The Origins of Perfume

I don't know about y'all, but I am deeply interested in history. I recently had a talk with my sister-in-law that as we get older, we have found a greater appreciation for history and what our ancestors did before us. I mean if we are being honest here (which we usually always are), I actually got into herbs and folklore from watching the Outlander series in 2019, while grieving the passing of our sweet dog, Ralph. I immediately threw all my energy into binge watching the series in addition to learning all I could about plants, herbs, and Celtic folklore. Now looking back I am aware that this was all just a way to distract myself from being sad - but hey, it has brought me to where I am today and inspired Wilde Folk to be what it is today. 

So without rambling too much, I would love to share a bit about the origins of perfume - as I think it has a fascinating history derived from a variety of different cultures and continents. Plus to let you in on a little secret...Wilde Folk is launching a series of plant based perfumes throughout 2022, so might as well get acquainted with the origins and culture of aromatherapy.

First things first - the word perfume is derived from Latin (as all things tend to be). "Per" meaning through, and "fumus" meaning smoke. The French later coined the word "parfum" thanks to the smoking fragrance of burning incense. 

While the French may be famous for making perfume what it is today, there is a rich history of cultures that have been known to use incense for one reason or another. Ancient Egyptians were known to use incense in temple rituals, as well as for scenting bodies in both life & death. China burned incense in temples to show respect to ancestors, and to purify the air. Rome was known to burn incense throughout the streets as a way to cover the stench of excrement and garbage. So as you can see, many cultures were known to use incense, but today I'm going to focus on Ancient Egypt. The last Queen of Egypt in particular - the one, the only Cleopatra. 

Egyptians started to incorporate fragrance into their daily life - much like how we enjoy diffusers or scented candles these days. They believed fragrance helped maintain a harmonious balance between body & soul. Coincidentally, medicinal blends curated by herbalists and healers, smelled so good they were quickly worn as perfume. A blend of cardamom & myrrh (known as Megalion) was used for burned/inflamed skin. Another medicinal blend used for anxiety, known as Theriaque, was an earthy blend of frankincense, balsam, sweet rush and even serpent skin! Yes SNAKE SKIN.

Inspired from these medicinal blends, most perfumes in Ancient Egypt were soon derived from a combination of vegetable oil, or animal fat, along with flowers, herbs, and/or resins. These "ointments" were used in temples as a way to connect with Gods & Goddesses, as well as for funerary rites. It's said bodies were embalmed with fragrance to allow the person to have access to eternal life and have their olfactory needs fulfilled in the afterlife. In fact, it's said when Egyptian tombs of Priests and Pharaohs were opened by archeologists in 1897, they still smelled of sweet fragrance and perfumes. So wild to imagine that!!

While we now know that aroma was a big part of afterlife and spirituality purposes, it was also known to be a symbol of moral purity and seduction. In fact, the Queen Cleopatra herself was said to lay in scented baths before being doused in a fragrance. In fact, there was a really cool discovery back in 2012 uncovering what ingredients she potentially used in her infamous perfume. I'll share more on this in another post!! 

Legend has it, she used fragrance in a variety of ways to seduce Marc Antony. One of my favorite tales is how she would douse her sails with perfume before setting to sea, with the idea that Antony would get a waft of her arrival before even laying eyes on her. How freaking amazing is that!? 

"Purple the sails, and so perfumed that
The winds were lovesick with them…
… From the barge, a strange invisible perfume hits the sense…’ 


So there you have it. A little wilde folklore and history for you regarding the origins of perfume! Hope you enjoy!! Until next time :) 

- Ceci


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