David Oller: In Memoriam

David Oller, consultant to Esoterics LLC and long time Baieido Wholesale Representative in the United States, passed away this weekend after a long and courageous battle with liver disease.

David had a profound reverence for Buddhism. It inspired and guided his studies and devotional practices, and was intimately connected with his long-standing and ardent love of incense.

A small glimpse of David’s knowledge can be found on Alice’s Incense Blog, in articles posted on Esoteric’s website, and at japanese-incense. com (http://www.japanese-incense.com/contents.htm). For a long time this site was one of the only sources to offer historical, literary, and practical information about incense, and kodo in particular, to Western incense lovers. Information on the site has been copied again and again, rarely citing David as its source. His studiously-researched knowledge was extensive and I hope that someday David’s writings, and the source materials he collected, will be made public.

I will miss David’s enthusiasm and reverence for the art of Japanese incense, and I feel very fortunate that he went out of his way to share his knowledge and passion with those of us with common interests. A friend to whom I mentioned David’s death lit an incense stick “in remembrance and honor of him”. I am sure that would make David very happy, and I hope that others who read this memoriam will do the same.

Kyarazen’s Artisinal Incense: Song of Rain and Sea of Clouds

Sea of Clouds

The unlit sticks of Sea of Clouds smell dry, bitter and woody with a hint of borneol that adds its customary energetic uplift. I think I smell a sprinkle of dry white pepper and a hefty amount of sandalwood. The burning stick initially smells vanillic sweet. Then creamy sandalwood waltzes in, smooth and wavy and very light on its feet, smelling of mellow woods and coconut. It’s so strange that I can’t smell the camphor at all. I imagine it’s the invisible charioteer, content to drive the gently drifting and weightless wood skyward without contributing a scent of its own.

When I smell sweet agarwood incense I’m always charmed and feel as though I’ve rediscovered something very wonderful, however the bitter sticks are the ones I come back to again and again and again. Sea of Cloud’s bitterness is tempered by age-earned ease and gossamer grace, a welcome, unburdened bitterness that makes me feel determined and secure as I enjoy it’s meditative flight.

Sea of Clouds is an agarwood kiss, a breath of wood spirit, a floating puff of sylvan stillness. It takes me away, not on a wild adventure or a child’s fanciful daydream, but on an intent, silent pilgrimage made in earnest joy.

 

Song of Rain

As soon as I removed Song of Rain from its plastic sleeve I was really surprised! I wasn’t expecting to smell such strong, thick, sweet spiciness! The unlit sticks smell very ambery- lots of caramel (is that benzoin?) – accompanied by cumin, turmeric and cassia. A bittersweet chocolate makes me wonder if patchouli is the source of the herbal element. Before it’s lit, Song of Rain reminds me of a gourmand-smelling zukoh, but while it’s burning the sweet and spicy notes recede and woody and subtly animalic notes become much more prominent.

This is not the song of a suburban Spring shower. I smell the rainforest after a stampeding downpour, the sweet loaminess of sodden earth, the sour bitterness of fungus-laden bark and the damp thickness of heavy air. It’s easy to imagine green crested lizards scurrying beneath sinking rocks, birds of paradise seeking shelter under the spreading canopy and the drenched gray coats of squirrel monkeys glistening silver with sun-warmed droplets. While many amber incenses are way too sweet for my personal taste, Song of Rain balances sweet spiciness with herbal, earthy and plum skin agarwood notes. It’s a rain I’d happily sing in and a song I’d happily sing!

 

 

Kyarazen’s Artisinal Incense: Enko, Old Sage and Zen Moon

Kyarazen has spent the last two months creating a trio of luxury incenses. Each embodies a unique character and personality and creates a different mood and atmosphere. That an artist can compose olfactory poetry, using nature’s raw materials, is truly amazing and inspirational! Thank you, Kyarazen, for sharing your painstakingly crafted reflections. I feel very privileged to have had the opportunity to try them.

ENKO

Kyarazen’s Enko is a larger than life scent- one that unabashedly fills a room with its hypnotic presence. It immediately reminds me of the interior of a traditional Chinese medicine shop where the mysterious scents of roots, barks, herbs and fungus, seashells and mineral extracts, and animal and insect components, are compounded into remedies that have been used for over 2000 years.

Enko has a rustic vigor that settles on my shoulders and burrows into my clothes with confident persistence. It is primarily a bitter scent, whose liveliness and energy are enhanced by warm herbs (turmeric, spikenard), woods (sandalwood), spices (pepper?) and salty mineral notes (shells).

Rather than unfolding note by note, the elements fuse to create a very dynamic and dense scent. This combination of vibrant buoyancy and weighty substance is unexpected and intriguing. I find myself inhaling it’s unfamiliar, medicinal aroma more and more deeply, and feeling invigorated by its penetrating presence.

To me it is very much an earth toned scent- russets, ochers and ambers; the scent of rugged escarpments and expansive plains. Although it is a quintessentially Chinese scent, Copeland’s Fanfare For the Common Man celebrates the same strength and openness that Enko, more humbly but not any less passionately, encapsulates.

OLD SAGE

Old Sage is an exceptional sandalwood incense that continues to perfume the air with the sweet scent of Santalum album long after it has finished burning.

Held breaths of silence punctuate this milky, opalescent fragrance that wraps its user in a haze of tranquility and mellowness. The fragrance is so intoxicating that I long for its reappearance during those vacant, scentless intervals.

Old Sage is more restrained than Kogado’s Hoshinohayashi, and its creamy notes are tempered with a hint of dry bitterness and salty mineral odorants. Inhaling the smoke has a strong physical effect: lured into a complacent daze, I’m happy to drift away, my chin nodding to my chest, my shoulders limp, my mind a puddle of blurred and melting images. Perhaps this smooth, undulating incense has already become an addiction? If so, it is one I willingly and wholly embrace.

Mutton jade; an anniversary pearl; a carnelian snuff bottle with sloped shoulders. Massenet’s “Meditation” from Thais. Golden mercury.

ZEN MOON

Zen Moon is delicately transparent. It is luminous, ethereal and elegant yet it radiates dignity and calm. The scent drifts in and out of my consciousness, dry and aloofly bitter, a cool, crescent moon sickling crystal waters. Intermittent surges of resinous sweetness, wavy lines of lactones and wisps of earthy herbs add complexity, dimension and depth to the scent, but the composition is, above all, a reverent homage to the stately and austere woody scent of agarwood.

Unlike Enko, a sustained note that never vacillates, Zen Moon is a fugue, its shadows and overtones embellished adornments of Aquilaria’s meandering melody.

Silver solitudes, a wooden box embossed with almost forgotten memories, the permanence of impermanence, Bach’s Partita No. 2 in D minor.

Kyarazen wrote “What I had wanted to achieve with Zen Moon is to create a special space, a hollow, omnipresent clear quietness, and the incense presenting itself in that background, weaving through the air, allowing the perceiver to experience wafts of scent like the clouds that drift slowly past the full moon in stainless light.“

He has certainly succeeded.

For more information about these incenses please see:

http://www.kyarazen.com/making-incense-sticks/

A note to Ross: Floral Hearted Night

Hi, Ross,
A friend was kind enough to send me a sample of Floral Hearted Night. It seems like a different direction for you to have gone and, to me, it’s a very successful one 🙂 Although this incense smells unmistakably floral, it doesn’t accost me with out-of-control indoles, as some “big white flower” essential oils do, or suffer from boring flatness, a problem with some mass-produced sticks. I do love the scents of plumeria and tuberose, which share a similar thick and sweet headiness and can sometimes be overwhelming. You manage to imbue them with a delicacy and demureness that I never would have associated with either flower. Honey Abs. adds a subtle, very slightly booze-y twist, and agarwood and sandalwood add creaminess and weight to this true-to-life blend. Civet rounds out and augments the floral notes, and ambergris, though not obvious as stand alone “star”, contributes to the delicacy and intricacy of the scent, while adding its unique, mineral sparkle to the composition. Every once in a while I catch an animalic, musky drift that adds a provocative and slightly carnal twist to the incense. The overall effect is of young, white flowers just beginning to open their translucent petals, set against a backdrop of somewhat woozy woods that are doing their best to hide their more wild, Faun-like natures.

So, now there is a floral incense I can say I unequivocally like and, at last, I can smell summer blooms in winter without lifting a shovel! Your incense may be called Floral Hearted Night, but I know it’s going to brighten many of the cold and gray winter days that lie ahead. Thank you, Ross!

Melt Into “COMFORT”

Ross’ Comfort incense, a blend of North American and Asian pulverized barks, leaves, resins and seeds, serves up cozy memories of “Home Sweet Home”.  Maple syrup, root beer floats, caramel chewies, orange-laced chocolate and sweet anise’s confectionary notes precede distinctive whiffs of celery leaves and toasted walnuts, liberal pinches of ambergris and musk and generous helpings of gourmet agarwood and sandalwood powder for dessert!

When winter’s chill creeps beneath the sills I love to douse cushions of French toast with freshly-tapped maple syrup, stick my finger into mountains of vanilla frosting and chomp on wads of toffee gooey enough to glue my teeth together. Comfort indulges me in these olfactory pleasures without my having to worry about my dentist bill or the needle on the bathroom scale 🙂

If you would like Comfort to festoon your holiday season, please visit the “New and Featured Products list” on the  Mermade Magickal Arts website.

Happy Holidays!!!

The Kyarazen Subitism Incense Heater Outshines All Competitors

The Subitism Incense Burner is a marvel of ingenuity, design and construction. Fabricated to heat wood at the optimal temperature for releasing only the revered fragrance of the resins, (and NOT the acrid smell of burning wood fibers), the Subitism burner makes it possible to enjoy the subtleties of fragrant wood, granulated incense and kneaded incense without any of the drawbacks of other burners and techniques.

Wood burned on the Subitsm has a clean, pure scent. Although I enjoyed using my Indian electric burner enough to have replaced the first one after it died, I too often detected a faint smell of hot metal, even at lower temperatures, that compromised my enjoyment. Shoyeido’s Kodutu burner, sleek and elegant in design, unfortunately smells faintly of burning plastic. The Subitism Burner can burn wood uninterruptedly for long periods of time, whereas the Shoyeido Kodutu must be reset every 3 minutes. If not firmly held down while resetting, pushing on the lever can cause the wood to jump off the mica plate. The Subitism has a large, easily accessible heating element so it’s very easy use. The Shoyeido burner is much more finicky about placement of the wood directly above the small, coiled heating element.There have been many times when I passed the burner to a friend only to find that the piece of wood had slipped off the element during the transfer. The Subitism uses a 12v 2a power adapter (that comes with the unit) whereas the Shoyeido burner burns through batteries much more quickly than I would like. The batteries do make the Kodutu very easy to transport and it’s handy that it doesn’t require a wall plug. However the Subitism, in terms of the richness and enjoyment of the burning experience, functionality, ease of use, and possibly expense (I don’t know how to compare the cost of the electricity it uses to disposable or rechargeable batteries) wins hands down!

With the Subitism the amount of heat that the material being burned is exposed to can be varied depending on the number of mica sheets placed between the heating element and the material. If you want to scent the whole room a single .1 mm sheet is perfect. If you want to heat the incense very slowly, hoping to discern many of the wood’s hidden subtleties, add an extra sheet or two of mica and you will be amazed at the difference! It’s a pleasure that the ability to discern these fine nuances can be achieved without the expense or mess of ash and charcoal.

The Shoyeido burner has a handsome modern aesthetic and the Indian Burner has a certain rustic charm. For me, there is even greater pleasure in using a burner that has been carefully designed and meticulously crafted by an incense lover who created it to please himself. It is because Kyarazen enjoys sharing his love of incense that he has made The Kyarazen Subitism available on his Etsy shop. His shop is http://www.etsy.com/shop/Kyarazen.
The Subitism is currently sold out but I expect that more with become available in the next few months.

INDONESIAN SMÖRGÅSBORD +1

My relative inexperience burning agarwood makes it difficult for me to link the scent of a piece of wood to a particular geographic area. I hope that as I gain experience I’ll be able to recognize the broad similarities that characterize woods from the same place. My notes below are based on a few samples of wood from the named region and I have not reason to believe these pieces aren’t representative. I enjoyed discovering their unique characteristics and hope that the more I burn the better I’ll become at recognizing many more of their individual subtleties as well.

The Maluku, Cambodian and Sulawesi pieces were burned on an electric burner on a low setting. The Banka and Aceh samples were also burned on or next to charcoal.

Sulawesi- Damp, mossy and herbal notes reminiscent of patchouli and oakmoss suggest moist, earthy, brown tones. A hint of white pepper is interlaced with the cool and green scent of watermelon rind. At higher temperatures the wood smells crisp and snappy. When burned on lots of layers of tinfoil atop charcoal (I made a little tower) vanilla finally emerges, but Sulawesi is pretty low on the sweetness scale. One of the things I most appreciate about this wood is that it changes faces which makes burning it a stimulating, as well as a mellow, experience. The pervasive oozy dampness is grounding while the shifts in other notes makes me feel contemplative. The big surprise was that, when burned on charcoal, the wood smelled like tomato sauce with Italian spices and chili powder mixed in! I’ve smelled these tomato and feisty chili pepper notes in ASAQ’s 12 yr old oil and I’ve always gotten a big kick out of them ☺

Bangka Isands- This wood is much sweeter and more vanillic than the Sulawesi. Marzipan, peanuts , cinnamon, nutmeg, white pepper and earthy notes were the ones I was able to decipher. To be honest, I was very frustrated with this wood. It was quite dense and required more heat to burn than I’m accustomed to using. It was the most satisfying on tin foil with charcoal and because, for me, it did best on high heat, this is one I’d use for room/clothes scenting.

Aceh- A lovely combination of vanilla and woods with sharp cinnamon overtones. Occasionally there’s a whiff of fresh, green mintiness. It is primarily deep and woody with a light, chocolate-y sweetness. I found it slightly difficult to tease out the notes until I tried burning it on ashes in close proximity to charcoal. Like the Bangka wood, I think this is nice for room scenting.

The last sample I tried was not Indonesian, but Cambodian and it was my personal favorite. This wood has classic notes of clean, smooth woods, sweet, caramelic vanilla and some dry, bitter, cleansing tones. (I love these bitter notes so please don’t read this as a negative). Brown sugar, maple and jam-y plum notes are most evident on lower heat. The contrast and interplay between these sweet and bitter flavors creates a dynamic dialogue which I found very satisfying,

My thanks go to Gregg King for making these samples available. Gregg is one of the nicest people with whom I have corresponded. He is very forthcoming with information about his woods and he is full of interesting information relating to many different aspects of incense, from its history to its crafting. Thank you, Gregg!

Maluku: Wood from the “Island of the Kings”

Some woods smell super sweet- like melted brown sugar infused with vanilla- and others are bone dry. Gregg’s Maluku, harvested and distilled in a small island off the coast of Indonesia, is agreeably in between. The bittersweet scent of cocoa and the fresh, clean scent of newly sawn wood happily coexist along with the robust, spicy liveliness of cinnamon. My favorite slivers have a very minty green/ cucumber/honeydew scent. The deeper smelling pieces are bold and invigorating; the minty pieces are light, cool and refreshing. Maluku is not the most resinous wood but with an electric burner on a low heat setting I’m able to enjoy even very small pieces for a satisfyingly long time and because it is reasonably priced I feel as though I can burn it liberally without its burning a hole in my pocket.
I was happy to discover that Maluku is perfectly paired with Rou Gui oolong tea. The staunch robustness and cassia flavor of the tea accentuates the vigor and tempered sweetness of the wood. Thank you, Gregg! On this gray and chillingly wet February afternoon your wood is exactly what I needed to sweeten, bolster and fortify my spirits!

Fragrant wood lovers- check out this website

kyarazen.com

I’m sure you will enjoy it and learn a lot!

Ali’s Roadside Lozenges

Gregg’s* sable-colored lozenges are packed in a warm, golden-ochre powder smelling of vanilla, orris, labdanum and benzoin Siam. The scent of the powder reminds me of sweet Indian amber attars- thick and caramelized. However Ali’s Lozenges themselves are far more intriguing and complex than any amber blend I’ve tried. They are a mixture of spices, herbs and resins that unveil themselves slowly and seductively. Every time I think I know what I’m smelling another facet appears and draws me farther into the tapestry. Gregg recommends a setting of 5-8 on an electric burner. I started at 5, thinking the more volatile components would slowly vaporize, after which the slightly higher setting would show off the woods to their best advantage.

Subtle animalic notes of musk and ambergris are the first to greet me. These are two of my favorite notes in incense. Their primal rawness and power is provocative and wild. I’ve always lived in a very urban area; when I smell these lusty notes I access something elemental that isn’t normally a part of my ever day experience- something that makes my heart beat just a little faster. The scent of henna adds overtones of sweet tobacco and moist plums and spikenard rounds out the subtle earthy nuances . I’m sure that every so often I catch a whiff of chili- a spicy twist that’s as surprising as it is exciting! Soon gothic frankincense starts to sing- images of swinging censers and Omani souks come to mind. As my imagination starts to climb to the belfry warm notes of vanilla and bittersweet cocoa pull me back to earth. And what is more comforting than a mug of cinnamon-laced hot cocoa or a too big slice of vanilla poundcake? At this stage the incense is sweet and delectable- creamy, smooth and caramelized. Sandalwood and agarwood complete the picture adding a rich groundedness and wavy hum. Now all the notes seem to have fused together and I’m feeling very relaxed and calm. I’m not sure if the adventure has ended or just begun but it doesn’t really matter. I feel good and the incense continues to unfold. It’s time to stop analyzing it and to just enjoy the sweet languor. Mine’s been burning for 4 hours and shows no sign of quitting!

The finest ingredients have been used in the composition of this incense, including vintage Burmese agarwood from 1998, a Mysore sandalwood oil that is more than 10 years old, antique clove oil, cinnamon from Saigon , top flight Tahitian Vanilla and more.

* (yes! “our” Gregg)

The incense will be available soon exclusively at
Mermade Magikal Arts http://www.mermadearts.com/

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