Smoke in the Sky:
For thousands of years, people have used fragrant flowers, plants, and herbs as incense. Using smoke to send prayers out to the gods is one of the oldest known forms of ceremony. From the censers of the Catholic church to the Pagan bonfire rituals, incense is a powerful way to let your intent be known. You can make your own quite easily, using a blend of herbs, flowers, wood bark, resins, and berries. Most of these are items you can grow yourself, find in the woods, or purchase inexpensively.
Incense -- and other fragrant items, such as oils and perfumes -- work on a couple of different levels. The first is the effect on your mood -- a certain scent will trigger a particular emotion. Aromatherapists have known for years that smells affect different parts of the senses. Secondly, an aroma may have various associations. You may be walking through a store, catch a whiff of Chantilly, and suddenly be reminded of your grandmother who passed away when you were away at college. The smell of a particular food may evoke memories of the summer you spent at camp.
Finally, we experience scents on a vibrational level. Every living being has energy, and emits its own vibration - plants are no different. When you blend them into incense, these vibrations change in accordance with your intent. This is why, in magic, incense is so popular -- in addition to making your ritual space smell nice, you are able to change the vibration in the atmosphere, effecting change in the universe.
Why Make Your Own?:
You can buy commercially produced incense sticks and cones just about anywhere, and they're not that expensive. However, they're made with synthetic ingredients, and therefore have little to no magical value. While they're nice to burn, and certainly smell lovely, they serve little purpose in a ritual setting.
Burning Your Incense:
Loose incense, which is what the recipes on these pages are for, is burned on a charcoal disc or tossed into a fire. The charcoal discs are sold in packages by most Wiccan supply shops, as well as church supply stores (if you have a Hispanic Marketa near you, that's a good place to look too). Apply a match to the disc, and you'll know it's lit when it begins to spark and glow red. After it's glowing, place a pinch of your loose incense on the top -- and make sure you've got it on a fireproof surface. If you're holding your ceremony outside with large fire, simply toss handfuls into the flames.
How to Read the Recipes:
Any good cook knows that the first step is to always gather your goodies together. Collect your ingredients, your mixing and measuring spoons, jars and lids, labels (don’t forget a pen to write with), and your mortar and pestle.
Each incense recipe is presented in “parts.” This means that whatever unit of measurement you’re using -- a cup, a tablespoon, a handful -- is one part. If a recipe calls for two parts, use two cups. One half part is a half cup, if you’re using a cup to measure, or half a tablespoon if you’re using a tablespoon.
When making your own incense, if you’re using resins or essential oils, combine these first. Use your mortar and pestle to mash these until they get a bit gummy, before you add any bark or berries. Dried herbs, flowers, or powdery items should go in last.
A Note on Allergies
Many people suffer from allergic reactions to incense smoke. In many cases, this is caused by a reaction to synthetic materials in commercially-produced incense. Some people find that they have less of a reaction if they use incense made only from natural materials. However, if you have an allergy or some other condition that can be triggered by incense smoke or fragrance, you should consult your physician before using any incense, whether it's commercially bought or home-made and organic. You may find that the best solution for you is to just avoid the use of incense altogether.