Archive for the religion Category

Merry Christmas to All and to All A Goodnight…The Final Smoke Ring.

Posted in Arabian bakhour, bahkhoor, bakhoor, Christian incense, Cold War, desert bakhoor incense, Desert culture, Ethiopia, Incense, Life and Lifestyles, Orthodox Christianity, Orthodox Clergy and Information, perfume, Perfume Reviews, religion with tags , , , , , , , , , , , on December 24, 2009 by blackincense

BPI and more specifically, Columbina, would like to wish all of her many friends, both in the world, and those who are not of it, a very Merry Christmas.  This blog has been closed for a while, but I wanted to end it on a positive note, at the close of this season.  It’s been a joyous ride, and I continue to blog about many other interests, life experiences, and art over at Tales From the Golden Ghetto.

But all good things must come to an end, and Smoke Rings has finally “dissipated”.

I am truly grateful to the following people who taught me how to blog, how to be a better writer, and frankly, how to be a better person.  Many of them are shy, and therefore, I will only use links to their blogs to name them. As I’ve said before, this isn’t some annoying, self absorbed “good-bye” or anything.  (First, I’d like to thank God for this award….LOL)

But I want to say to these lovely people:  All of you made 2009 bearable, and a wonderful journey of learning from mistakes, learning from suffering and learning about myself.  All of you helped to give me my greatest gift for Christmas:  my identity.  Through exploring so many subjects, topics and discussions with you, I finally came “home” in my heart and found out who I really am.  I will always be grateful to you and my hands will always find a way to help you, my lips a way to pray for you, my heart a way to love you, my head a way to bless you, my feet a way to direct you.

Kyrie Eleison, a voice of truth and beauty in the wilds of Montreal — a true sister on the Way.

Juvenaly, “Misha” Martinka of Theophany Designs – my beloved webmaster and friend, Mesa, Arizona

Uncle Clem – the distinguished, dignified, and truly humble Professor of Theology in Asheville, NC

Breaking Babylon — the son I never had.

The Desert Seeker —fellow TCK/global nomad, and truly humble teacher of many things arcane and Orthodox.

Sergius-Bob –wherever he may be, may he be blessed and know he always has a home.

Orthodox Monk — we’ve never met, but someday, God willing.  You helped me to learn how to quit being a victim, stand up for myself, for others and for the Faith, when necessary.  I’ll still be “stalking” you in cyber space, learning from your excellent example.

Justinian:  you defended me when I needed it, and you encouraged me when I was truly despairing.  You also taught me to stop using fragmented sentences and to be more precise!  LOL

Iconblogographer — Matthew Garrett:  inspiration, and gentleness.  As well as battling cosmic evil as Batman, you are da man.

I close this blog permanently, and with great gratitude to all of you and these words from Tolkien’s , “The Hobbit”, the ultimate TCK poem.

Roads Go Ever On — (c) JRR Tolkien

Roads go ever ever on,
Over rock and under tree,
By caves where never sun has shone,
By streams that never find the sea;
Over snow by winter sown,
And through the merry flowers of June,
Over grass and over stone,
And under mountains of the moon.
Roads go ever ever on
Under cloud and under star,
Yet feet that wandering have gone
Turn at last to home afar.
Eyes that fire and sword have seen
And horror in the halls of stone
Look at last on meadows green
And trees and hills they long have known.
The Road goes ever on and on
Down from the door where it began.
Now far ahead the Road has gone,
And I must follow, if I can,
Pursuing it with eager feet,
Until it joins some larger way
Where many paths and errands meet.
And whither then? I cannot say.
The Road goes ever on and on
Out from the door where it began.
Now far ahead the Road has gone,
Let others follow it who can!
Let them a journey new begin,
But I at last with weary feet
Will turn towards the lighted inn,
My evening-rest and sleep to meet.

(C) Ted Naismith

Leaving the Shire by Artist (c) Ted Naismith


Hibernating Until the Recession Is Over

Posted in Arabian bakhour, bahkhoor, bakhoor, Christian incense, desert bakhoor incense, Ethiopia, Incense, Life and Lifestyles, Orthodox Christianity, perfume, Perfume Reviews, religion on November 19, 2009 by blackincense

It’s been awhile since I wrote here, in any meaningful way about my work in perfume and incense, and I’m beginning to wonder if this blog has served the professional purpose.  I think it has and I will leave it up, but I unless there is something pressing to say about BPI or incense in general, I’ll probably be over at my personal blog (  This isn’t “goodbye” or anything desperate, annoying and self-pitying or anything like that.


I am just winding down in this area of my work.  The economy has forced serious cutbacks in experiments, and testing, so until it improves, I can’t really do much innovative stuff.  I’m just a single artisan after all, not a full blown factory. So while the reecession plods on, (I don’t believe a word of what Wall Street says — maybe those fat cats are living it up, but down here,  on the River, where I live with my low income tenants, thinigs are ever the same!) I have gone back to other mediums, namely painting and I’m enjoying the break it is giving me.    People really have no idea how physically demanding incense making is.  At least, not until I actually recruit them to help me in the workshop.  😉

As always, I welcome true friendship with no agenda — I have none, and expect none.

God bless you!


Wonder what I will paint today?

Gone to Valaam. Be Back Later. Snacks in the Fridge. Clean up your own mess.

Posted in Life and Lifestyles, Orthodox Christianity, religion with tags , , on November 8, 2009 by blackincense

There is a River…

Posted in Desert culture, Orthodox Christianity, religion on August 11, 2009 by blackincense


There is a river, and it flows from deep within
There is a fountain, that frees the soul from sin
Come to this water; there is a vast supply
There is a river, that never shall run dry.

There was a thirsty woman,
Who was drawing from a well
You see her life was ruined and wasted
And her soul was bound for hell
Oh but then she met the Master
And He told about her sin
And he said “if you drink this water,
You’ll never thirst again.’

There is a river, and it flows from deep within
There is a fountain, that frees the soul from sin
Come to this water; there is a vast supply
There is a river, that never shall run dry.

I walked on the river today outside the apartments  and I remembered this song from childhood.  There was this woman who sang it in my church when we lived in Africa.  She was the wife of an ambassador (I cannot remember who) and she was a dedicated Christian.  She was the first person to tell me I was not stupid, I was not mentally retarded, and I was not “deaf”.  She taught me the names of all the Gospel writers and she taught me a song to memrize the books of the Bible.  Her name was in French, Amelie.

Now I am an adult and from my memory, she was a better singer than Aretha Franklin.  Truly!   I think if Aretha heard her sing, she would bow to her.

She was so dark, her skin was ebony and I thought she was the most beautful woman I had ever seen.  She wore her hair in long dread locks that dragged on the floor and she always wore these flowing African robes.  She was from Sierre Leone  and her French was better than mine.

When I first heard her sing this song, I saw her crying.  I asked her why she shed her tears and she said, “My name in Krio (native language in Sierre Leone) means Woman Who Stands At the Water. I am just like her.”

I don’t know why I remembered this today but I want to share a picture of the chapel where I first heard her sing in 1973.  Maybe it was just because I was walking along the river.  Or maybe she is prayiing for me somewhere.  I hope so.

The chapel is gone now.  And I suspect she may be dead .  Memory Eternal!


The Road to Gorgon

Posted in Arabian bakhour, bahkhoor, bakhoor, Christian incense, desert bakhoor incense, Desert culture, Incense, Orthodox Christianity, religion with tags , , , , , , on February 11, 2009 by blackincense

Gorgon lies in northern Iran, forgotten by most people I know.  But I canot forget and I must never forget.  Gorgon for me, will always be a holy place.  I knew Haik Hovsepian.  I was very young but I knew him and his family.  On the road to Gorgon in 1964,  his first son was killed in an accident, along with three other children from the Bliss family. also good friends of ours.  This was before my time, and I came to know them much later, before the Shah fell, and before the true Persia was wiped off the maps forever.

Safi Abad, where I lived....not in this big palace silly!  Behind it, up on the mountain in a small house.

Safi Abad, where I lived....not in this big palace silly! Behind it, up on the mountain in a small house. Haik came to visit us and to minister to us as Christians...we had no one else.

But still, his wife Takoosh and Haik pursued Christ.  They became missionaries for a Protestant church inside Iran, at a time when Christ’s name was reviled among Iranians.  If you were to ask Haik and Takoosh, they would tell you that they were “Persian”, not Iranian.  The distinction is important although I doubt that many westerners know this.

For Takoosh, to be Persian meant to be a free woman.  For Haik, it meant to be free of the Savaak, the Iranian political police.  For both of them, to be Persian, meant to be Christian.  Haik was martyred for Christ in 1994.  He was stabbed to death in a forgotten alley in Tehran by Muslims faithful to Ayatollah Khomeini.   His death was a severre blow to my family.  I will always remember the courtyard of their home.

They lived in a poor suburb of Tehran, and yet, their house had the only penny wishing well within maybe 15,000 square miles.  Because only a Christian household would tolerate such a fanciful thing.  And they were the only Persian Christians who dared to speak Christ’s name within the same radius.  Haik gave me pennies of every kind to throw in his fountain:  American, British, and Canadian.  Haik saved his pennies from western nations so that he could give them to children of every colour, every ethnic background.  Our family carries his little tradition by keeping our coins from all over the world in our Persian alabaster bowl.  But we are too poor of spirit to build a wishing well.

Takoosh made baklava, from scratch.  Patiently, she laid each parchment thin sheet of handrolled pastry onto the baking pan.  I wanted to scream for instant satisfaction, but I said nothing.  As she spread the fresh almond marzipan onto the sheets, I thought I would die from Pavlov’s disease. Then she would go and ruin it by pouring boiled saffron onto my rice and say “Eat up.  No baklava until you eat the kabab.”  Tender, spiced lamb that falls off the stick.  Then she would take me shopping and tell me to go and see if I can find the rials stuck in the ice on the streets.  Every time I brought back rials, that were not really “found treasures” but more like stray bullets for the beggars, she would put it in a special jar for the poor.

In the Shah’s time, there were ice skating rinks, and roller skating rinks in Tehran, which meant for me, the only real reason to go there.  We would stay in an apartment, paid for by the Americans, and Ali, a “superintendent” of the building, would always have a gift for me.  He was a convert to Christianity from Islam, but nobody ever talked of this.  To do that was to invite disaster on him, but not because of the Savaak or the Shah.  Because of the Islamic extremests who were gaining power even in 1976.

That was the year we got a special invitation from the Shah’s wife to come and see the Crown Jewels on a private tour.  I got to hold the golden globe, made by the best jewelers in the souk.  It had sapphires for the oceans, and emeralds for land masses. Diamonds were for the polar caps and rubies were for anything south of the equator.  I held it in my hands.  Princessa Farahnaz, older than me by a few years,  took it from my hands and said, “You are a good friend to us. Would you like to see my Nancy Drew books?”  She wore a jasmine perfume I have never been able to create.  We played on a terrace overlooking Safi Abad and she wondered out loud if my hair was really “that” black, because I wasn’t Persian.  I wondered if her eyeliner was tattooed on.  Later in my life, I discovered that this was the very latest thing:  to tattoo your “eyeliner”.

“See?  See the flaw???”  Haik taught me to study the kilim, the traditional Persian carpets.  The best come from Nain or Bukhaara, and are made of silk. Each one is made from hand looms, and flaws are intentionally placed in the design. Because only Allah is perfect.  “See it????”  He would point to it, to make sure I saw what he saw.  “Yes I see it!”  I would jump up off my chair and haik would pat my head.  “Good girl.  You are a good girl.”  I still have the small silk Bukhaara bedside  carpet that he gave me for my very own, grownup girl room.  I used to sit on it and pretend to be flying across the world.  It still smells like almonds, baklava, and saffron to me.

Anyone who says that Christ cannot work outside of Orthodoxy never met Takoosh or Haik. And people who don’t say that, but who are just a bit too strong in their defensiveness against Protestants, have never been outside their comfortable, free, and indulgent western country.   And they also deny the whole of the Old Testament.

A  Cry From Iran

The road to Gorgon is lonely.  They say it is the loneliest place God ever built.  The scents of Gorgon rise up to meet my memory as saffron, mixed with dust and shoes that have been worn for too long and don’t quite fit rightly.  But it is the place that Christ will walk someday, to call up the bones of his tiny martyr, Haik’s son.  And then our Lord will walk all the way back to Tehran, and call up the bones of Haik, his beloved friend, and martyr for the Truth, a Person!  And our Lord will say, “Well done, good and faithful servant.”

Road to Gorgon.

Road to Gorgon.

New Inspiration

Posted in Arabian bakhour, bakhoor, Christian incense, desert bakhoor incense, Desert culture, Ethiopia, Incense, Orthodox Christianity, perfume, religion with tags on February 9, 2009 by blackincense

I have been making cones for a week now, long into the night, every night.  They will be ready for soaking by next week when they are finally completely dry.

Many hopes and dreams were rolled into these new fragrances and cones, and I just wanted to share with you the inspiration for each of them.  I only pray that my hands and my nose are worthy.   My hands are very sore after making all these cones!  I can hardly type.  My arthritis is my reminder of how imperfect I am.

The following are how the labels for each will read, but they are the sayings of holy men that I have held captive in my heart for a long while now.  I hope these sayings will bless your life too.

Caspian Caravan

Isaiah 60:6

“The multitude of camels shall cover thee, the camels of Midian and Ephah; all they from Sheba shall come: they shall bring gold and incense; and they shall shew forth the praises of the LORD.”

“ The man who follows Christ in solitary mourning is greater than he
who praises Christ amid the congregation of men.” St. Isaac the Syrian

Bedu Balm

Bedu means “one who lives in the desert”. The desert is not about geography. It is about the uncharted landscape in our own hearts, that keeps us from God.–BPI

“As a pilot calls on winds and a storm-tossed mariner looks
homeward, so the times call on you to win your way to God. As
God’s athlete, be sober; the stake is immortality and eternal
life.”  St. Ignatius the God-bearer

Cedars of Lebanon

Ps. 92″The righteous flourish like the palm tree and grow like the cedar in Lebanon” (Psalm 92:12).

“At the Last Judgment the righteous will be recognized only by
their humility and their considering themselves worthless, and not
by good deeds, even if they have done them. This is the true
attitude.”  Holy New Hieromartyr Barlaam

African Rivers:

“In Africa, I saw how true the Gospel of Christ is! Everything that He said about the possession of men by the demons, I saw first hand. However, the Living and True God is more powerful than Satan and all his servants. Let it be understood, however, that true missionary-apostolic work cannot be carried out in Africa if one does not decide to leave his bones there.”

Blessed Cosmas of Grigoriu

The Oasis....our Lord Jesus Christ, who is everywhere present and fills all things

The Oasis....our Lord Jesus Christ, who is everywhere present and fills all things

Bok bok….

Posted in Ethiopia, Orthodox Christianity, religion with tags , , on February 5, 2009 by blackincense

Delirium is what creeps up on me when I am at my healthiest, and that same fever always seems to burn hottest in the dark, when the night is at its most quiet moments, when even sleeping dogs would not wake if I stepped over them. The Bossa people of Liberia say that there is a time in the night, when no living creature stirs, because Jah is walking the Earth and when he steps over his creatures, they sleep deeper for the safety. I am very familiar with that time of night, and yet, Jah has never stepped over me. Instead, of hoping for that, I hope for the day when I will be able to rise up and walk with Him.

When I was a little girl, our night guard, who named himself John for the white man’s benefit, would sit in our yard, and wait for the serpent who sought the opportunity to slip underneath the door, or through the grill of the air conditioner, or perhaps through a window, left open by careless children such as myself.

The St. Paul river races through our back yard. You can never escape the sound of it, and its scent is something you can never forget. The scent is of a thousand years, as if they were of one piece, folded and put away in a drawer with all the hopes of the people it has washed away in the rainy seasons. Year after year. It is the largest river in the sub-Sahara, and the jungle clings to the banks. Only your backyard is cleared away. The river is so wide, that you have to really strain to see the huts of the leper colony on the other side. But at night, when we are waiting for Jah to step over us, we can hear the drums of a voo-doo doctor, and we shiver from things that are far beyond the cold of this world. Deep down, even though you are very young and very small, you somehow know that the white world you will someday live in, will have a hard time understanding that sound, that smell, that jungle.

John and I were companions by night, friends by nature, and separated by a thousand years of Irish inbreeding. Because John and I would never have moved in the same social circles. He was Bossa, a native Liberian and descended from free men who were sold into slavery by their brothers. A Joseph with a coat of many colors. I was the daughter of “the boss man”. But we were friends all the same, and if night damned us to melancholy, at least we were honest with one another. I asked him why he was black. He asked me why I was “n (click) ga”, a sound that is hard to make in English, but which means “day”. I was five years old and that gave me a lot of food for thought.

I can smell the scent of the scorpion, black and timid, as it rushes away through the carport, to get away from us. John catches it up, and holds it out to me. He shows me how to hold it. I can smell the poison in its tail as John shows me how dangerous it is. That scent is pungent, and it is metallic, but it is soothed away by the banana tree which has just come into bloom. Just there, to the right, in the yard. And against the house, a wild blackberry bush clutches the wall and the small white flowers on it, drip with perfumed dew.

We ate oatmeal together, because we both liked it, and it was all I knew how to make. He liked his with raisins. I liked mine with brown sugar and butter. His teeth were perfect. Mine were ruined before I was ten.

Now that I live in the very modern west, I have difficulty with a few scents.  One of them is “dead snake” versus “American skunk”.  They are so similar, I have to take it in for several minutes before I can really decide which one it is.  I also have a hard time with the smell of tonic water.  The scent of quinine is enough to make me gag on non-existent applesauce.  My mother had to crush up our quinine tablets in the applesauce.  It was that or die from malaria.  I hate applesauce and the scent of it makes me want to escape deep into the jungle.  And I’m never coming out.  Ever.  I will run away if you make me.

John could feel the presence of the serpent before it appeared. He could feel the movement of the snake as it writhed upward, seeking an entrance. His machete would fly through the air, and strike it’s target, slicing through the fluid air, as if on heavenly wings. He was my friend. We played games and he loved me like a daughter. He taught me the names of the animals, and now that I am so sophisticated, I have forgotten them all. But I remember his nearness, his voice, as he whispered songs to me, that told of the Creation of the world, in his own terms.

In his story, there is one god who subdues all the others, and casts them into the river. They are all washed away. When they are gone, then this god decides to create new living beings to live in his jungle. He mixes all things into a bowl and out of this bowl, he forms the first man and the first woman. And John says simply, that his god has a son, who is called NgJesi.

John was not a young man. He was in fact, very old, when I met him. But he ran faster than any child I ever knew. We were inseparable, and my mother gave up trying to put me to bed. As soon as quiet took over the house, I would be out in the night, with John, waiting for Jah, stealing fresh blackberries from the vine, and trying to discern the serpent from the ropes that held the boat fast to the banks, on the far side of the house.

Run.  If you can.  This is the fastest snake in the world.  And it will kill you.

Run. If you can. This is the fastest snake in the world. And it will kill you.

When he rid the neighborhood of a crocodile, my father asked him what he could do for him. His dearest wish was a transistor radio. Back in the sixties, a transistor radio was about the size of a Japanese car, with a price tag to match, and yet my father gave him one. It made John happy to hear voices, even though they spoke in languages he would never understand. It has always made my father happy to remember that.

My mother comes home from Abu-Jaddi’s, the market. John greets her in the drive, whips off the lid of the metal garbage can, thrusts it in her face and says, “Look Missy! LOOK!”

A gaboon viper writhes at the bottom of the bin, and my mother, with perfect grace says, “Oh John! How WONDERFUL for you!” He is so proud and he walks away with his treasure, knowing he can get a good price for the skin.   I can smell the venom from 50 feet away .  It’s deeper than any musk, heavier than any cloying floral, more resinous than any tree.

Gaboon Viper - A BIG one!

Gaboon Viper - A BIG one!

It is the scent of spiritual shame.  It crystalizes within the fangs of even dead snakes.  Venom is eternal and I can hear John speaking softly to me, “Never touch a dead snake.  Even one dead for 100 years.  The poison is forever.”

Sometimes, in the quiet, when my cat lies boneless on the bed, I think I can hear John, walking with Jah.

And then I hear, deep down, “Bok bok”….Our Lord is knocking at the door of my heart.  And sometimes He speaks Bossa.