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Matins Perfume Newsletter

One of my many interests in natural aromatics centers around the use of aromatic botanicals for making liquid incense and perfumes that in some way might reflect the specific religious traditions ie Christian, Moslem, Jewish, Egyptian, Tibetan, Chinese, Persian, etc that gave birth to them. With the passage of the yearsFrankincense I have become sensitive to the aromatic smoke from traditional incense(I have burned copious amounts in my life) so I wanted to make some lovely liquid incenses and perfumes which might be placed in a simple diffuser life the AromaStone so I could enjoy the radiance and beauty of those olfactory treasures without smoke. In doing numerous experiments I discovered this was a delightful way to experience essential oils, co2 extracts, attars, and absolutes either singly or in combination. The simple warming effect of the AromaStone allowed the liquid incense or perfumes to gently release their aromatic aroma into the surrounding atmosphere where I could enjoy it in a deep and complete way-a sort of surround sound of the aromatic world. What was an equally great delight was to realize that just a few drops of these natural perfumes and liquid incenses would continue to exert their sublime effect for many hours or even days. So it has proved a very cost effective way to enjoy this refined world of natural fragrances as well.


In the early days of my life I attended Roman Catholic church services. The favorite part for me was the burning of the incense. It captivated my attention like no other part of the Mass. Somehow, the incense drew me into the heart of mystery which seemed to underlie all the outer symbolic rites and rituals conducted in the church and this strong feeling that something special existed, though not externally perceptible remained with me as the different stages of life unfolded. The lovely aroma of frankincense to this day conveys this sense of wonder and beauty to the heart in a simple and direct way although the love of many other fragrances has arisen through the years and have taken their rightful place along side of it.


This months perfume-Matins was created in honor of that early introduction to the enchanting scented universe. Matins is the term associated with the monastic tradition of night or early morning worship-a time when the world is at peace and the simple odor of incense penetrates deep into the heart and draws ones attention towards the inner life.


Many centuries ago, incense and anointing oils, became an integral part of the Christian religious tradition. The lovely aromas of frankincense, benzoin, styrax, myrrh and other exquisite fragrant botanicals were utilized to create a refined atmosphere conducive to prayer, devotion and contemplation in convent, church and monastery. Symbolically the clouds of aromatic smoke arising from the censure and ascending into the surrounding air and merging with it, was likened to the prayers  of the monks, nuns, priests and congregation ascending to the throne of God. There is an immensely rich body of Christian scriptural literature that relates to the symbolic use of incense in the rites and rituals of Christianity uplift, cleanse, heal and purify the environments and people participating in devotional endeavors. It has its own special attributes that were determined by the environments and mental make up of the people that nurtured it but is rooted in the universal longing of human beings for union with the grand mystery of life that is at the core of all existence.


It is important to remember that the unique olfactory traditions that did evolve amongst those who adopted Christianity as their path to union Divine was influenced directly by the Roman-Greco and Judaic cultures out of which it evolved. Those traditions in turn were influenced by much more ancient cultures such as existed in Egypt, Persia, China and India. Although the specifics varied there was a shared interest in how the sense of smell might be refined to inspire a religious and spiritual state of mind. All the ancient cultures had a keen interest in aromatics which could be used for that purpose. Many of these natural botanicals were specific to the regions where those cultures flourished but there was also a complex network of international trade which allowed the transport of aromatic spices, balsamic resins, precious woods, earthy roots, etc to distant places. Hence there was a shared love and appreciation of botanicals like frankincense, myrrh, benzoin, cinnamon, spikenard, galbanum etc for use in incense and aromatic essences. The underlying purpose of all of these gifts of nature was to help cultivate the higher sensibilities of humans so their attention should be concentrated and focused towards the inner life.

Cloister
Matins Perfume Recipe

1 1/4 ounces Myrrh eo or co2
1/4 ounce Opoponax eo
2 1/2 ounces of Frankincense eo
1 ounce Frankincense co2
1/2 ounce Styrax eo
1/2 ounce Cinnamon bark eo or absolute
1/4 ounce Mastic eo
1/4 ounce Cistus eo
1/2 ounce Labdanum "incense note" absolute
1/16th ounce Galbanum eo
1/16th ounce Choya nakh
1 ounce Cedarwood Virginia eo
2 ounce Benzoin absolute (50% in perfumers alcohol)


An example of how this symbolic esoteric language of scent evolved within the Christian tradition can be found in The Cathedral, by Joris-Karl Huysmans:


"Well, but do you not think, Monsieur l'Abbé, that, apart from such instances of indisputable meaning, there are in such symbolism some very fine-drawn and obscure similitudes?"
The Abbé smiled.
"Do you know," said he, "the theories of Honorius of Autun as to the symbolism of the censer?"
"No."
"Well, then, after having pointed out the natural and very proper interpretation that may be applied to this vessel, as representing the Body of Our Lord, while the incense signifies His Divinity, and the fire is the Holy Spirit within Him; and after having defined the various interpretations of the metal of which it is made—if of gold, it answers to the perfection of His Divinity; if of silver, to the matchless excellence of His Humility; if of copper, to the frailty of the flesh He assumed for our salvation; if of iron, to the Resurrection of that Body which conquered death—the scholiast comes to the chains."

"Or, again, take the substances used by the Church in certain ceremonies: water, wine, ashes, salt, oil, balsam, incense. Incense, besides representing the divinity of the Son, is likewise the symbol of
prayer, 'thus devotio orationis' as it is described by Raban Maur, Archbishop of Mayence in the ninth century. I happen to remember also,à propos of this resin and the censer in which it is burnt, a verse I
read long since in the 'Monastic Distinctions' of the anonymous English writer of the thirteenth century, which sums up their signification more neatly than I can: 'vas notatur, Mens pia; thure preces; igne supernus amor.' The vase is the spirit of piety; the incense, prayer; the fire, divine love."


There is quite a long and interesting explanation relating to incense, sacred healing plants, etc given in Chapter X of The Cathedral which those who are interested might enjoy reading.

Incense in Christian Literature

The chant went up from the black masses of men and women kneeling in the cathedral, like a sudden breaking out of light in darkness, and the silence was shattered as by a peal of thunder. The voices floated up with the clouds of incense that had begun to cast thin bluish veils over the fanciful marvels of the architecture, and the aisles were filled with splendor and perfume and light and melody.
--from The Elixir of Life
by Honore de Balzac


At length the hill-side city's spires and roofs,
With all its western windows smitten redstained glass
By a rich sunset, and with massive towers
Of its cathedral overtopping all,
greeted his sight. Some weary paces more,
And as the twilight deepened in the streets,
He stood within the minster. How serene,
In sculptured calm of centuries, it seemed!
How cool and spacious all the dim-lit aisles,
Still hazy with fumes of frankincense!
--from The Poems of Emma Lazarus
by Emma Lazarus

Ah, those charitable churches of the Middle Ages, those chapels damp and smoky, full of ancient song, of exquisite paintings, of the odour of extinguished tapers, of the perfume of burning incense!
--from En Route
by Joris-Karl Huysmans

 

In royal splendour rose the house of prayer,
Its mystic gloom arched over by the flight
Of soaring vault; above the nave's dim night
Rich gleamed the painted windows wondrous fair.
Sweet chimes and chanting mingled in the air;
Blue clouds of incense dimmed the vaulted height;
And on the altar, like a beacon light,
The gold cross glittered in the candles' glare.
--from Acanthus and Wild Grape
by F. O. Call

 

But has tradition any foundation in fact? Why not? Through his numberless works we may easily divine the soul of the artist, and can well understand, how the calm and serene atmosphere of the monastic cell, the church perfumed with incense, and the cloister vibrating with psalms, would develop the mystic sentiment in such a mind.
--from Fra Angelico
by J. B. Supino


He stood before the image of Christ, and on his right hand and on his left were the marvellous vessels of gold, the chalice with the yellow wine, and the vial with the holy oil. He knelt before the image of Christ, and the great candles burned brightly by the jewelled shrine, and the smoke of the incense curled in thin blue wreaths through the dome. He bowed his head in prayer, and the priests in their stiff copes crept away from the altar.
--from A House of Pomegranates
by Oscar Wilde


Educated in the gloom of the convent, the notes of the organ, the clouds of incense, the waxen tapers burning at the feet of the Virgin, the litanies of the nuns,--all this had filled her mind
with the poetry of the cloister, and with that mystic and indefinable love which at the first contact with the world was ready to change into a violent passion when it should meet with an object upon which to fix itself.
--from Home Life of Great Authors
by Hattie Tyng Griswold

 

On the timeworn pavement yonder,
Even now I seem to see,
At the shrine where once he worshipped,
Some old saint on bended knee;
Seems to rise the smoke of incense,
In a column faint and dim,
Still the organ through the rafters
Seems to peal the vesper hymn.
--from Welsh Lyrics of the Nineteenth Century
by Edmund O. Jones

It was scarcely possible to see; the sanctuary was lighted only by tiny lamps from the roof in little saucers of lurid orange or dull gold. An extraordinarily mild atmosphere prevailed in this underground structure, which was also full of a singular perfume in which a musty odour of hot wax mingled with a suggestion of damp earth. But this was only the background, the canvas, so to speak, of the perfume, and was lost under the embroidery of fragrance which covered it, the faded gold, as it were, of oil in which long kept aromatic herbs had been steeped, and old, old incense powder dissolved. It was a weird and mysterious vapour, as strange as the crypt itself, which, with its furtive lights and breadths of shadow, was at once penitential and soothing.
--from The Cathedral
by Joris-Karl Huysmans