Angelic, adj.: Of, resembling or pertaining to angels.
In my own peripatetic history, angels are not my preferred form of supernatural being. If anything, I tend to gravitate to the other, darker side of that particular fence. Although I was baptized and later confirmed in the evangelical Lutheran faith mainly to conform to a cultural norm, both my sister and I were by and large raised without religiosity in any officially sanctioned form, which is not at all to say that I, at least, never sensed the presence of something other, larger and more numinous than myself.
In my early childhood, I lived too isolated to have playmates, so instead, I made the forest that surrounded our house my playmates. The trees, the ants, the birds, the raccoons and their antics – they knew the score. I brought wildflowers as offerings to certain trees I loved, and when I could, would sneak peanut butter sandwiches to the raccoons, who would follow me around to thank me.
I knew of the concept of church, of course, knew grownups talked sometimes of something called ‘God’, but the word didn’t have any meaning for me.
Somewhere around age three or four, I became a raging pantheist. Faith in my view wasn’t some joyless congregation in a church, where you couldn’t kick the pews if you were bored and had to be silent, by God, or else.
Faith was something I could live and breathe and touch in the trees and sense in the wind. No deity I could ever define would ever be as horrified as the grownups in our community to discover I played quite happily in a graveyard with my teddy bear, a doll and two old tin cans.
Aged all of six, my fate was sealed. By then, I went to Sunday school and sang in a Presbyterian children’s choir, because above all else, I loved to sing like an angel, so sing, I did. I tried to be a good little girl and do as I was told. I never made trouble or too much fuss. Things came to a head at the church Christmas party, however, when all the children at Sunday school received big, fancy Christmas presents in big, fancy wrapping paper with fluffy, green bows.
Except me. When I asked why, the grownups in my life retreated to a corner of the church. They argued and hissed. I followed behind. I didn’t understand. God was love, so the grownups said, and forgave everything, so they said, and I had tried my best to be good, so why? One outstanding member of the church council had the last word: “I’ll be damned if I buy that demon whore child a Christmas present.”
I didn’t know what those words meant, but I certainly caught the sentiment behind them. Afterwards, I went only because it was the only way I could still sing in the choir, until that fatal day my curiosity could bear it no longer and I asked one question no one would ever answer. “If God is everywhere, then why do we have to go to church?”
I was instantly expelled.
Ever since, I have had a questionable view of organized religion, angels included. It didn’t help when, aged eighteen and deadly curious, I set a library copy of Saint Augustine’s City of God on fire after reading and threw it (still burning) out of a sixth story window for its outrageous misogyny. To this day, press me hard enough and I will tell you I’m an unrepentant heathen/Vanatru/Wiccan/Pantheist/Tibetan Buddhist eclectic and my faith emphatically feminist to its core.
Angels? I call them Valkyries, handmaidens of Freyja, who takes pride of place in my personal polyglot pantheon. Angels are intermediaries between divinity and humanity, between Heaven – or the celestial spheres – and Earth. When I thought about this post and about which perfume I would deem angelic, one perfume of all I own came to mind.
The Romantic movement of the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries, itself a reaction to the rationalist Enlightenment, elevated one sentiment above all others – the sublime. The sublime is that sense of something larger than yourself, something awe-inspiring, something frightening in its perfection and entirety.
In other words, something angelic, at least as I interpret the word. For me, that perfume of angels is Serge Lutens’ Fleurs d’Oranger.
Fleurs d’Oranger takes me back in an instant to one very particular Monday in my life, a day that life would change forever, a day I experienced a joy so great, I had no words to define it but simply the emotion to decline it. I was eleven, just home from school, and this day, I was locked out of the house. So I did what I sometimes did, went around to the backyard and climbed one of the orange trees. I knew how to sidestep the thorns on the branches and knew where to place myself on one of the biggest branches. It was September, and the tree was full of Valencia oranges, slowly turning their signature color, but it would be another two months before they could be plucked and eaten. Still, a bunch of errant blooms remained, exuding their narcotic perfume in the hot Florida afternoon in a suburban backyard.
Out front, an occasional thud of coconut on the lawn could be heard, the bees buzzing in the grapefruit, key lime and lemon trees on either side. Further away, I could hear some of my classmates, also home from school, riding their bikes, tossing footballs, throwing Frisbees to each other in backyard pools. But here underneath that glossy green canopy, I was drunk on orange blossom, euphorically high on a favorite, tiny flower. I breathed in beauty and exhaled angelic, at one with the flowers, the ripening fruit, the tree itself rooted in that fertile earth where anything and everything grew. I knew nothing else, thought nor sensed anything else until some time later, I was startled out of my orange blossom reverie by a neighbor arriving to take me in for the night. For this day, I would become a sister, which explained why my mother wasn’t home.
That memory would keep me warm for many years to come, until it was buried under that avalanche called ‘life’, only to come hurling back at hurricane force the day I first sniffed Fleurs d’Oranger. It was the scent of unlimited, sublime joy, the perfume of complete abandonment to a moment when time itself stood still, and I felt protected by that angelic presence – of orange blossom. Before I knew life, before I knew so many things that would later define and decline me.
To this day, I can drop whatever foul moods may haunt me and head straight to that celestial nudge of a joy that could only and ever be divine … with Fleurs d’Oranger. I have not been without it for eleven years, and spray it on my pillows on the days I change the sheets. My current bottle is running low on this cold, snowy day. But what price should I pay for such an angelic perfume, such a breath of sublime?
Whatever it takes, so long as it defines angelic.
Follow Scent Semantics once a month and don’t forget to read the other contributions to our project below.
Daisy https://eaulalanyc.com and https://www.instagram.com/coolcookstyle/?hl=en)
Old Herbaceous https://scentsandsensibilities.co
9 thoughts on “Angelic”
Another amazing story of how well scent can tap into our deepest memories and emotions. The notion of growing up among real orange trees seems so wonderful to me, a child of New England.
Thank you, Old Herbaceous! In so many ways, it was a privilege of no small order to grow up in Florida, where orange trees are as ubiquitous as apple trees in Northern Europe.
I have a dear friend who is a garden designer in Florida, and her “palette” of plants is so exotic! She has also taken me with her to an orchid wholesaler — OMG! Orchid Heaven.
We had an orange tree too but it was cropped into a severe wine glass and there was nowhere really to climb. Even the base of the cup like growth was not seatable space. I did love the smell though of the flowers, leaves, fruit and even the crazy stink bugs that would squirt noxious oozing yuk at us if we accidentally or on purpose touched them.
I can imagine you becoming one with the tree that day and love how free spirited you are and were. A happy, healthy, fully fragrant heathen. Best kind.
Perhaps it’s YOU that’s angelic.
Do you know, Portia, I don’t recall any stink bugs – although we certainly had them. At one with the tree- yes, indeed! A big, fat :* for the compliment, too. xo
Are you absolutely sure we’re not twins? Actually SL Fleur d’Oranger proves not, it is the only fragrance to have ever given me a rash. The scent of the real thing or philadelphus (mock orange) is absolutely sublime!
Whilst the weather in northern England doesn’t suit my orange & lemon trees, they live in the bathroom, but I have a huge philadelphus that my eldest boy planted as a child. Everything he ever planted is still growing and flowering profusely. A gardening angel as a child.
Alityke, I think of philadelphus as the Northern European consolation prize for not being able to grow jasmine and orange trees, since its perfume contains elements of both, and I absolutely adore it. I’m also in awe with anyone with a green thumb. 😉
Me too. He has house plants as has no garden in his present house.
Jasmine does ok here as long as it is against a south facing wall & the citrus go against the same wall in summer. I envy your climbable tree.
I have yet to find “my” orange blossom cos of the rash. Any suggestions?
Your post took me on a journey! Bravo, Sheila! I can’t believe you lit a library book on fire and hurled it out a six-floor window! Hats off. I was always too much of a scaredy cat to do that. This month’s word was a challenge for me because I feel so conflicted about the word angelic. Reading everyone’s take on the word has been great. Thank you for sharing your stories. And remind me to never make you mad 😉