Updated: Aug 14, 2022
The use of incense is a centuries-old tradition steeped in magick, lore, and history. After thousands of years, its popularity is still going strong today! People have been using incense for a variety of purposes, from religious practices to aromatherapy for a very long time! But what is incense, exactly? And where does it come from?
The use of incense has an ancient and storied history, with its origins dating back thousands of years. It has been used in a variety of cultures and religions for centuries, and its uses vary from religious ceremonies and rituals, to simply making your space smell better.
The word incense comes from the Latin word incendēre, meaning "to burn or kindle." Incense is made today from multiple materials, including tree resin, bark, oils, and herbs, that are then combined with many different bases; charcoal, wood pulp, fiber, or metal oxide. When burned, incense releases an array of chemicals in its smoke, including the scent, aroma, and vapors of the fragrance being used, naturally occurring carbon dioxide, water vapor, and a variety of other organic compounds.
The earliest known use of incense dates back to the ancient Egyptians, who burned them often in religious ceremonies. The first known usage of frankincense is mentioned in an inscription on the tomb of Hatshepsut, an Egyptian queen from the 15th century BC who imported the resin from Punt's Land, or "Somalia," to make her cosmetics, lotions, and fragrance oils. Frankincense and Myrrh were used as incense by the ancient Egyptians throughout their religious rites and festivals. They also employed it mixed with honey, salt-ash solutions, and herbs to embalm, anoint, and mummify the dead. Incense burners from the Old Kingdom of Ancient Egypt, which resemble long-handled spoons, have been discovered as proof of the use of incense, and the lighting of resins and herbs during religious rites. Incense resin was also burned in these burners to offer scented warmth on the hearth or stove of their dwellings in cold weather.
Incense was also popular in ancient China, with herbs and incense of Sandalwood, Aloeswood or Agarwood, Benzoin, and Camphor where it was used in both religious and secular settings.
In 1950 B.C. frankincense was considered a king's gift, it is said that the Queen of Sheba delivered a large amount of frankincense, brought by her by Caravan from Yemen, to the wise King Solomon.
At the time, no one had ever laid eyes on so much of the incense transported at a single time. This laid the ground stones for one of the oldest and original international trade routes in the world the "Frankincense Trail" that ran along the Red Sea. The ancient trail is a seaborne and caravan trade route for frankincense and myrrh. Linking the places where frankincense was being cultivated in present-day Oman, Yemen, and northern Somalia with markets in the Nile valley, the Fertile Crescent, ancient Mesopotamia, Egypt, Greece, Rome, and India. It is also said that the Queen of Sheba was reported to host large and lavish parties upon her palace and kingdom. Only the finest fruits, foods, festivities, music, and wine were available. In addition to her excess in luxury, signaling the parties beginning -- the Queen would have her priests ignite massive stone bowls along the road to her palace. With frankincense, resins, and herbs to bless the air and land. It is said that even villages far from the palace always knew a great feast was happening from the visible plumes of pink and amber smoke rising from the sky, and the smell of sweet resins in the air from miles away.
The original use of the word “incense” was to describe the aromatic smoke that is produced from a substance upon burning. The term throughout literature and written accounts have been gradually condensed now to simply 'frankincense'. With Frankincense and Myrrh at the forefront of the beginning blends, I'm very positive other resins like Dragon's Blood, Pine, Copal, and herbs like Cinnamon, Angelica Root, and many others were also used but may have had a different name in the original texts.
Interestingly, several myths surround the harvest of frankincense. It was believed that valleys, where frankincense gets harvested, were guarded by huge and horrible winged creatures and red poisonous snakes that attack anyone who dare to touch the frankincense tree.
Another mysterious story also explains that the mythological bird the Phoenix, when ready to die, makes its final nest from frankincense and Cassia, and there... its spirit ascends to the heavens with the perfume of this sacred herb.
BENEFITS & PROPERTIES
Burning incense is said to have powerful cleansing, and purifying effects. Incense can also be used to spiritually and energetically cleanse your home, office, or any other space. Incense can also be used to purify your body, mind, spirit, and sacred spaces. If you are looking for a natural way to improve your wellbeing, transform your mood, or elevate your senses, incense is a great option to try.
Where Frankincense is a treasured and cherished incense used in modern-day use to ancient times, today we have inspired and created so many more amazing scents and aromas. With today's research, we know and are well-aware of the benefits of aromatherapy to uplift one's mood and even positively alter and affect brain activity.
Incense has many benefits, both spiritual and physical.
Burning incense can help to:
• Relieve Stress - Scent has long been used to relieve stress as well as induce strong connections to memories. Can you remember your first carnival? The sights and sounds, the smell of fresh squeezed lemonade, funnel cakes frying, freshly popped popcorn, and corn dogs steaming through a busy food truck window? I bet if even for a moment just then you could imagine that scene, and all the memories it's attached to. Somewhere in that beautiful brain of yours, you could also smell the popcorn! How crazy and awesome is that? Doing so can allow you to access parts of your memories that can bring you deep peace and inner calming. We can now measure, sight, and record the brainwaves of a single memory while smelling your favorite childhood scent.
• Boost Your Mood - Frankincense has recently garnered a ton of attention and study on its mood-altering properties. Researchers have studied the scent for thousands of years and today we have so much more data available. This data shows that scent has the power to directly alter your mood. A recent study reveals a physical and measurable reduction of cortisol levels (the stress hormone) after Frankincense was released into the air. How amazing is that!? I can also speak from personal experience here. When I have been at my sickest, were talking ill, I will always grab my cast iron burner, a charcoal disk, and a few grains of frankincense resin. Rose too, is another powerful scent studied to raise your frequency and elevate your mood! So take a moment, to really stop and smell the roses. Scent can do way more than we think!
• Focus Your Mind - Aromatherapists, Herbalists, and Apothecaries have long recommended Rosemary, Eucalyptus, or Peppermint to quicken the mind and enhance memory. However, you can also "fix" and "set" certain scents around a specific task to help you remember, memorize, focus, or always be able to revisit that memory or place in time. For instance, using lavender or vanilla incense regularly in meditation or before sleep can allow your brain to "get in the zone" a bit quicker every time you use it. The brain will start releasing those feel-good chemicals as soon as you light your favorite incense stick because it is associated with that relaxation time. (Talk about a CHEAT CODE!?)
Super Witch-tip: Got a test coming up? Eucalyptus incense can help snap your mind into place. You can burn eucalyptus incense during some intense study time, then before the test rub your wrist with the incense oil or stick. One quick inhalation during the test can increase memory recall and it's almost like your books are right in front of you. The power of the mind is impalpable!
• Improve Your Breathing - What is the number one priority, focus, and the ONLY thing you should be paying attention to in meditation? You guessed it! Your Breath! Especially when trying to meditate or focus, your breathing and especially HOW you're breathing can be a powerful tool in calming the mind and body. Did you know that just mentioning your breathing pulls attention to it? (Take a moment even now, slow deep breath in all the way to your belly button, maybe your gut even sticks out a bit, drop those shoulders, fill those lungs with air completely, down to your toes. Hold here for a few seconds, and slowly exhale releasing any tension.) Now, imagine an incense filled with eucalyptus oils or a scent you find deeply calming. Lighting the same incense with a specific intention in mind can easily help you start and maintain a regular meditation practice. Transforming the scent around you to a relaxing one, one that is sweet, herbal, and calming -- can allow you to focus on your breathing more and truly transforms your energy and the energy of the space around you.
• Reduce Anxiety - As a Magick Man who has come from a world of anxiety, one of the biggest and most powerful tools in the anxiety handbook is to ground and focus on the space you're in. When you find your mind racing, light a calming scented incense, take that time to regroup, and recenter, the world can wait. You find a comfortable spot and stop, sit, breathe, and focus your attention on the walls, ceiling, and ground below you. You notice the weight of your body in the chair, and how your arms sit comfortably on the armrests. You pay attention to the fabric of the chair and its feel and texture. You look around and focus on any light or reflections cast on the walls. You notice any tastes you may have rolling around your tongue between morning coffee and that bagel from earlier. And most importantly as you breathe you notice the smells around you, a warm, inviting, traditional, and pleasant scent can transport you to a better frame of mind. My favorite incense to help with Anxiety would have to be my Voodoo Vanilla blend! It smells like the way a weighted blanket feels, on a bed made of clouds, in a sky full of deep purples and stars.
MANY FORMS & FUNCTIONS
Today, incense can be found in so many unique and varying forms! The most standard being your incense sticks and cones! Commonly made from wood pulp, most traditional incense today contains pulp made from bamboo or sandalwood. Whereas my amazing incense is made from charcoal. (Which is an entirely separate future post comparing the two!) I am fond of charcoal because it features the scent used with less of that "campfirey" smell and less soot/smoke. Where my incense sticks burn anywhere from 40-50 minutes, most common brands burn in as little as 20 minutes. My cones burn up to 30 minutes and contain the SAME amount of oil as the stick version. The cones release all that fragrance all at once. Perfect for a quick meditation session!
Backflow cones are the hip new trend due to their ability to almost pour smoke downward into a waterfall effect. This is due to a hole formed in the center of the cone, and the good 'ole power of thermodynamics! This type of incense has blown up in recent years to inspire new and exciting incense burners and smoke effects. I do make backflow cones upon request, they are made fresh to order! (Email Me)
You can also find traditional powdered incense used in Eastern practices, rope incense in some Tibetan practices, resin/smoke burners in Middle Eastern ceremonies, sage and smudge bundles in Native American practices -- and yes! Even that bundle of herbs we Michiganders throw into our campfires is a form of incense to keep the funk away!
INCENSE IN RITUAL
The most important things I'd hope for you to take away from this post are how to utilize and harness the power of incense to manifest your workings in your own magickal way, how to calm your mind, and enhance your own personal magick with the power of scent! A ritual is nothing more than a repeated action and intention towards an end goal. Using incense regularly in your manifestations can truly amplify your magickal and energetic frequency, as well as the space around you, and the people you love.
(MAGICKAL MOMENT: I have a friend whose daughter is very sensitive to common candles and air fresheners. She has not been phased by my incense and reports that my Voodoo Vanilla blend has helped her mind get ready for bed a bit easier. She calls it her "Dessert of the Day" and I think that's just beautiful!)
Whatever your ritual may be, please know that working with incense holds thousands of years of spiritual practice in its DNA. Your ancestors, their stories, their memories, their music, and their prayers fill the room with every incense you use. The lineage and history have been handed down through the ages, and to me, one thing is very clear -- Incense, Scent, and Aroma, have been and will continue to be a tool in the tool chest of spiritual practitioners all over the world for many years and many more years to come. How you use this tool is all up to you! -------------------------------------------------- 🔮 --------------------------------------------------
*These pages and posts are living, breathing documents. I welcome any/all viewpoints and wholeheartedly reserve the right to change, edit, alter, or remove them at any time. Thank you so much for stopping by for a spell!
ABOUT ME My name is Justin Arnold, but most of my #Witchigan friends just call me The Magick Man! I am a psychic, tarot reader, artist, creative director, incense maker, and educator here in Magickal Michigan! #MagickMan #AskTheMagickMan
To follow along in all the magickal nonsense, visit my website @ AskTheMagickMan.com