Royal Unguent Newsletter
Since ancient times unguents have been used by different civilizations for a wide various purposes from the secular to the sacred.
The word "unguent" is derived from Latin unguentum (ointment), from unguere (to smear with ointment), from Proto-Indo-European *ongw- (to salve). Cognates include Old Prussian anctan, Old High German ancho, German anke (butter), Welsh ymenyn (butter). Unguent is closely related to the word "anoint" which has a distinctly sacred connotation and is derived from Old French enoint, past participle of enoindre, from Latin inungere, in + ungere or unguere (to smear, to anoint).
The subject of anointing using unguents is a vast and fascinating one but here I will confine the notes to a few basic ones concerning the subject.
In its most simple form one might describe unguents as being carrier oils that were created by naturally pressing various oil bearing seeds like olive, almond, moringa, ben seed, coconut etc. These carrier oils were used both with and without additional aromatic substances. Depending on the culture and the intended use, unguents could be very simple or highly complex in their composition.
Unguents were used for their cosmetic benefits to render the hair and skin healthy and supple. They were commonly used in most ancient cultures and were applied after bathing. The properties of these carrier oils were often thoroughly appreciated by the countries in which they were pressed and some were found to be useful to cool the body in hot weather and keep the body warm in cool weather. The unguents assisted in making a person more attractive on a personal level and in due course of time also were used as a means of welcoming guests to ones home.
The use of unguent oil as a carrier for perfume essences also was instituted at a very early stage in the cultural history of many ancient lands. People of all times and places have loved fragrance just as much as we do today and their knowledge of the world of natural aromatics that existed in the places where they lived led them to create perfumes that were unique to those locales. Different techniques of infusion, maceration etc were employed to extract the essences. In a general way one might say that unguents were products created by extraction techniques that proceeded the era when sophisticated distillation techniques began to arise in the 15th century.
Closely aligned with the creation of perfumed oils for personal beautification were unguents that came into being for sacred or religious practices and ceremonies often to be used or applied exclusively by people who were considered to be vehicles of divinity. These unguents that were used for anointing were thought to be vehicles of specific virtues that could help in healing and transformation. They were also used for specific life passages like birth, death, marriage, entry in adulthood, etc. In Western theological terminology such rites of passage are termed as sacraments. So that the unguent would become charged with the the special qualities of divinity desired, their preparation was often accompanied by prayer, mantras, chanting and other religious formula. Aromatic plants used in their preparation often had special symbolic associations which gave the unguents additional power. The unguent thus prepared became a visible medium for transmitting invisible spiritual grace and power.
This in brief is a general synopsis of the value, use and importance of unguents in ancient times. The use of unguents continues to this day and has a particularly revered place in the Western Christian and Jewish traditions where anointing has a highly symbolic role. The methods of preparing the unguents has perhaps changed but the religious significance of sacramental transformation and healing remains intact.
There are many internet resources on anointing that one may wish to pursue.
There is also a comprehensive description of anointing and unguents in:
Encyclopedia of Religion and Ethics Part 2
By James Hastings
Lastly one may enjoy reading the account of Pliny the Elder on unguents that is taken from the BOOK XIII. THE NATURAL HISTORY OF EXOTIC TREES, AND AN ACCOUNT OF UNGUENTS. Chapter 2
In that section he makes reference to the Regal or Royal Unguent of the Kings of the Parthians. A number of ingredients for that unguent are listed with no specific formula given but it intrigued me so I decided to create my version of the unguent to see if I could capture something of the feeling of the Royal Unguent.
Royal Unguent Perfume is of course just a fantasy creation on my part but it proved enjoyable nonetheless. When I began putting the ingredients together I noted that it was centered around spices, resins and roots, many of which were distinctly heavy in base notes. Initially when I put the composition together their was little harmony between the various ingredients like calamus, costus, spikenard, nagarmotha, labdanum etc. It was a full two months before the composition began to knit together in a harmonious way. This is a deep, rich, earthy/rooty, anamalic composition which I feel could have been well suited to the solemnity of Royal Coronations.
1/2 once clove bud co2
1/4 ounce costus co2
3/4 ounce patchouli co2
1/4 cardamon co2
3/4 ounce henna absolute
1/8 ounce cinnamon bark eo
1/4 spikenard eo
1/2 ounce styrax eo
1/2 calamus eo
1/16th ounce galbanum eo
1/4 saffron absolute
1/2 ounce myrrh co2
1/4 ounce cassia
3/4 ounce marjoram eo
1/4 ounce black musk attar
1/2 ounce nagarmotha eo
3/4 ounce labdanum amber note absolute
3/4 ounce ambrette c02
Aging is required for a minimum of 6 months and preferably longer. This blend would make an excellent addition to many compositions where a rich deep base fixative note is required.