Posted by: Isidora | August 11, 2012

What’s your favorite scent for Isis?

The Goddesses and Gods of ancient Egypt (and probably everywhere else, too) were always associated with scent. But in Egypt particularly, you knew that a Deity had arrived when you smelled Her or His perfume in the temple air.

Egyptian women making perfume

The Egyptians apparently blended scents appropriate for their Deities; for instance, there is a record of an unguent called “Aroma of Horus.” Surely, there was an “Aroma of Isis,” too, but alas, we have no record of it to date. Today’s magical perfumers, on the other hand, almost always have a scent for Her. Isis’ association with scent remained part of Her manifestation even after Her worship spread beyond Egypt. In Apuleius’ account of initiation into the Mysteries of Isis, his protagonist sees Isis in a vision and remarks that She breathed forth the “blessed fragrance of Arabia.”

My personal favorite scent for Isis is stargazer lily. With its deep pink, engorged-looking blossoms, stargazers are downright sexual in their showiness. Of course that is exactly what any flower is; sexual. As you may know, flowers are the sex organs of plants, which they display for all the world to see, marvel, and enjoy. No wonder we have always given flowers as a love gift.

The stargazer lily; thus do we offer unto Isis that which is Hers

I like the blatant, vulva-pink sexual display of the stargazer to be sure. And the flower’s name reminds me of Isis’ own starry connections. But the main reason I associate them with Isis, and give them in offering to Her, is the scent. The stargazer’s soft, sweet perfume is deepened with a dark, funky musk that is almost animal-like in its pungency. The stargazer is my “jitterbug perfume.” (If you have not read Tom Robbin’s Jitterbug Perfume, oh please do!) The mixture of sweet and strange all wrapped up in an audacious package seems to me a perfect floral resume for Isis. She offers us the sweet love of a mother one moment, then freaks us out completely with some weirdly magical happening the next. Like the flower, She is not shy; never shy. She will always tell you what you need to hear. Thus do I offer unto Isis that which is Hers: the beautiful stargazer lily.

The ancient Egyptians had no stargazers, mores the pity. But they did associate a variety of other scents with Isis and with the Deities.

Expeditions to Punt for cinnamon, frankincense, myrrh, and other precious resins, were common throughout Egyptian history. The huge gardens attached to the temple complexes also supplied vast quantities of herbs and flowers for the creation of the gallons of scent, pounds of incense, and thousands of bouquets offered in Egyptian temples. Many temples, such as those at Edfu and Denderah, even had special laboratories for making perfume and incense. After all, perfume was one of Egypt’s most lucrative exports.

Egyptian women enjoying perfume

Cleopatra VII, the queen who styled herself “the New Isis,” was reputed to use a different perfume for every part of her body and was credited with writing a book on the subject. But Cleo’s perfumes would not have been the clear, alcohol-based liquids we think of as perfume today. Egyptian perfumes were oil and fat-based; similar to our solid perfumes that liquefy as they are rubbed into the skin. A number of Egyptian perfumes were quite famous, the name brands of their day. Lily was the dominant scent in Susinon, a perfume that seems to have been made exclusively by women. Perhaps this was because the lily was connected with female sensuality and spirituality and lily oil was a common treatment for “female complaints.” Lotus oil, from the sacred blue lotus (actually a blue water lily), was a favorite essential oil and associated with rebirth. It was the fragrance most favored by Egyptian priestesses. Other Egyptian perfumes include Magaleion, a complicated, difficult-to-make scent; Mendesian, known simply as “the Egyptian,” which was a spicy, resinous perfume; Metopion, a mixture of resins, herbs, sweet wine, and honey; and Sampsuchum, a marjoram-based scent sweetened with herbs and nasturtium flowers. And then there was Kyphi, both an incense and perfume.

Recipes for Kyphi perfume are engraved on the walls of the temple of Isis’ son, Horus, at Edfu and at Philae, Isis’ own great temple in Upper Egypt. Kyphi was used especially to welcome the Deities to Their temples. Wine-based, Kyphi also includes sweet flag, rushes, cinnamon, juniper, raisins, myrrh, frankincense, cardamom, and gum mastic. In his essay “On Isis and Osiris,” Plutarch reports 16 ingredients and says that Kyphi calms, soothes, and can lull to sleep. It is also said to sharpen the intuition and promote dreams.

A priestess friend and I once made a ridiculously huge batch of Kyphi from Plutarch’s recipe, which I am still burning to this day. It has a warm smell; like spicy raisin cookies. In fact, you could eat it without harm—and I believe the Egyptians did, medicinally. Luckily for me, it seems to get better with age.

A beautiful piece of stargazer lily art

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Responses

  1. The lily is still connected with female sexuality: the word for lesbian anime/manga, “yuri”, also means “lily”. ^_^

  2. thank you again it feels like your with me always when i read thing that you post matty

  3. Miss you! How is everything?

  4. Isidora,
    Wonderful thoughts as always,I smell the scent of roses when She manifests.At one powerful ritual it smelled like a field of red roses in bloom! a
    Unto you Isis ,I offer these roses and all things beautiful and pure.To quote my favorite Isiac ritualist.
    Corinne
    Priestess of Isis F.O.I.

    • Oh yes, yes, roses, always roses…unto Thee, all things beautiful and pure…

  5. And scents are still a big export of Egypt.
    And wasn’t camel dung one of the Kyphi incense ingredients?

    • LOL! As far as I know, no camel dung…wine, raisins, frankincense, sweet flag, orris root…cinnamon, of course. At least, I can guarantee that the Kyphi Dottie and I made had no camel dung. It smells like spiced cookies.

  6. Reblogged this on The Darkness in the Light.

  7. Isidora, I have nominated you for the inspiring blog award. May the new year be good to you. here is a link for the rules, Joanna. http://ancientfoods.wordpress.com/2012/08/17/the-world-is-full-of-surprises/

  8. I would love to be able to smell all of these ancient scents, see what they smell like when mixed with my body chemistry. Is anybody selling them these days?

    • I haven’t searched for them, so I don’t really know…but I especially want to smell the marjoram one since I recently had a marjoram experience. I was rolling some of the dried marjoram from my herb garden between my palms to “process” it for winter…and I was astonished at the soft perfume-y scent the dried leaves had. Now I’m crazy to try a marjoram perfume!

  9. […] Your work with Isis and Dionysus has continued to inspire me over the years and your blog, Isiopolis, a votive work in honor of the the goddess Isis, is the perfect way to spread the word about this most wondrous goddess. Blessings to you, Isidora, […]

  10. Reblogged this on The Halau.


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