The smell of God: scent trails from Ficino to Baudelaire
Part of book or chapter of book
- Publisher: Philomel Productions Ltd
God has a smell. Or rather, our sense of smell can bring us to a deeper knowledge of God. This is one aspect of a theory which runs through much of European history from the Renaissance onwards, with fluctuating intensity and with fundamental variations. It has been referred to, principally, as the theory of signatures, the theory of universal analogy, and the theory of correspondences, and is originally derived from Plato's philosophy of Ideas. The most common thread of the doctrine is that there are correspondences between the material and the spiritual worlds and that the material world can therefore be read like a book, revealing the secrets of the spiritual world. Another common thread of the doctrine is that the senses, which diffusely allow us to experience the material world, can be united as one, enabling our complete grasp of spiritual harmony, of the ideal world. The senses have usually figured highly in the doctrine of correspondences in general, as enabling this leap from the material to the spiritual. But individual senses have enjoyed varying degrees of attention throughout time. Smell has not been the most popular of them, but it is markedly emphasised by two users of the doctrine, the eighteenth-century Swedish scientist, theologian and mystic, Emanuel Swedenborg, and the French Symbolist poet Charles Baudelaire. What Nathalie Wourm attempts here is a short history of the idea of a spiritual scent, from the Neoplatonist thinkers of the fifteenth century to the present day.