Psyche & Subtle PART THREE: The Spiritual Dimension of Scent

Today we explore Chapter four - the spiritual dimension of scent of my new Volume III of The Complete Guide to Aromatherapy

Many aromatherapists acknowledge the effect of scent on our psyche. Worwood, for example describes scent as the more spiritual aspect of the plant:

This may be because fragrance transports. You can be in a place feeling very uncomfortable, with chaos and noise all around, then close your eyes, inhale a particular fragrance, and bypass it all, reconnecting with the great cosmic whole, and peace. It’s like a private vehicle silently and instantaneously whisking you away to reconnection; fragrance can be a ticket to the divine.

Gattefosse, considered by many to be the father of modern-day aromatherapy who is best remembered for his contribution to understanding the chemistry of essential oils also acknowledged the spiritual dimension of the scent of essential oils:

… to create an emotional atmosphere conducive to the manifestation of the divinity or psychic states conducive to prophesying.

In the classic text, The Art of Aromatherapy, Tisserand assigns ethereal qualities to the essential oils:

They are like the personality, or spirit, of the plant. The essence is the most ethereal and subtle part of the plant, and its therapeutic action takes place on a higher, more subtle level than that of the hole, organic plant, or its extract, having in general a much more pronounced effect on the mind and emotions than herbal medicine.

I am sure you can recall your first encounter with essential oils. I have no doubt that Fischer-Rizzi’s comment resonate perfectly with your first experience with essential oils:

Getting to know these heavenly scents is something like falling in love. They will touch your heart, make you keenly aware of the beauty surrounding you, and open the door to your soul. Suddenly, every facet of your life will seem touched by magic.

Schnaubelt also suggested that aromatherapy contributes to the realisation of health what no material science can achieve. He explains that scent has always transcended the material planes of consciousness and communicated directly with those of the soul.

We know the spiritual dimension of scent is integral to the practice of aromatherapy; however, why does scent elicits such a spiritual awakening described by Worwood, Gattefosse, Tisserand or Schnaubelt.

The purpose of Chapter 4 - Spiritual dimension of scent is to establish a framework that explains why scent elicits and enhances spirituality. I ask the important question - Can science really be used to understand the relationship between scent and spirituality?

I propose that neurotheology can provide us with the framework and science to understand the relationship between scent and spirituality. Neurotheology is a relatively new science that integrates anthropology, cognitive neuroscience, neurology, psychology, and sociology on one hand and beliefs, myths, religion, rituals, spiritual practices, spirituality and theology on the other.

We explore the origins of neurotheology and why it is the most appropriate framework to examine why scent has been critical in spiritual practices. My research suggests that:

● biophilia
● awe
● sacred space
● ritual
● myth
● neurobiology

are all pathways that contribute to the spiritual dimension of scent.

Understanding the role of each of these pathways can help us to enhance the therapeutic outcome of essential oils within our aromatherapy practice.

Much of the information presented in this chapter is ground-breaking and will change the way you use essential oils.

In our exploration of biophilia, I argue the reason why so many people are drawn to essential oils is a desire to reconnect with nature. We examine the therapeutic benefits of spending time in nature, we explore the role of phytoncides, examine the benefits of shinrin-yoku and how diffusing essential oils can elicit the same therapeutic outcome as shinrin-yoku.

We explore the work of social psychologists Keltner & Haidt who study the experiences underpinning the emotion of awe. Awe experiences are often self-transcendent and can elicit personal growth.  However, Keltner is concerned that our contemporary Western culture is becoming awe-deprived. Psychologist Schneider believes that technology and social media may be eroding our ability to experience awe. I suggest that essential oils can be used to evoke a state of awe. It is not surprising that awe is associated with eudaimonia, a psychological state of wellbeing associated with inner peace, happiness, vitality and satisfaction with life.

Sacred spaces are a place of refuge, a quiet retreat for renewal and a sanctuary for our senses. They are healing and comforting and elicit a sense of spiritual renewal. All spiritual practices require a sacred space or sacred place. In our discussion on sacred space, we examine how essential oils can help us create sacred spaces and we explore the healing effects of sacred space. 

It is not surprising that many rituals involving spiritual practices often involve scent. Rituals often accompany stressful transitions and appear to play important regulatory functions as well as reducing anxiety. It was not surprising to learn that rituals can activate similar neural pathways associated with scent. I believe that using essential oils within an aromatherapy practice can be considered a ritual and may act as a very powerful catalyst to enhance the efficacy of the aromatherapy treatment.

I also explore the myths associated with aromatic plants and how they have become embedded in our psyche to represent the metaphysical use of the essential oil. In exploring the role of myth, I was not surprised by Ruth Barcan’s criticism of the way aromatherapists have embraced what she refers to as an interesting marriage of vitalistic concepts, pharmacology and mythologies to describe essential oils. She suggests that any scientifically-minded practitioner would consider traditional principles such as vitalism and animism as delusional.

However, in Chapter 4, I also explore the works of many scholars who describe the function of myth as a metaphor and as a projection of the subconscious. Myths are often used as a narrative tool for educational purposes. By encouraging the use of myth in examining the spiritual, cultural and social role of scent, we may better come to understand the vitalistic principles that underpin the holistic practice of aromatherapy. We look at Philippe Mailhebiau’s book, Portraits in Oil, in which he skilfully uses myths to assign corresponding personalities to essential oils. 

I conclude The Spiritual Dimension of Scent by examining the role of neurobiology of scent and how many common terpene constituents found in essential oils act as neurotransmitters, neuromodulators and hormones. Understanding the neuropharmacological activity of essential oils is so important that I decided to dedicate an entire chapter to this topic. We will revisit neurobiology of essential oils in Chapter 9 – Neuropsychopharmacology of essential oils.

Please have a safe and happy Easter and I hope you can spend time connecting with friends and family.

It is my pleasure to invite you to the online book launch and masterclass on Saturday the 29 May 2021. While the book launch and masterclass will be livestreamed, you will also have access to the presentation so that you can watch it at a time that is convenient to you. 

Next week I will introduce you to Chapter Five that examines the relationship between biofield therapies and aromatherapy and to Chapter Six that explores the similarities between aromatherapy, traditional Chinese medicine, systems biology and precision medicine.

Best Wishes

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