Sunday, October 11, 2009

Kapet, or Egyptian Kyphi.

Chewy. Delicious.
I've been dipping my toes (and then my entire personage) into the world of incense making over the last year. I started out with recipes from others, and then began developing my own blends.

A few of them have been a rousing success, the May Day incense had the desired effect, but maybe too much so (1). The circle incense has been grand, but too smokey (it sets off the alarms). And apparently my Satyr-themed incense is so voluminous as to fog up someone's apartment as though a large gang of Rastafarians had recently taken up residence.

The incense I've been trying at for, well, years, has been Kyphi. It's delicate, it's touchy, and if done wrong it just stinks. It seems that a LOT of people use the same mistranslations of the Edfu recipe over and over, or worse... very pared down bastardizations from the more pop authors.

The Kapet of Edfu

The Edfu Kyphi is "simple" in the way 5,000 piece jigsaw puzzles of a pile of mardi gras beads are "simple". The ingredients are Gum Mastic, Pine Resin (listed by some a Copal, or "Amber resin"), Calamus root, Aspalathos, Camel Grass, Mint, Cinnamon, Peker, Cyperus, Juniper berries, Pine Kernels, Wine, Honey, Frankencense, and Myrrh.

Dioscorides had another recipe, which has a much shorter and more familiar list. Papyus (or Galangal), Juniper berries, Raisins, Pine Resin, Sweet Flag (Calamus), Aspalathos, Lemon Grass, Myrrh, Wine and Honey.

The problem arises with the ingredients "Aspalathos", "Peker" and "Cyperus". Aspalathos is probably the number one reason for stinky kyphi. Most people and places opt to read this as "asphalt". I am doubtful.

Aspalathus can also refer to a group of plants, of which African Red Bush (the tea) is a member. It's not out of the question to think that the sweet-smelling Rooibos may be the rose-like herb called for in the ancient recipe, but neither is it out of the question to consider members of the Bindweed family (which, from some research, also have a tie to that name).

Cyperus may not be Cypress, though many translations state that it is. Cyperus is actually the Latin name for "Nutgrass".

Peker is the real problem. As of yet it has not been adequately equated with any known plant. Though, because of this recipe's inherent sweet and spicy scent, one could either omit this ingredient, or insert one which is native to Egypt and suits the scent of the incense.

After this, Kyphi starts to take shape excellently. But, it's still extremely time-consuming to prepare. The recipe generally requires long periods of masceration in wine, and one can't really overlook the ritual associations. Most of the surviving accounts state that it is not the true incense unless the proper prayers and spells have been uttered over it.

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