These reviews were originally shared at Haute Macabre in 2020 but I realized I never posted them on my own blog!
In celebration of The Art of the Occult: A Visual Sourcebook for the Modern Mystic, the aromatic adepts at Black Phoenix Alchemy Lab have summoned forth a rare opulence of fragrances inspired by a handful of these curious images that transcend time and place. The Ars Inspiratio collection is comprised of five artful scents corresponding to five mystical artworks; these pairings serve as anointed access points to all manner of fabulous occult inspiration– perfumed pathways to unknown realms for extraordinary seekers and dreamers and magic-makers.
This is indeed a truly magical collection and one that is so incredibly dear to me–many thanks to our BPAL family for creating them, and I hope that you all love these captivating scents as much as I do! Below you will find individual reviews for each scent, as well as ruminations on how these wondrous works hold me spellbound, why my gaze returns to them again and again. May these perfumes, paintings (and pages!) serve as a portal for you, too.
Altarpiece – No 1 – Group X. Hilma af Klint 1907
(A prism of sacred frankincense refracting a golden amber light into a spectrum of daemonorops draco, King mandarin, golden oud, verdant moss, blue tansy, indigo vegetal musk, and wild plum.)
I was privileged to visit the ‘Hilma af Klint: Paintings for the Future’ exhibit when it was at the Guggenheim in 2019. The scale and scope of some of these visionary works were of such a breathtaking nature that I grew faint and strange; I thought (hoped, even!) I might be experiencing an art attack, a psychosomatic episode, a soupçon of Stendahl Syndrome. What made the afternoon complete was when my boyfriend’s mother wandered into the Mapplethorpe exhibit and was a bit scandalized. not having any familiarity or context before doing so. All kinds of feels on this day!
A brightness as glimpsed through shadow, a keyhole’s view of the sun. Small and still as a single candle’s flame against the immense dark; as vast and total as annihilation’s afterglow. This is a scent that proves to me, more than anything, how much I have to learn about fragrance and perfume, how little I know. I can only speak of this in terms of fractured, fragmented imagery, the slivers and splinters of a dream. “It’s beyond everything,” is a phrase I just read in a (totally unrelated) book, and that’s how I feel about this gorgeously evocative offering: a bright, dry citrus haloed by amber’s translucent sweetness, bound by the spiced warmth of dragon’s blood and fixed in a state of permanent darkness by the heady, heavy imprint of where oud once was.
Circe Invidiosa, John William Waterhouse. 1892
(Salt-spray dotting an azure cove, its waters swirling with noxious poisons and venom drawn from dreadful roots: a cascade of blackcurrant and crystalline blue-green waters infused with theriac accord, bruised henbane accord, white gardenia, pear, cedarwood, emerald mosses, tuberose, and bitter almond.)
The colors in this painting are so lush and beautiful that they defy description. I have always thought that tipping dish of poison, the shade of crushed emeralds and mantis wings, must be the precise color of our heart’s blood when we are in the venomous throes of enraged, envious desire.
Circe Indiviosa captures the scent of exercising one’s powers…one’s divinity…in murky and dangerous and exhilarating ways. It’s such a gorgeous fragrance, mossy and musky with a subtly bitter treacle, and vaguely electric in the way that euphoria resulting from ill-advised behavior makes you feel. Sort of like WHEEEEEEEEE OH SHIT WHOOPS.
The Choirs of Angels, Hildegard von Bingen 1151-1152
(A radiant blend of three frankincense oils, white bergamot, crystallized cistus, lavender, angelica root, and fiery neroli)
I always thought these holy mandalas looked a little bit like saintly Spirographs. Also: can you imagine peeking into the inner sanctum of a superfluity of mysterious nuns and discovering them lounging around, playing with Spirographs and Fashion Plates and LightBrite toys?
This is a lullaby. But not one of those dark Icelandic cradle songs about sleeping black-eyed pigs falling into deep pits of ghosts or the children of the ogress growling in rocky caves. This gentle scent is a blessing, not a warning; a dozy, tranquil cocoon of soft mallow, honied ambrette, and kindly, calming musk, ensconced in a delicate, opalescent radiance, like the promise of the not-too-distant dawn.
The Wish, Theodor Von Holst, 1840
(An incense of candied smoked fruits, Oman frankincense, red oud, labdanum absolute, sheer vanilla, patchouli, red musk seed, osmanthus, and datura)
I’ve always wanted to know what wishes are longed for in the dark-eyed gaze of this intense young woman. Myself, I simply wish to rifle through the box of baubles and jewels in the bottom right of the canvas. Maybe help myself to that pearl-tipped hat-pin.
Rich and decadent but wonderfully absent of drama, like late-night Nigella Lawson b-roll. Watching the dying embers of the midnight hearth from the luxurious comfort of a generations-old leather chair, while shamelessly munching on leftover desserts after the rest of the house has gone to bed. Canelés, deeply caramelized, redolent of vanilla and an herbal liqueur that someone swapped the rum out for because they thought they were being clever…and strangely, it works, it really does.
The Witch/Strega, Angelo Caroselli, 17th Century
(Leatherbound tomes and rose cream, flickering flames of twin ambers, and a cascade of shadows: black oud, teakwood, black beeswax, 13-year aged patchouli, cinnabar, balsam, sweet labdanum, tonka bean, and smoke.)
Look at this witch’s face! You know she’s going to be a cutting-clever one, uttering snarky-sneaky observations that make you both gasp and splutter with repressed laughter about mutuals you can’t stand. I want to be her Facebook friend. She’d be a scream in a Netflix watch party.
Somewhere between angelic and infernal is a mercurial earthiness that tips the scales, either way, depending on where you’re standing. And then: venomous vermillion kisses, a canopic jar of scorpion dust, and the scent of rock reacting to the draw of the moon. That’s just in the first sniff. Later, there are phantom beehives teeming with smoke and shadows and an unforeseen katabasis with a delicious consequence: there’s something decidedly Smutty happening with this scent, but almost as if you are translating the notes of the First Smut from ancient etchings in interconnecting caves far under the earth’s surface, each carved by water seeping through the rock over thousands upon thousands of years. That’s it, then. This witch has journeyed to the underworld and, having discovered the centuries-old grocery list for the Ur-Smut ingredients, delights gleefully in her findings in this vision before us.