Perfume is the smell of creation, a sign dramatically delivered to our senses of the Earth’s regenerative powers – a message of hope and a message of pleasure. – Claude LeFever in Tom Robbins’s “Jitterbug Perfume”
The aromatic bodywork offered at Ritual by Kate’s Magik, 215 N. Court Ave., is a luxuriant, transportive, deeply relaxing and meditative experience. It starts with a consultation, a conversation over cool water or warm tea to discuss what ails you physically, emotionally and spiritually. The client is an active participant in this process; it is important to mentally set your intention for receiving and gaining healing work from the therapist.
“How do you want to feel when you leave today?” asks Nicole Mendoza, a Reiki practitioner at Ritual. I tell her about the migraine that split my head open 48 hours earlier and left my body and mind feeling railroaded. I hope this treatment puts me back together enough so I can get some writing projects done, including this article. As with the full-body massages offered, the Reiki bodywork sessions are rooted in the healing powers of laying-on-hands energy, essential oils, and aromatherapy. The therapist selects several oils, which are blended on-site by Kate’s Magik proprietor, therapeutic perfumer, and Reiki Master Teacher Kate Becker. The oil selections are carefully presented to the client’s nostrils, one by one, inhale deeply and let your brain’s olfactory cortex decide.
On this day, my olfactory cortex choses scent number two – which turns out to be Kate’s Magik Creativity & Performance anointing oil. I laugh, as an image of Toucan Sam flashes in my Gen X head – “Follow your nose! It always knows!” It seems to be true. At a previous therapeutic massage treatment, when I was searching for support in creating a healthier lifestyle, I was drawn to the scent of the Isis & Rebirth oil that is meant to, as the Kate’s Magik literature states, “release the old and support new beginnings.” I was sold – hook, line and sinker – on the oils, the treatments, on the power of aromatherapy, and sought to learn scientifically why.
In the 2009 National Geographic book “Brain: The Complete Mind,” the sense of smell is described as a “direct sense” that circumvents the route our other senses take to the brain. “Smell, the most ancient of senses, takes a more direct path. Taste, touch, hearing, and a portion of vision send their electrochemical signals to the brain via the brain stem, which then relays them to the thalamus and on up to the cerebral cortex. Sensation of smell goes straight into the amygdala and olfactory cortex, both parts of the limbic system, without stopping at the thalamus along the way.”1
Most humans are deeply touched by scent, and this is because smell is hardwired “to the brain’s emotional centers,” according to the aforementioned Nat Geo book. It goes on to explain that, when you smell something, “the sensation rushes, practically unfiltered, into the frontal lobes. As the amygdala directly influences the sympathetic branch of the nervous system as well as the nurturing bonds of family, smells can trigger a rise in heartbeat and blood pressure or bring on a feeling of calm and well-being. The latter forms the basis of aromatherapy.”
In 2002, Becker alighted in Tucson. She had traveled the world, was born in San Francisco, grew up both in Bern (her mother is Swiss) and New York City (her father a New Yorker), lived in Central America for a time, then settled back in New York City for 10 years. It was in New York where Becker studied with renowned jazz vocalist Nanette Natal, facilitated music connections, worked in various modalities of the healing arts, and was employed at an herb store.
When asked what led her to aromatherapy, Becker shares how the NYC herb store started her on the path of connecting to intention-based work, but it was her mother that informed her background and relationship to essential oils.
“My mother used a lot of essential oils on me when I was little to calm me, but also for earaches – like lavender, chamomile and eucalyptus – some of the regular, medicinal ones were just common in households in Switzerland. I’ve always really resonated with scent. From a young age on, scent was very powerful for me.
“Later on, when I got into aromatherapy and when I started creating my own blends and body oils, I would think about re-creating that feeling that I have with my mom; the way my mom smelled after she came out of the shower. She would put on this oil and it was citrus-y and floral and so warming and joy-inducing.”
When Becker moved to Tucson, she spent the first six months studying essential oils, their therapeutic and medicinal qualities, the folklore behind them and, “how powerful they are when you apply them on your body – they go into your bloodstream, they travel up to four hours within you and help calm you down or wake you up, balance a mood or enhance your sensuality and how it makes you feel when you apply it and smell it, it’s so powerful. And I didn’t at all have the intention of creating a company. I just thought I would create those to sell to my clients when I opened shop as a life coach and maybe locally. But they got feet, the doors just started opening.”
From talking to Kate, it was clear that it was more than doors magically opening, she was prying them asunder with true grit and self-admitted naïve persistence. Becker received an audience with Whole Foods in 2005, and locked in distribution to the chain’s Southern California, Northern California, and New York regions, and eventually six more regions across the country. These days, Whole Foods’ stores comprise about twenty percent of her distribution locales while most her products are in over 200 independent stores nationwide, “which is what I wanted, they are more customer oriented.”
For each of the Kate’s Magik anointing oils, aura mists, lotions, teas, diffuser oils, and sacred perfumes, there is a detailed description that explains their intended applications. If you seek more confidence, there is an anointing oil for that, there are anointing oils to help a person with clarity and focus, learning to let go, releasing negativity, among many other qualities we may hope to incorporate into our lives or find freedom from. The point and purpose is to mindfully use these products while working on your stuff.
Becker’s background includes working as a counselor and life coach, which informs her product line. “Everything always starts with my experiences,” she explains. “What has been most challenging for me? Where have I needed the most support or help or guidance? And then work with myself – what are the different tools that work for me? And then I go out from there.”
I am face down on the massage table, breathing deeply, slowly, releasing tension, looking forward to today’s Letting Go Ritual Massage. Vanessa Guss lightly knocks on the door, entering after my muffled grunt of consent. She smudges the room with sage, clears the air with the Heart & Spirit Aura Mist, gently places a heating pad on my shoulders, and sits down at my feet with hot towels. Oh, how we forget how much we beat up our feet! Hot towels, oil, and kneading is so simple, yet so completely transcendent. I’m melting into the massage table, feeling its thick comfy pad underneath high count cotton sheets. Details get hazy when one is semi-conscious, but throughout the massage, Guss is using the Isis & Rebirth and Letting Go oils, working every inch of my body with trained hands and Reiki mindfulness.
Her touch loosens and sooths my muscles, the music lulls me into a different world and the space feels as safe and nurturing as the womb. It’s a spiritual experience rooted in Earthy sensations and scents, which I later learned was likely due to the fact that all of the oil blends are 100 percent natural, no synthetics. My thirsty skin drinks up the moisture. It truly feels like a rebirth.
Reiki may be considered a pseudoscience by a number of scholars and academics, but what they can’t discount is the power of touch – which is the first sense that develops before all others.1 There may not be a reproducible qualitative energy in the lab, but when you are laying on the massage table and feel the heat from the therapist’s hands, your body tells you something else. What mine told me was that I was blessed to receive work by a goddess masseuse.
Before Big Pharma, humans relied on plants to cure what ailed them. It’s an ancient science, and some might titter about “new age,” but really, it’s old school. Going back, quite literally, to our roots of utilizing the healing power of plants.
Kate describes the uses of different ingredients, how flower oils can aid in forgiveness and compassion while cedarwood is grounding. “And it does that physically and emotionally for you, so that’s the magic,” she imparts. “It’s magical, what these plants can do for us because everything is here. We came with everything on this planet. And they’re our family, the flowers, the trees, the bark, the root, the seeds, they’re all part of us. We all have a purpose to serve each other and they want to help us.”
Becker’s background in the healing arts motivated her to reach people through her oils as a way for her clients to take something home with them, as a reminder of what they are working on. “It becomes your helper, your assistant, your reminder, your supporter. Let’s say you apply Break Patterns & Addictions and you’re asking for assistance, for support around this challenge and every time you smell it, it will remind you of that support.”
What Becker didn’t realize 15 years ago when she started studying essential oils was her knack for blending. Working with oils isn’t easy. They have their own personalities, and some – as Kate said – are hard to wrangle. Tom Robbins wrote a whole book on the challenge of finding a proper base note to a jasmine, citrus combination in Jitterbug Perfume.
“I learned about all the different oils, and how they blend with each other and what their purposes are – medicinally, therapeutically – but once I sat down to blend them, and the anointing oils were the first line I created – they just kind of happened through me. To this day, now that I do the Bastet Perfume Society, which is a monthly perfume club and I’m having the ability to work with the really exotic high priced and rare oils, it still happens. I’ll make a blend and I can’t believe that I had that much to do with it. I think it’s just something that’s inside me, like musicians who already have the music in them, that’s what it is for me.”
On Saturday, Oct. 28, Becker and crew celebrate the boutique’s two-year anniversary at their Downtown location, 215 N. Court Ave., from 11 a.m.-4 p.m. The free event is dedicated to the Autumn Season, Samhain, and Dia de los Muertos. It will include an alter honoring those past, mini ritual treatments by Vanessa and Nicole, healthy treats and refreshments as well as a sale. Visit KatesMagik.com for product information and RitualTucson.com for information on the boutique. Call 520-422-2642 with inquiries.
- Sweeney, Michael S. Brain: The Complete Mind. Washington, D.C.: National Geographic Society, 2009. Print.