Kemet Egyptian Newsletter
Kemet Egyptian Perfume
The ancient Egyptian culture, along with those of India, China, Persia, Mesopotamia, etc had highly evolved religious, cultural, social and artistic systems that nurtured the use of aromatics to enhance the spiritual, emotional and physical well-being of the people dwelling in those lands. Each of these countries evolved their own special fragrant traditions, the study of which gives profound insight into the world in which they lived and their attitudes towards it.
In the evolution of Egyptian culture four main streams of aromatic traditions evolved that concerned the use of natural botanicals for (1)the worship of their pantheon of gods and goddesses that in some important way embodied qualities that were universal in nature; (2) daily life for both hygienic and personal adornment; (3) the use of the aforesaid for embalming purposes: (4) preparation of medicines. Incense, ointments, unguents, perfumes, pharmaceuticals and embalming compounds all were prepared with a high degree of sophistication by people devoted to the art and craft of perfumery. There is an extensive body of literature which can be referred too through which the interested person can explore various subjects related to the use of natural aromatics in Egyptian life.
For the aspiring perfumer wishing to re-create a perfume that would embody something of the spirit of ancient Egypt one can uncover references to the famous perfumes of the time such as Kyphi, Tiryac, Kupar, Medesium, Metopion, Susinum, Irinum,Cyprinum, Amarcinum, etc. Some of the details of these ancient perfumes can be found in Lise Manniche's book, Sacred luxuries: fragrance, aromatherapy, and cosmetics in Ancient Egypt. The study of the recipes could serve as a foundation for perfume creation.
Or one might like to venture forth on their own creative path using essential oils, absolutes and co2 extracts derived from plants that were known to be used by the Ancient Egyptians such as blue lotus, white lotus, calamus, henna flower and leaf, myrtle, frankincense, myrrh, galbanum, cassia, spikenard, cardamon, cyperus root, cinnamon bark, dill, iris root, saffron, mint etc. There are many avenues that one can explore in evolving their own vision of what Egypt embodies from ancient into modern times.
This is a path I like to follow myself as it gives a lot of creative scope to initiate new and enticing perfumes. Kemet is the ancient name for Egypt. It means "black earth" and reflects the fertility of the Nile River delta.
1 ounce Blue Lotus Absolute
2 ounces Frankincense Somalia eo
1/2 ounce Rosa damascena abs
1/32 ounce Cinnamon bark eo
1/4 ounce Nagarmotha eo
2 ounces Gulhina Attar
1/4 ounce Orris Root CO2
1/2 ounce Henna Leaf CO2
Quotes on Fragrance in Egypt
We have first to traverse the old town of Cairo, a maze of streets still full of charm, wherein the thousand little lamps of the Arab shops already shed their quiet light. Passing through streets which twist at their caprice, beneath overhanging balconies covered with wooden trellis of exquisite workmanship, we have to slacken speed in the midst of a dense crowd of men and beasts. Close to us pass women, veiled in black, gently mysterious as in the olden times, and men of unmoved gravity, in long robes and white draperies ; and little donkeys pompously bedecked in collars of blue beads ; and rows of leisurely camels, with their loads of lucerne, which exhale the pleasant fragrance of the fields. And when in the gathering gloom, which hides the signs of decay, there appear suddenly, above the little houses, so lavishly ornamented with mushrabiyas and arabesques, the tall aerial minarets, rising to a prodigious height into The small herb, Beytharan, in modest green!
In every tiny leaf and gland and hair
Sweet perfume is distilled, and scents the air.
How is it that in barren sandy ground
This little plant so sweet a gift has found?
And that in me, in this vast desert plain,
The sleeping gift of song awakes again?"
-from Uarda, Complete, by Georg Ebers
I mounted the roof of the little cabin as the broad latine sail swelled smoothly under the pressure of the Etesian wind, which, at this season of the inundation, by a wonderful provision of nature, blows steadily from the north, thus alone enabling vessels to stem the powerful current of the rising Nile. I had embarked on that ancient and sacred river, renewing before my eyes its majestic current, diffusing the same blessings to its rich valley as it had done in the days when Egypt was a mighty kingdom, when Thebes and Memphis and the pyramids arose upon its borders. The rich fans of the plume-like palms on the banks were painted on the warm glow of the westward horizon, the level valley with its wealth of production spread away in dusky haze, but the breeze brought off from the shore its odorous musky fragrance, lamps twinkled in the cottages, and cast their reflections into the glassy stream — the noise and babble of the Fellahs, and sounds of the Darrabuka, or Egyptian drum, came off and died away as we sailed past the villages on the bank. The boat, with her broad sails and her long wake whitening in the moon, and her Arab crew, lying upon deck, chanting their peculiar and plaintive songs, flew rapidly along through those historic waters. I sat up to a late hour, so delightful was my first impression of the patriarch of rivers.
-from The Nile boat or, glimpses of the land of Egypt, by W.H. Bartlett (1849)
An intense craving for brightness and cheerfulness is to be observed on all sides, and the attempt to cover every action of life with a kind of lustre is perhaps the most apparent characteristic of the race. At all times the Egyptians decked themselves with flowers, and rich and poor alike breathed what they called "the sweet north wind" through a screen of blossoms.At their feasts and festivals each guest was presented with necklaces and crowns of lotus-flowers, and a specially selected bouquet was carried in the hands. Constantly, as the hours passed, fresh flowers were brought to them, and the guests are shown in the tomb paintings in the act of burying their noses in the delicate petals with an air of luxury which even the conventionalities of the draughtsman cannot hide. In the women's hair a flower was pinned which hung down before the forehead; and a cake of ointment, concocted of some sweet-smelling unguent, was so arranged upon the head that, as it slowly melted, it re-perfumed the flower. Complete wreaths of flowers were sometimes worn, and this was the custom as much in the dress of the home as in that of the feast. The common people also arrayed themselves with wreaths of lotuses at all galas and carnivals. The room in which a feast was held was decorated lavishly with flowers. Blossoms crept up the delicate pillars to the roof; garlands twined themselves around the tables and about the jars of wine; and single buds lay in every dish of food. Even the dead were decked in their tombs with a mass of flowers, as though the mourners would hide with the living delights of the earth the misery of the grave.
-from The Treasury of Ancient Egypt, by Arthur E.B.P. Weigall
Yes, one can forget even now in the hall of the temple of Isis, where the capricious graces of color, where, like old and delicious music in the golden strings of a harp, dwells a something—what is it? A murmur, or a perfume, or a breathing?—of old and vanished years when forsaken gods were worshipped. And one can forget in the chapel of Hathor, on whose wall little Horus is born, and in the grey hounds' chapel beside it.
One can forget, for one walks in beauty. Lovely are the doorways in Philae, enticing are the shallow steps that lead one onward and upward; gracious the yellow towers that seem to smile a quiet welcome. And there is one chamber that is simply a place of magic—the hall of the flowers.It is this chamber which always makes me think of Philae as a lovely temple of dreams, this silent, retired chamber, where some fabled princess might well have been touched to a long, long sleep of enchantment, and lain for years upon years among the magical flowers—the lotus, and the palm, and the papyrus.
-from The Spell of Egypt, by Robert Hichens
In order to enable the strangers to enjoy the beauty of the spectacle, the fellahs had lighted all their torches. The sight was indeed strange and magnificent. The galleries and halls which led to the sarcophagus hall were flat-ceiled and not more than eight or ten feet high; but the sanctuary, the one to which all these labyrinths led, was of much greater proportions. Lord Evandale and Dr. Rumphius remained dumb with admiration, although they were already familiar with the funereal splendours of Egyptian art. Thus lighted up, the Golden Hall flamed, and for the first time, perhaps, the colours of the paintings shone in all their brilliancy. Red and blue, green and white, of virginal purity, brilliantly fresh and amazingly clear, stood out from the golden background of the figures and hieroglyphs, and attracted the eye before the subjects which they formed could be discerned. At first glance it looked like a vast tapestry of the richest stuffs. The vault, some thirty feet high, formed a sort of azure velarium bordered with long yellow palm-leaves. On the walls the symbolical globe spread its mighty wings and the royal cartouches showed around. Farther on, Isis and Nephthys waved their arms furnished with feathers like wings; the uræus swelled its blue throat, the scarabæus unfolded its wings, the animal-headed gods pricked up their jackal ears, sharpened their hawk's-beaks, wrinkled their baboon faces, and drew into their shoulders their vulture or serpent necks as if they were endowed with life. Mystical consecrated boats (baris) passed by on their sledges drawn by figures in attitudes of sadness, with angular gestures, or propelled by half-naked oarsmen, they floated upon symbolical undulating waves. Mourners kneeling, their hand placed on their blue hair in token of grief, turned towards the catafalques, while shaven priests, leopard-skin on shoulder, burned perfumes in a spatula terminating in a hand bearing a cup under the nose of the godlike dead. Other personages offered to the funeral genii lotus in bloom or in bud, bulbous plants, birds, pieces of antelope, and vases of liquors. Acephalous figures of Justice brought souls before Osiris, whose arms were set in inflexible contour, and who was assisted by the forty-two judges of Amenti, seated in two rows and bearing an ostrich-plume on their heads, the forms of which were borrowed from every realm of zoölogy.
-from The Romance of a Mummy and Egypt by Theophile Gautier
Beyond these regions lay the beginnings of To-nûtri, the land of the gods, and the breezes passing over it were laden with its perfumes, and sometimes wafted them to mortals lost in the desert.[*]
* The perfumes and the odoriferous woods of the Divine Land were celebrated in Egypt. A traveller or hunter, crossing the desert, "could not but be vividly impressed by suddenly becoming aware, in the very midst of the desert, of the penetrating scent of the robul (Puliciaria undulata, Schwbine.), which once followed us throughout a day and two nights, in some places without our being able to distinguish
whence it came; as, for instance, when we were crossing tracts of country without any traces of vegetation whatever."
-from History of Egypt, by Maspero, Volume 1,
Links for Perfumery and Incense in Egypt
Books for Perfumery and Incense in Egypt
An ancient Egyptian herbal
by Lise Manniche
Ancient Egyptian Materials and Industries
by Alfred Lucas
Sacred luxuries: fragrance, aromatherapy, and cosmetics in Ancient Egypt
by Lise Manniche
Free Etexts regarding Perfumery and Incense in Ancient Egypt