Some spiritual traditions pay reverence to the whole living environment; others turn inward, and use specific mental exercises to connect with the oneness of the universe. Whether we pray to God, whether we pay homage to Mother Earth, Father Sky or the spirit of the sage, whether we look to the stars within, spirituality is about making connections. We may take different routes, but the destination is the same.
Although spiritual practices differ greatly, there's no coincidence in the fact that so many use fragrance. Every evening in India, the air is rich with the aroma of incense burning at home shrines. Smoke fragrant with the aroma of the smouldering resins, frankincense and myrrh, fills the air in Ethiopian Coptic and Orthodox Christian Churches. Muslins use lavish quantities of sweet-smelling rose water to impart fragrance to the mosques and other holy places.
In native America sweat lodges, for ritual purification and spiritual connection, the fragrant herbs of sage, cedar and sweet grass are put on hot rocks to release their aroma molecules into the humid atmosphere. Clouds of fragrant smoke rise from the handful of incense sticks, placed at Chinese Buddist shrines. In the Havdallah ceremony held in Jewish homes at the close of the Sabbath every Saturday night, blessings for the light and fragrance are recited over the candle and spice box.
Each dawn, Tibetan go up on the roof s of their houses and light stoves in which they burn bundles of Juniper - to force the sky door open . As plumes of smoke rise from the houses and fragrance fills the air, prayers can be heard. It's the essential oils in fragrant plant materials, the aroma molecules, that are released by these various practices - they are what gives incense its aroma, just as the essential oil in pine needles gives a pine forest its uplifting quality.
Essential oils exude from plants into their 'headspace', where we smell them when walking amongst nature, and humans have devised many methods to capture this essence of the plant, the molecules so many people have chosen to help them connect with and feel the divine.
Fragrance has been said to alert the gods to out presence, and act as a sign that the human mind is focused and receptive to spiritual guidance. In many cultures sweet-smelling aroma was, and still is associated with divinity - with gods, heavens, angels and saints all being attributed a delightful fragrance. By being oneself fragrant, or burning fragrant material, a link or bridge could be formed to the divine. In Legends of the Bible Louis Ginzberg tells us that the Tabernacle had two altars: one brass, and used for food offerings, corresponding to the body; and one gold, used for offering spices and sweet incense - 'for the soul takes delight in perfumes only'.
Reference:/Fragrant heavens/V. A. Worwood