Let’s talk about the history of Florida Water, a two hundred year old product with deep connections to African American hoodoo practice, Caribbean and South American communities and also used by many others, but that seems to have started as a simple cologne (or did it?).
Read on and explore the bibliography at the end.
Part of my curiosity, is a desire to “decolonize” my spiritual practice, and another is simply intellectual and magickal rigor. I like to know what I’m using and why – not just because a source says it’s good. And if I’m using tools created by other communities, I think it’s important to understand, respect, and share the community and the history of those tools instead of acting like it just appeared and has no history or connection to particular communities. It’s the same impulse that inspired Naming the Moons, because too many people use indigenous names for the moons without any context or credit.
I’ve found a couple of really great articles on Florida Water, which is used for just about everything magickal and mudane and sometimes both at the same time.
Florida Water as we know it today, at least the version most people purchase was created in the early 1800s by a New York City perfume manufacturing company called Murray and Lanman. The company was founded by Robert I. Murray and David Trumbull Lanman.
This article, about the classic Murray and Lanman’s brand, seems to indicate that Florida Water started with them. Of course, it doesn’t mention or hint that they may have experienced it elsewhere first, but it does reference that it was sold also as Agua de Florida. According to an article on Wikipedia, the scent is the same base as Eau de Cologne (aka Cologne Water) with sweet orange instead of neroli oil and additions of clove and lavender.
It’s hard to say where a 200+ year old brand started. And how it found its way into a variety of spiritual and magickal practices. It’s more than possible that the perfumers first smelled it while traveling the world, and brought the scent home (long before the idea of cultural appropriate was something we even considered). It’s also possible that they created a pretty perfume that reminded others of a scent from home. And it’s also possible that they created a pretty perfume, and then marketed it as a “remedy,” which was very popular in the 1800s.
It seems that Murray and Lanman introduced Florida Water to the mass public in 1808, per their website.
Murray and Lanman Florida Water was introduced into the United States market on February 14, 1808. Immediately it gained popularity and approval from the consumer and became a worldwide, well-known cologne, not only because of it’s delightful fragrance but also because of the more than twenty uses attributed to it. (source)
It was also immediately marketed in multiple languages, including Spanish. And by the 1850s, Murray and Lanman had a factory in Cuba. I don’t know if either Murry or Lanman were Jewish, but there is a history of Jewish pharmacists making or stocking hoodoo spiritual products — so it is possible. Even today, one of my favorite supply shops is a botanica founded by and still run by Sephardic Jews.
Interestingly they also make less well known magickal household soaps and perfumes like Kanangna Water, Money Soap, and Rue Soap — and rue has a long Jewish history of magickal and medicinal use.
As for the Florida Water, you’ll find two kinds of Murray & Lanman Florida Water still sold today. One is called Florida Water ”cologne” and it has a slightly blue tinge to the color. The other is Agua de Florida, which indicates it’s made in Peru, and has a yellow tint and is called ”amarillo” (aka yellow) on the label. Some people swear by the Peruvian version others by the New York version — some use them interchangeably – but both are manufactured by the same company. Personally, I do prefer the amarillo version but for no good reason.
- American Druggist & Pharmaceutical Record, 1902
- https://magicolom.com/curiosidades/agua-florida/ (en Español)
- https://www.essentiabox.com/Blogdecosméticanatural/tabid/81/ID/53/language/es-ES/La-maravillosa-historia-del-Agua-Florida-de-AINEA-PERFUMS.aspx (en Español)
Adapted from a post originally written for Devotaj Sacred Arts on Tumblr, 2017
Gratitude to Cooper Kaminsky for reminding me this post existed, which inspired me to move it here to devotaj.com and update it!