Why is Incense Used in Magic
The use of smoke to purify and sanctify space, tools and people is thousands of years old. Ritual use of incense has been handed down us through the ages as a way to make ritual more sacred.
The burning of herbs and resins has been used to make the air smell sweet at times when it smelled bad. In times of pestilence burning sweet herbs was done to help mask the smell of sickness. What they may not have realized is, the actual herbs they burned may have actually helped to kill the air born germs in some cases. The use of essential oils, herbs and resins for their aesthetic appeal has been popular for so long, we have lost the origin in the ages. What we do know however, is that right up to today, the use of incense is strongly associated with the rites of religion and spirituality, and is often associated with purifying.
When is Incense Magic and When is it Just Smoke
So, what is the difference between those sticks of Nag Champa or Strawberry Fields they sell at hippie and head shops, and the sacred incense used in ritual? The answer may be - nothing.Smoke becomes sacred for two reasons:
- The material being burned is considered inherently sacred - think of Sage, Frankincense and Myrrh. These materials have been used in ritual blessings, clearing and purifying for hundreds, to possibly thousands of years. Native Americans have used Sage in ceremony for hundreds of years and still do to this day. Church services often utilize Frankincense and Myrrh as priests enter to celebrate the Mass.
- The person burning the material has the INTENT of clearing and/or purifying with smoke - here is where the item being burned can be somewhat unorthodox. This could be stick incense, or cone incense, or loose incense used on charcoal.
In Magic, the intent of the practitioner is hugely important. In my opinion, it is as much as 90% of the practice. Simply lighting incense because it is purifying may have some impact on your surroundings, but focusing on the incense, willing your intention to be carried on the smoke, taking some time to put your will into the thing you will burn, can make it 100 times more powerful. In my experience, you are better off using Dollar Store incense, and spending significant time meditating over it and charging it with your intent, than you are using the perfect high quality resin, with ideal correspondences, but just "phoning it in" - lighting it and not thinking about your actions. Now, when you use a high quality herbal incense, AND charge it with your intention, that is truly the best scenario!
Resin vs. Stick vs. Cone
Why use resin instead of stick? Or cone instead of resin? The short answer is that different people find they like the quality of the fragrance more or less from one form of incense or another. Also, burning stick incense is very easy, as it lights simply and generally stays lit without much fuss. Cones are similar in that they generally stay lit and burn down with minimal fuss.
Using loose incense and resins generally requires the use of additional supplies such as match-lite charcoal and possibly sand (as a heat sink). You also need a different type of burner to burn it in, as the heat generated by charcoal can be quite intense. Many stick incense burners would be ruined by trying to burn charcoal on them.
And lastly, when using charcoal and resin or loose incense, you can get a LOT of smoke! If you use too much incense/resin, or if you use the whole charcoal tablet (as opposed to breaking it in half, or even quarters). This might be a good thing if you are outdoors, or have a large group you wish to bless. It might be really bad if you are in a small apartment in the city and it triggers your smoke alarm!
Burning loose herbs is another option that, while undoubtedly magical, can generate a lot of smoke! This is a great option if you are outdoors at a fire, or at least outdoors where the smoke will dissipate.
Generally, I advise that you use whichever form you like. And choose the scents you find the most pleasing for the work you are doing. There are a wide variety of scents available in stick and cone, and increasing amounts of variety available in loose incense as well.
I have chosen to sell only loose incense, Sage, Palo Santo and resins on my web site. The reason is that the synthetic fragrance in stick and cone incense, even when packaged, gives me headaches. I don't bring it into my space for that reason, but there are so many places to get high quality stick and cone incense, I am not concerned that this material will be hard for my readers and customers to find.
People who Can't Use Smoke
This brings me to those of us who just can't use smoke. I have asthma. Asthma and incense do not mix well under any circumstances. The synthetic fragrance in most incense causes me to cough and wheeze, and often brings on a splitting headache. The smoke is completely impossible as it triggers an asthma attack virtually every time I am exposed to it. This is also true of burning Sage and Palo Santo. Smoke in general is a no go for asthma. So what do I do? I want my sacred space and tools to be purified too!Essential oil sprays to the rescue!I have found, for myself, that if I use organic, steam expressed essential oils to make room sprays, and if I keep the oil to water ratio low, meaning I don't load up on the essential oil, but keep the scent light, my asthma is fine. I have also found that I can enjoy the scents, use them for cleansing and clearing, and I do not get headaches.
I take the additional step of Reiki charging my sprays, and often charge them under the Sun or Full Moon, sometimes including various stones and crystals, to further enhance the properties they hold. The herbs and scents used in sacred incense are most all available as essential oil. They aren't cheap, but if you are only purchasing them for personal use, you can acquire small quantities over time.
Making your own sprays is relatively easy. You simply add essential oils to water. You do need to shake the bottle each time you use it to keep the oil and water mixed, but the scent is lovely and completely customized to your preference.
This Liquid Sage Spray is an example of the sprays I make...but you can make any kind of spray that resonates with you.
If recipes for making sacred sprays are of interest, please comment below. I am happy to write a post with recipes and explain the process.