Scent | Copal incense

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Incense is a polarizing thing. Perhaps many of us associate it with macramé, pot, and other symbols of the 70s. Or you’ve been in a home or shop that just reeks of some cloying scent, and when you come out, the fumes are embedded in your hair and clothes. I’m not a huge incense user, especially since too many particulates in the air aggravate my asthma, but occasionally I do run across some I like.

I picked up this copal incense on a trip to Tulum, Mexico, a couple years ago. The place I was staying in burned it in the shared bathrooms. I liked it enough to buy some as a sensory souvenir of my trip. And now I’m down to my last stick! I don’t really want to buy another kind since I suspect it might not be the same. Maybe I have to go to Tulum again.

Copal resin, from a tree native to Mexico and Central America, has apparently been used as an incense since ancient times in Mesoamerica. Like sage, it has often been used as a purifier to clear spaces or people of negative energy. I sometimes burn it while I’m meditating, and while I can’t say I notice any obvious difference in the energy in my living room, it definitely adds to the atmosphere. It smells like an exotic perfumed wood, as you would expect, but not in an overpowering way, and it doesn’t linger too long.

I’m actually incorporating my interest in natural scents for a project in one of my grad school courses, and I created a dedicated Scent and Stone Twitter account for it. I suspect that the explosion of interest in niche fragrances and natural perfumes stems from a desire to return to a more authentic and intuitive way of living that is connected to the earth—especially as we are becoming more and more severed from nature as corporations and the super-wealthy continue to exploit resources for short-term gains, and as technology allows us to ignore the diurnal rhythms humanity has evolved with and lived by for millennia. After all, smell is one of the most primitive senses.

While the independent fragrance trend could be seen as just a fad, I do think it is driven by something deeper. Lately I have been reevaluating my choices and trying to rearrange my life in a way that aligns with my own needs and intuition, rather than the expectations of a culture that is often toxic for the planet and humans themselves. Maybe it’s ridiculous to think that exploring the meaning of natural perfume can illuminate a greater cultural change in society. This project will help me find out.

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