Scents, Spirit, and Connections

I’m taking a bit of a shortcut in this post and stealing it from our Inside the Enso blog. It’s a new offering from the online residency program called The Enso Circle that Michelle Belto and I began building together at least ten years ago and is now opening its ninth term in January. You can subscribe to the blog without being a member of The Enso Circle. It’s designed to give you an idea of some of our discussions with the Artists-in-Residents – like this one on Sacred Scents!



Scents and aromas have been part of sacred spaces for over 5000 years. Originally, perfumes were used in sacred shrines in conjunction with burnt offerings. People burned precious scents such as frankincense and myrrh on their altars. Soon, people began using these rare perfumes on their own bodies and associating scent with spiritual experiences.

Creating a sacred space with the assistance of essential oils, incense, and natural scents is a personal and customizable practice. The scents you choose, the rituals you incorporate, and the intentions you set all contribute to the unique and sacred atmosphere you want to create.

Here are some cross-cultural versions of sacred scents that have endured:

Copal Incense: Copal incense is a resin incense that has been used in Mesoamerican rituals for centuries. It is known for its strong, earthy, and slightly citrusy scent. Copal incense is typically burned on the altar to purify the space, create a welcoming atmosphere for the spirits, and to help lift the prayers and messages to the spirit world. The aromatic smoke is believed to be a bridge between the two realms, helping the spirits find their way.

Below is a very short video about how to burn Copal resin incense from Quetzalcoatl Music Guillermo Martinez.
Source for Copal

Lavender Essential Oil: Lavender’s name traces back to the Latin verb “lavare,” which means “to wash.” This essential oil provides spiritual protection by metaphorically cleansing your spirit. Lavender essential oil has the potential to dispel feelings of depression and aids in regulating our emotional well-being. It is the go-to choice for meditation due to its calming and soothing properties. Lavender essential oil is a valuable tool for enhancing your meditative focus and achieving a deeper state of inner tranquility. Sprinkle one or two drops on your altar cloth or use a mist of 20 drops of lavender oil to 2 ounces of water as a purifying mist.Source for Lavender Essential Oil


Hand-gathered Smudging Bundles for Purification of Spaces

Smudging with sage or cedar is a centuries-old ritual deeply rooted in Native American and Indigenous cultures. It involves burning bundles of dried sage or cedar leaves and using the fragrant smoke to cleanse and purify a space, object, or person. Sage is often associated with purification, clarity, and wisdom, while cedar is believed to offer protection and grounding energy. The ritual is typically performed by lighting the bundle and waving it gently, allowing the smoke to waft through the area while setting intentions for cleansing negative energy and promoting positive vibes. Smudging is not only a practical act but a spiritual one, fostering a sense of balance and reverence for the natural world.

You can make this even more meaningful by gathering your own plants for smudging bundles. You become part of the sacred process from beginning to end.  Here are directions that we wrote for you about how to make your own Smudge Bundles. They take about two weeks to dry, so practice mindfulness and patience.


More subtle than music, ephemeral in nature, scents enhance, inspire, cleanse and renew on the deepest level of human consciousness. We’d love to read your comments and observations about how you use scents as a creative enhancement in your own  work.

One last note: If you think you might be interested in applying for a 12-week Enso Circle residency, please take this link and we will get right back to you – applications for the new term open on December 1.

The art and science of aromatherapy – essential oils and Alzheimer’s Disease

I’ve studied and used essential oils since 1989 and was actually teaching workshops on their uses way before I began teaching art workshops. In the late ’90s, Dr. Bill Kurtin and I partnered in sharing research-based information about aromatherapy with social agencies and college classes, and set up our informational website, called Chemaroma, in 2006.

Bill is a biochemist who chaired the Chemistry Department at Trinity University for many years. We’re married now, and since Bill retired from teaching, he’s had time to do more research on current studies about essential oils. He’s just written an article for our Chemaroma blog summarizing recent research on essential oils and Alzheimer’s Disease. Here’s the link to the complete article, which I think is wonderful and encouraging.

In his article, Bill writes, “The research . . ., as well as much work not mentioned, strongly suggest that EOs may provide an excellent alternative, natural, widely available, and inexpensive treatment for AD, particularly for easing the symptoms of the disease.” He writes for a general audience, who, like me, have trouble with scientific complexities – whew! It’s a fascinating premises that could help millions.

If you have not any in-depth reading on the science of aromatherapy and need an introduction, here’s a good background article from the University of Maryland Medical Center. And, or course, you can always go to our website, Chemaroma, for more info.

I’ve always relied on Clary Sage essential oil for getting past creative blocks – the name in Latin means “clear eye” – and its smell is intoxicating.  Here’s another take on essential oils from an artist on the Craftsy site.

Bill and I are especially interested in essential oil research that pertains to our aging population – anything that will help all of us stay alive, engaged, and creative longer is worth pursuing! Read and share the article, Are Essential Oils Useful in the Treatment of Alzheimer’s Disease.” It’s a good one.


Smell this . . . . . .ahhhhhhh



Raise your hand if you know about aromatherapywow! That’s more people than I thought! It’s a wonderful practice, one that I’ve taught since 1990. Shortly after that, my biochemist friend Dr. Bill Kurtin and I began work on a new educational aromatherapy website called Chemaroma. We’ve just updated and expanded it, and we’re really excited about it. We may even get to participate in the National Association of Holistic Aromatherapy conference later this year.

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So what’s in it for you? First of all, there are a bunch of free resources on the Chemaroma site, including a recipe called Stinky Sneaker Zapper that makes your track shoes smell like lavender. There are also some neat skin care recipes and such. And you can get essential oils at Whole Foods and Sprouts. There is even a special essential oil for creativity called Clary Sage – I’ll tell you about that one later. Essential oils are easy and fun, and you don’t have to be an aromatherapist to experience them.

So, if you want to experiment, here’s one of my favorite ways to use  essential oils – an aromatherapy bath salt project. I made this video about three or four years ago. Once you make these artistic little bath salt packets, you can use them for gifts, for craft markets, or just to store in your linen closet or underwear drawer until you are ready to open them and use them in the bath tub or shower 🙂 They make lovely aromatic sachets.

Got questions about aromatherapy? Visit Chemaroma or just email me. And the first person to contact me through the Chemaroma home page gets that packet of Gingergrass Bath Salts at the top of this post. Happy Friday!!

Home from The Prairie

belIt’s hard to know where to start when you’ve just experienced an amazing four days in an unfamiliar but totally inspiring place. Teaching with the gifted instructors at Vivi Magoo in Round Top was an honor – and the students taught me as much I taught them! My friend Bonnie said that it was like going off to camp – how true. Except the camp cabins at The Prairie were furnished with lace and soft pillows and rose chintz.

I did miss my pal Michelle Belto – she was a huge help preparing botanical prints and papers for our demonstrations. And I couldn’t have done it without help from Lorri Scott, whose advice kept me focused and confident in a new environment – so glad she’s feeling better! Each of the three classes had its own personality – and I loved them all. Remarks heard during the three days, “I love your residue!” – “Those look like tie-dyed underpants” – “Ow, ow, that rebar’s hot!!” – “Look, it’s an alien!” – and especially, “I feel like I’ve know you guys all my life.”

I’ll let the video give you a taste of all the truly fun things we did and learned, but videos can’t show the welcoming warmth of the students and instructors at Vivi Magoo (by the way, I did find out where the name came from). Many thanks to Barb Solem and her family. And what a thrill it was to meet fellow Artful Gathering (yay!) instructors Diane Cook and Debby Anderson in person. So Viva, Vivi Magoo, and y’all in San Antonio stay tuned for workshops at my Studio sharing all of this good stuff!

Aromatherapy and Compassionate Care


This afternoon the Studio will take on a different role as a workshop space for ABODE Contemplative Care for the Dying. More than 20 hospice workers, counselors and social workers will attend the presentation. You’ve heard me mention the good work that Patsy and Edwin Sasek do with this beautiful non-profit organization, and today they have asked Dr. Bill Kurtin and me to discuss essential oils for end-of-life care. Bill and I maintain an educational website about Aromatherapy as an art and science. It’s called Chemaroma, and I invite you to visit anytime for research-based information about aromatherapy – there’s far too little of that, and we hope to provide more of it on our site.  There are also some formulas for skin care and other fun things. – look around!
Researching today’s presentation took me far afield from visual arts (sort of), but I discovered some wonderful resources. One of the best discoveries was the Upaya Zen Center in Santa Fe. The abbot, Joan Halifax Roshi,is a Buddhist teacher, Zen priest, anthropologist, and author. She has worked in the area of death and dying for over thirty years and is Director of the Project on Being with Dying. It’s a fascinating, if not cheery, subject. If you’d like to know more about what I’ve found out, you are welcome to look at the Resources I’ve gathered for today’s workshop.


Friday Freebie: Secret Skin Formula

Hazelnut OilSpeaking of aromatherapy, today’s freebie is my never-before-revealed aromatherapy formula for the best skin treatment. It really is nice, natural and effective – friends ask me to make it for them often and now you can make it for yourself – Ta Dah! It starts with Hazelnut Oil. You can order it from fancy spa sites, but guess what? You can buy it in the gourmet oil section of Central Market or Whole Foods for much less. And it’s food grade, so it’s very pure. I’m giving you two formulas, below, but the first one is my favorite. Essential Oil of Lavender is easy to find, Frankincense not so much (and it’s pricey). But lately I’ve just been using Lavender Oil on its own and its still wonderfully effective. Don’t mix it in larger quantities than two ounces, and don’t refrigerate it. This should last you at least a month, because you don’t need very much. It’s non-greasy and is especially good for your neck and eye area (don’t get it in your eyes!)

Here’s the formula – there’s lots of other information on the Chemaroma website that I share with Dr. Bill Kurtin. Happy Friday!


The Art of Aromatherapy and ABODE

abodeOne of the most interesting and inspiring groups I know is ABODE.  These compassionate people, led by my friends Patsy and Edwin Sasek, provide a home where contemplative care for the dying is provided to guests in a simple, welcoming, peaceful environment. You can read more about their Mission on their website.

Recently, Patsy invited me and my colleague in Aromatherapy, Dr. Bill Kurtin, to present a program to their group and others with similar interests about the use of Essential Oils as therapeutic aids for calming stress and encouraging serenity in both client and caregiver. We are thrilled to have this opportunity, and will hold the workshop at my Studio on Sunday, May 5th. As most of you know, Bill and I have done lectures and demonstrations at the University level and elsewhere on the Art and Science of Essential Oils but this is a new venture for us. I’ve worked with hospice groups in the past, but Bill’s ability to ground the therapeutic use of essential oils in scientific research will add immense credibility to the presentation, as always.

chemaromaAromatherapy is complex, effective and sometimes misunderstood science, but it is so worth learning about. You can read a sneak preview about the presentation sponsored by ABODE on our research website, Chemaroma. If you’re interested in attending, contact the good people at ABODE (or just send me an email). The sign-up information will be available very soon. And for tomorrow’s Friday Freebie, I’ll be giving you the recipe for a wonderful facial treatment using essential oils, so stay tuned.