I have been a fan of incense in my daily practice for years – even when I didn’t consider myself a practicing Pagan, I had incense and candles at the ready for meditation and the creation of sacred space to ground and center myself. The ‘ritual’ of lighting candles and incense, then breathing the sweet smoke has always played a role in my personal practice. Even now, it is the first thing I do when beginning ritual or meditation.
Incense has been used in religious ceremonies, for ritual purification, in aromatherapy, for meditation, and for creating a spiritual atmosphere for centuries. The term ‘incense’ comes from the Latin word incendere, which means “to burn”.
Incense in religious practice is by no means new. Even in the Bible, offerings of incense are made to the Lord, and it’s common for Catholic Churches around the world to use incense during religious ceremonies. Use of incense is not limited to Judeo-Christian religions; Buddhist temples have incense glowing and burning at all hours, Hindu-permeated cultures (such as Japan) use incense not only in religious rites, but also in cultural settings (such as the formal Japanese Tea Ceremony).
So what is it about incense that is so special?
For me, I think it has to do with several factors. The process of preparing to burn incense is a ritual in and of itself, especially when you’re using something other than commercially produced stick or cone incense.
I usually make my own incense (thought sticks and cones will work in a pinch), and to burn them, I use a censor, ash and charcoal. It’s not something that can just be lit and walked away from – the process of setting up the burner, lighting the coal takes a few minutes to accomplish. So that means that I must be in the proper headspace – patient and open – to begin the ritual.
Another aspect is the smell – which means the ingredients of the incense. Making my own, I can control what goes into the air. The herbs I choose for a blend are harmonious and complementary to my mood or need. Commercial incense can be chosen for similar reasons, but in making my own, there is much more than just the compliment – there is intent – magick – as well. This aspect gives Incense Ritual much more meaning in my personal practice than it might otherwise have.
It is fairly common in my local group’s Ritual Circle to make incense as a group during Sabbat Rituals. We’ve made blends for prosperity, home blessing, fertility/creativity, and protection. One of our incense blends was even crafted into a Ritual Soap by one of our group members and gifted to us at the next class (who makes *ah-maz-ing* soaps and lotions, BTW – check them out if you’re in need of natural and magical products Goddess Divine Creations). The benefit to having group incense is that not only is my intent put into the creation of the incense, but also the love and will of my entire Circle. This only works, of course, provided you fully trust your Circle-mates (and I am so blessed to be able to trust without hesitation in my local group).
When I first started making incense, I found a video on YouTube by KrazyBoyTX on making incense pellets and gave it a try. I used honey and dried fruit to bind my powdered herbs and resins, and the result was a fantastic, light, airy scent. He has other videos on using charcoal discs and using makko powder to make cones. I haven’t tried using makko powder yet; the honey and fruit mixture is my favorite at the moment.
One of my favorite blends is as follows. Mix equal parts:
- chamomile flowers
- oak leaves
- uva ursa
and blend with amber resin, honey & golden raisins to form pellets. Burn on charcoal discs or mica plates.
I use a mortar and pestle to blend things while I am ‘creating’. Then, once I am done, I put everything in an electric blender to pulverize and fully blend the ingredients. I bought a coffee bean grinder for my herbs and store them in a combination of glass containers and plastic bags (until I have a container for them). My incense is kept in a wooden box that I got from the craft store. Eventually, I will post a picture of it!