Dusky Shroud, by Black Phoenix Trading Post


(Black Phoenix Trading Post is a sister company to Black Phoenix Alchemy Lab, homepage here)

Scent Description: Black coffee and smoked vanilla bean with deep indigo opium petals.

Scent Review/How Inspired!: First on, this is a bit dry, and I remember handling the husk of a vanilla bean, scraping out tiny pods. This smells purple to me, or burgundy, and comfortably hallucinogenic. It’s a drowsy, dark smell; that is, it makes you drowsy for dark purposes. I think the perfume itself, on the other hand, has its wits about it. That’s what the opium gives: wit, counterintuitive as it seems. The petals are menacing for the sweetness they add. I also want to stress that this scent is not thick or smoky. The cloudiness I get is a mental one — a preoccupation with this drug of a smell. Dusky Shroud is not a huge favorite of mine, in my respectable collection, and yet when I do wear it I just can’t get enough in one breath.

As this dries it threatens to go metallic on my skin, but never quite teeters over the edge. It reminds me of blood, if one bled deep purple. Very dry, hours later, it’s like a very vanilla coffee, wafting incense instead of steam.

It has a raspiness to it even as it dries that is, far from being unbecoming, suggestive of a very sensuous man’s death rattle. I don’t ever get coffee front-and-center in this, but I do get a drink of some kind. It could be the drink that is purple. And is it being stirred with a black licorice stick? I smell anise in here, or perhaps the notes combine to suggest it.

Writing Prompts

Fiction: Come on — sensuous man, purple drink, dark and hazy? Write a poisoning.

Fiction: What sort of person stirs their coffee with black licorice? (It’s not a rhetorical question.)

Non-fiction: Bleed out those of your feelings which are deep purple.


Buck Moon 2017, by BPAL

A Little Lunacy, bpal

Scent Description: Buck Moon is an animalistic, deep scent: an amplification of one’s natural musk coupled with forest herbs, pine pitch, deer fur, a hint of clear, warm evening air and a crystalline spark of lunar oil.

Scent Review: I don’t know that I can be objective about this one. This is a scent in honor of a full moon that fell exactly on my wedding anniversary, and it speaks to something that is both wild and mythically gentle – like my beautiful, weirdo throuple marriage.

Here we go anyway. In the bottle, I smell pine and nighttime. I’m sure that the air smell that I’m getting is a combination of the herbs and other things, but the scent is too romantic to willingly pick apart.

First on, I am in love with the way the musk and the deer fur meet with the greener things. It really is like being outside in an enchanted forest, under a full moon. A lot of pine scents get too astringent for me, but this is softened and given lots of room to breathe.

I don’t know what it is, literally, that is also laying something sweet over the top of it all. It’s not quite floral and it’s definitely not food. It’s a little plant-like, organic, but I don’t want you to get the wrong idea: it’s not a snappy, herbal thing I’m smelling. It’s dewy – not thick, like a syrup or a nectar, and not sugary. Just a little sweet.

As it dries, the herbs behind the pine pitch come out more. The scent is never sharp, though, because that sweet, night air smell remains for the length of wear.

How Inspired! …If fairies wore make-up, and applied it before their revels, at vanities made out of tree stumps or toadstools, it – that moment – would smell like this.

Writing Prompts

Non-fiction: Write about a night in your life, or a whole relationship perhaps, that was both wild and mythically gentle. In what ways did it manage to be both?

Non-fiction: Write about something sweet and unidentifiable: something done for you anonymously, or by a stranger, or some small thing that just happened and touched you deeply.

Fiction: To what end would a fairie put on make-up? Follow her, or him, all the way through.


Venus Exalted: Pleasure, by Arcana

arcana, nui cobalt designs

(available through Nui Cobalt Designs, here)

Scent Description: A voluptuous, sensual blend of luxe sandalwood, rich black coconut, Bourbon geranium, and sweet clove bud, with hints of blushing rose, neroli, bergamot, and night-blooming jasmine.

Scent Review: In the bottle, I pick up dark, cool coconut with the rasp of sandalwood right away. There is a natural sweetness over the top – a mix of other things.

First on, the scent is coconut first. It makes me think of finding shade on a beach – maybe under a dock or boardwalk, or a palm tree – or digging deep into wet sand. The sandalwood makes the edges a bit rough, but doesn’t disturb the calmness of the scent.

As the oil dries, the rose and clove come out together; the rose keeps the clove from turning the scent autumnal, and the clove keeps the rose from laying out doilies and hard candies for the grandkids. Instead, they hold each other in a space that feels, on top of the coconut and sandalwood, like Italian witches of the coast might work their magick here. I smell the bergamot now, too. If you’re worried about the jasmine, don’t be; it’s surrounded so well it doesn’t have the swinging room to knock you out.

How Inspired! The sandalwood and clove together are reminding me a bit of church incense, but reimagined for the tropics. They add a solemnity and deliberation to the coconut, which is already dark and cool. The other things in this blend suggest a sensual congregation gathered – sirens, perhaps. I wonder what they’ve gathered to do or see, and then I look again to the name for this perfume: it must be the birth of Venus.

If there are gifts to bring, I doubt they’ll be gold, myrrh, or frankincense.

Writing Prompts 

Creative Non-Fiction: Write about an experience that was not traditionally spiritual or holy in nature, but was spiritual for you. What made it so profound? What did you get out of it?

Fiction: Write the circumstances of the birth of Venus. Choose a vantage point first: her mother, a pilgrim of no relation come to pay respects, Venus herself, or someone else. What rites or rituals take place on this quiet beach? (And, if there are gifts to give, what are they?)

Fiction: Write a church service for a sensual congregation of sirens.

Fiction: Take the character of an Italian coast witch and run with her, night or day, down the cliffs or beaches.

Zorya Utrennyaya, by BPAL

american gods, bpal

Part of the American Gods collection, available here.

Scent Description: Sweet black coffee and a touch of ambrette seed.

Scent Review: From the bottle to the dry-down, this scent doesn’t really change. This is coffee that is sweet and, because of the ambrette seed, languid. I would not call this spicy, but I would call it exotic — and golden/bronze in color, satiny.

How Inspired! The golden/bronze satin imagery is because of the association I’m making here, to the neutral tones — and luxurious feel — of a classy hotel lobby (the coffee) or the sheets in the hotel room (the ambrette seed). This doesn’t scream “vacation;” it sighs it, as you sigh upon arrival with a week of relaxation ahead of you. Think of those fluffy pillows, those crisp linens, those ocean waves or that dappled sunlight. This is not the scent of your adventures, but the scent of the calm that comes before.

Writing Prompts

Creative Non-Fiction: Write about your best vacation to date, and get descriptive. What was so wonderful about it? What about it will you forever be glad to have lived through?

Creative Non-Fiction: Describe one day of your ideal vacation. Where are you? What are you doing? Who’s with you? Most importantly, what are you going to do to make this happen for yourself?

Fiction: Write a hotel story.

Coin Trick, by Black Phoenix Alchemy Lab

american gods, bpal

coin trick(from the American Gods collection, here)

Scent Description: Glittering gold and silver, rolling over knuckles — concealed in palms — and pulled from the sun, the moon, and the stars.

Scent Review: Before I say anything about this scent, you have to understand that I have no patience for scents that smell like detergent. It happens with a lot of aquatics, and I don’t blame the perfumers so much as I blame the “perfume” in the “spring rain” (etc.) detergent we always had growing up. It’s an associative tendency that is less than ideal. If you also have this problem, hear me very carefully when I say that Coin Trick smells like clean laundry. Not detergent. Clean laundry.

It’s not clean laundry on a line. I wouldn’t call this a warm scent. Instead, in the bottle and first on, this has that static to it that clothing has right out of the dryer. I can only think to call it a charged smell — not deep, but sort of dense. There is a floral presence, too, but it is neither fresh flowers nor household-cleaner spray. It’s more like a soothing, gentle face cream kind of floral — something calm. I see the blue light of dawn landing silent on a living room carpet when I smell this — quiet, gentle, sacred. On and up close, it loses a bit of this depth, but never quite turns to the detergent I loathe.

How Inspired! All the while that I wore this, though, I wondered: what has this to do with money magic, with Shadow, with America’s transplant gods? I don’t know that it ever would have dawned on me but for my happening to try it on while I was in a nightshirt. My nightclothes I tend only to wear for a few hours, then discard on my dresser to wear a second time the next night (don’t judge). So, I took the shirt off, tossed it away, and picked it up to wear again the next day and…

Oh! This smells like it’s been through the wash!

In fact, it smelled better than my clothes do coming out of the actual dryer. It smelled like the freshest, coolest, nicest nightshirt — as if I’d never worn it yet at all. Then I understood. Of course.

It’s a vanishing trick.

Writing Prompts

Creative Non-Fiction: Is there something in your life you wish you could do over? Write it. Don’t beat yourself up about what happened, or mourn the missed opportunity; write out what could have happened if you’d done it differently. Does it actually go as you expected it to? Count the variables as you go, all the places where the path divides– multiplying the possible outcomes.

Fiction: Make a big mess. Write the messy thing that you don’t know, as a writer, how to write. Maybe it’s some big emotional scene. Maybe it’s a thrilling disaster. Make a big mess. Make the biggest mess you can. Don’t get scared and stop in the middle. Make the mess. Then clean it up.

Fiction: Vanish somebody.

Fiction: Something sacred happens in the blue light of dawn.

Madame Lapin, by Arcana


Scent Description: The essence of a soft brown bunny: fragrant notes of sweet honey, dry Atlas cedarwood, warm toast, buttermilk, and a subtle blend of spices.

Scent Review: In the bottle and first on, I smell honey very strongly. This is real, thick, sticky honey, and it makes me think breakfast: the toast, the spices, and the honey together put this image in my head of butter knives, thickly smeared with marmalade, on a cluttered, worn table. The cedarwood is there, more as the scent dries down, but it is not strong. It is as if the spices are rubbed into the wood, maybe. The buttermilk I do not detect, and I don’t mind: I prefer this as it is, without creaminess, such that it seems warm, homey, but still early-morning fresh. This is such a comfort.

How Inspired! If Madame Lapin is, indeed, a bunny, she is not the literal sort. She’s the anthropomorphized, quaint, antiquated kind from children’s television: she wears clothing, and walks on two feet instead of hopping; she looks after people and she gives good advice; she may not live in a world that is perfect or safe, but when you are with her she makes you feel safe and perfect.

Writing Prompts

Creative Non-Fiction: Write about a time that you felt safe and perfect. Who, or what, did it for you? Maybe it was a family member, a friend, or even yourself. Maybe it was something that happened. Maybe it was the weather. What strength, or knowledge, or lesson, can you draw from the details of that memory now?

Fiction: Write your very own quaint and antiquated fairy tale or fable (anthropomorphic animals optional). Maybe it won’t stay quaint, but do let there be somebody there like Madame Lapin. Maybe she’s at the beginning, and her good advice is ignored. Maybe she’s at the end, there to dry the tears. Maybe she’s a memory in the middle, giving sudden strength to a protagonist with a challenge to face. Maybe it’s her story; it’s hard sometimes, to mother others. Maybe she is a he.

Fiction: Breakfast is the most important meal of the day for reasons that have nothing to do with food. As a meal, it is supposed to ready us to face our lives. Write about a good, or bad, breakfast experience… and the day that follows it.