Ancient Scents & Their Meanings

October 15, 2018 4:31 am Published by

Have you ever smelled something and it took you back to a specific moment in your life or a certain feeling?

We can’t always explain why scents attach themselves to moments in our lives and stick, but we know that scents are powerful.

Think about how you feel when you smell fresh cut grass, the incense burning in your local yoga studio, onions sautéing on the stove, or winter candles burning.

Each one of those scents probably evokes a specific emotion in you.

This is the power of scents.

Smell is one of the most primal senses, and it can awaken the deep emotions that may be hiding in your cells.

Scents are a way to connect to our heart space. They’re a way to shift our energy, our emotions, and our mood. They can also be an incredible way to connect with the Universe or the Divine.

Some scents, such as the ones below, have their roots in ancient civilizations around the world. They’ve been used for their magickal healing properties in the ancient civilizations of India, Rome, China, Egypt, and more.


Scroll down to learn more about some of the most powerful ancient scents’ meanings and uses.



Frankincense has been used for centuries in the Middle East (where it’s from), Egypt, Israel, Ancient Rome, Ancient Greece, other parts of Europe, and more.


In different cultures, it was used for different things:

  • As incense in sacred Jewish rituals, Christian ceremonies, and other religious ceremonies in Greece, Rome, Egypt, and Israel
  • Healing and purification in the Ayurvedic tradition
  • To drive insects away in the Middle East
  • Flavoring food and drinks in the Middle East
  • In burial rituals in Egypt and Rome
  • To treat medical issues including ulcers, nausea, post-childbirth recovery, chest coughs, and fever
  • To embalm bodies in Ancient Egypt

Besides its practical uses, it was revered as a powerful tool for protection, purification, and connecting with the divine.

How can you incorporate frankincense into your life today? Here are some ideas:

  • Burn frankincense resin as an offering to a goddess you’re working with
  • Use frankincense oil to anoint your candles in candle magick
  • Use frankincense oil (diluting with a carrier oil if needed!) on your wrists before meditation or ritual work
  • Rub the soles of your feet with frankincense oil before bed to help you relax
  • Diffuse frankincense oil on summer nights on your porch for a natural bug spray
  • Use frankincense oil as a perfume on your skin to imbue your day to day with some extra magic
  • Burn frankincense incense in your space to protect and purify it


Myrrh also comes from trees in the Middle East and North Africa, and was used alongside frankincense in the great ancient civilizations of Egypt, Israel, Europe, and the Middle East. Where frankincense is associated with the sun, myrrh is a bit murkier. It’s associated with the sun because its tree thrives in the desert sun, but it’s also associated with the moon, because of its strong feminine history as an herb for ancient goddesses.


Some of its historical uses are:

  • Embalming the dead in ancient Egypt
  • Used as medicine, especially with honey, in ancient Egypt for many illnesses, especially skin conditions, infections, and bruises
  • Burning as sacred incense in Christian traditions
  • Used in ancient Egyptian rites as an offering to the sun god Ra and goddess Isis
  • As a perfume and purification oil for the Hebrew people
  • For its restorative properties in Eastern medicine

Myrrh was used as a powerful tool for healing, protection, purification, meditation, and expanding inner wisdom. It was often used as a great complement to frankincense, and it’s thought that combining the two even increases their power.

Try these ideas for incorporating myrrh into your life today:

  • Burn myrrh resin on your altar as an offering to the goddess Isis
  • Use in banishing and protection rituals and spells
  • Purify and bless magical tools such as your tarot cards, crystals, and talismans
  • Burn myrrh incense when you need personal healing and comfort
  • Use myrrh oil on your skin (diluting with carrier oil if necessary) to help you meditate
  • Incorporate into any of your work with frankincense above



Sandalwood isn’t technically an herb. It’s actually, like the name suggests, a type of wood. Sandalwood has been used for thousands of years in many different contexts, including:

  • Buddhist rituals
  • Muslim rituals
  • Egyptian embalming rituals
  • Folk medicine in Tibet and China
  • In carvings for shrines and homes in India
  • In figurines and jewelry in India
  • As a paste for anointing in Hindu temples
  • As a perfume and soap in Europe
  • As a powerful remedy in the Ayurvedic system of medicine
  • Consecrating ritual tools in Hindu ceremonies

Practically, sandalwood has been used for its anti-inflammatory and cleansing properties. Magically and energetically, sandalwood has been used for many things including healing, purification, grounding while also assisting in meditation, clearing negativity, deep spiritual relaxation, clairvoyance, and manifestation.

Some ways to use sandalwood in your life are:

  • Write your desires on a stick of sandalwood on the new moon and burn it, letting the smoke carry your desires into the universe
  • Cleanse your magical tools (like crystals, athames, cauldrons, and tarot cards) of negative energy
  • Burn sandalwood chips to help heal coughs and UTIs
  • Burn sandalwood incense for meditation
  • Burn sandalwood incense or chips for astral projection and communicating with spirits
  • Wear sandalwood beads for higher spiritual awareness

Nag Champa

If you’ve ever walked into a yoga studio or a witchy shop, you’ve probably smelled the earthy, slightly sweet scent of Nag Champa. But what is Nag Champa?

It’s a blend of different scents, most famously the champa flower, as well as sandalwood, and halmaddi resin. The champa flower from the Magnolia champaca tree, a tree often planted near ashrams, has long been prized in India for its sweet fragrance and bright yellow color.

As you’ve probably guessed, Nag Champa’s origins are as incense in India where it was often used for meditation, yoga, and rituals in Hindu temples and ashrams. It’s now one of the most popular incense scents in the world!

Nag Champa is thought to stimulate spiritual awareness while simultaneously grounding you in the present.


Here are some ideas for incorporating this popular scent into your life:

  • Burn Nag Champa when you meditate or do yoga
  • Use Nag Champa oil as a perfume
  • Burn Nag Champa for chanting and kirtan practices
  • Use Nag Champa oil to massage your feet (diluting if needed!)
  • Use Nag Champ soap or body wash (there are tons of options) to add some magic to your everyday

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About Eryn Johnson

Eryn Johnson is a breathwork facilitator, tarot reader, and Reiki Master based in Fishtown, Philadelphia. She is also the host of the Living Open podcast for mystics and seekers, a storytelling tool here to help facilitate soul evolution. The foundation of her work is energetic and based on the belief that there's nothing wrong with you- we are simply programmed from a young age to forget the truth of who we are. She uses energy work, storytelling, and breathwork to guide you back to you - your heart, your power, your magic. Find her work at and @erynj_ on Instagram.