Myrrh Tree Symbolism and Meanings

 7 min read

The myrrh tree is a small, gnarled tree which grows in arid regions of Africa, Asia, and the Middle East and is especially significant in Judaism, Christianity, and Islam. The resin from the myrrh tree was used in Egypt for embalming purposes which were also found been found in ancient Celtic tombs.

It is important to know that “myrrh” does not refer to a specific tree, but rather any of the similar trees in the myrrh family that produce this well-known resin.

The Myrrh tree holds a wealth of symbolism and meaning in various cultures and religions. In addition to being associated with intuition, dreams, meditation, empathy, emotions, love, and healing, Myrrh is also believed to offer protection and has been used in exorcism rituals.

Its reputation as a purifying and cleansing substance is reflected in its use as an ingredient in holy anointing oils. Myrrh has been held sacred throughout history and is referenced in religious texts such as the Bible. When burned as incense, Myrrh can be used to clear negative energies and bring peace to a space or person.

Overall, Myrrh can be considered an all-purpose tree for its wide range of symbolic significance and practical uses.

Symbolism:Devotion and mediation
Divine Associations:The Great Mother: Isis (ancient Egyptian), Ishtar (Mesopotamian), Astarte (Phoenician), Mary (Christian)
Astrological Association:Neptune
Historical Spotlight:Queen Hatshepsut of Egypt was interested in the story behind myrrh resin, so she sent an expedition to Punt. The ships returned carrying a great deal of myrrh resin and 31 living trees. This is the oldest recorded instance of foreign tree transplantation.

About Myrrh Tree

Myrrh tree sap
Myrrh tree sap

The Commiphora genus of trees is native to some of the drier, more arid climates in Africa, Arabia, Madagascar and India. One particular myrrh tree species (C. myrrha or C. abyssinica) found only near the southern coast of the Arabian Peninsula secretes a white sap-like substance from its trunk whenever it’s cut or damaged.

This “wound milk” not only traps and gums up any would-be attackers’ mouths but also protects the injury itself from bacteria growth. Given enough time though, this sticky resin will harden into a golden-yellow color as it oxidizes in open-air exposure

Practical Uses

For smoke offerings, people have used myrrh resin since Neolithic times. To harvest the resin (usually around July), they would make 10 to 30 gashes on each tree to release the milky liquid, which they would collect afterwards.

As the demand for myrrh increased, plantations in southern Arabia expanded. The domestication of camels in the second millennium BCE allowed large caravans to cross the vast Arabian desert, and after a journey of 2,300 miles (3,700 km), they could sell their goods in Babylon or at the Mediterranean ports of Israel and Phoenicia. From here, myrrh was shipped all over the ancient world.

The demand for myrrh increased significantly around the time of Christ. A kilo of myrrh cost a working man’s monthly income at that time. By 50 CE, Rome was importing spices and incense worth 100 million sesterces annually (at today’s prices, this would be equivalent to 1.6 million litres – over 2 million bottles – of wine).

With the spread of Christianity and Islam though, the myrrh trade gradually declined until it finally collapsed at the end of World War II.

Natural Healing

The Greek historian Diodorus Siculus stated that myrrh resin was a vital element for all physicians during the first century BCE. Myrrh has been continuing to be valued throughout history, due to its qualities of being antibacterial, anti-inflammatory, analgesic, anti-congestive and cancer-inhibiting.

According to recent research completed, it also provides blood-lowering lipids substances, including cholesterol, Myrrhus communis (Commiphora myrrha) is effective in reducing total blood cholesterol as well.

Folklore, Myth and Symbol of Myrrh Trees

Myrrh tree sap
Myrrh tree sap

Myrrh was a resin that ancient civilizations used for religious practices and celebrations, whether it be honoring deities, spirits or ancestors. The Egyptians even used it to anoint the dead during mummification as it helped reduce decay and smelled sweet.

The experience of seeing a caravan made up of more than 400 camels, each carrying 200kg worth of Oriental treasures like myrrh, spices and agate would have been delightful. What’s more, the camels also carried with them the exotic scents of cinnamon and sandalwood; making the mystery surrounding myrrh even greater. However, nobody knew where the caravan had come from because Arabian traders guarded their secrets closely.

Greek legend speaks of Adonis, Aphrodite’s lover, being born from a myrrh tree. Ovid goes on to describe how Adonis’ mother Smyrna was turned into this same tree: “She not only lost her human form but also her emotions.

Still, she weeps and borne aloft by incense-bearing liquids are gathered within the hardwood…The drops bear witness to her story and will make sure that she is never forgotten.”

The myrrh tree is representative of the Phoenician goddess, Adonis’s mother, Attis. The Babylonians showed reverence to her by burning myrrh and while Hebrews did the same in the desert. Consequently, the “milk” produced by this tree usually has good symbolism behind it.

In Exodus, Yahweh tells Moses how to make sacred anointing oil from myrrh, cinnamon, olive oil and other ingredients. Then, Moses is instructed to use this oil on the Ark of the Covenant and altar as well as all priests. Thereafter, every king of Judea and Israel was anointed with this same mixture.

According to Flavius Josephus, Jericho was home to the myrrh trees that the Queen of Sheba had presented to King Solomon in the tenth century BCE. These trees were prized for their beauty and fragrance, and they played a significant role in the trade economy at that time.

The “Wise Men from the East” bring gold, frankincense, and myrrh to Jesus in the stable. Thus, the myrrh comes back full circle to where it started. This is significant because ancient tradition dictates that dead bodies are anointed with myrrh oil, symbolizing Christ’s mortality. Nicodemus later does this when he wraps Jesus’ body for burial according to Jewish custom (John 19:39).

The Hebrew name for Mary is Myryam or Maryam, which originated in the Sumerian Ma-ri-enna, meaning the High, Fertile Mother of Heaven. In Egypt, she was known as Isis, the Mother of the Universe. Christianity borrowed Mary’s deep blue cloak sprinkled with stars from her Egyptian counterpart.

Other names of the mother goddess from the Near East include Myrtea (myrtle tree), and Myrrha (myrrh tree).

Myrrh Tree Meanings

Small myrrh trees
Small myrrh trees

Healing

The Myrrh tree exudes milk, which later becomes resin, as a form of defense against insects and bacteria. This should not be surprising to anyone familiar with Traditional Chinese Medicine, Ayurveda, or Western healing traditions– all of which consider the resin from this tree to be quite useful.

For anyone interested in physical or emotional healing, Myrrh incense and resin are highly appropriate for magical work. This is because it is aligned with the Great Mother Goddess and all her many abilities related to healing.

The incense was burned in the temple of Isis, which adds to its potency as a tool for healers.

Smoothing Transitions

Myrrh’s scent is both sweet and potent, which helps ease the harshness that comes with any sort of transition, including giving birth, changing residences, losing a job or relationship, and mourning.

Another one of myrrh’s defining qualities is its ability to calm and relax the mind, providing clarity and focus during times of change.

Conclusion

The myrrh tree has been used for centuries in perfumes, medicines, and even as a valuable currency.

It’s no wonder that this unique plant has amassed such a rich history and symbolic meaning. If you’re looking to add a touch of the exotic to your home decor, consider incorporating a myrrh tree.

And if you ever find yourself in need of some good luck, remember that the myrrh tree is said to be full of it.