1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Anointing

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ANOINTING, or greasing with oil, fat, or melted butter, a process employed ritually in all religions and among all races, civilized or savage, partly as a mode of ridding persons and things of dangerous influences and diseases, especially of the demons (Persian drug, Greek κῆρες, Armenian dev) which are or cause those diseases; and partly as a means of introducing into things and persons a sacramental or divine influence, a holy emanation, spirit or power. The riddance of an evil influence is often synonymous with the introduction of the good principle, and therefore it is best to consider first the use of anointing in consecrations.

The Australian natives believed that the virtues of one killed could be transferred to survivors if the latter rubbed themselves with his caul-fat. So the Arabs of East Africa anoint themselves with lion’s fat in order to gain courage and inspire the animals with awe of themselves. Such rites are often associated with the actual eating of the victim whose virtues are coveted. Human fat is a powerful charm all over the world; for, as R. Smith points out, after the blood the fat was peculiarly the vehicle and seat of life. This is why fat of a victim was smeared on a sacred stone, not only in acts of homage paid to it, but in the actual consecration thereof. In such cases the influence of the god, communicated to the victim, passed with the unguent into the stone. But the divinity could by anointing be transferred into men no less than into stones; and from immemorial antiquity, among the Jews as among other races, kings were anointed or greased, doubtless with the fat of the victims which, like the blood, was too holy to be eaten by the common votaries.

Butter made from the milk of the cow, the most sacred of animals, is used for anointing in the Hindu religion. A newly-built house is smeared with it, so are demoniacs, care being taken to smear the latter downwards from head to foot.

In the Christian religion, especially where animal sacrifices, together with the cult of totem or holy animals, have been given up, it is usual to hallow the oil used in ritual anointings with special prayers and exorcisms; oil from the lamps lit before the altar has a peculiar virtue of its own, perhaps because it can be burned to give light, and disappears to heaven in doing so. In any case oil has ever been regarded as the aptest symbol and vehicle of the holy and illuminating spirit. For this reason the catechumens are anointed with holy oil both before and after baptism; the one act (of eastern origin) assists the expulsion of the evil spirits, the other (of western origin), taken in conjunction with imposition of hands, conveys the spirit and retains it in the person of the baptized. In the postbaptismal anointing the oil was applied to the organs of sense, to the head, heart, and midriff. Such ritual use of oil as a σφραγίς or seal may have been suggested in old religions by the practice of keeping wine fresh in jars and amphorae by pouring on a top layer of oil; for the spoiling of wine was attributed to the action of demons of corruption, against whom many ancient formulae of aversion or exorcism still exist.

The holy oil, chrism, or μύρον, as the Easterns call it, was prepared and consecrated on Maundy Thursday, and in the Gelasian sacramentary the formula used runs thus: “Send forth, O Lord, we beseech thee, thy Holy Spirit the Paraclete from heaven into this fatness of oil, which thou hast deigned to bring forth out of the green wood for the refreshing of mind and body; and through thy holy benediction may it be for all who anoint with it, taste it, touch it, a safeguard of mind and body, of soul and spirit, for the expulsion of all pains, of every infirmity, of every sickness of mind and body. For with the same thou hast anointed priests, kings, and prophets and martyrs with this thy chrism, perfected by thee, O Lord, blessed, abiding within our bowels in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.”

In various churches the dead are anointed with holy oil, to guard them against the vampires or ghouls which ever threaten to take possession of dead bodies and live in them. In the Armenian church, as formerly in many Greek churches, a cross is not holy until the Spirit has been formally led into it by means of prayer and anointing with holy oil. A new church is anointed at its four corners, and also the altar round which it is built; similarly tombs, church gongs, and all other instruments and utensils dedicated to cultual uses. In churches of the Greek rite a little of the old year’s chrism is left in the jar to communicate its sanctity to that of the new.  (F. C. C.)