AbstractThis scented candle played a pivotal role for me in dealing with always extended lockdowns. It served as a way to escape the reality of quarantine every now and then and helped to keep my mental health intact.
This specific candle was manufactured by the brand SKANDINAVISK and has the name SKOG, which means “forest” in Swedish and Norwegian. The scent encapsulates this with notes of pine needles and fir cones, birch sap and woodland lily of the valley. The goal is to recreate the smell of the boreal forest covering the Scandinavian lands (Skandinavisk, 2021).
Short History of Candles
Candles have been around for thousands of years. The earliest use of a candle can be traced back to the ancient Egyptians, who made light torches by soaking the pithy core of reeds in melted animal fat (NCA, 2021). It was common for centuries to use natural fat, tallow and wax in order to produce candles, which were affordable for most people. However, the use of animal fat led to unpleasant smells coming from the burning candles. Solutions to combat the smell included adding incense sticks to the wax or adding boiled cinnamon to the wax itself (Ashleigh Burwood, 2021). The 19th century then brought candles to the mass market. By the end of that century, most candles were made from paraffin wax and stearic acid, which is still the basis for most candles today (Gordon, 1999). After a decline in sales due to the availability of other light sources such as kerosene lamps and the light bulb, the candle became more of a decorative item to most people. Even though candles remained somewhat popular, took it till the 1980s for a real hype around candles to happen again. This was caused by the wildly popular scented candles (NCA, 2021). No longer a necessity, candles cemented their role as a decorative item. Scented candles are now designed for aromatherapeutic benefits, where their scents create a relaxing, uplifting and cozy environment inside the own home (Ashleigh Burwood, 2021).
Creating an environment to relax the senses became very important in the last year, due to the covid-19 pandemic. The measures to curb the outbreak of the virus forced people to work from home: for many a new situation. Studies (MacKerron & Mourato, 2013) showed how important personal wellbeing is for job performance and the general health, something which is further discussed in the health theme. An office view into the nature can have these positive effects in regards to health, life satisfaction and even how people like their job (Rose, 2016). With working from home, many do not have the luxury of a nice view or even an office at all. People now work form their dinner tables or couches and are happy if they own a balcony or garden to get some fresh air every now and then. Finding ways to relax and uplift the spirits in order to take care of our health became essential, and scents and scented candles presented one easily accessible way to do so.
Therapeutic Use of Candles
The use of candles for relaxation is nevertheless not completely new. Candles were already being used in different therapeutic ways for a long time. One being the so-called technique of candeling, which is used in alternative medicine to improve general well-being. By lighting a hollow candle and placing the other end in the ear canal it is supposed to withdraw wax within the ear and have a therapeutic effect, which positively benefits the health (Hamilton, 2014).
There is some debate surrounding this practice, as scientists claim that this technique is useless and potentially dangerous, because of the fire and melted wax involved, but people continue to claim it provided them with a positive psychological effect. Yet, it is indisputable that the mind can influence physical wellbeing (Healthwise Staff, 2020), which is why the benefits of candeling should not be completely diminished, as long as it is done in a safe environment.
Scent therapy is another concept that comes from a similar idea. Scents evoke memories or emotions in people, caused by signals sent to the limbic system, which is the part inside the human brain that is connected to memory and emotion. Scents can therefore influence our mood, depending on whether we have a good or bad memory associated with it (Windas, 2021). A subgenre from scent therapy is aromatherapy, which is used to reduce body tension and emotional stress. Essential oils like bergamot, lavender and geranium proved to be highly effective in this regard. Studies showed that essential oil sprays can decrease blood pressure and heart rate for people working under high stress levels (Chang & Shen, 2011). Scented candles, especially lavender and rosemary, have been found to reduce the feeling of pressure (McCaffrey et al., 2009). The regular use of such fragrant scented candles has showed to have positive effects on the nervous system (Komarova & Avilov, 2009).
Personal Use During the Pandemic
Therapeutic effects, this is what the candle had for me. The forest scent helped to create the imagination and therefore the special meaning the candle carried for me. About a year ago, the covid-19 pandemic led to nationwide lockdowns in central Europe and confronted me, as so many others, with being home all the time due to rules, which advised people to only leave the house when necessary. After a summer of relaxations, the second wave of the pandemic began to hit, this time not in spring but in late fall, when the winter was about to come. This made being home all the time even harder than it was during the first lockdown. Usually the winter period is hard on its own, with cold temperatures, few light hours and being mostly inside. This time around all of this was multiplied by the pandemic. Therefore, I felt this need to escape the harsh reality every now and then and imagine being somewhere else, something we further explore in the (Re)Constructing Reality theme. The scent of the candle played the most important role in this. Whereas a candle is able to create a cozy atmosphere, can only a scent really create this aura and transform your perception to help relax the mind (McCaffrey et al., 2009).
The scent of a boreal forest helped me to escape the reality of being in a – as it feels – never ending lockdown, by closing my eyes and imagining myself inside a forest. In these moments was I freed form everything and dived into an imaginary world, where covid-19 didn’t exist. The idea of walking through the woods, soaking in every bit of the nature around, helped me to create nice thoughts and also served as some kind of escaping form the reality and stood for desperately needed breaks. The effect the scented candle had on me is similar to what researchers showcased in studies with lavender or rosemary candles (McCaffrey et al., 2009).
The Importance of Aura
Aura itself was always hard to define. Even Walter Benjamin’s definition (Benjamin, 1968) makes it difficult to pin it down. The best way to describe it is that when faced with an object rich in history and meaning, there is an experience beyond intellectual stimulation (Jeffrey, 2015, p. 147). An important aspect of aura is being close to the object’s history. The ‘aura’ of a digital object plays a fundamental role in the way the object is perceived by the audience. The aura of the Scented Candle by Skandinavisk in real life is determined by its scent. Through this, the owner is able to associate the Scandinavian boreal forest with the candle in front of them. The 3D model of the object tries to replicate this through adding different modalities to the objects presentation. The background of the object is a Scandinavian forest, the music playing is reminiscent of the sounds of a forest and the info boxes add important information to the user. Nevertheless, the most important part of the objects aura – the scent – is not reproducible in this mode of presentation. The original aura must be captured in different ways, which has been attempted here. Due to the fact that the aura of the object originally comes with people’s association of the scent, the digital object can only try to recreate the same association, but with different tools.
How I Perceive the Object
In real life the candle is rather big and heavy. When picking it up the weight can catch you by surprise. The candle is surrounded by thick frosted glass, which always gives a goosebump like sensation when stroking your fingers across its surface. There is a wooden lid, which sits rather loosely on top of the candle and therefore creates clicking sounds when moving it around. This makes for an interesting combination: feeling the cold and rough surface of the frosted glass and then picking up the light and warm wooden lid when lighting the candle. The combination of the light beechwood lid and the heavy, painted glass creates a strong contrast with different sensorial properties. Once the lid is put away, an intense scent of pine wood suddenly hits the nose and immediately creates the familiar feeling of being in the woods, stimulating an imagination. The impression slightly changes when the candle is lit and the typical burning sounds start taking over for a bit. The flame is naturally flickering around as if a heavy wind is going around the room reminiscent of being in the woods, when the wind shakes up the trees. An interesting effect occurs when leaving the room shortly and then coming back: The room is filled with all the scents associated with a forest, which completely transforms the perception of the place. With time, the scent becomes less dominant. It even feels like the sensation gets less by the second.
But then when the flickering sound comes back into focus, the feeling of being mesmerized and calm is still provided. When lit, the candle immediately makes the room feel more homey and it brings an aura of calmness and relaxation with it.
Test your knowledge on scented candles!
Ashleigh Burwood. (2021, March 11). A short history of scented candles. https://www.ashleigh-burwood.co.uk/blog/
Benjamin, W. (1968). The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction. In Illuminations (pp. 217-51). Schocken Books.
Chang, K.-M. & Shen, C.-W. (2011). Aromatherapy Benefits Autonomic Nervous System Regulation for Elementary School in Taiwan. Evidence-Based Complementary and Alternative Medicine, 1-8.
Gordon, P. (1999). Seven Centuries of Light: The Tallow Chandlers Company. Book Production Consultants.
Hamilton, J. (2014). Candeling for Optimal Health: Common and Lesser Known Benefits. Simon and Schuster.
Healthwise Staff (2020, August 31). Mind-Body Wellness. University of Michigan. https://www.uofmhealth.org/health-library/
Jeffrey, S. (2015). Challenging Heritage Visualisation: Beauty, Aura and Democratisation. Open Archaeology, 1, 144-152.
Komarova, I. A. & Avilov, O. V. (2009). Individual olfactory responses of students repeatedly exposed to essential oils. Voprosy Kurortologii, 2, 33–36.
MacKerron, G. & Mourato, S. (2013). Happiness is greater in natural environments. Global Environmental Change, 23(5), 992-1000.
McCaffrey, R., Thomas, D. J. & Kinzelman, A. O. (2009). The effects of lavender and rosemary essential oils on test-taking anxiety among graduate nursing students. Holistic Nursing Practice, 23(2), 88–93.
National Candle Association. (2021, March 8). History. https://candles.org/history/
Skandinavisk. (2021, March 8). SKOG. https://skandinavisk.com/skog/
Rose, J. (2016). A taste of the good life. Occupational Health & Wellbeing, 68(12), 21.
Windas, N. (2021, March 8). Scent Therapy: How Scent can Boost your Wellbeing. https://www.livewelllondon.com/blog/scent-therapy-how-scent-can-boost-your-wellbeing