Using Scent in Ceremony and Ritual

Smell is thought to be a very early primitive sense. Just the briefest whiff of a scent can trigger long forgotten memories or emotions associated with those memories. Another can tell our minds it is time to move away from the worries of everyday life and focus on ceremony and ritual.

We use incense and essential oils to cleanse our spirits and our environment. Sage and palo santo are both used frequently for cleansing and neutralising energies both in shamanic work and in Pagan ritual. There are other aromas associated with ritual which I have used, or made note of over time.

The Gods have made Themselves known to me in many ways over the years, through dreams and reading and even through journey work. By far though the most unusal way I have ever had a Deity get in contact with me is through scent.

I have touched on this briefly in other posts. After I had been practicing as a Pagan for a few years I began to notice the scent of cinnamon everywhere. And it would appear at the oddest times, like when I was working in the critical care unit of the hospital or when I was driving in my car. Times when I knew full well there was nothing with cinnamon in it nearby. Nobody was cooking, there were no spice shops within range. But the brief wafting scent of cinnamon would suddenly come into my awareness, and then just as suddenly disappear again.

I associate cinnamon with food, cooking, and comfort. As an essential oil, it is used to stimulate the physical appetite and it can help to heighten alertness. When I looked further into the use of cinnamon for spiritual and ritual purposes I discovered that it was burnt in temples in early Sumerian, Babylonian, and Semetic cultures and was associated with the Goddess Lilith.

Lilith was my first Patron Goddess. She came to me at a time when I was discovering my own power and worth as an independent woman.

Another Goddess came to me not through sents that I was noticing, but that others around me were noticing, again when there was no obvious source which could be causing it. This time, it was the scent of wildflowers. I would be talking or sitting with friends, and one would ask me “Do you smell flowers?” No… No bouquets, no flowering shrubs. But they very clearly smelled a mixture of several different flowers.

So back to the books I went (this being in the early days before home internet) where I discovered Blodeuwedd. She came into my life at a time when I was rediscovering my own femininity and coming to understand that feminine does not have to mean weak or submissive.

If you are looking to discover who your own Patron Diety could be pay attention to the scents and smells which come to you at unusal times. It could just be a hint for discovering their identity.

When it comes to picking an incense to offer in sacrifice in ritual I like using kyphi if I am doing something very formal, or white sage if I am doing shamanic work. As mentioned at the top Palo Santo is also becoming quite popular for shamanic work, but it always reminds me of burning rubber tyres, so I don’t like using it. I’m not sure yet why it has such as association for me because no one I have ever talked to tells me they smell burning rubber with it. I might also burn patchouli but this scent has such a strong association with hippy head shops from the 1970s that I don’t like using it very often.

How do you use scents in your own rituals and ceremonies?


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