Thursday, May 2, 2019

A Perfumed Bestiary, Letter A for Axolotl, Part 1

The Perfumed Bestiary series begins with a rather bizarre looking amphibian called an Axolotl (pronounced ACK-suh-LAH-tuhl) from the highland lakes of Mexico City. The lidless eyes and fuzzy external gills around its wide head give this beastie an anime quality. Also called a Mexican walking fish, Axolotls are members of the tiger salamander species, native to Lake Xochimilco. Our little salamander has been listed as critically endangered in their natural habitat due to the growing population in Mexico City, resulting in urban sprawl and pollution of the Lake.

Axolotls (Ambystoma mexicanum) differ from other salamanders in that they live permanently in water. In the wild they are a mottled brown color, where as the captive specimens are albino, giving them that pop art look that I mentioned earlier in this post. No wonder they referred to as "ludicrous  fish" by the early European who first encountered them.

The mythical salamander from alchemical texts and illuminated manuscripts, such as The Ashmole  Bestiary, portrays the creature having a special relationship with fire and often illustrated in the middle of flames. Ancient writings cite the salamander as a product of fire who both consumes fire and is able to put out fire. This mythology stems from the the word "Sam andaran" translates as fire within in Persian. In our modern day where we can examine sources with more scrutiny it is easy to see that the ancients spun a story around the salamander that is more consistent with the lizard, a reptile, than the salamander. We humans love a good story, and sometimes forget to discern truth, becoming ignorant, confused or blindsided by the person telling the story.

It's time we set the record straight on both mythical and endangered creatures. This project intends to do so by tuning each of us into one beastie per month. As we each become more aware of the other beings we share this planet then in our own small way we can contribute to a solution.

The Axolotl does contain one superpower, its ability to regenerate a limb or other body parts within a short period of time. So you see, although this months beastie has had some challenges in its natural habitat, its ability to heal has had humans studying it for years, resulting in fast numbers of them surviving well in large and small aquariums all over the world.

Learn more about Axolotls at


The Axolotl is an elemental of fresh water, unlike other salamanders, they live permanently in water. Despite their being listed on the endangered list they are surviving not only in the wild with the help of humans but also in aquariums throughout the world. Thus the Axolotl teaches us to be survivors, he is telling us that change is inevitable and the ability to adapt and grow a new limb if necessary is a strength. Embrace change, keep going, renew and evolve.

Although the Axolotl contains both lungs and gills it is a water elemental. Water represents fluidity, the psyche, emotions, the feminine, shadows, dreams, intuition and the moon.

As above, so below, as within, so without. For the next month, journey inward with Axolotl, discover the areas that you need to rejuvenate, those that are ready to be let go and evolve your self into a more enlightened form, then go outside your comfort zone and face new territories, perhaps those that you have avoided in the past.

Crystals associated with attributes of the Axolotl

  • Lepidolite
  • Elestials
  • Aquamarine
  • Amber Calcite
  • Sodalite
  • Abalone
  • Rhodonite
  • Hematite
  • Angelite
  • Chlorite in Quartz
  • Alexandrite
  • Chrysoprase

Credit to a few of the images:
Illuminated A, reconstructed by Roxana, An axolotl photographed at Detroit Zoo in Michigan by Joel Sartore, National Geographic Photo Ark Salamander (the device of Francis I), woodcut perhaps by Christopher Plantin, from Devises Heroïques by Claude Paradin, 1557 (Image from Glasgow University)Salamander, Emblem X from Musaeum Hermeticum, 1679 (Image from Wikimedia Commons.)

The Book of Barely Imagined Beings, A 21st Century Bestiary by Caspar Henderson
Animal Totem by Susan Jolley

Monday, April 22, 2019


Last year when the lilacs began their flowering season here in Santa Fe, I wasn't quite ready for them since the bulk of the necessary lab equipment and supplies were still sitting in a POD out in Albuquerque.

This year however, I am not only prepared with my lovely new space, equipment, tools, etc., but I have been monitoring several bushes around town and I also have a tribe of friends on the look out for me as well.

Although I have not yet worked with this beauty, which I believe is the Syringa vulgaris, I've been hearing many natural perfumers on the East coast rave about their results with capturing her fragrance via the enfleurage process.

Having been monitoring a few shrubs in the area, (photo above) I knew that the bloom cycle was about to happen at any moment. Thus, I headed to the local thrift store for glass pyrex and prepared them over the weekend. Then today, I received a text from a friend who drives a FedEx truck in the neighborhood alerting me to a spot where I could find some flowering.

By observing the flower heads I can see that its a bit early in the cycle, but I decided to pick a few bunches anyway since I'm studying and getting to know her a bit. In fact, this evening I will be sleeping with a small bouquet next to me, perhaps int he dreamtime she will impart a message or two.

Below are two photos of the first enfleurage bed with fresh lilacs, it looks like I'm baking a lilac pie, doesn't it? I'll be posting more about this process in the student forum for Art of Botanical Perfume online course.

Photos ©RoxanaVilla

A Perfumed Bestiary

Introducing a new series of fragrances that stitch together many of my favorite theme such as illuminated manuscripts, the cabinet of curiosity, magic, mythology, the environment, nature, animals, etc. And what better time to debut a project of this grandeur about our fellow inhabitants of this lovely blue planet than today Earth Day, April 22, 2019!

A Perfumed Bestiary: An Artful, Modern Day Grimoire

Beginning with the letter "A" we will begin our fragrant journey into the realm of the imagined, and as with Caspar Henderson's 21st Century Bestiary, "barely imagined" beings. From the fantastical to the almost extinct, together we will traverse mystical legends along with some other furry, feathery and scaly inhabitants of our blue planet.

Each month a new plant fragrance will be sent to participants, the perfume will only be available to subscribers and will be announced via our newsletter. The fragrance will be offered as a solid perfume for the month it is debuted. If the perfume is worthy of inclusion in our line then it will be added down the road.

If you have any beasts/animals that you would like to see included in the series please send us a note and we will most definitely consider the request.

Choose Your Subscription

Each month you will receive one refill tin of solid perfume inspired by a specific imagined or barely imagined being from the animal kingdom. The tin fits into a mini compact or locket necklace.

The first fragrance will be shipped in May 2019.

The Her Story of this Project

I've been contemplating offering a monthly membership with my perfume line since 2012. Although I thought it was a great idea, the timing didn't work out. Then two things happened, I watched Amazon series the ABC Murders' with John Malkovich followed by a walk in the Sangre de Christos Mountains.

As I was walking up a path a seedling of a concept began to take form, when suddenly I was beckoned by a Walkingstick Cholla (Cylindropuntia imbricata) cactus who chimed in with some inspiration. Interestingly enough, it's the Junipers and Pinon trees I usually connect with, but that day is was the Cholla. Through a series of images provided by the cactus the idea of a monthly perfume membership series beginning with the letter A in reference to a plant like Artemisia came through.

Then, like the segmenting joints of the Chollas, the alphabetical idea took on a new shape when I read an article titled The Extremely Real Science Behind the Basilisk's Lethal Gaze. I thought to myself what about an alphabetical series that combined a letter for a plant and an imaginary animal like a Basilisk!! Now I was excited, this sounded much more interesting given that I have a love affair with Medieval Illuminated Manuscripts such as the Ashmole Bestiary at the infamous Bodleian Library at Oxford.

However, I must say, after reading some of the text of ancient Bestiaries I am rather appalled at their observations, but you be the judge, here is the text that went with a honey bee image:

"Bees are the smallest of birds. They are born from the bodies of oxen, or from the decaying flesh of slaughtered calves; worms form in the flesh and then turn into bees. Bees live in community, choose the most noble among them as king, have wars, and make honey. Their laws are based on custom, but the king does not enforce the law; rather the lawbreakers punish themselves by stinging themselves to death. Bees are afraid of smoke and are excited by noise. Each has its own duty: guarding the food supply, watching for rain, collecting dew to make honey, and making wax from flowers."

Medieval illuminations, like the one above from the Aberdeen Bestiary, contained a moral to go along with the illustration, such as this one about the Perindens Tree.

"The doves are the faithful Christians, who are safe from the devil as long as they remain in the church. Christ is the right side of the tree, the holy spirit the left side. The devil is afraid of the church and will not come near, but the Christian who leaves the church should beware." 
The Aberdeen Bestiary has a slightly different interpretation: "Take the tree as God, the shadow as his son... Take the fruit to be the wisdom of God, that is, the Holy Spirit." The rest of the allegory is basically the same as usual.
Truly archaic!

‘Animals were the first thing that human beings drew. Not plants. Not landscapes. Not even themselves. But animals.’ - David Attenborough

Getting back to the evolution of A Perfumed Bestiary and how it finally that the idea had taken on the form of an A-Z Fantastical Bestiary of sorts I went looking on our bookshelf for the Book of Imaginary Beings by Jorge Luis Borges. In 1957 the first edition of the book was published under the title Manual de Zoología Fantástica. Ten years later, the title changed and the content was updated, at the time I was five years old. Although Borges and I are from Buenos Aires, Argentina, I wouldn't be introduced to his work for many years later. 

Regrettably I could not find it on our shelf, I did however have loads of books on illuminated manuscripts, cabinet of curiosities from the 16th & 17th centuries and cabinet of wonders. My next step was venturing to the downtown library here in Santa Fe to see what else I could find. To my delight, I came home with a stack of inspiration, and here I am, sharing this story with you. What makes my version of a Bestiary "Modern" is that I will be focusing on animals that are "barely imagined", meaning they are slowly becoming extinct due to the blunders of humans.

The word “Illuminated” in my brand is a reference to illuminated manuscripts as well as illuminating the way of plant perfume and facilitating higher consciousness. As many of you have witnessed at shows such as the San Francisco Artisan Fragrance Salon in 2012 and my brick and mortar spaces, there is an old world, Cabinet of Wonders meets apothecary vibe.

This new series reflects those aesthetics and virtues of the plant Queendom along with shedding some light on the extraordinary and fantastical. Sign up now to be part of this inspirational new series.

Sunday, April 21, 2019

The Goddess Eostre

A very happy and splendid day to each of you. Spring is a trickster having many different days where she officially begins, whether we call it the Spring Equinox, Eostre or Easter or we don't name the yearly occurrence and instead observe a shift in the weather, plants or behaviors of animals, such as the ground hog.

Whatever name we choose for the Season, we welcome her with open arms as we transition from a cold dreary winter to a landscape filled with vivid colors, scent of flowers and birdsong. The transformation takes place on both an exterior and interior level as we defrost and emerge from a dark cocoon of reflection. Renewed by a period of deep reflection, we birth ourselves anew to the brightness and warmth of the extended sunlight.

"Eostre is generally said to be an Anglo-Saxon Goddess associated with the renewal of life: Spring (season), fertility and the hare (for its quick and numerous reproduction). Eostre has been made to be a "goddess of Dawn" by modern writers, improvising on the theme of Eos; there is no sanction for this aspect in any historical document or ancient tradition. Though it has been said that she was sometimes depicted with a hares head, no authentic animal-headed deities appear in Germanic or Celtic cult objects. And, perhaps for good reason, there is no Celtic depiction of an Eostre whatsoever. Most likely the name of the Spring Goddess was lost and the name "Eastre" was substituted in the transcriptions of the 8th century. Other names given to her include Ostare, Ostara, Ostern, Estre, Eostre, Eoster, Eostra, Eostur, Eastra, Eastur, Austron, and Ausos."
- edited from Wikipedia

I tend to like to explore words and associated mythologies that humans have chosen to attribute to different days, festivals, etc. Any of you who are regular readers of this journal or my work have most likely already sensed my exploratory nature in those realms. And, again, you may have already noticed, I have an affinity with the roots of things and more ancestral & pagan traditions when humans lived in harmony with nature.

A re-occurring theme that author Leonard Schlain writes about in his book The Alphabet and the Goddess is the patriarchal trend on usurping a female deity with a masculine one. For example the attributes of the ancient Goddess Eostra have clearly influenced traditions, such as Christianity who adopted the Springtime symbols to denote the Easter Resurrection of Christ.

Symbols, the Pink Moon and the Tree Ogham of Willow

Attributes associated with this Eostre, Spring, and Easter are:

Colors: White, green, pastels
Symbols: Rabbit, egg
Suitable offerings: hard-boiled eggs, honey cakes, first fruits of the season
Associated Planet: Moon

Along with Eostre we had a glorious full moon a few nights prior in the astrological sign of Libra, called The Pink Moon. The name is in reference to the herb moss pink, or wild ground phlox, which is one of the earliest widespread flowers of the spring season.

Beginning April 15th we entered the Tree Ogham phase of the Willow, botanical family is the Salix. According to the modern neopagan Ogham calendar, it is the fifth month of the cycle falling between April 15th through May 12th. The Willow, termed Saille in this system of Tree Lore, is associated with flexibility and patience with an emphasis on femininity.

Like me, you may find yourself interested in ceremony and ritual, if so then I suggest venturing off to find a grove of Willow in your area and ask for a wish to be granted. We begin this little ritual by tuning into the imprint and hive mind of the willow spirit and the individual tree, asking for permission and sharing your desire.

If permission is granted, select a pliable shoot and tie a loose knot in it while holding the desired outcome in your mind and heart. When your wish has been granted, return to the site and untie the knot while remaining in a state of gratitude and love. In some traditions a gift is left for the Willow, such as tobacco. I suggest asking the willow what gift it would like from the start, as I have noticed the trees are more interested in an intentional gift like LOVE rather than a physical endowment.

Here in New Mexico we have the red willow, Salix laevigata, also called the polished willow, which grows in abundance near sources of water. The plant is currently threatened by invasives such as Tamarisk trees, which are equally thirsty and difficult to eradicate. The ancestral roots of this tree are related to basket weaving by the native people. In Santa Fe we find a plethora of red willows in Dale Ball Trails in Upper Canyon. The photo below is in Fall when the red willows turn red.

"The Tiwa (or Tano) are a linguistic group of Pueblo American Indians who speak the Tiwa language and share the Pueblo culture. Tiwa (also known as Tano) is one of five Tanoan languages spoken by the Pueblo people of New Mexico. The name Taos is derived from the Tiwa word for “place of red willows.” The red willow is a variety known for its reddish or purple twigs and bark rich in tannin. It is also known as the basket willow, having pliable twigs used in basketry and furniture."

SPRING "Illuminated" Perfumes

Floral perfumes are the most aligned with the energetics of Eostre, Spring, and Easter but fragrances in the green family also work nicely. From our illuminated line I suggest either Vera (fresh, herbal, fougere), Hedera helix (Deep, rich forest green) or one of the many fresher florals such as Lyra, Fleurish and Aurora, find them all in their varied formats as well as sample sets here.


Of all the different symbols associated with Spring, the one that has me most inspired today is the egg. The origins of the word Easter are found in the ancient Saxon Lunar Goddess known as Eostre and Norse Goddess Ostara. In both these traditions, as well as those of the Greeks and Egyptians we find the symbolic use of the egg and a theory of the Cosmic Egg as the source of all creation.

In contemplating the symbol of  the “egg” as a popular thematic image in our modern Spring rituals and archetypes there is the world egg in Vedic mythology related to an egg shaped Universe, but most interesting to me is the Upanishads where the universe divides into two halves, which alludes to the duality principal in Alchemy as well as the Ouroboros, symbolizing the unity of all things through the eternal process of change.

In August of 2003 when Greg and I attended the Visionary Art workshop titled Old Masters, New Visions in Austria, I learned a deeper meaning to the symbolism of the egg, specifically in reference to the Mishe technique where we use the whole egg for this painting procedure that has its roots with the Flemish brother painters Jan and Hubert van Eyck.

By utilizing a whole egg in combination with a specific layering of different colored glazes light is able to pass through the painting to produce a glass like appearance, resulting in fantastical depth to a two dimensional painted image. Go to a museum which has a Van Eyck painting in their collection and you will experience what I am typing about. Assuming of course, that the painting is the original, and not a reproduction.

Opening photograph: Mia from Alice of the WonderLand, Dale Ball Trail, Hedera helix collage and Eggs in Next photos ©RoxanaVilla, The Orphic Egg on parchment, original by Jacob Bryant, 1774
References: Desert Wild Flower
Copy ©RoxanaVilla

Monday, March 4, 2019

The Sacred Use of Fragrance in Ancient Egypt

On Venus Day, March 8th, John Steele will share his vast knowledge on the spiritual use of fragrance in Pharonic Egypt, this is a very special interactive presentation.

During this era of antiquity, perfume was a magical medium of communication between humans and the gods. Nefertum, god of perfumes and the soul of plants, will be introduced along with his divine parents Ptah and Sekhmet.

Together, our consciousness will expand as we learn the use of fragrance in Pharaonic Egypt through a censorial experience of imagery & aromatic materials assembled over 35 years of research.

Nefertum's iconic flower was the Blue Water Lily symbolizing perfect beauty, rejuvenation and eternal life. For fifteen hundred years, the Blue Water Lily was an archetypal image in creation mythologies, temple art, jewelry designs and contemplative gardens.

Through this beautifully illustrated journey we will also consider the olfactory mysteries of smell in the human nose and its architectural counterpart in the temple of Luxor. For twelve years the Egyptian scholar Schaller de Lubicz analyzed the temple design and inscriptions.

Johns original presentation on The Sacred Use of Fragrance in Ancient Egypt was at the "Psychology of Perfumery Conference" in 1990 at the University of Warwick in England. It is a work-progress through the years to which he is always adding new research from Egyptologists, botanists, and perfume historians.

This is sure to be an extra-ordinary experience!

Date: March 8, 2019
Time: 11:00am to 2:00pm
Cost: $75
Details: Attendance is limited
Location: Private home in Encino, details provided upon RSVP

Students of the Art of Botanical Perfume live and online course get priority and a special discount code.

John J. Steele is an aromatic consultant, archaeologist, author and thinker. His work, whether with aromas or philosophy, engages questions about the nature of memory, time, consciousness and being. Among other notable thinkers, he has worked with Terence McKenna and Paul Devereux.

While his work is often closely related to the psychology of fragrance, in talks and writings Steele also explores Buddhism, Vedic culture, the great yugas, geomancy and geomantic amnesia, geo-biology, time out of balance, shamanism, the effects of geological formations on human consciousness, cross state retention, and the importance of sacred sites and spaces.

With Paul Devereux and David Kubrin, John Steele is co-author of EARTHMIND: Communicating with the Living World of Gaia (Destiny,1992), a book which explores ways of interfacing with the earth for planetary healing. John Steele also contributed an essay, "Perfumeros and the Sacred Use of Fragrance in Amazonian Shamanism," to the book The Smell Culture Reader, an anthology edited by Jim Drobnick and published by Berg in 2006.

Together with aromatherapy researcher Robert Tisserand, Steele has studied the effects on brain wave patterns when essential oils are inhaled or smelled. They found that calming oils have a sedative, tranquilizing effect and function by altering the brain waves into a rhythm that produces calmness, while stimulating oils work by producing a heightened energy response.[1]

1. ^ Therapies: Aromatherapy

Bowers Museum Press Release (08.27.06) "Sacred Use of Fragrance in Ancient Egypt"

Wednesday, February 6, 2019

Botanical Perfume Classes in March & April

March 2nd & 3rd in Encino, CA
April 6th & 7th in Santa Fe, NM

The Art of Botanical Perfume is a level one class, an introduction to making perfume with plants. In the past this was a one day course that always felt rushed and overwhelming, thus now I set it up over two days that will include these seven categories:

  • 1. What is Perfume?
  • 2. History of Perfume
  • 3. Tools & Raw Materials
  • 4. Fragrance Families & Types
  • 5. Olfactory Awareness
  • 6. Artistry
  • 7. Orchestration
For an more in depth description of the workshop look at the online course, although keep in mind that we are squeezing 70 hours into two days. The Art of Botanical Perfume live or online course is a perquisite for the advanced classes. Seating is limited, grab your spot today.


March 9th & 10th in Encino, CA
April 13th & 14th Santa Fe, NM

This two day workshop is for those who have taken the 
class live or online course

DAY ONE : Chord Building A chord or accord in perfume is a term borrowed from music referring to constructing a synergy of notes that will be added to your perfume to create more complexity. In this day long workshop you will learn the notes and essences associated with eight fragrance families, how they relate to each other and how to make them more complex. These are the eight fragrance families we will focus on:
  • Green
  • Floral
  • Earth
  • Wood
  • Spice
  • Gourmand
  • Citrus
  • Fruit
By the end of the day you will have created a few chords that will be used on Day Two when we construct a perfume within a specific class.

DAY TWO : Perfume Types Perfumes are categorized into categories or types, which are also referred to as classes. This organizational system is based on the overall, universal scent impression. We will learn about these types, the notes that go into their formulation and construct one or more, depending on our time.
  • Chypre
  • Oriental
  • Fougère (meaning fern in French)
  • Floral
  • Green
  • Leather
All supplies & tools are included with the purchase of this class. Please bring a notebook for jotting down your formulas. By the end of the each day you will have gained new insights to add complexity to your botanical perfume formulas and knowledge to continue working with new skill sets.

Seating is limited, thus I recommend enrolling ASAP to grab your seat

Saturday, January 12, 2019

The Art of Chocolate

The new perfumery here in Santa Fe, New Mexico has an ample lab/studio in the upstairs area where I finally have enough space to develop and work on larger scale projects. There is also Green River Pottery, a ceramic studio in the same building where I plan to make related perfume items. A another door down is Iconik Coffee, a landmark bean to cup roaster that make some wickedly good pastries, my personal favorite are the scones.

Although the space is still a bit of a work in progress it's in good enough shape to make perfume, hold classes and begin new projects. One of the items on the long list is bringing back the chocolate series from 2009. The new cacao base has taken a bit of time to re-formulate, but I am happy to share its quite glorious and ready. I'll be listing the plain base on both my site an Etsy shortly, with the Crème de Cacao series following, once I have labels and little cards made up.

Speaking of South America, while seeking out all the 29 essences and 1 chord needed to re-build Terrestre solid perfume, I found this bottle of dragons blood resin. I purchased the sticky red liquid back in 2009 from a tiny tribe, deep in the Amazon forest along the River Pastaza. Regrettably I don’t have all the essences needed for Terrestre, thus the formula will be built with what is on hand while the other necessary extracts are ordered.