Archive for January, 2009

The Sergius-Bob Series of Reviews: Part 1

Posted in Christian incense, Incense, Orthodox Christianity, religion with tags , , , on January 31, 2009 by blackincense

One of my dearest friends sent me several incense blends to review.  Naturally these are “competitors” but I really see them as fellow friends and as moral sign posts along the way rather than as competitors.

This review is for Trappist Monastery Incense, Melleray Blend.  This is a granular incense, not too fine, not too coarsse.  Its granular formula lets me test in several ways but I will stick to the plain old incense review format.

Melleray Blend, by Trappist Monks is a blend of  2 main ingredients, and made by the monks and nuns of Assumption Abbey, a Roman Catholic monastery/convent.  These two main ingredients are Ethiopian frankincense (white) and Indian myrrh, blended with:

Cedar oil

Eucalyptus oil

Sandalwood oil

Lemon oil.

There are 3 levels to this incense and it changes very rapidly — but one thing that stays with you is the cedar.  This granular incense is probably cured for about 2 weeks, which gives it that “fresh burned” flavor and the feeling that you are in the same room with Thomas Aquinas.  There is no floral in this scent which is a welcome change (to me anyway) from the typical Catholic liturgical incense.  The Trappists (whoever they are) seem to want to go to the desert, but are afraid to venture all the way in it, which is why they pull back on the sandalwood.  I guess they are afraid that non-Catholics might find it too “eastern” which is why they don’t “go there.”

Frankly, I think they should.  “Go there” I mean.  Christianity has nothing to be ashamed of about its origin in the East.  That’s where it all started anyway.

But aside from all that, this is a very earthy, down to earth, honest-to-goodness, good incense.  This is the highest quality granular incense I’ve ever seen, and I was really glad to have an opportunity to try it.  If you are looking for a granular incense, that doesn’t smother the flame with overpowering woods, this is a good one.

about $25 per pound.  Not bad for a blend like this.

Trappist Incense- Melleray Blend

Trappist Incense- Melleray Blend



The Scent of Remembrance

Posted in Arabian bakhour, bahkhoor, bakhoor, desert bakhoor incense, Ethiopia, Incense, Orthodox Christianity, perfume, religion with tags , , , , , , , , , , on January 31, 2009 by blackincense

I thought I put a complete explanation on my webpage, and also here, on my “about” page, but I still get letters asking for more detail about how I ended up doing this as a business .  I don’t want to bore the rest of you, so you might want to go read all about the latest political scandal and my feelings won’t be hurt.  That stuff is  far more entertaining anyway.

But for those that really want to know how I ended up an incense maker and perfumer here’s how it really was.  My father worked for “That Agency That Dare Not Speak Its Name” and so I grew up abroad.  I was raised in the normal way — I cried, I pouted and my parents spanked me regularly.  But I do not have “normal” memories of my childhood.  Rather, it was filled with smells and I identified from an early age, the scents of my surroundings and my life in general.  For example, most children will tell you that they remember the smell of their mother’s perfume.  This is true for me also, but what I remember was:

Shalimar, by Guerlain

Emeraude (the classic original) by Coty

Dior by well, Dior.

But these fragrances are mixed in my mind, with the smell of roast beef, cookies, and fresh bread.  If anyone were to actually admit in public, that they remember their mother smelled of Shalimar mixed with Rugelach cookies, I’m certain that Guerlain (or Kranzler himself) would boil over in anger.

Anyway, I remember my childhood in the context of smell:

Mamba moving through fresh mowed grass

Jasmine covering swamp crocodile

Benzine cleaner wiping out rose damascus.

Noone bread (spelling in English) mixed with saffron, supporting a wild musk deer

Saffron covering cheap jasmine perfume

Cheap jasmine perfume floating on pieces of Iranian paper

Iranian paper mixed with glass halal vitamin vials.  (even the glass containing them smelled of curry.)

Mix all that together, and you have one confused little girl who doesn’t know if she’s supposed to be American and speak English, or an African Iranian who speaks Farsi and Romanian.

As a teen, I was typically rebellious and went off to study “art” in Paris.  I came home because the Gendarmes “recommended” that I was too naive to live there.  But I spent my summer in an attic there, and that made me an exotic rebel among my friends.  While I lived there, I went to Fragonard and spent two months working for them as a lab tester.  I worked among the people who create the fragrances that you know as Dior, Yves St. Laurent, and others.  Mostly I worked for dead guys whose legal heirs created really bad outfits for women.

After that, I went on “the road” and became a ne’er do well who had all sorts of jobs and two hobbies: scent and new age religion.  As a “new ager”, I learned to blend my own oils into liquid incense, and from there, became an herbalist incense maker.

Fast forward 20 years:  Since that time, I have been married a few times (outside the Orthodox Church) and I am now single, probably for the rest of what is considered my natural life, whatever that might be.  Several years ago, I went on pilgrimage to Romania, and learned to make the incense that our Holy Church is known for.  I will never forget the time I spent in the skete there, learning to blend ingredients in huge black pots.

I’m sure the nun in charge will never forget me either, since I knocked over her only remaining bottle of carnation absolute (valued at about $2000 per half pound, AT THAT TIME.)    Her name was Theophania and she waved her hands over the spilled carnation, and said, “Nia!”  (Peasant for “never mind”.)  She proceeded to show me how to make a copy of carnation absolute, using two very cheap and inexpensive ingredients.  When I was done, my “carnation” cost about 20 cents a pound.    Even my nose couldn’t tell the difference.  I will never stop praying for Theophania.

BPI, as a business, is actually fairly young.  I began making Orthodox incense and Byzantine perfume in about 1995, but did not start selling it until much later.  When I started, I was actually forced to do it because at the time, I was homeless.  BPI started here:

The original "home" of BPI...

The original "home" of BPI...

I must never forget the smell of desperation, loneliness, and complete surrender to God.  If I had to describe it, I would say that it smelled like cedar, broken in half, covered with pure cocounut and olive oils.  Maybe someday, I will make an incense from that, just so that I don’t forget.

God bless you for reading my blog.  You are always in my prayers.

BPI Announcement -New Items and availability

Posted in desert bakhoor incense, Incense, Orthodox Christianity, perfume on January 29, 2009 by blackincense

I have to post this here, until the website can be edited.

We are sold out of our Greek pedestal burners, and also Desert Father’s Incense.

SOLD OUT!  So sorry!

SOLD OUT! So sorry!

DF Incense will be available again in March.  Check back.  (Hey it has to finish curing!)  A few customers had put some on hold, so this is still available for them.

Single Scent blends are now ON SALE AND CLOSE OUT.  I will no longer be making these.

Sale price:

1 ounce:  $4.00 and 3 ounce:  $10.00

Right now I have the following left:

Rose, Lilac, Lily of the Valley, Magnolia, Lavender, Carnation, Hyacinth, and Violet.

The Greek burners, we may continue to carry but have not decided yet.   If you had your eye on a Greek pedestal burner, I might suggest one of the Greek enamel ones.  They too, are very pretty!

Greek enamel burners - very pretty!  Cannot guarantee color selection

Greek enamel burners - very pretty! Cannot guarantee color selection

We found some tongs that are very affordable and these will be available for order on the website soon.  Only $5.00 per pair!

We are in the process of revising our shipping policy — customers will want to combine orders in order to get full value because we can no longer offer standard shipping on the website for all items.  It will only be available for stick incense.

Also, here’s a sneak peek at our latest additions which will also be up on the website:

This icon is a handwoven tapestry, measuring about 2.5 inches by 11 inches.   Handmade in Constantinople. (Yes, I still call it that.) This is a variant of the Kazan Mother of God icon. So beautiful on the wall! Coming soon to our website!


Coming soon to BPI's website

Alpha Inventions —What the heck?

Posted in Orthodox Christianity with tags , on January 26, 2009 by blackincense

I have no idea how this thing works, but it’s really rather cool.  Basically, all I can understand is that it is a “window” into the world of bloggers in “real time”.  It showed up on my stats as a “visitor” and somehow I got added to their site, and suddenly I had over 1000 visitors in one day.  It was BIZARRE, and I couldn’t figure it out .  Finally, I went to: Http:// and looked at their explanation.  The kid who invented this is apparently just a friendly kid with a lot of time and knowledge, who figured out how to bring bloggers together, in the same “real time” so that they could find blogs they like to read.  That’s it.  No catch apparently.

Check it out for yourself if you have a few minutes to waste.  I found a few blogs worth reading and if nothing else, it gives you a rather new and interesting view of the “world” outside your window. Um…monitor.

Squeezing into the mould….

Posted in Incense, Orthodox Christianity with tags , on January 25, 2009 by blackincense

got up early this morning to put the finishing touches on the moulds for the new cones.  (Yes, all you stick incense haters, I am working on it as promised and you shall have your cone incense by mid-March or so.)    As I was working on the shape, trying to get it perfect,  I started to laugh thinking about how up until 12 years ago, I would never have even thought about trying to fit myself into one. At that point, if someone had suggested it, I would have laughed.

But now, my life is all about trying to squeeze myself into the mould God has for me.  At first, years ago, I thought it was torture.  And in fact it was.  In some ways it still is.  But I found more freedom inside that mould that I ever did out of it.  The world really doesn’t understand that and they make fun of it, but the mold they offer is far more restricting, far more upsetting and troublesome to the soul.  I realize now, after all these years, why the world’s mould is so awful:  it has an END.  If you are in it, it has sides, and there’s no way to break through it, and when your life is over, that’s it.   You’re just stuck, and you’re just another “brick in the wall”.  (Pink Floyd!)

Our Lord gave us His example :

John 10

For this reason the Father loves Me, because I lay down My life so that I may take it again.  No one has taken it away from Me, but I lay it down on My own initiative I have authority to lay it down, and I have authority to take it up again

We, who have no authority  still even have the freedom our Lord gives us in Him.  We make choices — the choices we make ultimately, are what decides our freedom in Christ, or our prison in this world.   So likewise, “no one has taken it (my freedom) from me, but I lay it down on my own intitiative.  I have authority (freedom of choice) to lay it down. ”

When the world makes fun of us for being Christians,  they are denying us our freedom.  They are trying to make our choices for us.  But our Lord in His mercy, and goodness, declares us free.  And “He who is free in Christ, is free indeed!”


With God, All Things Are Possible

Posted in Arabian bakhour, bahkhoor, bakhoor, desert bakhoor incense, Desert culture, Incense, Orthodox Christianity, perfume with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , on January 23, 2009 by blackincense

The challenge I face in creating these new bakhoors is not the “how”, as I know the mechanics and the chemistry very well.  It’s capturing the mystery of the reverence the early Christians had for their faith, for our Lord, for the Saints and for each other through scent.  The challenge of re-creating a lost time is something that most perfumers are not willing to do, because it’s just a lot easier to give people what they want and what they want is usually the result of modern marketing.

With this new project, I am breaking away from everything that people have associated with my art up to now, and I run the very serious risk of rejection.  That would spell the end of BPI as a “business” but I never really saw it as a money-making endeavor anyway.  I want to get back to being an artist, and less of a merchant.  If that means “loss of business”, I guess that’s what that means and I can live with that, as long as what I am doing brings honor to our Lord.

Plans for Perfume Elixirs:

I’m going to drop one perfume and make a new one.  “Antigua” will no longer be available after January 30 so I will put the last 2 bottles on sale and that will be that.  It’s not a scent I want to keep, simply because it doesn’t fit with my current interests, and the others just over-shadow it anyway.  “Antigua” was a fun scent that I created for little girls at faire, and for secular women who wanted a Caribbean perfume.   It doesn’t have anywhere near the sophistication (either in simple smell, or in chemical composition) to the other three.  Madagascar has always been my best seller, and the main reason for this is:  it’s a “dark”, heavy perfume, loaded with the richness of Oriental spice, and overlaid with florals.  There are 27 distinct “notes”  in Madagascar alone.

“Silk Road” and “Mykonos” will soon be joined by ” Cyprus” and I am renaming “Madagascar” into “Saida”.  Madagascar will remain largely the same except for an infusion of carnation and a couple other notes I think will make it a more powerful, “signature”  fragrance as my personal trademark.  That will round out my Byzantine perfume series and maybe this summer I will start on the Arabian elixirs.

The Bahkhoors

As for the bahkhoors I am planning, I have been working on four formulas and have been inspired by four particular desert monastics.  These four bahkhoors, will be named after a particular desert father or mother.  The four I have chosen to focus on are:

Abba Moses the Ethiopian

Abba Antony of Egypt

Amma Sarah

Amma Theodora

Too often, the desert mothers get pushed aside, especially in intellectual conversations; they are hardly ever mentioned.  I do not want anyone to think that I am on some sort of “feminist kick” but I think this is really insulting to these brilliant and lovely women, and I think their feelings must be a little hurt that we ignore them so much.  So I am going to pay attention to them if no one else will, and maybe if people try the bahkhoors I make for them and like them, this will inspire them to read more about them.

This series of incense is an intense study in experimenting with native flavors and aromatics (al-Khindi would at least be impressed that I’m trying, if I am not always successfull. <laugh!>).  I have not stretched my nose this far before and although I am not unhappy about it, I still feel I may be missing something and that I haven’t gotten it quite perfect yet.

But I want to preserve the sayings that I have been reading, while I work.  I have them printed out and taped above my work table, so that I can read a sentence or two, and then keep working on the formula.  It helps to keep me focused on what I am trying to achieve.  With these two women, these desert mothers, I am trying to create the scent of the white (no doubt silk) robes our Lord has given them in Heaven.  Naturally, this is really impossible, because we don’t know what scents there are in Heaven…and of course, everything I do, think and am, stinks in comparison…but still, my work is mainly about if it were possible, what would it smell like?  And Our Lord says that with Him, all things are possible!

Here’s some of the sayings from these extraordinary women, and after reading them, maybe you will see where I am going with this.

Amma Theodora

She also said that neither asceticism, nor vigils nor any kind of suffering are able to save, only true humility can do that. There was an anchorite who was able to banish the demons; and he asked them, ‘What makes you go away? Is it fasting?’ They replied, ‘We do not eat or drink.’ ‘Is it vigils?’ They replied, ‘We do not sleep.’ ‘Is it separation from the world?’ ‘We live in the deserts.’ ‘What power sends you away then?’ They said, ‘Nothing can overcome us, but only humility.’ ‘Do you see how humility is victorious over the demons?’

Amma Theodora also said, ‘There was a monk, who, because of the great number of his temptations said, “I will go away from here.” As he was putting on his sandals, he saw another man who was also putting on his sandals and this other monk said to him, “Is it on my account that you are going away? Because I go before you wherever you are going.”

The same Amma was asked about the conversations one hears; ‘If one is habitually listening to secular speech, how can one yet live for God alone, as you suggest?’ She said, ‘Just as when you are sitting at table and there are many courses, you take some but without pleasure, so when secular conversations come your way, have your heart turned towards God, and thanks to this disposition, you will hear them without pleasure, and they will not do you any harm.’

Amma Sarah

Once the same spirit of fornication attacked her more insistently, reminding her of the vanities of the world. But she gave herself up to the fear of God and to asceticism and went up onto her little terrace to pray. Then the spirit of fornication appeared corporally to her and said, ‘Sarah, you have overcome me.’ But she said, ‘It is not I who have overcome you, but my master, Christ.’

It was said concerning her that for sixty years she lived beside a river and never lifted her eyes to look at it.

Another time, two old men, great anchorites, came to the district of Pelusia to visit her. When they arrived one said to the other, ‘Let us humiliate this old woman.’ So they said to her, ‘Be careful not to become conceited thinking to yourself: “Look how anchorites are coming to see me, a mere woman.” ‘But Amma Sarah said to them, ‘According to nature I am a woman, but not according to my thoughts.’

Amma Sarah said, ‘If I prayed God that all men should approve of my conduct, I should find myself a penitent at the door of each one, but I shall rather pray that my heart may be pure towards all.’

She also said, ‘I put out my foot to ascend the ladder, and I place death before my eyes before going up it.’

She also said, ‘It is good to give alms for men’s sake. Even if it is only done to please men, through it one can begin to seek to please God.’

Some monks of Scetis came one day to visit Amma Sarah. She offered them a small basket of fruit. They left the good fruit and ate the bad. So she said to them, ‘You are true monks of Scetis.’

She also said to the brothers, ‘It is I who am a man, you who are women.’

This Coptic nun was photographed in 1936.  She lived to be 115 years old and was martyred for Christ in 1976.

This Coptic nun was photographed in 1936. She lived to be 115 years old and was martyred for Christ in 1976.

Perfume review: Hindu Kush by AbdesSalaam Attar Profumo

Posted in Perfume Reviews with tags , , , on January 21, 2009 by blackincense

My friends Veejay and his wife, Nirmala bought some of this in Italy for me as a gift.  They wanted to know what I thought of it, and I decided to share those thoughts here.

First, the clarity of the elixir is interesting — there is no cloud, and the consistency of the oil is topnotch.  On opening the bottle, my first impressions were:

Real Bombay sandalwood – the real deal!

Silk sliding over cotton and getting caught on wood.

Calcutta merchants crying out to sell spice

The basenotes of this perfume is oak moss, real sandalwood, and a hint of pepper.  Overtones being what they are, I would classify it as green, but without being another boring citrus.  This is an exciting perfume and it captures an image of the Indian orient.  The surprise in this perfume is the nutmeg — not too overpowering, but very much present and it’s almost a sustaining force in the elixir.

This is a very resinous perfume, incense based, and I am glad to see it and grateful for the opportunity to have it.  My friends are too kind to give me such a gift!

A very fun perfume, this scent is an adventure in forest filled mountains with a lot of soul searching.  I hope for more like this in coming years.  This one is a true ‘eastern perfume’, for men or women.  But I suspect that very “professional” women might find it too heavy for daily wear.  This is a very exotic and eastern oil.

More information from the designer: