The Contemporary New England Witch

The Contemporary New England Witch
Ms Faith

Thursday, December 2, 2010

The History and Use of Incense

 Good Evening,

Today was a wonderful day. The sun was shining, a bit cold, but no snow!!, and I received in the shop one of my favorite orders. Incense. Shipped all the way from India.  The incense I purchase comes from Pondicherry India, and is made in a very old fashioned manner.  Since I smell delightful, having processed a big order of incense, I thought tonight's discussion on  the history and modern ritual use of incenses and smudges would be appropriate.    

It is believed that the use of incense predates history and there is evidence that mankind utilized fragrant smoke from the very earliest times.  As soon as man started using fire for heat and warmth, he would have noticed that certain woods and dried vegetation would release smells, many pleasant and comforting. Early man would have noticed a change in the way he felt when inhaling the smoke of certain plants and woods.

The ritual use of incense took on more substantial proportions when it was brought into the temples and ritual groves.  During ancient times when priests and priestesses sacrificed animals to their gods and goddesses, it is thought the use of incense became popular to mask the smells of the sacrificial animals decaying flesh and blood. 

The smoke as it drifts and wafts upwards was soon seen as a symbolic vehicle for man's prayers and wishes floating directly to their gods in the heavens. The use of incense then took on a special responsibility in helping to create sacred space, and was often employed as an agent of the element of air, and even today is found in just abut every major organized religion. 

At one time in history when the incense route through the middle east was flourishing, frankincense,  a resinous sap from the trees of the genus Boswellia became more valuable than gold or silver for over 1500 years, and has been traded in Northern Africa for over 5000 years.  Scenes depicting frankincense being traded are painted on the walls of the temple of Queen Hatshepsut, an Egyptian queen who lived around 1450 BCE. The Egyptians, living and dead were  'censed' with the smoke, what today we would call 'smudging'.
 
As resinous saps and aromatic wood powders were being discovered and used in the far and middle east, somewhere in the long unwritten past the indigenous peoples of the North American continent were using dried sage brush, herbs and other plant material to create the sacred smoke that brought their prayers   to the ancestors and brought guidance and allowed them to communicate with their spirit guides.

The Native Americans still  utilized what today we call smudge. Bundles and sticks made from materials like dried sage brush, cedars and sweet grasses were used to smoke or smudge people, living areas, work areas and religious sacred areas. The smoke is believed to remove negative and stagnant energies from a person or place.

  An interesting note regarding sage brush. This is the 'white sage' that has the magickal properties of removing stagnant energies and cleansing an atmosphere.  Somewhere in the past people mistook the common garden sage we grow in New England, which when dried has a grayish white appearance, and it is sage as is the sage brush, but garden sage has the magickal properties of longevity, healing and immortality.  All sage does  not have the same properties, it varies by variety.  I myself have in the past used garden sage mistakenly to cleanse and clear an area. It was always a disappointment, I now know why.

Incense and smudge has long scented the air around mankind, making special occasions sacred and blessing places and people with its smoke. They are both still heavily used today. 


Try a smudge stick of desert sage and you'll immediately be able to feel the difference.  An excellent author whose work I admire, Mr. Christopher Penzak has been quoted  "smudge is like soap, you don't have to believe in the power of soap for it to work". He's very accurate, for even if one is skeptical you can feel the difference  once someone has smudged an room or building. Its a fresher, freeing feeling. Almost spring like, regardless of the season.

Over the years I've been employed by a number of businesses to smudge their business offices, work areas even a bakery!  The energy seems to balance out and financial flow is increased, clients and customers seem happier and employees seem to have less stress and issues.  This is what has been told to me by those whose places I've smudged.

For those of you who have used smudge sticks, you've heard the common phrase "smells like someone is smoking pot!"  Really? I tell them I'll have to take their word for it, but I can assure them its desert sage and quite legal and harmless but very effective. The smell is slightly sweet, smoky of course but with a resinous almost pine/rosemary scent. Sage brush has a strong resin within, and this is what is released by burning.  The businesses I've smudged seem pretty progressive to me,  because they swear by the practice even if the smell is pleasant but a bit questionable.

Anyone can smudge, or burn incense.  I say a few incantations invoking the Goddess to aide me in my work, and I use heavy visualization to 'see' the energies the person wants for their business or personal life.  Any person can be smudged also. I typically use powdered incense for rituals and cones and sticks I use for creating the energy I desire in a room.  If you only have sticks or cones and wish to cast a circle, use several at once, maybe 3 wands of smoldering incense, to create enough smoke to really define the border of the circle. Powdered incense sprinkled on burning charcoal tablets is really the ideal method for burning incense for ritual. 

The incense that came in today, were all sticks and cones, and I'm excited about this latest shipment because its real incense.  What do I mean?  The incense itself is made in the ancient masala method employed by Indian incense masters.  They use an ancient technique, which takes resinous saps, powdered aromatic woods, pure essential oils, powdered flower petals, seed, pods, sweet grasses and forms it into a dough.  This dough is then affixed onto sticks  or made into cones.  They are dried and cured and then are ready to be burned.

An important side note for incense users.  Please for your safety and the health of your family, stay away from hand dipped incenses.  I've researched this subject extensively and hand dipped incenses are dangerous and have been suspected of causing allergies, asthma and scent sensitivities resulting in migraines and other side effects.  The reason is simple.  The product you're burning may look like the incense sticks I just described in the prior paragraph, but they're not.  Far from it.

My research has discovered that hand dipped incense sticks and cones start out as either sawdust or charcoal 'punks'.  Scentless sticks or cones made out of a base of charcoal or sawdust.  They are then dipped in a solution of up to 95% petroleum based solvents and artificial fragrances.  Many of these 'dipped' sticks and cones are actually sold un-packaged. The customer chooses the ones they want and the store clerk wraps them up in a brown paper bag  to bring home.

It's a 'homey' even country store look with the incense sticks being stored in canning jars, crockery and other quaint containers. Truth? The longer they 'air out' the more dry they become and the placing of them in brown paper helps wick out any additional oils. They also need to be dry to burn properly. The dipped variety smokes and many times do not even smell like the fragrance they're supposed to represent. I tell my students and customers hand-dipped is great as long as its chocolates!  Incense, no.

Indian made incenses are the real deal.  The sticks may not be perfectly formed, but like any hand made product it has its variations. The first time I burned the vanilla incense it really smelled like someone was baking a cake, when have you last had an incense that could do that? Hmm? I know!

Whether you burn incense or not, the world has been scenting itself and centering itself for centuries with the aide of the natural world or resins, woods, grasses, flowers, plants and oils.  There is something delightful to me about burning a tablet of charcoal, waiting until it ashes over and then sprinkling a bit of dried powder and watching it start to smoke before being hit with the aroma and beauty of the incense.

I see my use of incense as a bridge between myself and the over world or heaven world. A bridge between myself and Goddess, myself and the spirit world.  When I burn incense or smudge I quickly transport to the ritual 'me', the witch that I am in relation to my Goddess.  It does not have to mean this for you, most importantly if it makes you feel good to burn it, then do so.  If you haven't ever burned incense? Oh, my! You really are missing out on a lovely experience.  Try some.  I bet you'll like it!

Here's where I get serious!  IF YOU HAVE ANY MEDICAL CONDITION THAT WOULD BE AGGRAVATED BY SMOKE OF ANY KIND,  DO NOT BURN INCENSE OR CANDLES INDOORS WITHOUT A DOCTOR'S APPROVAL.  

Remember 'an it harm none. Not even yourself!"


Peace and Happiness






© 2010 Enchantments, LLC Portions of this blog posting may include materials from my book “Enchantments School for the Magickal Arts First Year Magickal Studies.” For more information, click on the title of this blog post, its a link that will bring you to  www.enchantmentsschool.com  

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