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Herb Magic Home | Herbal Spell-Crafting Tips | Storax and Styrax

THE DIFFERENCE BETWEEN
STORAX (LIQUIDAMBER)
AND STYRAX (BENZOIN)

by catherine yronwode and Carroll "Poke" Runyon

This discussion of the herbal resins Styrax and Storax, and their uses in Hermetic Thelema magick and in hoodoo rootwork folk magic was originally posted to usenet in 2002. It is quoted here by permission of the authors.

From: catherine yronwode (cat@luckymojo.com)
Subject: Storax and Styrax 
Newsgroups: alt.magick, alt.lucky.w, alt.magick.tyagi, alt.occult.methods
Date: 2002-08-18 15:55:10 PST 

> Gnome d Plume (Gnomedplume@aol.com) wrote: 

> > catherine yronwode (cat@luckymojo.com) wrote: 

> > > Gnome d Plume(Gnomedplume@aol.com) wrote: 

> > > > *Hoodoo Herb and Root Magic*
> > > > by Catherine Yronwode
> > > > 216 pp. Large format--trade quality p.b.
> > > > $14.95 from Lucky Mojo Curio Co.
> > > >
> > > > This book is quite a surprise. From the title one would expect
> > > > something psuedo-New Orleansian ala Marie Laveau in a sadle-stitched
> > > > pamphlet---but this is a real trade quality book, beautifully 
> > > > designed and published. Within the parameters of its subject, and 
> > > > given that it is "practical" (in a very practical tradition) it 
> > > > might even be considered a scholarly work. Even though there are few 
> > > > cross references to 777 correspondences, Hermetic magicians will 
> > > > find this compendium quite useful in detailing the actual facts 
> > > > about most of the herbal incenses that they use. [...] All 
> > > > considered, this is an excellent reference book
> > > > for any witch or magician's library.
> > > >
> > > > Poke Runyon,
> > > > Editor---The Seventh Ray

> > > Thanks for the positive review, Poke. I'd like to take this 
> > > opportiunity to expand on my brief comments in the book about 
> > > the difference between Styrax and Storax.
> > >
> > > Although today, under the Linnean system of taxonomy, we clearly
> > > distinguish the two plants from which these resins are derived, 
> > > the ancients were a lot looser in their definitions.
> > >
> > > The issue of whether to use Storax or Styrax in any given rite 
> > > or spell seems to be (a) what effect you wish to use the incense 
> > > for and (b) the date and geographic location of your original 
> > > source material, regardless of they *called* it.
> > >
> > > For instance, many people think of Styrax (Benzoin) as an 
> > > ancient incense of Egypt, but from a web page on ancient 
> > > Egypptian perfumery found at
> > > http://www.persephonespotions.com/egpytianherbal.htm
> > > we find that it was *not*. The author of this web page has this 
> > > information on the two plants:
> > >
> > >       -----------------------------------------------
> > >       Gum Benzoin - (Styrax Benzoin)
> > >       A common fixative in perfumery historically, yet thus far has 
> > >       been not been authoratatively recognized as part of the Egyptian 
> > >       perfumery herbs although "gum resins" in general are mentioned. 
> > >       It originates from Sumatra and is a resinous exudate. It has 
> > >       been used interchangeably with the terms "benzoin", "styrax" 
> > >       "liquid storax" and "liquidamber". It is not the same exact 
> > >       shrub [sic -- should be "tree" -- cat] from which liquidamber 
> > >       (Liquidamber orientalis, and  L. Styraciflua) is obtained, 
> > >       actually, although both species produce gum resins which are 
> > >       harvested even today. Further, to be specific, it is Styrax 
> > >       officinalis which yields storax or "styrax" and Styrax benzoin 
> > >       which yields "benzoin" precisely.
> > >       -----------------------------------------------
> > >
> > > The question comes down to wheher trade in a Sumatran shrub's 
> > > resin would have existed in ancient Egyyptian times. Now check 
> > > out this Turkish tourism page:
> > > http://www.tourismturkey.org/special-interest/wild-life/wildlife7.html
> > > -- from whence comes the following information on the ancient
> > > bio-regional distribution of true Storax or liquidamber:
> > >
> > >      -----------------------------------------------
> > >       Of great interest among forest trees is the liquidambar tree
> > >       (Liquidambar orientalis) which is a relic of the tertiary 
> > >       period. This species is concentrated in the humid valleys of 
> > >       southeastern Turkey where the water table is close to the 
> > >       surface. The diffusion of this species is very limited; the only 
> > >       other location in the world where the liquidamber tree grows is 
> > >       a small number of Aegean islands, although it is known that its 
> > >       incidence was very wide during the tertiary period. 
> > >       -----------------------------------------------
> > >
> > > Although it must be acknowledged that there was trade between 
> > > Sumatra and India very early, and trade between the Middle East 
> > > and India by 600 BC, it might be assumed that the ORIGINAL 
> > > Styrax or Storax of the ancient European, Middle Eastern, and 
> > > Classical world was the resin of the Liquidamber tree of Greece 
> > > and Turkey, not the resin of the Benzoin shrub of Sumatra.
> > >
> > > However, from the late classical period (when trade routes 
> > > between the Middle East, Europe, and Asia were stabilized) up 
> > > until the institution of the Linnean system of taxonomic 
> > > classification in the 1700s (when the Benzoin shrub and 
> > > Liquidamber tree were recognized to be not only in different 
> > > genera but in different *families*), any European author to the 
> > > west of Greece might have called EITHER of these two resins 
> > > Styrax or Storax interchangeably.
> > >
> > > So what i am getting at here, Poke, is that unless the author 
> > > whose recommmendation you are following in the matter of burning 
> > > Storax incense gave some sort of further telling botanical or 
> > > geographical annotation ("Storax of the Indies", "Greek Styrax", 
> > > "Turkish Storax," "the resin of a small plant called Storax 
> > > Benjamin," "Gum from the Styrax Tree" etc.) you might have to 
> > > guess which resin was indicated, with the firm understanding 
> > > that, at least in Europe, Greek or Turkish Liquidamber would 
> > > have been far more common than Sumatran Benzoin.

It is also important at this point to note, for the benefit of those
unfamiliar with these resins, that the gums from these plants smell
entirely differently, as do the two incenses when they are burned.

Benzoin (Sumatran Styrax) has a strong fragrance of Vanilla. 

Liquidamber (Classical Storax), as well as its close relative, American
Sweet Gum (also called Liquidamber) has a woodsy, richly sweet aroma
usually identified as "Amber" or "tree Amber." 

> > > Do let me know the spells, rites, or rituals you perform in 
> > > which Storax incense is specified, okay? 

> > We use storax (when we can get it) in Mercurial (Hod) operations 
> > following the reference in Table I, Column XLII "Perfumes" in "777"
> > by Aleister Crowley. 
> > 
> > Now I realize that you have a prejudice against Crowley, but in 
> > the case of "777" you should perhaps overcome it. "777" (with the 
> > exception of A.C.'s attached essays) is directly lifted from 
> > private Golden Dawn material. Crowley did not even "Thelemize" the 
> > tables by reversing the Star and the Emperor -- so "777"'s 
> > correspondences are simply the Hermetic Magical Tradition's  
> > engineering handbook. In a future edition of your herb magic book 
> > you might include the above mentioned table as an appendix...

Just to set the record straight: While i am strongly opposed to
Crowley's pesonal habits and his political, sexist, racist, and
religious beliefs, i would not consider this a "prejudice," but rather
the natural result of my familiarity with his writings. However, that
aside, i do find "777" -- flawed and incomplete though it is (and 
Crowley admitted its flaws and incompleteness, so that's nothing new) 
-- to be his most valuable book with respect to my own magical workings. 

> > Now to some interesting references on your commentary above: in 
> > Thomas Taylor's classic [translations of the] *Hymns of Orpheus* 
> > (from 200 B.C.) storax is the perfume allocated to Jupiter, 
> > Saturn, the Lunar Gate and several other mythical correspondences. 
> > I would assume this is a European or at least Middle Eastern 
> > variety (perhaps your "liquidamber resin"?), 

I would assume this to be the case, because the Orphic Hymns originated
in the same Eastern European and Eurasian part of the Classical world in
which the Liquidamber tree grows.

> > but the "storax" we used to get in the 1970s came from China 
> > (probably the Sumatran variety). 

This is a common substitution, no doubt because the Liquidamber tree has
been over-harvested for millennia and is now rare. The Sumatran Benzoin
comes from a fast-growing shrub, not a forest tree, hence it is easier
to keep in commerce. Even the ancient Indian solid perfume called "Amber
Essence" -- a blend of Liquidamber and beeswax -- is now often made with
Benzoin instead -- despite the fact that the two do not smell much like
one another. It's a "New Coke" thing, if you know what i mean. 

The New World Liquidamber or Sweet Gum tree yields a similar resin to
the European and Eurasian tree of Classical trade. Both its bark and the
pure resin were used as incense by Native Americans, and thus it entered
into hoodoo tradition. However, it has not gained much of a reputation
with Hermetic mages, many of whom shy away from American plant material
in favour of European and Asian species, even when doing so leads them
toward a rather ill-fitting substitution, as in the case of Styrax as a
replacement for Storax. 

> > The problem with Benzoin 777-wise is that it is attributed 
> > to Venus (Netsach) although we prefer to use sandalwood.

I would suspect that attribution of Benzoin to Venus relates to its
Vanilla-like fragrance, for Vanilla is used in love-philtres. Medically
and magically, though, that is an unusual correspondence. 

> Benzoin gum is by its inherent nature an antiseptic.  This is
> concealed in many applications because it is diluted with alcohol to
> make an antiseptic solution. The more common name of Benzoin 
> reveals its origin, as it was known for a very long time as Benzoin 
> of Smyrna, and so shown in formularies. The compound of Alcohol and
> Benzoin is still available (by prescription) for use by physicians.
> Benzoin was once used medically as an internal drug, which use 
> is no longer recommended.

I can testify from personal experience that conventional dentists
prescribed topical application of the alcohol tincture of Benzoin as an
antiseptic and anaesthetic for painfully erupting wisdom teeth as
recently as the mid-1960s. 

> Magically, Benzoin as an incense elevates people, places and
> things to a higher level. Whether they stay there or not is 
> another matter. It is often used in banishing incenses when working 
> with lower goetic spirits, and those of the goblin world. (These 
> are NOT the spirits called up in Solomonic ceremonial magic.)  As 
> an incense it has other uses as well.

The magical use of Benzoin Styrax incense in hoodoo accords with its
medical usage. It is a banishing or clearing incense, which purifies,
protects, and uplifts the user or the premises in which it is burned. 

> Storax, or Balsam of Storax, is a medicinal useful in a number of
> areas. The last time I checked it still in USP and the NF.   The
> balsams are all used as glues or cements. However, Storax is the 
> only one still used as a glue in surgery, (so far as I know).
> 
> Storax has the quality, as a incense, of blending things together.
> It is also used in making charms and talismans when the effect of
> honey or another of the balsams is not desired.

In hoodoo, Sweet Gum (Liquidamber styraciflua), either in bark chips or
resin form, is used in incense as a binder. The tree itself also
functions both as an effigy of a person and the means by which that
person is sealed to a wished-for fate. There are many hoodoo spells for
jinxing and for unjinxing in which, for instance, you drill a hole in a
Sweet Gum tree, insert something personal, then plug the hole with a
short dowel cut from the same tree, and clip it off flush with the
surface of the tree. When the tree grows over the plugged hole, the spell is effected. 

> > Ah well, maybe we ought to go back to dried magpie brains -- but if 
> > we did, then we'd have endless bird taxonomy problems: is it the 
> > South Eastern Magpie, or the Mid-Western Magpie? 

Gnome d Plume (Poke Runyon) 
cat yronwode

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