Perfume, Anointing and Medicine
Updated: Mar 1, 2022
For me, “perfume” used to call to mind nasty-smelling stuff worn by people I didn’t understand.
Perfume meant headaches; it meant soulless department stores and designer BS. It certainly didn’t translate to beauty, much less anything sacred.
Meanwhile perfume’s societally-sanctioned masculine form, cologne, smelled like canned masculinity—the way companies tell you men should smell.
I had to purge those all associations and replace them.
A little etymology helped here: perfume comes from per fumum, Latin for “through smoke,” in reference to the original way of scenting oneself: smoke from resins or fragrant woods infusing one’s clothing, lingering against one’s skin. Now that I could get down with.
What slowly came into focus for me was this: perfume as we know it stems from ancient practices of anointing and blessing.
For 98% of human history, the materials used for scenting were the same ones used for medicine, the same ones more precious, in some cases, than gold: from agarwood to deer musk, ambergris, rose, saffron, sandal and myrrh. Perfume wasn’t just *like* medicine: it *was* medicine.
These days, all too often, it has become poison. But it doesn’t have to be.
Made without synthetic aromachemicals and toxic false musks, perfume can still be medicine. I’ve been thinking about it like this:
Flowers help us bloom. They open our hearts so that we too may share our nectar.
Leaves help with breath and rhythm, freshening and enlivening.
Woods help us stand tall and firm, strengthening and supporting.
Roots help us ground and nourish, connecting us to the earth.
Seeds help us spread and propagate ourselves, aiding vitality and creativity.
Animalics help us with bonding and bounding. Spurring attraction and projecting territoriality, they connect the plant realm to the human and bring the plants’ gifts to vivid life.
That’s a general overview; in reality, every single ingredient works its own magic, while a composition blends them together into a whole ideally greater than the sum of its parts.
A true perfume can be both portrait and prescription. It can be a spell to transport, inspire, or soften us; to radiate or to soothe; to connect with an element or deity; to help us remember our true nature. Perfume can have profound effects on mood, confidence, and hormonal balance.
For these reasons and more, I have begun incorporating more and more aromatic work into my healing practice.
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