Myths & perfume : the power of fragrances

The myths of perfume, between aphrodisiac powers, healing virtues and sacred

Since its appearance in antiquity, legends and other myths about perfume have been commonplace. Fragrances have always fascinated and intrigued… So much so that they have sometimes been attributed mystical or even magical powers! Communication with the divine, love potion or other witchcraft, discover the power of scents. 

Divine myths and sacred perfume

Before falling into profane use, perfume has for a long time been used in a sacred sense. From the time of ancient Egypt, a strong link between the divine and fragrance was established. In the temples, the priests prepared the ointments and other fragrant oils. Each religious ceremony was accompanied by fumigations or perfumed pommade. It is said that the smoke that rises facilitates communication with the Gods to invoke them but also to transmit prayers. Perfume is also used in the mummification process: embalmed and perfumed bodies reach eternal life.

In Greece, the belief is that aromatic plants come from the deities. The great events of daily life were punctuated by odors, in the form of fumigations or anointings. Perfume had a purifying power and, as in Egypt, it was an important element in funeral rites. The bodies were wrapped in a shroud previously impregnated with fragrant plants such as lilies or violets, symbol of purity and eternity. From Antiquity, the priests officiating in the temples became the first perfumers. Experts in the making of pastes or scented oils, they generally kept their formulas secret, away from simple “mortals”.

In the East, this divine connection is also true. Perfume is an integral part of the Koran where it is written that paradise is impregnated with a multitude of odors and that women would be made of “the purest musk”. Islamic rites also use fragrances in various forms, including the burning of incense.

Healing and protection: perfume as a shield

Perfume has accompanied the development of the religions of different civilizations. It has therefore initially had a very strong sacred meaning. But as soon as the trade of fragrances and raw materials was democratized and its use was accessible to the people, perfume gradually lost this divine aspect. In the Middle Ages, the use of perfume is more related to pharmacy and medicine. Fragrances were even attributed almost miraculous powers! The Eau de la Reine de Hongrie, would have allowed the monarch to find a new youth… And to be proposed in marriage by a young king, at the top of his 75 years!

The hygienic and therapeutic virtues of perfumed products were developed during the Renaissance. At the time, we thought that bacteria entered through the pores of the skin. By rubbing the skin with balms or aromatic plants, the epidermis was made permeable to all ills. While great epidemics are raging, the richest compete in creativity to make barrier to microbes. They spray themselves, rub their clothes, their wigs and even the cushions of their houses with perfumed substances to fight against bad smells, synonymous with diseases. And to be sure that the protection works, they do not hesitate to chew, drink or ingest in many ways decoctions based on fragrant plants.

Myths and perfume: a love story

Beyond the healing power of fragrances, they have almost always played an important role in the love relationship, both physically and spiritually! If love potions are more related to witchcraft than to perfumery, some ingredients have long been praised for their aphrodisiac virtues. It is said that Cleopatra took baths with saffron leaves as a prelude to her romantic encounters. The ingredients of animal origin will also be widely used to seduce the nose and spice up the love interludes. Musk, ambergris, civet or castoreum will be used in abundance from the Renaissance, and their powers will be praised by all apothecaries of the time.

Today, the magical powers of perfume seem far from our more Cartesian lives. However, it remains a strong ally in our daily lives. It will charm the sense of smell of the loved one, will allow to escape the time of a few drops, or to remember moments of happiness, like a real olfactory madeleine of Proust…

Between seduction, divinity and healing, did you know the myths of perfume?

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