Since a teenager I’ve always been a huge fan of incense, be it coconut, vanilla and scents dedicated to deities, it was my all time favorite hobby and collecting them would always turn into an adventure.
Burning incense is a very ancient practice spanning thousands of years, cultures and uses. The varied uses for incense encompasses many different religions and spiritual practices as well. It is said that the three wise men who visited Jesus lavished him with splendid gifts which actually included Frankincense and Myrrh. Native Americans most commonly used sage and a variety of herbs to perform ceremonies, prayers and cleansings as well as the Egyptians and ancient Romans. In India it’s closely linked with Ayurveda medicine, while in Japan, making incense is a form of art taken very seriously.
It wasn’t until this past summer however, that I revisited my passion for incense. While purchasing some goodies from my local African street vendor (mostly Shea butter) I noticed a stack of what seemed like pebbles in clear bags lying next to the usual stick incenses. What I thought to be decorative pebbles were in fact loose frankincense and myrrh resins.
I had never tried this type of loose incense before and my curiosity made me buy a pack of each. I became even more intrigued when he mentioned that I needed charcoal which left me a bit confused. He nicely informed me that I would not be able to light it unless I had charcoal. So along with the incense resins of frank and myrrh I bought, I also got a pack of charcoal.
So like me you may be wondering why the charcoal and how do you use it?
There are basically two types of incense:
Combustible incenses are most commonly used. This type of incense is popular because it can be instantly lit and comes in a variety of shapes and sizes. Examples include incense sticks, cones and swirls.
Non Combustible incense requires a hot charcoal block (like the one shown above) in which you sprinkle the loose incense into. For example herbs, resins, spices etc.
The charcoal helps maintain a significant amount of heat which in turn burns whatever incense you choose. Typically these charcoal blocks have a round groove where it holds the incense in place. What helps ignite the charcoal block is the saltpeter (potassium nitrate) most charcoal blocks (and incense sticks) are made with. When fully lit, the saltpeter will sparkle and ignite throughout the block, glowing red indicating it’s ready to burn whatever incense you choose.
The difference between the two is the amount of smoke each type emits. Incense sticks, cones etc tend to let out a more controlled smoke, ideal for meditation, clearing of a small space or to simply enjoy the aroma. Loose incense with charcoal on the other hand, tends to billow out a lot of smoke and it’s mostly used for spiritual cleansing of spaces and environments sort of like smudging.
The idea of using smoke and the aroma derived from the many herbs available, to clear and purify places, people and things is perhaps as ancient as fire itself. Everyday we tend to be unfortunately, exposed to more negativity than not. This is why it’s important to leave those vibrations (and people) at the door and try to maintain a more positive, productive and fruitful environment. Negativity rears it’s ugly head in all forms. Be it the argumentative household, envious neighbor always in your house, stressful day at work, trouble sleeping and the many more things that do not really describe a peaceful environment are just some examples of negative, stagnant energy that seems to take up permanent residence in your household and surroundings.
You can yourself with incense clear your environment of any undesirable elements with simply focusing your intent on a more peaceful ambiance along with a few simple ingredients and must have tools.
This will be a two part series focusing on incense and how you can use it for a variety of things. In my next post I will show you how I use incense to clear my home, the essential tools you will need before you start, as well as some incense recipes I have been experimenting with.
So stayed tuned for part 2.