Mermade Magickal Arts – Dia de Los Muertos, Pachamama, Sweet Earth, Sandalwood Oud Antique, Ali’s Rare Incense Powder 2015, Kyphi 2016, Oud Kyphi

As mentioned in my New Year’s post, Mermade Magickal Arts incense goes fast these days, although many of their incenses come back as vintages. This, of course, is a credit to the venerable Nevada institution who never fail to keep improving their art form. In recent years we have seen all sorts of new directions from them, including a line of central/southern/meso-American incenses, forays into Japanese style oud and sandalwood mixes, hybrids of these with resin and oud ingredients, and even a successful jump into Tibetan incense. Personally this continual high level of excellence and creativity has me watching the site fairly often, which means that the reviews here can come from samples or purchases. Sometimes I can’t get to reviews fast enough before certain scents rocket out of the inventory. So it’s worth keeping an eye out whether at the site or especially on Facebook for the next creation. Anyway I hope to tackle some recent new incenses here. The last time I looked all of these were available for purchase but it’s worth acting fast these days. The two new Kyphi vintages just went up after the New Year!

The first two incenses on this list fall roughly in the central/southern/meso-American category and are somewhat superficially similar in that both are blends of white copal, black copal and palo santo. In Dia de Los Muertos (Day of the Dead), the emphasis is on the two copals with the palo santo wood being a slight, although noticeable touch. Copal has been called the frankincense of the west for good reason, but when it comes to the really quality forms of it, copal really has a strong and powerful personality all of its own, a much denser, earthy undertone to it that only the darkest frankincense resins and myrrhs touch on. Mixing the white (blanco) and black (negro) copals tends to be a perfect match, just like frankincense and myrrh, chocolate and peanut butter, salt and pepper etc. It gives the overall aroma the bright, lemony-piney notes of the white copal with the more subdued and mysterious elements of the black copal. I really love how in the middle it’s all so foresty but in such a different, more temperate way than how we describe it when we think of something green. It’s worth noting that lower temperatures on a heater won’t volatize the copal quite so quickly and allows the scent to dreamily work its way to your attention.

Pachamama incense uses a similar list of ingredients but I believe the locations from where the copals come may be different and there is a much higher ratio of Palo Santo in the mix. The ingredients list Palo Santo resin and wood from a recent shipment of really extraordinary Palo Santo which almost revolutionized my opinion of the wood. This is a really powerful and aromatic, with some minty overtones I had never noticed from previous samples, and is certainly worth grabbing on its own. It has an immense presence in this mix and the results end up being quite a bit different from Dia de Los Muertos as a result. The copals here really share the scent rather than dominate and strangely enough, I’d say that this actually seems more resinous and less woody than the previous incense, with a really impressive amount of complexity given the short list. Pachamama whispers of shamanic ceremonies in deep rainforests, rays of sunlight through leaves and the rich fertilized earth of an unspoiled nature.

Sweet Earth seems to touch on a lot of the same aspects of Pachamama but with a totally different palette. While Palo Santo remains in the ingredients list, we’re back in the more familiar territory and base of a (honey) frankincense and myrrh mix. The incense is a marvel in terms of how the incense reflects the name, how the whole scent profile comes from such an earthy base, that sort of freshly tilled, post-harvest scent of leavened soil, loam and clay. There aren’t really the notes of more citrusy frankincenses which allows the mellower honey scent to merge with the liquidambar storax and create the sweetness of the name. The poplar buds/Balm of Gilead is a scent I’m not particularly aware of on its own, so there was a complexity in the incense I found to be quite evocative and fresh. In some ways this incense is about half familiar (I was reminded of the previous Dionysos in part) and half completely new and unique, yet it’s overall quite inventive and original, and most importantly quite addictive.

Moving across the Pacific, we have Mermade’s latest Japanese-Oud hybrid incense Sandalwood Oud Antique, perhaps a follow up to the previous Ensense Antique. These incenses fall in the premium category due to the list of rare and high level ingredients being used, in fact there seems to be quite a high level of agarwood going on here from several sources, always a treat. This underlies the high quality sandalwood in the mix which is mostly dominant but the real twist here is the use of two oud oils. These oils as a mix strike me as being rich, spicy yet not overpowering, a merger that is aimed to create an equality with the finer wood qualities. Like with previous styles, there’s a really nice Japanese, almost candy-like mix that reminds me of certain work from, say, Shoyeido. Towards the end of the heat, things get quite spicy. Overall it’s a very classy blend, very stately.

We’re also seeing vintages of old classics come through, which is always heartening. One of these classics is Gregg King’s Ali’s Rare Incense Powder. I have reviewed this venerable scent once or twice in the past (I seem to remember the first batch of it being a mix of “lozenges” and powder) and have never seen it as anything less than a mandatory incense treat. Be sure to look at the list of ingredients in the link to see just how many fine ingredients are here, what’s always been extraordinary is that not only do they all mix well, but none of them are buried in the overall scent. It makes it once of the deepest and most complex incenses on the market. The sandalwood is perhaps the most noticeable link among all the ingredients in its luxuriant and most resonant guise, but for me I really love the way the vanilla works in this incense. Vanilla in so many cheap incenses is just a headache waiting to happen, in Ali’s Rare Incense Powder it is a delectable treat. Anyway for further impressions on this blend, it might be worth digging for previous reviews as there’s never been a batch of this that didn’t impress and I’ve never felt the quality to waver in any way.

And as it’s the beginning of the year, it is also Kyphi time and the 2016 vintage is as good as you could possibly expect. In fact I think I would need a time machine back to ancient Egypt to find a market kyphi that’s better than this one. The problem on my end is as these vintages improve with every year I’m running out of superlatives to describe it (sifting back through previous Kyphi reviews is also recommended here, I would think all of them still apply). You would need the equivalent of a Wine Spectator expert who could sift through the many subtleties of such a complex incense to really describe this Kyphi, as in many ways it is the fine, aged wine of incense and actually shares the qualities of really good spirits in terms of power and quality. In fact this is an incense where so many ingredients come together and end up merging into one totality where it can be actually difficult to make any differentiation from one ingredient to another. What’s even more impressive is there’s a second blend called Oud Kyphi which is a form of the original with added oud and agarwood before the incense becomes cured. It’s just like when you don’t think the Kyphi could get any more stunning, along comes this upgrade. Surely this could be one of the finest boutique incenses ever devised, it’s certainly not the kind of scent you’d double task to even if you’re able to. It’s a virtual whirlwind of complexity and astonishment, the kind of scent that could only truly be approached by fine poetry.

As I finish this up I also want to mention I’ve really been enjoying the Labdanum resin from Crete. When you think of how many great incenses from Mermade are made from such excellent quality material, it behooves one to occasionally check out some of the material on its own. I’ve tried labdanum before, but some of it can come with some nasty off notes. No worry, there are none of those here, quite to the contrary. So don’t forget to check this out as well as the palo santo wood and some of the many fine frankincenses and copals Mermade carry. There are many treasures to uncover here.

New offerings from Mermade

Smirna” – Styrax Benzoin: This is fun and also a very straight up resin hit. This is very different from Siam Benzoin(which has more vanilla) and this also looks to have a few things mixed in but has a really pleasant scent that works quite nicely for this time of the year. It is a great addition to the frankincense and myrrh.

Oh yes, Katlyn just got in raw Labdanum resin from Crete. This is the best from the best source and is a real treat. Maybe not for the faint of heart, but if you read this blog that probably does not really fit you anyway, makes a wonderful “present to self”.

Kyphi – Isis – 2013: One of the best of Mermades Kyphi blends with all the features and scent notes that make this a constantly  good buy with an added slight amber note floating around in the backround.. Not as “dark” as say, Deep Earth or Mephisto, but still loaded with resin/wood goodness. When I smell this and then contemplate Roman emperors burning something along the lines of thousands of pounds at once I think to myself..maybe we should try it in DC  🙂

Indigo Dreams: This one is somewhat surprising to me in that I rarely go for Lavender based incense. However in this case it really works well with a slight vanilla base note mixed in. This is a very pleasant scent and the relaxation aspect of the mix is an added bonus. Might be a bit hard to get, I have discovered  that someone I introduced Mermaids works too tends to wipe out all the stock of this sort of thing.

Pomander: Resins, woods, spice and a bit of orange make for a great holiday/winter scent. I am always glad when Pomander makes its yearly appearance.

July Top Ten

So really I burn a lot more then just these but ya got ta draw the line somewhere 🙂

Yamadamatsu Kouboku Senshu Sandalwood: This is straight up high-grade sandalwood and not much else. I think it is one of the very best sandalwood scents one can get, assuming, of course, that you are not interested in a sandalwood blend. Japanincense.com sells this, sometimes it comes in a box by itself and sometimes they stock it in a three-way combo pack with an aloeswood as well as a kyara blend. To me the other two are a bit much, but I know many people who would be very happy with them.

Baieido Byakudan (Sandalwood) Kobunboku: Recently got a new box of this and was very happy with it. I think it is one of the best sandalwood “woody blend” style sticks around, along with Shunkohdo’s. They are both relying on the wood and not oils, which makes for a very different experience.

Seijudo Kyara Seiran: All of the three kyara blends from Seijudo are very good and really it probably comes down to which day as to which one I like the most. These are loaded with the scents of kyara, musk and a number of other “secret ingredients” that make for  real show stoppers. I can think of at least three to four times where I have lit one of these for someone and literally watched them lock up in amazement, me being one of them.

Shunkohdo Ranjatai: Shunkohdo tends to make pretty traditional scents, when I light a stick of this I always get a sense of going back to a different era, it is sort of like instant time travel to Old Japan. It is very elegant and at the same time primeval with the scent of the musk wrapped around a very good aloeswood. As an added attraction there are a lot of sticks in the box. This is on many of our Top 10’s with good reason.

Daihatsu Chips or Slices: So if you really want to smell sandalwood and you have some sort of incense heater or even good quality Japanese coals, this is it. It does not get any better that I have found. I like the slices, if for no other reason that they look cool. Shunkohdo also makes these and they are very similar in scent.  Given the increase in sandalwood prices as well as it continuing decline in availability these are a great thing to have and hold onto.

Kunmeido Kyara Tenpyo: This is a beautiful kyara blend that is ultra refined and more or less the top of Kunmeido’s line. The woods really stand out with just a faint hint of the Reiryo Koh scent in the backround. It is very uplifting and refreshing and also makes for an interesting choice for meditation, especially during Summer. Not as expensive as the Seijudo’s and also probably not as much kyara.

Kunlha’s Lotus Pema & Loong Po: One of our readers wrote in about these (thanks IO) and I ordered a bunch recently. So far I have found myself using the Loong Po and Lotus Pema quite a lot. The sticks are much thinner then the standard Tibetan style and there are around 20 per box. They seem to be made without any animal ingredients (not 100% sure about this) but do use what seems to be very good quality materials. They may also be formulated with a more “Western” audience in mind. The Lotus Pema has a very nice clean juniper scent to it and is quite uplifting. The Loong Po has a subtle green herbal scent with a very light but noticeable clean floral/perfume-ish top note riding over the whole thing. This is a pretty unique combination (at least to me) and one that works for my nose. Both of these sticks have enough complexity to keep them interesting although they are lacking in the funk factor.

Mermade Magickal Frankincense: Mermade has a great line up of frankincense’s at the moment, and they are all different smelling. I am particularly fond of the Superior Hougary and the Black Frankincense, their lemon lime and orange smells are truly wonderful . At Christmas we burn frankincense for the 24 hours before Midnight Mass, I really am looking forward to this one.

Fred Soll’s Honey Amber: I do not know of another stick quite like this one. It is a great blend of scents that just work well together with a very deep and almost hypnotic scent quality that does a great job at scenting a room.  Great stuff at a good price.

Baieido Sawayka Kobunboku: I love cinnamon and this has lots. This is really good in the morning when getting up and getting it together enough to make it out the door to work. It also gives an interesting scent to ones clothing and/or hair. I got both this and the Koh at the same time and at this point am not to sure if they are the same thing, I am leaning towards two different mix’s but could be wrong. Maybe David Oller will chime in with some insight 🙂

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.