Vie de Camille

At the Heart of Alchemy

By Sherika Tenaya

Much of this blog series has been based off the work of Mandy Aftel in her groundbreaking book Essence & Alchemy, and this blog is a tribute to her and the pivotal role she says alchemy played in the creation of perfumery.

In her words, “Perfume as we know it could not have taken shape without alchemy, the ancient art that undertook to convert raw matter, through a series of transformations, into a perfect and purified form.”

While little is universally understood about the practice of alchemy - famously secretive as its practitioners were - and how how avidly they jealously guarded their secrets; they seemed to be the bridge between the spiritual ministrations of the priests who characterized the practice of perfumery in ancient Egypt, and the world of science that benefited enormously from some of the alchemist’s more practical contributions to the world.

So what IS alchemy? Alchemy, from what I gather of Aftel’s poetic descriptions, appears to be a kind of fusion between self-realizing spirituality and incumbent chemistry; a sort of unsupervised priesthood, tempered by poignant philosophy, completed with a neurotic twist of God complex.

“Theirs was not a profession in the usual sense; it was a calling.” Aftel writes. “Alchemists can be said to have much in common with priests (albeit heretical ones), but it is more to the point to say that the distinctions between religion, medicine, science, art, and psychology were not nearly so absolute in their time as they are now. Nor was the boundary between matter and spirit so firm.”

It was this boundary between matter and spirit, or perhaps more accurately, the lack of it, that so thoroughly consumed the alchemists. According to Aftel, they believed in a sort of oneness of the cosmos: that there is a corresponding relationship between the physical world and that of the spiritual, and of utmost interest to them, “that the same laws operate in both realms.”

Aftel puts it succinctly when she says,The philosophy of alchemy expressed the conviction that the spark of divinity - the quinta essentia - could be discovered in matter....The ultimate goal was to reunite matter and spirit in a transformed state, a miraculous entity known as the Elixir of Life (sometimes called the Philosopher’s Stone).”

The words of sixteenth century doctor and alchemist, Paracelsus, corroborate the concept of quinta essentia when he wrote, “The quinta essentia is that which is extracted from a substance - from all plants and from everything which has life - then freed of all impurities and perishable parts, refined into highest purity and separated from all elements….the inherency of a thing, its nature, power, virtue, and curative efficacy, without any….foreign admixture….that is the quinta essentia.”

It makes a great deal of sense that, following this spiritual or scientific belief - pursuing the quinta essentia as it were - is precisely what led alchemists to make their greatest contribution to perfumery: distillation. “Indeed the alchemists deserve credit for refining the process of distillation,” Aftel imparts. “which was of enormous importance to the evolution of perfumery, not to mention wine-making, chemistry, and other branches of industry and science.”

Though alchemy eventually faded out of the human story, giving way to a more logic-based scientific approach, the lofty aspirations and impassioned conviction from which the alchemists operated continues to inform modern day science. “The practical legacy of the alchemists passed to the chemists,” Aftel concludes. “who put it in service of the effort to dissect and analyze the elements of the natural world. The spiritual legacy of the alchemists can be seen as having passed to the psychologists, who strive like alchemists to reconcile dualities.”

Perhaps humanity is still striving to reconcile those dualities, to pare down living matter to its pure and spiritual core and find the meaning therein; a worthy desire, that fueled arguably one of the most important discoveries in the perfumery world, distillation, a “philosopher’s stone” in its own right.

Perfumery of the Ancient Empires

By Sherika Tenaya

It is hard to say when exactly perfumery made the transition from spiritually significant item of ritual, medicine and survival - as used by indigenous peoples - to the body adornment and personal expression accessory we use today. Much of our human history has been lost to time or, more accurately, to conquering victors who didn’t care to pass on the stories or culture of those they defeated.

Therefore, what we know of the conception of perfumery begins, according to Mandy Aftel, world renowned perfumist and author of the highly engrossing book Essence & Alchemy, with ancient Egyptian priests who, “blended the juices expressed from succulent flowers and plants, the pulp of fruits, spices, resins and gums from trees, meal made from oleaginous seeds, wine, honey, and oils to make incense and unguents.”

Camille Beckman Perfumery of the Ancient Empires

It was in Egypt where the use of aromatic materials morphed into something more than religious ceremony and pomp: they were used as personal bodily adornment as well as a type of currency. Aftel remarks, “From Egyptian times, fragrant blends were used for bodily adornment and curative purposes as well as in religious ceremonies. ‘This will be the way of the king...and he will take your daughters to be perfumers,’ says the Bible (1 Sam. 8:11-13). The Jerusalem wall paintings reveal that the perfumers were indeed women, and that they were as likely to serve the court as the temple. Moreover, aromatic substances, being rare, precious and easily transported by caravan, were used for barter - costus, sandalwood, cardamom, cloves, cinnamon, and most especially, frankincense and myrrh. These ingredients were so important and so difficult to obtain that the Egyptian Queen Hatshepsut sent a fleet of ships to Punt (Somalia) to bring back myrrh seedlings to plant in her temple.”

In a very colorful rendition of ancient Egypt at the time of Cleopatra’s reign, Stacy Schiff, pulitzer prize winning author of the captivating book Cleopatra: A Life, brings to life the city of Alexandria, which she describes as the “Paris of the ancient world” and enumerates, in detail, how they used scent to create opulence during their festivities,

Camille Beckman Perfumery of the Ancient Empires - Egypt

“At banquets those intricacies [of elaborate floor mosaics] vanished under lush carpets of lilies and roses, with which Egypt was abundantly supplied. ‘The general rule,’ gushed one chronicler, ‘is that no flower, including roses, snowdrops, or anything else, ever completely stops blooming.’ Strewn in heaps over the floors, they lent the impression of a country meadow, if one littered at meal’s end by oyster shells, lobster claws, and peach pits. There was nothing rare about a banquet order for three hundred crowns of roses, or for as many braided garlands. (Roses were crucial, their fragrance believed to prevent intoxication.) Perfumes and unguents were Alexandrian specialties; attendants sprinkled cinnamon and cardamom and balsam perfumes on banqueters’ crowns as musicians played or storytellers performed.”

Egypt seemed to have something of a lasting influence on the differing peoples that became enmeshed in their long history. The Jews, for example, seemed to carry on the practice of using unguents and aromatic oils on their bodies. Indeed, Moses, the leader of the Hebrews who famously fled from Egyptian oppression in the book of Exodus in the Bible, was commanded by the Lord to create a holy oil from olive oil and fragrant spices.

Camille Beckman Perfumery of the Ancient Empires - White Cloves

Furthermore, Aftel describes the fascinating discovery of a perfume workshop found in some old ruins in Jerusalem, “In the basement of a house in Jerusalem that dates from the first century B.C., archaeologists have uncovered evidence - ovens, cooking pots, and mortars - of a perfume workshop for the nearby temple. Wall carvings and paintings from the period document the process of perfume-making in detail.”

Even the Romans were not left totally untouched by the Egyptian preoccupation with fragrance and seemed to take the obsession a few shades beyond overboard. “Wealthy Romans used scented doves to perfume the air at feasts, rubbed dogs and horses with unguents, brushed walls with aromatics, and sprinkled floors with flower petals.” Aftel writes, before hilariously documenting the antics of what can only be described as the neurotic tendencies of the emperor Nero who, “Was reported to have had Lake Lucina covered in rose petals when he threw a feast there, and he was said to sleep on a bed of petals. (Supposedly, he suffered insomnia if even of them happened to be curled.)”

In many ways, our entanglement with the sensual nature of aroma, while changed and transformed through the ages, still manages to hold the same sway over us. Charging us with passion, inciting obsession, suffusing our rituals with meaning and overpowering our reason - in much the same manner as love - it’s no wonder we become so easily ensnared by both.

The Poignancy of  Perfume in Literature

By Sherika Tenaya

From the times of our earliest ancestors, we have been enraptured by scent in all its various forms. That love affair, while somewhat lessened in modern day man due to all his “civilizing”, has nevertheless been perfectly captured in the words of our most highly revered poets, philosophers, writers and cultural thinkers in their various literary works. Here we will explore the works of some of those cultural titans and discern humanity’s relationship with scent and perfume, in all its various forms, through the ages.

Perhaps no other writer captures the overwhelmingly powerful, potently raw influencer that is scent on the psyche more than Patrick Suskind in his work Perfume: The Story of a Murderer, when he writes, “Odors have a power of persuasion stronger than that of words, appearances, emotions, or will. The persuasive power of an odor cannot be fended off, it enters into us like breath into our lungs, it fills us up, imbues us totally. There is no remedy for it.”

To some degree, scent has the ability to overcoat our mind, shift our mood, transcend the present moment and many writers have oft pondered the deeper relationship scent has on all aspects of our being. Oscar Wilde captures this well when he writes in The Picture of Dorian Gray,

“And so he would now study perfumes, and the secrets of their manufacture, distilling heavily-scented oils, and burning odorous gums from the East. He saw that there was no mood of the mind that had not its counterpart in the sensuous life, and set himself to discover their true relations, wondering what there was in frankincense that made one mystical, and in ambergris that stirred one’s passions, and in violets that woke the memory of dead romances, and in musk that troubled the brain, and in champak that stained the imagination; and seeking often to elaborate a real psychology of perfumes, and to estimate the several influences of sweet-smelling roots, and scented pollen-laden flower, of aromatic balms, and of dark and fragrant woods, of spikenard that sickens, of hovenia that makes men mad, and of aloes that are said to be able to expel melancholy from the soul.”

Yes, scent does play a vibrant role in stirring our psyches, our passions, and our creativity, particularly when it is experienced in context of synaesthesia, a neurological phenomenon in which stimulation of one sense, say a color, gets intermingled with a secondary sense, such as a smell. For example, someone may be able to “smell” the color yellow, or discern the “taste” of lavender oil without ingesting it.

In writing, synaesthesia is considered to be a necessary component to creativity, allowing the author to paint a vibrant scene by cleverly suffusing the senses together, as Charles Baudelaire infamously does in his Les Fleurs du Mal, “Perfumes there are as sweet as the oboe's sound, green as the prairies, fresh as a child's caress – and there are others, rich, corrupt, profound.”

Scent associations can also transport us to other places, fueling creative imagination, as poignantly depicted by Henry Miller in Tropic of Cancer, “But about the smell of rancid butter... there are good associations too. When I think of this rancid butter I see myself standing in a little, old world courtyard, a very smelly, very dreary courtyard. Through the cracks in the shutters strange figures peer out at me.”

Scent associations can even transport us across time, reawakening old memories and vivifying long past emotional experiences, as Helen Keller passionately infers, “Smell is a potent wizard that transports you across thousands of miles and all the years you have lived. The odors of fruits waft me to my southern home, to my childhood frolics in the peach orchard. Other odors, instantaneous and fleeting, cause my heart to dilate joyously or contract with remembered grief. Even as I think of smells, my nose is full of scents that start awake sweet memories of summers gone and ripening fields far away.”

The connection between scent and emotion is equally evocative, allowing such distinguished writers like Mark Twain to bring to clarity the emotional experience that is forgiveness by tying it to a scent, “Forgiveness is the fragrance that the violet sheds on the heel that has crushed it.” Poignant, stirring, beautiful and somehow perfect.

Look no further than the literary artists who successfully capture not only the stirrings of the human heart and mind but also the authenticity of the the human condition, to appreciate scent and its inherent power to work with us, on us, and through us in all aspects of our personhood, both collective and individual.

A Natural History of Perfume - The Primordial Approach to Scent

By Sherika Tenaya

Considering perfume has been a part of the human story since the human story first began, it comes as no surprise that there is a rich and vibrant history, a tapestry of sorts, sewn together from a wide array of different cultural cloths all colluding to inspire and inform our ever-changing relationship with our sense of smell.

In my previous blog, I mentioned how our sense of smell alone has a direct connection with the brain that bypasses the thalamus, through which all other sensory input must first go to be processed. Rather, our sense of smell gets processed in the limbic lobe - said to be one of the oldest parts of the brain - the same place from which arises our sexual and emotional impulses.

Camille Beckman - Primordial Approach to Scent

Our primal ancestors were thought to walk on four legs with noses close to the ground, and scientists speculate that our sense of smell was the most prevalent, enabling us to ascertain information about gender, sexual maturity, availability and bodily health. Freud theorized that as we began to walk upright, bringing our noses further away from scent trails, our relationship with olfactory information altered irrevocably, and evolution began to cultivate a precedence from smell to an ever-expanding visual field. Over time, it comes as no surprise that our sense of smell lost some of that primal acuity.

Interestingly enough, we can still see quite a bit of evidence of the importance scent carries for the world’s oldest cultures and indigenous societies. To this day, scent can play a fundamental role in healing, hunting and religious life and therefore be markedly stronger in these cultures than we would ever believe possible. Paolo Rovesti writes in his treatise In Search of Perfumes Lost, of a group of remote people called the Orissa who lived in India and were left untouched by civilization, purportedly living naked in the mountains:

“We were still out of sight of the crest of their plateau and separated from them by a dense jungle, when we heard a clamor of festive cries. ‘They have smelt us coming. They have smelt our odor,’ the guide explained to us. We were still more than one hundred yards of jungle away from them. Moreover, a loud waterfall nearby would have made it impossible for them to have heard us. The realization on various occasions that these primitive people had olfactory capacities as sharp as those given to original man, as acutely sensitive as that of many animals, never ceased to amaze and surprise us.”

World famous perfumer Mandy Aftel also colorfully describes the relationship other indigenous groups have with certain aromatic materials in her book Essence & Alchemy when she writes, “Umeda hunters in New Guinea were reported to sleep with bundles of herbs under their pillows in order to inspire dreams of a successful hunt that they could follow, like a map, when they awoke the next day. The Berbers of Morocco were known to inhale the fragrant smoke of pennyroyal, thyme, rosemary, and laurel as a cure for headaches and fever. They believed that smelling a narcissus flower could protect them from syphilis, and that malicious spirits could be forced from the body by the scent of burning benzoin mixed with rue, and consumed in the aromatic fires.”

David Howes, Professor of Anthropology at Concordia University in Montreal and Director of the Concordia Sensoria Research Team, mentions the Warao people of Venezuela, said to be the original aromatherapists among us, when he writes, “Among the Warao, the inside of the body is conceived as a kind of gas pressure chamber, where all sorts of olfactory reactions take place. Diagnosis is by smell rather than x-rays or the chemical analysis of blood samples, such as one finds in biomedicine, and treatment is by the application of scents.”

Camille Beckman Primordial Approach to Scent

Howes goes on to explain that sometimes cultures will use scent to distinguish themselves from another group, such as in the case of the Dassanetch, East African pastoralists who “smear themselves with cattle products to give themselves a bovine scent, which differentiates them as a people from neighboring fisherman.” While that is a rather unsettling visual, prompting the ungentle question of what constitutes “cattle products”, it is nevertheless fascinating the variety of ways in which scent is used by these societies.

In the example of the Desana, a Tukano group in the Vaupes River area of the Colombian portion of the northwest Amazon, scent is used as a type of currency in rituals of exchange, in which they trade ants of differing odors.

Spirituality, and subsequently moral conduct, is also highly influenced by scents in cultures such as the Wamira of New Guinea, who attribute the power of olfaction to plants, or the Batek Negrito of Malaysia, who believe a particularly sensitive nose is a gift direct from the gods. Misfortunes, according to Howes, are explained in terms of the aforementioned plants and gods “taking offence at the mixing of odors which results from people engaging in forbidden activities.”

Though not yet in the realm of perfume, scent certainly carried a weighty impact with our forebears as well as those who still carry on the oldest of traditions living in the world today. From matters of the spirit to matters of survival, scent has shaped who we are, culturally and globally, and continues to do so today.

Space Making Manifesto

By: Sherika Tenaya

In one of our earlier blogs, we discussed the importance of making space in one’s life as a necessary prerequisite to creating true, lasting, sustainable change that can realistically be integrated into one’s lifestyle.

Yet this idea begs the question, what exactly does making this kind of healthy space look like? This blog aims to give you concrete ideas for opening up your life in all its various facets: physical, emotional, spiritual, financial and connective.


Take the time to clean and organize all of the spaces you occupy: your home, your car, your work space. Clutter is widely understood to strongly affect one’s psyche and even willpower, whereas the act of decluttering results in almost therapeutic psychological benefits. In addition, organizing puts you in touch with all the things you own, giving you a chance to assess what you really need and letting go of the inessential.

Camille Beckman Space Making Manifesto Physical

If clutter isn’t an issue, perhaps freshening up your space in accordance with the guidelines of Feng shui is your way of inviting in the new. Feng shui, translated as "wind and water”, is the ancient Chinese art of placement. “The goal is to enhance the flow of chi (life force or spiritual energy),” writes Leah Hennen in her article for HGTV, “and to create harmonious environments that support health, beckon wealth and invite happiness.”

For a few easily digestible tidbits on how to feng shui your home, check out this helpful article by Real Simple magazine, complete with photos.


A journal is a perfect emotional space in which you can work to untangle your thoughts and feelings so as to elucidate your true priorities in life. All the while, the journal serves a dual purpose as a log, or documentation, of your journey towards your goals, in all its ups and downs.

Camille Beckman Space Making Manifesto Emotional

If you’re not one for daily journaling, perhaps consider using the journal as a dream diary. While conventional science doesn’t claim to know the purpose or meaning behind our dream lives, some people believe that dreams are creative manifestations of our emotions as projected by our subconscious mind. By tracking one’s dreams, one may gain some insight into what’s happening at the deepest layers of one’s psyche.  

If you find you’re not much of a writer, simply acquire a voice recorder to speak into, perhaps listening later to identify patterns and belief systems.



Sometimes the changes we wish to see in our lives are indicative of a desire to connect with our deeper, innermost selves, that is to say, our spiritual nature. How to go about this is as individual as one’s own fingerprint and many different people will go about it many different ways.

Camille Beckman Space Making Manifesto Spiritual

At times, this requires cultivating a physical space, such as an altar, upon which meaningful momentos of one’s life or cherished, personal treasures can be stored. Sometimes it can be as simple as sitting in silence for 10 minutes at the start of one’s day.

For many, making spiritual space means taking the time to go out and connect with nature, taking long solitary hikes or fishing. And still others make spiritual space by connecting with their body in movement practices such as martial arts, yoga or Qi Gong.  


Making financial space in one’s life can actually be much easier than one might think. We are conditioned into a life of spending excess, where far too many of us are living paycheck to paycheck with no savings to speak of. Poor or wealthy, accumulating too much stuff is often a sign of an emotional or spiritual need that is being left unconfronted.

Camille Beckman Space Making Manifesto FinancialFinancial space means teaching ourselves to live without, an idea gaining popularity as indicated by the success of films such as Minimalism: A Documentary about Important Things and even financial independence websites such as the wildly successful Mr. Money Mustache blog; a how-to manifesto for everyday people to retire at an unheard of early age by living scrupulously cheap lifestyles and investing one’s resultant savings wisely.

Honestly ask yourself: what can I live without? How can I simplify and differentiate between what I really need and what I believe I want? Where does the desire for fill-in-the-blank-item REALLY stem from?

Generally speaking, there is a tradeoff between time and money. In order to make more money, one must sacrifice one’s time. In order to have more time, one must adapt to living on less money. On what would you spend your time, arguably the most valuable of all currencies, if you freed yourself from excess spending?



In a culture focused on the financial, we often forget the number of studies and wise words of our elders that proclaim that it is our connections to those we love that provides true happiness lasting into old age. So when space is created in your schedule by releasing financial ties, you inherently invite in more time for those you love.

Camille Beckman Space Making Manifesto

Making space for your connections could mean taking out the family calendar and planning ahead: establish your vacation time early, plan life-enriching events with your kids or spouse, schedule some social justice activism or community organization to shape your community into what you want it to be.

This year, focus on what’s most important to you in the big picture. Make the space you need and watch the year unfold as it never has before.

Learn New Things for a Better Brain

by: Sherika Tenaya

From a very young age, precipitated by our entry into school, we condition ourselves to a life of sameness. Whether you are at school or at work, we learn to live our lives by habituated scheduling which we rarely deviate from and which often lulls us into a feeling of security or comfortability.

Some consider this to be an ideal way of living life, to always know what’s coming next around the riverbend, to be able to depend with certainty on one’s own expectations of where life is going. Others find it stifling, wishing to break free from the constraints of the repetitive, eagerly looking forward to that two week vacation which never quite seems long enough.

Camille Beckman Learn New Things for a Better Brain

Regardless of which side of the fence you lie on, our brains are collectively hardwired to benefit, and even flourish, from novelty. Our ancestors lived lives of constant uncertainty: vulnerable to the ever-changing forces of nature such as weather, encounters with predatory animals, and continually plagued with the unknown of where to find the next meal or water.

Nothing was certain for them and so our brains adapted to learn from novel experiences, to be intrigued and inspired by coming across new objects in our environment, which in turn, triggered a highly motivated exploration of our environment.

In a highly intriguing study, researchers Bunzeck and Düzel examined the relationship of a particular region of the midbrain that is responsible for regulating our motivation and rewards-processing, and how that interplays with novel stimuli.

Camille Beckman Learn New Things for a Better Brain

In the words of Dr. Emrah Düzel, “When we see something new, we see it has a potential for rewarding us in some way. This potential that lies in new things motivates us to explore our environment for rewards. The brain learns that the stimulus, once familiar, has no reward associated with it and so it loses its potential. For this reason, only completely new objects activate the midbrain area and increase our levels of dopamine.”

When it comes to learning, we learn best when we mix in newness to our endeavors. Kelly Howell, co-author of Brain Power: Improve Your Mind as You Age, writes, “Newness and novelty excite the brain and create a stronger connection between neurons. Every time you have a new experience, a new synaptic connection forms. The more you use that connection, the stronger it gets. If you stop using the connection, the neurons are pruned away.”

Camille Beckman Learn New Things for a Better Brain

Engaging in new activities can keep the brain engaged, motivated, and even strengthen its neuronal connections. However, not all new activities pack quite the same punch.

In this fascinating article, cognitive psychologist Scott Barry Kaufman distinguishes between the efficacy of “brain games”, gaining popularity in the media and sold as harbingers of salvation for the diminishing mind, and actually learning a new and challenging skill when he states, “While brain games improve a limited aspect of short-term memory, challenging activities strengthen entire networks in the brain.”  

It is important to note that these benefits affect long lasting brain health no matter what age you are. Whether young or old, your brain has an amazing capacity to continually grow and renew itself - even until the day you die.

So begin today by turning off social media , stepping out of your comfort zone, and focusing on a new activity or skill to engage in. Not only will this excite and stimulate your brain, but you will receive residual benefits by meeting new people and broadening your social circle, which invites the same novelty as the activity itself.  

Scent & Sensuality: Stories, Myths & Legends of Scent through the Ages

By: Sherika Tenaya

In my last blog, I described the power of scent and how potent a hold it has over the human psyche - coloring all aspects of our lives: from memory recall to sexual intimacy to conduit between human and the divine.  

In my research for that blog, I came across quite a few astonishing and enthralling stories that demonstrate just how powerful a role scent has played in the drama that is human history, as well as its characterization in our myths and legends. Many, though not all, of these stories were pulled from the highly engrossing and superbly well written book Essence and Alchemy by Mandy Aftel. I hope you enjoy them as much as I have.

In many cases, much of the mystique surrounding certain scents or essences was the way in which they were harvested - with the same care, concern and ritual as priceless religious artifacts. Like the story of frankincense, as told by Pliny in his Natural History treatise in which he stated that it could be found only in Saba, a nearly inaccessible part of Arabia due to the surrounding treacherous mountains.

Scent & Sensuality Frankincense

Harvesting frankincense was a hereditary privilege, passed down through male members of certain families who were considered holy in their own right. While making their small incisions in the trees to harvest this precious material, these men were forbidden from having sex with women or attending funerals. The collected frankincense would then make its way to the town of Sabota on camel where it could only enter the city through one gate where priests would take one-tenth of the harvest for the god Sabin. To do anything else with the frankincense before the priests received their share was punishable by death.

The harvesting of sandalwood is also rather involved as the sandalwood tree is considered a hemiparasite, meaning it gets some nutrients from photosynthesis and the rest of its nutritional needs are gained by siphoning from the roots of its neighboring trees, who, in return for their unwilling donations, are gifted with a slow death.

The essential oil of sandalwood does not appear until the tree is at least twenty-five years old, so the tree must be at least thirty before any harvesting can be done. One cannot simply chop the tree down at this point because the precious oil is just as much in the roots as the trunk and branches. Instead, the tree must be wholly unearthed and the help of white ants enlisted to eat away the sapwood and bark. The ants very congenially leave the heartwood, where the oil is, untouched. The heartwood is then coarsely powdered and steam-distilled.

Camille Beckman Scent & Sensuality Sandalwood

Sometimes certain scents capture our imaginations because figures in history gain almost comical attachments to them. For example, musk - an aphrodisiac of legendary proportions, was so well loved by the empress Josephine, that she filled her dressing room with it despite Napoleon’s indignant protestations. Forty years after her death, after multiple washings and coats of paint, the scent still remained.

The Arab love for roses is well renowned. According to Aftel, “They preserved them by gathering the buds and placing them in earthenware jars that they sealed with clay and buried in the earth. When roses were required, they dug up the jar, sprinkled the buds with water, and left them to air until the petals opened.” She even mentions a sultan who was so enamored with roses, that he forbade anyone else to grow them, as a jealous lover. He purportedly dressed in pink in their honor and had his rugs continually sprinkled with rosewater.

Perhaps one of the most famous historical figures whose love for scent was well known was the Egyptian Queen Cleopatra. While everything we know of her and her story is given to us through the secondhand writings of men who hardly, if at all, knew her, and who were on the side of her enemies; her love for perfume and opulent taste in her immediate surroundings withstands.

Egypt was easily the richest country in the world at the time she lived and Egyptian women in general enjoyed a great deal of personal liberty that many of our history books ignore or fail to mention. Perhaps it is no surprise then that Cleopatra was said to have her own perfume workshop and was known to rub her mouth with solid perfume before kissing a lover so that “the scent would force him to think of her after they parted.” She even had the sails of the barge upon which she received Mark Antony, an incredibly important political meeting for her at the time, drenched in perfume. Later, she held court in a room with a carpet of rose petals, said to be several feet thick, that were fixed in place by nets fastened to the walls.    

Camille Beckman Ancient Fragrances Scent & Sensuality

Even well after her infamous death, Cleopatra’s love for perfume touched the lives of two Hungarian brothers as late as 1923. Laszlo Lengyel was a major figure in dispensing “love potions” and other products, very popular at the time, that were said to enhance sexual desire and performance. Lengyel and his brother, inspired by the recent discovery of King Tut’s tomb, produced a perfume they said was based on a formula of Cleopatra’s that had been found in the tomb. Interestingly enough, the two brothers promptly developed serious illnesses, in accordance with the vengeful legends of what happened to those who disturbed such tombs, and only regained their health when they withdrew their new perfume off the market.  

The power of scent was so remarkable that certain prudish governmental bodies attempted to impose legislation criminalizing the stuff. In England in the year 1770, an act of Parliament decreed: “all women, of whatever age, rank, profession, or degree, whether virgins, maids, or widows, that shall, from and after such Act, impose upon, seduce and betray into matrimony, any of His Majesty’s subjects, by the scents, paints, cosmetic washes, artificial teeth, false hair, Spanish wool, iron stays, hoops, high-heeled shoes, bolstered hips, shall incur the penalty of the law now in force against witchcraft and like misdemeanors, and that the marriage, upon conviction, shall stand null and void.”

Camille Beckman - Scent & Sensuality

Of course, such a thing was impossible to enforce for long. The following year in London, a man named James Graham gained national acclaim by setting up a business that aimed to help childless couples conceive. According to Aftel, this featured a “Celestial Bed” supported on a series of elaborately carved and colored pillars that Graham claimed to possess “magical influences which are now celebrated from pole to pole and from the rising to the setting sun.” The bed was the appetizer to the perfumed entree. Atop the bed was a dome that wafted “odoriferous and balmy spells and essences” that were said to enliven and vivify. The mattress was stuffed, not with the customary feathers, but with “sweet new wheat or oatstraw mingled with balm, rose leaves, lavender flowers and oriental spices.” To complete this scent-saturated experience of celestial lovemaking, the sheets themselves were scented with resins and balsams.

Across the world, scent is used as the tinder to fan the fire of desire. “In the highlands of New Guinea,” Aftel writes, “shamans say incantations over ginger leaves, which are thought to lend allure to the man who rubs them on his face and body. In the Amazon, Yanomamo men carry sachets of fragrant powders that are supposed to make attractive women tumble into their arms.”

Even Sigmund Freud, well known for his sexually-focused, if not obsessed, theories on human psychological development, suspected that the nose was related to the sexual organs and he therefore considered the repression of smell to be a major cause of mental illness.

When it comes to scent and the role it has played in our growth and development as a species, this blog is barely scratching the surface of what is out there, yet even so, fully captures the obsession - some might call it the possession - of scent upon our imaginations. So the next time you are rubbing your favorite scented bath product on your skin, remember the stories of old and immerse yourself in the delicious madness, the sensual grandness that scent has carried through the ages.

Scent & Sensuality

By: Sherika Tenaya

When it comes to sensory pleasures, our sense of smell is often overlooked in favor of the more “flashy” sensory inputs: our deceiving, yet compelling, sense of sight; our practical and informative sense of touch that lacks nothing except imagination; our gluttony of pleasurable tastes, misleading us all too often to trade in long lasting health for flavor.

And yet, odor can deliver directly to the brain in a way that none of the other senses can. In each of the upper air passages of the nose, there is a dime-size patch of olfactory membrane that contains more than 10 million olfactory nerve cells, each of which comes equipped with about a dozen hairs, or cilia, upon the exposed end that are equipped with receptors. Fragrance, which can be imagined as a diffusion of gaseous molecules, caresses these receptors until they fire, sending their signal right to the brain. Our sense of smell is actually quite sensitive, as well: we can detect up to one part of fragrant material in 10,000 billion parts or more.

Camille Beckman Scent & Sensuality Chocolate

This olfactory membrane is the only place in the entire human body where the central nervous system comes into direct contact with the environment. All other sensory information initially comes in through the thalamus. So by the time we are aware of a smell, our bodies have long since received and reacted to it. Perhaps this is why in the French language, the same verb, sentir, means both “to smell” and “to feel”.

Because of this direct effect on our brains and our psyches, scents have been used not only therapeutically to enhance mood and recall memories, but also to invite sexual intimacy between partners, and even in religious ceremony.

Unfortunately, because scent speaks to us in a language, not of words, but of abstract images and associations, the scientific method has a hard time verifying the uses attributed to certain scents, since different people have markedly different reactions to the same scent based on their life experiences.

Camille Beckman Scent & Sensuality Sandalwood

However, it is widely known that mammals release sexual olfactory signals called pheromones - from the Greek pherin, “to transfer”, and hormon, “to excite” - pheromones are volatile chemical substances that are produced in the body to evoke a response, usually sexual, in members of the same species. Therefore, it is no surprise that most high end perfumes and scented products contain ingredients that mimic them. Sandalwood, for example, like that used in our Oriental Spice fragrance line, is remarkably similar to androsterol, a human male pheromone.

Interestingly enough, some scents are deemed to be aphrodisiac in nature because they replicate the smells of our erogenous zones, areas of sweat and hair and the natural smells that abound there. This is due to an earthy scent component called indol which is found in many of the most beautiful flower absolutes, such as jasmine and orange flower. It is said scents that contain indol enhance our body’s natural scent profile, rather than covering it up.

Camille Beckman Scent & Sensuality Jasmine

Enjoy the enlivening and enhancing effects of indol-containing orange flower, infused beautifully with another known aphrodisiac - blood-heating cinnamon - in our lovely collection of bath soaks, the perfect gift to inspire intimacy on Valentine’s Day. You will find our sample set of bath soaks also includes lavender, one of the most potent scents we carry for inducing relaxation, lifting mood, and fomenting deeper intimacy with our loved ones.

When it comes to romance, perhaps there is no greater love laden scent than rose. One need only to read the impassioned depiction of roses written by chemist and perfume writer, Paul Jellinek, to understand the sway roses hold over our sensual imagination, “The opulently rounded shapes of the petals of a rose in full bloom are suggestive of the mature female body and their rich red color evokes thoughts of lips and kisses. The austere form of the bud before blooming, which only subtly hints at the rounded abundance and fragrance of full maturity, and its opening to amorous life, exhuming a ravishing scent, are external manifestations of the flower’s life processes which man sees and senses and which stimulate his erotic fantasies.”

Camille Beckman Scent & Sensuality Glycerine Rosewater

Perhaps it is this reason our glycerine rose water line is our top seller, not only as a gift given to a well-loved woman, but also as a reminder to that same woman to love herself and recognize her own sensual nature.

Eroticism aside, rose is considered a heart note in perfumery, with far-reaching effects that are oftentimes unexpected. In the words of famed perfumer Mandy Aftel, “Heart notes give body to blends, imparting warmth and fullness. In their boldness, sexiness, sincerity, and dearness, they are the perfect metaphor for - no, embodiment of - passion. When you put them into a blend, you’re literally putting the heart into it; they are the tie that bonds.”

Partners can spend this Valentine’s Day rekindling the ties and bonds of intimacy by exchanging a sensual massage using our rose-scented silky body cream, using a combination of both scent and touch to allow for relaxation, induce trust, and invite ease into the day.

For those who may not be so enamored with the scent of rose, simply substitute our delectable French Vanilla, a scent worn well by members of both sexes. With its aroma, rich and sweet, combined with a woody, tobacco-like, balsamic body note, this scent engenders feelings of warmth, comfort and safety.   

Camille Beckman Scent & Sensuality French Vanilla

Whatever your plans this upcoming Valentine's Day, find the time to cherish and spoil those you love, but most of all, yourself. Only by being deeply rooted to your own sensual nature, can you be a fun and curious playmate in helping others discover theirs with you.  

Breath of Serenity

By: Sherika Martinez

For many people, this time of year can be one of the most challenging, and not without reason. Some may be susceptible to seasonal moody blues, brought on by seemingly endless days of dreary gray skies, slushy streets and the shyness of the sun. Others may be stressed by the abnormally large amount of snow days, scrabbling to find some way to care for their kids despite their own busy schedules resuming as normal. Still others may be feeling trepidatious over residual bills now coming in from the spending of the holiday season.

Camille Beckman Breath of Serenity

Regardless of the reason for the heaviness of the season, there is one sure way to regain some equilibrium in this chaotic world: take a breath. In my previous blog, I described in detail how science has found a common link between breath and mood, specifically pertaining to a study done by Pierre Phillipot who demonstrated that certain breath patterns engender specific emotions, and vice versa.

The link between emotion and mood is the reason wholeness-based movement practices, such as yoga or Qi Gong, highlight the importance of breath to invite not only a softening in the mind, but in the body as well.

Camille Beckman Breath of Serenity

One type of breathing, the Breath of Serenity, also known as the Box Breath, is not only helpful in calming riled emotions, but actually helped me soothe the nausea I experienced on an airplane after some particularly harrowing turbulence. Feel free to give it a try the next time you find yourself all a-dither.

Camille Beckman Breath of Serenity

Breath of Serenity

  1. Take a moment to settle into your body, breathing normally, as you purposefully scan the various segments of your body, taking the time to feel your legs, arms, spine, front body, back body and crown of your head in space. Notice the gentle rise and fall of your torso as you breathe your normal, uncontrolled breath.
  2. When you are ready, begin counting your inhale, allowing it to stretch to a count of five beats, allowing the breath to travel deep into your belly.
  3. At the end of the inhale, when your lungs are at their fullest, hold the breath in for a count of five beats.
  4. Exhale all your breath to a count of five beats.
  5. When your lungs are completely emptied, hold the breath out for a count of five beats.
  6. Continue breathing in this way, keeping the five count going for 5 - 10 rounds of breath. If five beats is too long or too short for your personal preference, feel free to change the number of beats, but keep that number consistent through the inhale, exhale and the pauses in between.

This type of breathwork is extremely helpful in inducing a calm, meditative state - not only because it keeps the breath even and consistent, but also because the act of counting engages the mind, preventing it from wandering too much and dwelling on what ails you.

Give it a try the next time you find yourself unduly ruffled, or better yet, with a partner or friend with whom you are in the midst of a conflict. Its power to de-escalate and re-center is truly a profound gift.

Beat Back the Cold with Real Food Hot Chocolate

by: Sherika Tenaya

There is nothing more comforting, more warming, more commemorate of home than a deliciously made cup of hot chocolate. And what better time to partake than now, as winter snows barrage the senses, chill the extremities, discourage travel, and induce a sense of quiet introspection and spiritual hibernation.

Camille Beckman Beat Back the Cold with Real Food Hot Chocolate

Just about everyone has, at one point or another, enjoyed a cup of hot chocolate, whether from a pre-packaged powder mixed with hot water, a throw-back to one’s childhood, complete with semi-solid floating chunks of marshmallow or something made from real cacao, creamed exquisitely with milk, thick and soothing.

Camille Beckman Beat Back the Cold with Real Food Hot Chocolate

Yet, when it comes to drinking chocolate, not all cups are created equal. Oftentimes, the pre-packaged powders we loved as kids are full of toxic ingredients, strange preservatives and sugar overkill. Watery and thin, we drink them down quickly without any real complexity of flavor, perhaps masking the lackluster flavor profile by mixing with coffee, paying no mind to the long and reverent history drinking chocolate once held in Central and South America.  

Once considered to be the holiest and most sacred of drinks, beloved for its perceived connection to the divine as well as its many medicinal uses, drinking chocolate has come a long way in our culture and is only now beginning to once again resemble the traditional drinks that marked such powerful cultures as the Aztecs and Mayans. There is no shortage of sacred cacao ceremonies popping up in alternative spiritual communities, usually centered around prayer and ecstatic dance and the sharing of potent cacao elixirs.

Camille Beckman Beat Back the Cold with Real Food Hot Chocolate

Regardless of whether you drink it for spiritual purposes, nostalgia or just to have something warm on a cold winter’s day, here is a recipe for a healthy, real food hot chocolate drink that I love.

Real Food Hot Chocolate

servings: 3

preparation: 10 minutes


  • 2 ½ c. hot water
  • ½ c. canned coconut milk OR 1 c. milk of choice
  • ¼ c. - ⅓ c. cacao powder
  • 2 TBS cashew butter
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract
  • 1 - 2 TBS real maple syrup OR 4 medjool dates, pitted
  • dash of cayenne
  • optional spices: clove, cinnamon, vanilla bean powder to taste


  1. Take all ingredients, place in blender, and blend on high for 30 seconds or until fully mixed and frothy.
  2. Drink and enjoy.

Feel free to play with the recipe according to your individual tastes. The range of cacao powder you add in will take it from having a lighter flavor (¼ c.) to a stronger, dark chocolate taste (⅓ c.), and subsequently, may alter how much sweetener is needed. Add in the maple syrup slowly, tasting as you go. For those who prefer less sugar, blending in medjool dates is a great way of enhancing flavor while prohibiting excess sugar intake.

If using raw ingredients, make sure that the water you add to the blender is hot, but not boiling, as that can detract from the nutritional content of the raw ingredients.

Be mindful that real cacao has some notable stimulating effects, so it may not be wise to drink right before bed, but different people have different responses to it. Be curious and playful as your build a relationship with this powerful plant ally, cultivating awareness of how it impacts your individual physiology.  

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