Sunday, July 12, 2009

Fragrance and death...the scents towards recovery in our mourning.

There is just so much of it just lately. I attempted to comfort an old friend, who is loosing his mom, that the only cure for grief is laughter.... wisdom from the storyteller's creed; laughter cures grief. It's true. Because I don't know what I would have done without the laughter and love of my friends as I lost my own mom. It was the worst. You just never know what your new day will hold and so... you might make each moment count. Remember that the simple things are are really simple pleasures ... we don't pay for them. The simple acts in our daily life are actually the underlying patterns in most cultural ritual, actions we repeat to remind ourselves of basic strengths, weaknesses and the fine tuning of our reality. I know I remember my mom mostly, after over twenty years, in those simple little things, like kissing her goodnight every night I spent with her. I've held onto that memory thinking it was the best thing I ever did. Just that simple kiss goodnight.

So, as we prepare ourselves to say goodbye, we are performing a sacred human ritual, perhaps the oldest one we remember. This excellent representation in nature of mourning, the 'mourning cloak' butterfly, is a symbol of assurance in the change death brings... both the loss and the new horizon it opens up to us. Because we must go on, whether we think we can, or not. Memory becomes our stumble in the beginning and then it becomes our generous healer. And it's all necessary because it completes us. We can't know how mourning will affect us. And each of us will meet it with subtle old tools surviving as the strength and further development of who we really are. There are scads of 'therapies' to begin and psychological definitions to describe 'healthy' or 'unhealthy' situations in the processes of grief.... I think each of us takes a journey towards death ultimately in such a personal way that it seems disrespectful to make any categorization... mind wise or heart wise. My apologies to Kubler-Ross, yet... how dare we try to discern an individual's tragedy?

What we can do is explore culturally fragrant helpers... momentary remedies that have traditionally worked as healing balms, a salve to spread in the moment of pain and loss. They begin in the moment of death: Ancient Egyptians easily come to mind. The funerary rituals they preserved for millenia not only spark our curiosity, they offer sensual remedy. Aromachology (the practice of using a fragrant agent to alter the quality of mind) was refined and daily exploited in Khem (ancient Egypt). Embalming was the act of preservation using nature's apothecary of preserves to rest putrefaction and render a sweetness of memory.
Among the oils they used:
Myrrh: not just any kind of myrrh, but the blackened muskier render combined with the rich sappy golden. Highly prised by the Heliopolitan priests or magi (astrologers) for it's sensual trigger of astral presence, out among the stars. As a remedy for grief, myrrh assists our prayers and reaching out to touch the spiritual presence of a loved one... what is gone in body may remain close in spirit, the ultimate comfort.
Cedar: the wood and the leaf. Thuja (leaf) can be poisonous and should be used sparingly in the environment. While today we employ cedar as a fragrant remedy for calm, stress reduction and to chase away fear... the Egyptians employed it's sensual presence to affirm a solid foundation in the Earth. Remembrance of Home. The songs of the wind through cedar trees, the vistas of great cedars standing upright and solid providing the assembly of permanence. A racial memory that sensually lifts our spirits with a clarity and resolve. Cedar can help us to 'hold on' to what was and remains... a great comfort in our lonesomeness and wander away from the moment. It can bring us back to the here and now with an understanding that not every thing or every one who crosses is lost to us. Powerful remedy.
An Attar of Roses: used as antibacterial in ancient embalming yet; here we capture the scent of the Queen! The Goddess/Mother. A scentual remedy for the broken heart. Only a remedy, not a cure. The rose is employed to address anger, jealousy, thoughtlessness, the bitterness of being forgotten and the exhaustion of grief. All remedies of the rose are applicable in mourning. The scent of the rose holds the heart, hence it is claimed to be the Queen of Scent. Holding the heart as the shock of death enfolds us helps to release our inevitable anger that tends to lash out in thoughtless haste as those who care for us might attempt to comfort. Rose to remedy our fear of forever and hope of eternity. Rose is a rose is a rose and it befriends our mourning process with the sweet sensual promise that love survives.
Sandalwood: is surprisingly familiar, to any culture...perhaps its' the pheromones? Today's sensual service in santal claims to release anxiety, yet I've know some who feel it evokes anxiousness! It just seems to open you up, even if it is eventually, to what lies beyond our everyday reality. The ancients used the soft musky presence of sandalwood to remind themselves of continuity. Life continues just as it exists in timelessness. Sandalwood offers a peek past what seems to be into what has always been and remains. When we are mourning, we deny this simple truth, so sandalwood opens our subconscious mind to this reality and begins our emotional recovery; initiated and nurtured through our spiritual nature.

In the New World, time mysticism uniquely addressing death and mourning evolves among the modern day Maya of central America. The ethnobotany of Mayans offers us a glamorous apothecary of fragrance... one where fruits and berries compliment exotic florals to ancient trees and plants...the tropics. Mexicans in particular address mourning nationally, celebrating a Day of the Dead. Hearty, sweet, floral scents comfort and express a natural release of painful emotions and speed the mourning process along:
Tolu balsam: a vanilla like sap that pours sweetness into the air. Pebbles of incense used during ancient rituals of gifting defused a quality of Home and safety. Softly self empowering, the fragrance of balsam renews hopefulness and allowance. What better remedy in the dark night? A whiff of hope, a sensual remembrance of how it is to just be.
Black Copal: more than a whisper, the cleansing of pines brilliant and sunny reminds us that the adventure of life still waits on us, that time thought so ceaseless is illusory and the power of the moment compels us to keep on going! A sensual reminder that we create our world...
Cacao: Who has the self restraint to pass by chocolate? The richness of the tropical world is in the gratifying taste of chocolate. Its scent will attract most us and prompt a momentary recovery from just about any stress or anxiety. An active pain reducer, cacao is a very precious, expensive absolute oil... yet it is as easy as your favorite chocolate treat to take advantage of a momentary recovery from overwhelming moments ... Yes, you may find that you take advantage of it too much! Still, this lovely indulgence tends to distract you long enough to forget everything else, just as it did for the ancient Maya. It is so powerfully connected to our primal self that it continues to be one of the most potent recovery scents' for those who those who, due to trauma, have lost their sense of smell... somehow cacao penetrates past injuries physical and emotional to recover a sense of smell. A primal recovery!
Gardenia: The Maya used the scent of gardenia to engender healing in sick rooms. They also employed it to help open up personal inner images of what was and what resolves in the moment; a unique clarity in remembering our past. Stellar shaman, the Maya sought this clarity within the acceptance of eternity to govern their culture, a timelessness anchored in galactic / universal synchronization that might remove the trauma of loss and death... and open up the elusive eternal Now. Essentially speaking, gardenia flowers empower our recovery from deep mourning by awakening us back up to the truth of our eternal nature. A potent and gracious floral, gardenia remembers for you.

In the Old World, the Celts revered their Ancestors and kept one night of the year in the midst of oncoming decadence, at summer's end, to reach back out to them and rejoice in the continuity of the Spirit. Samhain [October 31st] may be best representation of Celtic mourning. A ceremonial invitation rich in harvest scents and the crisp notes of approaching winter. An 'inbetween time' when we might enter 'between worlds' to greet our Ancestors and regain their wisdom.
Apples: Fresh and splendid, an apple smells like life! A remembrance for our Ancestors and an anchor to the vitality we enjoy. Its scent brings us into the moment, breaking away from any hold the past might claim in us, for one crisp moment. The quick promise of good health and a fragrant revival, the scent of apples, sharp green ones, softly calming red ones, deliciously distracting yellows... apples command your attention to the moment and begin a conversation with you all about living and vitality. No small charm, apples may be the gossips of the orchard, yet they are quick to appreciate what belongs in the here and Now!
Sweet Marjoram: A traditional calmer and soother, sweet marjoram initiates allowance and flow... it helps us find acceptance. Its restorative qualities sensually translate as understanding, the point of our acceptance. A deep fragrant breath, when sweet marjoram fills your senses it asks you to quiet your busy mind and welcome the positive aspects surrounding you. As a quintessential healer, this green scent asks you to softly relax and quiet down, assisting you into healing sleep... a needful thing in mourning, as we tend to suffer sleeplessness or upsetting dream spells, sweet marjoram is an ancient sleeping drought.
Wormwood: Wer-mod (Spirit Mother) to the ancient Druids. A balm belonging to Artemis. It's the ancient healers' remedy for deep physical pain as well as sister to ultimate Morpheus bringing on the final sleep. A caring hand dispenses it. The abruptly biting, then warming aromatic of wormwood works a magic on our emotions; absinthe's alignment with all things crossing over or penetrating the veil beyond... a last fragrant goodbye. Wormwood's scent invites conclusions and can be environmentally beneficial during ceremonies honoring the dead. It establishes the unseen crossroads where human meets spirit and the spiral of eternal consciousness ascends / descends. A sensual goodbye.

For each individual the sense of smell is unique. Some of the above sensual remedies will help dispel and eventually move past acute grief. Yet, as an aromachologist, I understand that comfort and scent are defined singularly by the person. Lavender may normally translate sensually as calming and relaxing, able to quell a headache. Yet I've discovered that it can also repel an individual who associates that smell with the funeral of a loved elder. You have to reach out and explore scent.
It can capture you unawares...too. It seems so far away from when I last kissed my mom goodnight. I would smell the oak-y scent of a little piece of whiskey, scotch whiskey, most nights when I bent down to kiss her cheek. It was my mom's habit to usually have a cocktail before dinner and perhaps another before going to bed ... as she sat watching tv. She would retire before me, and sometime after that kiss goodnight I would take the glasses out to the dishwasher... small green crystal glasses with shamrocks etched into them. I remember. I remember the pungent scent of scotch as it vanished down the drain, that same smell on my mom's breath as I bent to kiss her goodnight. It's been over twenty years, now. And late at night, just a couple of times, I've woke up abruptly from my sleep, smelling scotch, and been filled with a sensual overload that I've come to think is mom, stopping by, to simply kiss me goodnight.

And I am comforted by a "little piece of whiskey".

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