My childhood home was in the woods. My grandparents came to the United States from Italy and cultivated six acres of land with fruit trees, flowers, vegetable gardens, fish ponds, chickens, and a goat named Sicily. This is where I grew up, and it seemed natural that everything was connected. I adored nature and had intimate relationships with the plants, trees, rocks, and water.
A younger Celeste
My father built our living room wing around a huge tulip tree. The space between the tree and the house was insulated with foam, allowing the tree to move with the wind. It became my oracle, and I interpreted its movement as guidance and omen.
It too was natural that there was an invisible connection between everything. It was the soul of the plant and natural world. One way my senses could perceive this invisible world was as a subtle fragrance in the air, for me a language as loud as words. The sweet smell of the roses, fruits, and evergreens brightened my mood and nourished me on a subtle level.
I credit my good health today to growing up in nature, playing in the dirt, and spending summer evenings lying on the earth, gazing up at the stars.
Meeting my soul sister, Christa Obuchowski, was like coming home. Christa is an herbalist, distiller, perfumer, and educator who travels the world studying and collecting the finest quality herbs, essential oils, and extracts. I am truly blessed to collaborate with her on the blending of my breast massage oil and "Prayer Anoint." Prayer Anoint is an ally to honor your prayer, meditation, ritual, or sacred space in whatever form any of them may take. Scent opens us to worlds of beauty and wisdom.
The use of plant essences and scented oils to introduce a divine influence or presence is recorded from the earliest times. Anointing was used as a form of medicine, thought to rid persons of dangerous spirits which were believed to cause disease. Anointing is a ceremonial blessing, regarded as a tool to assist with health and comfort, a token of honor and a symbol of consecration. Anointing inspires ceremonies, rites of passage, rituals, and transitions such as birth and death.
Christa has further blessed me, and all of us, with her contribution to How Do You Pray?:
Our prayers are given upwards, much like the rising of smoke. Historically, many cultures have believed that smoke carries prayers upwards to the realm where the ancestors, angels and the divine reside. This includes smoke in all forms: incense smoke, smoke from herbs or smoke from a pipe.
The burning of fragrant herbs, barks, resins, woods and flowers was part of the religious and spiritual practice of many ancient cultures and still is. The word perfume is derived from the Latin per fumum, meaning "through smoke." "Let my prayer be set before thee as incense; and the lifting up of my hands as the evening sacrifice" (Psalm 141:3).
As a child I went to an all-girls monastery/boarding school. The Abbot granted me special permission to fill the role of altar boy. So I was an altar girl, and it was an important job to me, which I took very seriously. I was fascinated with incense. My favorite task was to prepare the incense censer (burner) with pieces of frankincense, and to see the clouds of sweet, fragrant smoke go upwards in the cathedral towards heaven. It was mysterious and special to me.
Since that time, the use of incense with my prayers has been a daily routine. I use incense for purifying the mind and the energy field as well as for creating a sacred space in which to commune with the divine.
I have always had a great love for, and personal relationship to, both incense and prayer. I feel that prayer should carry the feeling tone of one talking with God as a friend. The Sufi poet Rumi often spoke about God as a companion and friend and his love and devotion have always touched me deeply.
Incense is a helpful tool for me in accessing this devotional state of prayer. It is as if the incense passes through any veils and delivers my prayer and devotion to God. It is also noteworthy that certain scents have an immediate effect on brain chemistry and brainwave states, and one actually does enter another state of being. I have traveled all over the world studying incense and plants, and I have visited many temples and sacred sites in Asia, India and the Orient. I have often watched in awe as people of every race and age lit candles and burned incense in total devotion and prayer to the divine.