Today it is my privilege to speak with Roxana Villa of Roxana Illuminated Perfume about her life and work as artist and perfumer.
Roxana Villa of Roxana Illuminated Perfume: Interview #1
Welcome to APJ, Roxana! You are a multi-talented artist with abiding interests in various fields including aromatherapy. Has your professional training in aromatherapy contributed to your skills as a perfumer?
The skill sets I learned in professional aromatherapy training have absolutely influenced my work as a perfumer! I use what I learned in aromatherapy training and working as a practitioner everyday. I came to aromatherapy via a little bottle of Juniperus viriginiana at a sweat lodge. That little amber bottle had me witness firsthand the power of essential oils as agents that facilitate mind body wellness in a very holistic framework. Later on, as my knowledge and experience deepened on the healing power of plants, I yearned to combine my two skill sets. At an artists’ workshop in Austria titled “Old Masters, New Visions,” I witnessed the divine interconnection between the visual arts, alchemy and perfume. I then decided to weave all my talents into a perfume business highlighted with the word “illuminated,” referencing the 15th century, when the arts were united by the use of raw plant matter.
Do you consider your perfumes to be therapeutic as well as beautiful and if so could you give us an example of what you consider to be a “therapeutic” perfume and explain how (why) it works?
All my fragrances have a therapeutic imprint because of the intention I hold when creating them and due to the vitality of the materials in my palette. Just today one of my customers sent me this note: “A simple note to say a tremendous thank you for doing what you do. I have not found another perfumer quite as outstanding as you. Your perfumes make me feel instantly uplifted when I am enveloped in their mystical fragrances.” On a more scientific level, looking at the ingredients contained in my fragrances, you will see that my palette is composed of elements that contain life force, vital energy from the plant world. My fragrances go beyond being a “chemical soup”, I use materials that are as close to nature as possible, no hybrids, no isolates, no historical animal ingredients, etc.
Therapeutic can be defined differently by individual human experience. I am looking at therapeutics on a very holistic level from how and where a plant is grown, the manner the essence is obtained and distilled to the integrity of the company that sells the aromatic. For example I choose to buy and support companies that are having a positive affect on the planet because that energetic is all part of end product.
At one of the many aromatherapy conferences I attended in the nineties Jan Kusmirek of Fragrant Earth showed us the difference between a lavender essential oil obtained from plants that were harvested by hand using a sickle versus one where a machine was used. These kind of subtleties contribute to quality and what might be considered a therapeutic perfume.
This year you will be one of the main presenters at the National Association of Holistic Aromatherapy (NAHA) “Beyond Aromatics” conference at the Bastyr University campus near Seattle. Your topic “The Tree of Life: A Mystical Approach to the Art of Botanical Perfumery” is fascinating to me. Can you give the APJ a brief overview of your presentation? I am especially interested in your take on “essential oils and the elementals”.
The presentation I am giving at the Beyond Aromatics conference is based on ideas of intuition and creativity from William Blake combined with a book proposal I created in 1998. There are many ways to approach creating a fragrance, a mystical approach requires freedom from rational constraints and strict rules. To be in creative flow requires the ability to break free of guidelines and courageously jump into the watery realm of the circle and intuitive mind. In the end both the left and the right brain are important but its crucial for those seeking to ascend the art of perfumery and their consciousness. I will delve into the multiple meanings of The Tree of Life and how it is the perfect metaphor for creating botanical perfume.
I discovered essential oils at a time when I was working as an initiate with a shaman, learning Celtic and magical wisdom alongside with aromatherapy studies. As I did so, I began to see parallels and thus created content for a book and card deck. Publishers back then felt the content was too niche and progressive. Over the years I’ve refined the ideas which are part of the presentation for the conference. Here’s a link to a post on my blog that gets into some of the elemental aspects I will be referring to.
Since I was a child I have been convinced of a type of sentience unique to plants and to the earth itself. I believe that there is much more to a creating a real fragrance than using an analysis derived from headspace technology to chemically copy the scent of a flower. Is it possible to make the life and the sentient spirit of flowers, plants and the earth really come alive in a fragrance?
The fragrance industry is very much like the art world, there’s a lot of variety in the equation from those who work as an art director or figure head to those working on a deep level with the plants and earth elementals. I completely agree with your observation on the sentience of plants and the earth. The challenge is to assist humans in connecting to the refined, subtle energies of the plant divas. When we do this as a collective then Mother Earth will begin to sense our awakening and respond to us. One of my teachers said that dancing outside on the land is acupuncture for the planet. The simple gesture is a conduit between heaven and earth that gets us out of the logical brain, away from electronics, connecting to our physical bodies and the subtle earth energies.
There have been a number of recent scientific studies of plant communication involving enzymes and mycorrhizal networks. Do you believe that there is a historical precedent or background to this work?
It’s fabulous how modern science is now validating ideas that great yogis and masters have been communicating for centuries within sacred texts like the Bhagavad Gita and our more modern sages like Rudolf Steiner and Machaelle Small Wright. In the answer to your first question in this interview, I briefly mentioned an experience a little bottle of Juniperus virginiana. Inhaling the aromatic molecules of the red cedar produced a moment out of time where I was transported to a dense forest of ancient Redwoods. I felt as if I was deeply rooted, connected with the trees and a feeling of expansion that traveled upward up to the sky. Then, pop, I came back to the scene of the women and sweat lodge feeling with a sense of profound gift from the plant kingdom.
Where do you stand on plant communication, plant sentience and this “secret life of plants”?
I stand amongst the ancient redwoods and the California native oaks. The mycorrhizal networks is another example of how the plant, insect and segments of the animal kingdom function as a collective. For example in an ancient forest you will have a “Mother” tree while in a hive of european honey bees you will have a Queen, in both instances the Mother and the Queen are integral to the whole. These are examples of systems that work together as a team that benefit their own community and the greater good. As humans we seem to be stuck in a cycle, like the Karmic Wheel, we have periods of enlightenment like the stage in the mid 50’s when we became conscious of civil rights. Then the wheel turns and dark forces of unconscious behavior of corruption and greed take root where we once again must awaken and ascend. There are many metaphors of this cycle in traditions throughout the world, one of my favorites from western story telling is the trilogy of the Lord of the Rings.
Here’s are two examples of how in tune nature is, the first explains how the mycorrhizal networks work:
and the second (sorry about the commercial) shows how wolves change rivers:
Everything is connected.
(Ed: Please watch the two under 5 minute videos, they will change the way you see the world)
All Photos Stolen Roxana Illuminated Perfume
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Stay tuned tomorrow for a continuation of Roxana Villa’s incredible and inspirational journey to now…….