The Scent of Forgiveness and Redemption

Overmuch lately, I find myself ruminating on forgiveness and redemption.  How much can a person do before they have gone into the unforgivable, and there is no explanaiton or apology they can make for redemption in another person’s eyes?  It’s an individual barrier to be sure.  In my faith, we are called to forgive everything because we are all deeply flawed, and we should ask for the grace to do what we are completely unable to do when you are pig-biting mad.  No matter if you are religious or not, all of us must struggle with what to forgive, what to forget, and when it is too much.

Oh, no, you’re not going to get a Patty Soap Opera here, y’all.   

My next thought – as it should be for any good perfumista – what does forgiveness and redemption smell like?  Answering this question has been far tougher than I thought it would be.

Forgiveness smells cold and earthy, as you must set aside your own hurt coldly, take out the emotion, disengage, reach deep within your emotional capacity and rationally overlook the cracks and broken places in another.   But it must be a little bit warm because out of the cold must come pity and compassion enough to heat the heart to give genuine forgiveness.  It smells like Serge Lutens Iris Silver Mist.

Redemption must smell of hope and promise, going on without ever forgetting what has gone before.  It must mix regret with desperation, and at its core must be the smell of humanity, slightly decaying, but beautiful for all of its flaws.  I turned over a lot of scents in my mind for this, but finally settled on CB I Hate perfume Cradle of Light or Strange Invisible Perfumes Lady Day

… and I put them together, side by side, running my nose from my elbow to my hand, and I can smell the limits of forgiveness and redemption, and there are none.

What scents go with forgiveness and redemption for you?

  • Mimi says:

    I’ve been tempted out of lurking by this terrific discussion

    Famously, the scent of grace is the scent of roses. I had a supersitious Catholic upbringing and was taught that miracles are always accompanied by the most wonderful heavenly smell of roses blossoming, which emanates from nowhere (or from heaven, presumably, a divine effluvium).

    I know something about unforgivingness (no soap opera here either) and I’d say it is the smell of ice, or of obdurate stone, chilly and slaty.

  • Vasily says:

    The piece that I think is missing here is repentance … one would hope that if we are forgiven, that we will repent … but neither is contingent on the other person doing the other: both repentance and forgiveness must be freely given. And both are prerequisites for salvation, whether you define that in religious or more secular spiritual terms. I would nominate three Tauer fragrances: L’Air du Desert Marocain, warm spices with the cold of the desert at its heart, for forgiveness; Incense Extreme, austere and otherworldly but with something cheering about it, for repentance; and the lush Incense Rose, with its abundance and ripeness over a bed of incense that recalls both of the other themes, for salvation.

    For those who would like to read further on forgiveness, the International Forgiveness Institute has some good resources & a list of books on the topic:

  • risa says:

    wow, Patty, this was a fantastic and thought-provoking post. I loved your choice of SL Iris Silver Mist for forgiveness, particularly since I find it so melancholy and a scent I can only carry off at certain times in my life. For me, since both requesting and granting forgiveness is so difficult, and occasionally easy to give lip service to but not to truly feel, I wanted this to be represented by a fragrance that could disappear but actually shows itself… a scent that isn’t skin yet seems to want to be. A struggle scent, something that challenges yet soothes. I chose Montale’s Musk to Musk.

    In my mind, redemption has always been fiery – not because I’m a lapsed Catholic, but because the legend of the phoenix was somehow always so tied to the concept for me. (I blame Bernie Taupin for that; the lyrics to Elton John’s Grey Seal always sounded like a prayer to me.) You leave a core of yourself, burn away the old parts, and from that core springs newness. Because of that, for me redemption is Passage D’Enfer – though for a different reason than Tara chose it for forgiveness. On me, PDE isn’t incensey at all; it’s fierce, fiery, full of power and strength. The name, rite of passage or passage through hell, seems particularly apt for something dealing with both the phoenix imagery as well as the path to redemption.

    Thanks again for such a great post!

  • Tara says:

    Yes, the spice box is passed around at the end of the sabbath when saying the havdalah prayers which mark the boundary of sacred time vs. secular time. The spices are to lift up the soul, which is sad at the departure of the sabbath.

    Interestingly, regarding the formula for the incense in the temple, the rabbis said that it was specifically forbidden to add honey to the mixture, because no one would have been able to resist its odor (and would therefore be overly tempted to make some for their own personal use I suppose, which is forbidden).

  • Elle says:

    What a wonderful post! For me, forgiveness requires a deeply resinous and somewhat sweet scent – something to get to the very core of things and soften the hard, sharp planes and angles of bitterness and anger. I think I’d go for Goldmund, w/ its heavy dose of my beloved Peru balsam. Also Josef Statkus, AG’s Ambre Fetiche or Stoned. Redemption for me speaks of an autumnal scent – a second beginning, but not a spring like one of innocence and wide eyed optimism. I’d go for my favorite autumnal scent of all time, Micallef’s Automne or Arabie – rich, complex, warm scents that are simultaneously bright and full of shadows. Oh, and my new love, Jubilation 25.

  • Tara says:

    Wow, this is some deep thinking. I guess I’m the odd Jew out, because I definitely associate incense with the holidays – every year in the synagogue they recite the order of services that were conducted in the Holy Temple and incense was part of that ceremony. So for me, forgiveness is Passage d’Enfer. As for redemption/atonement, that is brightness and exaltation, the thrill of hearing “Vayomer adonai zalachti kidvarecha” – according to your prayers G-d has forgiven… for me this is aldehydes and myrrh, Keiko Mecheri Myrrhe et Merveilles or Allesandro dell’Aqua.

    • Patty says:

      I thought incense was used in the Jewish traditions, so I’m glad to read that I was thinking correctly.

    • sweetlife says:

      Oh, thank you for this, Tara! I get a little thrill just from reading that Hebrew and your translation (into English, and into scent…). I’m the last person/Jew to know this for certain, but isn’t there a box of spices used for end-of-meal ceremonies at some Sabbath meals? I know there are blessings (of course!) for both spices and perfumed oils…looked ’em up.

    • Kim says:

      yup, incense was part of the ceremony for the holidays but also everyday. Although the forumula wasn’t for personal use, it had 11 ingredients, including galbanum, frankincense, myrrh, cassia, saffron, cinnamon – what a scent it must have been!! And sweetlife, yup, spices are part of the ceremony in the home at the end of the Sabbath as well as a candle and wine. My favourite scent is the candle after it has been extinguished in the wine – I’m still looking for the right smokey perfume and none have come close to that for me!

      • Louise says:

        And I wasn’t so aware of the use of incense in Judaism-but we’re all raised and educated differently. Ah, that smoke scent of end-of-shabbos candles-now there’s a strong memory for me 🙂

  • sweetlife says:

    I too, think of Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur. But, perhaps because I’ve had to come to these holidays on my own (my parents were working the assimilation tip) I have different associations than Louise. The week between the two holidays is a time, traditionally, when no one who asks for forgiveness with sincerity can be refused. I always imagine the shtetls of my Russian ancestors — tiny communities fenced in by cold and diaspora, where resentments had plenty of time to fester, but were also very dangerous in a community that had to stick together. Because of this, and because of my idiosyncratic understanding of grace as a kind of divine, unlooked-for forgiveness, I think of forgiveness as very, very soft. A springtime loosening of wintry attitudes of envy, the icy grudges melting away. So I say La Chase aux Papillons, or whatever tender white floral feels like the flight of butterflies and new spring sunshine to you.

    Redemption. That is the difficult one for me. I fight so hard for memory, especially historical memory, that redemption can feel dangerous. I think that to feel real for me redemption would have to be the end of a long and difficult path through the desert. There would be heat. And stone. And sweat. And silence. The feeling of hope that comes from knowing hard work has been done.

    A few scents come to mind, but they are all too slight for such a huge thing…

    • aelily says:

      Wonderfully well put.

    • Patty says:

      Wonderful imagery.
      Thinking of the smell of grace, that one is even more difficult. It’s definitely NOT the Philosophy one. It is ephemeral, transparent, but it shimmers and radiates

    • Kim says:

      hmm – I hadn’t thought about the days between RH and YK and I like your imagery of sweetness and lightness for the forgiveness of those days. For that, I think I would pick Chanel No 22 with it’s mega-wallop of light, sparkling aldehydes mixed with white florals.

      • slf says:

        Interesting…my thoughts immediately turned to Chanel when it came to grace…though of course the mind continues to turn…

      • slf says:

        Funny about the Chanel, too, considering so many consider the family as a whole to be haughty…and grace is anything but…

  • grizzlesnort says:

    Curious that we think of the sinner being redeemed but not the aggrieved party. A couple of years ago my brother, an ordained minister. didn’t want to sell my parents’ house to a relative (highest bid) because my mother had a grudge agaginst him and forgiveness, not really being my mother’s thing, well, he wanted to honor that! So no chance for redemption….on either side. Pity.
    Forgiveness: Voleur de Rose
    Redemption: Musk Ravageur–(which I find comforting and very human, yep, not ravaging, musky nor sexy despite its name and associations for others)
    and, hopefully, for Transformation: CDG Kyoto

    • aelily says:

      Oh, I like your addition of Transformation!

    • Patty says:

      I actually was thinking of both, the aggrieved and the sinner because in most cases, the places are interchangeable, unless it is a case of the persons not knowing each other and it is a violent crime.

      In all cases, I think everyone needs forgiveness for their hateful thoughts, if they are the aggrieved, because most people have them. 🙂

  • BevCanada says:

    What a beautiful post and for me very timely, in that I personally have been grappling with forgiveness recently. To me, foregiveness must have a fresh opening because one is “turning a new leaf” so to speak. The base however needs to be solid but gentle and soft because love is gentle and kind. Overall the scent should be relatively transparent. One can’t forgive unless one is free of hostility, prepared to let go of hurt and anger and able to be transparent, without an agenda. It’s very hard to express although you have done a lovely job of it in your post
    My choice would be Hermes “Kelly Caleche.”

    • Patty says:

      That’s lovely, and a good choice. I think there are no bad choices since what a perfume speaks to us about is sometimes only what we can hear.

      Forgiveness is very much about quieting the noisy, peeved parts of you and being quiet and finding a detachment where you just are without artifice.

      I’m sorry you’re in that place. I find myself there, which is what prompted this. But in working through it, you do wind up making yourself whole again… or as whole as we can be.

  • Latebloomer says:

    Forgiveness? For me, is in two parts. First is the struggle: whether this is to find forgiveness of oneself or forgiveness of others. That would have to be a uber-strong, musky odor because there is some physical aspect in the struggle to reach this state of mind.

    Part 2? Actually realizing that you have arrived in body and soul at this State of Being. What peace and freedom. A scent? With apologies before hand — but Joy, perfume strength, preferably vintage.

    Redemption? Yoips. Without religious notions – which you all have expressed with beauty and eloquence. Redemption for me is like the resolution to do better, to love and understand with greater kindness and generosity; to know and embrace the frailty, foibles, great transgressions (mine and others) and the happiness of living kindly all the same. The scent? Until they find a way to bottle any of the following: “Puppy Dog’s Breath; Moluccan Cockatoo Dander; Children sticky and sweaty from playing; Men and Women without any fragrance at all; The stripped down truth and acceptance of who we all are;” all the notions expressed above are spot on.

    Thank you for this personal post and everyone’s thoughtful, insightful responses. @};-

    • Patty says:

      Love your thoughts on this. I think nobody ever truly forgives without first looking inside to find their own culpability either in whatever you’re trying to forgive, or just in general. It is seeing your own broken places and flaws that you can get past the anger and hurt to forgive another.

  • Sarah says:

    Forgiveness: something cold and hard, as you said, something maybe difficult to deal with, biting and stinging, but something that warms over time and becomes warm, soft, and careful.
    Redemption: the new baby smell

    • Patty says:

      So where do we get the new baby smell? I’m not having more of them! Must wait for grandchildren. 🙂

      • slf says:

        I think having to wait for grandparent-hood is one of the key aspects to baby smell being one of redemption…knowing that as a grandparent will be your (one?) other chance to connect, to help the right way, to share an even wiser, calmer take on life’s dramas than you offered as a parent…and to perhaps reconnect and redeem one more time your relationship with your own parent(s), even if they are at that point no longer here.

        Deep thoughts aside, I now feel the need to clarify that for me, “baby smell” = the scent of the top of their head, and not any of the many other options available. 😮

  • Kim says:

    I agree with Louise above – for me forgiveness needs a deep and rich scent so I pick Mitsouko. And I also focus on atonement rather than redemption. Since atonement is also about change and beginning anew, for that I pick Djedi with its wonderful earthy depth. It reminds me of the earthiness of spring and its new beginnings yet also of fall and the earthiness of leaves on the ground and their symbol of the cycle of change and renewal.

  • aelily says:

    I wonder if those who indicated incense scents are Catholic, or raised in a church where incense was used. I was raised Catholic, and think that I would be inclined to link incense with the concept of redemption. But that would probably be a response which stems from an ingrained version of myself who was young enough to accept (and not question) the dictates of a church.
    In my current incarnation, I think that both forgiveness and redemption would smell fresh, a clean-slate, a new beginning. I’m too much of a newbie to name a perfume that has similar qualities. Does anyone have suggestions? I would love to sample something with those characteristics.

    Patty, I don’t know that I have ever been mad enough to bite a pig…:)

    • barbara says:

      As a Buddhist, it is our belief that incense affects the environment with its fragrance, and impacts it with wisdom and compassion(that also comes from inside ourselves). I agree that, in letting go of the thing that offends us to madness because of our innate relationship to it personally, that the evolution within and without would be orange, bright, uplifting(Jo Malone’s Orange, Serge Fleur de Oranger)anything sparkling and free with bergomont(Jicky) or vervaine

      • aelily says:

        “Orange, bright, uplifting” I love that description. Thank you for the Buddhist view of incense. I think I prefer it to the dark, mysterious, almost oppressive feeling I have of incense from years of Catholic church.

    • Anne says:

      Yes, I was raised Catholic. Funny you should comment on that, I was wondering the same. Childhood “stuff” stays strong doesn’t it?

      • aelily says:

        I think that because I was introduced to church at such a young age (infant) the whole Mass seemed so mysterious. Even with years of Catholic school, I still don’t know why certain things occur in the Mass, or their significance. I have no idea what incense is meant to add to a Mass (although I vaguely remember something about it raising prayers upwards toward God/Heaven). I just remember that the incense was always so intense it seemed oppressive. Maybe if I had been raised in a better ventilated church, I wouldn’t have such incense issues. 🙂

    • Louise says:

      Funny-I thought of incense fragrances, but as a Jew, they bear no spiritual weight for me. Maybe that’s why I can wear MdM and not smell the goth 🙂

      • aelily says:

        That IS interesting. What emotions do incense scents trigger in you? Mine are obviously influenced by past experience.

        • Louise says:

          Since incense has no strong memory tags for me, it is more of a pleasant, deep, sometimes peaceful sensory/sensual experience for me.

    • Patty says:

      I think incense has been used as it relates to burials in the past, so it relates well to the sense of death and rebirth. I’m Catholic, and while I considered an incense for one or both, discarded them because they missed a couple of the pieces I think each idea encompasses.

      Pig-biting mad is an old bit from Ed Anger in Weekly World News. It was such a put-on column, but that was the one phrase from it that used to crack me up. 🙂

  • March says:

    Gosh, this was hard. I loved everyone’s pics. Yes, forgiveness isn’t all easy, is it? So I guess I nominate Encens et Lavande, or Black March (cold with the promise that things will get better).

    Redemption is even harder, but the light is there. I think your choices are excellent. @};-

    • Patty says:

      Great choices, of course! They did make my list.

      The comments are so great to read, always reminds me that we are all in this big human stew together.

  • Molly G says:

    What a thought-provoking post! I love reading everyone’s personal scent interpretations of forgiveness and redemption.

    For forgiveness, I pick Ayala Moriel’s Immortelle l’Amour. Her inspiration for the fragrance was to create something to comfort a a love-injured heart. The result is a gentle and cozy fragrance of sweet orange, immortelle, broom flower, and cinnamon… it’s a warm hug in a bottle.

    Redemption conjures images of washing away sins and being reborn. Demeter Holy Water is perfect for this — it’s the scent of blessings and baptism.

    • Patty says:

      I’ve really loved the comments to this post — so thoughtful and evocative. Helps you go deeper into the subject through others meanderings.

  • Silvia says:

    Forgiveness doesn’t come easy (at least not to me) but it’s very rewarding after you have made the initial leap of good will. It’s a little bit like spraying MKK, holding your breath through the super strong part until the soft, intimate and comforting dry-down settles in.

    Redemption is all joy, so of course Joy itself would be an option. Vanille 44, with its incense and vanilla is also a good one.

    Thinking of it, a good Forgiveness/Redemption combo would be the wonderful layering suggestion that Patty made a while ago: Patch 24 and Vanille 44, earth and heaven.

    Thanks for an original and thought provoking post.

    • Patty says:

      I think living with forgiveness can be more difficult and more comforting than you think, so MKK really does fit that.

      I totally dig that Le Labo combo for about anything. 🙂 Just didn’t want to overuse it! 🙂

  • Carol Sasich says:

    Forgiveness is a sturdy thing , while redemption seems more ethereal…such a thought provoking post , and equally thought provoking replies…
    I’m thinking roses for forgiveness , and incense for redemption. Pick your fave…mine would be Pink Room for it’s glad/sad play on bright and dusty rose , and Guerlain Bois d’Armenie for it’s peppery sweetness .

    • Patty says:

      Great differentiation on how they feel. Redemption is lighter and much more difficult to get your mind/nose around. But it has a weightiness to it that is hard to define.

  • Judith says:

    Wonderful post and replies!
    Right now, forgiveness smells like Apres l’Ondee parfum (but it may be that this is on my mind).

    I like Cradle of Light for redemption. I could also see Diorissimo parfum (redemption is clearly floral to me):)

    • Patty says:

      I didn’t do apres L’ondee parfum because I still haven’t forgiven Guerlain for stopping making it.

      Diorissimo parfum would work, too, for redemption. Yup, redemption is floral, it’s the rebirth piece of it. 🙂

  • Anne says:

    Wow, fantastic post! MH L’air de Rien. It makes me go inside, deep inside. When I do that I center myself and see myself as I am. The scent morphs with me, is imperfect, thoughtful and warm. Whenever I wear this scent I physically must stop, sit or lie down, close my eyes and breathe deeply. The inside chatter, the bs, stops and I can see what really matters. This is the place I need to be to forgive. Once I see my own imperfections there is no decision involved in forgiving anyone else.

    Redemption? I dunno. That rescue, that salvation is not something I can give to someone. It is higher power given, it is faith. For that connection I go to incense. Tough fragrance call. Avignon, I love, but so very churchy (with a dark ceiling). Something with a little more light-ness, more hope. Maybe Amouage Jubilation XXV for Men. I will be thinking about this one for the rest of the day!


    • Patty says:

      L’air is an interesting choice! I don’t think it does on my skin what it does on yours.

      Incenses rolled around for the redemption (yeah, coming definitely from outside ourselves, but the feeling you get when you feel like you have been redeemed/forgiven). There were so many that would fit, but none of them had the decay necessary to signify death, though incense was used for burials, but I don’t associate them that way anymore.

  • chayaruchama says:

    I’m with you here.

    Louise- that’s just amazing; I would second AA for forgiveness- something generous and unctuous, maybe even Alahine mixed with Madini Ambar Gris.
    Redemption: I like the idea of the CB Cradle of Light very much, or Iris Silver Mist- or E et L; perhaps a very luminous jasmine, like La Haie Fleurie.

    Man, I need coffee.

    Sending you my love from Southie, you lovely armful.

    • Louise says:

      Careful, lovey…I may just arrive on your doorstep in a reed basket one of these days…@};-

    • Patty says:


      great choices, my friend. E et L was all over on the forgiveness one because it has that coldness and warmth at the same time. Forgiveness never comes from heat, but starts in rationality.

  • Marina says:

    Black March or Memory of Kindness.

  • Louise says:

    Very thought provoking post, Patty (a little alliteration?).
    I had to really reflect on the terms of forgiveness and redemption, and do a little translating into my cultural/religious background.

    For me, the forgiveness part is both part of everyday moral hygiene, and especially part of Rosh Hashanah-a period of personal reflection on one’s sins and errors, with the goal of self-forgiveness and the dream of forgiveness by those against whom we have transgressed. For that, I choose a deep, rich, weighty scent, perhaps a moody amber, such as Amber Aurea.

    The redemption part sort of equates best to my version of Atonement (back to the High Holy days-Yom Kippur here). Atonement here is not exactly redemption-more of a personal quest to purge old sins and move on. A scent for this task needs to be cleansing. Somehow, Rue Cambon seems to match the demands of a serious, but bright fragrance for me.

    • Patty says:

      I really like drawing the difference between atonement and redemption, which are different in feel. I like your choices very much. They have a depth to them. For me, forgiveness feels lighter, I guess because it feels like a weight is lifted off of me when I am forgiven, but more so when I forgive.

      I think I’d almost put Mitsouko in on the atonement because atonement feels much more like suffering, but the peach in the top gives you the reason for why you suffer.

  • dinazad says:

    Andy Tauer’s Incense Extreme – we have come through the valley of tears, we have done penance, we are shriven, we have and are forgiven, and now the sky is wide above us and the road to new beginnings at our feet.

    And then Incense Rose – because it’s pure joy, the intense, insane joy of sadness and hurt left behind and, again, a new beginning, and the freedom it brings.

  • Lee says:

    Massive ((((((((((hugs)))))))))).


    1) Forgiveness = l’eau d’hiver. It’s a ‘wipe one’s palate and memory clean’ kind of scent. A blank slate. Not that forgiveness is forgetting, but you get my drift.

    2) Redemption = Encens et Lavande. It’s the smell of blessing.

    • Patty says:

      😡 back at you, my sweet friend.

      Love those too! What’s truly wonderful is that there are so many that can really sum up that feeling, different aspects of it or a personal reflection on what it feels like and should smell like.

      Everyone is picking some beautiful scents, all of which reflect how truly beautiful forgiveness and redemption are, because, no matter which side you sit on in those, the truth, forgiveness and redemption does set you free.

  • What a wonderfully reflective post! Thanks for thinking it up, although I’m not sure I want to know what brought it on.
    Forgiveness–Bois des Illes, because in the age it takes a tree to grow, much will be done, said, and forgiven.

    Redemption: Miller Harris Figue Amere, because the fig leaf was the first sign of recognition of wrongdoing in the origination myth. And because it smells like fruit and salt, from the earth and sea.

    • Patty says:

      I like those choices too. You all come up with such great ones!

      I think redemption for me must have the smell of decay or death in it because I think of redemption of dying first and being reborn, which is much more of a religious connotation.

  • Gina says:

    Great post, Patty.

    Forgiveness – Angeliques Sous La Pluie – it smells like sadness and kindness all in one to me.
    Redemption – Incense Avignon – it smells like hope to me. Not sure why. Second choice – Black March – smells like spring, new beginnings.

    • Patty says:

      I love your choices! There were so many that would fit, and I think we all wind up with very personal choices.

  • Debbie says:

    When thinking on forgiveness, I think of Messe de Minuit….. or a soft skin-scent white musk because it reminds me that we are all only human.

    Redemption? DSH Cimabue…overflowing joy! That’s after some Apres L’Ondee sorrow at the necessity of causing/needing redemption.

    Thanks for a thoughtful exercise.

    • Patty says:

      Apres L’Ondee was definitely in contention for redemption, but I overuse that little jewel, plus it didn’t have enough decay to symbolize the death that must occur to be redeemed.