Aromagicks: The Magical Application of Aromatics
by Ray Sherwin
Little has been written on the practicalities of aromatics in ritual. The odd items which have appeared in print have been dogmatic and unutterably inaccurate. So few people are involved in magick as well as being skilled in the use of aromatics that written information has always been plagiarised from previous inaccurate sources instead of being researched and tested.
The sense of smell is grossly underrated by anyone who has not sat down and deliberately considered its effects. To such a person the ability to smell something is merely an adjunct to what is considered the more important gates of perception - i.e. the other four physical senses. No magician can afford to fall into this trap. The sense of smell can be the source of subtle conditioning, intended or accidental and in magical ritual the use of incenses and fragrant oils cannot be overestimated, the sense of smell being more evocative than any other, for example:
Pheromones sexually attractant hormones) function through the olfactory system without the nose acknowledging the existence of a smell the smell of hospitals sprayed into a room in such minute quantities that the nose could not detect it, measurably raised the anxiety levels of individuals in that environment some years ago, a perfumer working on synthetic musks discovered a substance which improved his sense of smell one hundred times. The government confiscated his papers. closed down his laboratory and told him not to do it again. This sinister episode plainly demonstrates the seriousness with which the establishment views the sense of smell, presumably for purposes of control on a more down to earth level, years of working with essential oils have demonstrated to me that certain vibrations within the spectrum of smell have repeatable, almost universal, effects. For example, sandalwood, no matter who is smelling it, has a sedative effect. Lemongrass always wakes people up. Smells also have power by suggestion and, in pragmatic magical systems, it is a combination of these two principles - nature and association which is used in solo and group magicks.
The building up of a ‘smellphabet’, a contrived system of smell attributions, is something which can be only done at the individual level - it is not the function of the group. Such a system would consist of as many evocative smells from the past that the individual can think of and recreate.
For example, a magician, as a child, once had a fight with another boy on his way home from school. The fight took place near a patch of wild garlic and, ever since that time, whenever he smells garlic the emotion of the occasion comes rushing back. He now views this emotion as an aspect of the energy of Mars and consequently uses garlic in incenses of a martial type. The same magician has gone through this procedure with all his emotions. Ambergris is used in his Venus incense because it recalls the smell at the stable where he first made love. Frankincense is used only in incenses which are not intended to produce a violent emotional reaction because he finds it soothing.
Qabalistic or traditional magicians would wince at this kind of scheme, not realising that they spend a great deal of time bending their minds to arbitrary systems rather than designing systems to suit themselves.
In constructing incenses for group work there are certain consensus elements which should be borne in mind. The obvious is that fragrances such as sandalwood are appreciated almost without exception as being pleasant; rank odours such as asafoetida and catechu are, without exception, considered to be unpleasant. A Hathor incense for example. is sweet and heavy, giving the ambience required for the rite without using substances unknown to the Ancient Egyptians. An Autumn Equinox incense used for local group workings, is compounded from elements collected from the site where the workings will take place. It consists of fresh pine resin, mint leaves and flowers, rowanberries, chamomile heads and pine needles. It produces an abundant perfume sweet with the certainty of the collected harvest.
Someone who has no experience of incense at all would be best advised to buy a few ready-blended incenses. Buy a few from various sources, compare them and identify their ingredients. If the person who sold you the incense is not prepared to divulge the formulae don’t buy anything else from that source. There are no secrets in this respect and such reluctance to name the constituents of an incense usually indicates that the person is trying to conceal that they are charging more than the product is worth. Thereafter, start to collect the raw materials which you find most useful. These will mostly be gums and resins but there are also aromatic herbs, roots and woods which you will find useful.
I would not even think about trying to compound an incense if I did not have the following commodities in stock:
Burn each of these separately to become acquainted with the nature of each.
Certain liquids are important to adapt the fragrance of blended solids. These come in the form of resins or essential oils. These must be bought from a reputable dealer since they are easily adulterated. I would be reluctant to start with less than the following:
|Benzoin (resinoid)||Cassia||Ylang Ylang|
|Rose (synth)1||Jasmin (synth)1|
Incenses can be made dry or sticky according to taste. For a dry product add no more than imI of oil to 25mg of incense. For a more resinous add a little more essential oil having ensured that the gums and resins have been, at least in part, finely ground. The added liquids will bind powdered gums and resins together along with the herb and flower materials. If the fragrance is right but the product is not sufficiently resinous add sweet almond or olive oil to get the right texture. These are odourless and much less expensive than essential oils.
A blended incense needs time to mature. Formulae should not be discarded for at least two months since it is only when the blend is mature that the thurifer (person in charge of incense-making) can decide whether it is suitable for its purpose or whether it requires further adaptation. The final formula should then be kept safe. There is not a thurifer in the country who has not at some time created the world’s finest incense only to mislay the formula and then forget how they made it.
For temple work an expert thurifer is required. Too little smoke and the incense will not be strong enough to have an effect - too much and the celebrants will be unable to complete the rite; they will be passing out, throwing up or getting out of the temple as quickly as possible. No guidelines can be given on this, it is wholly a matter of experience. As an alternative to incense essential oils can be evaporated in a metal dish over a gentle heat source such as a candle. Fragrancers specially designed for this purpose can be obtained. Oils can be blended in the same way as incense ingredients but much greater care is needed in measuring them since they are rather more expensive.
Anointing oils are quite easy. to make by simply blending essential oils and diluting them in a fixed oil such as olive or sweet almond. Some of the old formulae stipulate that tinctures2 should be used but these are inferior to essential oils and their preparation is extremely time consuming.
Aromatic wines have the edge on a plain bordeaux or claret because they have distinct flavours not usually encountered outside the ritual situation. There are two ways in which these can be prepared. The easiest way is to macerate the herbs to be used in a wine from one’s cellar. This is not a totally satisfactory method since the only elements over which one has control are the properties and, to a certain extent, the flavour. The second method, which involves fermenting yeast and sugar with herbs added at the outset, is much superior. Control can be exerted over its properties, alcohol content, body and flavour. The only disadvantage to this method is that the process needs to be .started at least three months before the wine is needed.
Some Example Formulae
WINES: The alcohol in wines is a product of the action of yeasts (saccharomyces elipsoidius) on sugar of one sort or another. The more sugar you add the more alcoholic your wine will be (within the tolerance of the yeast used). General purpose yeast, available from any brew shop, has a relatively high tolerance to alcohol and is suitable for any herb wine. Herbs will be chosen for their properties rather than their flavour so a little fruit may be needed in some cases to make the brew palatable. As a general rule 100gm of herb to 4 litres of wine is about the right proportion. The following example is an aphrodisiac wine.
- 2 demijohns, one with an airlock
- 1 plastic tube to be used as a syphon
- 1 funnel
- 1 or 2 filter papers
- 2k sugar or honey
- 75gm damiana
- 25gm bay leaves
- General purpose yeast
- 1 lemon
- 1 teabag
Method: Simmer the herbs in 2 litres of water for about 45 minutes and strain the water into the demijohn. Melt the sugar in a pan of water and add this to the herb water. Squeeze the lemon into the demijohn and add the teabag. (These are added to provide citric acid and tannin respectively). Other commodities could be used, for example, orange peel for citric acid and willow herb leaves for tannin, these ingredients assist the action of yeast on sugar.
Leave the contents of the demijohn to cool. Prepare a starter bottle by putting one tablespoon of yeast in a bottle containing ¼ litre of warm (18c) water. The starter is ready to add to the must in the demijohn when it has a good head and when the must has cooled to room temperature. This will take a few hours. Thereafter, provided the environment is not too cold, fermentation will hook after itself. When the airlock has stopped bubbling test the wine for flavour and strength. If it is ready move the demijohn somewhere cool for two or three weeks to allow fine particles to settle and then syphon off the clear liquid passing it through a filter into the spare demijohn. The longer the wine is kept the better it will be.
An alternative to this process is to tincture the herbs in strong alcohol and dilute the resulting substance to the required strength.
ANOINTING OILS: There are two kinds of anointing oil: one works by smell-association, the other by causing the skin to tingle or ‘burn’ slightly3. The inclusion of a small percentage of cinnamon-leaf oil will cause the latter effect - the former is more difficult being a synthesis of all the aspects of fragrance so far discussed. The following formula is taken from S.L. Mathers’ translation of The sacred Magic of Abra Melin The Mage:
You shall prepare the sacred oil in this manner: Take of myrrh in tears, one part; of fine cinnamon, two parts; of galangal half a part; and the half of the total weight of these drugs of the best olive oil.
These references are, of course, to solids but it is more convenient and the product is finer if essential oils are used. Olive can be replaced by sweet almond and, as a personal preference, I would use frankincense rather than cinnamon which is slightly toxic.
A favourite anointing oil often used for sexual attraction is that which was favoured by Aleister Crowley. I suspect that its name - Ruthvah - is a corruption of the Arabic ruh hiyat meaning "breath of life" and its alternative name, ‘The Perfume of Immortality’ to some extent substantiates this. A genuine ruthvah would be compounded from musk, ambergris and civet but the product of these animal secretions would be unjustifiably expensive. I spent some years working on this problem and eventually decided on the following formula as providing a fragrance almost exactly the same as the real thing at a fraction of the cost.
- 2 gm musk ambrette
- 3 gm civet
- 3 gm galbanum
- 6 gm Mineral oil
These to be beaten together in a mortar and pestle until an even consistency is obtained, (this may take two or three days). If a clear liquid is required this may then be filtered but the fragrance is stronger if the whole is retained.
EVAPORATING OILS: The two oils described above could be used for evaporating as well as for anointing. The example given here is of an oil compounded to enhance meditation. When evaporated for any length of time it will also kill airborne bacteria and mould spores.
- 2 ml Lavender B.P.C
- 2 ml Geranium
- l ml Sweet Orange (Israeli)
INCENSES: Given below are the formulae for Hathor and Baphomet both of which have been found most effective in ritual. As a forethought is given the formula given by God to Moses as recorded in Exodus Ch.30, v.34f.
Take fragrant spices; gum mastic, aromatic shells,4 galbanum; add pure frankincense to the spices in equal proportions. Make it into incense, perfume made by the perfumer’s craft, salted and pure, a holy thing. Pound it into fine powder...treat it as most holy.
|25gm Myrrh||25gm Frankincense|
|25gm Benzoin||25gm Copal|
|25gm Meadowsweet||25gm Colophony|
|25gm Dammar||3gm Benzoin resinoid (liquid)|
|3gm Sweet Almond Oil|
Grind and mix the gums and herb, then add the liquids. Keep for at least one month before using.
|25gm Cactus Flowers||25gm Pine needles|
|25gm Meadowsweet||50gm Myrrh|
|l2 gm Hellac||25gm Juniper berries|
|25gm Sandalwood||50gm Colophony|
|25gm Benzoin||10gm Patchouli Oil (Indones.)|
|5gm Sweet Almond Oil|
Method as for Hathor.
1. Natural rose and jasmin oils are prohibitively expensive. In terms of fragrance many of the synthetics on the market are just as useful.
2. A tincture is merely a liquid (alcohol or oil) in which a powdered solid has been immersed long enough for some of its properties to be transferred to the liquid.
3. If you look in the Bible, however, it is evident that the ancient Hebrews made and used their anointing oils by the bucketful, a practice they had, no doubt, picked up from the Egyptians.
4. Onycha - a shellfish found in the Mediterranean whose carapace was used in perfumery. The curtains of Solomon’s temple may have been dyed purple using the same substance.