Mermade Magickal Arts + Esprit de la Nature / The Mothers – Ancient Winter Remembrance, Emerald Temple – Katlyn’s Kyphi “Green”

So right about when we turned to ORS holiday time, Mermade Magickal Arts went all festive on us and released a bunch of really yummy new treats. I love all of Katlyn’s work but I might have particular favorites in the whole axis of evergreen/green/winter seasonal incenses that she does and so it was impossible for me not to make an order, and then when I got everything wonderful in, I’m like oh my god how do I share what I am experiencing and write about these on holiday time when a lot of Mermade blends rocket out the door in a few weeks time (or sometimes before I can even write anything). Well I’ll give at least these first two a shot, and although this might not be up to usual review standards, for sure these incenses are up to the usual high Mermade (and Esprit de la Nature) standards. These are two really wonderful incenses.

But let’s first start with one that a periodical and greatly admired contributor to the Mermade catalog has created. As many may be aware of, Be en Foret of Esprit de La Nature is also one of the great artists of heatable incense out there and her new blend The Mothers – Ancient Winter Remembrance is an absolute triumph of the style, one of the finest conifer incense blends ever made. I am still marveling over the complexity, beauty and triumph of this stunning incense, it is literally not to be missed. Look at these ingredients: balsam fir (Abies balsamea) bark, needles, resin, extract; Amanita muscaria mushroom; juniper (Juniperus virginiana) berries; spruce (Picea rubra) needles; hemlock (Tsuga canadensis) needles and extract; cedar (Thuja occidentalis) tips; mugwort (Artemisia vulgaris) flowering tops; rosemary (Salvia rosmarinus) leaf extract; tree mosses (Psuedoevernia spp and Usnea spp); pinion pine (Pinus edulis) resin; and poplar (Populus tremoides) buds. All of these ingredients are bound with black elderberries (Sambucus nigra) and homemade hydromel (mead) and mixed with the Amanita muscaria mushrooms.

So the first thing one must look at is that in the overall sense of things we’re usually used to pine scents, perhaps balsamic scents and so forth when we talk about evergreens and conifers. It’s that experience of walking through a forest in cool mountainous air and experiencing the whole unified scent that so many plants combine to create. But there are so many different sorts of plants being used in this one that the aroma becomes so complex it actually starts to become somewhat kyphi-esque in its profile. I mean just sitting here after a second heat and trying to describe everything that goes through my head as I experience this is virtually impossible. First without any listing of something like frankincense, this still has a very resinous scent that one must chalk up to the various tree extracts and materials. The Mothers has a very pleasant, somewhat spicy fruitiness in the mix that is amazingly enjoyable, but this mix isn’t facile, it is deeply complex, aged and beautiful. I smell orange peel and marmalade, caramel, honey and wine, and where Katlyn’s green incenses tend to speak the voice of the Sierra Nevadas with a much greener finish, Be’s has its own unique character that is separate enough that you are likely to find both different species of the same genus. I’m not sure I can speak quite to how something like the amanita speaks through the scent, but the incense does feel like a conglomerate of smaller voices and there is a slightly psychedelic edge on all of this that adds to the choir’s unity. It is that sense of mycorrhizal fungi as a symbiosis of plant and fungi and, as the aroma spreads, human life as well.

Sort of in the reverse (or maybe inverse?) direction of this is Katlyn’s Emerald Temple, a “green” kyphi. One of the reasons I found this fascinating in the description is I sort of imagine kyphis more as brown, purple, or maroon, so I really liked the idea, given Kat’s skill with greeny goodness. The ingredients on this one, always a big list with kyphis, include fir balsam raw resin, green frankincense (Sacra of Oman), copal blanco, fir balsam Absolute, Cedar (Thuja) essential oil, Benzoin Essential oil (molecular distillation), and Chios Mastic. All dusted in green fragrant Arbor vitae (green cedar) powder. I would guess this kyphi is made with the production techniques of the previous kyphi we reviewed. Like some green mixes this also crosses over into lime-like territory, particularly due to the green frankincense and some element of the copal. My grandmother and a few other members of my family used to live in Key Largo for many years and could whip up a great key lime pie, which is what this scent reminds me a lot of with that mix of lime and sweetness. Even something like a lime Jolly Rancher kind of captures that front note. Of course this notable green frankincense note is really just the lead for that typical melange of caramel, wine-like, raisin tinged kyphi base, something that tends to remind me of autumn, except the lime pushes it all into different territory. It’s a nice little divergence from the kyphi norm and a cool little experiment that’s well worth looking into if you like the kyphis that come out of this venerable outfit.

But even as I come to a close here, I really want to remind folks to act fast. I just realized that Katlyn’s stupendously great Lord of the Rings inspired incense Elvish has already gone out of stock, and I can only imagine these two and the wonderful Southern/Central/native American inspired Lucida and the Tibetan inspired Golden Tara are soon to follow. These incenses, as always, show Mermade on the very cutting edge of cross-cultural experimentation with incense scent and culture and I often can not write fast enough to keep up with their demand and in many ways that’s a good thing as it shows their great appeal.

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Mermade Magickal Arts / Goddess Temple – Katlyn’s Kyphi #2, Moon

There’s a virtual history of Mermade kyphis being reviewed at ORS going back to 2011 (and a much longer tradition of Mermade making them) if you take a look at our Reviews Index. The Egyptian Temple incenses known as Kyphi are not only some of the world’s most famous historical blends but they are some of the most involved, complex and fascinating as well. One of the things I find most fascinating about them is that in the right hands a kyphi incense can be both simple and complex, creating a composite aroma out of a large ingredients list. The amount of preparation that goes into one of these incenses can be daunting and based on Katlyn’s words at the incense link, she has devised a new way of blending Kyphis to save both time and energy, which will allow the incense to be made more available. Anyone who has tried a Mermade kyphi knows this is a very good thing indeed.

Reviewing a kyphi may not be as difficult as making one, but it’s a scent that is kind of hard to pin down. I’ve always used something like a fine wine or whiskey because the overall bouquet of a kyphi can be so rich and multi-faceted, usually with a distinct sense of age. It rarely feels like something you can just pick the elements out of, it’s more like the elements come together into something new. There are definitely similarities from one kyphi to another (usually for me it’s whatever the raisins and honey do, if they’re in there). However, I think this vintage, Goddess Temple – Katlyn’s Kyphi #2, is a bit different than previous years. It feels like this is more resin heavy overall. The ingredients listed are frankincense (Hougary, Black Sacra, and Honey), Yemeni myrrh, Pinon pine, labdanum, Chios mastic, Saigon cinnamon, Turkish galbanum, and styrax liquidambar, all dusted with agarwood powder. It’s interesting because this feels more like a modern reformulation of a kyphi, one I wouldn’t be quite as sure of if we weren’t in safe hands with a creator who has spun out years of brilliant kyphi vintages, not a one I didn’t love. While it does feel somewhat different from previous Mermade kyphis, and I’m assuming the #2 is marking the occasion, the feeling that this is still in the style with a lot of depth and creativity is still in place. The notes tend to loom larger than the listed mix with quite a bit of interesting floral activity and heavy spice content that becomes even more noticeable as the incense melts on a heater. I’m not sure if there are raisins or anything like that in the incense, but that sort of defining kyphi note is still in the mix somehow, it’s a scent that reminds me of anything from plums to prunes to raisins. I very much like the idea that this is now an “all year around” kyphi as if you’re a fan of loose incenses kyphi is really one of the first incense types I would recommend. So it is a very cool thing indeed that the availability of this has widened. It is still complex, releases all sorts of subnotes along the timeline of the heat, sings with really quality ingredients, and still has that lovely feeling of fine spirits about it.

Katlyn has done a lot of what I would call lunar blends as well (Temple of the Moon, Mermade Moon, Moon Goddess, and Luna all come to mind). These have what I would call western magical correspondences about them, which means they tend to have some up front jasmine notes. Mermade has done a lot of fine work with jasmine and you may not be surprised that Moon is another solid entry of the type. For this blend she has used Tamil heartwood sandalwood and Jasmine Grandiflorum in a base of Yemeni myrrh, kua, black frankincense, and rare okoume resin, with some Chios mastic drops mixed in. The sandal and jasmine mix is really what is out in front on this one, although it’s perhaps not quite as overtly floral as previous lunar Mermades, and I would guess the okoume resin is giving the entire scent an intriguing subnote, a little bit of a slight gravel that I might liken to some copals and that helps the scent not to get too safe. So overall it’s a bit of a different direction for a lunar, a bit more fruity floral overall with some intriguing wood and resin subnotes to top it off. But I think in the end you will want to visit it for the sandalwood and jasmine mix.

Oh and before I close, there’s great news on the “restock” front in that Sweet Medicine is back in stock. I know I’m incredibly happy to see this beautiful honey and sweetgrass scent become a mainstay, it is one of my favorites in a great line up of goodies, so be absolutely sure to pop off and grab some.

Mermade Magickal Arts / Green Faerie

Oh here’s another one … five left at the point I posted this (and Kuan Shi Yin was gone by the end of the day I posted it, so…) Green Faerie, if I was to give it the most simple explanation, is something like an absinthe resin blend. I’ve always really enjoyed the aromatics of a nice absinthe (I don’t partake much of alcohol anymore) so it seems like a very natural and cool idea to transport this sort of almost liquorice-like bouquet to an incense format, especially by a creator who has gotten really good at creating oil blends that often have the depth and intensity of fine wines or spirits. First of all the resins, which is really quite a list: mastic dipped in fir balsam, green frankincense dipped in violet leaf absolute, and Hougary Oman Frankincense. This creates an incredible strong base that honestly lasts for hours and hours, I even left my heater on overnight and got wafts the next morning (it is also very sticky stuff and takes a bit of extra effort to extract from the tin). I really feel like that violet note cuts through nicely, but overall the sum parts of this really set up a nice background to give the more absinthe-particular herbal content a base to exude their strengths in. These are wormwood, tagetes lucida, davana and Egyptian mint. I love the way it feels like these herbs were carefully chosen to bring out that particular absinthe aroma, particularly with the anise/liquorice and minty notes. But that’s not all, there appears to be some jasmine, rhododendron and sandalwood as well, which gives the overall scent some slighter and more complex notes. Anyway I think you’ll know from the word absinthe if this is going to be along your lines. It’s of course quite a bit more than that and the equal or more to any spirit’s aromatics and like all Mermade brews an absolute winner.

Mermade Magickal Arts/Ostara, Sweet Medicine, Sunpati

One of the difficulties of maintaining a site like Olfactory Rescue Service is covering the boutique/independent incense creators. However, one of the great things about these creators is that once they get some steam underneath them then their products end up selling themselves and the venerable Mermade Magickal Arts is a prime example. I’ve been buying from Mermade (or in the way past from outfits that sold Mermade products) since the late 90s.

Olfactory Rescue Service would probably not even be in existence if it wasn’t for the effect Katlyn Breene’s Shamanic Circle had on me as it really showed that place where the scent departs but the memory continues. My first experience with this incense was literally smelling it hours later after I had departed the area, like it had just dug into my subconscious and became a font of memory-scent. Not long after this I was introduced to great aloeswood incense and it was very similar. Part of the power of incense is its collaboration with the user, with the user’s experience and memories, the partaker’s sense of place and nostalgia. Katlyn’s familiarity with the western magickal tradition was also something I personally resonated with over the next decade and so her brilliant artwork and presentation also enhanced her incenses as well as imparting subtle energies to them that are quite impressive and true to the subject material. Katlyn is also a mentor to a whole new generation of creators and is a tremendous asset to the whole community. Mermade is quite simply an incense institution, perhaps the paragon of American incense.

So now we’re talking about an artist 20 years later who has been at the top of her game for years and whose every new work is a treasure, no matter what it is. When I visit the shop, I just find the newest scents I have that are available. They turn over much faster now and I’m assuming much of that is just due to the quality, the word of mouth, the internet etc. The materials get finer, the recipes more original and creative, the surprises more plentiful and impressive. So this article will be a snapshot in time and is likely to be obsolete shortly and just a memory. It wouldn’t shock me if one of two of these scents are gone by the time you read this. They are worthy of being snapped up. Which of course means that months down the line there will be new incenses or new versions etc.

Ostara is a very balanced blend of mastic, sweet mint, myrtle and jasmine. When I lived at my old place years ago, I had some mint plants in my back yard that literally took over the entire area at one point, creating a smell that overwhelmed anything else close. Mint is a strong, extremely overpowering scent if you’re not careful, which, of course, is why its a mainstay in gums, breath fresheners and so forth. To use it appropriately in an incense takes a fine guiding hand and naturally that’s what you will find in Katlyn’s work. All four of the elements mentioned here are present in the final bouquet without one overpowering the other, which certainly took some skill as it would have been easy for the myrtle to get buried under the mint and jasmine. The myrtle in particular sets the blend apart as its such a gentle, unique smell that isn’t very common in incense. The fact that this has a mastic base rather than one from frankincense or other resin also helps to move this to a unique space as its fruity component seems to hit a bit closer to apples and pears than the lemon and lime you tend to expect from frankincense. There’s also a touch of the wild in this one. I’ve noticed more and more of Mermade’s recent incenses have a bit of a liqueur or aged like subscent to them that give everything an extra level of complexity. This level has almost like a bit of banana peel to it, a reminder of the depth of the wild behind the nature. The Brian Froud-like artwork on the container is the icing on the cake as far as this is concerned.

Sweet Medicine is another new favorite of mine that I’m hoping to see as a perennial classic from Mermade like Wild Wood or Pan’s Earth or Kyphi. It wasn’t terribly long ago I wrote in praise of Tennendo’s Propolis incense, so it’s wonderful to see this amazing aromatic source in another incense, and here it is part of a blend with so much goodness it’s hard not to be exhaustive: sweet grass, black and honey frankincense, benzoin, balsam, myrrh, balsam poplar buds and sweet clover. The overall profile is of course sweet but it’s also complex and wonderfully energetic and it builds in intensity to an aromatic crescendo as it builds in space. The balsamic content and propolis in particular I think grounds the sweetness in a way that’s important in giving it some personality, it lets it hit that spot without becoming too cloying. This means the overall impact is just glorious, with the sweet grass also giving it a touch of airiness. Right now I have two newly planted trees in the front yard that are budding and attracting much of the local bee population so this seems like the right time to break such an incense out. A real A+++ treat, don’t miss it.

Sunpati is subtitled a Quiet Mind incense and it certain is a much quieter incense than those that are generally based on woods or resins. It is made from Rhododendron Anthopogon leaves and flowers, an ingredient that tends to find its way into many a Tibetan incense, Linden leaves, flowers and essential oils, an ingredient you don’t find in incense much at all, and a nunnery-sourced Lawudo blend from Nepal. As the description at the page reveals, this is something of a grassy, tobacco tinged, sweet, late summer to early autumnal sort of blend whose ingredients usually don’t find their way to this level of resolution. If you have been using stronger incenses before this they’re likely to overwhelm the finer aspects of this incense which are gentle and very unique, in the same way you might find piles of leaves that have fallen of trees or a mix of bushes and plants on a walk. It has an almost wistful, nostalgic vibe to it. I love these sorts of experiments as they introduce me to scents I haven’t experienced before and show that our practiced incense creators continue to stretch out into new terrain.

More Mermade scents, just around the corner, I have a few more to go (they’re all in the top picture)….

Mermade Magickal Arts / Serpent Flame, Pan’s Earth, Wings of Air, Mermade Moon, Sacred Spirit, Salome, Wilderness

[Note: several of these incenses were limited editions and have been since discontinued. Check with Mermade Magickal Arts for availability]

I will always be fond of Mermade Magickal Arts as one of the companys that really showed me how amazing incense could be. While the company does not make them anymore, at one point loose incenses like Shamanic Circle and Dragon Fire were among my staples, blended incenses with fantastic ingredients that had a similar effect like aloeswood on my subconscious. When these were first available, several of the blends had unusual and possibly psychoactive ingredients like datura in them. I noticed the last time I bought these blends before their discontinuation that the ingredients had changed a little and while the new versions were similar, by then either they weren’t having the same effects on me or they were truly different. I originally tried Shamanic Circle in the practice room of a band I was working with and it had a pretty major impact on everyone. I remember thinking hours after the experience that I could smell the incense floating around my memory. In fact the very existence of this site may be partially because of this blend and its company, so in a way I feel I’m coming full circle in being able to talk about them.

I wanted to set this up to demonstrate that to some extent because of these experiences, I’ll always be fond of this company, one that appears to base their products (from incense to music and beyond) on Wiccan/magickal concepts. Immediately I thought of the Scott Cunningham Llewellyn books on incense and my own experiences in making blends from those recipes over a decade ago. This relatively new line of incense “cones” that I’ll be covering here sticks fairly closely to these spiritually minded methods of making incense allied with an experienced hand in incense creation. Every cone here feels like the recipe was experimented with and slightly changed to reach a balance between the woods, resins, herbs and oils in them. And not only that but those familiar with experimenting with these ingredients on their own will realize that there is a rather high quality of ingredients in these “cones.”

I use the term cones in quotes because these are not your typical cones, rather they’re shaped more like flat triangles. The first five incenses (part of the Nature Spirits series) here follow western magickal elemental correspondances and in most cases the element corresponding with the incense can be guessed from the name. And better yet, the elemental quality of each cone comes out quite obviously upon burning. One thing is for sure, most of these incenses have very high quantities of resin in them and if you’re coming over from the Japanese incense side and known Minorien’s Frankincense, you’ll already have your foot in the door in terms of the spicy resin like quality of the cones.

Appropriately the series starts off with Serpent Flame, the incense corresponding with the fire element. Expectations that this would be spicy and hot were met. The base appears to be benzoin, dragons blood and balsam tolu, but particularly I was thinking of the hotter Benzoin Siam when burning this, except that Mermade have managed to balance some of the more difficult sides of this resin. The quality of (Madagascar) cinnamon in this appears to be high and it gives the incense a sort of cinnamon bun like scent, except with hints of shoe polish (in a good way of course) that I’d chalk up to the dragon’s blood. It’s a very friendly incense that really got the whole series off to a nice start.

Pan’s Earth reminded me quite a bit of some of the Cunningham earth-related recipes. I was pretty surprised not to see patchouli on the list of ingredients as it seems by far the strongest note in this incense. This sort of patchouli oil is similar to the types that tend to put some westerners off, except that this is definitely higher quality than what I walked by this morning, a little sweeter and closer to the Himalayan patchouli that I’m fond of. I’m left wondering if part of this might be the vetivert. The other ingredients in the incense are aloeswood, Hougary frankincense and juniper and I particularly get the juniper which gives it a bit of evergreen spice. I thought I got benzoin and lemon from this as well which undoubtedly was the frankincense ingredient.

Lavender is almost always associated with the air element, so its presence in Wings of Air was not surprising. Adding sweetgrass and Himalayan juniper to the mix intensifies this feeling and in terms of hitting the element on the nose, this is almost close to perfect. Using lighter resins like elemi and mastic seems like a very intelligent choice, you get the depth of aroma from the resin without the more definitive notes that come with frankincense, myrrh, benzoin and the like. If the oil note in Pan’s Earth was somewhat overwhelmed by the patchouli (or vetivert) notes, in Wings of Air it’s almost picture perfect. While every single one of these incenses really gets the elemental correspondances right, this might be the classic example in the group.

Mermade Moon is the line’s water incense and as of today looks like the company’s number one bestseller. It’s basically a spicy myrrh incense with quite a bit of play in the oil, which, given the ingredient list, I’d probably chalk up to the Jasmine Sambac. In fact it’s hard to imagine many watery incenses without jasmine as its perfume tends to really capture the changeable nature of a body of water. Apparently the base was white sandalwood, which was a note I didn’t notice so much probably due to the stronger aromatics. Or better yet, this incense uses the fixative onycha, an ingredient from a certain seashells that was apparently used in the original Hebrew temple incense. It all adds up to a rather sultry and slightly Scorpio-like musky blend that could rank as one of Mermade’s best cones.

The Nature Spirits series final “elemental” incense is Sacred Spirit. This is the series woodiest incense by far with liberal amounts of aloeswood and sandalwood. While both of these ingredients do show up in some of the other cones, this was the first where I really noticed them as part of my notes. The woods give this scent a bit more of a sublime scent than the other four, which strikes me as perfect for the “akasha” element in that it’s the one that triggered the most subconscious impressions for me. Like Pan’s Earth, this also has a bit of frankincense to it that gives the scent some more depth.

Mermade’s line Scents of the Sensuous includes Salome. This appears to be a much thicker cone than usual, possibly due to the high number of ingredients in the blend. It’s slightly reminiscent of the above-mentioned Serpent Flame, although not as spicy (and certainly not firey). I’d assume the Tolu Balsam is the ingredient that connects the two. It seems with this incense that it’s a little less about a concept and more about the aroma itself and as such this seems a bit more complex than the elemental line, with varying notes of frankincense and labdanum. It’s very rich and sultry and it strikes me that you actually need very little of the cone to fragrance a space. I was reminded at this point just how important resins are to Mermade incense and there were times this reminded me of a catholic or orthodox resin blend.

I couldn’t find Wilderness on the Mermade site (and it also took me a while to track down Salome), which makes it a little more difficult to describe. But like Salome, Wilderness is very similar to loose resin blends, in this case usually close to forest/celtic type blends with overtones of greenery and trees. I found this a really nice, evocative scent, with the base resin blend spiced up by various herbs. Some of these were spicy, roughly in the nutmeg, mace, clove and cinnamon territories except I wouldn’t swear to any of these being part of it per se. Of the incenses here, this was the one that took the longest to absorb as there seems to be a lot going on with it.

Mermade Magickal Arts have been around since 1984, a family operation whose long years of experience really shows in the creation of these incenses. All of their cones show a great deal of thought in terms of combining base notes, oils and resins and as so many of their incenses are based on various resins, it’s almost as if these cones are a new class or style of incense and as such are a welcome element of one’s diverse collection of scents. It’s great to see this outfit still in operation over the years, still combining art, music, spirituality and craft into a distinctive name brand that continues to be one of the best creative enterprises for scent in the US market.

A second installment of Mermade incenses is forthcoming, covering a few of the company’s loose blends, all of which take me quite a bit longer to go through.