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perfume / pigment : rose & myrrh

Updated: Aug 4, 2021

As my solar return fast approaches (hello fellow geminis) I've been planning a solo retreat for myself, to practice magic and be forgotten for a few days up in the low stretches of the Catskill Mountains. After a year of much quarantine-induced solitude, I know four days of silent meditation can seem like overkill, but I believe in carving out dedicated time for important magical work, and, as Tom Hirons says in his poem The Nettle-Eater, "heeding the call."

This trip was inspired by my fevered re-reading and re-listening of Nettle-Eater, a brilliant stretch of prose from a brilliant poet, whose work inspires my magic greatly. The long, strange, and winding autobiographical saga details the author's retreat for a year in the wilderness of Dartmoor, where he subsisted on singular a diet of nettles. While the text is unavailable online, consider it your homework to spend the requisite twenty minutes over breakfast or in the quiet moments before bed listening to the author read the poem himself.

eventually, I knew I had to let myself become so mad that to be in civilization would destroy me. fall into a state so feral and lost and essential that only the wildest places of the moor could tolerate and sustain me.

- Tom Hirons, Nettle-Eater

In the lead-up to my own rituals, I've been preparing a small reliquary, which will house a few items crafted and consecrated in the wilderness on my birthday. This experiment comes on the heels of my recent fascination with botanical pigments and dyes, and this project in particular was inspired- almost daimonically- from a pigment I saw in a dream. It is a pigment / perfume made of fragrant, fresh roses and fixative, chthonic myrrh tincture- the latter of which extracts both fragrance and dye from the botanicals, and also acts as a simple, mild protectant for any unfinished wood to which it is applied.

There had been a jar of myrrh tincture on my desk that had been waiting for a special occasion. Inspired by the deep, orange-gold color this substance imparts when applied to bones, I had set the resin to tincture over a year ago (a forgotten quarantine project, like so many others) figuring that some day, the purpose would reveal itself to me. When the simple, slender pine box that would become my reliquary first arrived at my door- moon-pale and aromatic with its own resinous perfume- it was clear that the stars were right to put the tincture to good use.

I purchased six red roses for the task, and pulverized them manually in a mortar and pestle (more accurately, a repurposed gelato container and the back of a wooden spoon. Myrrh can be very sticky and resinous, even in tincture, and this procedure was best performed in disposable, recyclable hardware). A measure of myrrh tincture was decanted, and the maceration was continued- further pounding of the flowers as myrrh sucked anthocyanins from the petals into the liqueur. The dry-blood color of myrrh shapeshifts to pinot noir, and I ran a test swatch to be sure (pictured above). After eight hours of infusion, here is where the magic happens.

The first blush of this pigment is unimpressive. Sure, she smells incredible, but on the brush the liquid is thin, barely mud-brown, and subtle. I set the test swatch down to dry, and watched her metamorphosis unfold. As the tincture dries, the pigment shifts her hue from pale brown to rose pink, then deeper, then darker. Over the course of drying and curing, the thin brown of the fresh tincture sank into a lusty wine-purple, deep and aromatic, and almost unbelievable if I hadn't seen it with my own eyes.

It only took four thin coats of the myrrh & rose to stain the pine box a blackberry-purple. The wood releases its natural pine perfume to blend with resins and rose. As myrrh tincture is a natural fixative, both fragrance and hue should hold, and protect the wood some with its coating of sticky, resinous ink. After two days if drying (the warmest days we've had this year), all tacky-textures have faded, and the pigment-perfume has dried to a perfect wine-dark maroon. While what comes next for this little reliquary will be a private matter of my practice (a beautiful secret, for no one's eyes but mine), this one step has sparked my imagination, and I'm eager to explore botanical yellows, screaming poppy-reds, deep nettle-green, and future experiments in capturing the brilliant natural colors of this upcoming summer.

While this project was undertaken without adherence to proper method, measurement, and recording, the following recipe should serve as a useful starting point :

myrrh & rose pigment-perfume

yields ½-⅔ cup of pigment

6 fresh, deep-red roses

⅔ cup myrrh tincture, filtered

Separate the rose petals from the stem, removing the sepals and stamens. Place the petals into a sturdy container or mortar and pestle that can hold a 1 cup capacity (otherwise, you may want to prepare this pigment in batches). Macerate your roses with a pestle until all pieces are no larger than 1cm. Add 2 tablespoons of your tincture to soften the roses, and continue your maceration until a paste remains. Slowly add more tincture, mixing all the while, until all is added. Allow the mixture to infuse for at least 8-12 hours.

When the pigment has steeped, strain through a coffee filter, making sure to press any remaining tincture out of the roses before discarding (note: as the materia of the roses has now been infused with the tincture, this mass can be dried and used as incense. It is delightful). If testing your pigment, use a folded strip of thick, watercolor paper or regular paper folded thrice as your test strip. Soak fully, then allow to dry. When fully dry, the strip will show the true color of your pigment. To store your pigment, make sure it is sealed in an air-tight container away from sunlight and fluctuating temperatures.

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