Perfumes are substances, generally made by blending plant
oils, selected animal secretions, and synthetic chemicals, to
produce a pleasant odor. Such substances were highly valued
and sought after throughout human history, especially before
regular bathing and the widespread use of deodorants altered
the significance of human body odors. During earlier centuries,
for a body to smell of a pleasant odor was noteworthy. Modern
medicine has observed that in certain illnesses the skin gives
out a scent of violets, pineapple, and musk, among others.
Whatever the explanation may be, this observation helps
one understand the perfumes produced by mediums and
makes the phrase ‘‘the odor of sanctity’’ appear in a new light.
Christian saints are said to exhale a sweet perfume which increases
at death and may remain for weeks, months, or even
years afterwards. When the body of St. Casimir, Patron of Poland,
was exhumed in 1603, 120 years after his death, it was
found entire and exhaled a sweet smell. St. Cajetan emitted the
scent of orange blossoms, St. Francis that of musk. Other saints
stated to have given forth fragrance include St. Clare of Ferriol
(660 C.E.), St. Hermann of Britanny (714 C.E.) and St. Patrick
(461 C.E.).
Some Hindu yogis are credited with the ability to create perfumes
by miraculous means. In his famous book Bengal Lancer
(1930), F. Yeats-Brown described his encounter with a Mahatma
named Babu Bisudhanan Dhan at Puri, Calcutta. With
nothing more than a magnifying-glass and a piece of cottonwool,
the Mahatma conjured perfumes out of the air by focusing
light on the cotton-wool through the glass. Each scent was
waved away with the hand, to be succeeded by the next request.
He produced in quick succession the scents of violets, musk,
sandalwood, opium, heliotrope, flowering bamboo, nicotine
plant, jasmine, and even cow-dung. A later book, Naked Ascetic
by Victor Dane (1933), described a Tantric yogi in Bhawanipore
who produced on request the smell of violets on Dane’s
handkerchief without it leaving Dane’s hand; the perfume lasted
for twelve hours.
In the records of William Stainton Moses, we find highly illustrative
experiences recorded. For example, at the closing of
a séance, scents were often found to be issuing out of his head.
The more they were wiped away, the stronger and more plentiful
they became. The most common scents were musk, verbena,
new-mown hay and an unfamiliar odor which was assumed to
be a ‘‘spirit scent.’’ During the séance it usually came down in
showers. On Dr. Stanhope Templeman Speer’s request a good
tablespoonful was once poured into a glass. Moses was fully
aware that his body played an important part in the production
of scents. He wrote on July 4, 1874
‘‘While in the garden, before we began to sit, I was conscious
of scent all round me, especially on my hair. When I rubbed my
hair my hand was scented strongly. I tried the experiment
many times. When the peppermint came I was conscious of its
presence first near my head, and it seemed, as it were, to be
evolved out of the hair. I have before noticed the same thing,
but not so markedly on this occasion.’’
He suspected that the process was remedial, as the scent
from his scalp was most marked when he was suffering pain. He
believed that scents were employed to harmonize conditions.
As he noted,
‘‘If a new sitter is present, he or she is sensed, and so initiated.
The chair which the stranger occupies is surrounded by luminous
haze, from which issues the perfume; and very frequently
wet scent, more or less pungent, according to
conditions, is sprinkled from the ceiling at the same time. If a
new intelligence is to communicate, or special honour to be
paid to a chief, the room is pervaded by perfume which grows
stronger as the spirit enters. This scenting of the room in which
we are about to meet will sometimes commence many hours before
we begin. There is a subtle odour in it which is perpetually
being changed. Sometimes the aroma of a flower from the garden
is drawn out, intensified, and insinuated throughout the
house. Sometimes the odour is like nothing of this earth’s production,
ethereal, delicate, and infinitely delightful. Sandalwood
used to be a favourite, and rose, verbena, and odours of
other flowers have been plentifully used.
‘‘I find it difficult to convey any idea of the subtle odours
that have been diffused throughout the room, or of the permanence
of the scent. It is usually the first manifestation and the
last. The perfume is sprinkled in showers from the ceiling, and
borne in waves of cool air round the circle, especially when the
atmosphere is close and the air oppressive. Its presence in a
particular place is shown to me by the luminous haze which accompanies
it. I can trace its progress round the circle by the
light . . . and can frequently say to a certain sitter ‘You will
smell the scent directly. I see the luminous form going to you.’
My vision has always been confirmed by the exclamations of delight
which follow.
‘‘When we first observed this manifestation, it was attended
by a great peculiarity. The odour was circumscribed in space,
confined to a belt or band, beyond which it did not penetrate.
It surrounded the circle to a few feet, and outside of that belt
was not perceptible; or it was drawn across the room as a cordon,
so that it was possible to walk into it and out of it again—
the presence and absence of the odour and the temperature of
the air which accompanied it being most marked. . . . Within
it the temperature was cool and the scent strong, outside of it
the air was decidedly warmer, and no trace of the perfume was
perceptible. It was no question of fancy. The scent was too
strong for that.
‘‘I have known the same phenomenon to occur in the open
air. I have been walking with a friend, for instance, and we have
walked into air laden with scent, and through it again into the
natural atmosphere . . . I have even known cases where wet
scent has been produced and showered down in the open air.
On one special occasion, in the Isle of Wight, my attention was
attracted by the patter of some fine spray on a lady’s [Mrs.
Speer’s] silk dress, as we were walking along a road. One side
of the dress was plentifully besprinkled with fine spray, which
gave forth a delicious odour, very clearly perceptible for some
distance round.
‘‘During a séance the scent is either carried, as it seems,
round the circle, and is then accompanied by cool air, or it is
sprinkled down from the ceiling of the room in liquid form. In
the clairvoyant state I am able to see and describe the process
before the scent is sprinkled, and can warn a special sitter not
to look upwards. For, on certain occasions, when conditions are
not favourable, the scent is pungent and most painful if it gets
into my eye, and it has caused no more pain than water would.
On the contrary, I have seen the effect caused on another [Mrs.
Speer] by a similar occurrence. The pain caused was excruciating,
the inflammation was most severe, and the effects did not
pass off for 24 hours or more. In fact, whatever the liquid was,
it caused severe conjunctivitis.
‘‘This variety in the pungency and potency of perfume I attribute
to variety in the attendant circumstances. The illness of
one of the sitters will cause the scent to become coarse and pungent.
Harmonious conditions, physical and mental, are signalised
by the presence of delicate subtle odours which are infinitely
charming. I have said that sometimes the odour of
flowers, either in the house or garden, will be intensified. A vase
of fresh flowers put on the table causes the natural perfume in
this way. We used frequently to gather fresh flowers, and watch
the process. Flowers which had a very slight smell when gathered
would, by degrees, throw off such a perfume as to fill the
room and strike anyone who came into it most forcibly. In this
case the natural odour of the flower was intensified and the
bloom received no harm. At other times, however, some liquid
was apparently put upon the blossom, and an odour, not its
own given to it. In that case it invariably withered and died very
rapidly. I have frequently had flowers in my buttonhole scented
in this way.
Encyclopedia of Occultism & Parapsychology • 5th Ed. Perfumes
‘‘Great quantities of dry musk have been from time to time
thrown about in the house where our circle meets. On a late occasion
it fell in very considerable quantities over a writing-desk
at which a lady was sitting in the act of writing letters. It was
mid-day, and no one was near at the time, yet the particles of
musk were so numerous as to pervade the whole contents of the
desk. They were placed, for no throwing would have produced
such a result, at the very bottom of the desk, and between the
papers which it contained. The odour was most pronounced;
and the particles, when gathered together, made up a considerable
packet. Some time after this when at a séance, I saw something
which looked like luminous dust on the table. No odour
was perceptible, but in my clairvoyant state I saw a heap of luminous
particles which appeared to be extremely brilliant. I described
it, and putting out my hand I found that there was
really a heap on the table. I inquired what it was and musk was
rapped out. We demurred, for no odour was perceptible, but
the statement was reiterated. After the séance we gathered up
the dust, which looked like musk, but had no smell whatsoever.
The next morning, however, the odour was powerful enough;
and the powder still exists, and is indubitably a very good powdered
musk. By what imaginable process can that phenomenon
have been accomplished’’
The scents were not always welcome. In his note of July 4,
1874, Moses referred to a pungent odor of peppermint which
was very unpleasant. Stanhope Speer described this happening
more outspokenly
‘‘The other evening a newcomer slipped in, and stank us out
of the room by throwing down from the ceiling a large quantity
of Sp. Pulegii. Everything that it touched was impregnated for
24 hours. The dining-room cloth and my own nether habiliments
had to be exposed to view in the back garden; and on
the following morning our dining-room floor and passage had
to be freely fumigated with pastilles. That spirit has not been
invited to join us again.’’
The experience suggests that the stench observed in some
curious cases of haunting have a similar cause. Dr. Justinus
Kerner recorded the case of Frau Eslinger who, in 1835, in the
prison of Weinberg, was visited and talked to by a ghost that
emitted an intolerable stench, felt by many others, as well.
The sickening stench of a charnel house was reported in a
house near London (Daily Chronicle, April 15, 1908). On examination
it was revealed that a body had been left unburied in the
house until advanced putrefaction had occurred.
Florence Marryat wrote about the phantom ‘‘Lenore’’ of
Mary Showers ‘‘On one occasion . . . there was a charnel house
smell about her, as if she had been buried a few weeks and dug
up again. . . . One evening at Mrs. Gregory’s . . . I nearly fainted
from the smell. It resembled nothing but that of a putrid
corpse, and when she returned to the cabinet, I was compelled
to leave the room and retch from the nausea it had caused me.’’
The medium Carlos Mirabelli of S˜ao Paolo once produced
a skeleton via materialization. An odor as that of a cadaver was
emitted from his body.
The withdrawal of the scents of flowers of which Moses wrote
was the only physical phenomenon known in Leonora Piper’s
mediumship. ‘‘Mrs. Piper’s fingers,’’ wrote Richard Hodgson,
‘‘moved near the flower, as if withdrawing something from it;
and in a few hours it had withered.’’
Lord Adare witnessed the famous medium D. D. Home extending
his hand towards the flowers on a small table, the fingers
pointing towards them. ‘‘His hand remained there for few
seconds, and was then brought round, and with a motion like
sprinkling, cast the perfume of the flowers towards each of us
in turn; the perfume was so strong that there could be no mistake
about it. This was done twice. Home then made some very
curious experiments with flowers; he separated the scent into
two portions—one odor smelling exactly like earth; the other
being sweet.
Essences were also similarly withdrawn,
‘‘I am going to take the strength from the brandy—and he
began to make passes over the glass and flipping his fingers,
sending a strong smell of spirit through the room; in about five
minutes he had made the brandy as weak as very weak brandy
and water, it scarcely tasted at all of spirit; both Lindsay and I
tasted it, at the moment, and also some time after the séance
was over.
‘‘He withdrew the acid flavour from a half a lemon, freshly
cut and tasted. He held it up above his head; a yellowish light
came over it, and when offered to taste again the lemon was
found most disagreeable, the flavour was like magnesia or
washing soda. He then restored the acid. Holding it up, a rose
coloured flame came over it. After a little while, he offered it
and it was found all right.’’ (See Experiences in Spiritualism with
D. D. Home by Viscount Adare [1870]).
The psychical researcher Dr. Joseph Maxwell found the luminous
phenomena of the medium Eusapia Palladino at the
sittings of Choisy not very convincing because a strong aroma
of phosphorus permeated the room. Later, however, he found
this odor characteristic and discovered that it was more like the
odor of ozone than that of phosphorus. It was like the odor perceptible
in the vicinity of frictional electrical machines when in
It is curious to note that this smell often disturbed clairvoyants
during their visions. Emanuel Swedonborg was one of the
first to record his annoyance over it. In the poltergeist disturbance
of the Drummer of Tedworth in 1661, the manifestations
were sometimes accompanied by ‘‘a bloomy noisome
smell’’ as of sulphur.
There are early records of paranormal scents in the correspondence
of Dr. G. P. Billot with J. P. F. Deleuze in 1839. Billot
stated that superior intelligences presented themselves
through his somnambules, presided at séances, and manifested
themselves by the delicious odors which they diffused around
In the séances of the medium David Duguid, perfumes were
administered to one sitter at a time, and the recipient felt the
cooling odors gently blown over his face. The manifestation was
not confined to the séance room; it was sometimes experienced
in the open air.
Among later mediums in whose séances the phenomenon
was often recorded the Marquis Centurione Scotto and Mina
Crandon (‘‘Margery’’) stand foremost.
Dane, Victor. Naked Ascetic. N.p., 1933.
Dunraven, Windham Thomas Wyndham Quin. Experiences
in Spiritualism with D. D. Home. 1871. Reprint, New York Arno
Press, 1976.
Kennett, Frances. History of Perfume. London Harrap, 1975.
Thompson, C. J. S. The Mystery and Lure of Perfume. London
J. Lane; Detroit Singing Tree Press, 1969.
Yeats-Brown, F. Bengal Lancer. London V. Gollancz Ltd.,
1930. Reprinted as The Life of a Bengal Lancer. New York Viking
Press 1931.

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