Mankind has used incense, in its earliest forms, since the dawn of human history. With the discovery of fire, our ancestors would have realized that most materials give off a unique and sometimes powerful aroma when burnt. The difference between the smell of a handful of Parsley and that of a Pine tree branch is greatly emphasized when each is burnt. Then as now, the air is quickly filled with intoxicating aromas simply by throwing some dried leaves, spices or twigs into a fire.
There is historic evidence in most cultures that our ancestors used incense burning for sacred and healing purposes. From ancient times people recognized that aromas produced by burning materials could heighten the senses, both sight and smell. When early man gathered around his fire, the smell of aromatic woods, herbs and leaves carried by heaven-wards spirals of smoke was a rare sensory pleasure. From this discovery it was no doubt a short step to dedicating fragrant products to the Gods, Incense has always been deeply intertwined with religious ceremonies, as well as the practice of medicine. In fact the first reported healing practices, recorded in ancient Egypt, exposed patients to the smoke of incense for healing. Other benefits ascribed to the burning of incense included the purification of an area, to change a mood (to facilitate meditation or religious practices) and to cleanse and disinfect living spaces, especially after pollution caused by, for instance, death or illness.
Historically, the chief substances used as incense were such resins as frankincense and myrrh, along with aromatic woods and barks, seeds, roots, herbs, and flowers. However, it is difficult to trace the story of incense because it has largely been an esoteric and oral tradition evolving in relation to both religion and medicine. In other words, the ancient history of incense is shrouded in mystery, which seems to be the very nature of incense itself.
Simply stated, incense has been a feature of ceremonies worldwide since ancient times and the world trade in incense has never declined since. The Egyptians used oil of myrrh for embalming and later discovered other ritual, medical, and cosmetic uses for incense. Hindus use it for all temple and domestic offerings, while Buddhists burn it at festivals, initiations, and daily rites. The Chinese use it to honor ancestors and household deities, and in Japan it is a mainstay of Shinto ritual. The early Christian church utilized it to symbolize the ascent of prayers of the faithful and to honor God and the saints. And in the Americas, the use of incense is documented from the very first encounters between the indigenous populations and the Europeans in the 15th and early 16th centuries
But it was not until the arrival of incense in Japan that its use became a fine art. Brought to Japan in the sixth century by Buddhist monks who used the mystical aromas in their purification rites, the delicate scents of Koh (Japanese high quality incense) became a source of amusement and entertainment with nobles in the Imperial Court during the Heian Era 200 years later. During the Shogunate period in the 14th century, samurai warriors would perfume their helmets and armor with incense to achieve a proud aura of invincibility as they prepared to meet their foe and their fate. But it wasn’t until the Muromachi Era during the 15th and 16th centuries that the elegant art of incense appreciation spread to the upper and middle classes of Japanese society.
What the Japanese call Koh-Do, or incense appreciation, has long been the spiritual nourishment of Japanese culture. Fast becoming a popular custom in the United States and all over the world for those seeking quiet reflection and peace of mind, this elegant art not only creates a feeling of tranquility and an added dimension in gracious living but also opens up a new world of temporal and spiritual awareness. Two companies, Nippon Kodo and Shoyeido, continue this proud tradition in Japan today.
Throughout history there has been a wide variety of materials used in making incense. Historically there was also a preference for using locally available ingredients. For example: sage and cedar used by the indigenous peoples of North America. This was a preference and ancient trading in incense materials from one area to another comprised a major part of commerce along the Silk Road and other trade routes, one notably called The Frankincense Trail.
The same could be said for the techniques used to make incense. Local knowledge and tools were extremely influential on the style, but methods were also influenced by migrations of foreigners, among them clergy and physicians who were both familiar with incense arts.
Most Pagans today purchase the incenses they use from their local new age supplier or even from their local supermarket. However there is a newly growing trend amongst practitioners, to learn and practice the art of making their own Incenses, adding a deeper and richer experience to their Rituals.
Making your own incense is simple, inexpensive, awakens us to the sensual pleasure of Mother Earth's aromatic treasures and our interconnectedness with nature.
Once you learn the basics of making your own incense you are limited only by your imagination and sense of smell!
You can create special blends for your Personal and Spiritual life;
Incense is formed into one of the following:
Note: In some cultures (and within many Pagan Traditions) it is considered disrespectful to the Elements of both Air and Fire to "blow" out the flame (using one element to despell another - rather than blowing out your candles you should be pinching out or smothering the flame).
We encourage you to make or choose an incense burner that is handmade. There is an energy that is added to a to a handmade burner that is not apparent in a commercial, mass produced burner. A handmade burner blends perfectly with the burning of natural incense, increasing the power and magick of your blends.
I use a handmade fired clay (saucer sized) bowl for my altar's incense burner. I have filled it with mineral sand from our local beach. You can also use sifted sand or pulverized lava rock in incense burners as an alternative. I have found that this style of incense burner is most versatile when filled with sifted sand or ash.Using ash allows for burying charcoals 'koh doh' style as well as when using makko. (The ash most often used for this style of burning is white rice ash).
Warning: Using saltpeter as an oxidizer is a common ingredient in many charcoals sold today. Saltpeter on today's market is either sodium nitrate or potassium nitrate, both of these are toxic chemicals and should warn against inhalation. We would recommend using bamboo charcoal or makko to burn your incense. A good way to tell if your charcoal has saltpeter in it is to see if it crackles when lit, if it does it most probably contains saltpeter. Here are MSDS reports on sodium nitrate and potassium nitrate that we've found on the web.
|African Violet||Enhances spirituality and protection. Used to create attraction and harmony in love and friendship.|
|Almond||Used for prosperity and wisdom.|
|Aloes wood||Used for Healing, protection and affection. It is considered to be one of the most precious and rare incense on earth. From the time of antiquity it has been so prized and difficult to find, that it was often traded on an equal level of gold.|
|Amber Powder||Excellent for emotional baancing. Used for healing and meditation. It's intoxicating aroma blends well with everything. Because of it's divine fragrance, it has been considered as a sacred temple powder often referred to as "Nectar of the Gods" or "Ambrosia".|
|Anise, Star||Used for psychic pendulums and good luck charms. It is used to drive away negativity and to bring good luck. Long used as a sacred Japanese temple incense for cleansing and attracting good luck.|
|Apple||Enhances knowledge and wisdom. Used for love, healing, immortality and garden magick rituals.|
|Balsam Fir Needles||Enhances breath work or breathing in life. Used for respiratory work and for grounding.|
|Bamboo||Enhances Divination and protection. Used for luck, protection and hex-breaking rituals. Bamboo is the stick used to hold the herbs and resins in most stick incense. It has magickal uses of it's own and was used for divination in Chinese Temples.|
|Banana||Enhances prosperity. Used for fertility, potency and prosperity rituals.|
|Benzoin Gum Resin||Used for purification and prosperity. Often used as a base for incense blends. An antiseptic used to cleanse the lungs and strengthen the mind. Promotes knowledge, peace, and psychic protection. Considered to be a fine "clearing" resin.|
|Cedar||Used for purifying, protection and to banish bad dreams. Used by Native Americans in sweat lodges to release heavy emotional energies. Often included with Sage in smudge sticks for clearing and cleansing an area.|
|Champa||Used for clearing and protection. Used for meditation and for creating your sacred space. It is known to bring an individuals energies into harmonious balance.|
|Cherry||Enhances divination and attraction. It has long been used to stimulate or attract intimate love.|
|Cinnamon Powder||Enhances spiritual consciousness and protective energies. Cinnamon has long been used for healing and money rituals. As well as, a stimulant and aphrodisiac. It was used as a Holy anointing oil by ancient Hebrews.|
|Coconut||Long been used for protection rituals, especially in chastity spells.|
|Copal, Black Resin||Enhances energies of the heart. Used for healing the heart, either physical or emotional illnesses. It has long been used as an incense during "Day of the Dead" Celebrations.|
|Copal, White Resin||Enhances energies of the heart. Used primarily for emotional matters of the heart, for love and purification. It is the cleanest and purest of the Copals. Is has long been considered to be a sacred "Food of the Gods".|
|Clove Powder||Enhances banishing rituals. Used to drive away hostile, negative forces. It is also used to attract positive spiritual energies and to purify a negative area.|
|Desert Sage||Enhances protection and purification to bring about wisdom and health. Traditionally used to drive out bad spirits, feelings and influences. An important Native American Plant.|
|Dragon's Blood Resin||Red Resin from a palm tree. It enhances rituals involving love, protection and exorcism. Used for consecration, protection, and good luck. It is also thought to increase the potency of other resins.|
|Eucalyptus Leaf||Enhances good health and protection.Used for healing and sickness rituals.|
|Frankincense Resin||Used for purification, spiritual growth, knowledge and meditation. Long used by the Catholic church to release powerful positive energies and to drive away evil and negativity.|
|Frankincense & Myrrh Resin||Enhances spirituality, healing, protection and exorcism. Used for purification, spiritual growth, knowledge and meditation. Two most popular blessed resins of the kings.|
|Gardenia||Enhances Moon energies, it is a must for Esbat rituals. Often used for love spells and to attract good, peaceful spirits during rituals.|
|Geranium Leaf, Nutmeg||Enhances prosperity and fertility. Used for luck , prosperity, fidelity, love and fertility|
|Geranium, Oak Leaf||Enhances friendship. Used to maintain a friendship or make a friendship stronger, creating a 'true' friendship.|
|Geranium Leaf, Orange||Citrus Geranium is burned for luck, love, fidelity, money and weddings.|
|Geranium Leaf, Rose||A beautiful rose fragrance that is used for in love & healing sachets. It promotes calm and relieves stress.|
|Ginger Root||Used to promote psychic growth and success.|
|Gum Arabic Powder||Used for psychic purification and protection. It's a sweet, light vanilla scent which has often been used for making scents and adhesives.|
|Honeysuckle||Enhances the bonds of love. Used to heal relationships, or make a love stronger. It's honey sweet smell was used in Victorian times to promote mental and emotional attraction. It was often used in a small sachet worn around a woman's wrist.|
|Hyacinth||Enhances love, protection and happiness. Guards against nightmares.|
|Jasmine Flowers||Enhances relaxation and dreams. Used to create prophetic dreams if burned in the bedroom or in a sachet pillow.|
|Juniper Berry Powder||Enhances healing and healing rituals. Used to guard against evil forces and energies, hexes and sickness. It has long been used throughout Europe in rooms of the sick.|
|Juniper Leaf||Enhances healing and healing rituals. Used to guard against evil forces and hexes. It has long been used throughout Europe in rooms of the dying.|
|Lavender Flowers||Enhances healing rituals for love and compassion. Used for bringing compassion to intament relationships and to protect relationships.|
|Lavender||Enhances devotion and virtue. Used by Native Americans with Sage in a smudge stick, to clear and cleanse an area for spiritual work. Promotes communication in meditation between an individual and the GreatSpirits.|
|Lemon Balm||Used for compassion and gentleness. A shared sympathy.|
|Lemon grass||Enhances psychic awareness. Used for psychic meditations.|
|Lilac||Enhances protection. Used to bring peace and harmony into an area. Lilac has long been planted over garden gates to ensure peace and harmony is maintained within the gates.|
|Lotus||Enhances good fortune and love while promoting long life. Used for protection and as a sacred offering to the Gods. The Lotus has been long revered in the East as a mystical symbol of life, spirituality and the center of the universe.|
|Magnolia||Enhances relationship commitment. Used for fidelity and love. Magnolia trees have long been planted around a house in the south to promote love of the family and home.|
|Musk||Enhances self-confidence, determination and a strong will to succeed. Used for sexual attraction and to promote sensuality. Musk has long been used in mens colognes to promote attraction.|
|Myrrh Resin||Enhances meditation and contemplation. Used to release and banish negativity, to promote spiritual enlightenment and progression. It was often used in the temple of Isis.|
|Nag Champa Powder||Enhances energies into harmonious balance. Used to clear and cleanse an area for ritual work. Especially good for setting space for meditation, group rituals or gatherings.|
|Osha Root||Used to treat respiratory and rheumatic complaints. Long used by Native American healers for it's powerful healing abilities. Incredible butterscotch and celery scent promotes health.|
|Orange Peel||Enhances weddings and unions. Used for luck, love and money.|
|Orange Blossom (Neroli)||Enhances attraction and sexual magnetism. Used to attract love and romance.|
|Patchouli Powder||Enhances prosperity. Used for fertility (love) or prosperity (all areas of prosperity such as personal relationships, careers, finances etc.).|
|Peppermint Leaf||Used for growth and renewal.|
|Pineapple||Used for luck and chastity. Pineapples have long symbolized success in the south and were used to bring luck and money to the home and family. Or when used as a head piece on a bed, to symbolize luck and fertility, as well as chastity.|
|Pine Needles and Cones||Used for humility and protection. Often placed in the home during the winter to promote protection and health through the cold season.|
|Rose Petals|| |
|Rosemary Leaf||Enhances memory. Used for love, healing and mental or remembrance rituals. Stimulates memory and clarification. Use of Rosemary has been documented to ancient Egyptian times.|
|Saffron||Used for happiness and healing sadness.|
|Sage||Enhances wisdom and immortality. Sage has long been sacred to Native Americans and were incorporated in most smudge sticks.|
|Sage Leaf (California)||Used to purify and protect objects, places and people. Sage has long been sacred to Native Americans and were incorporated in most smudge sticks.|
|Sandal Wood Powder||Used for spiritual awareness, meditation and psychic development. It has long been used as a base to hold incense sticks to help add it's energies to the incense being burned.|
|Strawberry||Enhances tenderness, friendship and love. Strawberries have long been associated with love and celebrations as a food. Such as chocolate covered strawberries used as an aphrodisiac, as a symbol in the celebration love.|
|Sweet grass||Used to purify spaces and to attract positive influences.|
|Tea, Green||Used for healing to promote health and physical strength.|
|Vanilla||Enhances prosperity and dedication. Used to promote dedication of home and hearth, and to bring about prosperity in all areas of one's life, of the family unit and of home. Every home seems much happier and cozy when some type of food is baking with vanilla in it. Such as cookies or cakes.|
|Verbena, Lemon||Used carried for protection of love. In the Victorian era, women would often stuff a small sachet of lemon verbena and slip it into the coat pocket of their husband or intended.|
Herbs and Spices:
Aloeswood / Agarwood
If you are not starting with powdered ingredients then of course you must pulverize them using a mortar and pestle or coffee grinder. Electric coffee grinders can produce too much heat, allowing for the loss of vital chemicals from our ingredients and therefore shouldn't be used. Also, most resins will break the blades of electric coffee grinders.
If you freeze your resins for a short while (1/4 hour or so), they will be much easier to pulverize. I've found that resins can only really be ground or powdered effectively using a mortar and pestle.
Woods can be very difficult to pulverize with a mortar and pestle and really require the use of a hand crank coffee grinder of some sort or simply beginning with powdered woods. (I find unless it really bothers you, then purchase good quality powdered woods for ease of use)
If you are just starting out making incense mixtures then you should keep the number of ingredients down to three (3) to begin with, perhaps one wood and two herbs, or one resin, one wood and one herb, etc. As you get used to making incense you can slowly expand the number of ingredients you use.
The first step is to choose the recipe you will use and gather the ingredients needed.
Next is to prepare your individual (or class) ingredients. I would recommend pulverizing your ingredients by "class"grinding woods first, then herbs and saving the resins for last.
Resins, if young and soft, will make a mess of your mortar and pestle and its best to keep freezing them to get them to become powdered rather than mushed. I also recommend grinding resins last, which allows you to grind everything in your recipe before you have to clean the mortar and pestle. Weigh each ingredient in the recipe AFTER grinding, then keep one bowl for all the dry ingredients and another for the resins.
Mix all the dry ingredients together first (herbs & woods), in a separate bowl mix all your resins together
Then add your resins mixture to your dry mixture and mix together thoroughly. I like to put the completed mixture into our mortar and pestle again and grind it all together one last time to help blend the aroma of each ingredient into the others.
You now have a "loose non-combustible incense mixture" and are ready to enjoy the aromatic treasure you've just created.
I would however recommend aging mixtures for a couple of weeks so that all the aromatics permeate into each other and produce a single bouquet of fragrances.
To use simply heat this mixture as it is over charcoal, on mica on top of charcoal, on mica on top of ash under which hot charcoal is buried, or on top of makko.
However you may wish to take your incense making skills to the next level, making "incense pellets" or "incense cones or sticks" means you still have a little work to do.
It's quite simple to make pellets from any loose incense mixture. They add a richer fragrance to any mixture and more dimension to your incense making.
There are many choices as to what you'll use to bind your pellets. Many resins come in a pliable form permitting the "molding" of pellets. Labdanum is often used in recipes of Japan to form pellets, some called neriko, a recipe used in the fall and winter seasons as well as for tea ceremony. Simply combine all other ingredients first, then add them to the labdanum, or other pliable resin, and knead well. Dry these pellets in a ceramic jar with a lid for 2 - 3 weeks.
Dried fruit can also be used to make incense pellets. We commonly use sulfur-free, organic Sultana Raisins or dried Prunes, though we have a batch drying as we write this where we've used dried Apricots. Honey is also used in this process as a preservative for the dried fruit, and adds a delightful warm fragrance to a mixture. Honey itself can be used to form pellets from any dry mixture without the use of any fruit or pliable resins.
We've found using about 1/2 - 3/4 of a cup of dried fruit for every 1 cup of loose incense mixture works well. We like to soak our dried fruit overnight in a heavy red wine before using. Once soaked overnight and drained, we add the fruit to our loose incense and use a food processor to blend this entire mixture together. If you do not wish to use a processor, then mix a small amount of fruit with a small amount of your mixture and mash it together with a mortar and pestle and continue this process until all of your mixture has pulverized fruit in it. Transfer the entire mixture to a mixing bowl and drizzle in about one teaspoon of pure honey for every 3/4 cup of dried fruit, knead this together very well. At this point you can either crumble the mixture with your hands and spread it out on a cotton cloth, cardboard, wooden board, wax paper, etc. and store it indoors, out of the sunlight, allowing it to dry. You can also form pea-sized balls with your hands and then spread them out to dry. Drying time can take 2-4 weeks depending on climate. The mixture should be turned daily for proper drying. Alternatively, you may also place your pellets in a ceramic jar with a lid and allow them to age for up to a year. In Japan, the ceramic jar is sometimes buried in the ground for up to a year. This type of mixture can be burned on charcoal, mica over charcoal, or directly on makko.
Pulverizing your ingredients into a very, very fine powder is one of the keys to making cones or sticks that will burn properly. Follow the directions above for mixing ingredients as loose incense but grind everything to an ultra fine powder.
There are many ways to make cones and sticks, some people use gum arabic or tragacanth to bind their sticks or cones. They mix this with charcoal or saltpeter to gain combustion. As stated in our "styles of burning" section above, we recommend against the use of saltpeter or charcoals that contain saltpeter because it is a toxic substance.
We're sure there are a myriad of other ways to form sticks and cones. We'll share our own method with you, which is to use makko (a.k.a. tabu) to form incense cones and sticks. Our makko is made from the bark of the tabu-no-ki tree, which grows in Asia and is a natural combustible material that is also water soluble. When added to loose incense mixtures with a small amount of distilled water or hydrosol, makko allows for the forming of incense cones or sticks. Because it is water soluble, the exact amount of makko to add to a mixture depends on the humidity of your environment and the amount of resins and woods in your mixture.
First we recommend letting your "loose incense mixture" sit at least overnight to allow the ingredients to "blend" together. Once aged a day or more you are then ready to add your makko and form the incense into whatever shapes you desire. We recommend testing a small amount of your mixture first. You'll need a mixing bowl, your hands and either distilled water or a fragrant hydrosol and some wax paper. If you have a mixture with no resins in it, then you will most likely need to add only between 10 - 25% of makko to your mixture. (i.e. If you use 4 tablespoons of loose mixture, try adding 1/2 - 1 tablespoon of makko). If you have resins in your mixture then you may need 25 - 80% makko in your mixture. You'll have to play with this yourself to see what works with your particular mixture and in your particular climate. We highly recommend you record in a notebook the exact measurements of your recipes so you can recreate the ones that come our perfectly and adjust those that don't.
Very slowly... add a little water and mix with your hands, you want the mixture to become gummy and pliable yet still hold form as you mold it. Using your hands, knead the mixture very, very well then form it into cones or sticks. Cones are relatively easy to form. To make sticks, use a piece of wax paper on a flat surface and roll the mixture into sticks with your hands. You may also wish to obtain blank bamboo sticks that have absolutely no additives and roll your mixture onto the sticks. Allow your cones or sticks to dry at least a couple of weeks - again this depends on climate. You want to keep them away from sunlight and heat during this time. Sticks will dry faster than cones. Cones you can tell are dry by turning them upside down and looking to see if there is any color difference in the center of the bottom compared to the outer edges. Once dry, light one of your creations and see how it burns and smells. If it doesn't burn steadily, then you need to increase the amount of makko to the mixture. If you think it burns too fast, then decrease the makko content. A great thing about this method is you can grind up any cones or sticks that didn't come out right and adjust the makko content by adding more makko or more loose incense mixture to them, add a little water and begin again.
1 part sandalwood
3 parts gold copal
2 parts sandalwood
2 parts sandalwood
Incense #52 parts frankincense
1 part sandalwood
1 part aloeswood
1 part clove
1 part cinnamon
2 part sandalwood
4 parts juniper tips
Incense #82 parts sandalwood
1 part mastic
1 part myrrh
1 part cinnamon bark
1 part spikenard
handful of dried rose petals
Incense #91 part storax
1 part frankincense
1 part cassia
1 part sandalwood
2 parts frankincense
Incense #122 parts cedar
1 part vetiver
1 part lavender flowers
1/2 part benzoin
handful of dried rose petals