Musings on Myth, Symbolism and the Creative Life
Follow your desires because you are alive.
Place myrrh on your head.
Dress yourself in the finest linen drenched in precious fragrances.
It is a true gift from the gods.
Multiply your pleasures.
Don’t let your heart become tired.
Follow your desires and your pleasures.
–Song of the Harpist, Egypt, 2000 BCE
I am just loving my return to school this Spring! My studies of mythology and ancient civilization have inspired me to make a fresh batch of that aromatic marvel of antiquity – Kyphi!
Several recipes for Kyphi, a sacred incense, still exist today. One recipe is, in fact, carved into the very walls of the Temple at Edfu in Egypt, built 237-57 BCE in honor of the god Horus. (The temple is pictured above, with thanks to Ad Meskens, Wikimedia commons.) Another recipe was recorded by the Greek scholar and physician, Pedanius Dioscorides, who lived 40-90 AD and is best known for his Materia Medica, the first comprehensive, illustrated Herbal ever recorded.
I have adapted Arabesque Aroma’s Kyphi recipe from a 2nd century Syrian receipt. The process of making the incense, and the aromatic ingredients used, remain fundamentally the same in all of the variations. The incense is a concoction of fragrant, precious resins such as Frankincense, Myrrh, and Benzoin, with spices and fragrant roots such as Cinnamon and Galangal, all powdered them melded together with wine, raisins, and honey. The incense is then formed into bricks and cured in the sun until dry.
Incense has long been used in human history to carry prayers, offerings, and supplication to the deities. Like both the sacred temple, and the ziggurat, the ancients regarded the act of burning incense — the rising smoke, the sweet fragrance, the most precious and valued of ingredients used — as a vehicle, a sacred space, a means to connect with the gods. The use of Frankincense in the Catholic mass originates from this pre-Christian practice.
I will be making this batch mid-March. Pre-orders are available now, and the Kyphi incense will ship by the end of this month.
And for those who are not lovers of smoke, even the most fragrant and decadent varieties, I have a unisex botanical perfume called “Kyphi” inspired directly by the incense.
In Further News…
Two new Sainted Scents will launch at the end of March, kicking off the 2014 Arabesque Aromas “A Year in Perfume” subscription. So stay tuned!
AND finally — I am having a flash sale from now until April 1st! Receive 28% off of 3 ml botanical perfumes in my etsy shop with the coupon code “Tuxedokitty”
I discovered the historic sachet recipe in a book of period herbals very early in my aromatic career. For me, the desire was strong to simply recreate the fragrance, and in so doing, experience a sensory moment of Spanish history. But during an idle moment in a Barnes and Nobles, I happened upon a book of Tudor and Jacobean portraiture called “Dynasties” by Karen Hearn of the Tate Gallery in London. And Queen Isabel’s portrait and life story, as well as her fragrant, bejewelled dresses, quite drew me in!
Karen Hearn writes “Isabel’s relationship to Philip II of Spain is articulated primarily through the striking device of the brilliant rose-pink dress. Wearing this colour, which is very unusual in a portrait, was a recognised sign of love. Indeed, there existed a romantic attachment between Philip and Isabel and their marriage certainly inaugurated a period of social and cultural vivacity at the Spanish court. It is, however, difficult to separate personal emotions from political decorum during this period and her portrait would also have been understood in the context of the relationship between France and Spain. The peace treaty of Cateau-Cambresis, signed in April 1559, was sealed and guaranteed by the marriage between Philip and Isabel. Isabel was christened ‘Isabel de la Paz’ and taken to their hearts by the Spanish. Her portrait characterisation as young, beautiful, dressed in warm pink and laden with jewels similarly represented her as a kind of peace-trophy: the embodiment of optimism and love” (Hearn, 57).
Reflecting on the considerable personal and political pressures inherent in Isabel’s union with Philip II of Spain at 14 years of age, I re-visited her recipe with less of a sensory, and more of a historian’s, curiosity.
I soon realized that her Apothecary most certainly took these same personal and political considerations in hand. For Isabel’s recipe was much more than a casual fragrance to make her dresses smell sweet and pretty. Indeed, this recipe is closer in nature to a magical prescription, a concoction if you will, carefully and intentionally designed according to ancient folk meaning and symbolism, even invoking the influence of the stars.
Apothecaries, perfumers, chemists, and pharmacists of this time were well-versed in astrology, astronomy and the celestial correlations and assignations of planetary influences upon the human body. Likewise, many cures, medicines, and perfumes for the human body were carefully designed using plants and medicines that were deemed to be an astrologically harmonious cure for the problem/or malady at hand. Consider this quote by Paracelsus “Every physician should simultaneously be an alchemist and an astrologer” (Junius, 96). In my opinion, the carefully selected, balanced, even romantic, combination of ingredients used in Isabel’s dress powder reflect these philosophies and considerations.
Ingredients in Queen Isabel’s Sachet Powder for Scenting Her Dresses
Red Rose Petals
First, I took note of one of the most commonly used aphrodisiac ingredients of this time period; Coriander. Many herbals of the time period connect Coriander with the fiery, sexual, spicy, active, procreative energies of Mars. But I discovered that Coriander has a dual association with the planet Venus. Certain plants, according to The Practical Handbook of Plant Alchemy by Manfred Junius, were affiliated with more than one planetary body. So – the Renaissance-era herbals regard Coriander to contain the masculine, procreative energy of Mars as well as the feminine, alchemical planet Venus within the very seed itself! “As Ishtar or Ashtaroth, Venus was the goddess of sexual love in Babylon, as Aphrodite in Greece… she ruled over love between man and woman” (Junius, 110) Venus, planet and goddess, also ruled over alchemy. Consider the ‘Sacred Marriage’ between Philip and Isabel as well as between France and Spain as Junius continues “This planet rules the arts, harmony, proportion, affection, and the ability to integrate separate things into a whole and to mediate between opposites”.
Next, take note of the Calamus root or Sweet Flag, an herb of the Sun. This herb was believed to lend its solar aspects of the masculine, the golden, consciousness, clarity and its life-giving properties to the user. Quite a powerful combination with the soft, sweet, violet-scented powder of Orris, root of the Florentine Iris, a lunar herb and common fixative in natural perfumery since antiquity. The Moon and its influence were believed to lend Orris the lunar qualities of fertility, conception, a capacity for feelings, motherliness, family and heritage to the user (Junius, 101-105). I don’t believe that this Apothecary’s archetypal marry-ing of Orris and Sweet Flag, the Masculine sun and the Feminine moon, can be overlooked. Like Isabel’s rose-pink dress, this powder was carefully designed and prepared with a specific symbolism in mind.
Finally, in closing, we have the most dominant ingredient in Isabel’s dress powder, the Red Rose of Venus, who speaks for herself! Or as Marina Heilmeyer of the book “Ancient Herbs” writes “All roses, according to legend, were originally white. They turned red only from the blood of Aphrodite, who was pricked by a rose thorn as she rushed to save the dying Adonis. Drops of her blood fell and dyed the rose red; the red rose thereby became the symbol of enduring love…”
Sadly, Queen Isabel died in childbirth, aged 22, in 1568. But her fragrance continues to live on…
The sachets, true to the historical recipe, are available in my Etsy shop through Valentine’s Day 2014.
(Please note that the brocade from the listing photo is now sold out, but they are hand-stitched in two pieces of the plain raw cream silk, as pictured.)
copyright Kirsten Schilling, 2009
The Sainted Scents of Midwinter 2013 have been inspired by the wealth of myth, magic, whimsy and symbolism that I have long enjoyed within the stories of the saints.
Saint Bega of Bees botanical perfume
St. Bega was a 9th century Irish virgin saint. She was said to have sailed away across the sea to British shores, standing upon a piece of sod wearing only a holy bracelet, when her chastity was threatened by a Northern king!
(What a beautiful visual!)
She is credited with later establishing a convent in Bees, Northumberland.
A pilgrim’s path called St. Bega’s Way can be walked in her honor, today.
The botanical perfume Saint Bega of Bees was blended with the essential oils of Frankincense, Scotch Pine, Agarwood, Black Currant, and Cistus.
Saint Christina the Astonishing
The story of the life of St. Christina the Astonishing, a flying saint who lived in Liège in the 12th century, reflects, in my opinion, the wild woman archetype, as written about extensively by Dr. Clarissa Pinkola Estes. So it will probably come as no surprise to say her contemporaries did not treat her, nor did they write about her, very kindly.
It was said of her that she once died and came back to life. That she spent a great deal of time perched in trees, that she liked to swim in icy rivers and fly around on windmills, and that she found her fellow humans to be — stinky.
( Eeks! I do hope this scent meets with her approval!)
Christina’s life was documented in the 13th century in a book “The Life of Saint Christina the Astonishing” by Thomas de Cantimpré who writes “Her body was so sensitive and light that she walked on dizzy heights and, like a sparrow, hung suspended from the topmost branches of the loftiest trees” though Christina’s story is far more enjoyable when sung by Nick Cave in the eponymous song, Christina the Astonishing. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4KygSpvCd_o
The unisex botanical perfume, Christina the Astonishing was created with the essential oils of Ambergris, Clove, Neroli, Liquidambar, Black Cumin and Cedar.
Both of the Sainted Scents come in a bejeweled, gold painted 6ml bottle, as pictured above.
And I have blended both of my Sainted Scents to contain at least one aromatic ingredient that was deemed sacred/ holy in the Saint’s own lifetime. I consciously created them both to evoke churchy, musty, old, and mysterious. But — in a sexy way! And I hope you will like them.
The Sainted Scents will also come with my handmade print, “Mary Magdalen Cutting off Her Hair” inspired by a French medieval monastic text c. 11-12th century. The lino print is on plain brown paper, in burgundy ink, and will be included with Sainted Scent perfume orders while supplies last. The print can also be purchased separately, here.
For further reading on the lives of the virgin saints, pick up Giselle Potter’s delightful book, “Lucy’s Eyes and Margaret’s Dragon.”
Subscribe to Arabesque Aroma’s 2014-2015 Perfume Subscription and automatically receive a perfume sample each time a new Arabesque Aromas scent debuts. Since 2009, Arabesque Aromas has traditionally launched one to three new oil-based scents each Spring, Summer, Indian Summer/Fall, Winter and Midwinter.
Note that the perfume subscription rotates into 2015, so regardless of what season subscribers purchase their subscription, they will receive one full year of perfume. The first 2014 perfume samples to ship to subscribers will be Arabesque’s Spring 2014 scents, shipping in March 2014.Samples will ship to subscribers via First Class Mail. The subscription covers a minimum of six 1ml perfume samples per year, plus prepaid shipping, within the US and Canada.
Inspired by the Myths & Legends of King Arthur
She cast the juniper on the fire, and as the smoke rose, bound the branch of hazel to her forehead. She laid fruit and flowers before the fire, then touched salt and oil to her breast, took a bite of the bread and a sip of the wine, then, trembling, laid the silver mirror where the firelight shone on it and, from the barrel which was kept for washing the women’s hair, poured clear rainwater across the silver surface of the mirror. She whispered “By common things and by uncommon, by water and fire, salt and oil and wine, by fruit and flowers together, I beg you, Goddess, let me see my sister Viviane.”
-from The Mists of Avalon by Marion Zimmer Bradley, 1984.
When life gets to be too much, I threaten the world with a fist shake and a stern warning that the cats and I are going to pack up, flee to Leeds, England, and enter their graduate program in medieval studies. The Arthurian myths and legends are one of several aspects of Celtic-medieval history that truly call me! (I really want to learn to read medieval French!) For now, however, I have decided to channel my passions into this botanical perfume project. And I hope it pleases you!
The Four Arthurian Perfumes
I designed each Arthurian perfume to resonate with one of four elements.
Like many of my botanical perfumes, my Winter Collection can also be used as an anointing oil for meditating, journeying, or other personal, sacred work.
Each botanical perfume contains a drop of water, drawn myself, from The Chalice Well in Glastonbury, England.
Merlin the Bard
“It was magic — magic as black as Merlin could make it.
And the whole sea was green fire and white foam with singing mermaids in it… “
from The Book of Merlin by TH White.
Morgaine of the Faeries
“They were seldom seen, even here in the far hills, anywhere in village and field; they lived their own life secretly in deserted hills and forests where they had fled when the Romans came. But I knew they were there, that the little folk who had never lost sight of Her watched over me… I knew better than to look for them directly, but they were there and I knew they would be there if I needed them. It was not for nothing that I had been given that old name, Morgaine of the Faeries… And now they acknowledged me as their priestess and their queen.”
from The Mists of Avalon by Marion Zimmer Bradley
The Lady of the Lake
“The Goddess knows, child, I love you as I have never loved any other human being on earth,” Viviane said steadily, through the knifing pain in her heart. “But when I brought you here, I told you: A time may come when you might hate me as much as you loved me then. I am Lady of Avalon; I do not give reasons for what I do. I do what I must, no more and no less, and so will you when the day comes.”
from The Mists of Avalon by Marion Zimmer Bradley
“Here lies Arthur,
King once and King to be.”
from Le Morte D’Arthur, Thomas Mallory
A note re: Arthur, The Once and Future King
I think we have all heard this term, many times, but halfway through my research it occurred to me that I did not fully understand what it meant. Not truly. I must say, in this current climate of political injustice and war-mongering, I was grateful to discover the essence of this phrase. To me, King Arthur represents the suite of Cups in the tarot. He consulted his heart, intuition, as well as his intellect, and embodies the wisdom of balanced justice and tempered action. Moreso, in his balancing of the masculine and feminine, of pagan and Christian, of head with heart, he brings to mind the Temperance card in the Tarot, the arcanum version of the suite of cups. His title, the Once and Future King, outlines the hope that heart-centered justice will return to the world, someday.
A note re: the female Arthurian characters
The original roles of the women in the Arthurian legends were not evil. Their characters once evoked true mystery, respect, dignity and power as representational aspects of the Goddess. It is only when these myths passed through the filters of dualization and medieval Christianity that we see the magical female characters of the Arthurian legend turn into warped, twisted, and evil/manipulative personas. Foregoing what Celtic scholar Jean Markale calls the “distinctly masculine and patriarchal attitude on the lines that men are the unfortunate victims of wicked women who must be punished…” I have chosen to quote from Bradley’s “Mists of Avalon” when referring to Morgaine of the Faeries and The Lady of the Lake, out of respect for the feminine.
I recommend Jean Markale’s book “Women of the Celts” for more on this important subject.
Recommended Reading from my Bibliography and Research
I have thoroughly enjoyed researching Arthurian myth, symbol and folklore for the development of this collection and I thought I would share my bibliography with you.
I hope you will find the perfumes as appealing and endearing as the personas, symbolism and archetypes upon which they are based.
Lady of Avalon by Marion Zimmer Bradley, 1997.
The Mists of Avalon by Marion Zimmer Bradley, 1982.
Four Arthurian Romances by Chretien DeTroyes c. 1170’s
A Life of Merlin by Geoffrey of Monmouth, c. 1150’s
The White Goddess by Robert Graves, 1948.
Morte D’Arthur: King Arthur and His Noble Knights of the Round Table by Thomas Mallory, c. 1450-1470.
Women of the Celts by Jean Markale, 1986.
King Arthur and the Grail Quest: Myth and Vision from Celtic Times to the Present by John Matthews, 1994.
The Acts of King Arthur and his Noble Knights by John Steinbeck, 1976.
Merlin and The Gleam by Alfred Lord Tennyson, 1889.
The Lady of Shallot by Alfred Lord Tennyson, 1842.
The Idylls of the King by Alfred Lord Tennyson, 1859.
Morte D’Arthur by Alfred Lord Tennyson, 1833.
Merlin the Bard: A Ballad from Brittany in Four Languages by Theodore de la Villamarque, 2010.
The Book of Merlin by T.H. White, 1987.
The Once and Future King by T.H. White, 1938-1958.
The Fall of Arthur by J.R.R. Tolkein, edited by Christopher Tolkein, 2013.
The Lancelot-Grail c. 1210-30. (Vulgate Cycle, author unattributed)