The conversation on Facebook, however, got me thinking of all the different ways that I use scent as a working tool. It's an important part of my personal technology for devotional work, spirit work, and transitioning the spaces between the two and my humanity. Scent is very important for me.
Firstly, I seem to be extremely sensitive to scent, keyed into it. Having a migraine condition, smell is one of my strongest triggers (second only to noise), but it's also one of the ways that energy translates to me. When I'm divining for someone, I often get information kinesthetically, by way of taste and more often smell. I"ll often say 'that doesn't smell right" and i mean it. For me, the divinatory and empathic information i'm picking up from a person is coming via scent. Scent is a palpable thing to me. I've found myself growing incredibly unsettled after newcomers have left my home and it was only recently that I realized it was largely because they carry unfamiliar scents, and I can track them. I gather a lot of information via scent. (Yes, I'm the girlfriend that steals her partner's shirts *all the time* and solely for the comfort of the scent). I once read that scent is the part of our sensorium that is most strongly and primally connected to our memory. I absolutely believe this.
It wasn't until quite recently actually that I sat and took stock of how I use this affinity for scent in my Work. It's actually become part of my personal technology, as I noted above. It's part of my working kit in ways that surprise me to really parse out. This first came to my awareness of how vital this is for me, after a recent ritual where I "horsed" Mani.(1) The horsing was long and while very successful, such things take their toll on the human involved. It's exhausting and can often leave one wrung out, feeling ill, headachy, and out of sorts with one's physical body. Sometimes a good hot shower, change of clothes, some food, and a nap will do the trick to getting one back to rights but I wasn't at home and the stress of the possession combined with the dislocation made it difficult for me to come back to balance. I found myself longing for my customary scents. It was then that I realized how often I used particular scents to ground, to root myself in the sensuality - the here and now physicality-- of my humanity, to connect back to Midgard. Conversely, I also realized I use them to loose myself from Midgard consciousness, particularly when I do oracular work.
I'll start with that example actually. When i am preparing to do oracular work for Odin, I have a whole process I undergo. I bath and work with His nine sacred herbs, sing my spirit song, pray, and after the bath one of the first things I do prior to dressing is to use a particular perfume. This is one that i set aside solely for this work. It's not a common scent, nor is it one that I particularly like for daily wear. It's unusual and not lush at all (I tend to prefer lush florals for daily wear). I douse myself with it prior to dressing for oracular work. It's a tiny part of my prep process, but the moment that scent hits my nostrils, I start slipping into the proper headspace for oracular work. I have consciously conditioned myself this way, to make that transition easier.
This reminds me of another story of how potent scent can be. When I began my studies, it was with a Fellowship of Isis Iseum in NYC. Almost every ritual began by smudging with sage. I don't use sage in my House rituals and I haven't used it ritually in years (I prefer to use Mugwort or some other herb noted in the Anglo Saxon medicinal and magical manuals) but to this day, the moment i catch a whiff of sage, I slip immediately into ritual headspace (or I start to. i'm aware enough of this tendency that I can choose whether or not to allow myself to transition).
Likewise, when I finish carrying a Deity, one of the first things I want to do is go away from whatever group of people are present and bathe. This removes the Deity's 'scent' from me, at least enough that it's no longer pulling me away from human consciousness quite so much. Immediately after, just as I like to put on my most comfortable clothing, I also like to douse (and boy do i mean douse) myself with a favorite scent (usually coco mademoiselle by Chanel, sometimes Floris' White Rose perfume). This is *me* and a path back to myself and my natural scent.
Likewise, when I am preparing for a ritual, regardless of what that ritual might entail, along with bathing and dressing well, I also put on nice perfume. This is all the more an important part of my prep work when I'm honoring one of the "Ladies of the Pink Building", Holy Powers of love, physicality, sensuality, sex, abundance, beauty, pleasure, and wealth. I am not much for make-up--ironically the scent of it is quite often strong enough, no matter what the brand, that it can trigger terrible headaches. (2) I wear very little when I must wear it at all and for rituals usually none at all. I do however wear scent and I suppose the difference is that I am able to choose very carefully the perfumes that I use, making very certain they are not ones that cause headaches.
So important is scent that in one of the traditions into which I've initiated, that for the days of the initiatory process, I was not permitted to bath or wear perfume: it was too important that the Powers learn my personal scent. It's an expression and extension of our energy, our emotional state, our being: who we are, and where we are in this process of becoming. All of that is translated into the fabric of one's scent. (3)
For me, there is a comfort in the familiar scents of those I care about, of the places I frequent, of the perfumes i wear. These things mark my world, encircle it, define it. My ritual preparations generally aren't complete until I've prepared myself (via bathing and particularly by putting on perfume). It's what my adopted mom would have called one of the 'grace-notes of Midgard," the beauty of human living. Spiritually, as an elder pointed out today, perfume represents the ineffable. It represents the soul (so much so that in some languages, the word for perfume is cognate to the word for 'soul' or 'spirit'), and the beauty and power of all that is unseen. For me, the comfort scent brings. the information i'm able to retrieve form it, and the ways in which i've learned to weave it into my work as well as my life stand as a constant reminder that self-care is part of the work too, that there is nothing wrong or un-spiritual about tending to the self, and giving oneself a taste of pleasure and beauty.
We were given our sensoriums for a reason. We're incarnate for a reason. Honoring that is part of the work, part of a healthy spirituality. The breath and blessings of the Powers flow everywhere, into every aspect of our lives. There is nothing separate from that. I think that in overcoming the early monotheistic conditioning that would rend a split between the spiritual and the physical is one of the most difficult tasks we face. We are an incredibly body-negative society. In part, it's done by engaging the sensorium, by indulging it occasionally (in healthy ways), by allowing oneself to experience the pleasure of being alive. Pleasure is a gift from the very Powers we venerate, and it's one to be celebrated in ways large and small.
I won't belabor that point. Suffice it to say that scent is a vital touchstone and i've learned the hard way to keep my favorite scents in my kit. Moreover, I've lately started giving vials of my favorite scents as ritual gifts. Just like cooking for the Holy Powers is its own unique joy, so is this type of offering.(4) It's really nice to give a gift to one of the Holy Powers that is specifically representative (just as food is of nourishment on all levels) of all the beauty, pleasure, and joy They give us. They are generous with Their gifts, so generous and I think that many of us are conditioned to close our eyes to those grace-notes of Midgard that are so precious, to dismiss them as unimportant or shallow. They're not. They're glorious.
1. horsing is a term used in Afro-Caribbean religions for the process of Deity possession. The idea is that the "horse" or devotee carries the Deity's consciousness and the Deity "rides" the person like a rider upon a horse.
2. For this reason, while I do wear perfume to work, I keep it light. I do not douse myself liberally when I have to go into school (I teach) because I never know who amongst my co workers or students might be allergic or highly sensitive to odors. Now at home, or in a group of friends whom I know will not mind, I indulge the hell out of my affinity for certain perfumes.
3. While I've never studied aromatherapy, I have used certain scents to change my mood for the better, and I'll use them in diffusers to create a pleasant ambiance in my home. sometimes if I know i'm going into a stressful environment, I'll carry a handkerchief doused with florida water, or some other cleansing, uplifting scent with me, so that I can keep it near my nose. I have an equal sensitivity to color, something that's been growing stronger as I study painting and photography. These are things that have an effect on my mood and that means they're useful tools for me before, during, and after my work.
4. Opinions vary on this, but I tend not to use perfume I give as an offering to one of the HOly Powers. I keep it on HIs or Her shrine and use it to spritz the air after changing the shrine, or to anoint the statue. Now I have come to personally associate certain scents with certain Deities (for instance rose with Sigyn) and I will often wear those scents when going into ritual for those particular Deities , but as you can see, this is a very subjective thing.