Monday, June 20, 2011

This Little (Aromatherapeutic) Light of Mine

by Susanne Dietze

Pineapple and Cilantro.  I don’t know how those two would taste in a dish, but I do know one thing: together they create my favorite candle scent in the entire world.

photo courtesy of
My pineapple pillar smells sweet, but not like an upside-down cake. There’s a bite to the fragrance, an earthiness that makes me feel buoyant, like summer is here and I’m slicing the prickly skin off the pineapple and eating the fruit with my hands.

You probably have a favorite candle scent, too. Or more than one. I’m quite a junkie, candle-wise. I love them so much that, until recently, I sold them as a home-based business. I obviously loved the product, and it was a good gig. Americans supposedly spend two billion dollars a year on candles; they’re a popular gift item, they’re moderately priced, and they can add a homey touch to any room—visually as well as scent-wise.

Candles seem a bit indulgent, which is part of their appeal. Unlike the tallow and beeswax tapers our ancestors used, we don’t need candles to brighten our homes. Illumination is no longer the point. A different sort of enlightenment comes from candles these days.

There’s something deliberate about candles, something that forces us to be slow and purposeful in order to enjoy what they offer. Something that makes us stop and be present in the moment.

For one thing, time is required—to prepare a safe place for the candle, and to enjoy the burn—when we light candles. The flame, flickering over the wax, mesmerizes in a way no electric bulb ever can. The glow signals the intentional setting aside of time for romance, or a relaxing bath, or a special meal. We can’t burn candles when we’re frenzied. We burn them when we want to experience a bit of peace.

2011 Paschal Candle
image by synestheticstrings via flickr
I find this true in worship, as well. I attend a liturgical church, so candles are part of our worship. There are no Biblical roots for candles, since candle making as we know it didn’t exist until the eleventh century or so. Nevertheless, each candle at church, to me, is like a miniature Paschal candle (the large, white candle we light each Easter, a tradition which goes back to the sixth century) because the flames represent the triumph of the Resurrection over death, of light over darkness, of the Light of the World over sin.

Like the visual power of candles in the sanctuary, my sense of smell can also tie me to worship. I often burn a candle when I pray, and the moment I light it and its scent reaches me, I feel caught up, taken back to what I was last doing when I experienced it. Prayer. Praise. God’s love. Later, when the candle burns when I’m not at prayer, the scent still reminds me of God’s closeness.

Of all our senses, scent is said to have the strongest effect in evoking memory (it's called odor perception, and it's quite a complex response in our central nervous systems). Scent ties us to place, time, and emotion faster and more viscerally than images, sounds, or taste. We writers are supposed to incorporate all five senses into our stories, but smell is often overlooked. It shouldn't be, and not just because smell enriches the reading experience. It’s because scent is such a powerful trigger for mood and memory, and that’s true for us as well as our characters.

We each create our own meanings for the scents we experience. While some associate orange blossoms with allergy season, the scent energizes me because I relate it to a fresh start I had several years ago. An old grass-scented candle of mine smelled like fresh-cut stems, and when burning it, I’d experience a bit of pleasure, as if someone had sent me flowers. Sweet peas’ fragrance instills a carefree feeling in me; it reminds me of being young, experiencing their heady scent for the first time when (with permission) I cut stems off a neighbor’s wire fence.

It’s no wonder aromatherapy is such big business, when scent can elevate mood or remind us of emotions and experiences from the past.

To me, candles are a tool of cultivation. They help set the stage for acts of deliberation, from worship to romance to celebration. They also assist me in nurturing the remembrance of positive memories and feelings, like optimism and tranquility. Candles may not be your thing, but God has given us a gift in our senses of smell to refresh and bless us. And He’s given us a world of scent to enjoy.

Baking bread. A fresh-bathed baby. My children’s’ hair. Coppertone suntan lotion. Dill weed from my garden. Precious, all, and worthy of offering thanks to God.

Question for the Day: What’s your favorite candle scent? How does it make you feel, or does it remind you of something?

Susanne Dietze has written love stories set in the nineteenth century since she was in high school, casting her friends in the starring roles. Today, she writes in the hope that her historical romances will encourage and entertain others to the glory of God. Married to a pastor and the mom of two, Susanne loves fancy-schmancy tea parties, travel, and spending time with family and friends. Her work has finaled in the 2010 Genesis Contest, the 2009 Gotcha! Contest, and the Touched By Love Contest, 2008 and 2009. You can visit her on her personal blog, Tea and a Good Book,

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  1. I suppose it says something about me that my favorite candle scents are "Christmas Cookie" and "Vanilla Cupcake."

    In my defense, floral scents and perfumey smells tend to trigger migraines in me, but I don't seem to have that problem with the food scents. I'm also fond of "Pumpkin Pie", "Lemon Meringue," and "Maple Sugar." What do these remind me of? Um...

  2. I love cinnamon scents, and citrus. Not together, of course. :-)

    I can only imagine what pineapple and cilantro smell like together. I'll bet it's lovely.

    Unfortunately, I'm one of those people with allergies to everything. My favorite scent, lavender, is one I'm highly allergic to. So I don't have candles, perfume, or flowers in my house. I'm missing out on so much. :-(

  3. Yum, Barb! Those sound delicious. When I was selling candles, Sugar Cookie was always the #1 selling candle, so you're not alone with the Christmas Cookie preference. It's a comforting, relaxing, homey scent.

    I like vanilla scents, but I have to be careful. There's a Warm Vanilla Sugar (at Bath and Body works) that triggers my sinuses.

    Thanks, Barb.

  4. Susanne--

    Whew! I feel better now knowing I have company.

    I cannot walk by a Bath and Body Works without it triggering my sinuses. I have to cross to the other side of the mall and walk quickly, while holding my breath--quite a trick.

    Mrs. Field's, on the other hand ;)

  5. Good morning, Suzie. What a bummer that you're allergic to lavender! This year, I have an English Lavender bush right outside the office window. My daughter and I dried some flowers to keep in our The bees and my hummingbird "pet" love lavender and I've enjoyed watching them.

    You're not alone in having scent issues. Lots of people do. But if you want to enjoy the flickering of a candle on an autumn evening, you could try the LED-faux candles. I bought one at Target and I love it. It's made of wax, so the look is right, and sometimes it's kind of nice to turn something on and not worry about it burning anything.

    Thanks for visiting, Suzie!

  6. Oh no Barb! I know what you mean. There are some stores that are just, well, overwhelming with smell. One of my kids likes to shop for tees at a particular store at the mall, and sometimes I think the store's by-laws state that they must cycle a vat of their signature cologne through the vents. The cologne smells nice, but whoa, it can be so strong in there (not to mention loud) that I feel queasy! :-)

  7. On 9/11/01, we were still living in the DC metro area. My dh worked on a military installation (NOT the Pentagon, but close enough to hear the explosion). For several days, the entire city was shellshocked. It was so eerily quiet -- no planes (we lived by Dulles airport at that point), almost no traffic in the evening. We stared at the TV screen and waited for the casualty list. I was writing nonfiction articles back then, so I was pretty much wallowing in the event, interviewing people who were in the Pentagon or who saw the plane hit. We needed to get OUT, so we went to the mall one evening -- Friday, I think.

    Even at the mall, it seemed people were walking around in a daze. I went into the candle shop and was trying different scents when I pulled the lid off one that smelled like the same rose scent of the sachets my grandmother (died 1988) had used in her drawers. Suddenly, I was pulled back in time to to my childhood, a time when war and death only happened in long ago times or in far off lands. For several seconds I was 10 years old again, at Grandma's house on a summer afternoon.

    I bought the candle, and I've kept rose scented candles in my house ever since.

  8. CJ, what a touching story. That rose candle was a blessing in the middle of such a sad and frightening time. I remember how nothing felt secure or "normal" in the days following 9/11. To receive a several-second trip to your childhood with your grandma--what a gift that was. God gives good gifts.

    My great-grandma used a rose-scented lotion. She died when I was seven, but rosy lotion smells make me think of her. Cherry-almond Jergens lotion reminds me of my grandma, who also died when I was 7. Those scents take me back to childhood and make me feel small and safe.

  9. Wow, CJ. I agree with Suzie. That rose scent was a blessing from God in the midst of a horrible event. Rose scent reminds me of my grandma, too. She always had rose soaps in her bathroom.

  10. This hit me right between the eyes, Susie. I rarely take the time to stop and light a candle on purpose, a tangible reminder to slow down and enjoy life. Guess what I'll be doing today?

    My favorite scent is patchouli, though it's hard to find a patchouli candle that smells "right." Clove, leather, and real sandalwood. Yum.

  11. Oh Niki, sometimes patchouli hits the spot. It's a relaxing scent to me. I agree; sometimes it's hard to find something just right.

    I need to take a minute and enjoy life today, too. So I guess I'm writing for myself!

  12. I've heard from a few people who said Blogger is giving them fits today. Sorry this is happening! Thanks for coming by.

  13. I make a fruit salad with pineapple and put fresh cilantro in at the end. It's a great combination!

    After my mom went in the nursing home I went through her things. It was tough because she had been the carrier of the family memories. I found some very interesting papers from the past. I opened a jewelry box and knew immediately that it had been my grandma's because of the fragrance. I can't say it was a floral was just -her-.

    I like bergamot candles, pine candles and plain old birthday candles!

    Thanks for a sweet post today, Susie!

  14. Oh Deb, that jewelry box is such a treasure! I hope each time you open it, you're filled with several happy memories.

    I like pine candles, too. Bergamot--why, that's like Earl Grey tea! I bet I'd like that veddy much.

    Mm, send me your recipe for fruit salad with cilantro. Yum.

  15. I'm not familiar with pineapple and cilantro together, but I've always loved the scent of pineapple and coconut (pina colada). The body spray I use after a shower has a coconut scent to it, too although it does not resememble the sun tan lotion of my childhood which must've used some of the same scents.

    I love candles and always keep a ready supply but haven't used them much since the boys came along. I wasn't worried about the girls, but the boys... well, that's a different story.

    I think the scents I have on hand are pine (for Christmas), apple (a gift), cinnamon (reminds me of Barb's list), lavender and I think one other but they're downstairs and the basement is flooding so I'm not going to check at this time.

    Loved the post, Susie. Sorry I couldn't get here yesterday but was in the city on my last shopping day before flying out to RWA NYC next Monday.

    I can't remember, but does it say in the Bible what scents were used in the perfume used by the harlot to wash the feet of Jesus?

    Anita Mae.

  16. Sorry for my delayed response, Anita! I can't say for certain what fragrance was used to anoint Jesus' feet, but it was described as expensive and fragrant, so I imagine it as lovely indeed. "Nard" is described as myrrh on one site I saw. I've smelled myrrh incense and I don't know how to describe it--more earthy than botanical, rich, and layered. Very different from the perfumes of today, that's for sure.



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