Archive for Orthodox incense

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


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.

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.

Midnight: The Curing Hour

Posted in Incense, Orthodox Christianity, religion with tags , on January 12, 2009 by blackincense

Fr. Seraphim (Rose) of Platina
“Anyone who is attracted merely by glittering censors, incense and beautiful vestments, he, first of all, will fall down before Antichrist.”
“Signs of the End Times”

“Do not trust your mind too much; thinking must be refined by suffering, or it will not stand the test of these cruel times.”
Letters from Father Seraphim

On What It Smelled Like in 0 AD

Posted in Orthodox Christianity, religion with tags , , , , , , , , , , on October 25, 2008 by blackincense

I am getting those letters .  The ones that ask for a “Christmas” incense and a “Biblical perfume”.  I know exactly what they want, these lovely people, and that’s exactly the problem.     I don’t want to say anything sarcastic or hurtful, but I also want (and try hard)  to educate them. What they want is something that really, we can’t have.  Not because I can’t manage to make a “Christmas” incense (complete with pumpkin pie smell) , but because Christmas incense already exists and I really can’t improve it much.  “Christmas incense” properly is plain, untreated, frankincense and myrrh, straight from the fields. God made the first “Christmas incense” and I really can’t come up with any better ideas. I’m not sure why people think I should try, although I do make a seasonal incense that ought to satisfy the “Christmas craving”.

But never mind that, we’re talking about God’s incense here:

Matthew 2: 11 And when they had come into the house, they saw the young Child with Mary His mother, and fell down and worshiped Him. And when they had opened their treasures, they presented gifts to Him: gold, frankincense, and myrrh.

It is generally thought that the frankincense and myrrh was probably from Ethiopia, although the Magi themselves were probably from Syria.  The “Silk Road” trading was active at that time, although it wasn’t called that then, and Ethiopian resins were considered the finest in the world.  (They still are –Omani frankincense is over-rated and very expensive.)  It is also speculated that one of the wise men might have come from Ethiopia.  It’s hard to say.  One thing we can be sure of:  the gifts of the Magi are listed separately, and therefore, they were untreated, unprocessed resins.  They were “pure”.  The account in Matthew does not say, “…and they offered him incense made from…”  It just says that they gave him these resins and it tells us what they were.

In thinking about what these raw resins actually smell like when they are burned, it’s hard to guess people’s reactions.  Some people love it.  Others don’t care for it, and prefer a more “cultivated” or “sophisticated” scent.  In other words, some people love “natural” smells and others love “sweet”. First of all, our sense (scents!) of smell (grin) is completely different in these modern times, that it would have been in 0 AD when our Lord was born.

Back then, the world smelled a lot different than it does today.  Our ideas about what smells “good” at Christmas, is largely about the success of commercial marketing.  I can almost guarantee that “pumpkin spice” would probably have smelled like rotten eggs to a 1st century Christian.  Their noses were trained in an entirely different world and were subject to an entirely different set of sensory perceptions. When Mary poured oil on Jesus’ feet, it was spikenard, which smells approximately like old leather.  Call it the “Old Spice” of the New Testament.

Don’t get me wrong:  I grew up on horses and I love the smell of leather.  Saddles that have just been cleaned, smell GREAT to me.  But this is not what most women who write to me want.  They are under the impression that the oil Mary used, was probably some kind of floral scent.  Christian women are under a lot of misunderstanding about “Biblical perfume”.  I cannot make a 1st century version of Giorgio or Red Door.  It doesn’t exist.

Here’s a concrete example of what I am talking about.  I actually possess the following oils in uncut form: Spikenard ,  Cassia,  Myrrh,  aloe

I don’t have mollusk shell (onycta) , ground up and powdered but I can get it, and  I do have styrax and the other stuff that Exodus calls for.

Here’s what it actually says in Exodus 30: For anointing oil (what we might consider a perfume): Moreover the LORD spoke to Moses, saying: 23 “Also take for yourself quality spices—five hundred shekels of liquid myrrh, half as much sweet-smelling cinnamon (two hundred and fifty shekels), two hundred and fifty shekels of sweet-smelling cane, 24 five hundred shekels of cassia, according to the shekel of the sanctuary, and a hin of olive oil. 25 And you shall make from these a holy anointing oil, an ointment compounded according to the art of the perfumer. It shall be a holy anointing oil.

Quality spices in those days, in the lands of the Bible,  were things like mustard, balm of gilead, and saffron.  Steam distillation wasn’t invented in those days, so they would grind these up in a bowl, and soak them in oil.  The pure grains of these herbs would scent the oil, and it was more like a “paste” than anything else.  It was semi-solid, and not what you think of when you think of a “perfume”.

For incense in the Temple: “Take sweet spices, stacte and onycha and galbanum, and pure frankincense with these sweet spices; there shall be equal amounts of each. 35 You shall make of these an incense, a compound according to the art of the perfumer, salted, pure, and holy. 36 And you shall beat some of it very fine, and put some of it before the Testimony in the tabernacle of meeting where I will meet with you. It shall be most holy to you. 37 But as for the incense which you shall make, you shall not make any for yourselves, according to its composition. It shall be to you holy for the LORD. 38 Whoever makes any like it, to smell it, he shall be cut off from his people.”

Now, for the purists out there, trust me, I can make this.  But my name isn’t Moses or Aaron, and I don’t have a “tabernacle” to put it in. Christ came to free us from ourselves, from death.  He came to free us from the “letter of the law” and He came that we might have “life and have it abundantly”.  We are free in Christ, to enjoy scent and to enjoy our lives now.  We do not live in the chains of the past, (even the beautiful past of the Old Testament).  The Kingdom is here and now.  We are called to higher things, than our past, even if it is our collective past as human beings.  On an individual level, each person is called by God to “taste and see”.

Whenever I get these letters I often wonder if it’s really the perfume they want, or if they are just expressing a desire for something “ancient” in their lives.  People are ever searching for meaning and our world is spiritual battleground.  People want things they cannot have, namely the desire to “go back” and “get it right”.  We cannot go back, we can only make amends and move forward.  The whim of possessing a “Biblical perfume” is really about the desire for holiness.  People want to respond to God’s call, and finding it difficult within, they look for an external way to achieve holiness, as if it were a garment you could just pick up at the dry cleaners.

This is what the purpose of the Jesus prayer really is:  to purify us from within.  The incense and the perfumes is all external.  It’s beautiful and it’s helpful in prayer, but it is not our prayer itself.  That only comes from the heart. And that’s why I don’t make “biblical perfume”  —- you wouldn’t like it anyway.

Instead, I’m working on a new batch for Christmas — I decided I wouldn’t make the blend I usually do, at this time of year.  I’m going to make a brand new one.  From scratch.  Because I know I cannot go back.  I can only start over, every day. I haven’t named it yet, but I am using the frankincense and myrrh as a base, of course.  But there wont’ be any pumpkin pie, or cinnamon, or cassia. No cloves sticking out of an orange.  I’m going to do something new.  Something REVOLUTIONARY for Christmas.  It probably won’t even smell like “Christmas” to anyone except me.   But it will be special and I will try to keep some back for the rest of the year, so that Christ will continue to be born in my heart, all year long.

Wanna know what it is?????

Huh???

Really?

Sure?

Frankincense and myrrh.  Blended together.  Nothing else.

Icon of the Adoration of the Magi

Icon of the Adoration of the Magi

Night Blooming Jasmine: A lesson in spirituality….

Posted in Arabian bakhour, bahkhoor, bakhoor, desert bakhoor incense, Desert culture, Ethiopia, Incense, Orthodox Christianity, Perfume Reviews, religion with tags , , , , , on September 4, 2008 by blackincense
I am working on the latest batch.  Blend, bottle and cure.  Blend, bottle and cure.  The repetition of the work begins to numb my senses and I was starting to wonder if it’s even worth it.  My nose was busy categorizing each formula, making sure it was exactly right.  One flower caught my nose and it seemed to overpower the others.  This doesn’t happen very often, so I went back and I checked the formula.  I hadn’t missed anything and yet this one flower seemed stronger than the others which, according to the precise formulation should not be.  Night blooming jasmine.
I tried again and this time, it seemed to fade back in, slowly.  I went for the coffee beans to clear my senses.  Leaving the bench, I went and picked up my book and tried to read.  But my nose kept nagging at me.  I could still smell it.  Went back to the coffee beans.
I knew which flower it was and that was not what bothered me.  What bothered me was that it should not over power the other ingredients.  I was starting to worry that maybe I was losing my nose as a perfumer.  I went back to the bench, and started to work again on a different blend, but I could still smell it.
Night blooming jasmine is not the world’s prettiest bush.  It releases its fragrance only at night.  In secret.
Then I realized, so it is the same with a suffering soul.  It’s beauty is not outward.  The suffering soul is at its most beautiful, when it releases its suffering to God alone.  In secret.
As for my nose, it’s recovered its senses.  Blend, bottle and cure.  Blend, bottle and cure.
Night blooming jasmine -- God's secret flower.

Night blooming jasmine -- God's flower