No other ingredient in soapmaking carries the historical and cultural weight of Frankincense. Together with gold and Myrrh, it comprised the gifts of the Magi, and on more than one occasion in Greek mythology, was prized over animals as a sacrifice to the gods.
The Tree That Emerged from Grief
The mythological roots of Frankincense oil stretch back to the origins of the Frankincense tree itself. Beginning with the adultery of Venus and her exposure by Sol, the story is complete with gods and humans, cheating and betrayal, ridiculous patriarchal outrage, and the transformation of grief into life.
As revenge for exposing her adultery, Venus caused Sol to fall in love with a human maiden who was buried alive by her father when he discovered her tryst. Sol, god of the sun, tried to awaken his beloved with light, and in the grief following his failure covered her burial spot with his tears, the nectar of the gods. Her body then disappeared, her spirit left behind to fill her space in the earth. It is that earth and the sun god’s grief from which the Frankincense tree emerged.
Tears of Frankincense
Maybe it’s fitting, then, that the resin from which Frankincense oil is distilled emerges from the tree after it has been intentionally cut, or bark has been stripped, the resin bleeding out to heal the wound in the trunk. It might also be fitting that the form the resin takes after hardening for a week in the open air is known as tears.
As important as Frankincense has been to the rituals and legends of various cultures, it holds an equally significant place in world history. Valued for its curative and ceremonial powers, it was crucial to trade in the ancient world, with caravans two thousand years ago numbering, according to some reports, as many as 3,000 camels. The hardened resin has been burned in temples
throughout Egypt, China and India. Present-day, Frankincense is still used in the Catholic Mass and is one of four primary ingredients in Jewish ceremonial incense. For many, it is the only true incense.
As a fragrance for soap, Frankincense contributes a warm, woody, sweet aroma, with hints of citrus and camphor. It works well on its own or in combination with partner oils, such as Bergamot, Cedarwood, Chamomile, Clary Sage, Geranium, Ginger, and Myrrh.