Three Perfumes 1912 By Margaret Macdonald Mackintosh

New Valaam from Phronema perfumes is a fragrance inspired by the Alaskan Spruce Island hermitage of New Valaam, named so by holy man and clairvoyant wonderworker Father Herman, a monk who was eventually sainted in 1970. A scent celebrating wildlife and the fertility of nature, it opens with bitter, brittle greenery preserved in a bygone botanist’s notebook: a small curl of fern, fronds fanned into shrunken shadow against the page, crest crumbling into dry dust. But by some manner of perfumer’s alchemy, you can smell where that fern once furled:  the dew dewdrops on wildflowers, lily of the valley and forget me nots, yarrow and aster, the faint, wild musk of a snowshoe hare streaking through lichen. In a strange but not entirely unpleasant twist, the scent dries a bit soapy and sour and yeasty, not entirely unlike wet dog ears. This is such an interesting and unique green scent, and though it’s not something I can see myself wearing, I do think it’s nice to just spray the sample and think about it.

Corfu Kumquat from Aedes de Venustas: In a small Greek village built on the slopes of the island’s highest mountain is a quietly atmospheric little ghost town with only two or three permanent inhabitants. One of them is a kumquat that never fully ripened, too sour and pithy for marmalade and liqueurs, too small and strange to be of much practical use. Perhaps it was overlooked. Perhaps it forged its own little path in life. It’s now the local guide for the village, steering tourists hither and yon along cobblestone roads, sharing historical anecdotes and eerie legends, and finally depositing them at the gift shop once the excursion has concluded. As the crowd disperses, it reaches into its pocket for a cigarette and lights up in the cool shade of an ancient stone cottage, exhaling smoke through its citrus peel pores, whirling and curling in satisfying vaporous salt-air swirls, while catching glimpses of the sun glinting on the sea through the undulating mountains.

So…Poivre Sacre, or Holy Pepper, from Parfums Caron. For some brief backstory as to why I’m sampling this right now, whenever a perfume is mentioned in a book I’m reading, if it’s something I’ve never heard of or that I haven’t tried before, I’m always keen to track it down. I recently read Leigh Bardugo’s Hell Bent, which I was wildly looking forward to after having finally read The Ninth House, and one of the characters was wearing Caron Poivre, described as smelling of “clove, tuberose, amber.” Unfortunately, I think even the reformulation of Poivre is discontinued. So, I got the samples of the next closest things on the Caron site: Poivre Imperial and Poivre Sacre. And here we are. This is a gorgeously dry scent: the bitter, bracing bite of black pepper that somehow runs both cool and hot, leathery, smoky woods that feel like a cross between palo santo and cedar, and hints of grassy, earthy, bittersweet saffron and the tiniest dash of sour, pungent cumin, to keep things interesting. This is a very close-to-the-skin scent that makes me think of candle flames and shadows and secrets, chasing the darkness to its depths, following a temptation –without succumbing– straight to its sinful, sulfurous source, and you, glowing, incandescent, a lit match in hell.

On one hand, I am clearly enjoying my sample of Liis Luciennne— it is all but sniffed through–on the other hand, I can’t really see myself wearing this fragrance. This is not a rose perfume, and yet it’s the most beautiful rose scent I’ve ever experienced. A bright, perfect citrusy midsummer afternoon rose when there’s not a cloud in the sky, and the sun is an explosion of lemonade-scented joy, and dipping your feet in the cold water sputtering from the sprinklers sends the most delirious shivers of delight up your spine. And the more you splash around, the more you are compelled to take a deep dive to the bottom of the pool or, better yet, the tranquil currents of the ocean. This rose has a lovely, serene aquatic aspect, a fresh marine musk, and it’s less rose at this point and more mermaid, swimming in peaceful tides while the sun beams a watery light through the warm, turquoise waves. So why can’t I see myself wearing it? Honestly, it’s too perfect. It’s like a rose who is a mermaid who is also a cheerleader and valedictorian and is a natural leader and is never awkward and always knows the right thing to say and would definitely never lock themselves in a bathroom and cry in a party because they were feeling overwhelmed and shy and just wanted to go home. This is a rose that is not even actually a rose and one that is also not me, and I’d feel like a giant fraud every time I wore it. I often think of the transformative power of fragrance and how a spritz of perfume is akin to slipping into another skin and magical and liberating that can be. So why can’t I pretend for a while? I think I’m just so set in my ways as a grimy little hermit-hearted gremlin that as much as I admire that immaculately rosy person I’ve described, I’ve long let go of wanting that for myself.

Jorum Spiritcask opens with notes that waver wildly between blithe, breezy, and aerated, as well as viscous, syrupy, and raisiny. Like stewed prunes gone parasailing through the fluffiest-tufted cumulus clouds. Unfortunately, their ultimate destination appears to be a cloying, claustrophobic rootbeer-filled oak-barrel hot tub orgy, and that’s a scene I’m just not into. If you ever thought, “boy I sure wish Hypnotic Poison were 1000% more potent and suffocatingly gaggy!” this may be for you.

Fraaagola Salaaata from Hilde Soliani is fun for a split second; it smells like strawberry Jello-scented lipgloss or a tiny bottle of effervescent summer berry eau de toilette that was sold alongside Angel Face Barbie in the 80s. Very sweet, no nuance or complexity (though I do think that’s sort of the point of a perfume like this.) BUT then it becomes this monstrous vision of a wild strawberry kiwi ice-breeze-whatever vape pen shoved up a half-melted red gummy bear’s butt, and even more horrifying still, a plume of vape juice smoke billows out of its squished little vape bro mouth, and oh my god I am gagging again you don’t even want to see the face I am making just now.

photo by me; background art by Tino Rodriguez

I don’t want to end on a sour note with those last two bummers, so here are four more silk flower perfume oil blends from Black Phoenix Alchemy Lab’s Lupercalia Collection!

Blue Silk Rose, with notes of sugared violets and dried blackberry and elusive hints of citrusy rose and smoky musk, is a light, impish fruity floral that’s the olfactory equivalent of excellent advice from astrologist Rob Brezny, something fun about liberating our imaginations and encouraging us to visualize life as a mythic quest. It’s the playful poetry of the weightless, mid-air hops and skips between dodging the shadows or jumping over the cracks in the sidewalk, a bright pop of color on a grey day, a tiny reprieve from the everythingness of everything in a waft of fleeting sweetness.

Silk Tiger Lily very nearly gives me savory vibes when sniffed right out of the bottle–something like saffron and cumin mingled spice cupboard tendrils– and from there on, the evolution is just rapid-fire-revelatory. First, a briny ginger fire, a spicy salinity, as if the knobby little rhizome has been treated to an oceanic pickling; then, seamlessly, a warm, peppery floral with a nose-tickling lemon halo, beautiful, bracing, and buoyant.

Black Silk Orchid looms from the vase sweet and shadowy, summoning associations of a trio of BPALs I know and love: the dark brown sugared musks of Smut, the deeply vanilla-patchouli incense of Snake Oil, and Haunted‘s murky, mysterious amber glow. There’s a breezy element that runs through it, though, something that sets it apart, conjuring something wholly new. It’s a thin, weird wind, not brisk and autumnal and not of the gentle spring variety; it’s not outdoorsy at all. More like a draft from deep within your home that you can’t locate, a door that maybe you didn’t even know was there, ajar and inviting things from beyond. It’s full of darkness and a bit dusty, emanating from somewhere utterly, disturbingly unknown. A prickling shiver you feel when somewhere in the old house, in an unused, forgotten room, a vampire quietly steps out from inside a grandfather clock at the stroke of midnight.

Silk Daffodil is profoundly green and sticky sweet, a heady murmur of celadon syrup and crushed emerald honey, veined with dark whispers of woody-floral spice and a last gasp of jasmine-orange blossom-vanilla.


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I’m afraid these reviews will be a bit shorter and to the point, much more so than my typical long-winded rambles. I am suffering from some wrist and thumb pain, and I don’t know if it is carpal tunnel badness or something to do with being a million years old, but it is, unfortunately, rendering typing quite excruciating. So I am challenging myself to an economy of words, in saying what needs to be said in as few characters as I can get away with. We’ll see how it goes with the following bakers’ dozen of Lupercalia scents from Black Phoenix Alchemy Lab!

Green Silk Carnation (cypress-green carnation petals crushed into grass, hemp flowers, and weed) A sweet vegetal mustiness with a tiny amount of terpenic funk, which as it wears is, at turns, sweeter and greener, never committing to one or the other. It dries to a frosty-soapy pleasantness. It has a chilly, verdant vibe that calls to mind the greenhouses in a snowstorm from the first story in Kelly Link’s forthcoming collection White Cat, Black Dog.

Pink Silk Peony (cotton candy peonies, rose cream, and white cognac) Sweet, cold strawberry ice cream scented with lush, velvety rose petals; alternatively, if the entire cast of Rose Petal Place were whizzed up in your ice cream maker, with fresh cream and tons of sparkling sugar.

How Write The Beat Of Love (red musk, red mango, labdanum, black honey, black gardenia, Indonesian patchouli, and champaca blossom) A swoon and sweep of pulpy fruits, deeply jammy, wine-drunk on umbral honey.

Dalliance With A Comedian On Stage (sawdust and red musk, blueberries, black currant, plum blossom, sake, rose petals, and frankincense) A fruity-herbal tea, left to steep and steam in a porcelain cup, now fermenting in a jar. Berries and blossoms begin as a humble, wholesome tisane but somehow end up a tart, tipsy kombucha.

Chocolate Chypre (no notes listed) Cocoa butter incense smoke, the mysterious aura of scholarly studies late into the evening, accompanied by a chocolatey treat rummaged from deep within velvet peacoat pockets.


White Silk Chrysanthemum (vanilla floral aldehyde laced with spicy chrysanthemum) An enchantingly fizzy vanilla cream soda/ ebullient ginger ale hybrid, but not something you’d want to drink; rather, the scent of a strange, invisible bloom trailing up a trellis, something you walk by every day without really noticing, and then one day the breeze blows just so, bobbing its petals invitingly. Intrigued, entranced, you stop to sniff it, and in that small instance, with the slightest deviation from your path– everything changes forever. This is the scent of that singular, crystalline moment, tremulous and flickering, between the before and the after.

The Morning Star Among The Living (black fig encased in saffron-threaded amber)  The scent of a honeyed, floral lozenge that began as a liqueur made from macerating figs –both the delicate, fresh fruit as well as their rich, dried, pruney counterparts–in two parts bourbon to one part vanilla. Mash the pulp and the liquid together, simmer until very thick and allow to set on cool, aromatic eucalyptus leaves. Administer these sweet drops as needed to individuals who pride themselves on their brutal honesty, but you suspect they enjoy the inherent cruelty of that sentiment more than the idea of actual truthfulness and sincerity.

An Oiran on New Year’s Day (polished mahogany, black tea, green cardamom, russet peppercorn, and ginger root) Dark, fruity woods, rich, rosy, and resinous. This is a scent that becomes darker and darker and begins to smell both rare and obscure and somehow a bit crafty and cunning, something you’d find on the black market from a dealer whose expertise lies in acquisition rather than provenance.

Contest of Colors, Pink Peach Blossoms and White Plum Flowers (pink peach blossoms, white plum flowers, carnation petals, labdanum, skin musk, and white amber) Reaching down into a barrel of vibrant fruit blossom flavored hard candies, just to feel all of those thousands of small, sweet treasures with your fingertips, pushing further down through their cool weight, sugared orbs clicking together like porcelain buttons, glass eyes, faceted gems, a plume of fragrance released, boiled syrup and dripping fruit flesh, and frothy clouds of frilled, perfumed petals.

Wandering Eye (blackcurrant, carrot seed, rose otto, immortelle, salt musk, violet leaf absolute, and lemon peel) First off, get a gander at that label art! Long-time readers of this blog will no doubt instantaneously recognize what I have come to think of as The Eyes of Becky Munich, as this artist’s eerie ocular renderings are truly things of eldritch beauty. And though I was not familiar with the particular sonnet that this fragrance was inspired by, there is no denying that the scent overall encapsulates the mournful lyricism that I associate with Edna St. Vincent Millay. For me, this is more a whispery, poetic feeling with an exquisitely elegiac quality–somewhere between gothic melodrama and tragic Victorian fairy poetry– than it is an actual smell that I can pinpoint …but envision this: a handful of sweet, dried chamomile brewed in a teacup of tears and pebbled with precious stones gathered from a reliquary; left as a graveside offering on a day when the sky is sullen, and the light is bruised and the descent of evening fog, milky, opaque, thick as wool, concludes the silent ceremony.

Courtiers and Cats (amber musk, cedarwood, agarwood, spikenard, black pepper, cacao, tobacco absolute, toasted cardamom, and cream) The biscuity warmth of musk and roasted cocoa beans, a sassy spike of black pepper, spikenard’s earthy, dirt-between-paws mustiness; between the woods and the amber and the hint of creaminess, this is a softly rumbling purr of comfort and coziness.

Aristocratic Warriors (gleaming tamahagane, polished leather, and auburn amber) A clan of juicy citrus samurai brandishing swift, shining steel swords and disco dancing; not a “lemon party” in popular parlance, but also, a lemon party is exactly what this is: a party of literal lemons, jubilant and joyful, bright, bouncy, and boogieing down. “Boogieing down”? Oh, Sarah. Are you Stephen King-old now? Also, there are no lemon notes in this scent, so maybe like King’s telepathic chef at that haunted hotel, I’m smelling something that’s not there right before I’m hit with the shinning.

Dark Chocolate, Blackcurrant, Rosewater, and Apricot (no notes listed) The most exquisite chocolate truffle, hand-piped with a velvety wild woodland brambleberry jam filling, enrobed with another layer of chocolate, embellished with freeze-dried bilberry pieces and rose petals. You’ll only find this treat deep in the forest at a pop-up stand run by hedgehogs with little purple jam-stained claws and sugar-crusted quills.


The Black Phoenix Alchemy Lab 2023 Lupercalia collection is currently live and available for purchase. As this is a limited edition series, sample sizes imps are not available.

Need more Lupers? Have a peep at my Lupercalia reviews from 2022 // 2021 // 2020 // 2017. unfortunately, things between and before those years were written for other sites, and I wasn’t cross-posting to my own blog at that time. Lesson learned I can assure you!

And you might be wondering, “why don’t you ever post these reviews on the BPAL forums?” I was honestly just asking myself the same question the other day. I’ve been on the forums forever but never posted reviews there because, early on, I was just too self-conscious. And if you look at my profile at, it says I’ve been a member since 2011, but that’s not true! I was a member under another name (ok, a few other names) since the forum opened in 2004 or 2005. I’ve been there since the beginning!  And now, all these years later, I have a comfort level for writing about fragrance and have more or less found my voice, but I guess it would feel weird and somehow…. interloping? overstepping? who do I think I am-ing?  to start posting my reviews there all of a sudden? Am I being dumb and precious about it? I don’t know!

Anyway…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)


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Image credit: Junque Doll Boutique on flickr

I know, I know, Amazon is the devil. But I haven’t figured out how to quit them. I do love a place where you can buy all your shit in one go, and that’s really what holds me in its thrall.

From the “here’s a wee nosy peek into my life” files, here are the top ten things I have purchased most frequently from that site. There’s no real theme or anything, it’s a rather random assortment! And I know the featured photo of the vintage Barbie Dream Store isn’t really representative of the Amazon shopping experience, but I like looking at it.

1.  Starbucks Sumatran Blend Coffee is the same coffee I have been drinking for ten years. I don’t even think about it; it’s on auto-subscribe at this point. I use it with this french press carafe.

2. Molton Brown Geranium Nefertum Bath & Shower Gel is like the half-price Tom Ford Oud Wood shower gel; it doesn’t smell exactly like it, but it scratches that itch.

3. Teal bubble mailers for a while there; I purchased so many of these for cocooning my books while shipping. I liked the way that it matched the colors on the cover!

4. Organic India Tulsi Peppermint Herbal Tea weirdly enough, while I mostly hate mint, I like this herbal tea blend. Yvan likes it too, so it’s definitely a repurchase.

5. Velvet, Non-Slip Suit Clothes Hangers, Black there’s nothing more annoying than your clothes slipping off the hangers, and these prevent that perfectly.

6. SIMON’S SHOP Baroque-style picture frames I don’t know who Simon is, but he’s got some fabulous frames. I display all of my Alyssa Thorne pieces in them!

7. Hurrah Lip Balm, unscented these are the best lip balms I have ever used, I squirrel them away all over the house.

8. The Best Card Company notecards are they “the best”? Doubtful, but I can’t always afford to buy directly from artists who offer notecards, so I supplement with these.

9. Otafuku Okonomiyaki Kit I could probably make okonomiyaki without a kit, but I like having this around.

10. MUJI Gel Ink Ball these are my favorite ink pens.


***Bonus! While the above are things I purchase frequently, below are some wish list items I’ve never bought but that I think about A LOT****

1. Hoosier Farms Cheddar Cheese Powder, One Pound

2. Revolutionary Girl Utena Complete Blu-ray box set

3. The Five Keys to the Secret World of Remedios Varo

4. Savatage Gutter Ballet LP

5. Kilner small manual butter churner

*these are all Amazon associate links and I may make a small commission if you buy something through one of these links. 


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1 Feb


Image: Niagara Detroit

What do you call it when you are being critical of the way that someone talks to you? I don’t mean tone-policing, I am pretty sure that this is not that.  I don’t ever want to tell someone they are having conversations or sharing information “the wrong way,” but at the same time, let me tell you about one of my biggest pet peeves.

Let’s say you’re on social media, and you’ve just shared a post about a book you’ve read, a movie you’ve watched, or x/y/z thing you’ve tried or experienced. And then you get someone chiming in the comments to say, “YOU SHOULD TRY BLAH BLAH BLAH.” First of all, who asked you? Ugh, don’t be so annoying! But if you are gonna be that guy, I promise you that there is a better way to do it.

Or…maybe you have actually asked for recommendations, and are expecting comments wherein people will be sharing these kinds of opinions.

But either way (although especially if you have not asked), there is a more palatable way to deliver that information. And then there is, as I mentioned above, “YOU SHOULD/NEED TO/MUST TRY BLAH BLAH BLAH.”

To me, initiating your suggestion like that reads as awfully presumptuous. As if you think I haven’t heard of or already tried whatever blah blah blah thing that you’re suggesting. And that irritates me. It insults me. Maybe I am overreacting? Maybe I think too highly of myself? I don’t know.

Here’s what I do know. When I am offering a suggestion or recommendation, this is what I will do. (And I do this because I’m working with the idea that everyone is, to some degree, as peevish as I am. And I don’t want to irritate or insult anyone!)

If a friend over on Facebook says, for example, “I just read MOTHERTHING by Ainslie Hogarth, and I love it–can you guys recommend some similar stuff that I might love?”

My response will be something along the lines of: “I don’t know if you’ve read Mothered by Zoje Stage or The Push by Ashley Audrain yet, but if you love the domestic horror/monstrous mom/motherhood trauma of MOTHERTHING,  I think you will dig these two books. I’d love to know what you think of them!”

In this example I address right off the bat that maybe they are, in fact, familiar with what I am suggesting to them. I’m not throwing something in their face as if I think there’s no possibility that they have ever heard of these things! I mean–you can understand why that approach might annoy someone, right? As if they could never?? So thank god for me, offering up my pearls of wisdom?
I never want to come off like that.

Or let’s just say that your Facebook friend didn’t ask a question at all. They wrote a post about how they were excited to try a new food. They say “I last week I tried cottage cheese for the first time and I loved it.” And they were not asking for anyone’s opinion on that revelation but you think if you don’t share your experience with that food, you will literally die.

So you say “COTTAGE CHEESE IS SO GROSS THE ONLY WAY I CAN EAT IT IS WITH PINEAPPLE YOU SHOULD TRY IT.” First off, and again, no one asked you. But if you have to say something, why not try something like, “You mentioned that you are new to the world of cottage cheese; if you’re looking for different options and don’t mind a little sweetness, you might want to try it with pineapple–that’s my favorite way to eat it!”

I’m not saying that you have to handle things the way I do. I’m not saying that if your conversations don’t sound like mine, then you’re doing it wrong.

I’m just suggesting that –if you have concerns about looking like an asshole online– you might want to take a look at how you are offering up suggestions.


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I had such an incredibly lovely chinwag with Pam Grossman for a The Witch Wave PLUS + episode! Pam and I have been in each other’s weird orbits for almost fifteen years now and I feel like this chat was a long time in coming; it genuinely felt like catching up with a friend I hadn’t seen for ages, though, in fact, we were “meeting” for the very first time!

Art, darkness, witchy-and-goth-adjacent feelings, demented joy, and the magic found in the mundane—I ramble about all of this, and I’m not sure that I even properly answered a single one of Pam’s questions, but holy hot dog fingers, did I have a good time!

Interested in learning more about the host of The Witch Wave and author of Waking the Witch? As it happens, I’ve had a lot of Pammy G. content on the blog over the years!

🕯 Ten Delights for Autumn Nights, a Ten-Things list by Pam Grossman
🕯 A Review of Pam Grossman’s Waking the Witch
🕯 A Woman With Power: Pam Grossman
🕯 What is a Witch by Pam Grossman and Tin Can Forest

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2 Jan

2022 was a lot. A lot of stuff I never expected. I got married to the best human in the world. I bought a nice home. I published my second book. I wrote (am still writing) a third book. I started a newsletter and a Patreon. I wrote about approximately a gazillion perfumes. I was interviewed by some of my favorite writers, and there was a small feature on me and my book in my No. One all-time-favorite magazine! I colored my hair the shocking neon blue poetry of all my favorite 80s rock star fashion dolls!

That’s a lot. Not sure if I can top that. I’m not sure if I want to try.

Is 2023 the year to read two hundred books? To knit an impossible, magical mystery shawl? To make a soup so stunning that grandmas feel a satisfying flutter in their hearts all the world over when I slurp it?

To do the small, quiet work that no one sees, that I’ll never talk about, that I’ll busily fiddle with all night long only to see it tear under the accumulated weight of a fine morning mist, and begin the next day again to make it faster, stronger, better?

I don’t know! I bet this spider doesn’t know, either. I bet she’s annoyed that I’m bothering her and is thinking man, just let me do my work! Thanks for the inspo, spider, wherever you are. I’ll get to it, too.

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I’ve been writing about perfumes on and off for the past twenty years, but I think this is actually the first year I have successfully shared a perfume review round-up, consistently, for twelve months running! Well done, me!

I have been generously gifted with some samples by Caitlin at Red River Apothecary, and I have thoroughly enjoyed getting to know the fragrances she selected for me. I loved the first two that I tried so much that I didn’t even want to wait to sniff the other three before sharing my thoughts. (Edited to add…well, there were five, but somehow I lost one along the way!) I’ll begin with Moria. I do love a scent built around dragon’s blood, and this is one of the most stunning examples I have ever encountered. Dragon’s blood in fragrance is heady and rich and sometimes quite overwhelming in a syrupy sense– but here, tempered with the incendiary floral of black pepper and shadowy black musk, it conjures the honeyed warmth of a mystical lantern glowing in the brooding caverns of Khazad-dûm.

Ozark is so lovely that it makes me strangely weepy; its gentle, refreshing dewdrops, velvety green moss, and deep blue, crystalline waters, it calls to mind a tranquil forest meadow teeming with bluebells and snowdrops and forget-me-nots alongside a cold, clear rushing river. It makes me think of Snow White in her glass coffin in a twilight illustration by Gustaf Tengrenn, and funny enough, it specifically summons two different songs for me In a Glade by Milla Jovovich, but I think it’s a traditional Ukrainian folksong, and Rusalka, Rusalka by the Decemberists, lyrics which lament the folly of falling for the dark-eyed Rusalka, pale as a liminal moon.

Shahwa is an opulent, intoxicating fragrance, a deep, rich, spicy incense that a Red Woman burns (every fantasy story has some version of a Red Woman) while invoking dark gods of pain and pleasure, and Sedona is stories told around a campfire, spirits, and elements of desert florals, Pinyon smoke, and the promise of oncoming rain in the potpourri of petrichor and downdraft of fresh ozone.

Stolas from Fantome is the strangest, most marvelous combination of chocolate and lavender, and this is one of the times I did not reacquaint myself with the notes before testing the scent and coming to that conclusion. So when I double-checked and saw I was right and I did actually smell what I smelled–hot dog, that’s validating. Even after all of this time I feel like I am just constantly wildly speculating. Anyway, this is a musty, dusty chocolate and a powdery lavender, cool aromatic cedar, and something strangely, sweetly waxen. It summons for me something so uncannily vivid and eerily evocative, though not the owl-headed 36th Prince of Hell that inspired the scent. No, this is a dim attic room closed to sunlight for the last century, tangled in pale, filmy cobwebs and frail, milky lace, and crowded with countless wooden shelves upon which are perched dozens of creamy-cheeked, unblinking porcelain dolls.

Stroopwafel from Scent Trunk is a gorgeous gourmand that balances what could potentially be intensely heavy and cloying with something that still feels light and airy, and effortlessly cozy. It feels perfect for what can be a really intense time of year when you’re pulled in every direction, you’re spread too thin, and there’s never enough time. The holidays can be physically, mentally, emotionally, and spiritually draining, and the last thing you want to do is top all that off with a fragrance that leans too far into any of that mess. Stroopwafel is a scent that feels nostalgic to a point, but in the way that books and dreams are nostalgic, unsullied by what goes on in your real life, and even then, it’s saved by various other elements before it can get its hooks into you and become something maudlin or suffocatingly sentimental. This is not to say I don’t connect with this scent, because I do! But in a way that feels like it’s a treasure just for me. Like being wrapped up in something special that I don’t have to share and in it, creating memories of moments that are solely my own. Nostalgia happening now, rose-tinting the present as I am living it.

It opens as the rich, fragrant gooey chewy treat it’s named for, that buttery bourbon caramel syrup center and brown sugar deliciousness of that sort of not-baked-all-the-way-through waffled cookie sandwiching it. But alongside all that cozy, sweet warmth, there’s a breath of something cool and breezy, this side of piney marjoram, that side of woodsy cedar, that makes itself known. It’s the olfactory equivalent of waking too warm in bed at night and slipping your toes from beneath your quilt to give them a little chill. Or perhaps baking up a storm in a humid kitchen on a wintry day, and cracking the window open to let in a frigid gust of air. A lovely vanilla musk rounds out the fragrance. At this point, and until you can no longer detect it on your skin, it smells like the sweater you spent all day wearing in that cookie kitchen, but with a light dusting of snow after you left it on top of the woodpile overnight.

I only started hearing about Pineward sometime last year, but in reading over their website, I just realized Pineward is another project of the person who now runs Apoteker Tepe, which I thought disappeared a few years ago, but I guess it was sold by the original perfumer and has been purchased by this Pineward person. Considering that my favorite Apoteker Tepe perfume is The Holy Mountain, and it smells like a beardy grandmaster max-level wizard summoning the ultimate ancient mystical dragon lord of the 11th realm or whatever, and now I smell the extremely resinous potency of these Pineward fragrances, this is an acquisition which makes perfect sense. I ordered a sampler set, and for the first one, I think we’ll get into Eldritch. Which is what my middle initial stands for. Just kidding, it’s Elizabeth. Eldritch is comprised of my favorite notes, the sweet loamy decay of oakmoss, opoponax’s oaken honeyed leather, myrrh’s aromatic warmth, crushed balsamic fir needles, and peppery, tannic smoke. It’s so, so, freaking good. And now it’s the signature scent of Elizabeth Eldritch, a powerful tiefling warlock with hair that smolders and crackles in the sun, who has a passion for forbidden lore and whose best friend is a giant fire beetle.

Murkwood from Pineward smells like perfumes I already own several similar bottles of, namely Norne from Slumberhouse, Winter from Dasein, The Nue Company’s Forest Lungs, and Hwyl from Aesop. But I love these notes, and I love how they make me feel and the magical places they take me to. I can never have enough of them and I am always on the hunt for the holy grail of these wintry midnight fairytale forest fragrances. With Murkwood, imagine that grail is less a golden chalice radiating a holy halo of light and more a small wooden cup, roughly carved of fir, a vessel for steaming smoky resinous tea drunk under a full January moon on a night with the snow-covered mosses and the frozen earth under your leather boots make a chilly incense of their own. If one were to stop by the woods in a snowy evening where two roads diverged in a wood, one familiar and one less traveled–Murkwood is stepping off the path entirely into that lovely, deep darkness. As a matter of fact, and this is a very niche reference, but I’m putting it out there anyway and I hope you’ll chime in down in the comments if you know what I am talking about–Murkwood is the olfactory accompaniment to avant-garde video game studio Tale of Tale’s The Path, an atmospheric, immersive horror game based on older, darker versions of Little Red Riding Hood.I see that the Pineward shop is closed right now, but this might just be my holy grail, and I am splurging on a full bottle first thing in 2023.

Yukion’na by Ikiryo Perfumes contains an element that I’m weirdly smitten with, and it’s possible you love it, too, or else you really hate it. There’s probably not any in-between.  I am not a smoker, nor have I ever been, but I have an inexplicable fondness for whatever that combination of notes is that smells like a pack of cigarettes in an expensive handbag. It doesn’t smell like smoke, not exactly, and it certainly doesn’t smell like an ashtray. I can detect it in my bottles of Sycomore from Chanel, Chris Collin’s Autumn Rhythm, and My, Myself, and I from Ego Facto. I’d guess some combination of vetiver and leather and tobacco, but not all of these scents have these notes, so I guess I really don’t know. Yukion’na is another one that contains this facet that I’m so fond of, and it conjures for me a wintry yōkai, taking a break from an evening of striking terror into the hearts of lost travelers. She secrets herself behind an icy-glittered pine, the bitter decay of last autumn’s chrysanthemum petals crunch under the snow, and with a sharp, pale fingernail, she peels a small, tangerine, its pitted rind falling in a perfect spiral, shockingly vivid against the bone white landscape. As the moon rises over the frosted forest, a thin pillar of smoke plumes from a cigarette held between her citrus-scent fingertips. 

I sampled another fragrance from Ikiryo, but I was really uncomfortable writing about it, so that review is for Midnight Stink Patrons only. I know it’s not fair to mention something that I’m not sharing with you, but for record-keeping sake, I did want to note it in the total of perfume reviews I have written this month.

I’ve wanted a fragrance from Gucci’s Alchemist’s Garden collection for the longest time, but I did not want to pay $350 for a bottle. I lucked out and found a bottle of Love at Your Darkest on Mercari for less than half that, and even luckier still, I actually love it. First, the downside, and the answer to a question that lots of folks asked when I first showed a peek at this a few weeks ago: it’s got basically zero longevity. I spritzed with manic abandon before beginning to write this review, and five sentences in, I basically have to jam my nostrils into my wrist to get the slightest whiff of it. So I would urge you to seek out second-hand bottles of this and buy at a discount. As to the scent, it’s lovely. If you like Tom Ford’s Oud Wood, well, that’s the obvious comparison, but it’s not quite the same; it’s still got that dry, peppery, cedary, woodsy oud backbone, but it’s much less chilly, with a bit of rosy-cheeked delicacy, a sort of fresh, uplifting floral note Replace that dusty tome of MR James ghost stories it’s clutching with a big, soft, pink bouquet of peonies. I’m almost tempted to call it “pretty,” but there’s a discordant jangle of something akin to celery seed, a bitter-earthy-salty facet that makes me hesitate…which is fine with me because I think that strangeness, this off-kilter element makes me like it all the more. I think this would be an interesting fragrance for layering with something more intense, like an oud-forward fragrance oil. Or maybe a rose-oud combination.

I had so much fun discussing DS& Durga’s Sexy Viking with the Viking who lives with me. Ývan is Icelandic and lived in Iceland until he was a teenager. His immediate family, his mom, dad, and brothers all now live in the US, as a matter of fact, some of them live a few neighborhoods away, but the rest of his relatives are scattered all over Iceland. He goes back every few years to visit, and I’ve been once, but I certainly don’t have enough familiarity with the country to have a well-formed opinion of a fragrance inspired by aspects of it. Well, I mean, I have an opinion on the fragrance, I can have an opinion on anything, but I guess I mean I can’t really comment overmuch on the sense of place that it’s meant to evoke. Ývan tells me that he gets an overall sense of fresh, crisp, evergreen coniferous pineyness. It recalls for him the summers he spent in the youth work program hauling wood from the forest …which I assumed was some sort of unpaid lumberjack gig, but he laughed and said, what kid is gonna do that kind of work for free?

Anyway, his specific memory involves the moments when he would take a rest and just lie down in a bed of fragrant pine needles and close his eyes while the sun filtered through the canopy of trees. He also said that it brings to mind icy evergreens in the wintertime, during traditional graveside visits on Christmas. He and his mother would visit the cemetery with wreaths and candles for relatives that had passed on, and there was a forested path along which they would slush through freshly fallen snow to reach the graves. Overall he likened it to smelling like an ancient woodland Yule wreath, full of wintry bounty. I would add that what I smell, overwhelmingly, is tart, bracing, cold-weather berries. Something bright red and jeweled and so bitter that even the snowbirds won’t eat it. But also a bit like sour, candied grapefruit peels. As the scent wears, this becomes more like a fruity, malty, softly honeyed amber–but either way, it’s a beautiful note. And overall, I think we both agree, it’s an incredible fragrance, and as it happens–it’s stunningly perfect for the winter solstice today (the day this review was written.)


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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

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,



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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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