“I smell dead people” just doesn’t have quite the same connotation as the famous line “I see dead people.” In the same way “I feel dead people” or “I taste dead people” could be an effective way to kill a conversation. On the other hand “I hear dead people” could have worked just as effectively. As exemplified by the beautiful lines delivered by Eva Green as Miss Vanessa Ives in “What Death Can Join Together” episode 6, seasons 1 of Penny Dreadful:
I think, Mr. Gray, there are tremors around us. Like the vibrations of a note of music. Hidden music. Some might be more attuned to them than others. What do those people do, those who have been chosen?
An excellent question. Endure uniqueness? A can of Special Snowflake Syndrome worms for another day maybe. But for the most part, one is relegated to having the sight. Which, I’ll be honest, irritates me. Because damned if I’ve ever seen anything Otherworldly except in a dream or altered state of consciousness. Well, maybe one or two occasions of visually perceiving something whilst awake and conscious in the usual sense. But not with any real clarity I can tell you. My eyesight is actually fantastic. But my vision in this world of Otherworldly phenomena may as well be that of a quadruped with grey-scale near-sightedness.
May as well be. And I can tell you I really come into my own with the auditory and particularly the olfactory senses. I hear things, and can smell them well before that.
But this is not a Special and Unique Snowflake post, nor do I really want to go into the details of my “voices in my head” proclamation. Because I don’t think I’m particularly unique in terms of my senses or the voices. We have five senses, and there are very unique conditions to be found in each of them in humanity. There are occasions where those five also seem to work perfectly synchronised, and our ability to hone in on one in memory is rendered useless. I also believe that in terms of the sight, it is entirely possible that others out there do in fact taste the dead, or Fae, or feel them in a very external way. Indeed, to feel itself may not be alike to touch at all, but a strictly emotional response. And any combination of these, all seem to me to be entirely valid. But as I was preparing notes for work I wish to complete in the coming warmer months, I realised how hopelessly my Craft is dependant upon these two sense of mine. Of the things I make, the two I find easiest and most pleasing are things that smell, and things that sound. And they are near impossible to demonstrate online. Completely so on Etsy.
Working with certain herbs and flora can be easy in that, we are familiar with them. People are familiar with Frankincense, Sandalwood and Myrrh when they burn. Because they are well understood, and well used, we are already disposed to have that Otherworldly sense engaged even at the thought or memory of them. We know what they conjure up, what things are attracted to them, what recoils, often by experience. However, not even all Australians are familiar with the scent of Huon Pine. Nor have they used it often enough to know how the beings of Air and Sword and Arrow enjoy it so. We might be familiar with the smell of damp that so often indicates things we would prefer to be rid of in the house, this or Otherworldly. But we’ve not yet pieced together the recoil of such things with the smell of dried broad leaf gum smouldering in the censor. Which is funny, because we’ve certainly got it down in the “burn the dreaded lurgy with eucalyptus fire” bit, which all Aussies do.
Beyond describing how a thing smells itself, what other things I can smell when I work with them are equally important. And we know that fresh, dried, leaf, bark, flower, resin, burnt, oil and water, all have the ability to summon up, amplify or single out a specific part of a plant’s nature. Coming to an in-depth understanding of the diversity of uses of any single plant is therefore a long task.
It’s no surprise then that I make all my own incense and oils for ritual use. And like a good Witch, those rituals can be pretty diverse. The more I work the more Land finds its way into those rituals. And there is a lot of trial and error. “Get rid of that!” is as good a direction as any from a spirit you are trying to work with. And it has certainly happened. Sometimes it’s a case of more subtle difficulties, it works, but not quite, something sticking in your nose, and it takes a little tweaking before you realise this thing or that, that part not suitable for burning, resulting in something contrary to the work at hand, but this part is. Going back to the drawing board with each individual ingredient in the blend to find the sticking thing. Sometimes knowing you’ve got the right plant spirit, but simply the wrong part.
One such blend that until recently I’d not quite gotten right, has been one to Summon the Dead. Many of my dead being interred in the Australian soil, it was particularly important to me to incorporate it along with more Traditional herbs. Indeed, sometimes the Traditional herbs can be a great help in terms of Natives, when they are used for a single purpose, noting those that blend well, or play nice, can be a big help to working out the less familiar. In this case there were several trials. Sometimes it is a case of maybe one or two things, and using simple divination, like a pendulum to work out which is preferred. Which in the end, is how I came to settle on Black-Hearted Sassafras, which I honestly included as something of a “control” being entirely convinced it was not what I was looking for. Oh how wrong I was! It wasn’t until that point and meditating with the smoke of this wood specifically, I realised the bleeding obvious! I was working with two things, the second, and less obvious, the fungus that lives in the wood! The second stickler was the Cherry Ballart (Exocarpos cupressiformis). I’ve been working with this tree for some time, and knew I was on the right track, but I had been using the bark. And in this working, that part was not very well suited. Saturnian yes, but I am beginning to suspect the bark will be better suited for banishing or curses. Dried berries and needles on the other hand, and suddenly the whole thing vibrated exactly the right way.
And it smelled entirely right.
When in doubt, follow your nose.
P.S. ‘O’ is for “Olfaction”! This post participates with The Pagan Blog Project 2014.