The Rising Phoenix Perfumery / Musk Rose Bakhoor, Resin Bakhoor, Ambergris Souked Sandalwood Powder

I’ve been really looking forward to writing about Rising Phoenix since I started corresponding with JK DeLapp some months back. It may not be known to all readers but there’s really an amazing community of incense artisans in the United States now and often even when it looks like I’m posting about a new company with new incenses, I’m actually posting about veteran work in the field. We’re talking about high quality incenses on the level of Katlyn Breene and Ross Urrere but with a distinctly individual direction and focus that is expressly JK’s. Two of three of these incenses are intended to be in the middle-eastern Bakhoor style and yet while they carry forward the qualities of this style of incense, they avoid all of the trappings of the cheaper stuff and instead move closer to what might be considered mid to high end Japanese incense quality. The other incense, while not a bakhoor, has a similar level of quality. All three are fabulous incenses made with numerous high quality aromatic ingredients covering multiple levels of activity whether one heats or uses them in charcoal and those who have enjoyed the work of other artisans we have featured here should immediately line up at Rising Phoenix Perfumery’s Etsy store before the incenses are gone.

The first of these incenses is called Musk Rose Bakhoor. Like all three incenses, this one comes in a 3.5g sized glass jar wrapped in Japanese Washi paper. The incense is a fine earthy powder that is immediately redolent of the finer materials in incense. I remember a day when you couldn’t buy a good rose incense, but even fresh from the jar you know you’re onto a good thing here. The ingredient list is impressive with the wood base combining sandalwood and four different kinds and origins of aloeswood. On top of this blend we have a mix of Russian Centifolia Rose (an attar I assume), Champa and an all natural and extremely fine Hina Musk. You would think almost any one of these top ingredients could suffice for a great incense, but all three of them together make for an exceedingly complex and heavenly blend of scents that deliver an aromatic epiphany over and over again. These are the types of fine scents whose descriptions couldn’t possibly live up to the billing, the kind of subtlety lost in cheap floral incenses. There is one caveat here though, this is the kind of aloeswood heavy incense that the Golden Lotus incense most of us use from Mermade Magickal Arts isn’t quite hot enough for even at maximum and so in order to fully experience the whole scent, I had to experiment with the blend on charcoal as well (good news though, I believe there will be new methods of heating on the way in the near future from MMA that should allow the woods to come out more). It is truly hard to encapsulate how much goodness is going on with this blend. The rose hits you first as any good rose scent does, but the finer ones have personalities that transcend the usual experience of walking through a rose garden and this one is a scent you could just fall into. The champa will bring back memories from the years when champa-based incenses were at their best, I had multiple hits of deja-vu with every use of this incense, I’m not sure any other word could describe it better than awesome. One wonders just how much the champa and musk ingredients modify the overall scent as I also seem to pick up more of it a bit later in the heat when the sandalwood starts to come out. I’ve always found it interesting as well how Sandalwood can work so cleverly in an aloeswood heavy mix, although this may have been the way it works with a low heat. Needless to say there’s so much going on this incense that it will take many uses to really explore all the directions its going. It’s quite simply a masterpiece.

Rising Phoenix’s Resin Bakhoor is something of a high-end take on frankincense and myrrh resin mixes.  I was charmed to learn that this incense actually started as an Abramelin incense because you can actually sense that this is the origin, particularly from the way aloeswood and frankincense are mixed. This has a similar type of base to the Musk Rose Bakhoor, although in this case even if the aloeswood mutes a bit at low heat it doesn’t affect the scent quite as much as the previous incense, simply because the resins here are really arresting. There’s a real melding of scents here to create something quite new and special, a real eye to how each ingredient modifies another. Frankincense and myrrh are kind of the peanut butter and chocolate of the incense world anyway, but I really like the way the limier aspects of the green frankincense meld with the good quality Ethiopian myrrh here, it’s as if they were one resin with multiple faces. Some of this is due to the benzoin and labdanum in the mix, both of which seem to intensify the overall fruitiness going on at the top. And what a fruitiness it is, not just the typical lemon or lime qualities you usually get with resin mixes, but a sense of age and subtlety as well, which is a nice trick that is enhanced when the method of burning or heating makes sure to bring out the deeper qualities of the aloeswood and sandalwood. It’s actually somewhat rare to see a resin blend formulated with such a wide array of fine materials and even rarer to find one where every ingredient counts in the mix.

Rising Phoenix also offer various types of aloeswood and sandalwood, and offer as an option with their Indian Sandalwood Powder, An Ambergris Souked Sandalwood Powder (scroll down). Those who have had the pleasure of trying Ross Urrere’s take on this theme will recognize the style, where the crystalline, high-end scent of fine, fresh sandalwood is modified by the salty and sublime scent of ambergris. However, Rising Phoenix’s version of this uses (Golden) Irish Ambergris, rather than the more common New Zealand sourced material, which makes me want to eventually compare the two. I find this style of incense to be simple in terms of getting a two-scent, highly clear aroma, which is a good thing as the materials being matched here contain enough complexity in their own right that they would be drowned out in a more complicated blend (ambergris in particular does not shout, it sings). And of course if you’re only familiar with sandalwood in stick incenses, then experiencing what fine powder is like is a must as its better qualities are always revealed in a heat. In fact I would even think this would work quite at well at lower temperatures as a little goes a long way.

It is good news to see these incenses on the market and better news to know that even more styles are planned! Those of us who await every new Mermade blend with that sense of pre-Christmas anticipation will likely start finding themselves doing the same thing with Rising Phoenix. But this company doesn’t just have us awaiting the next blend, it encourages people to learn about and create their own aromatic products. You can find informative videos at this link. To see more than the introductory video, all you have to do is sign up with your name and e-mail address. And with new methods of heating and burning on the way, there should be more informative videos to share with you all in the near future.

Mermade Magickal Arts / Abramelin, Cyprian, Dark Forest, Dark Goddess

So just as I was wrapping up the previous Mermade review, another surprise batch of new creations showed up at the door. It’s funny but I’ve probably never mentioned what boxes from Katlyn look like, although customers are surely familiar, but even the presentation of the arrival has the same care everything else does. It should be noted of course that Katlyn’s talent at art matches the same talent involved in the incense creation, so part of the fun is seeing the labels and stationery that comes with each box. As someone who gravitates towards the motifs of western esoterica, I find the way each incense comes packaged to be a delight and in fact anyone who has been involved in the western mystery schools to some extent will be delighted at the symbolism just on the tiny jar of the first incense to be reviewed here and even the bag the jar sits in. There is an attention to detail that rewards the attentive.

For example, check out the amount of research and information provided by Mermade on their newly created version of the legendary Abramelin ceremonial incense blend. This is a historically documented incense associated with the occult work, “The Book of the Sacred Magic of Abramelin the Mage,” a guide written to teach a student how to converse with their holy guardian angel and largely associated with Aleister Crowley’s philosophy of Thelema. Of course much has been written elsewhere on this subject and so we’ll stick to the incense itself. Katlyn has chosen to create this incense with one part green frankincense, a half part mix of myrrh and storax and a quarter part aloeswood powder. While this seems like a simple recipe the quality of ingredients can have a massive effect on what the final product will smell like and this is I’m sure the first of its kind used with the powerful and lime-like green frankincense. I know this isn’t Katlyn’s first attempt at such an incense and different attempts and styles can make them all quite different from another. This work has a maturity that has allowed for quite a bit of subtlety most of which seems to float around the beautiful and heady myrrh and storax combination in the middle. The frankincense is definitely powerful in this but once heating gets underway all of the parts merge very nicely together with the aloeswood providing a subtle and more fleeting sort of presence. I also love the color of this incense, it tends to a lovely golden like shade which reflects rather perfectly with the intent behind the incense. One wonders if the original creators behind the incense ever envisioned or formulated the incense with such fine ingredients.

Also a simple, lovely and almost overwhelming incense is the labadanum, rose and agarwood combination found in Mermade’s new Cyprian. This mix strikes me as quite different than a lot of the other Mermade incenses. It’s as if the ingredients are all adding up for something very spicy, alluring and somewhat vigorous. The rose scent in particular is beautifully calibrated and reminiscent of some of the old rose and resin mixes, somewhat veiled by the incense’s spiciness, but still very authentic and gorgeous. The labdanum and agarwood are all finely balanced and the whole thing works perhaps because of its simplicity as a combination, allowing the nature of each ingredient to bring life to the blend. Strangely there is a beguiling earth or clay tone in the mix, as a result of the incense’s combination and the fresh incense itself almost seems to have a complex level of hoppiness to it. I was quite taken away with this blend and highly recommend it as a deep intersection of floral, resin and wood.

I reviewed Wild Woods in the previous Mermade installment and Dark Forest is another in Katlyn’s long and distinguished line of forest and woods incenses. This one is definitely a bit closer to center than the ambery Wild Woods and has a very pungent foresty green presence that is practically unadulterated with any note that might move this off center. I’ve admitted my almost unconditional love for this kind of scent before and this one is no different. It’s not complex in a wider sense, but there is a lot of activity within the greenness, made possible by juniper, black spruce, cypress, fir and cedar with strong backing from the black frankincense. There’s a slight note of patchouli on this that fills in around the edges, not to mention and even more fleeting glimpse of vetiver, both elements that just give different kinds of greens to the whole. As always, there’s a bit of sweetness to the evergreen and resin combo. As always, these incenses are bullseyes and tend to be as user friendly as anything on the market.

Dark Goddess is a new vintage of a previously named incense with some similarities, but overall I think this new blend is quite a bit different in scent. For one thing, the patchouli was a big note in the previous incense, here it’s much more subtle and blends with greater balance. As someone who doesn’t mind a healthy bit of good patchouli, and by that I don’t mean the cheap stuff that can overwhelm a drum circle, I love both the old and new Dark Goddess, but certainly like all of Mermade’s work, the most recent vintage is always the mature work. This mix, which includes ingredients that tend to the polar opposite of the blends based in green frankincense, such as black Ethiopian resin and black frankincense, is a very complex incense where the parts interlock like pieces of a puzzle making it just that more difficult to pick out the single elements. All of the resinous material gives the incense hints of molasses, caramel but also something a bit more dry with the herbs, especially the vetivert, giving it all an earthly feel.

As always, these are just a segment of the wonderful work going on at Mermade and it’s always a distinct pleasure to be able to share my impressions. One thing I often notice is later on I tend to pick up new things as I use the incenses, further giving testament to the depth of the art at play here. And so once again I highly recommend newcomers to Olfactory Rescue Service to visit the site, grab a heater and try out some of the luxuries in the Mermade catalog, as they’re all limited editions and vintages that eventually give way to new ones.

Mermade Magickal Arts / Naga’s Nest, Wild Wood, Scentuality, Kamiwaza, Ensense Antique

Receiving a new Mermade batch is one of my favorite parts of running Olfactory Rescue Service, in fact I can’t really think of too many other companies where I would be hard pressed to come up with a blend they created that I didn’t love. The whole spirit of the operation from the incense to the artwork to Katlyn Breene’s generosity and support makes reviewing the incenses a total joy and as the years go by, the sheer art and experimentation involved, now stretching into actual Japanese and Tibetan style incenses, never fails to elate. If you read this site and have not had the pleasure of checking the Mermade operation out, I’d consider it one of the first stops an incense lover should make. Everything created here is managed to the last detail and the ingredients used are top quality, only to be worked into something of even higher quality. Every chance I get to dish out the hyperbole I relish it greatly and with no reservation. And to see the line incorporate newer incense creators like Gregg King or our very own Ross Urrere only underlines the spirit behind the incense underground. Once I thought that high quality incense could only be found on the other side of the planet, now I know it’s made here too.

Mermade’s Naga’s Nest is a true original. One of the things you’ll notice about Tibetan incenses, particularly the ones sourced from Nepal or India, is that so many of the aromas you’ll find are embedded in very inexpensive woods, often the kind that smell like burning tires and make your eyes water. So imagine if you were to take a Tibetan rhododendron or lawudo incense, strip away all of the cheaper ingredients so that all is left is the aroma itself, and mix those ingredients with good resins and sandalwood adding just the right foresty touch so that the rhododendron ingredient isn’t suffocating anymore. What you have left is a gentle and unique scent floating like a mirage on the top of a good base. The scent is then recognizable from Tibetan incenses but allowed to flourish, and that it does in this blend, which lasted for hours when I put it on the heater. There really is no other incense like this in any market, in fact even the occasional powder incenses don’t sing like this one does. One only hopes Mermade will try their hand at some of the other Tibetan ingredients in a similar fashion.

Wild Wood, on the other hand, is another in the long lineage of Mermade’s forest blends. It’s probably no secret by now that I’m a huge fan of Katlyn’s work in this area, she knows how to craft them in a way where the aroma always tends to be perfectly green, just like you’d smell if you were walking in a forest. This art of using evergreen ingredients and using resins to intensify the scent always makes these a rare treat, and an incense style that might even crossover to friends that can’t abide by strong Indian incenses or heavy woods. Wild Wood is something of an evergreen mix with amber floating in the background, but like all of Mermade’s forest incenses, the green is still up to 11 on this one, with lots of fruity citrus from the combination of two frankincenses, the copal blanco and the pinon resin. The amber subscent acts to give what could be similar to a lot of resin blends a nice richness, and I’m assuming some of this comes from the two balsams in play. Naturally this also comes highly recommended and if you have never tried one of Mermade’s wild nature blends, there’s no better place to start.

The last three incenses here turn over to Japanese styles, with one slight exception. All three of these incenses start with a base of high quality sandalwood and agarwood, but the third element sends all of these to unique destinations. Readers may remember Gregg King’s fantastic Ali’s Roadside Lozenges. The newest variation of it is Ali’s Rare Incense Powder. I have not had the chance to try the latest blend on its own, but recognize its scent from the lozenges, it is an incense created from a staggering number of high quality materials.

Katlyn has managed to take some of this powder and create a meta-incense with it by combining it with the aforementioned base as Scentuality. This blend takes a while to get going on a heater, but when it does, it gets more impressive as it goes and lasts several hours. The mix of ingredients doesn’t tilt in any particular direction, which to my nose creates a kind of bewitching merging, particularly where the spicy and deep qualities of the agarwood intertwine with the complexity of the Ali’s. This creates a lot of rich and wonderful subscents that remind me of the kind of sweet, quasi-kyara candy scents you can find in some of the good Shoyeido wood and pressed incenses. The early scent is powdery and gentle before the agarwood really kicks in. Overall, it’s a fairly mellow incense, more akin to where a Baieido incense might sit and it’s a tribute to both Mermade and King that they’ve created a Japanese style incense of very high quality and complexity with all of the similar grace and subtlety you’d expect. It’s an excellent example of how incense circles and collaborations are improving the work year after year. And for just under $20 it’s quite price conscious and better than a lot of Japanese incenses in that range.

Kamiwaza is an incense in the same family as Scentuality, starting with the same or similar base but using clove, cinnamon, patchouli and borneol from Japanese sources as the “third element” in the incense. These ingredients have deeper aromatic qualities than you would normally find if you were to source them elsewhere and they merge with the base in a rich and spicy way that is a complete delight. The agarwood really pops in this blend, balancing all of the multiple sweetness and spiceness with a solid resin note. If you have ever tried any of Shoyeido’s speciality incenses whether wood chip mixes or pressed incenses you will recognize notes like a fresh roll of Sweet Tarts or a spice tea mix. But like with Scentuality this will likely be at a much more affordable price point and it all works without the use of perfumes and oils. One tip, however, the balance of the scents is probably best achieved by turning the heater a bit lower so the aromatics don’t volatize too quickly, particularly as the woods will go for quite a while.

Ensense Antique also uses a sandalwood/agarwood base, but the third ingredient here is an oud oil called “Encense Angkor.” As such, I would suggest, like with Kamiwaza, to apply gentle heat to this incense in order to not burn off much of the oud oil too fast. This oud oil is of the rich and spicy variety and it melds quite perfectly with the woods and it often seems like the scent dances somewhere in between them. It reminds me slightly of Ross Urrere’s sandalwood and ambergris or souked aloeswood in that the general aroma is woody dry, while having some very complex top notes resulting from the ingredients being very high quality. In particular the sandalwood comes through nicely on this one. All of these blends, as usual, come with the highest recommendation and it has been so much fun to see how Mermade is working in all sorts of incense world traditions, all of the blends created with such a deft and careful touch. And of course all of them are graced with Katyln’s terrific artwork, spirit and presentation, it never feels like any stone is unturned in reaching the final released work. And good news, there are even more blends in queue for review, including a carefully recreated Abramelin incense, an agar/rose/labdanum mix called Cyprian that absolutely wowed me last night, Mermade’s newest forest blend Dark Forest and a new “earthy blend” called Dark Goddess (I’m excited about this one in particular as the description references the old Mermade blend Hecate, an incense I still miss). Stay tuned!

Top Ten for January 2011

Happy New Year, everyone! May 2011 be a good one for you, bringing health and happiness, and lots of great incense!

It’s my turn up at bat for the Top Ten for Jan 2011. The top ten can be difficult at times due to the sheer amount of great incense out on the market, and the many personal faves that I have. However, for this month, I’ve decided that the following ten incenses are my favorite this January. In no particular order, they are:

-The Direct Help Foundation Eternal Maiya incense. A lovely blend of sandalwood and patchouli, where the sandalwood provides the expected woody note and the patchouli a light airiness that is both earthy and slightly sweet.

-The Direct Help Foundation Oum Pure Sandalwood incense.  Sandalwood incense done up Tibetan style that has sandalwood and sandalwood oil. The sandalwood and the sandalwood oil are a one- two punch combo that makes this superior incense, one with a truly delightful sandalwood aroma.  This is not high end incense like Shroff’s natural sandal that runs north of $150 USD. This is much more modest incense, but one that still manages to be quite good.

-From Chagdud Gonpa Foundation, Sitar Dorje’s Unsurpassable Healing Incense (P’hul-Jung Men-Po).  This is absolutely lovely incense that ranks right up there with Dzongchen Monastery and Holy Land, in my opinion. Unsurpassable Healing Incense is like a first cousin to both, having similarities to Dzongchen and Holy Land, but is still different enough and with its own character that make it unique. This is another earthy, resiny, floral, musky blend. It’s an “all rounder”, hitting all those aforementioned bases, and has that special mojo that is both calming and uplifting at the same time. Some of the ingredients are aloeswood, white and red sandalwood, frankincense, saffron, valerian, magnolia, musk…etc. The scent itself manages to be both fresh and floral, with a darker resinier base and herbaceous endnotes with a touch of musk.

-Holy Land Grade 1. Well, I finally bit the bullet and bought this once it was back in stock over at EOTA. I’m glad I did, though, as that it is definitely a worthy purchase. I won’t write too much about this one due to the fact that it’s been covered extensively here on the ORS. Suffice to say that this incense that as Mike might say, “has mighty mojo that borders on being mystical.” The scent is darker, muskier, and less floral than either Dzongchen or Unsurpassable Healing Incense. If Holy Land incense was a food product, I’d say that it’s more savory than sweet (if that helps any in getting an idea of its scent and description).

-Mother’s Fragrances Lotus Incense. A singular and linear incense and scent, where there’s no complexity but dang if this isn’t a good one. Slightly sweet, and of course floral, this is incense that is very calming and is a good room scent. It’s one to use when having guests over as that it gently perfumes the room but isn’t overwhelming perfumey or ostentatiously showy.

-Mother’s Fragrances Atma Incense. The Mother’s incense catalog is simply superb, with their Nag Champa line being quite a standout. One of my favorites from their Nag Champa collection is Atma. A delirious blend of various ingredients, with floral notes and sweetness from halmaddi and honey. This is a tough one to describe because so many things are going on, and it’s all going on at the same time, the ingredients are working together and not against one another. It’s a symphony of scent, with lead violin being performed by the lavender, the cello is geranium, piano is vetiver, and the triangle is clove with halmaddi as the composer, and honey is the conducter.

-Hougary frankincense resins. A hold over from last month’s Frankincense and Myrrh review, but when incense is this good, it’s going to pop up continually in a lot of people’s “best of” lists. Bright, citrusy, fresh and fragrant, this is frankincense royalty. If you like frankincense at all, do yourself a favor and get some hougary.

-Duggatl al Oud Wardh Taifi. My favorite rose incense of all time, and one that provides an astonishing authentic fresh rose scent. There are many rose incenses out in the market, but this one stands head and shoulders over them all, in my opinion. Simply gorgeous and a must try for rose lovers.

-Mermade Magickal Arts Faery Call. I don’t know about you, but in the midst of winter, I often dream about and long for spring. This incense brings a touch of freshness and brightness and evokes spring and summer in appearance and scent. Literally garnished with dried flowers of marigold petals, rose petals, and lavender buds, and deliciously scented with neroli and other top notch ingredients, this incense is sure to put you in a cheerier mood and drive away the winter blues.

Shunkodo Haru no Kaori. The name of this incense translated into English means ‘smell of spring.’ Can you tell that I’m tired of winter? 🙂  This is great incense, more subtle than Faery Call, but equally good in its own way. As to be expected, it’s more refined being Japanese incense, with a less in your face scent bouquet. There’s the added touch of aloeswood, which adds that certain “je ne sais quoi” quality, that extra special touch that puts this incense into the category of wonderful.

The above incenses can be found at various retailers on the net. The Faery Call incense can be purchased from Mermade Magickal Arts, and the Sitar Dorje’s Unsurpassable Healing Incense from http://www.tibetantreasures.com/tthtml/ttmerch/incense.htm. Incidentally Tibetan Treasures will be going offline from February 7th to March 7th for a site renovation, and will return on March 8th. As such, if you want to purchase the Unsurpassable Healing incense, I recommend that you do it soon to avoid delays in processing and shipping.

What are the incenses that you have been burning lately? Are there any that are your “go to” ones to beat the winter blahs? Chime in and share your thoughts!

Tis the season for some Frankincense Frenzy and a little bit of Myrrh Madness…

Season’s Greetings and Happy Holidays to all our ORS readers! In the spirit of the season, I will be reviewing some frankincense and myrrh incenses. As many of you likely know, frankincense and myrrh were two of the gifts given to baby Jesus by the Magi (three wise men or three kings) with the third gift being gold. According to some interpretations by biblical scholars, the frankincense represented Jesus’s spirituality and his connection to the divine, the myrrh represented his human mortality and prophesized his mortal death, and the gold represented his royal power and influence.

To my mind, frankincense and myrrh are like the peanut butter and jelly of the incense world. Each is good on its own, but teamed together, they achieve greatness.  The following incense reviews lean more to frankincense then to myrrh. This is a reflection of my own bias; though I like myrrh, I love frankincense. Also, some of these incenses were already reviewed previously, but are included again because they fall into the theme and to act as a reminder of what’s available. Though of course, there are so many more frankincense and myrrh incenses out in the market.  However, I do believe the below are a good representative sampling of some of the better ones.

Fusoos frankincense resins: We’ve talked a lot about Hougari frankincense here at the ORS – and rightly so, it’s amazing frankincense, with its bright and lovely citrusy top notes followed by an earthy balsamic endnote. However, it’s time to give Fusoos, Hougari’s sibling, some consideration as well. Fusoos is a type of frankincense from Oman (which incidentally is the birthplace for the best frankincense resins) and differs from Hougari in that it’s less citrusy with a drier scent and is slightly earthier.  Incidentally, the Omani people consider Fusoos to be superior to Hougari.

Yemeni Myrrh: Those that love myrrh really should try and obtain the resin from Yemen. This Middle Eastern country produces the best myrrh, with a darkly resinous edge, one with depth and a scent that lingers for a long time.

Minorien frankincense: This provides good frankincense aroma with a woody undertone; alas there is no citrusy top notes though.  Nonetheless, Minorien as a company has provided consistently good work, and their rendition of frankincense is a good one, one that is more subtle.

Tennendo frankincense:  Tennendo uses frankincense resins from Oman. Whether or not Tennendo utilizes hougari resins is unknown. Regardless, don’t expect the citrusy top notes that are often found in Hougari frankincense, but instead a slightly sweet, slightly fruity honeydew melon top note. The frankincense scent itself is earthy. I’m quite fond of this incense, but I know others don’t care for the fruity sweetness, and prefer a darker more straight up frankincense scent.

Kyukyodo Shirohato White Dove: This is an interesting mix of frankincense, sandalwood, and a touch of floral. This is not a sweet scent like Tennendo’s frankincense. This is a warmer, woodier aroma. The frankincense and floral scents are accent notes.

Pure Incense Connoisseur Frankincense:  This is a sweet and foody type of frankincense scent. Due to the vanilla powder and other ingredients in the base, there are touches of cocoa and caramel notes to this incense. The frankincense scent is an endnote and muted as well. Those that would prefer a less candy like scent and more frankincense should look elsewhere. However, those of you that like the sweet scents are likely to be over the moon for this incense.

Fred Soll Classic Frankincense: The name says it all; this is a classic frankincense scent. This is smoky and resiny goodness in a stick form.

Fred Soll Frankincense and Cedar: This is a mix of frankincense, cedar, and pinon herbs. This is an unusual blend that is slightly musky. This incense does not have the bright citrusy notes of Hougari (boswellia sacra), which isn’t surprising because Fred uses resins from boswellia thurifera, another type of frankincense tree from Somalia. Nonetheless, this is still a good frankincense scent, and due to the addition of cedar, has a warm woody note.

Fred Soll Frankincense and Patchouli: A nice mix of frankincense, patchouli, and pinon. The frankincense and patchouli are the more prominent scents, and work surprising well together with the earthy sweet patchouli blending well with the resiny frankincense.

Fred Soll Frankincense Jasmine and Roses: Due to the jasmine and rose notes, this is more of a floral than frankincense aroma. Top notes are jasmine, followed by rose, and the frankincense is the end note. The frankincense is muted here, so for those that prefer more dominant frankincense, you should consider going with another incense. Though this is still a very good incense blend, and those that are looking for a new floral twist on frankincense may enjoy this particular blending.

Fred Soll Frankincense and Myrrh: Fred’s rendition on the classic pairing of these two incense resins. The myrrh is not very strong, which may appeal to those that aren’t myrrh aficionados. Frankincense is the more dominant scent, with myrrh being muted and the end note. This is still nice incense, and is a good choice for people that want an easy accessible stick with these scents but don’t want to bother with the real resins.

Ancient Forest Frankincense and Myrrh: An excellent blend of frankincense and myrrh, with a nice even balance between the two resins. The myrrh is readily apparent but not overwhelming. These short little incense sticks once lit are very smoky. Though like Fred Soll sticks, they do have a tendency to be difficult to light or stay lit.

Orthodox Incense Myrrh: About a year ago, I wrote this about orthodox myrrh – “The athonite style myrrh, blended in with floral oils, is a nice change of pace. The top notes are of a fine floral bouquet, the scent of various flowers blended in together, which then give way to the bitter resinous edge of myrrh. The two play off each other very well, the soft sweet florals give way to a sharper, dry, resiny myrrh earthiness. However, the floral notes still linger, and so the edge that myrrh brings isn’t completely overwhelming. It’s an interesting contrast, as if this is the olfactory version of balancing sweet with sour/bitter in a culinary dish. That said, I think that those that don’t normally take to myrrh would like this athonite style of it. However, hardcore myrrh lovers and traditionalists could literally turn their noses up at this, believing that the florals are too soft, too sweet, and detract from the lovely bitter edge that myrrh is known for. The floral bouquet in this athonite style is myrrh is very hard to pin down. I can’t say definitively what floral oils are in it, but I think I’m detecting honeysuckle, lily, lilac, perhaps lily of the valley, and the merest whisper of rose.” I recently revisited this incense and all of the above remains true, though the myrrh scent is now a bit more muted, having lost some of its potency. Nonetheless, this is still lovely incense, and one that I recommend.

Omani Frankincense sticks: This is an incense stick that I discovered a while back, one that is made in Oman and which uses genuine Omani frankincense resins. The aroma is bright, sharp, and penetrating, and very fragrant. This is an excellent frankincense stick, one that provides a very authentic frankincense aroma. It doesn’t state so on the package, but it’s quite likely that hougari frankincense are used in these sticks. The citrusy and balsamic notes associated with hougari are present in these sticks. Regardless of whether Hougari is used or not, this is a superior frankincense incense stick, and might just be the best in the market for those looking for a pure unadulterated frankincense scent without having to use the actual resins. This incense stick is about eight and half inches in length, with six inches of it being burnable, and the remaining two and half inches being the handle. This is very smoky, and burn time duration is about an hour and a half.

Incidentally, note that the Orthodox athonite myrrh resins are available from OrthodoxIncense.com. The Omani frankincense sticks are available from Ibn Saif Trading in Oman (see my review of this incense retailer in the Review Your Retailer section). The other incenses mentioned in this article can be found at various retailers on the internet.

So what are you burning this December? Are you veering toward the traditional frankincense and myrrh due to the holiday/seasonal associations? Or are you burning whatever suits your fancy? Perhaps something calming and relaxing to sooth raging emotions caused by holiday stress and madness? Chime in and let us know!

Mermade Magickal Arts / Earth Church, Heart Beat, Dark Goddess, Babylon

These are new offerings from Mermade Magickal Arts. They all come in glass veils with cork stoppers sealed with beeswax. There is enough incense in them for  easily 10-12 large burnings( really, you will find you get more then this) except for the Earth Church which has six large “wands”. I am quite sure by this point that these people are very fanatical about the quality of the ingredients and how they are made and there is a lot of R & D involved i each scent. Plus the price for what you are getting is extremely good.

Earth Church
These are thick sticks, about a ¼ inch wide by 2 ½ long. They are composed of finally ground woods and plants that together produce a lot of fairly sweet smelling smoke. Given the thickness of the stick you can count on quite a long burning time. It’s prefect for setting the up the energy or vib in an environment for metaphysical work or perhaps just to clean up the scent in a room. I am reminded of very sweet smelling campfires or of walking into a wood shop where many different types of woods have recently been cut. It’s a very fresh clean scent.

Heart Beat
As the name suggests, this is a very upbeat, vibrant and spicy incense. It is a sort of brick or chunk of material and needs to be heated up slowly, either on coal or in a heater.
It has a whole lot of resins and such: Oman and Hougary Frankincense, Rain Forest Elemi , Copals , Benzoin, Juniper EO, Sweet Grass EO, Cedar EO and wild crafted tips, Opopanax and Pinon Pine resin. It is really very lively and rich and the scent tend to change up as different parts ignite. It is packaged in a glass vial with extra ingredients surrounding the bricks. What this means is that you can heat just the bricks, the extra powders or any combination thereof. It’s great fun to experiment with. All in all, this is a very uplifting and rich incense which I find myself using quite a lot, Also, when used in the heater it does not produce smoke, or very little, which opens up possibilities for more people to enjoy the scent.

Dark Goddess
Another loose incense for coals or heater. The woods in this mix really stand out at first with a fresh forest scent. Then all the resins kick in and the scent gets much deeper and earthy. There are a lot of different aspects to this incense that keep it interesting, a huge play of different smells interacting with each other as well as the environment you are in. One of its ingredients is Salupati which is supposed to have “psychoactive properties”. I have not noticed anything of this nature but experimentation is still in progress 🙂 . Again, like the Heart Beat mentioned above, not much smoke is generated on the heater but quite a lot of great scent is. A small amount ( ¼ teaspoon) will pretty much give a very nice scent to a standard bedroom. This one is woods and earth tones as opposed to the spices and resins in Heart Beat.

Babylon
A Bakhoor style incense, Quite possibly one of the, if not the best, rose incense ever. I kid you not. This stuff is a light, clean, uplifting rose scent that gets help from the Aloeswood and Sandalwoods in the mix. I believe they help to lift the scent up and give it some exotic overtones. I have not been a big fan of the florals but this one opened up whole new vista’s to me. There are none of the off or synthetic scents that so many of the floral scents seem to come with. Really, it’s just a huge pure river of rose scent that just keeps coming. Plus one bottle will last quite a while; it does not take very much and you will find yourself gravitating back to it for that floral hit. Well, at least I do and I am generally an Aloeswood kind of guy 🙂  !

If you do not yet have a heater you can put these next to a coal on a bit of foil and you are in business!

-Ross

Top 10 – June 2008

1. Tokusen Syukohkoku / BaieidoThe Aloeswood and spice combination of this mix just consistently has me lighting another stick. One of the truly great of the “Plum Blossom” style. There are no oils in this stick, it stands on just the woods, spices and awesome talents of the blender. I have blown though over a 100 sticks in the last two months. I may have a problem.

2. Kun Sho / BaieidoCambodian Aloeswood in all its glory. It’s sort of presented as a single note incense, but really the play between the Aloeswood and the very light touch of Borneol Camphor and some spices just make this a stand out. Its name “The Rising Scent” is very appropriate to how it reaches into the imagination, It’s an incense that I like to burn when I have the time to really enjoy it. There are so many levels to it but it is a very pleasurable learning curve.

3. Sho Ran Ko / KyukyodoThere’s not much more I can say that hasn’t been said already. It’s just a great classical, slightly floral, Japanese incense that is worth the investment (and really, it’s a deal considering the size of the bundle, it made me very happy when I first opened the box) I love this late at night before falling asleep, it’s so mellow and calming.

4. Ranjatai / ShunkohdoOne of my all time favorites. I find myself hoping one day to find a box of “extra thick sticks”. Just a great scent that has a very slight almost floral note , mixed with quality Aloeswood and musk, mesmerizing and tends to pull your attention right in. Beautiful.

5. Yoshino no haru – Long Box / ShunkodoI have what are called the “thick sticks” of this, which I really like. The scent is a wonderful, classical Japanese floral, somewhat sharp in nature yet with a gentle sweetness around the edges. The thick sticks put out quite a lot of scent. It is light, uplifting and just generally tends to brighten up the mood and energy of the room. There seem to be Essential Oils in this one but no synthetics so it’s a very clean smell, quite marvelous and each stick lasts for a long time.

6. Babylon / Mermade Magickal ArtsA Bakhoor style loose mix made for a heater or charcoals. Quite possibly the best rose scent I have yet found. The Aloes and Sandalwoods pieces in this give the rose scent a really nice boost. It’s not cloying or over blown, but it is very rich, smooth and elegant. If you are looking for a rose scent and have given up hope of finding something you might want to consider this. Really nice and the amount you get goes a long way.

7. Houshou / ShunkohdoThere are a lot of incenses from Shunkohdo in my list. They make really good incense at very good prices. Like this one! Aloeswood and spices. The overall impression I consistently get from this incense is chocolate ( and no, its not because I am hungry 🙂 )The scent can change up depending on what you had going before, but in general the chocolate comes through. This is a great one to use to introduce someone to incense. At around $20.00 for the roll it’s a great deal.

8. Ka Cho Fu Getsu / ShunkohdoThis is just a great all around incense at a very affordable price. Sort of Han style or Chinese herbs with Aloeswood. Lots of spices playing off the woods. Cassia, clove and a whole bunch more, At 200 sticks for around $32.00 it’s a really great deal and something you can burn at any time of the day. I really like it when I wake up, very refreshing and uplifting.

9. Deep Earth / Mermade Magickal ArtsThese are incense cakes, or little blocks/bricks of resins and woods made for an incense heater or placed nearby charcoal (not directly on top). This one is composed of Hogary Frankincense, Myrrh, Copal Negro, Aloeswood, Patchouli EO, Vetivert and dusted with powdered Aloeswood. It smells very clean and fresh and also very grounding. Not a bad thing to go with after coming home from work! These are pretty much hand made in small batches and smell as if they use very high quality materials.

10. Myo-ho / ShoyeidoI got the sampler pack of this five months ago. It blew me away then and still does now. In fact I lit this for some people in an incense class I was giving recently and watched them get, well, high 🙂 actually, just on the scent of the spices and Kyara. Pretty amazing. It’s not cheap, but it is really good and as someone said recently in the blog “I am glad I have had the pleasure of smelling it in this lifetime.” I think this is one of the masterpieces of the Art of Incense.

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.