June 4, 2017
viridis genii by Marcus McCoy©
Perfuming owes its being to the alchemist, for alchemy gave it birth. The ancient alchemists of old brought us the still and through the still we distilled and isolated mercury and sulfur, and learned to refine them to their purest forms… and it is the pure forms of mercury and sulfur that we make our perfumes to this day.
15th century Distillation Woodcut
In saying mercury and sulfur I refer to the distilled fermentation of a plant into ethanol which in alchemy is referred to as mercury and symbolized as the planet Mercury as well. The other distillate is that of the volitales of animalia, vegetal, and mineralia this is known in alchemy as sulfur or the oil. The essential oil is what we use in producing perfume, and the ethanol or mercury is the carrier of the perfume.To work with the symbolism further, in alchemical terms, the mercury is the mind of the plant, and the sulfur or oil is the soul.
Art by Marcus McCoy
We are very literally producing perfumes in the alchemical sense with the souls of plants, and this is how it was originally, and still to this day, viewed by working lab alchemists. As a distiller of essential oils, a traditional lab alchemist and a perfumer, it is fascinating that we have lost this perspective in the days of modern scientific materialism. One would say that perfumes are soulless, that they have no anima, they are an object and that alone. If that is the case then how is that they can move us so? How can a perfume posess us, fill us with enthusiasium, lure us, give us confidence, shroud us?
Digital art “Human Flowers” Cecelia Webbe©
The soul of the plant, the sulfur, the volatile, enters our body through the air, through our nose, and it enters our body, and our body responds to it. Memories flash, behaviors are altered, thoughts and moods change. We have the soul of a once living being within us, many souls, souls from plants that where grown, harvested, and distilled utilizing the same methods of the alchemist for hundreds of years. Oils that are then skillfully and artfully paired and combined with other oils that work together to create a scent, that we place upon our body. We spray the souls upon us so that we and others may be inhabited by those souls briefly to alter their mood, thought and behaviours.
This is perfuming from the alchemist’s eyes. Perfuming from the point of view of the progenitor of perfuming itself. As I mentioned prior there is no perfume, or perfumer without the alchemist and her still. How is it possible with this history and this background that perfume could be made and mass produced as a mundane and uninspired product? How could it not be seen as something magical, possibly even sacred? How has this perspective been lost in the perfume industry and how could it return?
Surreal Digital Collage by Orbeh©
The first step is aknowledgment… recognize that the essential oil is the soul of the plant. It’s intelligence and anima. Acknowledge that you are placing their souls upon your body, breathing them in and allowing them into your body, comingling them with our own soul. From the point of view of perfuming origins, this is exactly what is occuring.
Tabu vintage ad 1940s
Second step… think of how its created, and what its been created with? In Northern Peru the vintage perfume Dana Tabu is still used by curanderos and brujos for magical and healing purposes. It was a perfume like many others that was created to be sold and to make money like most perfumes, but the curanderos knew it had soul, knew it was animated, new that it was made of many souls and so they found a way of working with those souls, and in a way that enchanted the world.
anatomical collage art by bedelgeuse©
Third… ask yourself what world sounds better to you? An enchanted world where a perfume is a living ensouled being that has power and can be worked with to enchant the world. Or a soulless product of the fashion industry made in a lab by scent chemists who employ the methods of alchemy, but without the soul and philosophy of the alchemist? An enchanted world? Or a world without a soul. Perfume never lost its soul, it is made of souls, the alchemical sulfur, and we have forgotten that.
Art Direction: Michelyn Camen
Marcus McCoy of House of Orpheus
Editor’s Note: Marcus is a Guest Contributor for CaFleureBon and is the perfumer for House of Orpheus a small niche, artisan perfume house specializing in perfume alchemy. He is a lab alchemist working in the green, and is the co-founder and editor for the Viridis Genii Symposium and the book series Verdant Gnosis. Marcus lives in the Olympic Mountains and teaches and writes on the subject of esoteric distillations. You can read his articles on Talismanic Perfumes here, Bottling a Star Here and How to Use Perfume to Change your Luck here
Thanks to Marcus we have a draw for 4 ml of Cyprian an all-natural fragrance (Bay, frankincense, palo santo, rue.) in The USA. To be eligible you must be a registered reader, (register here) and leave a comment with what you thought was fascinating about this article, and if you believe that fragrance (and plants have souls) . Draw ends 6/7/2017