O is for Oil–A to Z Blog Challenge

OilO is for Oil

Symbols in Stories from Around the World

We are not talking about the oil that gushes out from the ground made from dinosaurs.  We are talking about oil that fills lamps and enhance our foods.  This two-fold use brings about purity and prosperity to oil.

Any people who are in lands that can grow olives already have respect and appreciate the many uses of the oil.  Many olives grow in the Mediterranean area as well as the Middle East.  During the Ancient Mediterranean times, people rubbed oil to prepare before competing in athletics.  The oil brought a sheen of youth and blessed the person with extra health.  The oil was also considered a cosmetic.

In Cameroon, women took palm-tree oil and rubbed it on their skin along with powdered red camwood.  Again, this represented youth as well as fertility.  In the 17th to 19th centuries of Congo, specifically the Kubu Kingdom, people used palm-wood oil to smooth on sculptures of people as a sign of life, health, strength, and wealth.  In North Africa, some men poured oil on ploughs before cutting the first furrow to be prosperous in the harvest.  The act was an offering to a supreme being.  The color of the oil was like that of the sun and thus led to believe oil to bring fertility and growth.

Hanukkah is celebrated as the Festival of Lights by Jews and many other people.  The oil burned for eight days and nights though there was only enough oil for one day.  This miracle strengthened the role of olive oil and a menorah is lit to honor that time.  Even the foods typically eaten during Hanukkah are oil-based such as doughnuts and latkes.  Though, the oil used in lamps then took on the meaning of illumination, light, revelations, and miracles.

Often, these miracles involved healing.  Many faiths use oil to anoint someone who is sick.  This oil could also extend blessings on others such as the anointing of priests, kings, and to the consecrating of items or places.  Usually this anointing is at the same time of a chant or a prayer wherein the one praying asks for God to give power to the anointed.  This sacred act can also purify the soul and help this person resist evil.  Sometimes the more fragrant the oil, the more sweet and devoted is the prayer.

Olives an olive oil connect to immortality.  Oil is part of the beginning of life and when there comes an end.  Yet, being able to be used even at the end brings about infinite life.  Shinto mythology saw oil as being part of the primordial waters.

In alchemy, oil combines four elemental substances and connects to the four cardinal points (North, South, East, and West).  The nature of oil is that it stops external influences and is a protectant and cleanser.

When oil is used to fuel a torch, then that combined symbol represents the struggle for independence. The presence of oil increases the possibility for that independence to be realized.

Some stories featuring oil:

  • “Athena versus Poseidon” or “The Naming of Athens,” Greek tale, a city of people must decide whose gift is best, the one from Poseidon, god of the seas (who gave a spring that gushed salt water), or Athena, the goddess of wisdom (who gave the olive tree of which oil could be made amongst other things)
  • “The Poor Man and the Flask of Oil,” Indonesian tale, a merchant gave a flask of oil to the poor man out of charity and the poor man imagines all he could do if he sold the oil until his imaginings cause him to bump the flask and lose all the oil
  • “Saving Spring,” Scandinavian tale, snow kept falling into June and the people of a certain city decided to go to the North Pole and talk with Old Man Winter and people used rags dipped in oil for many torches on the journey that also helped melt the bars to recruit animals to fight the soldiers who guarded Spring

What stories do you know that features oil?  Torches that use oil?  Dripping of oil?  Please comment and share this post with others.

While you enjoy this blog, Story Crossroads has year-round offerings including the culminating Festival on May 24, 2017 (see schedule here: https://storycrossroads.com/2017-schedule/).  

We thank our fiscal sponsor, the Utah Storytelling Guild, as well as our funders such as the National Endowment for the Arts, the Utah Division of Arts and Museums, the Western States Arts Federation, Utah Humanities, the City of Murray, the South Jordan Arts Council, the Nubian Storytellers of Utah Leadership and many other individuals. Join us in the support by attending or donating or both! (Click here to go directly to donation page.

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