Marian stayed home to raise Michelle and her brother, Craig, skillfully managing...
Written by Jennifer Dublino, on March 2nd, 2011
When we think about spirituality and religion, we normally associate various teachings, quotations, ideas and theology. But the idea of fragrance is actually featured prominently in many spiritual teachings in western culture.
The Hebrew Scriptures mention smell in a positive way. In Numbers, the incense offering in the Holy Temple was to produce “a satisfying aroma” (Numbers 28:2) before the Creator. This incense is called “the most endearing of all the sacrifices.” (Bamidbar Rabbah 18:7). The story of creation gives the nose a place of prominence, because man came to life when the Creator “Blew into his nostrils the soul of life” (Genesis 2:7). The Talmud states, “What is it that gives enjoyment to the soul and not to the body? That is fragrant smell.” (Talmud, Berachos 43b) Sages further explain that in the Garden of Eden, Adam and Eve defiled four out of the five senses, leaving the sense of smell pristine. (Bnei Yissacher, Adar 1:10) On Saturday evening, when the Sabbath is ending, part of the havdalah connection is to smell myrtle leaves and the special candle used, in order to smoothly bring the energy into the new week.
In the Christian Bible, a Christian is compared to the sweet smell of Jesus and a saint’s prayers is said to bring a sweet aroma before the Creator. Catholic services use frankincense and myrrh, and a person’s personal smell was said to be a sign of the state of his soul, with holy people smelling pleasant and sinful people smelling bad. Even the corpses of saints gave off an “odor of sanctity” rather than the usual foul odor.
In Islam, too, scent is important and treated in a positive way. The basis for this is “Allah is beautiful and loves beauty.” (Muslim, Tirmidhi) Mohammed was said to love perfume and said “Anyone offered rayhan (basil perfume) should not decline it. It is light in weight and fragrant in scent.” Islam recommends the use of perfume when going to social functions, particularly to mosque for Friday prayers and holidays. (Bukhari, Muslim and others) In fact, wearing scent is considered to be an act of charity, since it benefits others and has a profound effect on the soul, which yearns for beauty.
At the World Economic Forum on the Middle East in 2008, a delicious scent was released into the air, billed as the “scent of peace and dialogue.” It was made of up scents associated with the three monotheistic faiths conceived in the Middle East, containing Jaffa citrus and orange for Judaism, frankincense and sea breeze for Christianity and musk and rose for Islam.
Perhaps scent can help us all connect to our higher selves. Certainly, when talking to prospects who hold strong religious beliefs, a thorough knowledge of how scent is treated in their religion can help break the ice.
 “The Scent of Peace?” Katherine Marshall, Berkley Center for Religion, Peace & World Affairs, Georgetown University May 19, 2008