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All about amber: Secrets of an ancient perfume

Michelle Gruben materials oils

Amber resin with rosewood box

The rich, complex fragrance of amber is a favorite for meditation and love magick. Amber is available as an incense, perfume oil, and solid resin. But what is amber anyway? Is it related to the gemstone of the same name? Read on for all the details on this ancient, mystical perfume.

Amber Resin

Properly speaking, amber is a solid incense with its roots in the Middle East. Amber is a compound fragrance, meaning it is made up of a mix of ingredients. It is not the same as the semi-precious gem amber (fossilized tree resin) or ambergris (a perfume ingredient from sperm whale intestines).

Throughout history, the fragrant resins of desert plants were prized as both religious offerings and luxury perfumes. The ancient Egyptians elevated perfumery to an art form, with compound incenses like the famous Kyphi. These solid perfumes were rolled into cakes, dried, and burned over coals. Today, the finest amber resins come from India.

Recipes for amber are varied, and many have been passed down through families for generations. Amber is usually described as warm, sweet, and a little spicy. Benzoin and vanilla form the base notes of most ambers. (Sometimes tonka bean is substituted for the vanilla.) Labdanum—a sticky resin from a flower called “rock-rose” or “rose of Sharon”—gives amber its woody, musky character.

Different perfumers will adjust these three components to produce very different ambers. Egyptian Amber is generally sweet and musky. Tunisian Amber is a spicy, Oriental-style fragrance. Extra notes like sandalwood, patchouli, vetiver, lemongrass, musk, bergamot and rose may be added in solid or essential oil form. There really is no limit to the variations on amber!

To make the solid perfume, the aromatic ingredients of amber are ground up and blended into a soft carrier ingredient. Beeswax is traditional for this purpose. There are also vegan ambers based on coconut or jojoba oil. Solid amber resin is quite expensive, but only a small amount is needed to savor its delicious fragrance.

Amber Oil

Because amber is a blend of fragrances, there is really no such thing as “amber essence” or “amber essential oil.” Amber may contain essential oil, but is not available as a single-ingredient essential oil. (Unless you are talking about true ambergris, or distilled fossilized amber, both of which are extremely rare.) Rather, amber is always a blended oil. Amber perfume oils mimic the complex fragrance of amber resin by blending the essences of each ingredient—usually, benzoin, vanilla, and labdanum, with accents of citrus, woods, florals, or spice.

Using Amber

If you wish to enjoy amber as the ancients did, obtain some of the solid resin and incense charcoal. Once the charcoal is hot, crumble or scape a tiny bit of the resin onto the coals. The waxy base will melt, releasing the divine aroma into the air.

Amber resin may also be used as a long-lasting personal perfume. Warm the resin to body temperature (using your hands) and rub on the pulse points. You can also carry a piece of amber with you in a small box or locket, allowing the fragrance to slowly dissipate. (Being a solid perfume, amber's volatile oils evaporate more slowly than conventional perfume. But you'll still want to keep it in an airtight container when not in use.)

Of course, amber addicts have many other options for enjoying this timeless fragrance. Perfume oils, self-lighting incense, bath products, and scented candles are all convenient ways to get a dose of amber goodness.

Magickal properties of Amber

Because amber is a diverse fragrance family, its magickal uses are also broad and varied. Ambers may be broadly classified into light, medium, and dark varieties. Generally speaking, the amber fragrance corresponds to Venus and Earth/Fire. Amber has a very powerful energy that evokes both sensual pleasure and ancient wisdom.

White Amber—i.e., heavy on the sandalwood and florals—is a smooth, blissful fragrance. It contains more Air and Water energy than darker ambers. Use it in your temple or bedroom space for restful sleep, meditation, and happy dreams.

Golden or Honey Amber (the most popular variety) is a fragrance of love and abundance. Use it as a personal perfume when performing love-drawing magick. Like Frankincense, Golden Amber is a suitable offering to almost any deity.

Dark Amber has an earthy, sticky, sweetness and loads of exotic spice. (Some perfumers describe them as “chewy,” which really sums up the mouth-watering qualities of full-bodied Ambers!) Use for sex magick, earth magick, dark moon workings, or as a sophisticated stand-in for musk or patchouli.

Read more articles, or browse our selection of amber products.

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