Of the five senses, smell is the most spiritual. Fragrance operates on invisible channels within us that connect our body here in the material world to our spirit linked to the overworld.
The sense of smell plays a central role in sacred rites through the use of incense, perfumes and essential oils, and is closely connected to breathing, of which there is an ancient science known as pranayama, in which breath acts not upon the physical body, but rather the subtle body, or electro-magnetic energy field animating the organism.
In fact, this subtle body is sometimes referred to as the aromatic body.
The spiritual science of alchemy uses the language of metals to describe the refining of the aromatic body, following the traditional teaching that each of the seven planets is associated with a corresponding metal. To free oneself from the seven planetary governors, who control the unawakened through fate, the individual’s consciousness melts the planetary energies of the natal horoscope, transforming them into spiritual “gold.”
A common alchemical term for this is “cooking.”
The ego is sacrificed on the spiritual altar, whereupon the person is reborn, phoenix-like—a soul made from the ashes of the old personality. The new self is like an essential oil, a refined and highly concentrated aromatic body. It is the fluidic, pure substance of the self in the form of astral energy.
The extraction and purification process of spiritual awakening and development corresponds to ancient Hermetic texts regarding the eighth sphere, or realm beyond the seven planets and their influence on our earthly selves as indicated in our astrological birth chart. The concept survives all the way to this day in the form of the phrase “seventh heaven,” and in the tune by jazz great Miles Davis entitled “Seven Steps To Heaven.”
But while the planet-metals and their magnetic influence over our personality are to be cooked and purified, the Seven Governors are also to be thanked for their help through our earthly incarnation, and Tradition speaks of returning a ring to each of them with gratitude as we transition from this world to the next. Then our aromatic body, having learned, during earthly life, its true nature and origin, returns to the divine realm with its soul-scent intact, joyfully liberated and eager for the adventures that await.
The aromatic or subtle body must first be discovered during the jarring opening stages of the awakening work, then gradually strengthened through the spiritual practice. Alchemy, Tantra, Daoism and other traditions allow us to actually feel and know the “essential oil” of our soul-substance, that fluidic aromatic body of energy fragrant with the breath of eternity.