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Do today's essential oils mix with Christian faith?

Essential oils are big business these days. Purveyors are striking it rich with these aromatic concoctions, marketed as age-old natural remedies for everything from acne to Alzheimer’s, from back pains to brain injuries, from hair loss to hyperthyroidism, from seizures to sleep disorders, and from warts to whooping cough. 

I admit it: I’m a little late to the party with essential oils (and aromatherapy). I’m just beginning to learn the specifics pertaining to the various sorts of popular natural oils (and oil combinations) and how they are intended to help with different sorts of ailments and conditions.

Clearly, I believe many herbal and natural remedies can do some good.

For example, we know eucalyptus can relieve sinus congestion. Lavender can ease stress. Chamomile can comfort an upset stomach (Remember Beatrix Potter’s Tale of Peter Rabbit?) and hasten sleep. Peppermint can soothe sore muscles. Aloe can cool a burn. Nature can be healing in such practical ways.

And I agree with those who urge us to seek non-drug solutions for as many personal problems as we possibly can. Definitely, a natural and organic and non-prescription solution sounds pretty positive and safe and good, especially if it works. Right?

Essential oils/ natural remedies - Pixabay public domain photo

Enter essential oils.

I have several close friends (including people of firm biblical faith) who have plunged into the waters of essential oils practices. Some are even carving out careers as vendors of various oils.  I respect and admire these friends, and the last thing I would want to do is disrespect or disparage their efforts.

At the same time, I am feeling a certain check in my spirit about much of the essential oils world. As a Bible-believing Christian, I am convinced that the prudent course is to research and check and test any trend before going whole-hog with it.

Is the Christian + essential oils a good mix, or is it more like oil + water?

I think believers need to ask ourselves some honest and probing questions, before we jump with both feet into the essential oils world and all it involves.

  1. What does the Bible say about oils? Perhaps the most frequent mention of oil in the Scriptures is its use in anointing those chosen by the Lord for leadership (see Exodus 40:12-15). It also fueled lamps providing light (Remember the Hanukkah miracle, in which one day’s supply of oil lasted the duration?). The Holy Spirit is also likened to oil (see 1 John 2:20), especially in passages discussing His anointing and empowering individuals to serve God more fully and effectively (see Isaiah 61:1). Oil is also used to anoint those receiving prayer for particularly serious purposes (see James 5:14). In all such instances, olive oil was usually the pick.

Throughout the Bible, many mentions may be found of the relationship between oils (and herbs and other natural ingredients) and healing. Surely, the curative use of oils is not a new concept. It’s been around for millennia. But the methodologies and marketplace are vastly different than they ever have been.

  1. What can we learn about the companies providing essential oils? Before using a product, a wise consumer will examine the accompanying literature (and perhaps the company’s own website) to consider the organization’s mission, ownership, and affiliations. It’s a good idea to look for guarantees and return policies.

More than a few essential oils companies are offered by web-only sellers (who may or may not include company and contact information on their websites). Others are sold by neighbors and friends at home parties. A few essential oils brands are sold by major grocery and discount department store chains.

  1. Who is profiting from essential oils? In the Bible, those possessing large quantities of oil were seen as those who were most affluent and prepared for the future. (Again, this usually referred to olive oil). In today’s marketplace, where the popularity of essential oils has reached fever pitch, it’s worth considering who stands to gain from the sales of these items. Many of the top-selling products come from companies practicing multi-level marketing (MLM), by which sellers gain most by enlisting under-sellers in pyramid sales structures. That strategy may be legitimate, but it is a good idea to check.

  1. Do the essential oils purveyors display any religious, pagan or new age practices or ties? Companies offering these products are proliferating. The top ones openly claim to represent all sorts of interests, from Native American spiritual traditions to modern naturalists, and from New Age to Eastern mysticism causes. One company, which boasts many openly Christian marketers, posts product descriptions that claim their concoctions bring “harmonic balance,” “put the power of complete wellness in your hands,” and “take you on a sensory journey that can instantly soothe, enliven, or balance both body and mind.”

Umm, what?

Some essential oils (and related products) are sold in Spiritist or occultist shops or via such websites. The believer who knowingly patronizes such enterprises dabbles in unequal yoking. At the same time, there’s a strong likelihood that the products procured thusly may come with unpleasant spiritual baggage.

  1. Do certain essential oils come with curious or odd-sounding procedural instructions or product descriptions? Clearly, if supernatural-sounding activities, word-chanting, or other strange methods are advised, this should be a red flag for the believer. And any description which claims a product can boost spiritual or universal energy, align chakras, improve magnetic flow, help with chi visualization, or aid one’s life force smacks of New Age, Eastern mysticism, or even occultist ties.

  1. Is a specific list of ingredients available for each product? Allergies and personal sensitivities can pose medical problems, especially when we are unaware of the possible exposure. A person with hay fever, for example, would certainly need to know if grasses were included in a particular concoction. Another with tree or pollen sensitivities might opt not to use a product containing such elements. I just discovered this allergy risk firsthand, after dabbing on a few drops of an essential oil tincture I received as a gift from a friend, only to develop a rash on the application sites. (I should have asked if the mixture contained fish oil.)

  1. Can we be sure of consistent recipes and quality control, when purchasing essential oils? So far, the essential oils industry (and alternative treatment business as a whole) is basically unregulated in the U.S. (and elsewhere). That means product compositions, quality, purity, and potency can vary dramatically. If Aunt Susie is mixing up tinctures in her kitchen, how can we tell if this month’s batch will work the same as last month’s?

  1. What dangers might exist, if we substitute essential oils completely for expert medical care? This probably sounds rather obvious. But it’s astonishing how many folks rely on these gentle remedies, rather than seeking the counsel of professional physicians, even if they have (or may have) serious and potentially life-threatening medical conditions. Muscle soreness or a short stretch of insomnia are one thing. Advanced-stage cancer is something else.

Once again, believers need wisdom to navigate today’s marketplace, and essential oils offer one more example of this necessity. Plenty of these products may be helpful, effective, and useful. We need heaping helpings of divine discretion to decide where to procure them and how to use them. Maybe, in a way, we might liken essential oils to yoga – at least, in terms of exercising prudent and faithful discernment. If we are able to borrow the practical benefits without buying into the spiritual baggage, then we will walk wisely.

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