The mystical aroma of incense is part of my daily life. I find it especially vital in winter when fragrant plants are slumbering deep in the the frozen earth. My morning ritual includes brewing coffee, tending the fire and praying with sacred smoke. It helps me center in the predawn hours sharpening fuzzy dreams and bringing me into focus for the day’s work here in the Ozarks where I have been a forest dweller working with herbal medicine and practicing shamanism for over five decades.
Incense has been with us since ancient times. Our ancestors burned incense to affect a positive change to the atmosphere of a place. Ancient Egyptians used fragrant smoke to neutralize foul odors, drive out demons and please the gods. During the Middle Ages, European cities suffering from the plague were “smoked” with cedar. Incense has been used worldwide from Australia to Japan to Thailand to Tibet to India to Africa to the Americas for religious ceremony, purification rites, healing and aesthetics.
Incense is a preparation of aromatic plant matter (root, sap, bark, leaf, flower or seed) crafted to release fragrant smoke as it smolders. One’s preference in the incense form depends largely on culture, tradition, or personal tastes. Sticks, cones and coils are the most common and are readily available. Incense enthusiasts will hunt for the more unusual powders, woods and resins. These are burned on a lit coal in a fireproof container called a censer or tossed on the embers of a fire.
I prefer loose incense burned on a charcoal disc. Not a bbq briquette but coals meant to burn powdered incense. I light the coal in a fireproof vessel, wait a few minutes for the coal to come alive, then place small amounts of incense on it and focus on my intention. I use stick incense when it’s not convenient to burn a coal. I like the Blue Pearl and Pondicherry brands.
Incense has a powerful effect on prayers and has been used in temples, sacred groves and holy places since before biblical time. As the smoke rises it signifies the all-pervading essence of spirit and one can visualize prayers being carried to the godly realms. For me, the smoke strengthens spiritual energies while supporting my meditation and contemplation.
Some of the plants I burn most often are:
Benzoin – aids focus during meditation or journeywork while infusing the space with harmony.
Cedar – leaf and wood used for centuries for powerful protection and purification.
Cinnamon – aids in understanding the immortal aspect of the soul and stimulates psychic powers.
Dragon’s Blood – helps to connect and bond over space and time.
Frankincense – brings success to any endeavor and helps maintain discipline along one’s path.
Myrrh – awakens awareness of the spiritual reality behind everyday existence while calming fears and questions.
Pine – activates the third eye and amplifies the link to the spirits of Nature, bringing greater awareness and understanding.
Sandalwood – removes self-imposed blockages and struggles.
Sage – aka Smudge Stick – burned to dispel negativity and invite positive energy.
Vetiver – aka Khus-Khus – enhances the energy of manifestation, deep love, gratitude and beauty.
Burning incense is an effective way to change the feeling of a room. It can influence our psyche by profoundly affecting our thoughts and emotions. It can reduce stress and dispel fear. It can quiet the mind and bring things into perspective.
Attention to the smells surrounding you brings knowledge of the unseen. Scents deepen invocations and remind you to breathe in life to its fullest. The gift of our sense of smell is one of healing and awareness our connection to all the world around us. Seeing ourselves as part of everything else, knowing our place in the spirit ecology, claiming our own personal essence, opening to life. As a naturalist, I am intrigued by the otherworldly aspects of Nature – the elements, indigenous plants, animal encounters, wild weather and scents carried along the air currents.
In my late teens, I became a student of horticulture and plant medicine. My work with plants put me upon my spiritual path. Plants taught me who I am and that all is connected in deep kinship. I greatly value the fragrance and energetic gifts of the aromatic members of the plant kingdom. Sacred smoke has enriched my life and helps me embrace whatever life sends my way.