Thursday, September 25, 2008

Henna in Ancient China!

October 5 Henna Workshop: Henna in Ancient China

The upcoming Henna Workshop will be held on October 5, and will explore the use of henna in China, as well as the ancient art of tattooing that has also been practiced there for thousands of years as another form of body decoration. We will even study the beautiful body art found on Chinese mummies!

Henna Workshop Background

Henna is a plant dye that has been used by many cultures throughout history to decorate the skin. The leaves of the henna plant, when dried and powdered, are mixed with an acidic liquid such as lemon juice. This mixture can be applied to the skin in designs and patterns, and will temporarily dye the skin an orange-brown color.

Every month, the Rosicrucian Egyptian Museum holds a Henna Workshop where, in addition to making and applying their own henna, guests will learn about the use of henna by a particular culture in history.

For September, we explored the use of henna by the Minoan civilization, a culture that inhabited the island of Crete in the Aegean Sea during the Bronze Age. The Minoans were a peaceful civilization that gave women a relatively prominent role in society. They built palaces at various sites in Crete, which included beautiful wall frescoes. These sites have provided us with the majority of our knowledge about Minoan culture.

One of the most striking qualities of Minoan culture is the art, where motifs of geometric patterns and natural subjects covered the surfaces of walls and pottery in sophisticated compositions. These included geometric patterns used in the “Palace Style” as well as beautiful depictions of marine animals such as dolphins, octopi and fish, known as the “Marine Style.”

We know that the Minoans had extensive contact with Egypt; Minoan art shows some Egyptian influence, and characteristically Minoan-style paintings have actually been found in ancient Egyptian structures. Texts from the period as well as art depicting women with red markings on their skin confirm that the Minoans used henna as a form of body decoration, probably utilizing designs similar to those used in their art.

As part of the workshop, guests learn to mix and apply their own henna. If you would like to use henna at home, here is a henna recipe:

  • Henna powder (available at most Indian grocery stores or online)

  • Lemon juice (or other acidic liquid - Coca-Cola will work too)

  • Sugar

  • Tea Tree Oil (or other essential oil of your preference)- this is optional

  • Plastic sandwich bag


  1. Mix about 1 tablespoon of henna powder with about a teaspoon of sugar.

  2. Add lemon juice to create a paste a little thicker than cake batter.

  3. Add a few drops of essential oil, if desired. Tea tree oil works best to
    darken the henna stain.

  4. Cover and allow to sit for at least 15 minutes (an hour or so is preferable).

  5. Put henna into plastic bag and cut a tiny piece off of one corner of bag.

  6. Apply henna to skin using bag as applicator (like decorating a cake!). For darkest stain, leave on overnight.

  7. Do not remove henna until it has dried. When removing henna, scrape it off or wipe with oil (such as olive oil). The longer you avoid exposing the area to water, the longer the stain will last.

The Rosicrucian Egyptian Museum’s Henna Workshop is held on the first Sunday of every month. Complimentary tickets are available at the museum’s front desk on the day of the workshop, and are given on a first-come, first-served basis. Space is limited, so make sure to come early to reserve your seat!

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