The Walpurgisnacht Collection from Black Phoenix Alchemy Lab x Spiritus Arcanum consists of four deliciously deviant scents inspired by the Witches’ Sabbath and Beltane. Each perfume oil in this limited edition collection comes in a 5ml bottle, and was available from 04/30 to 05/15

HEXENTANZ – Hazy clouds of bonfire smoke and dark, resinous incense envelops the silhouettes of shape-shifting witches dancing ‘round a blazing fire: black incense, woodsmoke, sumac, turmeric, dried ginger, cassia husk, red cedar berries, 7-year aged patchouli, wood moss, and blood-red vegetal musk.

A scent fumaceous and piquant, fiery groves of birch, cypress, and pine, sizzling wafts of charring campfire, wisps of aromatic herbs and spices spindling in a smoky column toward heaven, and a tin mug of lapsang souchong tea under the pinprick glow and atmospheric glittering of one hundred thousand stars.

THE MAN IN BLACK The Devil at the Crossroads: well-worn black leather, tobacco absolute, Haitian vetiver, ambrette seed, crushed tonka bean, and a flick of crossroads soil. 

Leather and strange, bitter powder, mineralic like a finely ground rock and rain. Sediment from ghostly carvings on exposed bedrock in hollow, liminal spaces where cave meets coastline, land meets water. The descent into a dream, the dust in the footprints you followed in the hopes to meet yourself and give yourself what you needed most. The sweetness at the end of a cosmic journey, musky and sweet, cognac and mallow, deep, satisfied swallows of this honeyed brew.

OSCULUM INFAMEA scent of seduction, transgression, and danger: crystalized sap, candied red fruits, raw wildflower honey, black amber, and sweet red labdanum.

Ah, yes. The legendary salacious kiss bestowed upon the devil’s bunghole. A supposed diabolic perversion of the church’s Kiss of Peace. Classic Witchsploitation. All jokes about the devil’s butthole aside, Osculum Infame is a very intimate scent. Delicate, though. I wouldn’t go as far as to say primal. The notes of raw honey and black amber are soft and languid, but most assuredly at the forefront, heightening and preserving the sweetness of everything in their wake. The sap more crystalline, the candied fruits more sugared, the resinous musk of the labdanum somehow fruitier. The scent of paying tribute to Satan’s fundament smells pretty amazing, actually.

THE QUEEN OF MAY – An electric howl of dazzling spring blossoms; a rabid cacophony of bright, alluring, dew-splattered wildflowers streaked with lightning-white vegetal musk. An oil of youth, beauty, treachery, and liberation.

I wore The Queen of May on my birthday, and it is without question a scent of the riotous pageantry of blooms flourishing madly, an exuberant brightness of petals every shade of the spectrum, primrose and poppy, cornflower and calendula, lilac and lily are a few that I envision but it could be all or none of them! Florals delicate, milky, and sweet as well as earthy, green, and bitter, they could have hallucinogenic or aphrodisiac qualities, or they could have a soporific effect, and induce the most beautiful dreams of flower-crowned celebrations and dizzying May pole dances. Beneath these flower’s roots, as the fragrance unfolds on the skin, is a heart note echoing with the whispers of dried bouquets and a phantom whiff of marshmallow musk.

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Taking inspiration from the Needful Things series that we shared on a quarterly or semi-annual basis over at Haute Macabre….since things are slowing down over there, I thought I would give the installment a new home over at Unquiet Things. In that vein, here are some needful things in the form of spring favorites! ! From mundane to marvelous, below I am sharing all the stuff I love lately. Alternately (or, both, if you wish, I have also shared a version of this over on youtube!

Shower caddy shelves. My shower toiletries were just sitting on the edge of the tub, the bottoms coated with dust that becomes that disgusting wet glunk. It’s unsightly and gross and I am a million times happier after discovering that I could just put them on a shelf. These are just the stick-on-the-wall kind, and I was able to figure it out for myself, so it must have been pretty easy. Also this little tiered countertop organizer, which doesn’t exactly fit on my sink quite the way I had envisioned it, I mean god forbid I ever measure anything, but it definitely helps organize my clutter.

Mate The Label boxy tee. Ok, so these tee shirts overpriced but really nice, and they’re organic and sustainable and all that. There’s something about these shirts I really love, but it’s not the price, which is sort of ridiculous. I think it’s actually the necklines, which are raw and uneven and that might drive some people nuts, but my big head stretches out necklines anyway, so it’s like these guys have already done the work for me.

Stitch Fix floral tops I can’t count how many times I said I was done with Stitch Fix’s subscription boxes and for a while there, I really was, I swear! But this past year they switched their business model up a bit and instead of just offering you a box where a stranger picks some things out for you, they have started curating a little shop of outfits for you that changes throughout the day. Nine times out of ten it’s nothing I want but I’m afraid I’ve become a little bit addicted to peeking in to see if they’ve got the *perfect* floral top for me. Now I am not sure what this perfect,top even looks like, but I will know it when I see it, and as I’m a bit obsessed with florals in general, I’ve picked a few “not quite perfect but I like it anyway” pieces along the way.

Bookkeepers butter hand and cuticle salve from Paintbox Soapworks Packed with nourishing shea butter & a panoply of skin-pampering oils, this little jar is a lovely little treat for your grubby little mitts, and I love the smell of the herbal floral lavender natural oils, it makes me feel like I am getting a manicure and hand treatment from a gentle hobbit in the Shire.

Two fragrances that I have been wearing frequently this spring are both from indie perfumers: Antoinette, a zingy candied floral from Seance Perfume, and The Queen of May a limited edition scent from Black Phoenix Alchemy Lab, and a riotous jumble of wildflower blossoms with a dusty heart of vanilla musk.

Kur nail polish + Smokin Hot for the past year I have basically been wearing two colors on my nails. This mushroomy purple-grey that reminds me of the gills on the underside of a fungi with the epic name of Amethyst Deceiver, and actually I wish that were the name of the product, but it’s not. It’s got the very basic name of Smokin’ Hot and it’s from Essie. Also Kur, an “illuminating nail concealer” , which reminds me very much of the creepy seer’s eyes from The Beyond.

Ever since the big chop earlier this year, now that I can finally see my ears, I have reverted back to my childhood love of massive earrings,I found a few inexpensive pairs of silver hoops on Etsy that have been in heavy rotation lately. I love the details and shapes of these two in particular. They’re not too crazy, but I think they’re still pretty and unique. 1st pair of silver earrings and second pair of silver earrings. Also Sacred Hearts from Rosita Bonita, Amparo Rosary from Vanessa Mooney, as well as earrings from Arcana Obscura, Under the Pyramids, and Bloodmilk.

I always keep a notebook and a pen nearby when I’m engrossed in a book. Whether it’s to jot down an unfamiliar word or turn of phrase, to capture a sentiment that particularly ensnared my heart or set my imagination alight, or make notes on this, that or the other interesting tidbit or topic for further research, I have found my book notes absolutely essential to deepening my experience of and engagement a story while I’m reading it. Equally as important, I revisit the thoughts and words I’ve recorded in this little grimoire of poetics for inspiration in my own writing when I am working on various projects. The notebook I am currently using is about 3/4 full, so inspired by an Instagram friend, I found another one that I’ll keep waiting in the wings until I need it.

This Hilma af Klint phone case to match the cover of my book, created by virtuoso of big glitter energy, Sparkledome Studio, is perhaps the most frivolous purchase I have ever made, and I don’t care. I LOVE IT.

Conversely, this little power strip/cube/whatever is not glamorous. I have devices scattered all over the house in search of unused outlets to charge them, and it’s never occurred to me to get a little multi-plugger-inner thing. It’s not very exciting, so there’s not much to say about it, but it’s nice to have the stuff I frequently use throughout the day plugged in and conveniently charging next to me, as opposed, to say, next to the toilet in the bathroom at the other end of the house.

I am always looking for somewhere to stash my knitting when I’m not working on it (otherwise it’s just strewn haphazardly across my desk) and this project bag from my friend Erica’s shop is just the perfect size and shape for just about everything I am working on. The vintage floral fabric makes my heart sing every time I catch a glimpse of it.

Milk Bread As long as I’ve been an adult with a kitchen to call my own I have been trying to bake bread and for a long time, they were mostly sad loaves of failure. I think I’ve really only begun to see success in the past 5 years or so and funny enough, the best loaf of bread I have ever made was whipped into creation last week…using a foolproof recipe that probably would have guaranteed me perfection a long, long time ago. This would be the plush, pillowy Japanese Milk bread. This is undoubtedly the exact opposite of all of the sourdough I have been making lately in that I feel sourdough is a real tough-love sort, bare bones of project, it only gets so much to work with and build on. Whereas milk bread, you got your full-fat milk, the addition a significant amount of sugar and a whole bunch of butter, and how is that even going to go wrong? The answer is that it doesn’t. If you’ve had bread problems, make this recipe and you’ll feel like a genius.

Joshua Weissman’s Tikka Masala is probably the most delicious recipe for this dish that I have ever tried, but his YouTube videos are kind of cringey and obnoxious and hard to watch. Luckily you can find the recipe on his blog, as well.

Daily Walks to look at “nature”; Every day, around 3 o’clock or so, Yvan and I take a walk outside and around the house to peek in on the growing and movings of the seedlings and sprouts and flowers and bees and all of the other daily dramas that take place in our backyard. We don’t live on an estate or anything (ha!) just a small house in the suburbs, but we’re hunched in front of our computers all day and it’s so nice to take a moment, stretch our limbs, get some fresh air, and look at bugs and lizards.

Poetic Remedies for Troubled Times: from Ask Baba Yaga I’ve been reading and rereading both books of enchanting advice from Russian American poet Taisia Kitaiskaia, who writes from the perspective of Russia’s most infamous witch, Baba Yaga. My dear friend Sonya, also a Russian poet, has written on how this folkloric entity is both benevolent and dangerous, and ultimately more unpredictable than evil–and that’s exactly how these wildly imaginative missives read. Beautifully and compellingly unpredictable. These books would make the most delicious gifts for your most daydreamy, whimsical friends.

Gaylords of Darkness has all the trappings of something I might hate if I am being honest. My least favorite kind of podcast or any interaction, really, is when two friends’ conversation devolves into tangents and inside jokes and it’s awkward and makes me feel like a third wheel. Stacy and Anthony wander all over the place and ramble about all kinds of silliness and I am fairly certain they think they are quite amusing, and you know what? THEY ARE. It must be that they are just on the right sort of weird wavelength as I am, or that their fanciful ridiculousness and whimsy aligns in all the right ways with mine because I love them, and existence in this world truly makes it a better and a million times more interesting place. Listening to them chat about horror movies, their thoughts and insights and experiences with them, reminds me of listening in on the *coolest* conversation at a party and wishing, and hoping against all hope that they were also talking with you. With every single episode I come away with a fresh take on horror and having peed myself a little from laughing so hard.

The Queen of Black Magic is an Indonesian horror film I had heard about, promptly forgot about, and then my interest was rekindled when I heard the glowing things that the aforementioned Anthony and Stacy had to say about it. A loose remake of a 1981 film sees three estranged orphan friends meeting up several decades after a traumatic event to say goodbye to the head of the orphanage, who is dying. Increasingly weird and violent things begin to happen once they arrive with their families in tow, and uncertain of the source, they soon discover the secret from their past is much more terrible and tragic than they realized. It is a pretty bonkers film in terms of both story, and uh, gory. And like an director Joko Anwar’s previous offerings, I thoroughly enjoyed it.

Li Ziziqi’s YouTube channel is another fleeting nugget that someone had mentioned to me a year or so ago and which I then tucked away to look into later…and of course, never did. I saw the Chinese video blogger referenced again somewhere in my twitter feed last week and decided to have a peek at whatever they are all about, and I was utterly entranced. Known for her food and handicraft preparation, and depicting idyllic interludes of her life in her hometown of rural Pingwu, Mianyang, her storybook videos emphasize the stunningly beautiful countryside and many compelling ancient traditions. There’s a highly elaborate drama to the skills and craftsmanship she shares in her incredible creations, whether it’s salted egg yolks from ducks she raised by hand, the furniture she creates from stalks of bamboo, or the petals she cuts from a single piece of silk and colors one by one with vivid botanical dyes to create a charming peach blossom headdress and matching combs. Combine these creations with the pastoral scenes of the seasonal landscape and the lovely, lilting tranquility of the soundtrack, it conjures a wistfulness for a gem of life you’ve never experienced but most certainly want to –somehow– get back to. And I can’t get enough of it.

Honorable mentions: Astral Bath and Dragon Hoard Yarn // Wild Oak socks pattern // my new Hobonichi planner // velvet mythological creatures pillow from Baba Studio // a cat-shaped dish from my best good friend that says “Silently Judging You” // Totoro water bottle // Rae Dunn coffee mug // Iced Coconut 3 wick candle

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In April 2021, The Art of the Occult was six magical, mystical months old! I didn’t get too excited about it though, because a whole gaggle of shipments had gotten lost in the astral plane and I didn’t have any gorgeous books on hand at the time to wave around in front of your faces…but LOOK what has finally appeared on my doorstep!

And now HEY LOOK AT THAT! I have a PayPal link on my blog now, where, if you are in the US, you can buy a signed copy of The Art of the Occult  Now we don’t have to conduct covert deals through clandestine DMs! I am a professional! Alas, friends abroad who would like to buy a signed copy of The Art of the Occult from me, we must still resort to cloak-and-dagger communiqués. I have limited quantities at the moment, but I hopefully should be stocked up again soon, so please feel free to order bunches of books and make me a rich weirdo!

Reminder! Did you know that, in celebration of The Art of the Occult, the aromatic adepts at Black Phoenix Alchemy Lab summoned forth a rare opulence of fragrances inspired by a handful of arcane masterpieces within its pages?

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. If you’re curious about these fantastical fragrances but would like to know more about them first, you are in luck! I have reviewed them over on Haute Macabre and Tom and Galen reviewed them as well, over on the Lab’s 15 Minutes of ‘Fume youtube channel.

Alchemy: Alchemia, 2016. Gatya Kelly

And a final mention, I have rounded up all of the interviews I have done thus with artists whose works appear in The Art of the Occult. …and allow me to again express how deeply thankful I am to the artists, who, over the years, have taken the time to answer my questions and share their insights with me. I am so grateful for all of the creators who have spared a moment or two to discuss their works and practices with me. It’s always humbling and gratifying to have an artist that you admire take your queries seriously and share thoughtful, candid responses with you–so many, many thanks to the artists listed below, as well as every creator who has given me the time of day over the past decade! I am grateful for all that you do and share with the world, and I thank you for allowing me to be part of it sometimes!

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Image: Altınay Dinç

…Combine the ingredients under the light of a full moon and wait.
            What ingredients?

What do you have?

             I have nothing.

Dig deeper, look inward.

           There’s nothing there.

These things only happen with the energy you give 

to what’s already there. I ask again–

What do you have?

            My heart. My rage. My sorrow.

Goodness! Your heart, then. That is all that is needed,
all that is ever needed.

           Combine it with what? It’s just one ingredient.

Oh no, no. It’s already a potent mixture. Look at all it contains:
Past and potential.  Dreams and desires. Crossed wires and connections.
I mean, it’s a bit much, really, but it will do.

Leave it there, in the dark of our shadow.
In the mounded earth

near the puddle of rainwater

and the hornet’s nest
and that spent matchstick. 

Walk away from it and do not look back
or the magic will sour ..

What kind of witch are you? Where did you come from?
 This is weird, if I’m being honest.

…I never said I was a witch. You invited me here.

Who are you?

    Me? Me.

            But that’s my heart
under the moon. That’s me.
And I know 

only this, that I am here
            working with the one

ingredient I have.

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9 May
2021

I require an explanation regarding muesli. I was startled out of sleep last night when I realized that I didn’t know what the difference was between muesli and granola. At first, I thought muesli was basically toasted nuts and grains but without the fat or sweetener, like granola. Both then I see that sometimes muesli is just raw grains and nuts, soaked. Both seem to have the addition of dried fruits and various toppings at some point. So then… what’s the difference between muesli and overnight oats or even oatmeal? Is it all just semantics? Also, is “overnight oats” basically just a term that some dumb fitness blogger coined because they thought they came up with something clever, but in reality, it’s something people have been doing for a million years? Because I sure wish someone had said to them, oh, so you’re making MUESLI, then?

Anyway, if you can’t tell, this confusion is making me cranky and mean. And also I hate fitness bloggers.

The internet is confusing me with conflicting information and I swear I just watched Jamie Oliver dump half a damn can of cocoa in his wacky version so I don’t even know what’s what anymore. If you are a muesli eater and you can explain to me the difference, I’d love to hear it! And armchair muesliosophers, keep outta this–I don’t need conjecture, I need hard facts!
 
I have included a screen capture that confuses things even further, from the video I just watched.

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I’ve mentioned before my propensity to create little challenges for myself; blogging every day for 30 days,  trying out a new soup recipe once every month, etc, etc. Well, one of the other things I am doing is a perfume review a day, every day for a year, over on TikTok. Ok, sure, I cheated a little at first. I made recordings of perfumes I’ve already reviewed, maybe with a little revamping or a tweak here or there, but for the most part, I’d already formulated my thoughts. I did that to ease myself into the habit, and I don’t feel like I broke my my loosey-goosey rules too much, because, hey, that tactic worked. I just posted my 77th-in-a-row perfume review TikTok, so I think I’m doing pretty well. I started doing this because I wanted to get back into the regular practice of composing some thoughts about the perfumes I own, and also…I also wanted to actually wear them. This was a great excuse to start doing that!

Anyway, for those of you who hate TikTok, or who don’t want to watch a video compilation on YouTube, I have shared 40 days’ worth of perfume reviews (almost 6K words!) below. Some of these may sound familiar, as I definitely revisited a few fragrances along the way, but I think most of the scents in this gathering are either thoughts I’ve never shared before, or wholly new reviews.

What about you stinkers? Have you tried anything new lately, fragrance-wise, that you’ve fallen in love with?

Heresy Chapel Factory
I am still getting to know Heresy from Chapel Factory but I believe it is fast becoming one of my Holy Grail scents. It is the sharp green metallic floral of violet leaf, mingled with cool aromatic cedar, lofty sandalwood, and the smoked leather notes of vetiver; elements which alchemize into the austere elegance and kindred glooms of a dry, peppery violet incense. If you like the dark ambiance and nocturnal aesthetic of dungeon synth coupled with spectral visionary Simon Marsden’s black and white photographs of haunted ruins and moonlit abbeys, this is a transportive scent that will spirit you away to those eerie, ominous realms.

Prada (Amber) Prada
Prada Amber is a scent that reminds me of Dior Addict, and not because they really smell similar, but they’re both woodsy, sweet, resinous Orientals that take up a lot of space. They are voluminous, they envelop you in a wondrously dreamy cloud of fragrance …but it’s also a rippling billow of scent that can be sniffed several rooms away on the other side of the house, or on the other side of the globe, or maybe even on the moon. And I think you need to be okay with that to love these perfumes And side note…why haven’t we come up with a better way to describe this category of perfume. I am reviewing this scent in 2021, and calling it an “Oriental” fragrance seems deeply problematic, doesn’t it? At any rate, Prada Amber is a beautiful honeyed, balsamic amber and velvety patchouli with a discordant herbal bitterness, perhaps from tarragon or bergamot, that adds interest and intrigue and keeps it just this side of cloying, while maintaining that overblown potent headiness.

Fancy Jessica Simpson
When I was young, my mother didn’t drive, so my grandmother tootled us around with her on errands and took us where ever we needed to go. Her purse was a bottomless supply of Dum Dum lollipops and if we were well-behaved, we got one as a treat. This was a massive thrill when I was 4, but some arbitrary switch flipped when I was 5 and suddenly I found them utterly vile. No thanks, grandma! Imagine shaking sticky shards of fruit punch, cherry, and butterscotch flavored candies out of your best Belk’s church purse, and… that’s basically Fancy. It is Dum Dum dust. Interpret that however you like. You might say, well, oh, Sarah, it’s not made for you. Ok, I get that. But tell me… who is it made for? And do they keep their toy lipsticks on a hot pink plastic vanity and cook with an EZ bake oven?

Nirvana Black Elizabeth and James
I received so many samples of Nirvana Black in my Sephora orders in 2014 but I never took the time to try it. I was convinced it wasn’t going to be very good. I have since procured a mini-bottle, which isn’t too much of an investment in case I hate it. For the record, I do hate the clunky, ugly bottle, whatever size it is. This begins as Vanilla Fields from Coty, which I recall from my 20s as a fairly cheap, but unexpectedly lovely, dusty, musky vanilla sandalwood. If I wait a minute or two, it then becomes a simple combination of warm whiskey and deep woods. I’m not sure what/which woods, though? Maybe a wooden box, where you stored the whiskey? This isn’t a complex scent, but then again, I believe there are only 3 notes listed and sometimes more doesn’t always mean better. It’s nice enough, but don’t love Nirvana Black and it doesn’t feel like me, but I think it would be devastating on my doppelganger.

Sea Island Cotton Bath and Body Works
This spray from Bath and Body Works is an old friend and my ultimate comfort scent. It’s what I used for years before I began scenting myself with what I guess we tend to think of as “proper perfume.” I think this was originally called Clean Cotton Blosson, and when I went to repurchase it was Sea Island Cotton but now I think it’s just plain old Cotton Blossom. And it is a fairly plain and simple scent. It’s essentially dryer sheets composed of white musk, soapy florals, and a hint of linens drying on the line on a crisp, green, spring day somewhere near a seaside cliff. It’s what you might consider a fresh, powdery aquatic scent, and those are typically my least favorite fragrances, but this one is somehow special, it’s a dreamy treat, wrapped up in nostalgia and hope, and it never fails to soothe my soul.

Cathedral (Holiday no.3) DSH Perfumes
With notes of nocturnal resins, smoldering incense, and cool, creeping midnight moss, Cathedral from DSH perfumes conjures visions of a lone lantern lit in a solitary tower window away from which runs a stumbling figure in a long, trailing nightdress. What is this poor, doomed creature running from, barefoot across these misty moors on a moonless night? Ghosts, phantoms, and strange sinister spirits? A brooding, turbulent love affair fraught with bitter betrayals? Fearful family curses and dreams, illusions, obsessions, murders. I mean…what isn’t she running from, right? It’s not this perfume. With a resigned sigh, she turns and trudges back. Whatever else is going on in that wicked castle, she can’t leave behind this haunting and quite possibly haunted fragrance. It’s a Choose Your Own Gothic Romance in a bottle.

 

Hwyl Aesop
I purchased Hwyl on a whim solely because someone included in a listicle of fragrances that smell like camping, noting that this one, in particular, smells like how they imagine Totoro’s home might be scented. Did I want to smell like the woodland abode of an acorn-eating supernatural Japanese forest folk creature? Need you ask? Initially, I think due to the cypress and woody notes that they have in common, I thought Hwyl smelled very similar to Comme des Garcons Kyoto, and that perhaps I didn’t need both. But where Kyoto is a meditative prayer in a cool forest temple, Hywl is earthier, greener, and warmer. A mushroom-strewn, leaf-littered path leading to that temple, the sun streaming through the forest canopy, the cypress, live oak, and bamboo swaying with an afternoon breeze and rustling with the invisible movements of racoons and foxes, and maybe little forest spirits, too. Is there a Totoro following you? Or does it wait for you patiently at the Temple? Maybe we do need both scents, just to find out.

Ambre Noir Sonoma Scent Studio
Ambre Noir from Sonoma Scent Studio is dense and intense and the darkest amber you could ever hope to meet. Both somber and smoldering, with notes of labdanum, rose, incense, moss, leather, and woods, it is a blackened forest fireside frolic when the veil between worlds is thinnest. See also: the final moments in the film The VVitch. If you like outrageously dark, spellbindingly smoky amber fragrances, I believe you’ll enjoy this one.

Niki de Saint Phalle
Though I’ve had this bottle of Niki de Saint Phalle for years, I’ve been avoiding pinning down my thoughts on this one. I am not sure how much the woman had to do with the creation of the perfume, but Niki de Saint Phalle was a French-American artist and filmmaker renowned for her distinctive sculptures of voluptuous vividly colored, giant, joyously conquering women. The perfume was launched in 1982 but it smells like my imaginings of the early 70s It’s a delicately spicy, mossy green-leafed potion, with notes of wormwood, carnation, leather, peach, and soft aldehydes. It’s complex, yet eerily balanced and I can’t get a handle on any one note. It makes me think of a meandering, plotless arthaus film that you loved for the visuals and the atmosphere and the score, and even though you didn’t understand a thing that was going on, you’re still daydreaming about it decades later.

Myrrh & Tonka Jo Malone London
I love most incarnations of myrrh and this is a really nice one. Its bittersweet, medicinal edge is tempered by the tonka, and tonka’s earthy sweetness is reigned in by the inclusion of the aromatic herbal crispness of lavender. There’s the barest tinge of something smoky and acrid, which calls to mind imagery of blazing, blackened amber, and yet this is a very cool scent, and I don’t get a feeling of warmth from it at all. It makes me think of the sadly discontinued Sonoma Scent Studio Ambre Noir, a fragrance that goes hard with the smoky amber, so maybe this could be a possible, though less extreme, dupe.

Musc Maori 04 Pierre Guillaume Paris
Musc Maori from Pierre Guillaume Paris is another one that I tried a long while ago and wanted to revisit, and it’s just as quietly weird as I remember. It’s got milky vanilla notes of cumaru wood, which I had to look up just now, and Google tells me that basically, it’s where tonka beans come from. It also features appearances by coffee tree blossom and cacao pod. I typically don’t love chocolate scents, but this is like a musky, musty, ghostly packet of Swiss Miss. I say ghostly because it’s a very transparent scent, and the musk alternates eerily between something etherous in spirit and warm, sweet human skin. This is not the finished cup of hot chocolate but rather the grains of cocoa trembling in the tablespoon before being stirred into the boiling milk. It’s an odd but thoroughly charming fragrance.

Intense Cafe Montale
I first sampled Montale’s Cafe Intense years ago when I was initially getting into fragrance and perfumes. I guess I was feeling a little nostalgic for that sample a kind MUA-er sent me way back when! My recollection was that it was meant to be a coffee-forward scent, but…it is not. My partner observed that it smells like a teenage girl who typically wore a lot of candied, sugary scents and who wanted to level up with fancy florals and didn’t quite hit the mark. She tried, I guess, was his conclusion. My thoughts are more specific. This is a cloying fruity-floral that smells exactly like Rose Jam from LUSH, which I bitterly loathe because that smells just like those gaggy sweet Jolly Ranchers hard candies that all the popular kids were always eating in 6th grade. Which in turn makes me think of the MOST popular girl, we’ll call her Mary Lesa H., who broke off and ATE part of my sugar crystal science project that year. I hate science projects and I have never forgiven Mary Lesa H., and this awful perfume can go straight to hell.

Gris Clair from Serge Lutens Lea from Calypso St. Barth’s (discontinued?)
Gris Clair makes me think of Moira Rose’s observation in a later episode of Schitt’s Creek, where she’s strolling along the path outside their hotel room and remarks to her husband that she “detects a scintilla of lavender” in the air. Gris Clair is several scintillas of astringent lavender, crisp linen, and sharp, smoky resins in a cut-glass crystal bowl. I actually love to layer this with Lea from Calypso St. Barth’s, a pretty, pillowy perfume of vanilla, musk, and almond; it’s not overpowering and as a matter of fact, it’s fairly delicate. Think a simple, unfrosted angel food cake as opposed to a gargantuan many-layered Milkbar confection.  Together these fragrances lend depth where nuance is lacking in one and buff out the bitter edges of the other. Think lavender vanilla bean shortbread cookie bath bomb bedtime treat.

Fleur Cachée by Anatol Lebreton
My initial impressions of Fleur Cachée are of celery and shadows and green seeds and spice pods crushed on cool marble, desiccated bouquets more dust than bloom, and the skeletal, crumbling remains of frosted confections covered in cobwebs. This *is* a vanilla scent, you can smell it, but it’s a vanilla that’s not going to be defined by the ice creamy-cakeiness that we typically associate with this note. It’s almost as if it’s dressing itself up to be unpleasant, like it’s trying to convince us that Gillian Anderson is the creepy and clock-stoppingly tragic figure of Miss Havisham– but you can’t fool me, and I am not having it. This is gorgeous. As it wears,  a woodsy, oaky note emerges, not quite boozy but the casks were something smooth and delicious was aged. Overall, this is a deeply melancholic and complex vanilla, strange and dry and unlike all of the vanillas you may have known up until this moment.

The Afternoon of a Faun Etat Libre d’Orange
The Afternoon of a Faun feels like the olfactory equivalent of a proper meal after you’ve been subsisting on extremes of cheap, trashy snacks and the avant-garde weirdness of sneaking into a gallery opening to pilfer nibbles from molecular gastronomy art installations. It’s not a rib roast or a tofurkey or any meal in particular, but it’s that thing you dine on, whatever that might be for you, that satisfies your belly and nourishes your body and makes you feel good. I suppose this analogy is my way of admiring how extraordinarily well-balanced this perfume is. Inspired, I believe by both a poem of a faun recounting his horny dreams and the scandalous ballet based on the poem, The Afternoon of a Faun is a mossy-spicy-woody-aromatic-green-floral subscription box of a scent wrapped in a bow of bitter herbs and peppery celery enveloping a heart of immortelle’s smoky tea and burnt sugar note. If you enjoy chypre scents, you can’t go wrong with this one. If you are not sure, or are new to perfume, this is a great one to start with.

Guerlain Mon Guerlain
Everyone seems quite taken with Mon Guerlain, which I’d never tried, so I thought I’d take advantage of a Sephora sale and grab a bottle of the eau de parfum. I gotta be honest. It’s pretty gross. If you need a scent for impressing your peers after pledging yourself to Jesus as a pre-teen holy roller and you were going to hang with all of them at a rager of an overnight church lockin? This would be what you’d reach for. But listen, I’m not knocking smelling good for your lord and savior, but I think even the begotten only son of God has zero tolerance for this cloying fruity-floral bargain bin Koolaid flavor of a scent. Where’s the more interesting aspects of lavender and bergamot that people are wild for? This is just watered down CapriSun that no one even spiked. I’m flummoxed. And now I’m out $80. Dammit.

Eau Triple Sumi Hinoki Buly 1803
I’ve found interpretations of hinoki varies from perfumer to perfumer, ranging from lemony and coniferous, to tarry and peppery. This version is a deeply unpleasant boyscout campfire burning with bandaids and liniment and makes me feel the way I do when I’m dreaming and I walk into a darkened room and flip a light switch for illumination…and then nothing happens. At that point, the dream invariably descends into a nightmare, but I have learned to wake myself up at that moment, my brain boiling, electrified and panic-stricken. As a writer, at times I crave this scent when I need a freaky, feverish jolt of agitation. It’s also great for layering to add a touch of artful anxiety to a scent that’s pretty, but perhaps placid.

Sahara Noir Tom Ford (discontinued?)
Tom Ford’s Sahara Noir is a scent in my cupboard I’ve long been ignoring and I couldn’t tell you why. It’s intensely evocative in an incredibly specific way, so first my nerd review and then a translation for those who don’t have a tolerance for silliness.

Sahara Noir is the blazing binary sunset seen from the still, dry heat of sand dune on the desert planet Tatooine; a midnight canyon campfire crackling with the spicy resin of the Japor tree, the aromatic blossoms of the molo shrub, and acrid ribbons of poonten grass incense while the ground rumbles with the snores and snuffles of a slumbering bantha herd nearby.

Which is to say this is the driest frankincense, lemony woodsy pinon sawdust, a circle of fragrant burning woods, and brittle, smoky papyrus ash.

Whatever your preferred fandom or even if you stick solely to reality, Sahara Noir is utterly divine.

Daim Blond Serge Lutens
I’m revisiting Serge Lutens’ Daim Blond, a scent I thought I didn’t care for. It’s objectively “nice”, but it just doesn’t resonate with me. I smell the things that people love about it: the elusive whiff of soft suede from the inner pocket of an expensive handbag, the cool floral iris, the bowl of apricots basking in a beam of afternoon sunlight. But those things, they’re over there. And I am here. And we don’t connect. It’s the career woman who got married, had kids, holds an executive position somewhere, and does hot yoga and spin class. So very not me. It makes me think of that photo of Maureen Prescott that you see in the first Scream movie. She looks like a put-together lady. But you later find out she had a past, and it was complicated and fraught, and the catalyst for the entire franchise. Today when I smelled a previously undetected bit of pensive cedar, and wistful violet it made me think about Maureen’s pain and trauma and tragedy, and I recognized how layered we all are, and how no one’s life is ever quite how we imagine it from the outside. That’s something to sit with, and so too, I suppose, is Daim Blond.

Unknown Pleasures Kerosene
I need to be in a specific, special mood to reach for this one. Which is to say deep in the throes of a massive sugar craving. For context, the official description of Kerosene’s Unknown Pleasures mentions a picturesque vision of walking down a cold street in Manchester, listening to Joy Division, sipping on a warm cup of London Fog. And then a whole bunch of stuff about cozy vanilla and zingy lemon.” Ok, so this is less some idyllic goth afternoon tea stroll in the UK, and more a trendy bar in Austin’s house special creme brulee pina colada topped with those lightly spiced airplane shortbread cookies that are tastier than they have any right to be. This is like coconut, pineapple, and toasted vanilla custard Mcflurry with an add-in of Biscoff cookies. And by the way, I am not picking on Austin. I traveled there once, and forgot to pack perfume -the horror!- and I bought this bottle of Unknown Pleasures from a lovely little boutique there. It’s an almost horrifyingly bonkers dessert perfume and I gotta say, I love it.

Ginger Essence Origins
Origins Ginger Essence is like waking up on the first day of summer vacation and launching yourself out of bed with a whoop and a holler into the magnificence of a beautiful cloudless day, a sky so blue you feel you’re staring eternity in the eye, and eternity is having a pretty great day, too. The first day of knowing you’ve got two and a half months ahead of you where you have obligations and no one is making any demands of your time. As adults, we probably haven’t experienced that complete and utter and glorious freedom in a long time, and this bright, effervescent, zingy scent of spicy fresh-chopped ginger, and aromatic tangy citrus peels (and a nearby saucepan of simple syrup, just outside our peripheral vision) is as close as we might get to those storybook early summer holiday feels. See also all the lyrics from The Decemberists song June Hymn. “A panoply of song” is exactly how I’d describe this fragrance.

 

Tuberose & Moss Rogue Perfumery
Rogue Perfumerie’s Tuberose & Moss is a recommendation I received from writer and journalist Rachel Syme over on Twitter. I asked for a scent that smelled like Tasha Tudor’s goth great-grandaughter, and she recommended to me Tuberose & Moss. This is a stunning scent and if I’m honest, I’m annoyed at myself that she knew of it before I did. It’s plush white florals and earthy leathery dreamy oakmoss and woody, close to the skin musk; it’s classic perfumery with a wink. While there’s definitely that sense of powdery, vintage glamour, it’s lensed through a cracked-looking glass, there’s something shimmering and strange about it too. It’s the faded photo of Siouxsie Sioux reading Beatrix Potter’s Peter Rabbit that never existed in this world, but I’m certain it does in some other reality.

Geisha Noire from Aroma M
Geisha Noire from Aroma M is a scent I first encountered via Makeup Alley, in 2004 when I was beginning my fragrance journey and spent a lot of time on the site’s forums. It was a thrilling experience swapping scent samples with strangers, but the kind of strangers with whom you were slowly making kindred connections and forming, in some instances, marvelous friendships that last many years. I have hoarded my tiny vial ever since that time and finally bought a full bottle last week. Geisha Noire is an intense, golden amber and smoky somber tonka that’s rich and hypnotic but before it veers too far into gourmand territory, you encounter an unexpected edge of leather and salt that keeps interesting and not so easily categorized.

Magie Noire Lancome
Imagine the various components of Bánh mì snack. Savory roasted pork belly, peppery chiles, pickled daikon, aromatic cilantro, right down to the yeasty tang of a crusty baguette. Sometimes one is just in the mood for a glamour sandwich, and this one is certainly complex and delicious.

Sinner Kat Von D
I’m quite certain that the nose composed this sentence no actual concept of sin either in theory or practice. This is a creamy white floral grounded with a light woody musk and it’s one of those pleasantly inoffensive scent that one might spritz when they don’t want to spend a lot of time thinking about their perfume. If your idea of sin is wearing white after Labor Day or not properly sorting your recyclables, this may hit right for you. If the imp of the perverse lives permanently on your shoulder, you may think this is laughable but you keep it in your cabinet because you love the cheesy gothic melodrama of the bottle

Spice Must Flow Etat Libre d’Orange
ELdO’s Spice Must Flow is less of Frank Herbert’s space spice and more a hybrid of late-90’s English pop group members Posh Spice and Ginger Spice. It’s a lone, lush, rose, cool and fragrant, and mysteriously blooming in the dry, hot sands where only the prickliest, most pungent, and peppery spices survive. I don’t think there’s any citrus listed in the notes but there’s a mild, sour zing when you first spritz that gives the impression of brightness, and a beautiful cardamom incense note at the dry down that lends a shadowy balance. I would actually call this a rose for people who think they don’t like roses rather than a gateway to Arrakis for denizens of Spice World. Wait…what were we talking about?

Me Myself & I Egofacto
Me Myself & I by Egofacto is scent marketed as a bewitching and disturbing floral with voluptuous tuberose, mysterious hemlock flower, and smoky and vetiver. At the time I first learned of it I thought, wow, OK YES PLEASE take my money. A few years later I still consider it an exceedingly sound investment. It smells overwhelmingly to me of an unlit package of cigarettes in an impossibly expensive leather handbag, and I love that smell. I should know better. My mother smoked all her life, and she died of cancer in 2013. Me, I’m a nerd and have never smoked the slightest bit of anything, but I’ve still got this romanticized notion of sitting in a Parisian cafe, drinking espresso, smoking French cigarettes, scribbling poetry, and looking very cool. You can’t convince me otherwise. It’s a fragrance that conjures a somber, moody atmosphere that hearkens back to its very name in that you’ll want to be alone with it, and I promise you’ll both be in exemplary company.

Moss Commodity
I’ve only tried a few Commodity fragrances and own even less. The issues I have with Moss, the one I actually have, are emblematic of most of the others I’ve sampled as well.  They’re crisp in the sense that mostly what you get is the acrid, antiseptic zest of rubbing alcohol, and they’re generically cologne-y, in a plastic-y green, waxy citrus way that reminds me of every mediocre dude who talks over you in a department meeting and takes credit for your ideas, every tedious bore at a party who suggests that you’re misinformed and that you should read the work of a certain subject matter expert –and news flash ya ding dong, I’m the one who wrote the work you’re referencing– and lastly, every creeper who crawls out from his cave to follow you down the street shouting HEY GIRL NICE TATS and then calls you an ugly whore when you politely request that he leave you alone. Pretty sure all of these assholes are Commodity’s focus groups.

Vanille Noire du Mexique La Maison de la Vanille
La Maison de la Vanille is vanilla of dark, moody florals and balsamic resins that that for a few seconds smells like the platonic ideal of a hot chocolate served in your favorite childhood mug, but there’s something a bit off-kilter about it, too. You’re enjoying your steaming portion of nostalgia in a claustrophobic room with creeping yellow wallpaper, with a friend who has a mysterious green ribbon tied around her throat. She evades your questions about her enigmatic neckwear and asks how are you enjoying your bouquet; you glance down and your hot cocoa is pale orchid, an Aeranthes Grandalena, its blossoms exuding notes of jasmine, caramel, butterscotch.

Philosykos Diptyque
Philoskyos from Diptyque is a scent I don’t wear very often because I am not quite sure what to make of it…and I don’t know how to pronounce it, either. It is meant to be a perfumed ode to the fig tree in its entirety, the wood, the leaves and the fruit, but to be transparent here, I have never eaten a fresh fig, and even worse I sometimes get confused about dried figs and dried dates, so I’m already at a loss. What I do experience from this scent is the milky sap from a broken twig and the fragrance of spring greenery, damp from a morning rain. Despite that, it still comes off as dry, and I would expect it to also be fresh and light, but somehow it’s strangely musty. I wear this on days when I know I’ve got a lot to think about, to remind myself that it’s okay to not know everything, and maybe never reach a conclusion.

Hermessence Ambre Narguile Hermès
Ambre Narguilé from the Hermes Hermessence line gets a lot of apple pie references from reviewers, but I don’t get that myself. A spiced compote, perhaps. Dried fruits–raisins and plums, stewed in honey and rum and cinnamon, and left on the stove very nearly too long. It’s been cooked down to a syrupy essence of its former self, and if you hadn’t pulled it from the flame, the caramelized sugars might have started to smoke and burn. I don’t love sweet fragrances, but come October I crave this one; it calls to mind a reading firelight a book you’ve experienced a million times (like the Secret History by Donna Tartt which I only just read but I loved it so much I’m ready to go at it again) while wearing a cozy oversized cardigan with thick cables and toggle buttons and that you probably inherited from your grandpa. Not to be confused with that awful cardigan in Taylor Swift’s video. ugh, Don’t get me started on that. That’s another conversation for another midnight.

Sycomore Eau de Parfum Chanel
Sycomore is a fragrant chorus of cool autumn foliage, rich, mossy soil; soft smoke, and damp greenery. All the best smells of a forest ramble in late October with the promise of winter heard in the whispering flutter of a straggling sparrow migration. But! The hiker on this path is garbed in expensive elegance, a leather Prada bag, a silk Hermès scarf, that iconic Burberry checked coat. This is the scent of a woodland elf turned posh socialite; Galadriel who quit the forest, and is now living in a penthouse on the Upper East Side.

Milk Musk Eau de Toilette Molton Brown
Milk Musk is exactly what it says it is, an uncomplicated creamy, milky musk. It’s soft but not so faint it fades into nothing and the vanilla and resins give it a subtle richness, but it’s never cloying or powdery. When I was a little girl, I read stories about frightened children who were given warm milk before bedtime. I was always disappointed with the repulsive reality of the stuff, but this lovely scent recalls the nostalgic hope for the dreamy deliciousness of that sleepy, cozy treat.

What We Do In Paris Is Secret A Lab on Fire
This brand has taken the best of the worst and made a hilariously repulsive escape of a scent. By which I mean it combines elements from three perfumes I either hate with an all-consuming fire or which I simultaneously love and loathe, and has created a tanned, toned, trendy skin that I’d feel compelled to slip into in order to feel like someone wholly not myself. Imagine a KvD Saint plus Thierry Mugler’s Angel plus V+R’s Flowerbomb cocktail worn by someone who has never experienced crippling anxiety, who has never been called fat by her own mother, who never locked herself in the bathroom at a party and cried because they felt so ugly and unlovable. Bright, honied heliotrope, candied litchee, and powdery vanilla marzipan make for a scent that I am pretty sure is what every Influencer with over 100mm followers on social media smells like. But you know, the classy ones, not the Trisha Paytas ones. Or actually maybe this is exactly Trisha Paytas. I don’t know anything anymore, this scent has killed 100% of my brain cells.

10 Corso Como 
10 Corso Como is a perfume of dry, lofty sandalwood, smoky desert resins, and delicate, diaphanous off-kilter, otherworldly florals. This is a scent that calls to mind a mysterious, aromatic wooden chest, unearthed by a sudden sandstorm. It houses a little spirit angel that’s been trapped there for a thousand years and rather than granting you wishes once you’ve unlatched the fiddly hinge, it squints against the sun and asks, irritably, “do you mind?”  At once sensual and spiritual and strangely, a little stern, it’s somehow heady and sheer, giddy and grounded–it’s both the shining halo and its shimmering shadow–and it’s one of my all-time top ten favorite scents.

Confessions of a Garden Gnome Forte & Manle
I don’t believe this earnest little gnome’s secret to be particularly incendiary but it does present some specific imagery. Shirking garden tasks to sneak into a woodland affair he’s heard rumors about, and, expecting an opulent ball, he washes behind his loamy soil-caked ears and spritzes on his little limbs a soft herbal cologne with notes of violet leaf and strange citrus. What he finds upon arrival is a fairy ring rave; intoxicated pixies and sprites flirting and frolicking across pepper moss, under disco balls reflecting the birch and cedar trees… and the guilty face of the gnome who doesn’t know how to dance.

 

Death and Decay LUSH (discontinued?)
Death and Decay is a mass of white lilies, an elaborate wreath, a store-bought bouquet, funeral arrangement or perhaps all of these incarnations of this melancholic meditative floral. These blooms are at the height of their beauty; their alabaster form and curve full and flourishing, just on the cusp of decay. This is a narcotic white floral fragrance heavy with every aspect it evokes– from the sweet waxy petals, to the subtle spice of pollen, to the pearlescent plastic wrapped around the stems.

Sortilège Le Galion
I initially saw this fragrance referenced in a strange story, in a weird collection of stories by Amparo Davila and as I hadn’t heard of this scent I was dying to know whether it exists–and it does. Sortilège means “spell.” and it does very much conjure enchantments across time and space. This is a scent originally created in 1937, so what I have, is, of course, a reformulation. I purchased directly from the Le Galion website, which reads “…the iconic fragrance of the house Le Galion and signature perfume of the famous Stork Jazz Club in New York.” It’s ethereal aldehydes, delicate velvety florals, and a subtle woody balsamic chypre base. It is a gentle but profoundly evocative scent that awakens phantom dreams and memories of past life loves and loss.

Kiehls Original Musk
There’s polite musk, there’s funky musk and there’s Kiehl’s Musk, a perfect balance of the warm and the clean and the bittersweet and the skanky. The original formulation may have been heavier on the skankiness, and that’s what I recall from the sample I tried ages ago.  This bottle of Kiehl’s Musk is still exactly what I imagine 1974 to smell like–astrology enthusiasts and their extravagantly embroidered captains attending eternal Tupperware parties.

Rose 31 Le Labo
If you’ve seen my review of Perfumers Workshop Tea Rose and sussed out that I am not, in fact, rose’s number one fan– you would be correct. Rose 31 is more earthy-rose adjacent than rose-forward. It has got a peculiar sweaty cumin armpit opening but after that disappears it’s a rose blurred from the edges completely inward by woodsy aromatic mosses and sweetly musky resins. My boyfriend tells me it smells like his childhood Mossman Masters of the Universe toy, and I smile thinking about those fuzzy green muscles, every time I spray this subtle elegant scent.

Oud Wood Tom Ford
Tom Ford is a ghostly, glacial coniferous rosewood sandalwood melange of chilly, bitter, peppery woods. It is a tiny, sinister statue of a scent in an empty room where the temperature drops suddenly, with no explanation. The perfumed version of a little gremlin that appears in a haunting tale; one that skitters in the corners of your vision when the eye is focused elsewhere and inches eerily to your pillow when you’re at the knife’s edge of wakefulness and dream.

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Reunited at last! For this month’s Stacked, I am joined by my dear friend and Haute Macabre comrade, Maika, as we chat about the books we’ve been reading this spring. See below for our thoughts on these witchy, monstrous, fantastical books and be sure to leave us a comment and let us know what you’ve been reading as winter slowly melts away into warmer days.

Sarah

Witch Hunt: A Traveler’s Guide to the Power and Persecution of the Witch by Kristen J. Sollée
If you have read this wondrously knowledgeable scholar, historian, and second-generation witch’s previous offerings, Witches, Sluts, Feminists: Conjuring the Sex Positive, and Cat Call: Reclaiming the Feral Feminine, then no doubt you were over the moon to learn of her most recent title, Witch Hunt. A hybrid travel guide and memoir which at points dips into the realms of historical fiction, Witch Hunt reflects research gleaned from travels to seven countries, forty-five cities, towns, and villages. Through her intrepid adventures across Italy, France, Germany, Ireland, and the United Kingdom, Sollee explores the fraught and fascinating history of these haunting figures from the past and uncovers how the archetype of the witch has been rehabilitated as a symbol of power.

We learn of the trauma and tragedy baked into the history of these places but also of how they have resurrected and reclaimed this archetype for commerce, community, and activism. Her descriptions of the locations and spaces she spends time in are bubbling with an intensely curious spirit, wicked sharp observations, and expansive, imaginative storytelling, with an eye toward both the sensitivity crucial to the conversation of these archetypes as well as the actual people involved in these histories and an irrepressible sense of humor and the absurd. In Witch Hunt, Sollee is indisputably at the height of both her writerly and witchly powers.

Dead Blondes and Bad Mothers: Monstrosity, Patriarchy, and the Fear of Female Power by Sady Doyle.
This outstanding book by essayist, social critic, and culture buff Sady Doyle is hugely about the darkness and trauma of the narrative around what being a woman is about and sparked so many intense conversations between myself and my partner as I was reading it. This examination of the patriarchal and misogynistic fear of “monstrous” women, covering everything from literature and cinema to mythology, religion, history and current events is a maddening and marvelous (and neither of these words do the discourse any justice) exploration of interplay of the stories that we tell ourselves and the images we look at and the thoughts we have and the way that all shapes our culture; those darker feelings of powerlessness and helplessness and living inside an extremely stigmatized and vulnerable body…and how somehow these aspects make us as woman seen as also destructive and even more terrifying?

It’s a mind-boggling amount of research and anecdote and story and scholarship, and you have to imagine a painful amount of emotional labor, and Sady Doyle writes of it all in a way that’s somehow incredibly readable and even makes you laugh while reading it. FYI Black Phoenix Alchemy Lab has created an incredible collection of scents inspired by this book and the monstrous feminine archetypes which perpetually recur in storytelling and they are still available for purchase.

The Secret History by Donna Tartt.
I can’t recall if I’ve shared this article before but it will help to illustrate two points about me: Dark Academia: Your Guide to the New Wave of Post-Secret History Campus Thrillers. First, I hate it when they give names to things (whoever “they” is.) For example, I recall reading China Miéville’s Perdido Street Station in 2000 or so, and thinking how it was really unique and I’d never read anything quite like it. I was content to leave it at that. A year or so later, I heard people referring to it, and more to the point, its aesthetic, as “steampunk.” As far as I knew steampunk and all its trappings of gears and goggles and so on, emerged right around that time. However, it looks like it’s been around since the 1980’s (or maybe since Jules Verne, ha!) so what do I know, I guess. What I do know is that once you slap a label on something, I tend to lose 100% interest. I suppose I’m some sort of hipster snob, but whatever. I’m aware of my faults. So when people started talking about “Dark Academia” as a genre, I immediately tuned it out before I even knew what it was, but when I somehow found myself tricked into reading about it, I realized it’s describing a type of fiction that I enjoy immensely– and as it happens, I have written at length about my enjoyment of it. Without going too much into it, it’s a sort of mystery or thriller that takes place on a college campus, usually entangled with some weird insular student groups studying obscure subjects. There’s more to it, but that’s my takeaway. Anyway, apparently, Donna Tartt’s The Secret History, a book people have been telling me for years to read, is the story that started it all.

This brings me to my second point: if enough people tell me “you’ll love it!” about something, I get weird and squirrelly and contrarian and put on my NOPE NOT DOING IT hat. You don’t know me!

Wow, I’m like three paragraphs in and I’ve not said a thing about the book. Well, everyone but me has apparently read it by now, so do I even need to? Here’s a quick rundown. Richard Papen is our pretentious small-town narrator with an interest in the classics and humanities who is eventually brought into the intimate, intense fold of a very small Greek class at the fictional Hampden College in Vermont. Richard’s mysterious classmates are strange and compelling and he desperately longs to become part of this group of weirdos. Eventually, he does. Murder ensues. In the end, I thoroughly enjoyed this story of sadness and loneliness and romanticizing a group of people who are all, in the end, some form of deeply flawed and insecure as well. They’re stupidly privileged (who else would think they could get away with murder but a bunch of extravagant, melodramatic rich white kids?) and I guess that aspect of the story troubled me quite a bit, but nevertheless the relationships and the drama and the breathtaking prose are so easy to get swept up in, that in the end…all you people were right. I did love this book. Thank you for recommending it.

Maika

As I write this I am literally surrounded by books that I’ve begun reading, but haven’t finished. It’s not that I’m not enjoying them, but my attention span is shot. Aside from my ongoing bedtime therapy of rereading Good Omens and the Discworld books, I read in fits and starts throughout the day and have a hard time sticking with any one book. I just keep adding books to the ‘currently reading’ stack. But even at a fitful snail’s pace, I have recently finished a couple books (that weren’t written by Terry Pratchett or Neil Gaiman):

The Starless Sea by Erin Morgenstern – This is an incredibly beautiful book, inside and out. The design of the physical hardcover book itself is exquisitely beautiful and the writing is intensely vivid, luxuriantly picturesque, and evocative with sumptuous descriptions of one of the most magical places ever dreamt into fictive existence. And yet…I just couldn’t get into it. You know that old breakup cliché, “It’s not you, it’s me”? That can be applied to all sorts of things beyond relationships, books included. I eagerly pre-ordered The Starless Sea as soon as it was available. It was published and arrived at my home when I was completely grief-stricken, so I didn’t touch it until the following year. Fast forward to 2020 and we were smack in the middle of a global pandemic and urgent nationwide protests, and I was deep into intense work on myself. Yet I decided to reach for it anyway. And… it took me nearly a year to read it. What should, by all rights, have been a magical escape from harsh reality felt…too enchanted and too beautiful juxtaposed with a waking world and physical self that both felt anything but enchanted. Instead of soothing and distracting, it vexed and hurt. It made me miss New York City as a whole and Sleep No More specifically even more than I already did. And so the book that took me a year to simply start ended up taking me another year to finish. The Starless Sea, you were achingly beautiful from start to finish, I dearly love the very idea of this book, and yet my heart never opened to you. It’s not you, it’s me.

Bunny by Mona Awad – The Secret History meets Mean Girls meets…well, one other book and one other movie which, if I name either of them, will reveal too much about this story. While it feels like a cop-out because it means that I can’t say much, the less you know about this book, the better. Seriously, don’t even look at the reviews on GoodReads. There are inadvertent spoilers there too. Suffice to say, it was a dark, twisted, adamantium-razor-sharp story and a thoroughly gripping read. Also, there were times when I identified so strongly with the main character and felt so intensely seen that I wondered how Mona Awad knew so much about my past. it tapped into an old well of anxious interpersonal woe that I seldom think about these days, but was surprised to find felt no less vivid for the passing of years. Equal parts distressing and validating in an ‘I thought it was just me’ sort of way. The magic of books.

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Artist: Shinji Nakaba

A gathering of death-related links that I have encountered in the past month or so. From heart-rending to gut-splitting (sometimes you gotta laugh, you know?) from informative to insightful to sometimes just downright weird and creepy, here’s a snippet of recent items that have been reported on or journaled about with regard to death, dying, and matters of mortality.

Previously: April 2020 | April 2019 | April 2018April 2017 April 2016

💀 We Weren’t Meant To Grieve Alone 

💀 How a Pandemic Stole the Comforts of Mourning

💀 Why a Vancouver Cemetery Is Planting Squash, Kale, and Corn

💀 Is Death Positivity a Form of Death Denial? A Dialogue with Nuri McBride

💀 Writing your will: a comprehensive guide if you don’t know where to start

💀 Moving on while looking back: How I dealt with unspeakable grief

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American artist Gene Szafran created a mindboggling amount of book covers for fantasy and science fiction paperbacks in the 60’s and 70’s,  in a signature hallucinatory, kaleidoscopic style, which more often than not incorporated the nude female form. As male gaze-y art goes, I guess this is pretty tolerable? I’d much rather look at naked ladies than naked dudes, and I find these works staggeringly beautiful.

Szafran produced over 125 paperback covers for various publishers including Bantam Books and New American Library.  He also did work for many magazines, including Boy’s Life, Cosmopolitan, Fortune, McCall’s, Penthouse and Playboy. It’s interesting to note that amongst all the trippy, futurist sci-fi cover art for books by the likes of Robert Heinlein and Ray Bradbury, he did a whole slew of book covers for Daphne du Maurier’s works of fiction. Of course, the drama of du Maurier’s works were of a decidedly more terrestrial nature (I mean they could be somewhat otherworldly, but none of the stories take place off the planet or anything like that) so the art is definitely less fantastical, but it’s still got an uncanny, somewhat ominous charm.

Anyway, I just learned of this guy tonight and I haven’t been able to unearth a whole lot of information on him, but I thought I’d share my favorites from amongst his works, below.

from Poul Anderson’s Beyond The Beyond

 

from Orphans of the Sky by Robert Heinlein

 

from Protostars by David Gerrold

 

from Chance by Ann Maxwell

 

from Pstalemate by Lester del Rey

 

from Clarion edited by Robert Scott Wilson

 

from Downward to the Earth by Robert Silverberg

Featured image from Hermophrodeity, the Autobiography of a Poet by Alan Friedman. 

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