Kyara (Incense (3))

Check this out. And then when I say I’m actually, passively, every so slightly considering checking it out that it’s just my way of expressing just how awesome kyara is. OK, first off, kyara is basically the highest grade of aloeswood, it’s one of the most expensive substances known to humankind, more precious than gold. Apparently incense companies and other wealthy connoissuers send scouting parties into the wilds of Southeast Asia just to find an aloeswood tree whose wood is so resinated that it would be of this high grade.

Anyway, most kyara, especially the pure stuff, is outside of my price range at the moment, but I was fortunate to come across the Shoyeido Premium sampler. It contains fifteen sticks of the Japanese variety, that is, no bamboo sticks, just the pure blend in a thin, very breakable stick. Only three of these fifteen blends contain kyara and if you do a little research you find out that this $19.95 sampler’s cost was probably 85% for the three kyara blends. Eight sticks (still a sampler pack) of Sho-Kaku costs about $60. Eight of Myo-Ho costs $48. Eight of Go-Un costs $38. You don’t really want to know about the regular boxes, although I do covet them deeply now.

Anyway, these three different blends aren’t pure kyara, but there’s no doubt from the incredible presence of these incenses that kyara is the God(dess) of Incense and the sandalwood is actually the second greatest aromatic wood in the world. If great Indian incense is so many steps above the usual synthetic and nasty stuff you often find in stores, and if high quality aloeswood is at least on par to Indian Incense, kyara blends are totally out of the ballpark. It honestly felt like invocation rather than combustion as I’d light one of these sticks and wave the smoke my way, like something ancient and noble had just materialized in the room. Myrrh was the first thing I thought of and definitely the better quality myrrh, but that’s just a rough comparison, kyara is far more multidimensional. The three wisemen who visited Baby Jesus were cheapskates to bring gold with their frankincense and myrrh.

A sign of great incense for me is when I catch the scent of it long after I’m anywhere near the stuff. Only one incense ever did that for me, a resin blend I called Shamanic Dreams which I discussed in one of the last write-ups. These three kyara blends do that and more, more because where I’d catch whiffs of SD, it was a more narrow experience, I’d just smell SD. But kyara is so complex it feels like I catch hints of it, hints from all the blends and then subsections of these blends. The experience is so intense that all sorts of things evoke it after the fact as if a new sense had opened up in my head.

With the sampler I managed to grab several grades of Vietnamese aloeswood and a couple Malaysian and Indonesian ones as well. While all are amazing incenses, they’re almost a world away from kyara and I almost felt myself trying to detect that hint of it in the higher grades. My three kyara sticks are slowly dwindling to smoke and dust while making so many of my old favorites seem nearly obsolete in the process.

Of course, hyping this up is likely to lead to disappointment, I think in some ways incense is like any other hobby where it takes a bit of research and experience to pinpoint what you like, so I’d probably recommend checking out basic aloeswood and sandalwood first. The price of kyara is likely to keep most away, but if you’re an appreciator of fine scent, it’ll only be a matter of time before you give in and let kyara take your soul. It’s no wonder there’s an entire area of interest given to incense games and the appreciation of aloeswood.

Incense (2)

[I’ve gone back and edited this post because my opinion of Ecclecstacy has basically degenerated into distaste.] 

Talked to a good friend last night who also asked me about where to get some good incense online. Not all geographic areas will have good new age/import/head stores that stock premium incense, so in these cases its best to head to some of the boutique dealers on line.

I mentioned matchlessgifts last post, the makers (or probably distributors) of the Mystic Temple line of incense. I’ve generally had great service from them, although most of my experience has been by doing phone orders and they have a much deeper catalog on line. I did get chewed out by one of their employees on the phone who apparently thought I expected my shipment to turn up over night when I was just trying to get a total, but on the other hand I’ve usually been well treated and like a lot of places they send some neat samples. Last time they sent me a package of the Mystic Temple Red Tara line (which strangely enough doesn’t seem to be on their on line catalog, or at least I didn’t find it) which was a really unique blend and one I’d like to find more of.

Rare Essence blends include Vanilla Amber, which may be slightly nicer than my perennial favorite analog I mentioned in my last post. I love dry, spicy blends and this one is heaven, the stock at the store nearby went very fast the first time out. They also have two of the very best sandalwood durbars out there. The first is almost a straight sandalwood champa, which is an incense I don’t seem to see much of anywhere, I remember the closest analog was in a Mystic Temple sample years ago, but I don’t ever remember them selling it alone. It really does have the fine sandalwood in front, and it’s also dry and possibly something of an acquired taste. A little more accessible is their Precious Sandalwood which seems to have a more oil and less wood to it, it’s more of a blend and an extremely nice one as well. My other two favorites in the line are the Frankincense Deluxe and the Triple Amber. While I prefer the Omani White Frankincense I mentioned in my last write-up by a hair, it’s a perfect example of how great frankincense is in a durbar. The Triple Amber is a standard, a blend I’ve seen from several different companies and is one of the richest blends of ambers you’ll find. Amber is something I’ll probably discuss at some point as its an ingredient that varies in both source and application.

Anyway, the full line is probably worth checking out for different tastes, although I’m not as impressed by the other four blends (I usually prefer spice/wood blends to floral ones).

to be continued…

Mystic Temple/Transcendence, White Frankincense, Vanilla Amber Champa, Golden Champa (was Incense (1))

If I’ve learned one thing about the way the general public feels about incense, is that it was something hippies used since the 6os to cover up their dope smell. What most are unaware of is what old and venerable traditions are connected to the love of scent, particularly in its spiritual and aesthetic connections, that incense is almost like any other sphere of interest, 90% of it is not worth looking at and the other 10% has a depth that takes quite a bit of research to suss out. Most incense you’ll find by walking into your local new age store or head shop is cheap and often synthetic, creating blends that smell like bad perfume rather than the natural smells of resins and herbs.

Incense appreciation happens to be way up there on my list of hobbies, I almost think of it as the “smell” equivalent to the “hear” of music, but it’s also used by hermetic groups in rituals. The principle behind this is similar to the idea, of going about your business and all of a sudden coming across a smell that reminds you of a time 10 years ago and brings back memories. It can be very associational.

I’d have to go back to a bit for an example. In the 90s I discovered a line of charcoal-burning incense by a company called Mermade Magickal Arts. Unfortunately the company seems to have gone out of business, but in its prime it provided the most powerful and affecting incenses I’d ever used. At the time I was playing music with a band and when I first got samples of their blends, one of them was called Shamanic Dreams or something. One of the most richest and powerful blends, it apparently even contained an herb or two that were quasi-hallucinogenic, and what I remember most was that I smelled this incense the rest of the night even after leaving the studio and getting out into open air. Unfortunately, the last time I ordered Mermade blends, I didn’t feel the same sort of resonance and noticed that the offending herbs were removed, probably due to some sort of intervention. The resulting blends just weren’t the same.

Anyway, I plan on writing a series of articles about the subject, including the differences between loose and stick incense, the various ingredients that go in, and talk about some personal favorites as well. And with that, I’ll introduce you to a few old and perennial favorites.

Probably the first incense that indicated how much better quality could be found would be Mystic Temple’s line of (mostly) Indian incenses. This is an extraordinarily strong line with some of the best durbar/champa incenses on the planet. My favorites:

Transcendence – A champa/durbar that seems to have a nice touch of musk to it, it’s one of the most gorgeous smells I’ve ever experienced, in fact I occasionally run across women who use a similar perfume, so I wonder if this is actually an approximation of that. Whatever it is, it’s clearly not synthetic and I generally recognize it by its pink stick.

White Frankincense – A relatively new brand, this is actually an Omani incense and is closest to what I think of as Golden Frankincense or Frankincense Champa in that it’s durbarish with an incredible, sunny smell. If cornered, this might be my favorite incense of all time, but I adore frankincense, at least the high quality stuff. It’s a thick, dark stick and shouldn’t be confused with Mystic Temple’s Frankincense Champa, which appears to be what they used to call Amber Champa.

Vanilla Amber Champa – one of the most long-lasting incenses on the planet, this incredible odor lingers long after burning it, an almost dry vanilla/amber scent that almost always draws a comment from friends if I’m burning it. Often a little on the expensive side, it’s well worth it. Perhaps the Rare Essence Collection’s Vanilla Amber is better by a hair, but they’re both different enough to be worth having stock on hand.

Golden Champa – This is Mystic Temple’s variant on the classic “red and gold” Sai Flora incense, except MT’s variant has always struck me as the freshest. It’s a very earthy smell, in fact I’ve seen several people comment that it reminds them, of all things, manure, but I suspect it wouldn’t be a best seller if that was true  (I’m hardly selling it here I bet) as this is one of the most amazing, complex brands on the market. It’s also about the biggest stick you’ll find and 100g of this will have about half the number of sticks for any comparable blend.

More next installment…