This time of year demands of most people to journey inward. To reflect on the warmer months that have recently passed, to create, think, dream, and appreciate the beauty in life through the stillness of nature. The Fall and Winter are also the most rewarding times for burning incense. Not only do many aromatic plants bring warmth and cheer into the home, they also promote healing, keep the air clean and free of pathogens and airborne illness, accompany meditation, and traditionally bring hope, joy, positivity, and vibrancy to darker and colder times.
As a plant person, musician, and artist, I feel I’m one of the lucky people who finds inspiration just about everywhere I turn. As the heart of Autumn slowly gives way to the temperatures of winter, like many, I’m blessed to find more time to be at home by the fire creating, reading, formulating new incenses and herbal creations, feeling inspired, and looking forward to sharing new offerings to help people heal, find peace and joy, and hopefully pass inspiration on to them as well.
As an incense crafter, this is my favorite time of year. Many incense crafters, herbalists, and aromatherapists tend to conjure up new creations during these seemingly longer months. I suppose it’s a way to keep our connections to the plants strong while their branches remain bare and their life force dwells deep underground.
When we step to the crafting table, sometimes the plants people incorporate into a new blend magically come together on their own. Other times a well thought out system comes into play. From time to time our hands mindlessly gravitate towards certain plant materials or essences, guided by our intuition, heart, noses, or even the plants themselves. There is much magic in incense crafting.
But what exactly lies at the essence of some of the most precious morsels of inspiration that help give birth to new ideas and fragrant creations? Sometimes an intention behind a new blend is plain and simple: to make something that smells great, to fight off a cold, to bring calm to the nerves. Though sometimes our stance is more poetic, like a calling to recreate a particular feeling or moment in time that grabs our attention and feeds our creative flow.
I recently interviewed one of my friends and colleagues, JK DeLapp, founder of Rising Phoenix Perfumery. Our conversation meandered towards him revealing some of the sources of inspiration behind his work as an internationally renowned perfumer and incense crafter. One of his perfumes, his Bushido Oud Attar, is a step out of time; a recreation of what JK imagined an ancient Samurai warrior to smell like on the brink of battle.
Now, you might be thinking, “hm.. sweat and perspiration, man-musk.. no thanks…” Trust me, it’s not what you think! The story behind that distinct Samurai smell is actually very beautiful. In an older time, Clove, or “Choji”, in Japanese, was a very rare and hard-to-come-by spice in many parts of the world. In Japan, it was used in oil form to scent and oil a Samurai’s sword, and became the distinct aroma of the Samurai. People learned to steer clear of any man who carried this sharp fragrance.
Agarwood, which the Japanese refer to as “Jinkoh”, was once only afforded by the wealthy, and of course, Samurai families. On the mornings before battle, the Samurai would offer a morning prayer over the burning of Agarwood, which scented their clothing and skin. Because of this, it also became a distinct aroma of the Samurai. Imagining the Samurai on the battlefield on a misty morning, with the smell of Choji on their swords and Agarwood on their bodies, JK had a flash of inspiration, and his Bushido perfume would soon be born. He then went to greater lengths to find a perfect harmony amongst Choji oil, many varieties of Agarwood, and a few other aromatic gems to recreate a moment lost in time.
The blessings of scent can bring to life the memories and histories of the past in beautiful ways. They can also recreate a feeling of a time, place, or moment. For ages, Japanese and Chinese incense crafters have given names to their incenses like “Midnight Rain on the Mountain”, “Walking by a Woman”, and “Standing at the Edge of the Autumn Harvest.” Many perfumers like JK also love to try their hand at recreating the past, and often dedicate their signature scents to the wonders of nature or the life events or moments of those that came before us.
My personal inspiration for my own work and the products of my company Higher Mind Incense comes in many forms. Whether for therapeutic purposes, ritual use, or strictly for fragrance and enjoyment, I always take time to meditate on an idea or an inspired thought, feeling into the subtleties and nuances of what I’m wanting to achieve with a new blend.
The Tranquility blend for example, one of the loose incenses offered by Higher Mind Incense, is a delicate mixture of Agarwoods, Sandalwoods, and tree resins that resulted from the desire to recreate the feeling someone felt upon opening their eyes after a peaceful meditation. At the same time, this blend can also be burned during meditation to enhance the experience.
Many incense blends, sacred anointing oils, and perfumes have also been dedicated to leader figures, such as kings and queens, prophets, and spiritual leaders for ages; or dedicated to Biblical stories or events of important religious or spiritual significance. Ancient blends of aromatics like the Egyptian Kyphi temple incense, the renowned Ketoret incense mixture of Biblical times, and many anointing oils used in ancient stories are recreated in our modern times for spiritual significance.
It is a well known fact that aromatic plants have a direct effect on memory. And when we smell a traditional blend of aromatic plants that has been used for centuries or even millennia, something magical happens. Myself and many others believe that these ancient aromatic mixtures are somehow embedded in the collective consciousness of humankind over long periods of their sacred use. When they are recreated and experienced as burning incense, their ancient ritual memory is released with the smoke, and a special feeling surfaces that many people say is indescribable. These timeless magical concoctions help connect people to the past, but also to their spiritual or religious roots and to their ancestry in beautiful and profound ways.
There are many forms of inspiration behind the countless aromatic creations of this world. It doesn’t matter from exactly where your personal inspiration comes from, just that you act on it and put your beauty out into the world to help uplift, heal, and create joyful experiences for people. Whether you’re an incense crafter (or would like to learn the art of incense crafting), perfumer, herbalist, or you’re just finding your footing in the world of plants and aromatics, the world needs you to put your good work and creations forward. As the Japanese say, “make everything beautiful”, and more beautiful things will come forth.
Article by Evan Sylliaasen
Evan Sylliaasen is the founder of the Northwest School of Aromatic Medicine and Higher Mind Incense. For the past decade his incense company has been a leader in sustainability and conscious sourcing of aromatic plants. As the head instructor of his online school, he teaches aromatherapists, incense lovers, herbalists, and spiritually-minded folks the traditional art of incense crafting, incense as medicine, and the art of wild-harvesting aromatic plants responsibly.
Evan lives with his family in the foothills of the Olympic Mountains of Washington state. He channels his creative passions through writing, photography, wood working, craftsman building, and music. When he’s not working, he’s out in the garden, forest and fields, walking along rivers, beaches, or in the mountains breathing deeply.
© 2018-2021 Evan Sylliaasen, The Northwest School of Aromatic Medicine. All Rights Reserved.