There's a lot of disagreement about what exactly is meant by onycha. Because onycha is actually Greek for the Hebrew word shekhelet (Exodus 30:34), which means nail,
various interpretations include cloves (which resemble carpenter's
nails), a type of tree resin (which can sometimes be translucent, like a
thick fingernail), an unnamed root (which is shiny like a fingernail), labdanum (harvested from a plant bearing a flower
with nail-like marks on its petals), and finally, the "nail" of a
shellfish, which is what this onycha is. This part of the shellfish
functions as a door and has the technical name of operculum. It has
long been an incense ingredient in the East.
Logically enough, onycha is aligned with the Element of Water and is
associated with Cancer and with the other Water signs, Scorpio and
Pisces. It is the perfume for the path between Binah and Tiphareth on
the Tree of Life. It is also the scent of the Chariot in the Tarot and
is associated with the Egyptian god Khephra. In the Hebrew Bible, the
recipe for the incense to be used in the Temple features, among other
things, onycha, balsam, galbanum, and frankincense. Crowley substituted storax
for the balsam and olibanum for the frankincense to get an incense
he called Tetragrammaton.
Oddly enough, when burned onycha is said to
smell like castoreum, a very musky substance produced by beavers and used in
perfumery. I've never smelled castoreum, so I can't say. It does
give off a whiff of a sea smell for a moment, then has a slightly
sweet fragrance. I was surprised how quickly it was consumed;
it also sputtered.
You can break it up with a hammer and then grind it in a coffee
grinder with a metal blade, like a Braun, or a mortar and pestle,
but not a soft one. Typically, before use it is
soaked in white wine. Soaking ingredients in wine before incorporating
them into an incense was, as far as I can tell, pioneered by the
ancient Egyptians. This technique works marvelousely well with myrrh, for
example, clearing away the burned smell myrrh can sometimes have and rendering
the myrrh intensely fragrant.
I haven't tried it with onycha yet. If you do, let me know how it turns out.
10 g $9.00
Uses In Witchcraft & Magic:
© 2004, 2013 Harold A. Roth;
No reproduction without permission