Vetiver : the Tree of Life


My fools for senses,


Following our Review of Vétiver by Guerlain –read it here- we wished to write an Overview about the many uses of vetiver in South-East Asia however, we realised at some point that we wanted to talk about something else, an aspect far lesser known of vetiver, dwelling on its symbolic, not to say esoteric, and spiritual meanings. The reader should not forget that The Perfume Chronicles’ motto is : « Speak the unspeakable », the Unspeakable being this other, subtle part of a perfume, one which reaches and seizes the soul through the fumes, the sillage and the dance of the top, heart and base molecules.


During our research on vetiver in Asian cultures, we found something of a leitmotiv : it had always been used for therapeutic purposes even before being used as a perfume and always was it linked to energetic grounding. Henceforth, my friends, let us embark today on the tranquil waters of Yin and Yang, of Kabbalah and Ayurveda to discover Vetiver : the Tree of Life.


We were not surprised that vetiver was closely linked to energetic grounding, since its own roots are known to delay or stop erosion on the littorals , to stabilise roadside embankments and protect them in case of floods ; the same roots which produce the most beautiful smell, earthy and astringent, vivifying and mysterious. According to the Ayurveda, all plants draw their vital energy, their essence, from the Earth, which they then transform for humans to enjoy – be it as food or essential oils &c.


It is thus easy to understand the link between the deep and fragrant roots of vetiver and the spiritual ones of every human desiring to settle or calm himself down. For, indeed, he who isn’t firmly rooted cannot grow. His roots, if they do not dig deep enough, will use up all of the Earth’s vital essence available to them and so they shall wither and rot – and the tree shall die. The very purpose of vetiver isn’t much to root oneself rather than doing so as to let one grow better. The reader shall not be surprised to learn that in tantric hinduism, vetiver is linked to the muladhara chakra, the root chakra, which commands to our evolution or de-volution ; the very foundation of our being, of our future, be it good or bad.

 For vetiver isn’t only used to ground but also to regulate. Its oil is known for its calming, soothing, relaxing effects – it tempers a fiery character, it mellows the hearts of stone. Chinese medicine actually considers vetiver to be a « Yin » plant, cooling down the overheating Yang of an angry temperament. One could be surprised to hear that vetiver has cooling properties, let’s just say that for centuries, vetiver roots have been used in India and throughout Asia to craft fans, blinds or curtains on which water would be sprayed during heat waves. The hot, death-mongering, air which burdens the body would suddenly be transformed into a fresh, vivifying breeze. No wonder Vétiver by Guerlain counts amongst my summer scents.


Vetiver is particularly important in the Ayurvedic tradition. There, it is also said that it tempers, corrects, balances out both character and emotions. More accurately, it has an effect on the vata dosha, the source of all movement, of all dynamics. This dosha affects respiration, it insures that all bodily operations go well. It is the source of all impulses, it propulses body and mind in the future, in another headspace so as to see the world in a different fashion. A slight disequilibrium is enough to shatter it all and let place to fear, tremor, fatigue and insomnia. As the tree which roots suddenly cease to grow, the person whose vata is out-of-balance struggles till he rots. 


But vetiver recreates the lost harmony. Symbolically speaking, it is the root but also the sap of which the root is filled.


Which leads us to our last consideration : its kabbalistic meaning.


Kabbalah indeed linked vetiver with the sefiroth Geburah. Of it, justice, rigour, righteousness, the will to avenge and chastise all emanate. Where Hesed is all compassion and mercy – the right arm of YHWH- Geburah is his left arm, holding the double-edged sword. One might think this goes to contradict all of our article, however one must understand : Geburah meant justice in a noble sense, justice as a limit. Just as the Law protected the Hebrews from sheol, or ours protect –or supposedly do so- the citizens. Geburah could somehow be seen as temperance. It is the rigour of reason facing the permissiveness of compassion.


 This never-ending tension between Hesed and Geburah, between Love and Justice, is the very source of Man’s growth. It is only because it’s thirsty, that the tree burrows its roots deep into the soil ; and it is only because it drinks enough that it can keep on growing. This innate antagonism, analoguous to Yin and Yang, to Eros and Thanatos, to Love and Power, to the will Divine and diabolic, to selflessness and selfishness ; this antagonism is the very foundation of any growth. It is the alchemical fight between the Lion and the Eagle in the athanor, between sulphur and quicksilver, to obtain, to attain the philsopher’s stone.


Vetiver calms the angry hearts. It tempers down passion when it clouds our judgment. Vetiver, this placid quietude, could it not be the way to Tiphereth, to harmony ?


In light of all these considerations, it is impossible not to remember the verse of the psalm 85 : « Justice and peace have kissed. Truth will spring from the Earth ». For at last, my dear friends, the truth of Love, the reality of Harmony lived in one’s own flesh, cannot exist if it isn’t deeply rooted in Earth.


Tree of Life,

Tree of Love.