Wednesday, October 31, 2018

Samhain: The Fire at Tlachtga

Happy Samhain dear readers. Now that I live in an area where the four seasons are prominent, I find it easier to experience the depth of each turn of the great wheel. Here is an excerpt from Tlachtga: Celtic Fire Festival by John Gilroy that tells the history of the evening, enjoy.

"The Festival of Samhain marked the end of the Celtic year and the beginning of the new one and as such can be seen to the equivalent of New Year's Eve. We have seen how the Celts believed that night preceded day and so the festivities took place on the Eve of Samhain. There is no doubt that that this festival was the most important of the four Celtic Festivals. Samhain was a crucial time of year, loaded with symbolic significance for the pre-Christian Irish. The celebrations at Tlachtga may have had their origins in a fertility rite on the hill but it gathered to itself a corpus of other beliefs which crystallised at the great Fire Festival.

The perceptible, and apparent, decline in the strength of the sun at this time of year was a source of anxiety for early man and the lighting of the Winter Fires here symbolised man’s attempt to assist the sun on its journey across the skies. Fire is the earthly counterpart of the sun and is a powerful and appropriate symbol to express man’s helplessness in the face of the overwhelming sense of the decay of nature as the winter sets in.

Now the sun has descended into the realm of the underworld, the forces of the underworld were in the ascendency. The lord of the underworld, unfettered from the control of the sun, now walked the earth and with him travelled all those other creatures from the abode of the dead. Ghosts, fairies and a host of other non-descript creatures went with him. The Lord of the Dead in Celtic mythology can be identified as Donn.

Mythology tells us that when the invaders of Ireland known as the Milesians landed at the Boyne, they made their way to Tara. Once there, they were advised by the Druids that they should return to their ships and sail off the shore to the length of nine waves. When they were on the sea a great storm arose which scattered their fleet. The commander of one of the ships was Donn. His ship was broken to pieces in the storm and he himself drowned along with twenty four of his comrades. He was buried on the Skellig Islands off the coast of Kerry.

He is the first of the new wave of invaders to meet his death in Ireland and, as such, he became elevated to the status of god of the dead. The place of his burial became known as Tech Donn - The house of Donn, and soon became identified with the otherworld. The Celts were fascinated with tracing their ancestry back as far as they could and often they identified their earliest ancestors with the gods of their peoples. Hence, a belief arose that when they died they went to the house of their ancestor, the god of the otherworld.

It is interesting to note that the abode of Donn, on the Skellig Islands, is just a few miles from the traditional home of Mog Ruith at Valentia Island. As well as being geographical neighbours, both are closely associated with Samhain, when it can be said that Mog Ruith as sun god sojourns at the realm of the underworld, the abode of Donn.

Donn is seen as a retiring god who prefers the isolation of the bleak Skelligs and remains aloof from the other gods. His name means "brown" and he is associated with the shadowy realm of the dead. O'hOgain tells us that a ninth century text attributes a highly significant quotation to him "To me, to my house, you shall come after your death.”

Many other sources say that the dead assemble at his house and describe deceased people travelling to and from here. Fishermen in the area were wont to hear strange boats passing to the island at night and the names of those who disembarked were called out. Later Christian writers claimed that the souls of the damned lingered at his house before departing for hell. Not surprisingly, aspects of his personage have been adapted by Christian writers in their portrayal of the devil.

Samhain being the feast of the dead can now be clearly seen as incorporating the cult of Donn into its celebrations but how they did so remains uncertain. The Fires were in all likelihood lit in honour of the sun god - here manifesting as Mog Ruith, but certain other of the trappings are clearly associated with the Lord of the Dead. The idea that Samhain is a juncture between the two halves of the year saw it acquiring the unique status of being suspended in time - it did not belong to the old year not the new. It could be said that time stood still on this night and the implications of this were immense. During this night the natural order of life was thrown into chaos and the earthly world of the living became hopelessly entangled with the world of the dead. But the world of the dead was itself a complicated place, peopled not only by the spirits of the departed, but also with a host of gods, fairies and other creatures of uncertain nature.

The unwary traveller, caught away from home on this night, could expect to encounter any one or many of these creatures and it was always advisable to stay indoors. Ghosts were everywhere and may or may not have been harmful to the living. It is interesting to note that the manuscripts tells us that all fires in the country must be extinguished on this night and could only be relit from the great flames from Tlachtga. This, of course, is not to taken literally but symbolised the brief and temporary ascendency of the powers of darkness at this time of year.

During this period all the world was in darkness and the dead were abroad. When the fire at Tlachtga was lit, it gave the signal that all was well and all other fires could now be relit. The fires at Tlachtga were the public celebration of the victory of light, while the relighting of the household fire marked the domestic celebration of the feast. Now the spirits of dead ancestors could be welcomed back into the home with safety and posed no threat to the household. This theme is repeated constantly in Irish literature. MacCollugh tells us that the cult of the dead culminated at the family health. Very often the spirits of ancestors sought warmth around the fireside on this night. Fires were left lighting in the grate to warm the spirits and food was left out for them. Even though the ancestral ghosts were benign, it was still a good idea to avoid them by going to bed early.

However, the ghosts may not have been entirely benign. They needed some sort of appeasement in the form of ritual offerings on this night. So long as the offering was forthcoming the ghosts were happy and benevolent, but if the offering was withheld another side of the ghosts features were presented. Bad luck would descend on the household and all would not be well the coming year. Some vestiges of this tradition may survived in the modern Halloween custom of "trick or treat". Children, dressed as ghosts and witches, invite the household to make a donation or face the consequences. The 'treat' may represent the ritual offering while the 'trick', nowadays a harmless prank, may have in antiquity, represented the malevolent consequences of inadequately appeasing the ancestral ghost on this night.

But it was not just time that was dislocated at Samhain. Just as the festival stands on the boundary between Summer and Winter, all other boundaries were in danger at this time. The boundaries between a man’s land and his neighbours were a dangerous place to be on this night. Ghosts were to be found along these points and a style between adjacent land was a place of particular dread and best avoided. Bridges and crossroads were also likely places to encounter ghosts. Naturally enough, burial places were avoided on all nights but particularly on this night. Every sort of a ghost was to be seen here and the dead mingled freely with the living.

The practice of divination - telling the future, was an important part of everyday life for the Celts and it is certain that this art formed a central part of the festivities occurred at Tlachtga at Samhain. Vestiges of this can be seen today at Halloween are familiar with the practice of going to the church at midnight on Halloween and standing in the porch. The courageous observer will see the spirits of those who will die in the coming year if he watches closely, but runs the risk of meeting himself. Similarity, girls watching in a mirror on this night will see the image of the man they will marry but also run the risk of seeing the devil.

Those brave enough to go to a graveyard at midnight and walk three times around the graves will be offered a glimpse the future but again run the risk of meeting the devil. This latter example is interesting as it preserves the three time sunwise turn so important to the Celts in the ritual. The possibility of meeting the devil may represent the well-known Christian attempt to associate the pagan god of the dead with the devil of Christian belief. This being the case, Donn the Lord of the Dead, left his island home on this night and travelled freely throughout the country. Whether he carried off souls is unclear, but it is likely that he did. The ritual offerings on the Winter Fires may have been an attempt to appease him until, such time in history, he was replaced on the arrival of Christianity by the devil.

The early Irish manuscripts are littered with references to the magical significance of Samhain. It marked the end of the fighting and hunting season for the warrior troupe known as the Fianna. At Samhain they retreated into winter camp, quartering themselves on the general population until the return of Summer at Beltainne. Fionn MacCumhail chose Samhain as the time to present himself before the court at Tara for the first time, while it was also at Samhain that the god Lugh made his dramatic entrance to the same court. The Connaught queen, Meave, waited until Samhain before setting out on the great Cattle Raid of Cooley.

Fionn MacCumhail, Lugh and Cuchulainn - Maeve's opponent, are the three great figures of Irish mythology and it is interesting to note how Samhain is the time chosen by the writers to introduce their arrival on the scene. The Battle of Mag Tuired (supposedly in County Mayo) was fought at Samhain. It seems that when the early writers wish to impart a magical quality to the events they are depicting, they choose the Festival of Samhain for the occasion. There remains little doubt that Samhain held a central place in the imagination of the Celts, where the festivities associated with several local gods became entangled, over the course of perhaps a thousand years, with the feast of the god of the dead. Remnants of these celebrations have come down to us in our own celebrations of Halloween."

Friday, October 26, 2018


I did it, and feeling extremely proud and grateful, a true to flower gardenia extraction! This elixir is like no other I have ever smelled, from the Tiara of Tahiti to Columbia. The extract is so pure and true, nothing compares but the white floral soul of Gardenia herself.

Since the extraction also produced a lovely fragrant alcohol I will likely combine the two into a pure plant solifleur, or expand on it to produce a more complex fragrance. #StayTuned

Want to smell it? I invite you to come to my lab in Santa Fe, and experience the rare and true beauty of authentic botanical perfume. Want to learn how I did it, come study with me, begin by signing up for the online class and then we can chat about attending the retreat in November where I will show the students the entire process.

Wednesday, October 24, 2018

Full Moon Illumination

Wafting illuminated blessings as we sail through this full M❍❍N in Taurus. Inhale deeply and connect with your feminine and sensuality. This very yummy, fixed, Earth sign has an affinity with the planet Venus, vibrating in harmony and the realm of beauty.

While chatting with a student of the Art of Botanical Perfume last night about the upcoming retreat, she mentioned how perfume is very much about beauty, pleasure and romance.

As a Taurus rising I feel an affinity with the sensual and thus weaved a solid dose of BEAUTY I into all aspects of the course experience.

If you’ve been waiting for the perfect time to learn how to make plant perfume from an artistic and authentic point of view, this is the perfect course for you! Plus, you might be eligible to come do the retreat here in beautiful Santa Fe.

Wednesday, October 10, 2018

The Essential Oils & Aromatherapy Summit

I just completed the pre-recorded call with David Crow, a long time teacher, friend and mentor who invited me as a guest in The Essential Oils & Aromatherapy Summit. My session title is: Through the Looking Glass: Botanical Perfume for Shifting Consciousness. David guided the conversation so beautifully, as we delved into a variety of aspects related to creating perfumes from essential oils such as alchemy, plant totems, correspondences, individual artistry, formulating and more!

Free Online Event
The Essential Oils & Aromatherapy Summit
with Botanical Medicine Expert David Crow
October 23-26, 2018

This first-ever gathering of today’s top distillers, botanical medicine experts, acupuncturists, doctors, educators, clinicians, scientific researchers — including Rosita Arvigo, Kurt Schnaubelt, Arjun Das, Acharya Shunya, Nyssa Hanger, Eric Scott, Jessie Hawkins, Florian Birkmayer, Kelly Ablard, Cha Roberts, Michael Scholes, Kailash Dixit, and others — will be hosted by botanical medicine expert, David Crow.

I’m honored to join 25+ of my esteemed colleagues to share with you insights, practices, and teachings for experiencing the profound benefits of essential oils for your health, wellbeing, longevity, and spiritual transformation.

I hope you’ll join me for this special online gathering presented by The Shift Network.

RSVP here for The Essential Oils & Aromatherapy Summit — at no charge

During this inspiring 4-day summit, you’ll discover:

  • How to use essential oils easily and effectively for healing and vitality
  • A holistic understanding of essential oils and aromatherapy
  • Key Ayurveda aromatherapy essential and base oils
  • Confidence in creating essential oil blends from scratch
  • How to use oils with specific applications for integration & healing
  • The use of essential oils & the power of sacred aromas to unblock the channels of intuition
  • And much more!

Plus, you’ll quickly see that working with essential oils and aromatherapy can complement any existing practice and help you achieve greater fulfillment and success in life — for you and (if you’re a health care professional) your clients.

Here’s what just a few of the speakers from this incredible lineup will be sharing with you:

Rosita Arvigo will explain how to use common aromatic plants like basil, marigold, and rosemary to relieve emotional disturbances such as fright, grief, and fear.

Kurt Schnaubelt will reveal why essential oils are effective remedies to fight bacteria, yeasts, and viruses.

Arjun Das will explore ways use essential oils to promote a vibrational protection for yourself when caring for your clients… so you don’t absorb their energy.

Acharya Shunya will highlight how aromatherapy has been used in Ayurvedic medicine for thousands of years.

Nyssa Hanger and Sylla Sheppard-Hanger will reveal grassroots data they collected, clearly showing that there are injuries and adverse effects occurring from improper use of essential oils… and they’ll share key points for helping prevent future damage.

Jessie Hawkins will discuss pediatric toxicology, aromatherapy, and how to safely use essential oils to heal your little ones (even the 4-legged, furry types!)

Eric Scott (one of my faves!) will share insights on artisan essential oil distillation and the value of domestic and regional distillation.

Florian Birkmayer will introduce ways you can connect with the wisdom of  aromatic plants to transform life’s obstacles into opportunities.

I had the opportunity to meet David in Los Angeles during the mid nineties when he inspired by his reverence for the plants, knowledge of ancient medicine and razor sharp focus. He has such a vast understanding of nature from the poetic to the scientific, which has helped his empire build Floracopeia. What a tremendous honor and opportunity, I'm truly humbled. Please check out the upcoming summit, as so many of my friends and colleagues are adding their wisdom to the collective. 

Opening photo of David from the Floracopeia instagram feed, most likely taken by his lovely wife Sara Crow, other photos Roxana Villa from NAHA conferences in Utah and Bastyr in Seattle.

Allegory of the Four Elements

At the new perfumery in Santa Fe, New Mexico I recreated the sprawling boards I had in Agoura onto two boards, one vertical and one horizontal.

The arrival of my new glass distillation unit that I brought down from Kymia Arts in Taos had me moving things around in the lab which resulted in the reconfiguration of images on the horizontal board. One of my treasures, the promo for artist Mark Ryden's 2007 The Tree Show, had to be moved when a small type case and Greg's antique clock ended up blocking the piece.

While carefully removing the pins from the piece I became curious of how he using using the alchemical symbolism. The painting is titled Allegory of the Four Elements. In the piece you see four young girls sitting at what appears to be a tea party on top of a tree stump, under an oak. Each girl has a different colored dress with one of the alchemical elements on the front as well as a related animal totem on top of their heads. What unites them are those large soulful eyes that Mark paints so well.

Some of the symbols are rather easy to interpret, although I have not discerned the story Mark is telling. The girls are drinking mercury, associated with spirit/the mind, why did he choose mercury? Is it because there are references to Mercury, also called Hermes, being the vital force, the hermaphrodite that is both masculine and feminine as well as neither—the great trickster?

I thought the three babies in the nest represented the three elements that compose the prima materia: mercury, salt and soul but then upon further observation with a magnifying glass, I saw that on their chests are the letters C, P and M. After some speculation I realized that they stood for cardinal, fixed and mutable, the modalities of the zodiac, also called quadruplicities.

While searching for information about the painting I came across a quote from Mark in reference to The Tree Show that I thought you, my dear readers, would appreciate:

“The show is about our relationship with nature,” Ryden explains over lunch. “There are many different parts to it, but you know, some people look at these massive trees and feel a sort of spiritual awe looking at them, and then other people just want to cut them up and sell them. It’s amazing how people can look with such different screens. Some see a tree as a commodity, an inanimate material to use for themselves, or even worse like it’s some kind of heroic thing to cut down this tree that’s taken 2,000, 3,000 years to grow. Like in the vintage photos of these lumberjacks, when they line up — it’s just mind-boggling how they do that. And it’s mind-boggling that it’s still going on today.”

Wednesday, October 3, 2018

Word Rant Wednesday: Alchemy

While attending a lecture about honey bees in February 2016, the presenter Benjamin Pixie, mentioned an "alchemist" that lived in Taos. The equation of the words alchemist + Taos sparked my curiosity immediately. The word "alchemist” currently is an amorphous term with a myriad of definitions, which gets thrown about abundantly, without much gravitas.

At the time, Greg and I were contemplating moving from Los Angeles to another state, New Mexico was on my radar, specifically Santa Fe. The idea of moving to a beautiful location in a mountainous area that had a local alchemist combined with the proximity to our friends Cathy and Florian was extremely appealing.

Next step was to find out why the presenter was referring to this fellow in Taos as an alchemist, was he for real?  In our modern day, the term alchemy or alchemist usually relates to a transformative process with a product, especially if the process involves plants or gold. For example there are visual artists, psychotherapists, musicians, chefs and aromatherapists who use the term, often with another word acting as an adjective, like visual alchemist. Even I have used the term, first to describe my illustration work and most recently in reference to perfume.

After returning home from the very informative and fun lecture by Benjamin, I googled this alchemist named Avery Hopkins. To my surprise and further curiosity, he seemed closer to the real deal than anyone I had ever met or heard of. Thus, I became more committed to moving to New Mexico and meeting this Avery dude.

In November, 2017, after several attempts, our schedules aligned and we met for lunch at Clafoutis, a french bakery here in Santa Fe. I wasn't sure what to expect, from the photos and instagram feed he seemed like a very focused and intense fellow, besides being young and handsome. Sure enough, all those descriptives can be used to describe Avery, as well as charismatic, visionary, intellectual and compassionate individual—equating to a very magnetic person.

I remember quite clearly when he walked into the room at Clafoutis, he seemed part god, as if he were the manifestation of Mercury himself, the conductor between the mortal and immortal realms. Although it all happened within seconds, I wondered if everyone in the crowded cafe was aware that a semi god had just arrived. He had the same energetic dynamism and beauty that I noticed with Tom Ford, it's an extremely arresting, mesmerizing quality that includes beauty, charm and a heightened electrical charge. No one if the restaurant seemed to notice, thus I assume it was just me.

As I attentively listened to him speak of alchemy, his journey and processes, it became quite clear this was the real deal and I wanted to learn from him! I wondered if my intellectual capacity was at a level to truly understand, so much of the language he used was full with the scientific jargon that usually was way over my very artistic, poetic head.

Eventually we closed the place down and I left in a spellbound state. Since then I have had the extreme fortune to spend more time with him and ever so slowly begin to understand what he calls operative alchemy. This is where we transition "from 'interested looker' into full-fledged alchemical practitioner"1 we begin to fully absorb the various realms of alchemy by observing the internal and external dynamics within and without.

"Ancient alchemists used laboratory practices to not only heal the body and the mind but to solicit conscious evolution and render a mortal to be immortal at its highest tier of mastery."2

As with learning any new skill set or language, allowing material to gently to work its way in derives the best results. We move from base matter to a more refined understanding and then go through the process again and again, like the cycle of the Phoenix, the ouroborus, in a constant loop.

I learned the term alchemy to mean "transformation", the art of transmutation, referring to consciousness or a substance from a base form to an enlightened state. This definition appealed to me because it covered both the psychological (internally) and scientific (externally) aspects of the word. Avery, after years of research, has come to define alchemy as the understanding of how consciousness relates to matter, a map by which all experiences are generated and transformed.

Listen to an interview with Avery on the Pete Evans podcast at I-tunes and/or Spotify, Learn more about Avery and his business by heading over to the Kymia Arts website.

1-2 Avery Hopkins, Kymia Arts website
Images: Photo of Kymia Arts lab, Mercury oil painting by Adolf Hirémy-Hirschl, 1898. Galería Belvedere, Vienna.

Monday, September 10, 2018


After my last blog post rant about the mañana quality of Santa Fe, I am thrilled to share that the chandeliers and bookshelves went up last Tuesday—Hallelujah!

Since then Greg and I have been classifying all the books, first by putting them into different subject or genre piles followed by another layer of organizing once we determined where they would be placed on the shelf.

Yesterday's new moon in Virgo makes it a very auspicious time for details, especially if you, like me, are a detail-ist! Sometimes I feel like I can spend hours, days, weeks on all the teeny, tiny elements that go into creating beauty and harmony.

The new space is divided into three parts, like in Agoura, although much larger. The bottom level contains the boutique area and the school, which is where the shelves for the books are.

My lab/studio is up the stairs in a large loft type space where my three white tables are as well as a couch, a new rectangular worktable in the center of the space and a sink, yes a sink!! I've never had a sink in my studio before, this makes the cleaning up of lab equipment, mixing bowls, etc. quite easy. Once the space is more organized with fewer packing boxes I'll share photos that show more of the macro and less micro. Although, I tend to focus and photograph more of the micro, as you know.

Although we sold and gave away many of our books before leaving Los Angeles, we still have quite a large library, perfect for staring a school! Although I did not order enough shelves (ugh!) thus one more item to attend to while continuing to do the juggle dance of getting the new space in order.

A formal opening will take place on October 20th, from 2pm - 7pm in conjunction with an event happening at Lena Street Lofts, where the perfumery/school is located.