It was Aboriginal Australia that brought the Seven Sisters into my life. In early 1990, I was in Australia on an extended assignment for a number of the Japanese magazines I wrote for, primarily focussing on Aboriginal artists, their work and life stories. I ended up with a beast of a sunburn on the Gold Coast, and one of my Aboriginal friends brought me a honking great bottle of distilled tea tree oil to ease the blistering that covered the backs of my legs.
I had been introduced to these so-called 'essential oils' in Japan by another Australian friend some time before, and was familiar with the practise of 'aromatherapy' - at that time very new (age), and with very little information about it available - this was in the pre-internet age, remember, and it was some time before I could lay my hands on even a single book about essential oils and their practical uses - I did finally manage to find a copy of Gattefossé's early research on lavender oil in France some ten years later! In 1990, though, Australia and England were certainly at the cutting edge of all this, and my positive experience with the tea tree oil served to increase my interest in it.
By the summer of 2000, I had more than immersed myself in the study of essential oils; I had returned to Australia for more research, taken as many courses as I could find in Japan, connected with a couple in Hawai'i who supplied me with an entire range of EO's to explore; spent a summer in the south of France building a permaculture herb garden and connecting with lavender distillers, before relocating to Vancouver Island, marrying a Scot and having a baby!
Whew! Busy times! What had really grabbed my attention was what I called plant alchemy. Being able to transform living plants into medicinal, useful substances was of far greater interest to me than 'aromatherapy' per se (as in the massage aspect of it). Formulating products for my skin-sensitive Scottish husband was one outcome of this. People ask me what did it take? Hmmm - drawing on my experience as a fearless cook, my teenage obsessions with ethnobotany, wildcrafting and First Nations' plant medicines, working with First Nations Medicine Women, extensive study, hands-on research, travelling in many parts of the world with Indigenous peoples, writing about herbs... all the way back to my Austral-Hungarian grandmother who was an early pioneer of non-chemical hair products in her salons in Windsor in the 1960's (and a life-long believer in the efficacy of herbal teas). Did I mention gardening?
For me, working with the infused and distilled plant oils, butters and beeswax was fascinating terrain. I explored and studied the various properties of each substance, how they interacted with each other (sometimes with brilliant results, and the occasional disaster - hint - NEVER mix genuine rose oil with salt!). I decided that the traditional herbalist's salve (infused herbal oils with enough beeswax to create a solid substance) was less than satisfactory to me, although I am sure that with a very limited range of raw materials, it was good enough for them 'back in the day'. Glad I didn't have to use goose grease!
I developed a number of formulations for specific needs, blending butters, infused oils, pressed oils and essential oils - unheard of at the time - to provide both the broad range / nourishing effects of the infused oils and the very intense and specific chemistry of the essential oils, buffered of course by the butters and beeswax.
The primary driving force behind all this was my pregnancy and the birth of our daughter, Kate. I can clearly recall the moment when (at a baby shower) I was given a basket of commercial baby care products (you know what I mean) and I thought, "I used to polish my tables with this stuff when I was a kid!". The idea of putting it onto my new baby's skin? Shudder! Especially because of her dad's skin issues, I was determined to eschew any substance that could be a possible allergen - so no nut oils, certainly no parabens, chemicals, fragrance oils, chemical preservatives, and no animal oils either. At that time, (she was born in 1996), there simply was no baby care beyond the aforementioned commercial stuff - and who knew what was in it, because there was nothing like an ingredient list. People didn't even think about what they put on their skin (unless they were amongst the unlucky few who had eczema or other skin sensitivities); when I described what I made as 'natural body care' I had to go through a LONG explanation of what exactly that was!
Well. Along with Kate was born 'Dragonfly Dreaming Natural Care for Body and Spirit' (though these days we just go with Dragonfly Dreaming Organics).
I had launched the company (between feedings) in 1997 with my baby products - Mum's Tum and Baby's Bum were really effective for both Kate and myself, and for the many brave friends and cousins willing to give them a shot! By the time Kate was two, I had created a line of natural perfumes and the body oils that partnered with them, any number of healing salves and a range of 'bespoke' personalized perfumes, to name but a few of my 'explorations' at the request of folks saying "I don't have a baby, but I love what you're doing! Could you make something for my problem with XYZ?".
And the Seven Sisters? Many friends were also fascinated by the blends I was making for things like PMS, hot flashes and arthritis... so, during the summer of 2000, I decided to create a line of therapeutic perfumes - tera•par•fume - as I call them, 'perfume with purpose'. Recalling my Aboriginal friends, and their stories about the Seven Sisters - the Pleiades constellation as they're also known, among many other names - I decided to focus on seven 'issues' that effect women throughout our lives for which essential oils might be of use.
I won't go into the process I have developed for blending natural scent here; suffice it to say, it's a unique confluence of science, intuition, sense and aesthetics, especially when you have a clear purpose in mind.
I had already been filling notebooks on the effects I was looking for, and now it took a heavenly few days of blocking out everything but my oils. At that point I had probably collected a 'perfumer's organ' (and I don't mean my nose!) of around 300 different essential oils, and to be able to work them together to create the aesthetic effect along side the physical or emotional effect I was after, was something like writing a piece of music. All the notes had to be in place, in relation to each other and of use to the overall piece.
Here's one example from that collection. Moon Dreaming was something I saw as a scent-equivalent to the 'moon lodge' many traditional cultures have (apparently) had for women to find some private time during their menses. I wanted something that would be both grounding and uplifting, comforting, embracing and 'large' - the blend ended up having Cedar Maroc as its armature, with the warm Styrax Benzoin enfolding a really beautiful Rosa Damascena - kind of like a Great Mother Cedar tree, drawing energy and power up from the Earth to comfort and embrace her Children. Other essential oils - such as Rose Geranium and Basilicum Ocemum - help with hormonal balance, muscle spasm, stomach upset and bloating - not to mention the emotional turmoil that menses can usher into the door! Does it work? Well, I am told it does - not only for its intended purpose, but also as a male aphrodisiac! Go figure...
Finally - the name Seven Sisters? Well, one of my close Aboriginal friends gave me a very beautiful piece of stone with a vein of opal running through it like a river on a miniature ochre landscape. He said, "This is to do with Seven Sister Dreaming. They were seven beautiful sisters who were always being chased across the sky by randy ol' hunter. Every so often they'd drop down to the land, to get away from him like, and if one of them popped behind a rock to do her business, well, the little river of pee became opal - they were that beautiful!"
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