chest, espy when I was ill. They can be incorporated in prayer and meditation,blessing children, elders, the sick and those who just passed on.

John 12:3 "Then took Mary a pound of ointment of spikenard, very costly, and anointed the feet of Jesus, and wiped his feet with her hair: and the house was filled with the odor of the ointment".

People and things are anointed to symbolize and introduce sacred and divine influence. Anointing can also rid people and things of negative influences.

The word anoint dates back to 1303. Inction is another name for anointing. The anointing oil can be called chrism.

Anoint, anointed, and anointing appear in more than 150 Spirit-inspired Bible verses, including 22 New Testament scriptures.  Indeed, the English word anoint derives from the ancient Latin inunctus, meaning “smear with oil”.


The Anointing of Jesus, by William Hole, 1906.

The title Christ is derived from the Hebrew Messiah and literally means covered in oil, anointed.

The ancient Greek form of Christ literally mean “anointed”; thus, "Jesus Christ" is more accurately rendered “Jesus the Anointed” (or as “Jesus, the Anointed One”, or “Jesus, His Anointed”).  Jesus announced Himself as the divine Messiah [Luke 4:18] by quoting Isaiah 61:1 "The Spirit of Adonai ELOHIM is upon me, because ADONAI has anointed me…”  It’s why Peter and John and the followers with them, inspired by the Holy Spirit, publicly refer to Jesus (Yeshua) as the “Anointed One” [Acts 4:26, NIV] and NKJV, NIV, and NAS Biblical versions translate: “Your holy Servant Jesus, whom you anointed”. 

In Ancient Egypt, the Paraoh is depicted being anointed by Horus (sun God & “Father” of Pharaoh) and Thoth (God of wisdom), the oil of which is symbolically depicted as a stream of ankhs (symbol of life) Anointing is also often depicted in intimate scenes between husband and wife, where the wife is shown anointing her spouse, as a sign of affection.

Most famously in Phararaonic Egypt-along with many other ancient cultures-preparation for burial included anointing human remains with sweet-smelling oils in devotion as well as with the practical intent of obscuring the stench of death [Mark 16:1; Luke 23:24-56; John 19:39-40) In sealing of a coffin a ritual,

In the Hindu belief systems anointment is freely practiced. To mark particular devotions, as a “consecration” to particular beliefs or as a ritualized blessings used especially to invoke auspicious beginnings, every stage of life features some gesture of anointment from rituals accompanying birthing, to religious or educational initiations, royal enthronements to final rites. Every new building and household is anointed, as well as some ritual instruments. The installation and care of any statue can involve daily ritual anointing. In every case the direction of the smearing is significant. Persons are anointed from head to foot, downwards as in India the ground is considered less clean than the uplifted head. Anointing is also used to aid persons within negative cycles-illnesses, etc.

Anointing oils appear in Scripture 41 times.  Spices – in the context of anointing oils, perfume, food, and incense – are mentioned throughout the Bible: 16 verses containing frankincense, 17 with myrrh, five with spikenard, and many others featuring cinnamon, cassia, calamus, camphor, stacte, aloes, onycha, cedar, honey, hyssop, henna, mandrakes ,pomegranates, lilies, roses, and saffron. It is obvious that these sacred anointing oils have healing properties to them. We just have lost touch with this valuable information.


Mary Magdalene at the foot of the cross


Mary Magdalene holding spikenard in a alabaster jar.

MARY OF BETHANY & SPIKENARD OIL: One of Scripture’s most poignant, bittersweet scenes [Matthew 26:6-13; Mark 14:3-9; John 12:3-5] memorializes Mary of Bethany: A woman with an alabaster jar filled with very expensive perfume (pure spikenard oil worth an average laborer’s annual wage) approaches Yeshua, breaks the jar, and begins pouring the precious oil over His head and feet.  As the house fills with the oil’s pungent fragrance, the Lord says to those nearby: "She has done a beautiful thing for me……She poured this perfume on me to prepare my body for burial…I tell you that throughout the whole world…what she has done will be told in her memory."

We’ve also brought forward blessed Exodus oils and candles.

In Exodus chapter 30, the LORD tells Moses to make a very special and “holy anointing oil” of “the finest of spices”, including “flowing (liquid) myrrh”, “sweet-smelling cinnamon”, “fragrant cane”, “cassia”, and “olive oil”.  This highly perfumed oil was used to consecrate (set apart) the articles used in Temple worship, including the ark of the testimony, the holy tabernacle, and all its furnishings, which made them “Holy” (Kadosh in Hebrew) unto the Lord.  This word Kadosh, meaning “set-apart”, is written on all of ABBA’s anointing oils.

In Exodus, the LORD identifies anointing oil is an acceptable offering unto Him [Exodus 25:6].   He directs that Aaron and his sons be anointed, consecrated, and sanctified as holy priests to minister unto Him [Exodus 28:41 and that Aaron be anointed as Israel’s High Priest through the pouring of anointing oil on his head and garments [Exodus 29:7,21,29] .  (Psalm 133:1-2 compare harmonious brotherhood to “fragrant oil on the head that runs down over the beard of Aaron…”). 

KINGS: In Scripture’s first kingly anointing, the prophet Samuel pours oil on the head of King Saul [1Sa. 10:1].

DAVID’S ANOINTING: David, the “man after God’s own heart”, is officially anointed with oil (by others) not once but three times [1 Samuel 16:12-13; 2Sa. 2:4; 2Sa. 5:3].  In Psalm 23:5 , he says to God, “You anoint my head with oil.”  This is confirmed by Psalm 89:20-21 , wherein God declares, “I have found David my servant and anointed him with My holy oil.  My hand will always be with him.” In addition, David anoints himself while trying to shake off grief.

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