I am aware of how certain smells can evoke very powerful images and the use of fragrance is something that fills both my everyday and my devotional life. It doesn’t even have to be smells you particularly like very much. A couple of years ago I was lucky enough to attend a wonderful workshop entitled “Sacred and Ritual Perfumes” held in Glastonbury by the wonderful Marina.
Marina is a fantastic natural perfumer who owns The Perfume Garden and as part of the workshop we had to discuss smells we did and didn’t like. I expressed my deep disgust at the scent of unadulterated Patchouli, it has such negative connotations. My first clear memory of it was in the late 1970’s. I cannot have been more than 7 years old and we were eating in the Vegan cafe in our local town, a treat I normally relished. But his particular day the person who was waiting table smelt terribly of body odour overlaid with another smell, the combination was so sickening that it stayed with me all day hanging around under my nose and I was physically ill on the bus ride home. The other smell as I discovered later was Patchouli.
I can recall the clothes the person was wearing, the gaudily painted walls, the ethnic hangings and the beaded curtain that separated the kitchen from the customers. I can even feel the wooden table under my hand and recall swinging my legs from the seat which was too tall for me; so strong are my memories. And every time I have smelt Patchouli on its own since then, those memories come flooding back so strongly that I have to take a moment and centre myself.
The connection with smell and the ability to recall memories is not a new concept and it is a phenomena we can use in our work with Deity. After all if smell can quite literally summon up a memory so strongly that it can physically make us sick, then imagine what we can do with our primal mind and smell, what we can connect with when we use the right smell and let our conscious minds go.
This is one of the primary reasons in my opinion, for using incense during ritual or path-working. Yes of course you can use it as an offering of sorts as we tend to blend incenses that are aligned with whichever entity you are working with and there are of course many historical references to using fine perfumes and smoke as offerings to the Gods. But when we work we want to align ourselves with and summon up an aspect of something. And there really isn’t a quicker way to evoke an image of something than through our sense of smell.
I tend to blend a lot of my own incense and I have provided recipes for a few of my own in my book but from time to time I venture into the world of prepared blends from skilled artisans, and I have to say that the Hecate Oil from Rosarium Blends is possibly one of the best ritual scents I have come across in a very long while and to me it evokes the very essence of Hekate. It is deep and rich and earthy, with a sweet undertone which stops the combinations of Oakmoss and Myrrh and Frankincense making the smell too masculine. And funnily enough, it contains Patchouli 😉