The black hooded person welcomed me to their Demonstration with the spreading of their black gloved hands in peace. They invited me to take a seat and gestured that I should keep my hands away from the table. I placed them in my lap and bowed in acknowledgement.
On the left side (from my perspective) of the table, they placed plates with unlit incense cones, sticks, and resins. On the right side of the table, they placed a variety of oil warmers, burners, and small lamps. In the middle of the table was placed metal and wood picks, along with several small glass and ceramic bowls, bottles, and jars with cork, metal, and cloth coverings.
The Demonstrator offered several of the incense cones to me and invited me to pick one that smelled pleasant. I pointed at one that smelled of roses. They bowed a cute little nod, lit the cone, and placed it on the corner of the table nearest me.
Then they picked a more severe smelling incense, one that was not made primarily to smell good to people, but to appease a spirit, and with great pomp and ritual lit that incense and placed on their side of the table. I understood then that there was a distinction being made between incense burned for the pleasure of incense and incense being burned as a ritual action.
The Demonstrator did the same with the simple oil burners. They chose two ceramic burners that looked identical to the one I physically have and had me choose a comforting oil to burn in one while they chose a ritual oil for the other.
Again, the comforting oil was placed in the already heated burner without pomp but the ritual oil was wordlessly offered, presented, and placed with dedication.
We remained silent while the incenses and oils burned down to nothing. The scents battled each other and each made themselves evident to me in turn. I privately noted that the scents I had chosen for the purpose of being pleasing came and went without notice but the scents that the Demonstrator had chosen, even though they were also pleasing, seemed to move the very air and atmosphere around us. I surmise that while their rituals were to me, merely a Demonstration, to them the rituals were very much an actual, powerful, and present thing.
After the last drop of oil had burnt away and the last incense cone had turned to ash, the Demonstrator placed four clear glass sample bowls in front of me. They then collected the spent items and using a different scraper for each one, scooped or scraped the ash and residue from each plate or burner bowl into a separate bowl.
The ash was easy to collect. They just tapped the holding plate on the side of the bowl and the ash just slid right off. Remembering how residue is collecting in my personal oil burner, I expected the Demonstrator to have difficulty scraping the remnants of the oils that had been literally cooked off.
But they are the Demonstrator, and they are not here to present difficulties, only the steps. With a tap, the residue of the oils flaked off into the bowls and settled as a fine powder.
The Demonstrator then picked up the bowls holding the residues of what was burnt solely for the scent. They held them to their hood-shadowed face as if to smell them, then held them out to me. Keeping my hands in my lap, I leaned forward to smell them.
The incense ash smelled like, well ash. There was a faint hint of the scents that were once present, but otherwise, the ash smelled dry and empty. The oil residue was much the same. An incomplete hint of what the oil was from, but otherwise, nondescript.
The Demonstrator placed those bowls on the table directly in front of me. They then picked up the other two bowls and held them out for me to smell.
The incense cone they had chosen to burn had a sharp lemon scent when first lit that slowly warmed into something like honey towards the end. I expected the ash to have retained some of the warm sugary scent. Instead the ash smelled hollow, as if by its presence alone it could (and would) absorb all the odors in the room and devour them. I jerked my head back in surprise at the effect.
The residue of the oil they had chosen for their ritual had the same emptiness to it. Whatever scent it had originally carried was gone and what was left in the glass was completely absent of any oily qualities. I blinked to clear my eyes of the tears that were threatening to raise my hands from my lap.
“Excuse me, Demonstrator.” They placed the remnants of the ritual offerings on their side of the table. “I mostly get what you are trying to show me, but we chose different scents for our purposes. It could be that because of the different makeup of powders and oils, that the residues are also different as well. Would you repeat the demonstration, but use the same incense source and the same oil source for each?”
The Demonstrator clasped their hands and bowed deeply. I had the sense that they were happy with my question. They gestured for me to raise my hands and to point at which incense and oil to use for the second round of demonstrations.
I pointed at the cones made with frankincense resin and the vial of cedarwood oil since I am very familiar with their scents. The Demonstrator clapped their hands and put forth a clean set of trays and burners. They were very careful and clear to use the same amount of incense and oil for each one.
They placed one cone on a tray lit it, and placed it before me without ceremony. They placed another cone on a second tray, turned to the side and made gestures of offerings before lighting it, and then placed the lit incense on their side of the table.
They placed the oil burner before me, lit the small candle within it, and poured a measured amount of cedarwood oil in the burner bowl without ceremony. They turned to the other side and made an elaborate show of pouring the same amount in a separate burner bowl before placing that bowl on a second, already lit burner on their side of the table.
Silently we waited as all the incense and oil was consumed. This time, the contents of the scents did not change as the atmosphere drifted around us. But I did note changes in density of the atmosphere. Sometimes the air felt open and merely present. Sometimes it felt like something was traveling in the air and pushing the atmosphere out of its way.
All incenses and oils now burnt up, the Demonstrator took the first round of glass bowls and put them away. Placing fresh and clean glass bowls on the table, they again collected the ash and the residue from the incense trays and the oil burners. They presented the bowls holding the leftovers of the incense and oil that was burnt solely for a pleasing smell. A hint of lemon in the ash, something like honey coming from the residue.
They then put those to the side and presented the bowls holding the leftovers of the incense and oil that was burnt for their ritual. Again there was an absence of scent. So much so, that I tasted what I imagined desiccation would taste like. All the moisture around the bowls was being taken up by the ash and residue.
The Demonstrator spread their hands over the table to signal the end of the demonstration and their availability for questioning.
“I already know that what comes from ritual action should be disposed of in a ritual manner. Running water, burial at a crossroads, or the like. But you are not the first to say, outright or by insinuation, that I should be collecting the what is leftover from incense or simmered oils used in ritual. Tell me if you can, Demonstrator, why?”
They swept their arm over the table, and in their wake what was sitting on the table changed. Now there was the glass bowl holding the ash from ritual incense, the glass bowl holding the residue from the ritual oils, and a little square of paper that would barely fit in my palm. The Demonstrator sat down and picked up every item to show me. The paper is blank.
They point at the paper and make a swirling motion with their finger. A series of marks appear on the paper that looped upon itself. I understood that the marks I was looking at was representative of any seal, sigil, or symbol that a person would want to make upon the paper.
They placed the paper on the table and made a sprinkling motion over it. From the clean gloves came a dusting of herbs, spices, and powders. I suddenly smelled rosemary and eucalyptus, lemon and clove. Sharp smells that could have come from any kitchen, but they all had in common a scent that was sharp at first and left the smell of “clean” after. The herbs and spices settled in the center of the paper.
They took a clean knife that changed form as I watched. Sometimes it was a serrated steak knife. Sometimes a worn down butter knife. Sometimes it was a pen knife. Sometimes it was garden saw. What all the forms had in common was that the blade was steel and the item’s function was to cut. They took that knife and lifted an amount of ash and residue about the same size as a grain of uncooked rice. (Whether the compared rice grain was long grain or short was irrelevant. What mattered was that only a small amount of ash and/or residue was actually needed.)
Using the knife, they cut the ash and residue into the small pile of herbs, spices, and other powders. The Demonstrator did not stir, they made deliberate cutting motions as if to embed the ash and residue into the very fabric of spacetime held by the paper.
Once completed, the Demonstrator folded the paper into thirds with the first fold coming towards them. They turned the folded paper a quarter turn to the right, and folded the paper again into thirds with the first fold coming towards them. They then took black string, wrapped the string three times around the tiny packet, and secured the string by tying three knots.
A lit white candle was suddenly on the table. The Demonstrator took that candle and dripped wax on the knots, sealing the packet together. They held out the completed packet for me to inspect. It was barely the size of a quarter and maybe twice a quarter’s thickness. The packet smelled mostly of wax, but under the wax was a hint of cleanliness.
They made a great show of tucking the small packet into an interior pocket of their robe and patted the area as if a great treasure was kept there. They looked at their sleeve smothered arm as if to watch time go by. They reached into the same interior pocket and retrieved the small packet. The packet was puffed slightly and straining against the string containing it. It no longer smelled of wax and cleanliness.
It was clear that the packet had absorbed something that would have otherwise bothered the Demonstrator.
Beside the table, a great fountain has burst from the shadowy floor. The water rose up in a thin stream to the table before arcing away and causing a small rivulet to flow away into the darkness. The Demonstrator made a gesture of throwing the small packet into that water and nodded.
On the other side of the table, a brazier self ignited. The fire danced on the combustible offerings in it and the Demonstrator made a gesture of throwing the small packet into that fire and nodded again.
The fire and the water ceased and their effects dissolved away. The Demonstrator held a sharp knife over the darkening packet as if to cut the strings and open the paper. They wagged their finger at me in warning not to complete that act.
They swept their arm over the table again and the table cleared itself. There was myself seated on one side of the table and the Demonstrator seated across from me. They clapped their hands, nodded, and pulled their hood even further over their already obscured face. As they did, they pulled the shadows that made up the dream over me and the dream ended.
I woke up with an understanding that I was shown only one possible use of the residues of incense and oil that was burned for ritual purposes. If I wanted to pursue how to use this “Ash and Salt”, it would be up to me to research and/or experiment how on my own.
However, the dream would not leave me alone and demanded to be written and shared. What you do with your understanding of my words is up to you.
Go all now in peace.