There is no swifter way to transform one’s mood, encounter the soul for prayer, summon strength, welcome a lover, shepherd grief, or prepare the mind and body for ritual than through the medium of scent. Scent is a talisman, a guide, a dream Sherpa, and a muse. Within seconds, it penetrates our daily distractions and calls our attention toward the ineffable mysteries and truths that lie dormant in our memory. Veteran natural perfumist, Mandy Aftel writes in Essence & Alchemy (2001), “Perfume – the heady and elusive marriage of the essences of herbs and spices, wild grasses and flowers, bark and animal and tree – is an engine of the universe.” Indeed, like fleet-footed Mercury, the Roman God of Communication, scent eloquently divines and sings our most elemental truths.
Aromatic botanicals were prized by the royal and powerful for their sacred and restorative properties. From Cleopatra and other nobles and priests from ancient Egypt to Napoleon and his Josephine (as well as any guests he cared to impress), botanicals and their oils were used in exorbitant quantity. There is something about the sails of a ship doused with rose oil that sets a certain tone at sea. Rose scented doves released at a dinner party, anyone? The Greeks employed various herbs during and after the death of their beloveds to allow for a sweet and gentle passage and to assuage sorrow in the hearts of the bereaved. As they were known to have medicinal qualities, these precious aromatic oils distilled from botanicals became available to those in holy order to administer to the sick. Later, physics would administer. Wise women throughout the ages, like Mary of Magdala, the fist healers of their communities, obtained and administered these oils for the many physical necessities and emotional desires of their folk. Indigenous peoples all over the earth, whose first and correct names for these botanicals not often published in commercial publications, invited the use of aromatic smoke in ceremony to honor their ancestors and transport their experience to another plane.
In no small way has fragrance underscored our daily lives, shaped our consciousness (and commerce), and connected us all through the collective unconscious. There is no greater conduit to our emotional world than scent. Victoria Erickson writes, “Scent is our greatest, most potent form of time travel, like an arrow. It tears through layers. It finds the center.”
When we take time to notice scent and what it evokes within the memory of our heart, we take time to honor our history and all we have learned and experienced. We may never experience rose heralding the arrival of our lover by sea passage, but we will probably savor their scent during a kiss. Time will pass, we will smell an element in nature, a note in a fragrance, or find their T-shirt and inhale, summoning back the memory of that moment. Our spirits will probably never witness the ecstasy of our soul’s song rising on the fragranced wings of doves, but we may find bliss inhaling the sweet peace of marjoram, or the effervescence of grapefruit and our consciousness will smile at the Divine, nonetheless. Even in the produce aisle.
In my work creating custom blends and in my AromaReiki practice, clients want a scent that helps to offer a certain emotional nurturance. Whether it’s to inspire clearer thinking, support the emotional heart through the passage of grief, ground and restore our subtle energies, or promote empowerment and embodiment, the underlying desire is connection to the center of their most elemental, safe, loved, inspired selves. The right scent accomplishes to draw us ever nearer to Spirit while encouraging a deeper grace for the self.
Aromatherapy is a practice of noticing. In working with essential oils for emotional support, we enter in a co-operative partnership with botanicals; through their constituents and subtle energies they help to restore, balance, and stimulate our body, mind, and soul, but we must do our part and be good listeners to what arises when we work with an oil. We must notice how they make us feel, how our body feels when using them, what memories or dreams surface and our relationship with them, what symbols might develop in the mind’s eye and consider their greater meaning. We must contextualize what arises and perhaps make adjustments in our daily practices in order to move forward. Here is a meditation exercise I take people through in my workshops to help them create a more mindful relationship with scent.
Before this exercise, please research any essential oil you choose to use to ensure there are no contraindications (health considerations) that apply to you, especially if you are pregnant or nursing. Please use common sense and follow essential oil safety best practices and never ingest essential oils. Never place them in or around mucus membranes, like your nose. If any essential oil irritates your senses or breathing, discontinue use immediately and seek fresh air.
- Choose a scent that you feel especially drawn to, preferably an essential oil. It could be a single note, like lavender, or a blend.
- Collect a journal and writing utensil. If you’re more visually inspired, collect art mediums that speak to you and with which you can work with easily.
- Find a quiet space where you’re able to safely experience the scent and spread your materials for expression.
- Get comfortable. Uncap your chosen scent and simply breathe in the vapors for several minutes being mindful not to transfer any essential oil on or under your nose. Close your eyes and simply breathe.
- Notice where this scent first lands in the body. In your head? Chest? Belly? Legs? Where do you feel it go?
- Journal or art your first impressions. Without thinking too hard, what comes to mind? What memories surface? What feelings are being invited? What stories does it inspire? What images come forth? Color? Shape? Music?
- After a few minutes, safely place the cap back on your scent and continue to take deep, slow belly breaths. Close your eyes and just be for as long as you like. Let your experience water you and just be.
This post is intended for educational/inspirational purposes only and is not intended to diagnose, treat, mitigate disease or substitute mental health counsel by a qualified health professional. These statements are not approved by the FDA. Please see your physician for questions and concerns and always follow essential oil safety best practices.