“How alternative and spiritual is it?” Aromatherapy and its incorporation into the practice of feminist spirituality

During the last two decades aromatherapy has been widely spread in Western societies. It circumscribes a popular form of alternative healing on the base of mainly using aromatic plant oils (essential oils) and –sprays and applying them onto the skin, smelling their peculiar fragrances or/and swallowing them in minimal dosage. By offering a comparative history of aromatherapy and from there drawing close to thick description of its contemporary ritualized appliance among practitioners of a feminist spirituality the paper`s goal is twofold.

First, it will lay open to which extent aromatherapy`s development and concept as well as its specific status as an alternative to formal medicine was and still is bound to national context and its established health care systems and structures. The more aromatherapy gets incorporated into the latter, one can say, the more it gets “de-spiritualized” in its meaning. France, Great Britain and Germany – countries which are associated with specific teachings of aromatherapy (“French school”, “British school”, “German School”) – will serve as exemplary and in that as well emblematic cases.

The dense historical and national contextualization of the practice of aromatherapy prepares the ground for the second part of the paper. By drawing close to aroma-therapeutic practices as they get incorporated into contemporary healing ceremonies in feminist spirituality in Germany/Berlin it will first be shown what kind of historical continuities of certain “schools” (i.e. German vs. French school) can be traced and second in what ways aromas, fragrances and oils are used to invoke healing spirits, gods, “energies”, and how thus the spiritual meaning of aromatherapy is tried to be “preserved” and yet decisively reshaped.