Thursday, October 6, 2011


Relaxing is something I love to do, yet don't do nearly enough.  For the times that I do need to engage in some stress relief and relaxation, there are certain things I like to use to help create a proper atmosphere.  Candles are one (pine or cedar scents, preferably), and incense is another.  I have burned incense for years.  My favorite scent?  Sandalwood, by far.  It creates such a sense of peace, and motivates me creatively.  Sandalwood is also used for protection, and is quite useful in ridding a space of negativity.  It is a handy thing to have around.
Sandalwood is...well, a wood, so it would stand to reason that Sandalwood comes from trees.  There is an ancient Buddhist Scripture, the Moho chi-kuan, that states, "None but the Mali Mountains contain Sandalwood."  We can safely say that that is not the case, but it is known that Sandalwood is one of the oldest incense materials, dating back at least 4,000 years.

(Marayoor, South India ~ the only place in Kerala where there is natural growth
of Sandalwood trees)
(Sandalwood tree)
It is a fragrant wood.  Yellow, fine grained, and heavy, once cut it can retain it's scent for decades.  A slow growing tree of medium size, it is 'hemiparasitic' which means that like mistletoe, it gets some nourishment from a host plant.  However, Sandalwood is a little different in that it also photosynthesizes.  It can live either way.  The wood and essential oils produced from the tree are in very high demand these days, which has caused widespread over-harvesting.

Many countries grow Sandalwood:  Australia, Indonesia, the Pacific Islands, Sri Lanka, and a chief producer is Southern India.  Indian Sandalwood (Santalum Album) is indigenous to Southern India, and looks to be the most sought after. It is also endangered.  The trees are owned by the government who try to monitor the harvesting of the trees, but illegal tree chopping is a huge problem, many trees getting the axe well before their time. One source said that Sandalwood is not commercially valuable until it's at least 8 years old. Another source said that trees are being harvested at age 14, before they are mature. Going by both accounts, it sounds like Sandalwood is commercially valuable well before it has fully matured which is creating a problem with tree crops, and even though some harvesters are waiting until the trees are 14 to cut them, they are still not fully mature...and none of that really matters anyway because shady tree thieves are sneaking in and cutting down trees illegally no matter how old they are.  The bottom line is that prices are ever increasing because legally harvested supply can't meet demand.  It's all such a shame. The thought of a possible future world without Sandalwood...I think I will move on from the sad stuff.
(Quandong fruit)
Australia also produces quite a bit of Sandalwood.  Australian Aborigines eat the seed kernels, nuts, and fruit of local trees, such as the Quandong, one of two Australian Sandalwood trees.  It is a smaller tree of the Sandalwood family.
(Essential Oils)

In addition to the wood of the Sandalwood tree, there is also the production of essential oils from the tree's bark, and also from the heartwood which is the most precious part of the tree.  These days the oil is extracted by a steam distillation method.  Super heated steam is passed through powdered wood. Steam helps unlock and carry away the oil held within the cellular structure of the wood. Once the steam is cooled, you are left with hydrosols (a.k.a. floral waters) and essential oil.

(Old drawing of essential oil distillery)
The traditional method of extraction is hydro-distillation.  Although rare these days, this method is said to yield an oil with a superior aroma.  The wood powder is allowed to soak in water in a hydro-distiller.  A fire underneath the reservoir/vessel heats the water, and carries off steam which is allowed to cool.  The Sandalwood oil is removed from the top of the hydrosol.

(Sandalwood Essential oil)
An Australian Sandalwood tree known as Santalum Spicatum, produces a heavier concentration of essential oil, and is most used by perfumers and aromatherapists.  In the 1840's, Sandalwood was Western Australia's biggest export.  The first oil to be distilled was in 1875, and by the turn of the century Australian essential oil was intermittently produced.  Of course, today production is much higher and it is highly sought after for it's woody and warm aroma.

(Ganesh Aarti)
Now, onto some of the spiritual and metaphysical uses of Sandalwood.  Hinduism uses Sandalwood in a paste form as an integral part of spiritual ceremonies and rituals.  Used to decorate the icons of deities and to mark religious utensils, preparation of the paste is only done by Priests to retain the purity.  Religious devotees apply it to the forehead, or neck and chest.  It is used as an alternative medicine to bring the taker closer to the divine.

(Hindu Priest making Chandan)
The steps in making the paste are to grind Sandalwood by hand on granite slabs that are specially designed for that purpose.  Next, water is added until a thick paste is formed.  It is then mixed with saffron to create 'Chandan', or Sandalwood paste.
(Different types of Sandalwood Incense ~ from right to left:  stick incense, coil incense, and a type of
cup incense that I had not seen before)

(Amitabha Buddha)

(Padma Lotus)
Attributed to the Amitabha Buddha, Sandalwood is considered to be a part of the padma, or lotus group.  It is believed to transform the individuals desires and maintain alertness during meditation.  Sandalwood is one of the more popular scents when presenting an offering to Buddha.

(Sandalwood chips)
In either a chipped or powdered form, Sandalwood is used in the creation of talismans.  It works with the energies of the Moon, and is very powerful when burned and worn during Full Moon rituals.  For spiritual purification and cleansing, mix it with Frankincense.  Sandalwood enhances both spiritual and physical well being.  It has the highest vibration levels of any essential oil that resonates with aspects of our individual selves.  It attracts the highest spiritual vibrations, opens the highest spiritual centers, and aligns the Chakras to enhance spiritual awareness and allow healing energies to flow.  Sandalwood is an enhancer of receptivity and assists us when contacting our Guardian Angels, and our higher selves.  To focus the mind, help the dream state, or promote visions, place some oil in the center of the forehead.  Sandalwood is associated with protection, banishing negativity, meditation, and astral projection.
(The Chakra System)
Sandalwood has uses beyond the spiritual and metaphysical.  The wood is also used for carving, which it is well suited for.  The oils are used to make soaps.

(Sandalwood Soap)

(Antique carved Sandalwood box)

Personally, I enjoy all Sandalwood incense variations, but I really like the Japanese Morning Star brand.  The sticks are small, burn completely to ash, and each box of incense comes with a little ceramic tile with a hole in the center ~ an incense burner.  Also, the aroma is really nice.  Over the years I have been known to burn white candles and Sandalwood Incense to dispel negativity.  Only positive vibes for me.  In my post entitled 'Spirited' where I relate a Table Tipping experience, I talk about my usage of candles and incense to cleanse my apartment.  The environment created is so peaceful, and energizing at the same time.  Perfect for meditating.

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