“Camphor” is used as a metaphor in a some of the more mystical writings, so I have tried to track the symbol down to its origin. Here is what I found: Edible camphor is a pure white crystal, derived from the tree Cinnamonum camphora. It has a cooling touch, like menthol, and is often used for topical ointments – most notably the rub people use on their chest when they have a cold.
In times past camphor was believed to cool the inflammatory nature of the passions. It was ingested to decrease sexual appetite, and mixed with wine to reduce its intoxicating properties; from this latter comes the idea of “camphorated wine”. One modern website relates: “…it stimulates the intellectual centres and prevents narcotic drugs taking effect, but in cases of nervous excitement it has a soothing and quieting result.”
Metaphorically speaking, the pleasant things of the world are a kind of wine: They taste wonderful and inspire one to drink deeply. However, these same things can intoxicate us and cause a state of spiritual stupor. We cease to think of God and our behavior has no other goal but drinking ourselves into further oblivion. As soon as we come up for air and feel a moment of sobriety, pain and illness impel us to seek escape in the very things that brought on the pain.
Camphor was believed to lessen the danger of wine, allowing the drinker to enjoy its qualities without being sickened by its poison. Certain aspects of wine are quite pleasant, it is merely the effect it has, and the subsequent downward spiral, that make it a hazard. Camphor “cools” the wine so that one can enjoy its goodness while escaping its evil.
If the things of this world are viewed as if “a wine of the spirit”, spiritual camphor would something that enables the soul to enjoy its good without becoming stupefied by it, langorous, and unaware. What has the power to guard the soul without requiring a complete removal from the problem? How can the soul be “in the world but not of the world”? If one could learn such a detachment, that education itself would be a kind of “camphor” – or wisdom mixed with the world’s delights – to facilitate enjoyment without being overcome by them.
If this “camphor” is the Teachings of God, then the following verse makes much more sense to me: “Verily the righteous shall drink of a wine-cup tempered at the camphor fountain.” A possible interpretation being: Those who are guided by the Revelation of God can enjoy all of Creation without being distracted from its central purpose of knowing and worshiping God. In fact, such enjoyment leads them to more profound knowledge and worship by virtue of Creation’s role as the dawning-place of His attributes.