Frankincense is met at the church as the censer spreads the fragrant smoke in the congregation. Myrrh is met at asketaria; monastic places of anchorites who end up their days exuding the smell of sanctity...or so witnesses say. In the iconoclastic La Myrrhe by Serge Lutens myrrh takes center stage given a centripental force spin which makes you lean your neck all the way up to there to just observe the gracious arc before it plunges into bittersweet soap¨aldehydes play their part with bravado. The overlaying accents of mandarin and honeyed notes melt's La Myrrhe's bitter resinous heart into the illusion of prettiness. When in fact it's a compellingly strange study in contrasts.
The word "demon" (δαίμων) means spirit or divine power replete with knowledge in classical Greek mythology; at least up to the Neo-Platonics. Hence Socrates's famous claim of "being true to his inner demonium" and Diotema's lesson to him in Plato's Symposium that "love is a greater demon". Is myrrh therefore a demon? An entity between material (mortal) and spirit (divine knowledge)?
Myrrh is indeed someplace between the two; its very nature bears this duality. On the one side a numbing of the senses; a narcotic hedone that lulls the pain. On the other a scourging bitterness that reminds us of the pain of life. Two isomers that share the same structure arranged in different ways; two faces of Janus.
Lutens and his perfumer sidekick Christopher Sheldrake were therefore the first to showcase the Janus-like nature of myrrh for all its worth in their epoch making creation. Experiencing La Myrrhe takes multiple uses to savor the bittersweet elements and the waxy-aldehydic shimmer that glistens upon skin application. I very much doubt I was fully aware of the complexity and irony built into it when zooming on the reddish liquid and paying for it that momentous time back. It must have been pure instinct or the patron saint of perfumery St. Magdalene who guided my young hand; it was my very first "bell jar" out of the purple seraglio in the Palais Royal and it marked me with its duality ever since.