Sandalwood is a slow-growing wood with a rich, complex scent. Indigenous to Southeast Asia, Sandalwood is one of the most expensive woods in the world. It has a long history of use in the spiritual practices of both the East and West. Sandalwood is labor-intensive to propagate, as it requires both a host tree and adequate sunlight to nourish itself. Sandalwood trees can take up to 80 years to reach full maturity. The concentration of scent in the heartwood increases as the tree ages. Trees that are planted today will not reach their aromatic peak for two generations.
There are three species of Sandalwood that are commonly harvested for their perfume. Satalum album (“True,” “White” or “Yellow Sandalwood”) is found only in India, and is endangered. “Chandan” and “Mysore” are other names for Indian Sandalwood. As stock declined, producers switched to Santalum spicatum, found in Australia. In recent years, suppliers have ramped up cultivation of (Santalum paniculatum), a white-flowered type that grows in Hawaii. The fragrance profile varies depending on the plant: Indian Sandalwood is softer and smoother than the earthy, spicy fragrance of the other varieties.
An unrelated species Pterocarpus santalinas goes by the name of Red Sandalwood. Red Sandalwood has little scent of its own—it is most often used as a carrier and coloring agent in natural incenses.
Sandalwood is available as wood chips, powdered wood, and carved items. Like Frankincense and Myrrh, the chips must be burned over charcoal to fully release their aroma. A Sandalwood aroma acts as the base note and fixative in many fine perfumes. That heavenly blend of Sandalwood and and florals, Nag Champa, is the most popular incense fragrance in the world. Sandalwood-scented candles, incense, and bath products are readily available.
Sandalwood essential oil is steam-distilled from the roots and heartwood of the mature tree. (The sapwood is generally used for carving.) The overall yield is low. Pure essential oil does exist, but it is pricey—up to $200 an ounce—and comes with serious conservation concerns. Sandalwood oil is very potent and is usually diluted with a neutral carrier oil.
Magickal Uses of Sandalwood
Sandalwood’s magickal career began in India, where it has been used as a holy incense since the beginning of time. Early on, people observed that Sandalwood was never attacked by termites, which may have led to its reputation as a protective wood. The scent is believed to be one of the most pleasing to the gods.
In India, the scent of Sandalwood wafts through nearly every Hindu home and temple. The wood is carved into prayer beads, ground into powder to make paste for anointing the forehead, and reverently placed on funeral pyres. It is believed to have cooling and soothing properties, and to direct one’s attention toward the divine realms.
As Sandalwood made its way westward, its holy associations carried over into Ceremonial Magick. It is popular in blended incense and combines well with the sacred resins Frankincense and Myrrh. Sandalwood is considered to have a very high vibration, ideal for devotional and angelic magic. Sandalwood has a calming, sedative effect and aids in meditation. In ritual formulas, it is used for purification, consecration, relaxation, and peace.
The high value of Sandalwood has driven the wild plants nearly to the point of extinction. This is bad news for a slow-growing tree in poorer regions of India. The wood is often exploited by thieves and smugglers. The Indian government has banned the export of the timber, and most reputable vendors no longer stock products made from Indian Sandalwood. But Sandalwood is still listed as a threatened species. Australian Sandalwood is in less immediate danger, but is also suffering from over-harvesting. Environmentally-conscious producers are now distilling Hawaiian Sandalwood, which has a higher rate of growth.
Unfortunately, the two main fragrance components of Sandalwood essential oil—alpha-santalol and beta-santalol—have proven difficult to synthesize in a lab. There are several synthetic compounds that smell similar to Sandalwood. Perfumers use them as Sandalwood extenders and as stand-alone fragrance ingredients, but none are chemically identical to santalols.
Sandalwood poses a tough dilemma to Witches who are purists about using only natural ingredients. Ecology-minded folks should seek out substitutes for real Sandalwood oil, wood chips, and powder. Vintage Sandalwood items—such as prayer beads and incense boxes—can be obtained and do not support the current exploitation of the remaining Sandalwood trees.
Correspondences of Sandalwood
Sandalwood corresponds to the Moon and Water. While it may seem strange to put a dry desert tree in the elemental category of Water, the assignment harkens back to the ancient Indian practice of Ayurveda. Ayurvedic medicine classifies Sandalwood as cooling, aphrodisiac, and anti-inflammatory—all Watery traits in Western esotericism.
The Lunar association comes from Sandalwood’s pale color and reputation as a meditative aid. Sandalwood trees are also semi-parasitic. It does make some of its food from photosynthesis, but also lives in the shadow of its hosts. (Very appropriate for a Lunar plant). Some varieties have white flowers, too.
Somewhat uniquely among magickal plants, Sandalwood corresponds to both the Third Eye chakra and the Root chakra. In Hindu tradition, there are divine Sandalwood trees that perfume the heavens, and also terrestrial Sandalwood. Hermetic magicians might say that Sandalwood links the Above and the Below.
Spells and Formulas with Sandalwood
Sandalwood is said to help make wishes come true. Write your petition on a Sandalwood chip, then burn it to release your intention.
In American folk magick, the wood chips are added to mojo bags for safety, security, and peace of mind.
Scatter Sandalwood powder around the house to remove negativity.
Sandalwood pairs well with other traditional herbs, oils and incenses: A blend of Sandalwood and Frankincense is used for consecrating ritual tools. The same formula is supposed to be very inviting to angels. Mix Sandalwood with Lavender to call good spirits, or with Jasmine for peaceful dreams. A blend of Sandalwood and Acacia (one of its host plants) is said to boosts psychic powers.
There are no known contraindications for Sandalwood. As always, use caution when working with pure essential oils.
Scent Profile: Woody, Smooth, Sweet, Balsamic
Correspondences: Moon, Water
Occult properties of herbs are provided for historical interest only, and no outcome is guaranteed. Nothing on this website should be taken as medical or legal advice. Please use herbs responsibly.