positive mother and black son enjoying smell of fresh flowers

The Sense of Smell

So far we have looked at the first four senses, the lower senses that are related to the will.  They all pertain specifically to one’s own body.

This month we move outward and begin to explore senses that relate to the outside world.  These are the middle senses and are all related to feeling.  This does not mean specifically, the act of feeling something with your skin, that is the sense of touch which is the very first sense and is categorized as a lower sense.  This is because touching is an inward experience.  Steiner (1920/1986) explains this,

When you touch objects, you actually perceive only yourself.  You touch an object and if it is hard it presses forcibly on you; if it is soft its pressure is only slight.  You perceive nothing of the object, however; you sense only the effect upon yourself, the change in yourself.  (p.39)

Smell is the fifth sense among the twelve that Rudolf Steiner, founder of Waldorf Education, developed and introduced about 100 years ago.

The sense of smell is the first of the middle senses, classified as outward and senses of feeling.  These senses are helpful with interpreting the external world. Smell is a bit unique however because it also connects very deeply within us. Smell is the only sense that rests surely on the threshold between an inner experience and an outer experience.

Smell is perceived when you breathe in and scents pass through your nasal passages which are directly connected to your brain through a short nerve.  Your judgement is strongly influenced by scents.  From experience, you know what smells you like, and dislike.  van Gelder contributes, “In this way, your sense of smell forms one of the foundations of your moral judgment. Your sense of smell thus helps you to distinguish between good and evil”. Smells are difficult to classify because they are so connected with experiences or objects.  We often name smells in relationship to what they remind us of.  This can sometimes take us by surprise and potentially, quite suddenly, dive us into deep emotions.  This occurs more notably than any of the other senses.

How does this relate to Unitarian Universalism and Religious Exploration?

The Seven Principles of Unitarian Universalism are the ideas which we affirm to “hold as strong values and moral guides.” There is also an additional 8th (proposed) principle. Paula Cole Jones was the initiator of a movement which prioritized awareness of both racial justice and deep multiculturalism in the Unitarian Universalist church. In 2013, Jones and some colleagues began to explore how UUs could address issues on a systemic level regarding racism and other oppressions. By 2017, they presented it to the Unitarian Universalist Association (UUA) and suggested that congregations adopt it as an 8th Principle. This is not officially adopted by the UUA yet, but several member congregations have chosen to adopt it independently.

I identified twelve key concepts that appear throughout the 8 principles.  These are:









Democratic process




Beloved Community

When we make a conscious effort to fortify the sense of smell, we will in turn be developing awareness of Justice, Compassion, Conscience, and Connectedness.

What can you do to fortify this sense?

Select some food and drinks and describe their scent. When you have finished, take a short break, then smell them again and record any judgments they provoked. Did they arouse any memories? If so, describe them.

Go to a place in the woods, or in a barn or field, and describe what you smell. Which smells do you notice straight away, and which do you only become aware of after some time? What sort of judgments do you make?

Smell the different types of animal feed in a barn. Describe the smells and describe your first impression of them (tasty, disgusting, etc.). You can do this exercise with other objects, too, such as plants, animals, foods, textiles, detergents and so on.

I also encourage you to visit this link for additional faith formation ideas related to the sense of smell. Explore the many opportunities for spiritual development for the whole family. This faith formation engagement program was developed for the Baja 4 congregational conglomerate in Southern AZ as part of my dissertation research. You are welcomed to use it as well.

The new Baja 4 Faith Formation Pilot Program: https://prezi.com/view/ygr5bkuFdPnHLCrO4C8d/

My best to you with many blessings,

Amy Huntereece, PhD

May 6, 2021

Flagstaff, AZ


The 8th Principle of Unitarian Universalism. (June 2017). Retrieved January 16, 2021 from https://www.8thprincipleuu.org/

Steiner, R. (1986). In A. Howard (Ed.), Spiritual science as a foundation for social forms [Geisteswissenschaft als erkenntnis der grundimpulse sozialer gestaltung] (M. St. Goar, Trans.). Anthroposophic Press. (Original work published in 1920).

van Gelder, T. (n.d.). Sense of smell. Retrieved from http://tomvangelder.antrovista.com/sense-of-smell-128m50.html

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