Scents and diseases
The ancient practice of using incense smoke for fumigation or purification seemed to have enjoyed a universal popularity. One can look back through history and see that every time Mankind suffered some disasters or illnesses, incense smoke has been used as a messenger between the Gods and us. In an ancient world were illnesses and injuries were often fatal, such events were, more often than not, regarded as some form of calamitous punishment. Making sacrifices, which included large amounts of scented plants burnt on a fire, was believed to bring favor and improvement. Smoke was given special attributes as it was seen as having a foot in both visible and invisible world. Smoke was the perfect messenger as smoke rising from a fire is, at first thick and visible to all but as it rises higher and higher, it eventually disappears blending in with the sky.
The practice of burning fragrant woods, resins and herbs, not only granted pleasing smells but were also burned to create illusions and distorted realities; fumigations were sometimes burnt in vast quantities at funerals and the more dignified the diseased, the more fragrant material was burnt. Religious rituals using also large amount of aromatic plants were used both for purification and to contact the spirit world.
In Ancient Egypt, the art of Incense and Perfume Making was very sophisticated as it was used for religious rituals on a daily basis. Certain resins and woods were burnt at sunrise to clear the air from the night’s fugitive shadows. During the day Frankincense was often burnt to ‘thin’ the air made unbearable by the intensity of the Sun and the heavy vapors rising from the Earth. In the evening, Kyphi was burnt to induce a state of semi consciousness to help individuals open up a dialogue with their Soul and later to promote sleep. Needless to say, fumigations and Herbalism have always gone hand in hand.
Smells and sensations in the ancient world
What is interesting is that in our modern language, inherited from Latin and ancient Greek, all sensations are spoken of in much details, except for those arising from smells, as there seemed to be a forbidding on human odours. Ancient Egyptians did not have such inhibitions and were constantly referring to odours in their conversations at all sort of social occasions, something which most people of today would find inappropriate. They discussed in fine details, perfumes, hygiene, food and taboo subjects such as intimate scents, illnesses, death, decomposing flesh, etc. They seem to have no taboo subjects of conversations when it came to smells.
The Spiritual properties of plants and their scents
Sufism, a spiritual order of Islam, has a system of classifying plants and their scents according to their spiritual properties. Many of the scents from plants are said to facilitate the development and purification of the Soul while it passes through the various realms of the Spiritual world. For example, Sandalwood is the great cleanser for those who have been abused and degraded by others and for excessive Pride. Rose is the mother of Spiritual scents which can transform Sorrow into blissful Joy. Jasmine is the scent of the Lovers of God and brings ecstasy to the Faithful. Oudh (from the wood of an Indian Aloe tree) is the most sacred of them all and vast amount of it is burnt in many of the world mosques.
Finally, American Indians use smoke for all sort of situations and in many protective rituals. They gave Smoke many special attributes and properties and read omens from the colour or shapes of the smoke. They also used a ‘smudge stick’ made from white Sage or other plants, for purification, healing and protection from bad spirits.
Fumigating and cleansing
Today, the practice of fumigating and cleansing spaces has come back into fashion and a ‘smudging stick’ made from white Sage, cedar or lavender can be used. Smudging sticks can be easily purchased with instructions, from many of the New Age style shops or on the Internet. You can also use charcoal to burn your gums and herbs, or buy specially pre-mixed incense. Incense should be made with love and care rather than being mass-produced as it deals with the spiritual aspect of life. Finally, I also found that when I have been surrounded by sometimes, over potent smells from too many essential oils, and I began to feel a bit disoriented, burning incense seemed to be the quickest and most efficient way to restore my sense of being ‘grounded’. Of course, fresh air also helps but essential oils can leave behind many subtle vibrations not always consciously perceived and carry on working for far longer than desired, so it is good to regularly clear the space you work in.