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LABDANUM - ΛΗΔΑΝΟΝ

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Labdanum is a highly fragrant resin which is appropriate as an offering to Gods in the rituals of Ællinismόs (Hellenismos; Gr. Ἑλληνισμός), the ancient Greek religion. It is, typically, burned on charcoal as incense. Labdanum is a natural substance obtained from the kísthos (Gr. κίσθος, κίστος, or κισθός) plant. Kísthos is the Greek word for cistus, a perennial shrub known as the rock-rose; several species are included: Cistus creticusCistus incanusCistus ladaniferusCistus laurifolius, and Cistus villosus. The shrub exudes a black oleoresin known as labdanum, called in ancient Greek lídanon (Gr. λήδανον).

In our contemporary world of artificiality, a world where the ingredients of most perfumes are concocted in the laboratory, aromatic natural substances are an expression of the primal beauty of Earth. Indeed, they evoke thoughts of exotic places and fascinating stories. Labdanum is a stunning example. In ancient times, according to Iródotos (Herodotus; Gr. Ἡρόδοτος), the resin was collected from the rock-rose bush by shepherds who drove their goats into thickets of the shrub. The resin exudes from hairs which are found on the leaves and young stems of the rock-rose. The animals love to graze on these plants. When they have had their fill, their owners comb out the resin which has stuck to their beards and coats.

"Ledanum, which the Arabs call ladanum, is procured in a yet stranger fashion.  Found in a most inodorous place, it is the sweetest-scented of all substances. It is gathered from the beards of he-goats, where it is found sticking like gum, having come from the bushes on which they browse. It is used in many sorts of unguents, and is what the Arabs burn chiefly as incense." [1]

The resin can also be obtained with a device known as the ladanisterion or ergastiri, a rake-like tool having long strands of leather that are drawn through the shrubs to gather the resin. In modern times, it is said that the resin is usually extracted by boiling twigs and leaves of the plant.

The kísthos resin is magnificently fragrant. It makes a superior offering in ritual. Labdanum is often found in a semi-solid state, a thick, sticky resin. Some sources sell a more refined labdanum which is more fragrant, but less solid, and is sold in jars. If you have purchased the more liquid form of labdanum, one method to utilize the resin is to push a toothpick into the labdanum and roll it around as if it were spaghetti. If the labdanum is not soft enough (yet too liquid to use 'as is'), place the container in a microwave oven for about 5-10 seconds. Now you should be able to use a toothpick to gather some resin. When you have the amount you desire, press it into a pulverized incense such as powdered frankincense or rose petals. Using another toothpick, you can scrape this off and roll it into a ball to be offered on charcoal. 

In the Thæogonía (Theogony; Gr. Θεογονία) of Isíodos (Hesiod; Gr. Ἡσίοδος), it is said that the Gorgon Mǽdousa (Medusa; Gr. Μέδουσα) was seduced by Poseidóhn (Poseidon; Gr. Ποσειδῶν) in a thicket of spring flowers, which some say were rock-rose, thus the belief that the plant and its resin are sacred to Poseidóhn. Mǽdousa, according to Aiskhýlos (Aeschylus; Gr. Αἰσχύλος) (Προμηθεὺς Δεσμώτης 788 ff) lived in the plains of Kisthíni (Gr. Κισθήνη), said to be named after the flowers of the rock-rose.

"...Ceto bare to Phorcys... the Gorgons who dwell beyond glorious Ocean in the frontier land towards Night where are the clear-voiced Hesperides, Sthenno, and Euryale, and Medusa who suffered a woeful fate: she was mortal, but the two were undying and grew not old.  With her lay the Dark-haired One (ed. Poseidon) in a soft meadow amid spring flowers." [2]


SOURCES OF LABDANUM

Labdanum from Crete, Cistus creticus, superior product, sold as a semi-dry tar-like mass.  This site also has extensive information regarding this wonderful resin: LAbdanum SHOP

Cistus ladanafer, a very thick but almost liquid form, sold in small bottles: Labdanum Resin (Rock Rose, Onycha)


FOR MORE INFORMATION about the use of various types of incense as an offering, visit this page:  INCENSE

FOR INFORMATION concerning offerings in general:  OFFERINGS TO GODS IN HELLENISMOS


NOTES:

[1] Iródotos (Herodotus; Gr. Ἡρόδοτος) Ἱστορίαι (Histories), Book III (Thalia), Chap.112; trans. George Rawlinson in 1910; we are using the 1997 Everyman Library, Knopf edition, pp. 278-279.

[2] Isíodos (Hesiod; Gr. Ἡσίοδος) Θεογονία (Theogonia) 270-276; trans. Hugh G. Evelyn-White 1914; found in the 1936 Harvard/Heinemann edition on p. 99.


The logo to the left is the principal symbol of this website. It is called the CESS logo, i.e. the Children of the Earth and the Starry Sky. The Pætilía (Petelia; Gr. Πετηλία) and other golden tablets having this phrase are the inspiration for the symbol. The image represents this idea: Earth (divisible substance) and the Sky (continuous substance) are the two kozmogonic substances. The twelve stars represent the Natural Laws, the dominions of the Olympian Gods. In front of these symbols is the seven-stringed kithára (cithara; Gr. κιθάρα), the lyre of Apóllohn (Apollo; Gr. Ἀπόλλων). It (here) represents the bond between Gods and mortals and is representative that we are the children of Orphéfs (Orpheus; Gr. Ὀρφεύς).


PLEASE NOTE: Throughout the pages of this HellenicGods.org, you will find fascinating stories. These narratives are known as mythology, the traditional stories of the Gods and Heroes. While these tales are great mystical vehicles containing transcendent truth, they are symbolic and should not be taken literally; a literal reading will frequently yield an erroneous result. The meaning of the myths is often concealed in code. To understand them requires a key. For instance, when a God kills someone, this usually means a transformation of the soul to a higher level. Similarly, sexual union with a God is a transformation.

The story of the birth of the Gods: Orphic Rhapsodic Theogony.
We know the various qualities and characteristics of the Gods based on metaphorical stories: Mythology.
Dictionary of terms related to ancient Greek mythology: Glossary of Hellenic Mythology.

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