Better Than Gold: What Makes Frankincense and Myrrh Worthy of Holy Gifting

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Since I grew up going to a nondenominational church, Christmastime always had some religious undertones. There was never a Christmas season that lacked a reading about the birth of Christ. I’d heard it so many times that as a child I tended to zone out a little. But there was one mental image that always grabbed my attention—the gifts from the three wise men.

With most stories I cherished as a child, there are particular images still with me, ingrained into my mind. Some are from pictures in the books, and some are from my imagination. Since most Bibles aren’t picture books, I think I am responsible for the image of the gold, frankincense, and myrrh that the three Magi brought to baby Jesus. Maybe it was just me equating these unfamiliar substances with the gold they accompanied, or maybe it was thanks to the theatrical reading of some Sunday school teacher out there somewhere. Somehow I obtained a mental picture of three fellows making a long journey on foot, pushing against harsh winds, their eyes squinting, and their arms cradling vessels filled with glittering, precious jewel-like substances that stood out like comets against the black, empty night.

Truthfully, my idea about these satchels was not so far off. Both frankincense and myrrh are resins that come from specific tree saps. The sap is collected and dried, and what’s left are little gem-like rocks, usually in shades of amber. When packaged with the gold, this Biblical gift set must have looked quite lovely.

As far as I can tell, there’s no direct answer as to why these were the three gifts specifically chosen for such a momentous occasion beyond that at the time, frankincense and myrrh would have been just as valuable, if not more so, than gold. Thus it may have just been a very sophisticated and generous gesture. Other people have speculated that the two resins were gifted for their health benefits. Because, like many natural essential oils, the oils extracted from these resins are said to do more than just give off pleasant scents.

Like what, you ask? Well frankincense—which has a sweet, almost floral smell—is known as an anti-inflammatory, and it’s also used in many beauty products for its benefits to the skin. Frankincense is known to decrease wrinkles and scars, and to get ride of dark circles under the eyes. (Of course, baby Jesus probably wasn’t too worried about wrinkles.)

The frankincense gifted by the Magi could have also been intended for ceremonial purposes. The resin has been used for thousands of years with meditation, in sanctuaries, and in religious ceremonies. It’s mentioned quite a few times in the Bible. In fact, there’s so much to be said about this resin and oil that there are entire books written about its history.

Contrary to frankincense, myrrh has a very earthy, heavy scent that might call to mind dirt or the bark of a tree. Its name means “bitter,” and while its pungent scent may be described as that, it’s still adored and used in all sorts of perfumes and incenses. It’s also used in its own share of skin care products. Myrrh has healing properties, too, as it can treat minor skin ailments and relieve pain from aching muscles.

Myrrh is particularly known for its role as an antiseptic in oral hygiene products. Add a couple of drops of pure, natural myrrh essential oil to your toothpaste before brushing next time for an additional oral hygiene boost. It has its own long history, playing big roles in Chinese medicine, Ayurvedic healing, religious ceremonies, and more. There’s just as much to be learned about myrrh as there is about frankincense, so if you’re curious and want to go deeper into its current and historic uses you should have no trouble finding resources.

Perhaps now you might have some better understanding of why these two humble resins earned a starring role in a seriously famous story. Of course you can find both frankincense and myrrh in many different Possets scents, including one of my favorite Yule Retour scents, Saturn. But I also recommend getting your hands on some essential oils—or even the natural resins—of both of these scents and exploring them in their purest state.

Whether you’ll be reading the story of the Three Wise Men or celebrating the end of December with some other tradition, I hope you all enjoy the rest of your Yule season.

by Katrina Eresman

 

Celebrating the Solstice with Personal Rituals

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It’s the week before Christmas, and most people are trying to hustle to make it to that Holiday finish line. I, on the other hand, have forgotten about this race this year. My eyes have been set on another date that rings far more important to my needs this season—the winter solstice. The shortest day and longest night of the year marks the official start of winter on December 21, 2017. I first began looking forward to the solstice to set my sights on the start of longer days. Like so many folks, I can fall victim to seasonal depression, and the early sunsets hit me hard. I’ve been holding on to the comforting fact that, come December 21, the sun will stay out just a little longer each day.

As I considered the solstice, I began to also view and appreciate it as the mark of a new cycle. Our lives are full of cycles, whether they be marked by time or personal patterns. Since the winter solstice marks the beginning of a new astronomical cycle, it feels far more relevant to me than New Year’s Day, which only marks the change of the calendar.

With all of this in mind, I decided that this year I will celebrate the solstice. I want to honor the change in our solar system, the change that all living beings on this earth have in common. But I also want to use the solstice to acknowledge and meditate upon my own recent changes and my goals moving forward.

In considering how I might do this, I looked into some traditional forms of celebration. Persons of many cultures have been paying tribute to the solstice for thousands of years. There are monuments designed to highlight the solstice sun all over the world. For instance, Ireland has Newgrange, England has Stonehenge, and Ohio has Serpent Mound. All of these ancient monuments are, in some way, aligned with the solstice sun. If the opportunity presents itself, it may be meaningful to travel to a site like this, or some other nearby location that was built to honor astronomical movements.

I myself might make the two-hour drive to Serpent Mound, where the various points of the 1,348 foot-long snake point to sunrises and sunsets of the equinoxes and solstices. Or I may just travel to one of my favorite Cincinnati parks to watch the sun go down.

A friend of mine is visiting her family in Alaska for the Holidays. They’ll only see the sun for a handful of hours on December 21. For them, the solstice is a big deal. Friends and family gather together, sharing a big pot of soup and catching up into the dark evening. It sounds like an excellent way to combat the seasonal blues, so I plan to make a dinner with friends a big part of my evening on Thursday.

A quick search on the internet reveals a number of suggested ways to celebrate—evergreen wreathes, candles, journaling. These all sound lovely and pleasant. The important thing is to follow your own intuition. Winter is traditionally a time for introspection, so meditating, writing, and listening to your own needs may be just the thing this winter solstice.

Essential oils, incense, and other sources of scent have been used for centuries as a way to ground oneself during meditation. They’re particularly nice at this time of year, since the natural oils can bring in the uplifting energies of the outdoors at a time when mother nature seems a bit too frigid to be receptive. The all-natural Winter Solstice Possets scent is a nice blend for meditation and relaxation all winter long. It’s composed of 100% natural oils, and gives off an uplifting, slightly spicy scent that seems to both awaken and ground.

This Possets scent is not to be confused with the Snow Solstice perfume oil, which is a much more playful scent that gives off wisps of sweet coconut. Wear the Winter Solstice for your moments of solitude and put on the Snow Solstice for the dinner party afterwards.

by Katrina Eresman

 

Baudelaire’s Love of the Exotic Natural Scent

tumblr_n2loykG7VF1rrnekqo1_500In 1857, French poet Charles Baudelaire published a collection of poems titled Les Fleurs du mal, or The Flowers of Evil. The poems are filled with sultry themes like eroticism, and proved too risqué for the times. In fact, not only were six of the poems banned for almost a century, Baudelaire was tried alongside his publisher for releasing poems that outraged public decency.

Lucky for us, Les Fleurs du mal in today’s context is a celebrated example of modern poetry. Its poems explicitly explore passion in a way that many current audience members embrace, viewing it through tools such as memory and scent.

Having been a student of both literature and the French language, I crossed paths with Baudelaire several times in college. But his works never quite hooked me like the works of some other French writers. I felt like the timing wasn’t right, as is often the case.

I’m not sure if I’m in love with his writing yet, but I have rekindled an interest in his poems. This started when I read a reference to him in the book “Essence and Alchemy” by Mandy Aftel. She writes about him several times, describing him as a poet who was willing to “write about erotic scent in an entirely frank way.” I turned back to Les Fleurs du mal to find poems referencing perfume in passionate contexts. For instance, in the piece “Lethe,” which was one of the six banned poems, Baudelaire writes about seeking refuge in the presence of an old lover, saying:

 

If I would swallow down my softened sobs

It must be in your bed’s profound abyss—

 

And earlier, he references the solace of his lover’s natural scent:

 

I want to hide the throbbing of my head

In your perfume, under those petticoats,

And breathe the musky scent of our old love,

The fading fragrance of the dying rose.

 

Much of the perfume that Baudelaire speaks of in Les Fleurs du mal is the natural scent unique to each human. To him, these perfumes evoke memories, passions, and comfort—as many scents do with me and probably you as well.

The love for a person’s natural perfume, be it your own or another’s, is a theme that has been embraced many times by the honest poet. And if you ask me, Baudelaire wasn’t the first. When Aftel praises Baudelaire for his daring mention of body scent in an sensual context, I feel that she fails to acknowledge another poet who was exploring this idea before Les Fleurs du mal was released. In his long, rambling, totally inspired poem “Song of Myself,” published in 1855, Walt Whitman makes several mentions of the arousing effects of body odor. One particularly famous line is “The scent of these arm-pits aroma finer than prayer,” but that’s just one modest example.

I have more to say about scent and perfume in the context of “Song of Myself,” but I’ll save that for another post. For now I just want to praise the Possets scent Jeanne DuVal Mistress of Charles Baudelaire. If you’ve dreamt of a way to balance the potent, natural bodily scent with a sweet, wearable bottled perfume, this is it. Rather than encouraging the wearer to cover up their own smell, as aggressively sweat and powdery perfumes might do, Jeanne DuVal Mistress of Charles Baudelaire pays homage to the subject of many of Baudalaire’s poems by balancing musky, earthy, and sexy in one bottle. It seems to be just the type of balance that Fabienne had in mind when she created this blend in honor of Jeanne DuVal, and it does well to mimic the natural scent that turned on this French poet again and again.

by Katrina Eresman