The Kyphi perfume formulation I began working on in September is nearing the point at which it can be added to the menstruum, either jojoba, fractionated coconut, alcohol, or a balm base of beeswax and shea. The formulation possesses some unexpected characteristics. It's bright, for one. Bright and clean and deeply resinous with high lemony notes and warm honeyed tones, and the richness of dried fruit and low lying spices hover along the edges. Once the concentrate is formulated with the menstruum (whatever it is), it will continue to mature and evolve, just as whole botanical and honey based Kyphi does. The more well tended and mature Kyphi becomes, the better the scent profile.
A couple of years ago when the Kyphi Project began at the Natural Perfume Academy, I was hell bent on creating straight Kyphi; not Kyphi oil, not Kyphi perfume, but real (or as real as I could get it) Kyphi incense. A couple of the participants of the Kyphi Project did formulate oils and perfumes, and one in particular, one created by a graduated student, really sticks in my mind. It was intensely sweet, like honey, and had mad masculine tones to it -- like a lovely bay laurel soap with shadows of frankincense and the barest hint of rose. Much subtler than the formulation I'm working on, but no less intense and, if I do say so, beautiful.
At this stage in time, the ingredients in true Egyptian Kyphi is anyone's game. I have seen references online and in books about Kyphi that state copal was an ingredient. My understanding is (was) that copal is a New World resin, grown in parts of Mexico, as in black, golden, and white copal. But after some research, I found that 'copal' has been used as a term to simply mean incense, or resin. These references to copal being used in 'authentic Egyptian Kyphi' are mainly coming from sellers of incense who have, understandably, substituted a resin or ingredient in place of those which no one really knows the true identity. Like peker, and camel grass -- though camel grass today is identified as cymbopogon schoenanthus -- we don't have any way of knowing if this is the camel grass the Egyptians used. And cyperus grass -- if cyperus grass is correctly identified as the cyperus grass of today, I had that stuff growing out by my pond in Fresno! However -- you knew that was coming -- cyperus is a sedge, and there are over 600 species of sedges, which include cyperus grass, papyrus, umbrella sedges, and -- well, over 597 more. See? Narrowing down what goes into authentic Egyptian Kyphi isn't an easy process, as over 2000 years of speculation has proven.
Most folks out there making and selling Kyphi are selling the recipe from the Edfu Temple writings. This included raisins, wine, honey, frankincense, myrrh, mastic, pine resin, sweet flag, aspalathos, camel grass, mint, cyperus (grass or...?), juniper berries, pine kernels (?), peker (?), and cinnamon. The problem here is with the cyperus grass, as previously discussed, peker, and aspalathos. According to the blog Root and Rock, aspalathos might have been misinterprested as 'asphalt', though later explains that it might be something like rooibos (red bush) as it is a member of the aspalathos plant group, peker is an unknown entity, and cyperus may be nutgrass, which not coincidentally is a member of the sedges I talked about here. So we're all kind of spiraling around the truth here. Now, I know referencing a blog isn't research per se, but it is a way for a researcher to discover who's done what thus far. Not everyone is a scientist.
Here are the common Kyphi recipes which are found online and in various books:
Papyrus Ebers ~ honey, frankincense, mastic, sweet flag, pine kernels, cyperus grass, came grass, inektun, cinnamon
Edfu Temple ~ raisins, wine, honey, frankincense, myrrh, mastic, pine resin, sweet flat, aspalathos, camel grass, mint, cyperus, juniper berries, pine kernels, peker, cinnamon
Manetho ~ raisins, wine, honey, myrrh, resin, mastic, bitumen of Judea, cyperus, aspalathos, seseli, rush, lanathos, sweet flat, cardamom
Harris ~ raisins, wine, honey, mastic, pine resin, camel grass, mint, sweet flag, cinnamon
See the similarities?
Then there is Kupar, also Kyphi, of which there are three common recipes:
Syriac-Kupar ~ raisins, wine, honey, frankincense, myrrh, spikenard, saffron, mastic, aspalathos, cinnamon, cassia
Rufus of Ephesus ~ raisins, wine, honey, 'burnt resin' (?), bdellium (guggal, false myrrh), sweet flag, camel grass, cyperus grass, saffron, spikenard, aspalathos, cardamom, cassia
Dioscorides ~ 'sun raisins', 'old wine', honey, myrrh, 'pure resin' (frankincense?), juniper berries, sweet flag, camel grass, aspalathos, cyperus grass
Some ingredients' lists are shorter than others, but they all resemble each other very closely. I've read (somewhere, can't find my notes) that there were Kyphi recipes that used upwards of 50 ingredients!
But, as important as the ingredients are, the process by which Kyphi is made is just as important. Kyphi making isn't a paint-by-numbers gig if you're doing it right. Sure, you can whip up a batch in a day with a good herb grinder and a lot of impatience for the process -- like waiting for the wine to soak into the herbs, boiling the honey and frankincense and pine resins, soaking the raisins sufficiently. You might even make a nice Kyphi.
The Edfu Temple recipe -- and remember, this was literally written in stone -- was made up of 16 ingredients, beginning to end, but not including your reverence. Those 16 ingredients represented the pieces of Osiris, who was murdered and chopped to bits by his brother, Set. The 12 days taken to create a traditional Egyptian Kyphi represent the 12 days Isis spent locating those pieces and putting her husband/brother back together. The making of Kyphi is a recreation of that process -- this is why the reverence is necessary! Through the creation and building of Kyphi, you are resurrecting a god.
Sources: Karl Vermillion, Ancient Egypt online, Root and Rock blog.