Scent association exercise – extract from Listening to Scent


This exercise is based around the Japanese Koh-Do ceremony and is designed to be done in a group using essential oils on blotting paper.

Scents have an enormous evocative impact. They may trigger a specific memory, or a sensation or feeling linked to a previous experience, they might evoke a new feeling within us, and they have a vast array of associations –with images, shapes, colours, tones, sounds, words, names, notes, music, textures. This exercise allows us to explore these ‘cross-modal’ associations, and helps us to verbalise scent-evoked sensations. The master of ceremonies selects three aromatics. Blotters should be prepared, and as before, are presented one at a time to the participants. The master of ceremonies can then ask a question for each scent. For example:

If this scent was a musical instrument, or a piece of music, what would it be? 

If this scent was a season what would it be?

What kind of weather does this scent evoke?

Does this scent evoke a scene in the natural world?


Each participant should record their answers, which can be collected for discussion at the end of the exercise. Following this, one scent can be chosen by each participant, who can then write a short piece about anything that this inspires. This might be a short, descriptive essay, a poem, a meditation, a personal reflection, or simply a collection of phrases.  There are no rules! Sometimes, a scent might not be evocative for an individual, and this is fine. Simply chose another one that ‘works’.

For example, a coniferous fragrance might evoke ‘a rainy autumn day in a forest’, and this can be described in detail – sights, sounds, sensations. An exotic flower scent could transport the individual to a ‘peaceful, lush, tropical island’, and again this can be imagined and conveyed with descriptive words. Or, the aromatic might conjure up feelings and sensations; for example, soft gentle balsamic scents might evoke feelings of being wrapped in warm fluffy blankets, while some herbal aromatics might conjure up the feeling of sunshine on the skin. Sometimes, scents might evoke places where specific feelings might be experienced. Sometimes, the scent can be associated with a specific memory, which can be re-experienced and described, while other times, something quite abstract and seemingly unrelated to the specific aromatic might emerge.

At the end of the exercise, the answers to the questions can be discussed, and the creative writing shared if desired. Most individuals will be happy to do this, unless of course their words are of a private nature.

This exercise is taken from Listening to Scent by Jennifer Peace Rhind, the book has many more ideas on experimenting with scent and is great for beginners and professionals alike.

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