Posted by: Isidora | August 9, 2014

Perfumes for Isis

As all my hours are filled this weekend, I offer you this long-ago post on perfumes for the Goddess. At this time when so many of our gardens are filled with blossoms, it seems appropriate. 

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 at, 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 resumé 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 even when you don’t particularly want to hear it. Thus do I offer unto Isis that which is Hers: the beautiful stargazer lily.

The ancient Egyptians had no stargazers, alas. But they did associate a variety of other scents with Isis as well as with other 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. Perfume was, after all, 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.

NEW INFO: I found a perfumer who has recreated/updated some of the perfumes mentioned in this post. You can order samples for $5…I ordered two, the Megalion and Sampsuchum (Sampsuchinon). Can’t wait to try them!

A beautiful piece of stargazer lily art

Advertisements

Responses

  1. For a few Years where i was in Egypt there was holy Smell everywhere..thank for this Article. My favourite Scent are blue Lotus( I buy once in Abu Simbel in a Manufacture) and Kyphi . Blessed be )O(

  2. What sort of proportions do you use for the Kyphi, and how do you render the ingredients like raisins and resin? Please let me know if you can, or point me in the right direction, I’d love to make a batch myself.

    • Hi, Laine!
      There are lots of kyphi recipes on the internet. Here’s a reference that lists all the various ingredient lists we have historically. As far as proportions, we really just made estimates and blended “by nose.” It’s not cheap, getting all the various ingredients. The raisins are a sweetener and a binder; you’ll be using a mortar and pestle to grind them to a paste. The finished product will not only smell like cookie dough, but also feel like it 😉 Just do some online searching and find a recipe that seems right to you!

  3. Kyphi is a lot of work to make but so very worth it. I have also really enjoyed Scott Cunningham’s recipe for Isis Incense from The Complete Book of Incenses, Oils, and Brews, which includes his recipe for a “lotus oil blend.” Actual lotus oil is too expensive an item for me at this time.

    Also, absolutely loved Jitterbug Perfume

  4. Wouldn’t it be cool to have an aromatics journey? I would really love to smell these things. There could be a menu or list of them, I’m thinking similar to one of those beer drinking ‘passports’ where you keep track of each one you have sampled. I’d really like to try the lily and lotus, however a personal challenge for me is often disliking floral scents. Rose is exceedingly ubiquitous and just not ever going to be my thing. These others you are describing sound quite intriguing. It would be so cool to have a special designated scent that becomes associated with meditation.

  5. Reblogged this on The Halau.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

Categories

%d bloggers like this: