What is Hippie Incense?
Since beginning this site I have noticed several searches with the keywords “hippie incense” as though people are searching for incense that is linked inextricably somehow with Hippies. So I thought I would address that as best I could and maybe help people out who are searching for an authentic scent of the American sixties and the counterculture movement.
While attempting to research the subject I discovered there is a tremendous lack of references on the web to popular incense types of the 1960’s. So I polled a few friends and noted their comments. I combined that with what I already knew about the subject and the things I discovered in my research and extrapolated what I hope is a helpful short essay on Hippie incense.
Incense did not appear in the Sixties. It has a rich social and cultural history that extends thousands of years. Some of the incense ingredients that have a prominent place in history are Frankincense and Myrrh, Amber, Musk and Sandalwood. The first three in particular were highly prized. Blends like “Cherry Banana” and the like are a far more recent invention.
From the limited research material available I can postulate that incense in the Sixties was heavily influenced by the growing interest in eastern spirituality during that time. For instance The Beatles were students of the Maharishi Mahesh Yogi for a time and George Harrison was intrigued by the stylings of Indian Sitarist Ravi Shankar. With the interest in Eastern religions and spirituality, in which incense plays a vital role, the traditional scents would have made their way to America and other countries as part of the counterculture movement. Once there certain scents would have gravitated naturally to being the most popular because of the quality of the scent.
Sandalwood, Patchouli, Amber, Musk, Lavender and Champa flower are a part of Eastern cultures and have been for thousands of years. As part of daily life and worship, these scents among others would be the ones most likely embraced by the youth of the sixties. Like all things human beings enjoy, some would have been enjoyed more than others and strong evidence points to a clear top three. Those are Sandalwood, Patchouli and Champa flower based incense. In fact, a band I cannot recall the name of once released an album soaked in Patchouli oil. The scent was so strong that retailers insisted the album be pulled and a non-Patchouli version be substituted instead.
In 1964 Shri Satyam Setty founded Shrinivas Sugandhalaya in Bhatwadi, Ghatkopar, Mumbai. That would give the world Satya Sai Baba Nag Champa, named after the Indian spiritual leader Sathya Sai Baba. It is a Champa flower based incense in a distinctive blue box that is arguably the best known and best loved incense in the world. No clear information is available, but my guess is it would have taken a few years for Nag Champa to become a part of Western culture after its introduction.
So, with the obvious leaders according to anecdotal evidence and the limited information I could find being Sandalwood, Patchouli, Amber and Musk followed by (and in some cases overcome by) Satya Sai Baba Nag Champa, I can make the following statements pretty confidently. If you want to smell what it was like in the Sixties hanging out with your friends, I would suggest Patchouli and Sandalwood and Nag Champa. If some of those fragrances do not appeal to you, you would be equally safe with Musk, Amber, Lavender or Sage.
In conclusion, my personal belief is that Sandalwood and Patchouli would give the best representation of that Sixties scent. I like to imagine so anyway as I listen to my Led Zeppelin and Grateful Dead albums and while away some quiet time.