Porsche Little, a spiritual worker who lives in Los Angeles, knows that the power that comes along with wearing fragrance is about more than just smelling good. She has a series of special perfumes and oils she will wear to attract attention when she goes out and there’s another perfume combo she wears when preparing for job interviews. “I swear both work like a charm,” she says. “Scents can really draw people in. So if you create a perfume with the right properties and intentions you’re essentially creating a potion.” While the average person may not consider spritzing on perfume to be witchcraft, Little says there’s an inherent magic when it comes to scent.
Little says that scent plays a huge role in her spiritual life. Before her reading sessions, she usually burns fragrant sandalwood and Nag Champa, which are also the incense she burns for her ancestors. “Whenever I smell it, it feels like I’m calling them in and it’s easier for me to channel.” Little also uses Florida Water Cologne (her favorite fragrance) in every spiritual bath she takes She encourages her clients to connect with herbs that are ancestrally familiar when starting their own spiritual practice. “White copal is really big in a lot of indigenous cultures, especially Mayan culture, so it is great for smudging,” she says. “Frankincense and Myrrh are used as holy smoke in Catholicism, so if you’re Christian, Catholic, or even into hoodoo these are also great incenses for anointing.”
“If you create a perfume with the right healing properties and the right intentions you’re essentially creating a potion.”
Fragrance and witchcraft have been intertwined throughout history. Magical handbooks from ancient Greco-Egyptian magicians show that they used fragrance extensively in their rituals. There also have long been stories of magic scents that alter the minds of men or can allure and seduce men into falling in love with women. A line can be drawn linking these kinds of love potions from biblical times, directly to the viral popularity of “male magnet” fragrances on TikTok today. Luckily, now witchy don’t need to fear 17th century-style witch-hunts. Instead, for modern witches, reclaiming magic (and the mystical qualities of fragrance) can be seen as an act of anti-patriarchal defiance.
Sarah Potter, a psychic medium and witch in New York, has always loved the myth of Madea, a femme fatale in Greek mythology. “Madea cast magic through the use of fragrance—she used an herbal potion to bewitch a dragon in order to assist the capture of the desired Golden Fleece.” Potter believes that witchcraft goes hand-in-hand with beauty, and fragrance is just part of this magic. “Beauty is powerful and everyone is beautiful. So everyone should have access to their own power,” she says.
Magic has historically frightened people because “power scares people”, Potter goes on. Magic and power are inextricably tied, so when we lose our magical connection to the world, it’s “because there’s been a disruption of personal power.” Which is one of the factors leading to the rising interest in alternative spirituality on #Witchtok. “We are currently in a time where people are seeking alternatives for how they care for themselves, and wanting to improve their connection between mind, body, and spirit,” says Potter. She also notes that self-love is an essential element in magic, thus connecting with your own power.
For Potter, her self-care includes using roses. “Manifestation is so buzzy now, but what do you do when manifestations come to fruition?” she says. “Roses help us energetically complete the circle and receive.” Potter always has fresh roses on her altars and throughout her home. She wears a variety of rose-based perfumes, uses a rosewater mist in her skin routine, and drinks rose tea mid-afternoon when she takes a break from readings.
“We see these plants as resources and products to be consumed instead of powerful spirits that have co-evolved with us since the beginning of time.”
Some modern perfume brands are drawing on the link between scent and mysticism as they develop their new fragrances. Vyrao, founded by Yasmin Sewell, was founded in 2021 as a way to explore her passion for energetic medicine. “It’s about ritualizing your routine, stating your intentions for the day by taking a moment for yourself,” Sewell states as part of the brand’s mission. Then there’s the New York-based perfume brand Heretic, which draws inspiration from the Celtic practice of saining (burning herbal smoke with the intent to heal). Their Smudge scent uses “the ancient practice of using ceremonial smoke to clear energy”, including a blend of juniper, labdanum, frankincense, and tonka bean. Even Viktor & Rolf released a Sage Spell scent back in 2017. White sage is considered sacred by a number of Native American tribes and is believed to cleanse energy, but every herb has its own spiritual meaning to different cultures.
Indigenous healer and herbalist Napaquetzalli Martinez says that perfume is one of her favorite spiritual tools. “As I get ready every morning, anointing myself with a scent is the last thing I do and makes me feel like I have invisible armor on to face the day ahead,” she says. Martinez uses J.F. Schwarzlose Leder 6 Eau de Parfum as her signature, a strong leathery unisex scent. She says that more than being used for personal purposes, most religions have used scent and incense to connect to the Divine. “Plants are a manifestation of the Divine incarnate on earth, each with a unique and special message to share with us.”
Martinez believes that perfume is inherently magical because of the power scent has to shift our energy, invoke emotions, and stir up memories. While she says it’s not commonly associated with modern Western fragrance, there are pockets of the perfume industry that are starting to tap into this connection. “The demonization of witchcraft and magic has contributed to generations worth of occult knowledge being erased,” she says. Without mythical guidance, choosing fragrances becomes much less intentional. We buy many perfumes instead of fewer and without the context of the plants behind our favorite scents. “We see plants as resources as products to be consumed instead of powerful spirits that have co-evolved with us since the beginning of time.”
The next time you buy a perfume, you might want to consider what you are calling in with your selection. For example, Martinez uses rose when she is working on opening the heart chakra or healing from grief or heartbreak. While jasmine, she says, is better for manifestation work and deep transformation. Citrus scents awaken the senses and help remove negative energy. Wooded aromas (like cypress, cedar, and pine), on the other hand, are used for creating a peaceful and grounding environment. Spice notes she says are a bit trickier as they can be powerful for either attracting or repelling energy. “Spices like clove are great for removing evil eye and parasitic energy, while sweet spices like cinnamon would attract passion and romance.” The scent of lavender helps to ease tension. With every note, there’s a possible intention.
Like spirituality, scent is something that’s invisible, so fragrance magic is a journey for you and your senses alone. Being more intentional with fragrance use can be as simple as choosing your go-to citrus-based perfume when you need a positive boost (like Jo Malone’s Oud & Bergamot Cologne), or choosing a woody perfume when you need to feel more grounded (like Byredo’s Super Cedar scent). But, if you need a little help, there are already perfumers reconnecting the narrative between spirituality and scent and spiritual workers like Martinez and Little who are more than happy to guide those that are interested. Martinez believes everyone is able to experience how scent interacts with us on a spiritual level. “Ultimately, fragrances are a way to add magic to our daily experience.”