Friday, February 13, 2015

How To: Holy Anointing Oil

In Shemot 30:23-25 instructions are given for making holy anointing oil:

כג  וְאַתָּה קַח-לְךָ, בְּשָׂמִים רֹאשׁ, מָר-דְּרוֹר חֲמֵשׁ מֵאוֹת, וְקִנְּמָן-בֶּשֶׂם מַחֲצִיתוֹ חֲמִשִּׁים וּמָאתָיִם; וּקְנֵה-בֹשֶׂם, חֲמִשִּׁים וּמָאתָיִם.23 'Take thou also unto thee the chief spices: of flowing myrrh five hundred shekels, and of sweet cinnamon half so much, even two hundred and fifty, and of kaneh bosem two hundred and fifty,
כד  וְקִדָּה, חֲמֵשׁ מֵאוֹת בְּשֶׁקֶל הַקֹּדֶשׁ; וְשֶׁמֶן זַיִת, הִין.24 and of cassia five hundred, after the shekel of the sanctuary, and of olive oil a hin.
כה  וְעָשִׂיתָ אֹתוֹ, שֶׁמֶן מִשְׁחַת-קֹדֶשׁ--רֹקַח מִרְקַחַת, מַעֲשֵׂה רֹקֵחַ; שֶׁמֶן מִשְׁחַת-קֹדֶשׁ, יִהְיֶה.25 And thou shalt make it a holy anointing oil, a perfume compounded after the art of the perfumer; it shall be a holy anointing oil.

Now, you're probably asking yourself, WTF is "kannah bosem"? No one really knows. Based on my research, both mundane and with the spirits, I'm quite confident that it's cannabis (marijuana). Many prominent scholars, including the noted kabbalist and Orthodox darling Aryah Kaplan, agree with me, but this opinion is far from universal.  George Andrews writes: "In recent years, many eminent scholars have expressed the opinion that, far from being a minor or occasional ingredient, hashish was the main ingredient of the incense burned in the temples during the religious ceremonies of antiquity, and it was also routinely used in Hebrew ceremonies until the reign of King Josiah [600s BCE] when its use was suppressed." Some people (including the Greek translators of the Septuagint) think it's calamus (sweet flag). "Two Jews, three opinions." Here's some reading about it.  (Teach the controversy!)  I include both cannabis and calamus in my recipe.

2022 UPDATE: In the years since I originally wrote this, cannabis resin has been identified on several ancient altars at archaeological sites in Israel and the greater Levant, so I am now even more confident that I was in 2015.  I still include the calamus, because it acts as a fixative, helping the oil retain its scent longer.

This recipe makes an anointing oil, not a perfume oil. It is intended to be used to COAT an object or person, not to daintily dab with. I usually make about 12 oz at a time. This oil is very mildly psychoactive, because it's full of marijuana. 

In any case, this is how I make it:

With the exception of hte marijuana, I recommend using the highest quality spices you can:

  • a potions-only spice or coffee grinder (NOT one you use for food)
  • a wide-mouth glass jar
  • crockpot (optional)
  • 4 parts, myrrh
  • 2 part, cinnamon ("ceylon" cinnamon, go to a fancy spice store)
  • 2 part, calamus (sweet flag)
  • 2 part cassia (which is what's called "cinnamon" at the grocery store)
  • 1/4 parts, marijuana (obviously, I would never advise anyone to use ingredients which are illegal where they live, at least not in public)
  • 12 parts olive oil
  • 1/4 parts vitamin E oil (to retard rancidity) (This is messy and sticky and gross; be careful with it.)
  • additional olive oil

These quantities roughly, but not exactly, match those given in the Torah portion, except that I have DRAMATICALLY decreased the amount of marijuana. Marijuana has been bred for increased potency for millennia.  These days, marijuana production is the place to be in phytochemical genetics according to my bff the phytochemist/witch-doctor (2022 update: She is now a professor of botanical medicine).

If you use an ounce of modern weed in 6 ounces of oil (ie 250 shekel to 1 hin), that is WAY TOO MUCH. This oil should be very lightly psychotropic; it shouldn't have you tripping balls. The measure given is for mid-quality marijuana. The stronger the weed is, the less you should use.  If you're using trim/shake, use a little more.

Clean and prepare yourself according to your usual custom.

Bless the spices as you see fit. I usually read the 104th psalm to them, and slowly speak to each one individually, extolling its virtues and asking for its help.  "Beloved Mary Jane, Green Goddess of the hippies..." ;)

Pour oil into the jar until it is about half full. Make sure you have oil left.

Grind the ingredients, one at a time, in your grinder until they are powdered. The marijuana and cinnamons should be slowly toasted/sautéed in some oil after grinding to help release their essential oils.  You can use a mortar and pestle instead of a spice grinder, but takes forever, and does not work as well.  The finer the grind, the better.

Put the myrrh and calamus into the oil and stir. Pour in the toasted cinnamon/pot/oil mixture. Rinse the pan out with some more oil and pour that in too. Add the vitamin E oil. The jar should still be less than 2/3 full. Put the lid on tight and shake vigorously until it is well mixed. Fill the jar with oil, and put the lid back on. The less air is in the jar, the better.

Sit the jar in indirect sunlight for 2 weeks. OR Turn your crockpot to low. Put several inches of water in the crockpot, and place the (closed) jar in that. It's ok if the crockpot lid doesn't close, but you'll need to keep an eye on the water level. Warm the oil for 2-5 hours. Turn the crockpot off and let it cool.

Personally, I don't strain my oil.  All the particles settle to the bottom, and by leaving them there, the oil gets stronger and stronger, developing additional character and richness.  If I'm using it to anoint a person's skin, then I carefully strain it it when I pour it out, because being covered in unstrained oil is unpleasant and itchy.

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