To anoint is to smear, spread a liquid, a process employed ritually by many religions and races. It also refers to vesels consecrated to God. People and things are anointed to symbolize the introduction of a sacramental or divine influence, a holy emanation, spirit or power. Unction is another term for anointing. The oil may be called chrism.
The word is known in English since c. 1303, deriving from Old French enoint "smeared on," pp. of enoindre "smear on," itself from Latin inunguere, from in- "on" + unguere "to smear." Originally it only referred to grease or oil smeared on for medicinal purposes; its use in the Coverdale Bible in reference to Christ (cf. The Lord's Anointed, see also Chrism) has spiritualized the sense of it.
Anointing in Ancient Egypt, image from the 1901-1906 Jewish Encyclopedia.The indigenous Australians believed that the virtues of one killed could be transferred to survivors if the latter rubbed themselves with his caul-fat. So the Arabs of East Africa anoint themselves with lion's fat in order to gain courage and inspire the animals with awe of themselves. Such rites are often associated with the actual eating of the victim whose virtues are coveted.
Among the Hebrews, the act of anointing was significant in consecration to a holy or sacred use: hence the anointing of the high priest (Exodus 29:29; Leviticus 4:3) and of the sacred vessels (Exodus 30:26).