Beauties Toilet, Horatio Henry Couldery

It’s been another busy month, and I’m afraid as much as I would have it differently, sniffing things was not at the top of my list of priorities. Still, I did manage to weasel my nose into a thing or two …much like these curious kittens in the fantastic imagery above by my new favorite artist of adorable animals, Horatio Henry Couldery!

Hortus from Possets is, I believe, a seasonal scent–a spring or summer limited edition. It’s a strange, slithery floral with a rich honeyed neroli and what I can only describe as an oily green musk. It’s lush and weird, like an overheated midnight hallucination, a pinch of shimmering nightmare shadow pulsing at the bottom of a glass stoppered botanical elixir.

Patchouli of the Underworld from Electimuss, to my nose, is a fragrance less evocative of the brutish god of the underworld and his nonconsensual bride than it is a summoning of the bitter heartbreak that’s tangled throughout the myth of Orpheus and Eurydice. When I was younger, I was terribly salty on Eurydice’s behalf; all you had to do was not look back, Orpheus! You were so close to having your beloved wife back from the dead! But …no. You did the one thing they specifically tasked you with not doing. You looked. Margaret Atwood wrote in a poem from Eurydice’s point of view, “you could not believe I was more than your echo–” and I think that’s what Patchouli of the Underworld captures so uncannily, the pale grey echo of that very human doubt and disbelief on his part, and the bitter disappointment that she must have felt, and the sorrow experienced by both of them. Now that I’m older, I better understand and certainly have more experience with the crushing gravity of grief, I know that everyone experiences it differently. And grieving people deserve the gift of grace. Orpheus mourns his wife lost twice over, and Eurydice’s sorrow at being drawn back into the darkness of death because of her husband’s momentary lapse of faith must have been immeasurable. That is what this scent captures so well. Forget the brand’s copy about musky sexiness or whatever. That’s not what this is. It’s the lamentations of one whose fleeting hope was stolen away by the person they loved best, and the devastating sense of regret held by the thief. If one were to distill those echoes of melancholy, that antiquity of sadness, and bottle the resulting essence, the results would be an olfactory dirge of smoky mists of pepper and powder and strange inky-leathery nuances, that, over time, becomes a despairing funeral soapy floral.

By Serpentine by Exaltatum opens in a way that feels like a chimeric chypre, full of tentative promise but also a bit weird; it’s a delightfully sour/loamy/ambery chameleon of a fragrance, and I smell something different with every passing moment. The subtle sparkle and sass of pink pepper, a sophisticated bitter citrusy zhuzh of bergamot, the sharp, prickly verdancy of fir, a feathery tickle of violet’s delicate powderiness, and a velvety dreamy balsamic heart of woods and tobacco. It is a little too earthy to call luminous, but it gleams and glows despite its dustier aspects. By Serpentine is an incredibly light and elusive scent, I can’t quite smell it directly on my wrist where I have sprayed it, and yet I smell its halo hovering around me. It’s a thing of beauty, but it is not much for longevity; after half an hour or so, it’s as if waking from an exquisitely poignant dream that I have instantly forgotten the details of.

As I’ve mentioned, I’ve got some problems with the legendary Thracian bard, but I will set them aside for a scent such as Curionoir’s Orpheus Incarnate that is trying to capture a hyper-specific moment in his mythology. An olfactory interpretation of an underwater experience, a feeling of weightlessness and calm, visions of turquoise and mauve, and the irresistible lure of the siren’s song. I can’t fathom how they’ve done this–there is really nothing in this fragrance that reads to me as aquatic or oceanic or even anything watery, and yet, if you’ve ever floated on the tide, in the currents, even in the cool waters of your swimming pool, eyes closed to the glare of the sun or the glow of the moon, the echoing murmurs and gurgles of the world drowned out by the waves enclosing the soft pink shell of your ears–this is a perfume that conjures the slowing breaths and hushed heartbeats of that tranquility. I do pick up on the spiced clove of carnation, the cool, earthy oris, the decadence of the tonka and heliotrope, and the almost cloyingly sweet herbaceousness of licorice, and it’s all beautiful and brilliant chorus together…but I have no idea how that translates into the hypnotic sensory lullaby of a solitary midnight swim.

Over on tiktok I reported the results with regard to a commenter’s rando Amazon order dare. Now first, I want to say I didn’t go into the exercise thoughtlessly, so these picks aren’t totally random because I didn’t want to be wasteful with my money or possibly encourage anyone else to do that. I started with a somewhat random search and then branched out from there with some “customers who liked this, bought X, Y, or Z” type things. I ended up with a few brands I had a passing familiarity with, or else fragrance profiles that I was comfortable with from brands I’d never heard of (and probably never would, outside of a weird amazon search.) The results are actually surprising. Out of five perfumes, there is only one that I dislike, and it’s not even that it’s terrible. It’s just boring. (Which is actually worse than terrible, if you ask me!) Here are my findings!

Le Monde Gourmand Pistachio Brûlée with notes of Milky Mousse, Pistachio crumbs, and vanilla beans smells like Brazilian Bum Bum cream’s sandalwood and salted caramel cut with the peachy iris musk of Glossier’s You.

Oud Swisseri Vanilla Attar I actually did not know this was vanilla when I purchased it, but it doesn’t really matter because there’s no vanilla here. This is mostly Tom Ford Oud Wood, a chilly, peppery, coniferous melange of woods but with an extra side order of smoky bandaids. I don’t hate it.

Marem from Caswell Massey is a fragrance originally created for flamboyant silent film star Alla Nazimova, which I’m sure has been reformulated at some point. It’s a really lovely light rose and currant and citrus scent that darkens to a sort of mossy, ambery rose. The rose remains present as it evolves, but the rose you’re initially given isn’t the rose you end up with.

I was expecting Prince from Luxodor to be pretty awful, but honestly, it kinda blew me away. I think this is marketed as a men’s fragrance, but whatever. I’m fairly certain if you are here listening to me talk about perfumes, you don’t believe scents should be gendered, and neither do I. Anyway, this opens with a warm rush of woods and moss and musk, but somehow there’s a cloud of something that either borders on fruity or gourmand, but it’s enigmatically neither. I love this one. And I also love the bottle, which has got a weird amount of heft for being relatively small, and has a gorgeously intricate design.

The Curious Apothecary The Eccentric $25 says it’s a floral gourmand with vanilla brittle and Norwegian woods, but sadly, this is on par with very bland off-brand plug-in air-freshener, something scented with sugar cookie extract, ozone, and industrial plastic. It’s even texturally unpleasant, as it leaves a weird, greasy film on the skin. Ok, I changed my mind, it’s not just boring, it’s objectively terrible. Weirdly, this one is no longer on Amazon. You can find it here if you really want it, but I can assure you that you do not.

 

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24 Nov
2022

Banquet Still Life by Abraham van Beyeren, 1667

I shared this on my Patreon earlier today, but really, this goes out to anyone who has ever supported any of my endeavors…

A Mouse At The Feast

Friends, I want to take a moment to thank you. Over the years, every time someone urged me to start a Patreon, I couldn’t possibly fathom a. what on earth I’d even be doing with it and b. who in the hell would even care.

But it turns out YOU in the hell would even care! Thank you for supporting my odiferous rants, rambles, and reviews for the past sixth months. I truly feel like this tiny mouse (you can see it next to the peach) spoiled by a feast of love and blessings. Probably not what this 17th-century Dutch painter was envisioning with this moody, opulent conjuration of the dangers of intemperance, the transience of earthly delights, and cautionary reminders of our mortality, but whatever!

Like many of us, now that we’re grown and know better, I feel very weird wishing anyone a “nice” very problematic holiday, so instead, I will send you much love for you and your beloved friends and family during a much-needed day/s off from work. May you have your fill of all the savory sniffs and sweet smells, may no one complain about your fragrance at the dinner table (whatever it is, frankly, it’s fabulous, and your relative can shut their damn pie-hole), or upset you with their stupid politics, and if you’re a ding dong like me who got their Bivalent booster on Thanksgiving eve–well, I hope you’re not feeling too cruddy.

All my smelly love,

-S

 

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Just a little face popping out of another face to let you know that If you had planned on buying a signed copy of The Art of Darkness as a holiday gift for someone, now is a great time to grab a copy …because I will be slipping some secret artsy treats in with each order. These are quite limited, so once they run out, they are gone forever!

I also want to remind you that I do still have signed copies of The Art of the Occult available. That one comes with a bookmark and my undying gratitude!

Both The Art of Darkness and The Art of the Occult can be purchased here!

PLEASE NOTE: The shipping price listed on my site are *only* for people purchasing within the US. If you live outside the US and wish to purchase a signed copy of either book, please do not use the PayPal links on my site. Please email or message me directly. International shipping costs are nearly *three times as much* as the costs listed on my site. Again, those are US shipping costs ONLY.

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Artwork by Daniel Kern

I guess the “sonic equivalent of being seen” is…”being heard.” Maybe that was a dumb idea for a title. I don’t care, I still like it!

In any event, gather closer readers. Allow me to tell you the story of my friend, Maika, thoughtful and kind and beautiful all the way down to their bones– an exceptional human in every way!–who saw that something vital was missing in this world and set about fixing it. Enter: Liminal Flares.

In internet time, Maika and I connected over a million years ago, over, among other things, our mutual love of Twin Peaks, eerie art, and haunting literature.  And over the course of these strange aeons, we’ve discussed many of these chilling tales together in the form of rambles, recommendations, reviews, rants, and everything in between.

The concept and creations for Liminal Flares came to be, Maika shares,  “because the only thing better than reading or listening to haunted and haunting stories, is when those stories don’t make anyone feel invisible or inconsequential because of their gender.”

“I created Liminal Flares because I know how much it would’ve meant to me to find this while growing up as a queer, trans, nonbinary person struggling comprehend themselves amid a relentlessly heteronormative world.

I created Liminal Flares to be found by anyone who needs these haunted and haunting, gender-inclusive tales – be that because we help you feel more seen, valid, and included, or simply because you enjoy otherworldly storytelling that doesn’t exclude anyone based on their gender.

I created Liminal Flares because present day me also needs things like this to exist in this fraught yet wondrous world.”

Accompanied by spectral sounds composed by the incomparable Meredith Yayanos, you can now find three episodes of the Liminal Flares podcast, as well as a wondrously insightful intro, available for listening.

Imagine the darkest bronzed honey, harvested during the penumbral glooms of an eclipse; imagine its velvet voice, dusky and low, crooning eerie twilit tales across the ether, eliciting shivers and tingles and thrills. Now imagine never once feeling that jarring sensation when you’ve been abruptly yanked out of the story thanks to outdated, non-inclusive language! Liminal Flares Otherworldly Gender-Inclusive Story Time extends an invitation to slip through a portal like none other, to utterly lose yourself for a sweet, spooky time, in that eldritch, honeyed darkness.

Maika, you have done something outstanding, and the world needs magic like this more than ever. Brava, my weird, wonderful, glorious spood.

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Gooped Familiar (black musk, golden amber, cedarwood, catnip, and hay absolute with a shock of carnation, clove, and cinnamon bark) I love this scent from BPAL’s Witches, Sorceresses, and Sorceries in Art History collection for several reasons. One, because it is inspired by an element within The Love Potion created by Evelyn de Morgan, an artist whose lush mythical and allegorical paintings were associated with the later Pre-Raphaelite movement. This was an artist who defied the expectations of her class and gender to become one of the most impressive artists of a generation, whose canvases conveyed a profound sense of feminism, and spirituality, as well as rejection of war and material wealth, rendering them quite relevant today. She’s pretty fab and I love her. Two, because I love seeing derpy and weird animals in art. Not exactly in the same vein, as this cat, but I think Jamie Wyeth’s A Very Small Dog is my very favorite. And three, because this scent immediately brought to mind a certain cinematic feline. Giallo fans amongst you may conjure the image before I write another word, but Gooped Familiar is a fragrance that smells like opulence through the filter of fur. A perfume of spicy florals and musky amber that adorns the wrists of a beautiful and beguiling stranger with a heavily fluffed cream-colored Persian cat in their lap. When you bury your face in that fancy feline’s neck later in the evening, you catch the phantom of the perfume through the heat of the animal’s skin and its vibrating purrs.

Lightning Struck a Flock of Witches (a crack of ozone slicing through blue benzoin, indigo musk, tobacco, and opoponax) this is unexpectedly fruity! But not a fresh, juicy harvest; this is more the fruity aspect of tobacco, sticky dried cherries, the intensely golden bronzed honeyed sweetness of dates, and even a bit of dried pineapple. As it wears, there’s a lovely incense of vanilla and hay, a mingled smokiness of a scented broom whose bristles singed when lingering too close to the hearth, a domestic ritual of ashes and small, satisfying work. It’s a scent that makes me think of this thing (but much lighter on the cinnamon.)

Torta Settevelli (alternating layers of chocolate sponge cake, hazelnut Bavarian cream, chocolate mousse, and hazelnut praline crunch, enrobed in a dark chocolate mirror glaze) This is an impossibly creamy, rich dessert of a fragrance brimming with buttery goodness, a decadent paste of toasted oatmeal, ground nuts, and brown sugar nestled beneath a coffee crème bavaroise with mocha sauce– and blended into a thick, cold, vanilla McFlurry.

Abelard (coconut husk and pearwood with frankincense and carnation petals) Fresh…cold…produce? I’m not a farmer, but I just imagine pulling up the last of a harvest before the frost hits. Or maybe harvesting your cold-weather vegetables, your cabbages, and leafy greens and carrots and such. And then you immediately juice them and drink them down with a scant teaspoon of honey. There’s something so fresh and vegetal-sweet about this, with the tiniest bit of ozone-y plasticity as well, like veggies stored in a plastic bin.  Like you carved a disconcertingly jaunty little face into a crooked carrot with a plastic spork.

Heloise (polished limewood, myrrh smoke, and blackened spices) I blame a friend for the immediate association I made when I sniffed this perfume.  On Facebook, the other day, I was asking folks for their favorite persimmon recipes, and Angeliska shared a sort of “salad of the underworld”: persimmons and radicchio and pomegranate seeds and a few other goodies, and they suggested serving it with a lime and ginger dressing. A sweet-tart-bitter and lightly spiced foil for all the unctuous richness at a banquet table for the dead. Erewhon salad bar katabasis.

Abelard and Heloise are intended for layering. When they get together, Heloise is like, “Abe, hush your darn beta carotene,” and Abelard is all, “Weezie, shush your dang chicory,” and combined, they mingle in cozy skin musk, vegetal sweetness.

Bobbing for Daddy (apple, diabolical incense with a splash of bay rum, and a hiss of infernal fougere) Before I reminded myself of the notes, I thought to myself…what is this? Apple and …latex? Apple …and chlorinated water? In this blend, nibbles of autumn apples are blended with BPAL’s Daddy scent, and that’s where the “diabolical incense” and the “infernal fougere” come in, and I don’t know what comprises either of those, and I couldn’t even begin to guess. But whatever latex-esque chlorine mingling vibe I am getting initially, it paves the way for a vibrantly grassy, subtly woody, absolute freshest, most hyper-realistic apple perfume I have ever sniffed. So weird and so very cool.

October 32 (leaves fluttering against a thick wool sweater, the cool amber glow of an autumn sunset, dollops of thick cream swirling in black tea) begins as vegetal and brisk, but not a brisk pace, like you’re huffing and puffing to keep up with your spouse’s long legs on an autumn stroll (it’s not a marathon to Mordor, Yvan, for Pete’s sake slow down!) but rather the weather has turned brisk and crisp overnight, there’s an unexpected chill in the air, and you’re taking a PROPER stroll at a REASONABLE pace, YVAN!  And you’re moved by that familiar olfactory symphony, that annual concert of sniffs,  that gorgeous, romantic decay of fallen leaves on a late October afternoon, and you just look at your person and soften and think, damn, what a wonder it is to spend any moment at all with someone you love. And as your mood softens and hazes, so does this fragrance, like the scent of a comforting candle, something with hints of amber and vanilla bean and sandalwood and cashmere musk, but the flame been lit for an hour or so, and you barely smell it anymore, it’s hovering at the edge of your senses, pleasant and cozy and familiar.

Autumn 1990 (decaying leaves, exhaust fumes, maximum-hold hairspray, and clove cigarettes) It’s a challenge not to experience a perfume like this one through one’s own lens, this “scent of a disaffected deathrock kid skulking around Hollywood with her ne’er-do-well friends…but minus the Boones Farm.” In 1990 I was 14, a freshman in high school, and desperate to shed the bookish, nerdy, teacher’s pet image that had been following me around for as long as I could remember. ..so the first week of school, I snagged myself a heavy-metal boyfriend. I am not sure how this happened, but I suspect it was because I was wearing an Iron Maiden tee shirt and an impossibly short, incredibly tight skirt. This was a case of someone probably being way too cool for me, but not in the actual-cool way that I would have been comfortable with, rather the smoking and drinking and badly-behaved-way that teenagers think is cool. Anyway, I ended up skipping a lot of school, receiving a lot of detention, and getting threatened through a third party that I was going to get beat up by some girl I’d never met because she liked my boyfriend and wanted him for herself, I guess? I never got beat up, so I still don’t know what that was about. Autumn 1990 smells like realizing dozens of times over that I was too bright, too clever, and too interesting for this guy, but then worrying that no one would ever ask me out again, and deciding to be okay with having a boyfriend who people thought was cool but with whom I barely had a single thing in common. Spicy incense smoke and caustic hairspray, and pilfered, musky spritzes of my mother’s nice perfume, embedded in a denim jacket that he wouldn’t let me keep, but that he would sometimes let me wear on rainy November days.

Three People Plucking A Mandrake (a tangle of mandrake root and patchouli root bound by champaca resin)  According to the 1812 Family Herbal written by John Hill, the fresh root of mandrake is a violent medicine, the object of so many strange superstitions, Satan’s apple, and all that sort of thing. I imagine this book was found in the loamy earth surrounding the vestiges of forest temple ruins, fringed with fern and moss, sticky with whispers. Phantom incense, balsamic, honeyed and heady, clings to the pages, is embedded in the nearly illegible inked letters.

The Unreturning (wisps of spectral white musk and ambergris, blackened leather, yew needles, cypress boughs, gnarled patchouli root, and the memory of frankincense smoke)  A cosmic floral inkiness, like the atmospheric glitterings of black salamanders in love, like the glowing lunar movements of shadow people in the mica-flecked dreams of an ancient cave, like a dark song in a holy house at the end of time.

Dead Leaves, Vanilla Bean, Pink Fig, and Brandied Dates This is scent of the Amazoness Quartet, CereCere, PallaPalla, JunJun, and VesVes of the Dead Moon Circus in Sailor Moon Super S, boiled down to their essences and formed in molds into sweet, fruit-jellied, squidgey, flower-shaped candied versions of themselves. I will not be taking any questions at this time.

Lightening Strikes Literature (a lightning storm stirred with beeswax candle smoke, yellowing notebooks, and pools of India ink) oh, I do like this! But I don’t know that I am getting most of the notes. To my nose, it’s the electric peach and ozone-y vanilla that I envision this dream of a dress smells like, with maybe the tiniest, almost indetectable dribble of camphorous ink smeared on the skirts. A note that begins with “Dearest Mother,” and a foggy sense that one has slept too long in the moonlight.

Despondency (pumpkin puree, lavender bud, night-blooming violets, purple sandalwood, and tears) This really does smell like a sad, 20 ft. tall skellington on the day after Halloween.  A sort of morose green note bringing down that lofty sandalwood, the chill breath of lavender extinguishing the warmth of a candle illuminating a week-old jack-o-lantern’s rotting grin.Evocative of that bummer feeling of gloomy liminality, that space between where we started and where we’re going, the bitter business of the banished excitement of the thing that just passed and not knowing what to next look forward to. The feeling of emptiness after sustained contact with the ineffable.

The Necromancer (dusty tomes, russet cashmere, green velvet, and leather, frankincense and cinnamon bark, galangal root and fig, rosewater and lilac cologne) This necromancer is an incredibly learned worker of the dark arts who is very secure in their knowledge and would never be up in someone’s DMs being a “well actually” know-it-all and they’ve got better things to do than troll the comments section with their obnoxious devils advocate scenarios. They’ve got quite a subtle presence, you hardly even know they’re in the room, they’re just minding their own beeswax and working their magic in the background. How do they fragrance their person? It’s a faint perfume of mild, milky fig, and heady lilac–but just the barest dab, on skin softened with sweet almond oil and warmed in cashmere cloaks.

Pomegranate Turkish Delight I was a little afraid of this one at first–pomegranate can be so syrupy! And C.S. Lewis tricked us dreadfully re: our formative notions of Turkish delight!– I needn’t have worried. This is a fresh, exuberant pomegranate seed, unencumbered by the burden of expectation and dread associations. This is a juicy, crisp, bright pomegranate seed with complex floral nuances and the tiniest bit of tart sass, a pomegranate that has actually never experienced anything than pure utter, joy. This is a pomegranate seed living its best life. It’s going to become a wholesome, universally beloved TikTok influencer and get signed for a dozen bankable sponsorships and give an inspiring interview on Oprah. (Is an interview on Oprah the gauge of having made it, nowadays? Maybe it will get invited onto Hot Ones, instead.)

Dead Leaves, Pralines and Sheer Vanilla Initially, this is a fragrance focusing intently on the dead leaf aspect of this combination of notes, that element of sweet autumnal decay and sour, earthy fungi farts that the Lab does so astonishingly well. Then, without warning, that aspect of the fragrance disappears completely and is replaced by a rich, rich, buttery vanilla custard.

X-Rayed Candy Bag (the sugary contents of last night’s Trick-or-Treat bucket blasted with atomic particles at your local hospital, producing a stark image of ghostly treats cast in a greeny-white radioactive glow) This is wild, even though I have applied the same amount of this same scent on each wrist, it smells like in one hand I’m clutching a fruity fistful of tropical Jolly Ranchers and Smarties, and on the other side I’ve got a pocketful of creamy butterscotch Werthers, but I’m smelling them collectively through a luminous white musk, green tea, and honeydew haze.

Witches Kitchen (bourbon tobacco absolute, nagarmotha, vetiver, tomato leaf, gunpowder, yarrow stalks, brimstone, vervain, seared leather, and castoreum accord) I am so curious to know how this sits on other people’s skin, and what sort of smells jump out at them from this kitchen sink jumble of kitchen witchery. It’s not listed in the description, but what I experience immediately and intensely is a minty aspect, cool and camphorous and mentholated. I’m not a huge fan of mint, but this isn’t the unpleasantly spearminty toothpaste variety that makes me gaggy, this is more like a cup of fresh, strong emerald-hued mint tea. I keep looking at the notes, though, and thinking, “where is this even coming from?” Maybe a combination of tomato leaf’s distinctive velvety astringency, vervain’s lemony-grassy aspects, and yarrow’s pineiness? Huh! As it wears, the mint loses its manic fervor and almost becomes a bit sleepy, there’s a warm woody aspect that surfaces, like a worn wooden tabletop where upon aromatic and sweet herbs have been processed and dried, tinctures and elixirs have been portioned out, and all of those oils and essences have worked their way into the grain. At this point, what began as a really energetic “wakey wakey!” perfume now urges you to curl up and take a lovely little nap.

Bobbing for Oblivion (Arkansas black apples with inky musk, wood spice, labdanum, patchouli, dark African woods, and saffron) You arrive at the inn early and await your companions–five strangers who are meeting for the first time, anonymously accepting the intriguingly vague but highly lucrative-sounding adventure guild request. You are served a measure of fresh-pressed apple cider in a rustic wooden goblet. There is a bit of dried patchouli leaf and a thread of saffron floating on the golden surface of the drink. Is this evidence of a hexing or perhaps a culinary oversight? You inquire of the barmaid, who only repeats the same question, “what’ll it be, love?” Huh, that’s weird. Almost as weird as when you noted that you only have one arrow in your quiver, and one health potion in your bag. Almost as if…you have to play at some game to earn more of them. And hey, that’s no barmaid, that’s just a random NPC! Wait a second! Did you get sucked into an RPG again? How does this keep happening to you???

Fleece Skeleton Onesie (freshly-washed fleece skeleton onesie and a little bit of smeared eyeliner) when you realize you’re never going to smell as good as whatever fragrance it was that you wore five months ago and which still faintly clings to the stitches of your coziest cardigan, mingled with whatever uniquely intimate magics your skin oils and musks were making on that particular day, this is that smell.

Shadowed Veil(black pumpkin, leather, pomegranate incense, agarwood, and bourbon patchouli) If one were to pack a picnic for venturing into the shadowy otherworld of the Fae (and one definitely should, because it’s best not to eat any of their tricksy offerings) one might pack a loaf of the humble but gorgeously tasty Icelandic rúgbrauð, a dense, dark rye bread made with golden syrup and soured milk and baked or steamed low and slow. It’s delicious with briny salmon or smoky lamb or even just a dollop of cold, creamy butter, but even–especially!– if you don’t dress it up with a single thing, it still smells absolutely amazing. Rich and hearty and sweet, and really, it kinda smells like Christmas, and you don’t even need to visit fairyland, because this is already some really good magic.  Cancel your plans (yay for canceled plans!) and make some bread instead. Or don’t do any of that, maybe you agreed to all that stuff, but now the vibe is off, and you just want to be a potato for the evening. You can conjure both the fairy ring and the bread by liberally smearing yourself with Shadowed Veil. Protip: slather and suit up in your coziest fleece onesie, skellington or otherwise. Future you five months from now will thank you.

Pomegranate, Patchouli, Moss, & Fir Needle. More an ambient murmur than a sonic scream of a pomegranate, it’s such a subtle red fruit, I can barely tell it’s red, or that it’s a fruit. I smell it faintly on my wrist, in the warmth of my skin, the throb of my pulse. It’s a heart healing itself, stitching itself back together in the small devotions of gentle fairy tales, favorite flowers, and pictures of baby Snoopy. Being kind to yourself when you get sad, and homesick for a home that doesn’t exist anymore. Allowing yourself to weep for someone else’s grief when you read for the 100th time the howling sorrow of Andrea Cohen’s poem “Refusal to Mourn.”

In lieu of
flowers, send
him back.

Letting your heart feel all of it, so much of everything. Breaking it every day. Mending it forever. Hoping and dreaming and loving and doing it again and again and again and waking up in the morning with the sunrise and feeling and smelling that tiny throb at your wrist and knowing that it’s the only way any of this works. What else can we do?

The Black Phoenix Alchemy Lab 2022 Halloween collection is currently live and available for purchase. As this is a limited edition series, sample sizes imps are not available.

Need more ‘Weenies? Have a peep at my ‘Weenie reviews from the autumns of yesteryear, over at Haute Macabre 2021 // 2020 // 2019 // 2018 // 2017 // 2016 

And PSSSST! Did you know I have collected all of my BPAL reviews into one spot? I’m about a year behind with adding new stuff to the document, but as it stands, there are over 60 PAGES of my thoughts and rambles on various limited-edition scents from Black Phoenix Alchemy Lab over the years: BPAL REVIEWS BY S. ELIZABETH (PDF download)

 

If you would like to support this blog, consider buying the author a coffee?

 

 

 

 

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“Takk for at du ser meg.” (“Thank you for seeing me.”) 

After reading the details of Aleksander Nordaas’ new Kickstarter project for his Huldra photography book, it was those words above, that jumped forth from his description of the undertaking, and which burrowed their way into my brain. But I think I am getting ahead of myself.  First, a bit of background.

In 2013 Nordaas released the beguiling film Thale (which I recently found out was pretty much made in his father’s basement!), drawing on Norway’s rich folklore to explore the concept of certain forest spirits, the huldra. A beautiful, tricksy supernatural being–with the tail of a cow, according to Scandinavian myth.  I recall seeing this odd little gem of a film and being absolutely entranced, from beginning to end. I bet a few of you have seen it as well.

It seems Nordaas has been obsessed with the huldra for nearly a lifetime, and recounts hearing stories from his grandmother about these creatures:

And I guess that’s where it started; my belief in the huldra. Some inherit their parents faith and religion – my grandmother made me believe in human-like creatures with tails.

The folklore proved true, he observes: once she gets hold of you, she won’t let go. And five years later, Nordaas created his second huldra project:  Heim (Home.)A short film “about finding home with oneself – the back to basics, remembering who we are, w[h]ere and how we got here. And how to use that (self-)insight to change course.” For the endeavor, he aimed to get ahold of six extras. But ended up with 54!

 

From this interest, the idea of the book was born, the concept for which initially was to create a photography book portraying the folklore creature herself, in all kinds of traditional and modern settings. Nordaas shares that though the old folklore stories and creatures have always fascinated him, it’s the huldra in particular that he’s drawn to – “perhaps because she’s the most complex of them all, being quite similar to us humans. And it was that very human essence that turned this project into something a lot more than just fiction.”

He goes on to explain:

“The human side of the project – making sure everyone were 100% OK with everything before, during and after the shoot – wasn’t just my major priority. It re-shaped the whole project..Body-positivity was and is a core aim of the project; that we’re all of different shapes, sizes, colors and ages. It’s what makes us all unique, it’s the most natural thing in the world – and it’s absolutely ridiculous that it needs to be repeated over and over again.”

After one of the early shoots, Nordaas sent the model some sample pictures and got this in return: “Takk for at du ser meg.” (“Thank you for seeing me.”)

“The Huldra” is the combo of that raw, natural and powerful creature that the huldra is, and all these authentic, badass North Norwegian women portraying her, and themselves – side by side, in flock. All these stories, all these different lives, challenges, sorrows and joys – the lives lost, and the lives brewing. They’re all part of the project for different reasons, ranging from “Why the hell not?” to dealing with the deep-down personal; shattered body images, eating disorders, self-harm and abuse.

Though not in words, all these stories are in here. In the faces, the scars, the tattoos – in what once was, and now is.

We all need to be seen – for who we are, not necessarily were.”

What a glorious sentiment and a gorgeous freaking project. I wish I could figure out out to share the video on my blog here, but instead of saying more and giving the whole thing away, I hope you’ll take a peek at Aleksander’s Kickstarter page and consider backing this stunning book of intimate power, vulnerability, and magic.

The Huldra – 97 women, in all shapes, sizes and ages – with tails. A very different XXL folklore photo book – five years in the making.

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Today there is an interview with me up at the very excellent blog, A Universe in Words! I thoroughly enjoyed answering these engaging and thought-provoking questions and I do hope that you will give it a read.

Juliane has previously reviewed both The Art of Darkness and The Art of the Occult, and it was a real pleasure to share a bit about the process that went into these writings and the curation of the art included in the books, as well as having the opportunity to articulate why I even want to write about–or look at!–these things in the first place!

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This writing originally appeared on the Haute Macabre blog on September 24, 2015.

The mysterious image above is one you are no doubt familiar with, thanks to countless Pinterest pins and Tumblr reblogs, and image-favoriting sites. I, myself, originally saw it on LiveJournal, approximately a million years ago when someone was using it as their user icon.

Are you aware of the identity of this glamorous enigma? I was not, for the longest time. Thanks to the sorcery of reverse image search functionality, however, the answer is easily found:

Virginia Oldoini, Countess of Castiglione, better known as “La Castiglione”, was a 19-century Italian aristocrat dedicated to a cult of personal beauty, and just as narcissistic and self-absorbed as a Kardashian or a Kayne. The Countess was known for her vanity, her eccentricism, and her flamboyant entrances in elaborate dress at the imperial court, and among the aesthetes of fin-de-siècle Paris, her life was the subject of admiring and almost obsessive curiosity. She was described as having long, wavy blonde hair, a delicate oval face, and eyes that changed color from green to an extraordinary blue-violet. Her own third personal assessment reads thusly: “The Eternal Father did not know what he was creating the day he sent her into the world.”

A humble woman, indeed!

Egomaniacal celebutante jokes and comparisons aside, however, it is undeniable that she was a woman with a singular vision (Ok, so it was of herself) and who was well ahead of her time in terms of owning it and executing it.

In 1856, The Countess began sitting for Mayer and Pierson, photographers favored by the imperial court. Over the next four decades, she directed Pierre-Louis Pierson to help her produce 700 different photographs in which she re-created the signature moments of her life for the camera. “These days it is not considered pathological for people to acquire hundreds of photographs of themselves in a lifetime. But in the middle of the 19th century you really, really had to try.” notes Sara Boxer in a New York Times article from 2000.

This “goddess of self-love” fluctuated between two states of mind – queen and melancholy recluse; she had herself photographed as a frowning nun, as Medea with a knife, the tragic heroine Beatrix, Judith entering the tent of Holofernes, a drowned virgin, Lady Macbeth sleepwalking, a courtesan flaunting her legs, Anne Boleyn, Goya’s “Maja”, a nurse to her dying dog and as a corpse in a coffin.

The 50 photographs that make up “La Divine Comtesse: Photographs of the Countess de Castiglione”, an exhibition in the Howard Gilman Gallery at the Metropolitan Museum of Art organized by Pierre Apraxine in 2000, are, as one reviewer notes, “… not lovely. They are bizarre.” And to watch the countess evolve from self-obsessed coquette to morbid mourner, to follow “her restless preening from youth to the brink of the grave”, is mesmerizing.

 

Virginia spent her remaining years in an apartment in the Place Vendôme, where she had the rooms fitted out in funeral black, blinds drawn, mirrors banished – presumably so as not to be confronted with her advancing age and loss of beauty. In the 1890s she began a brief collaboration with Pierson again, though her later photographs clearly show her “loss of any critical judgment”, possibly due to her growing mental instability. She wished to set up an exhibit of her photographs at the Exposition Universelle (1900), though this was never to happen. On November 28, 1899, she died at age sixty-two, and was buried at the Père Lachaise Cemetery in Paris.

And because I am nutty and can’t write about someone without wanting to dress them up myself (or even play dress up AS them), here are two interpretations of some somewhat modern-day Countess of Castiglione ensembles!

 

 

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Sapincense Figoudative from Woudacieux is, I will freely admit, a perfume I bought solely for the creepy-ass naked winged homunculus fairytale bottle. I did not read a single review, although I have since learned that opinions are divisive. I believe the fragrance is built around elements of oud and fig and spruce, and while I do initially smell something like the crisp, wintry evergreen woody crush of coniferous needles and bittersweet balsamic resins, it conjures for me visions of the oddly aquatic as well. Not like a sunny day on a tropical shore with waves crashing and sand in your hair, though–more like the deep sea twilight zone of the ocean floor, where not a glimmer of sunlight reaches an impossible Atlantean arboretum. Pale trees crusted with coral and kelp and blue algae, home to spider crabs and angler fish, and whose limbs rustle strangely in the currents, whispering maritime murmurs heard only by dreamers and poets. I am not sure what people hate about this scent, other than there are definitely no figs. Maybe they were so sweet and cold and delicious that they were stolen straight from the icebox by one of those poets before they even made it into the perfume.

Liis Studied is a super pretty, vaguely-but-not-obnoxiously gross fruity-floral, amber-esque cozy skin scent, in a similar vein as Glossier’s You and Diptique’s Fleur de Peau. But with its delicately syrupy pear note, I do think it sets itself apart from the other two. It is *almost* a little too sugary at first, and I think that maybe gives it a “bless your big ol’ heart, you sure tried” vibe, but then you sit with her a while and you find out she’s not as dumb or spacey as she looks; she’s just sweet and sensitive and maybe feels everything too much but what’s the point of feeling, otherwise?? And that sappy-bordering-on-cloying sweetness belies a gorgeously warm graceful heart. Do you remember the electric-blue-haired Stormer from the Misfits in the Jem and the Holograms cartoon? I wholeheartedly believe this fragrance is the embodiment of Stormer’s personality.

I have never before purchased something so swiftly as I did when I saw Gurjun Balsam on Scenttrunk’s Instagram account the other day. The caption waxed poetic of the betwix and between of twilight rituals I was just like SAY NO MORE. I just knew that it was going to be something really special, I was sure of it. And it is. With notes of black frankincense and cedar, tonka and balsam, carrot seed and amber musk, you already know it’s going to smell like a witch’s birthday cake glazed with goth tears. It’s running away to bake spiced, honeyed witchly loaves in a wildly enchanted cottage in the middle of a mystic midnight forest, never to be seen again. And I know I’m comparing this to baked goods, but it’s not a gourmand, I don’t mean to imply the a dense crumb, a yeasty rise, or a an airy sponge. It’s sweetness in the form of those rich, sticky resins, bewitching to the point of sinister but you know, that all depends on intent, and the hands of the one crafting the spell, the circles with which you surround yourself in its conjurations. Good witch or bad witch, or PSL decorative gourd season basic bitch, this is absolutely the one scent you have to have this autumn.

Malìa from Nobile 1942 is another one of those fragrances that I saw someone on Instagram mention and I was like yep, gotta have that. Malìa is a twisted and tragic sorcery of sour citrus and bitter woody green herbs, lush, velvet, exquisitely corrupt florals, and a bright, rosy psychedelic pink peppercorn that borders on utterly unhinged. This is a perfume that feels like a subversive folktale told in shrieking ballads via an experimental rock opera.

This is a thing I bought based on someone having recommended it on TikTok a fair number of times. And it was really inexpensive, so the fact that it’s both cheap and wonderful makes it especially nice, I think. Anyway, I am a huge believer and proponent of giving credit where credit is due, so a hat tip and a thank you to LC of nearlynoseblind for every time she mentioned Kumba Made’s Persian Garden fragrance oil. This is a really gentle, intimate scent, and when I say intimate I just mean it feels like a little secret, just between you and yourself and the soft skin on the inside of your wrist, and it’s no one else’s business. Imagine a vial of Egyptian Musk diluted in a bottle of Johnson & Johnson’s baby shampoo. That’s it. That’s the scent. It is perfectly lovely, and I cannot get enough of it.

LUSH Cardamon Coffee is less a rich steaming beverage than it is a thickly sugared, jellied candy. Almost like a gumdrop, but more substantial, something that you might have to slice out of a pan with a hot, damp knife. Imagine a confection comprised of sticky dates and palm sugar syrup, infused with the warm gingery pineyness of green cardamom pods, roasted coffee beans with notes of cinnamon note, a pinch of saffron, a scant teaspoon of cloves, and a sprinkle of rosewater. Spread thickly on an aromatic olive wood cutting board, shower with an abundance of equal parts smoky muscovado sugar and smooth, earthy Dutched cocoa powder, and slice into tiny nibbles. Except I guess this is actually a fragrance. You can’t eat this.

 

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Well, here we are. Day 31 of 31 days of horror. The entirety of this last day has nearly passed and I keep forgetting to write about my final movie. It’s almost like my subconscious won’t even allow it. Is this possibly because I absolutely hate the movie in question? Oh, well, there is no doubt about that.

I’m not even going to use the official movie poster for the featured image today. I’m going with Jamie Lee’s tired scowl because ME TOO, JAMIE LEE. ME TOO. I have tried to watch David Gordon Green’s Halloween Kills three times since it was initially released last year. On first viewing, I paid full price for it. About 15 minutes in, I thought, “fuck this, I’M OUT.” On the second watch, half a year later, I managed an extra five minutes. Last night I finished it.

This movie is terrible in every single way, and watching it until the end did not actually feel like a triumph. It felt more like a FUCK THIS THING IN PARTICULAR.

It almost feels pointless to have even opened up a draft and start typing in it because this is a garbagey pile of crap, and it’s not getting an actual review from me. It doesn’t deserve it!

Ugh with the “evil dies tonight” baloney. It won’t! It didn’t! And it probably won’t tomorrow, either. Regardless, I am done.

(Also, why did that lady in the crazed mob need an iron? Was she going to get the wrinkles out of Michael Myer’s jumpsuit? And why was the entire state of Illinois chasing that escaped mental patient through the hospital? Nope. Nope. Gotta stop this. These questions don’t need answers. This was a dumb and hateful film and I really am done!)

But I can’t end it on such a sour note, so instead, I will share my top five watches from this past month:

1. The Black Phone
2. The Feast
3. The Eyes of Laura Mars
4. Crystal Eyes
5. Incantation

And finally, a reminder for you that there are just a few hours left for this Halloween Instagram giveaway of one signed copy of The Art of Darkness AND a print of Alex Eckman-Lawn’s spectacular cover art! Please note, this frame is not included (it’s too big, anyway!) So… seriously, it’s your last chance! Don’t tell me tomorrow that you didn’t hear about it! Enter to win while you still can!

And if you want to hear a creepy little snippet from its pages, head on over to TikTok today!

Happy Halloween, friends! Feel free to comment with your favorite spooky films (or spooky stuff in general) that you’ve experienced this October and I will meet you here next year to do it all over again!

But I mean also I will be here writing about this, that, and the other thing in the interim, so I’m sure we will see each other soon.

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