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Pallas Athena

I've always admired the Greek Goddess Pallas Athena, since I first read about her as a young child in the Argonautica. Her wisdom, strength and poise impressed upon me that women can also be heroes. She always appears in warrior regalia: helmet and a spear. Her other symbols are the owl, the snake and she is often depicted with a symbol of the snake-haired Gorgon Medusa's head, either held in her hands, or placed upon her sash or shield. Pallas Athena is the one who have sent Perseus to bring Medusa's her to her, with full instructions on how to do so without turning into stone, which is the fate of anyone who gazes upon her terrible face. 

If one looks deeper into the mythology, it is told that Medusa is who she is (meaning: so terrifying that whomever gazes upon her becomes frozen or dead-like) because of a curse Pallas Athena herself cast on her, after Poseidon have raped Medusa in Pallas Athena's temple. So Pallas Athena is not only a warrior but also associated with rage and revenge. 

At the same time this makes one wonder “on which side” was Pallas Athena? Was she siding with the Patriarchal rapist god, or the woman who was raped? Was she commemorating her rage in response to the rape, and giving her the means to protect herself? Or was she enraged that a woman would allow such a thing to happen in the holy temple to the Goddess? Or is the temple actually symbolic of the woman's body - her personal intimate temple? I have a few reasons to believe this is all of the above. Medusa has become a part of Pallas Athena, either because she represents her more innocent side that was betrayed and raped; or because she was Pallas Athena's victim. And victims and their perpetrators are forever connected in an embrace that is at the same time a curse, and at the same time the key to their respective healing and redemption. 

Is Pallas Athena in a sense is a very Patriarchal female-goddess, a female goddess who is trying to navigate through the new realms of Patriarchy, using masculine tools such as weapons and revenge? Or is she giving women the tools to redeem their frozen, traumatized selves and transform them into powerful magical beings such as Pegasus (the winged-horse that was born out of Medusa after she was beheaded)?

The story echoes an ancient story: The Descend of Innana to the Underworld, a Sumerian myth that is the most ancient written myth we ever found, written in cuneiform on clay slates some 6,000 years ago. In this myth we can peek into the Sacred Feminine and its power before it was tainted with fear, hatred and oppression. Inanna was the Goddess of Fertility and War, just like Pallas Athena reconciles within her Wisdom and War. Some say that Venus or Aphrodite was Innana's later form, being the tame goddess of love, beauty and fertility. But I think that Innana held within her all Sacred Feminine -  Pallas Athena and Aphrodite. She was both powerful, just and wise, as well as sensual, sexual and seductive. She is portrayed in that ancient myth as the master of her own self, body, soul, mind, spirit. She has conquered the world on all of its layers - the heavenly and spiritual (the sky or heaven), the earthy and sensual (earth), and lastly the underworld which is the shadow aspect of the world, the unseen, and hidden, the ugly. She is no frozen Medusa when she chooses on her own terms  to bring her own death upon her, because a lifeless body and yet she has a plan and she is able to come back to life, buy her way out of the underworld and even seek revenge at those too weak to support her sacred journey. Innana exemplifies a deity that is both dark and light, sensuous and clever, enjoys her body, smart and cunning, and can face her own death and conceive her own rebirth and redemption. She shows us how to be authentic and connected to our entire being on all its levels: light and dark, shadow and self, passive and active, spiritual and earthy and even beyond and underneath this world. And to me this is what I peel away when I look at the myths of Pallas Athena as well. 

In her own way, Pallas Athena integrates Medusa, her frozen and frightened self, her lower existence in the shadows, by wearing her as a brooch or perhaps even a trophy on her regalia. But this integration is symbolic and not internalized. Medusa is seen as an enemy; while Innana's descend into the underworld is considered her greatest achievement, after which her lower self and higher self become one and whole; and her decaying carcass, her shadow is embraced and returned back to life and back into the land of the living, to continue leading a life, making mistakes and continuing to learn and evolve. Pallas Athena, without knowing, is forever frozen just as much as her trophy, for not embracing her fully. For not allowing her weaker aspects the space they need to be felt and there for to heal and become whole. 

Palas Atena perfume is one of my first creations (2001) and is an Oriental-Spicy perfume with champaca flowers, lavender, neroli and cinnamon over a base of amber, patchouli and sandalwood. It brings me a bit of synenthetic response, seeing the colours of crimson and gold which I imagine the goddess to be wearing. I hope wearing this will enable you to reconcile all those aspects of yourself. When I wear it I feel powerful and smart and sensual. I hope it will do the same to you, and maybe even other things that I can't even imagine.

The image is of Pallas Athena Attic red-figure kylix painting from c. 480-470 BC showing Athena observing as the Colchian dragon disgorges the hero Jason.

 

 

Four Copals Incense

Four Copals Incense Cones Drying
I'm getting deeper into the world of incense again, which is like coming a full circle (for those who don't know me, my perfume path began with incense). I enjoy the earthiness of this occupation, taking into consideration other aspects that are not relevant to the ethereal perfume making, such as shape, colour, texture of all the materials and how they need to be processed by hand. And also I'm a bit of a self-confessed incense addict when it comes to burning good incense. It's a great way to start the day with and clear all the cooking smells after breakfast. It helps me to concentrate when I want to practice Pilates or meditation. And it changes the atmosphere in the room within a few moments, sometimes also making people who are terribly chatty and obnoxious swoon and start to really listen to what's around them. This is especially pertinent to large groups that sometimes visit my studio.

It's much trickier than making perfume, so I am progressing very slowly. And find it a challenge on all fronts - first of all there is the challenge of designing the fragrance to smell good in all stages, including after the burn (aiming for that wonderful afterglow you find in a room long after an incense has been lit in). This is affected by many other factors besides the actual materials, including the shape of the incense. And this is where I'm still struggling majorly.
Four Copals Incense Making (Dough stage)
I've been trying to form incense sticks and almost every time I make a batch specifically for that shape it ends up impossible to make them properly (these fuzzy sticks in the pic below are not what I'm after!).
Untitled
So again, I resorted to making cones. These are lovely looking albeit labour intensive to shape by hand. What I like about them is that they stand on their own and don't scatter ashes all over the place. They can be placed on any heat-proof surface and will hold their shape after combustion. What I like less about them is how fast they burn and how much smoke they make. Because their circumference of ember keeps growing, they only intensify in smoke as they progress down the cone.
Four Copals Incense Testing
The result of these Four Copals incense cones is almost as perfect as I wished them to be. Their base is a combination of sandalwood and trailing arborvitae, the latter was added as a last resort because the mixture was far too soft and moist. I wish I added something more neutral - I have a feeling this creates extra smoke. But I was worried about making it sandalwood-dominant. It has a pinch of Palo Santo, and other than the sandalwood, it is very heavy on the copal: four types were used and ground by hand in a marble mortar and pestle: Mayan Copal, Gold Copal, Black Copal and White Copal. They are now available for purchase (very small amount was made, but I will happily make more if you like!).

Sunset Beach Reviewed by EauMG

Sunset Beach

Thank you to Victoria Jent's glowing review of Sunset Beach on her excellent fragrance and beauty blog, EauMG:
"Sunset Beach wears like a powder of finely milled precious woods with a subtle coconut milk-like sweetness and vanilla custard-like ylang-ylang. The dry-down really does remind me of sun-bleached driftwood and warm, sun-kissed skin. It’s creamy with a sweaty bitterness from woods like sandalwood and massoia (…) Warm, milky woods. It’s a summery, beachy fragrance that isn’t “tanning oil”. Yay!"

New Perfume: Sunset Beach

Summer 2012

Sunset Beach is a little piece of heaven tucked away in the midst of boat-bustling False Creek and busy bridges that cross over it. Sunset Beach is that happy place where time stops and the only things that matter are the tides, the currents, and basking in the gentle evening sun. You can spend the day there or just bring a hectic workday to a serene close with a beachside walk or a leisurely picnic.

Fragrant Harlequin glorybower and Robinia embellish its borders, and in midsummer you'll find musky wild blackberries and hot-pink everlasting peas along the shoreline. And if you're particularly lucky - you'll find yourself swimming alongside a playful harbour seal!

Sunset Beach can be anywhere... Mine just happened to be in Vancouver. I invite you to uncork a bottle of this daydream and experience a truly creamy sandalwood perfume complemented by handcrafted tinctures of pandan leaf and milky oolong tea, coconut, massoia bark and dreamy champaca.

Sunset Beach is the second perfume in "Perfume for a Place" series, dedicated to Ayala's favourite places in Vancouver.


Top Notes: Pandan Leaf, Milky Oolong Tea Tincture, Cedarwood
Heart notes: Champaca, Coffee, Nutmeg, Ylang Ylang, Orris Butter
Base notes: Indian Sandalwood, Hawaii Sandalwood, Chocolate, Coconut, Massoia Bark

Fragrance Families: Woody, Floriental

Available in: Eau de Parfum only, in the following sizes: 1mL sample ($18), 4mL mini ($48), 5mL roll-on ($69) and 15mL splash/spray ($120).

Making Incense Cones

Sandalwood Incense Cones and Sweetgrass

This winter I've returned to my humble beginnings as an incense maker. Here are some photos from the meticulous production process of making Indian-style incense cones. I made them in two luxurious yet simple "flavours": Sandalwood and Agarwood.

I'm still experimenting with other ideas of more complex formulations, but for now I'm just wowed by what a simple incense (read: one note) smells like. With these two woods, that's really all you need...

Incense Dust
The most frustrating part of incense making is grinding. Bonus effect: if using an  effective heavy-duty electric grinder, the fine powder will go up your nostrils every time you check on the progress. Major sneezing fits may ensue. Or just an unregulated high from botanical substances. This one had tobacco leaves in it (grown for medicinal/ceremonial purposes). My nose did not agree with it and I had to put up with watery eyes and itchy nose that afternoon.

Incense Trail
Indented incense trail, with the trial mix sprinkled inside it.

Incense Trail
The true test - incense trail. If this burns through to the other end, we're off to a good start. If it also smells wonderful - we're good to go!
Incense Making
Now that the blend has been perfected, and confirmed to both burn through and smell good, it's time to add water. It will form a clay-like putty. It can't be too try, nor too moist. Gotta be just right...

Incense "clay"
To make the incense cones uniform in size, I've rolled them into a snake and cut into little gnocchi-shaped sections. Each is rolled by hand to form a cone, and left to dry.

Incense Selfie
Incense maker's selfie of sorts... The incense is now ready to pack away - and burn!
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