The combination of milk and honey has been a long popular solution for restless nights and sick days at home. It’s a staple in many countries around the world that leads people to wonder, where did milk and honey come from?
The phrase “milk and honey” is generally accepted as a metaphor for all good things, and in religious circles is meant to mean God’s blessings. However, the actual origins of using honey as any form of sweetener can be traced back as long as 5,000 ago with the Egyptians who kept bees and used honey to sweeten foods and wines. Even more interesting, Egyptians used the milk and honey in religious rituals. In modern culture, it has become popular as a sleep aid and infection-fighting drink for many people. Still, it remains connected to its roots in origin to ancient religions and civilizations.
The history of beekeeping and using honey with milk is long rooted in tradition and religion all around the world, not only in Egypt. Milk and honey are found prominently in many of the oldest cultures in the Middle East. Milk and honey has a long relationship with religion, culture, fertility and even had its day as a torture method in the early civilizations. The modern relationship is much more related to its health benefits. Still, the history of this sweet combination has a lot of surprising connections to the modern relationship to this popular drink.
Related: Why Do We Mix Chocolate and Milk?
Milk and Honey in the Earliest Cultures
Funeral ceremonies in Egypt for all but the poorest members of the society were a prominent place where milk and honey remained. It was believed in their culture that milk should never be too far from the mouth of the dead, and honey was considered the lord of the offerings for the dead. They believed that it could gather the body and that their dead loved ones could drink the smell of honey. As such, the Egyptian royalty was entombed with pots of honey, as it was believed it could ensure that they’d be resurrected in the afterlife.
Additionally, there are even historians who say that the combination of milk and honey to make a face mask was a beauty secret for ancient Egyptian women.
Religion and Milk and Honey
When land is plentiful with milk and honey, it was often a sign that the area was fertile. In ancient cultures, this was considered a sign that this land was gifted with God’s blessings. This belief helped turn milk and honey into the symbol of fertility in ancient writings. It’s often in religious writings that the fertility of the land is likened to human fertility and sexuality.
Milk and honey were a sign of the fertility of the area and are deeply connected to the basic survival needs of early cultures. Over time, however, it became a much more sensual symbol that would become a way to refer to the female figure as “flowing with milk and honey.” This was a way of speaking of the mother goddess, Astarte, in the ancient religious beliefs of the Hebrew people. In this way, the phrase “milk and honey” came to represent the ideals of fertility in both women and nature, through religion and ancient poetry.
Persians and Milk and Honey
Less pleasant than the image of fertility and sexuality in religion, according to historians, milk and honey were also used as a horrifying torture method by the Ancient Persians. This was done by having the victim tied between boats in a way that left them mostly exposed to a swamp area. After this, the victim would be forced only to drink milk and honey, and the same mixture was used to spread all over their bodies to attract insects.
Essentially, this would cause the victim to defecate and become exhausted while insects and rats attack them. They’d be eaten alive, and that would be their ultimate cause of death. The most well-known victim of this form of torture was a Persian soldier who accidentally killed Cyrus the Younger, a nobleman who was pining for the throne. This Persian solder was named Mithridates, and to his luck, the King was grateful for the death of Cyrus. The King covered for the murder, but it was actually Mithridates himself who forgot the gravity of his crimes and started bragging about killing Cyrus. Reportedly, after his sentencing for the murder, he survived a full 17 days in “the boats” before dying.
This is a far cry from the fertility and deeply religious relationship many of the ancients had with milk and honey. Though, this was also a far cry from the worst method that the Ancient Persians used as torture methods.
Modern Relationship With Milk and Honey
In modern culture, the relationship with milk and honey as a sign of fertility has become much less impactful as humans settle in places once not possible. Moreover, the ancient burial rituals and beliefs of the Ancient Egyptians have long become outdated by modern standards of burial practices. Much of our relationship with milk and honey, however, is connected to the health benefits drinking the combination may have.
Some health benefits that have been attributed to milk and honey include;
- Boosts Stamina
- Eases Insomnia
- Helps Digestion
- Promotes Bone Health
- Helps Ease Stress
- Flushes Out Bacteria to Ease Respiratory Infections
- Fights Stomach Infections
Additionally, we still use milk and honey in skincare as the Ancient Egyptian women were reported to do. It’s believed that a milk and honey face mask or cleanser could have anti-ageing properties and cause the skin to be more glowing and healthy. It’s even used to help repair damaged hair in certain formulas. Individually, milk and honey are praised for their reported health benefits, mixing them in a warm drink helps you get the best of both worlds in a combination that is sweet and tasty.
In modern language, using “milk and honey” is still used to mean the promised land or a perfect place. There are many ways that the phrase has changed and been used over time, to represent the sexuality of males and females, and as a euphemism for sexual acts. Though translations have become cruder over time, it’s base in representing the fertility of a person; usually, women but men are no longer exempt, has remained. As is true with many phrases that have been around for so long, it’s still connected in its original usage, but it went from a sensual expression to a much more overtly sexual phrase in music, poetry and locker room talk of the modern culture.
Milk and honey have always been known to have health benefits and earned its relationship with the ideals of fertility through its roots in religion and basic survival for the ancient cultures. Though the Persian’s showed us that not all civilizations connected milk and honey with these ideals of religion, fertility, sexuality, and safe passage to the afterlife as other cultures like the Hebrews and Ancient Egyptians believed, modern culture has found its way back to these ancient beliefs.
In the modern relationship with milk and honey, it hasn’t changed much from its roots in these ancient cultures. Now, we connect the combination with poetry, history, and it’s reported health benefits when mixed together to create a drink. With its ability to help relieve stress, help you sleep, fight infections in the stomach and respiratory system, and promotes many strengths in your body, milk and honey have made a staple name for itself as a tasty and healthy end of day treat for many people. Milk and honey is an excellent example of how, though the methods have changed and times have changed; we still find connections to the origins of the phrase, metaphor, and actual health beliefs of the ancients who started the tradition.