Hello again Grimericans! Before you ask, no, this is not a post about the late, great, Kurt Cobain or the conspiracies surrounding his death. I’ve already done that post. With this being posted somewhat around the anniversary of his death that would be an understandable presumption. Nor does this post have to do with the spirit of a teen. I just thought it was a clever title. But now I’m regretting it with all of your questioning. But it’s too late now. Moving on; the topic of this post is something I have teased a few people with. Good ‘ol Darren even mentioned it on an episode of the Grimerica Show putting immense pressure on yours truly to get this sucker out. But like most things in my life, I’ll do them when I’m good and ready, regardless of how much an overbearing, tyrannical Canadian overlord pushes me. So with that, if you haven’t guessed what the subject material is yet, it’s is on paranormal smells.
So the idea for this post came to me after a video call from my favorite (and only) little sister. She was at her place, eating strawberry sherbet with a side of pickles, or whatever pregnant women do, when her nostrils where suddenly hit with the distinct smell of Copenhagen chew. This fleeting aroma triggered an emotional (she was pregnant at the time) and instinctive feeling that my late grandfather had taken time out of his busy schedule of cheating at cribbage in heaven, to come and pay her a visit. She immediately called her favorite brother to ask what he knew of such phantom smells. When he didn’t pick up, she called me. All the better for her as I am of the fortean mindset (See what I did there?). I told her what I knew, which was admittedly not as much as I would have liked and basically said that if she wanted to believe that it was our cribbage cheating grandfather checking up on her and the bun in her oven, then there was nothing wrong with that. I then suggested that I might do a blog post on the phenomena. Actually what I said was, “I’ll write my next blog post on the subject.” And here we are, four or five months later, two or three blog posts in between, and I’m semi being true to my word. It’s not that I didn’t want to jump into the topic, quite the contrary. I just had a heck of a time finding much information on the subject. In fact, after hanging up with my sister, I did a preliminary search of close to two hours on the interwebs resulting in just about bupkis. It’s not just that I couldn’t find a lot on the subject but that after finding the link or small paragraph on a page that covered it, it was not any new information. After coming to this realization, I then thought to myself that someone should write a comprehensive article or even a book on the phenomena. The next day, in a synchronicity that scored relatively low on the Canadian Third Party Ranking system, fortean researcher Joshua Cutchin popped up on my podcast feed, promoting his new book on paranormal smells on the show Mysterious Universe. I then decided that I wouldn’t write this post until I have read his book. “The Brimstone Deceit: An In-Depth Examination of Supernatural Scents, Otherworldly Odors, and Monstrous Miasmas”.
The book is more than I could have asked for. Not only covering supernatural scents that involve the presumed spirits of the passed on, but as the title suggests, it also covered the otherworldly odors associated with UFO’s and their occupants and the monstrous miasmas involved with bipedal hominids. But for the purpose of this post, we will focus on the scents of spirits aspect. Something that became very clear to me was that I could not write a post as in depth as his book. Then I realized that I didn’t have to. That’s what the book is for. I will try to cover the more prominent points and then recommend the book if you are still interested in more information. Which will be likely. Something that popped out to me is the often association of tobacco smoke with male spirits. Now while what my sister smelled wasn’t smoke, it was still tobacco, which I find relevant. The range of smells attributed to the supernatural is wide and varying. Smells of flowers or perfume are often attributed to female spirits and the Blessed Virgin Mary which was said to smell “not spicy, not the smell of roses… but a very fine perfume.” And along the religious line, saints were said to exude pleasant fragrances. Heaven itself is said to have “an extraordinary perfume” which rises at all times.
It is important to note that a phantom smell is usually an element of a broader set of, what one site calls, “‘symptoms’ of a haunting”, while the sudden manifestation of a mysterious scent is usually taken to mean a presence from the great beyond. What you smell, as mentioned, can vary widely. Logically, any mysterious ‘bad’ smells, like rotten eggs, rancid meat and even feces are often associated with bad spirits or entities whilst pleasant aromas such as flowers, freshly baked goods and sweet perfumes are attributed to good spirits and entities. The odor of sulfur or brimstone traditionally has connotations of hell or demons. I will not go into the sulfur connection here and will once again direct you to The Brimstone Deceit for its conclusion. There are of course exceptions. As the author Joshua Cutchin notes, one of the few associations between floral scents and negative beings is the ‘kuntilanak’ (or ‘pontianak’) of Indonesia. This smelly spirit finds its roots in ancient Malay mythology which describes the kuntilanak as a horrifying female ghost. She is often said to be dressed entirely in white and can be linked to the lady in white mythos of which we have examined before, but for the purposes of this post, it is said that it “smells of flowers or strong perfume” and awaits its victims to drive by so that it can cover their eyes causing crashes so that it can feast on their blood. Charming… Likewise, the tobacco smoke that is often associated with male spirits has stories of not so nice entities. This makes sense since people that aren’t pleasant in life are probably not going to be in the afterlife regardless if they are smokers or not.
While tobacco smoke and floral perfumes seem to be the majority of the scents reported in the sensing of passed loved ones, other things associated with those who have passed often pop up in the reports as well. As with a specific perfume that was always worn by someone no longer with us, aftershave and cologne can be detected when an alleged spirit is present. Someone who loves to bake or cook can be associated with delicious smells from which there is no obvious source. In one forum I found the following description of what the poster believed to be his late father:
…and on two different occasions when I was really sad having a hard time I smelled beer, sweat, and marijuana, that was his smell…
So it’s obvious that “pleasant” is a relative term. It all depends on the observer and as with our other senses, odors can be interpreted differently between different people which can lead to a debate on what a smell is or if it’s even present. This fact alone can make it difficult when trying to investigate paranormal smells. While there are some instruments for detecting odors, sometimes called “electronic noses”, they are not cheap (over $2,200 USD) and aren’t always applicable for the smells in question. Gas and cigarette smoke are a couple scents that this particular device would aid in finding. Even if a smell was isolated to a particular room or location with no obvious source, it doesn’t really prove anything. But it is data. And data collection is an integral part of any investigation. Smells are interpreted in our brains so while there is possibility of misperception, although it isn’t very likely. If you would like to know more how the olfactory works, here is a link that can help you out. So to quote from Cutchin’s book one last time, actually quoting a quote from odor psychologist Trygg Engen saying on the sense of smell,
It’s actually better to think of this ability in terms of not forgetting [emphasis added] rather than remembering… While visual and auditory memories usually decrease with time, often exponentially in light of new experiences, odor memories remain intact.
Before I let you go, I would like to mention something called phantosmia, which is a medical condition that can be caused by a head injury, nasal or upper respiratory infection or nose polyps. It can also be caused by, “temporal lobe seizures, inflamed sinuses, brain tumors and Parkinson’s disease” plus a variety of other things. It causes olfactory “hallucinations’ which can vary from individual but may be either foul, called cacosmia and is more common, often being described as “burned, foul, spoiled, or rotten”, or they can be pleasant. It can be sensed in one nostril or both and may be ever present or wavering. Indeed, there are many possible causes for this condition. One popular myth is that smelling burnt toast when there is none is a sign of a stroke or brain tumor, but according to Dr. Adam Simon, chief medical officer at PushDoctor.co.uk, this is simply not true. Saying, “A stroke can affect any area of your brain, so it’s possible that your sense of smell can be affected, but there’s no particular smell that you need to worry about. You’re actually just as likely to smell nothing at all.” Either way, please consult your doctor if you experience the symptoms of phantosmia, so that your doctor can rule out any serious underlying disorders that may be causing the detected smell.
So I hope this was worth the wait. I again recommend reading Joshua Cutchin’s book even if you’re tired of hearing about supernatural scents, it’s worth it. How about you? Do you have any experiences with phantom smells with seemingly no source? I would love to hear about them as I’m sure the other readers would as well so leave them in the comments below if you are so inclined. Well that’s it for me Grimerica! Stay classy.