Saturday, October 25, 2014

The Journey of Ambergris

It has a strange and rather unglamorous beginning in, of all places, the digestive tract of a sperm whale. When the whale expels this strange by-product of its oceanic menu, it rises to the surface, there to float upon the waves until, perhaps after many years of drifting, it eventually is washed up on some distant shore. But in these years of drifting, a miraculous transformation takes place. From a waxy and rather smelly lump, it undergoes a mysterious change of its own. It becomes one of the sweetest of scents, formerly prized in the making of the costliest perfumes. We know it as ambergris.

In the Near East, ambergris is burnt as an incense. But in some countries such as the United States, even the possession of ambergris is considered to be an unlawful offense due to the protection of the species from which it comes. Two years ago here in the Netherlands, a sperm whale was found stranded on the beach of the island of Texel. Over eighty kilograms worth hundreds of thousands of dollars were found in the animal.

This marvellous substance was even thought to have medicinal value, as a cure for a variety of ailments from headaches to epilepsy. In days gone by Dutch gentlemen were said to sprinkle some on their breakfast eggs, and so enabling the substance to make the journey from the whale’s to the human’s digestive system via the oceans of the world! 

I myself am lucky enough to have a few small grams of this precious substance, which I keep in a small covered pot. When I remove the lid, the released scent is astonishing, like the costliest perfume – which indeed it actually is! I rather wish that this post had a button that you, my reader, could click on which would allow you to share the experience with me. Not possible, I realise (but maybe Google are working on it, who knows?).

In the East the lotus is used as a symbolic way of illustrating the soul’s progress from darkness to light: the transforming progression of the lotus from the muddy river’s bed to emerge into the light as a beautiful bloom. Nature holds many such valuable lessons if we are open to them. Perhaps the journey of ambergris is also one such lesson. Adrift on the waves, a mysterious alchemy is worked upon the ambergris to transform it into the rarest of sweet perfumes.  The stir of the great ocean is all that is apparently needed to accomplish this magic, and like many a true transformation, it asks no effort, only time.

Painting: Scent of Ambergris, by John Singer Sargent

Wednesday, October 1, 2014

Sophia. the Spirit of Wisdom

"I called upon God, and Sophia, the Spirit of Wisdom, came unto me."

"I loved Her, and sought Her out from my youth, 
I desired to make Her my spouse.
I was a lover of Her beauty.
I loved Her above health and beauty, 
and chose to have Her above Light: 
for the Light that cometh from Her never fails."

"Sophia blesses the world with Supreme wisdom, 
and allows all people to realize their unity with God.

"She is the Supreme Spirit: All-knowing and sacred;
One, yet pervading many, subtle, ever-free, 
lucid, clear, and invincible.

"For Wisdom, which is the worker of all things, taught me: 
for in Her is an understanding spirit, holy, one only, manifold, 
subtle, lively, clear, undefiled, plain, not subject to hurt, 
loving the thing that is good, 
penetrating Intelligence which cannot be confounded, 
and always ready to do good.

"She is all-powerful, the witness of all, 
and found in those who are wise, pure-hearted, and humble.

"Sophia moves more easily than motion itself;
By reason of Her purity She permeates all things.
She is like a fine mist rising from the power of God,
The divine radiance streaming from the glory of the Almighty.
Nothing can stain Her immaculate purity.

"Though one, She becomes everything; 
from within herself, by Her own power, makes all things new.

"Age after age She enters into holy souls, 
making them perfect, and leading them back to God.
For God loves none but those 
who have made their home with Sophia.

"She is fairer than the sun, and greater than every constellation.
She is more radiant than the light of day
for day is overcome by night, 
but against Sophia 
no darkness can prevail."

"For God loveth none but him that dwelleth with Wisdom."

From: The Wisdom of Solomon
Chapter 7 & 8

King Solomon and the Queen of Sheba by Piero della Francesca