Cathedral In Flames (Garner James)

In a perfect world all the cathedrals would burn, would go down, and stay down. I'm agnostic, formerly Catholic, not a believer in Jesus or any "nameable" god. Organized religion is a bad thing in my opinion, as it is little more than an unnecessarily complicated way of oppressing minorities and women, and driving patriarchal power into the heads of children so they can grow up to be servants of invisible men. There is nothing inherently bad about believing in god, any god, or trying to live after divinity with charitable acts and goodwill toward others, but to foist any belief system on the masses is an act of willful paralysis and ignorance.

My central issue with religion, particularly Catholicism, is its insistence on an afterlife. Think for thirty seconds - just thirty measly seconds - and come up with one good reason to want to go to Heaven. What could possibly be so great about spending an eternity in some fluffy incorporeal dimension full of sexless angels and "love" without reason? I don't care how much beauty and love there is, eventually I'd get awfully bored. Eternity is a long time. My soul is human. I am and always will be the essence of an Earth-bound mammal, and as such need variable tactile stimuli, pleasure and pain, love and hate, peace and bloodshed, corporeal contact with others, the physical touch.

When I was four, one of my first intellectual thoughts was that I was inexplicably relieved to be alive in the 1980s, a time of advanced medicine and rapidly advancing technology. This relief was profound, and guided me into my teenage years as a confused Catholic with a truly religious mindset - I was a believer. It took cancer and two surgeries to bring me back around to my sense of childhood relief, where I realized that I could not possibly be relieved to be born into a specific time unless I had an innate sense of a different and more difficult time to compare it to. Why would a child be relieved to have electrical appliances and synthetic fabrics to keep him warm, unless some part of his psyche was distantly attuned to not having those things at all?

Ten years later, I began to sense that there was an answer to the question, if no god, then what? Religious people are often taken with all that supposedly comes after death, but rarely seem to think that there are mundane clues about this outcome to be found in life. Religious clues are all sophisticated, moral, based on what sort of character you are. It's boring to suppose that the answers to the eternal questions of what happens after death are found in basic patterns of biological life. Yet that's exactly what I believe holds these answers: life itself.

Let's look for a moment at what we do as living beings. We eat, breathe, socialize, reproduce, shit and piss, combat diseases, love each other, kill each other, sleep, dream, age, and die. The patterns? We eat for energy to tide us over until we're hungry, and then we eat again. An endless cycle. We breathe in and out, another endless cycle. We make friends, lose touch with them, sometimes fight with and hate them, sometimes fall in love with them, this goes on and on. We'd perish quickly if we didn't shit and piss on a regular basis, making room for new food by getting rid of the old. We get sick, get better, get sick again, get better again. But most importantly, we sleep. We wake up. We get tired, and sleep again. Wake up, feel energized, live another day, then back to sleep.

Poe once said, "Sleep, those little slices of death," referring to the physically helpless, intellectually inert state of sleep our bodies require. In sleep, all is dark. Our minds flicker through their garbage, excreting excess psychic stimuli via dreams and nightmares. Sometimes this activity is so minimal that there is literally no cognitive record of the hours at rest. We simply close our eyes, and open them again seven or eight hours later, ready to face another day. We take for granted that sleep is available to us, or that we would die without it. But is sleep truly living? Why must all signs of life cyclically reduce down to their barest minimum to ensure survival?

I believe that sleep is a biological representation of the natural order of life, death, birth, and rebirth. In life, we sleep between days. In death, we sleep between lives. Not all of us, mind you - as in life, our outcomes after death are varied, with some simply vanishing into nothingness (feeling, caring, and regretting nothing as a result), while others are reborn as animals. Yes, the little critters in your backyard are alive, after all, and are sub-intellectual entities that sustain the ecosystem with pre-programmed instinctive behaviors. Still others are reborn as new people, but here is where my belief sticks to the basics. Instead of being reborn as new people, body and soul, we are simply reborn as new bodies, with the same essence of whatever carried us through previous lives. I believe this because I believe our "souls" are not unique to ourselves, but are rather the same common essence, pressed into different genetic structures.

Doubters of my philosophy should consider that we are composed of dead matter. Every microgram of ourselves is part of a complex structure of inanimate objects that neither think, feel, or perish. Human cells are composed of individual elements, all of them dead units animated by electrical impulse (itself a dead drive). Roughly sixty percent of our bodies are water. Simple water, dead as dirt, non-intellectual H20. Tissues, brain matter, the chemicals that comprise our vital systems, all technically dead. Ever taste your own blood? It tastes like metal, its high iron and mineral content. Liquid Earth flows through our veins. Taken individually, our biological parts are lifeless. Together they make us who we are, but that doesn't change the fact that we are essentially comprised of lifeless carbons. The only thing that animates us are our energies, intense electrical currents that interact with various chemical systems to produce movement, and behavior. When we die, our electrical systems shut down, and our already dead parts disperse, melting into the rest of this carbon-based planet.

Cathedral in Flames is the final perfume in the small lineup of fragrances gifted to me by Jim Gehr of Garner James, and it is a luxurious experience, something any thinking person should wear at least once in their lifetime. It smells of brisk citrus, silvery incense, something akin to chili pepper, and rich spices, with cinnamon the main player. As with all of Gehr's work, Cathedral is perfectly balanced, its woody incense lending sturdiness to the shimmer and shine of fleeting fruit rind and piercing herbal notes. It's perfect on an autumn or winter day, feeling both warm and solid, yet never wearing too heavily. The "hot" incense accord is likely the reason for the fragrance's name, and it's one of the few oriental accords I've encountered that I can wear several days in a row without losing interest.

This is what Copper Skies by Kerosene should smell like. That fragrance conjures images of acid chemical cleaners and cloying, chaotic eugenol, and is in no way evocative of golden autumnal days, but Cathedral in Flames is smoldering Earth in a bottle, crisp, natural, complex, and elegant. It's also designed to smell both masculine and feminine, its subtle floral notes lifting the fresh incense in a way that anyone can enjoy. Go forth into 2015 with courage to accept all that it means to be human, and enjoy this olfactory ode to mankind without missing what you'll never have.

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