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Dioscorides and a studentDioscorides' Kyphi
Recipes for the incense used to usher in the night in ancient Egyptian temples to Ra have often been preserved thanks to medicine. Dioscorides was a Greek born in 40 CE in what is now Turkey, then part of the Roman Empire. He studied medicine in Egypt and was a physician in Nero's Roman Legion, which gave him much opportunity to see other cultures. This recipe comes from his five-volume De Materia Medica on "the preparation, properties, and testing of drugs," which describes how plants were used medicinally in various cultures. His work is thought to be the first systematic Western herbal and covers over 600 different plants (as well as a few mineral and animal substances). Kyphi is the only compound drug in his book, which implies its importance, and as in the case of the Galen recipe, we must be grateful to physicians for preserving another recipe for this ancient Egyptian incense. Dioscorides' book was lost to Europe but preserved in the Muslim world [thus he is in Muslim dress in the picture]. Arabs reintroduced his work to Europeans a millenium later.

Dioscorides' bookLike Galen's recipe, the ingredients in this first-century kyphi include raisins, wine, and honey, as well as sweet flag, aspalathos, camel grass, and cyperus tuber. The major difference is in the proportions and in the addition of  myrrh and pure resin and the subtraction of asphaltum. This recipe also includes a period of steeping in the middle of the process that the Galen recipe does not. No fragrance oils or synthetics come anywhere near this kyphi. The ingredients are mixed in a high-fired ceramic bowl with a wooden spatula to preserve their potency. Following the ancient Egyptian custom, ingredients are added one at a time in a specific order to the base of chopped raisins.

RaThe result is a much sweeter incense than is produced by the Galen recipe. At the start, the scent is almost candy-like. It provokes the appetite but is satisfying as well. As the scent develops, it blossoms into a spicy resinousness. The myrrh note is surprisingly strong, given the very small amount of myrrh actually called for. According to the Talmud, wine was added to myrrh to make it more fragrant, and this recipe bears that out. The impression is of an Oriental perfume. Gradually the scent matures into a heavily resinous and spicy aroma that seems to open the back of one's mouth. Users have described visions evoked of serpentine shapes (rivers, snakes, winding roads, canes, hooks, curved beams) and water-associated images (boats, docks). The smoke was easier to see with one's eyes shut, when it was revealed to be quite extensive and sinuous. At the last, the scent is majestic and expansive. The way this incense unfolded gave me the impression of watching an entity go from playful childhood to powerful maturity. It makes a wonderful contrast with Galen's kyphi and is good for developing the more visual aspects of the psychic.

Traditionally kyphi was rolled into pills, but I have left it in a loose crumble so that you can make whatever size pellets you want. This is nowhere near as smokey as one would expect, given the honey included. It must be burned on a piece of charcoal, as it contains only pure ingredients, not charcoal of its own. I also have Galen's kyphi and Edfu kyphi.

Dioscorides' Kyphi
1 oz. in tin $20.00

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Other hand-compounded incense: Edfu Kyphi, Galen's Kyphi, Abramelin, Festival, Planetary

Get some chemical-free charcoal

Uses in Witchcraft & Magic:

Honoring Horus

2004, 2018 Harold A. Roth; No reproduction without permission