Wednesday, April 4, 2007

Incense week: 4.Traitorous incense for Holy Wednesday

Most people know Judas Iscariot as the classic traitor, the archetype of such a justifiably hateful character: crossing his master for 30 pieces of silver, betraying him with a kiss. It is such a fixed notion in pop culture that we see references of that very act of betrayal in balkan folk verse to U2 songs.
It is also no accident that in many Christian communities there is the tradition of burning a representation of Judas before the Resurrection. Great attention is put into the comparison of the sinful woman who is saved to the chosen apostle who is lost in the scriptures.
In short Judas is doomed. Os is he?

Villains are always exciting characters to follow in literature and if one -like Nietzsche, who by the way was the son of a man of religion (it figures!) - takes an interest in the scriptures solely in their literature capacity and not their alleged apocalyptical meaning, one sees that a proper drama requires at least one capable villain. All the more power to him if there is the possibility of him falling from grace in the end bringing the much needed aristotelic katharsis.
The mention that Judas was of a prominent Judaic family and that he was educated, in sharp contrast to most of the other apostles, is something that does not –in my mind- preclude innocent and coincidental associations. It seems to me that there is an underlying effort to stress that the new emerging religion, Christianity, is thus targeted to the socially and economically unprivileged, whose vast numbers guarantee a great success and a rapid spread of the new word of course. But let’s not be so cynical…

However the recent revelation of the lost Gospel of Judas reveals a different facet of the man that is perhaps even more intriguing. That of the misunderstood here, the one who must bear a cross of his own (as does any man, really), the one who is chosen above others to bring about the difficult task that is needed to bring about salvation through resurrection. In his own words Judas Iscariot talks about how he has been guided by Jesus himself who revealed to him the demanded task: to betray him, Jesus so as to affirm his rule of death and convince the world of his divinity. Although this last part does not shed a favourable light on Jesus (who is basically dooming a simple man to promote his own end) and therefore it has been vehemently denied by the official dogma of the church leaving the study of the gospel to the hands of historians and not theologists, it is so very meaningful and implicating that it requires its own path of thought.
Of course Judas’ gospel is not the only lost one….In fact there are many, one of which is Mary Magdalene’s one. But the subject of any strong faith getting stronger by crashing any notion of weakness is a vast one and the place is not appropriate here to embark on such deep waters.

I have picked nevertheless a handful of tricky, misunderstood incense fragrances that reflect the misapprehension we sometimes reserve for that which we deem fixed idea, just like we have possibly done to Judas.

Snake Oil by Black Phoenix Alchemy Lab: It’s hard to pass up such a great opportunity to talk about this one with the eminently appropriate name. I assure you nevertheless that it is as much chosen for its ability to smell different on each separate application rendering the poor wearer crazy with anticipation on how it will evolve upon the skin. The thick smokiness of the incense cut with a smidgeon of citrus mingles with earthy, dirty notes of patchouli and musk into a symphony of darkness that seems quite potent at first.
As it is quite medicinal when fresh, it tends to mellow and gain complexity and sweetness as the ageing process is on its way; and indeed like a good wine it gains the veil of vanillic warmth that makes it seem much more innocent and lovable than it is, much like those misunderstood characters that we hate we love. Quite strong it is also considered by some to be sexy. Don’t count me in the latter group but thought you might want to know.

Mania by Armani: Why is this one surfacing into a post about incense and traitorous scents, you might ask. You do have a point. It is mr.Armani, bless him chuckling in his tailored sleeves, who is the traitor. Because he had the nerve to discontinue the old slightly masculine, incensy musky and woody version of the scent with that name bottled in a grey bottle with an anthracite cap and replace it with a common pink fruity floral that’s a dime a dozen with a beige cap. For shame, mr. Armanis. For shame!

Incense by Norma Kamali: Take your pills (every one you’ve ever been presecribed, you’ll need those suckers) and slowly, tentatively inhale this mysterious, intense potion. You will find yourself in a swirl wind of such mental turmoil that the afore-mentioned Nietzsche’s troubles will seem like child’s play to you. Prepare yourself for a dose of South American resin, copal, that is completely traitorous to the canonical frankincense and myrrh of more conventional incense-centered perfumes. The northern Lacandón Maya of lowland Chiapas in southern Mexico offered copal incense (pom) to their gods, a material made from the resin of the pitch pine (Pinus pseudostrobus). Norma Kamali is transporting us into a pagan ritualistic celebration like the religious iconoclast that is the theme of the day. Tread with caution; it can’t be stressed enough!

Next instalment -with yet a different spin- to come up shortly!

Pic comes from the film Zwartboek courtesy of Athinorama.

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